Winter Bramblings.

09th November 2016
This run of cold northerly winds have brought a lot of birds into the UK this autumn, nothing much in terms of rarities in the Brecon Beacons but that is not unusual. However, there has been a good wintering Thrush movement, Fieldfares, Redwings and Blackbirds but sadly the Ring Ouzel numbers were disappointing. I was hopeful of getting a few shots because of the super-abundance of Rowan berries in the area, but sadly it was not to be, I only saw four distant males.
Over the last few years there have not been many reports of Bramblings in the Beacons, probably because of the mild wet winters in northern Europe. These birds used to come in numbers and quite large flocks could be seen in places, sometimes in the hundreds. This year it has been colder and drier and I have been hoping for a few of these lovely Finches. They have a great affinity for Beech seeds and they can usually be seen feeding on the Beech ‘mast’ that has dropped to the floor, usually in the company of Chaffinches. Beech seeds are triangular and three dimensional and are quite large so the birds have to move them around in their beaks, shaving bits off until they are able to swallow manageable pieces.
Following up a report of a few birds in a local woodland nearby I was out walking early the next morning to investigate and I could see a flock of about thirty Finches feeding on the forest track and indeed there were about eight Bramblings amongst a majority of Chaffinches. They flew up into the trees as soon as I got anywhere near, the same old story, the only answer was to try from the car. Bramblings have a very conspicuous white rump patch and this is highly visible in flight. Therefore, if a large mixed flock of Finches fly up off the floor this is a good way of identifying them, they also have a wheezy, squeaky call that is quite distinctive.
I always carry a tub of seed in the boot and I sprinkled plenty of Peanuts and Sunflower seeds in amongst the Beech mast. They wouldn’t necessarily prefer these but they would be more conspicuous in amongst the leaf litter. I walked back down the track to the car and got my kit set up on the passenger seat and covered the window with ‘Camo’ netting. I waited ten minutes and then very slowly drove up the track and I could see the birds back down in the leaf litter. I crawled closer and just pulled off the track to the right so the passenger window was facing the area, about thirty feet from where they were feeding. They still flew up into the trees, they were still spooky, but if there is good feeding in an area they will return if you are quiet and still. I pushed my lens through a hole in the netting, resting it on a large bean bag and after about ten minutes the Chaffinches started to drift back down, then the Bramblings descended after a while and there now appeared to be about ten of these birds. If you are watching Finches feeding on the ground in a forest there is a kind of pecking order in reverse and it depends on shyness, first the Chaffinch comes down then the Brambling appears and then lastly the most shy of them all, the Hawfinch. Sadly there are very few Hawfinches seen in this area!
They all started to feed with confidence and the Bramblings were happily walking around and feeding about twenty feet from the car, it just goes to show what will happen if you are patient and quiet and this goes for the elusive Hawfinch too. After about five minutes, however, a Buzzard drifted over and spooked them back up into the trees. I could then see a few walkers appear in the distance so I called it a day because there would have been too much disturbance. The walkers wouldn’t even have noticed the Bramblings but they would spoil any further chance of a photograph.
Please see, Latest Images, Bramblings.