A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Friday, 15 May 2015

Citril Finch chaos hits Norfolk - 10th May Holkham Pines

Seeing that something huge had clearly broken on the internet, but with no details as to what bird, I checked my phone in anticipation, expecting a Mediterranean warbler or a rare tern.
Citril Finch RBA

Someone once asked me what the least likely bird from Europe to turn up in Britain again would be, and after a bit of thought I’d replied Citril Finch. Sedentary and living in the high mountains of the Pyrenees and over to the Black Forest, there has only been one previous record in the UK, of a male bird on Fair Isle back in June 2008 that stayed for around 5 days. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have thought there would be another one any time soon.

But here we were, over in Cheshire, with a Citril Finch remarkably flying around the dunes and pines of north Norfolk.

With the initial reports all being of flight views we were a little hesitant – would the bird stick around and would the vast majority connect? It was certainly a hell of a long way to go. A certain Christopher Bridge had already informed us that he was well on his way (always sneakily twitching the birds that matter!) and as countless others did the same, 2 or so hours after the initial report I finally managed to persuade Alex that we needed to set off and see this bird. Immediately.

After a relatively straightforward 4 hour drive to Holkham, we were encouraged by the fact that the bird had been showing well on the deck at intervals throughout the day – I had a good feeling about this one.

Arriving at the extortionately priced car park on Lady Anne’s Drive just before 4pm, we started the long 1 ¾ mile treck through the pines and to the western side of the trees. A steady stream of birders passed in the opposite direction, evidently having connected and heading home happy whilst we hurriedly walked on, hoping that the bird would still be around!

After what felt like FOREVER (but in reality was probably only 20 minutes or so), we turned a corner and a passing birder gave us some encouragement to spur us on – the bird was showing right now and it was only a few metres more along the path. Heading over the bank, we were greeted by a huge mass of birders, scopes and cameras, all firmly focused on the small hollow where this mega Alpine vagrant was clearly favouring.

Thankfully a kind birder let us look through his scope, and just like that, Citril Finch, in the UK. Mega. Peering through the foliage, we were greeted by great views of this delightfully bright finch, a beautiful spring male with sunshine yellow underparts and a fantastic sooty great shawl around the neck.
Citril Finch, Holkham Pines, Norfolk
Enjoying brief views as he fed contently in the sand, all of a sudden: “It’s flown. In that tree, it’s gone”. The bird must’ve decided it had had enough for the time being, and had sadly disappeared, presumably off in to the extensive dunes to the west.

Exceptionally relieved we had managed to connect, 5 minutes later and we would have missed it by moments (one toilet stop could have ruined everything!), but I was a little sad that we hadn’t managed to get a record shot – very reminiscent of our initial encounter with the Red-throated Pipit the weekend prior!

After a search in the nearby dunes, me and Alex decided the best option would be to wait back at the hollow, as the bird had been following a pattern and had been returning throughout the day. Sure enough, after around half an hour or so, the cry went up of “It’s back! In the tree with the Chaffinch”.
Holkham Pines, Norfolk
The hollow the Citril Finch was favouring
Proving exceptionally hard to see and evidently very camouflaged amongst the sun dappled leaves of the Sycamore, it took an absolute age to get on the bird (I was very glad I’d already seen it at this point, many that hadn’t must have been going out of their minds!) and the majority of us couldn’t see it until after it had flown to the floor and begun to feed again.
Citril Finch twitch - Holkham, Norfolk
Whilst the numbers had died down by the late afternoon, there was still a considerable crowd present
Enjoying great scope views for around 20 minutes or so, we watched the bird at length and I managed to take some record shots of this amazing little alpine finch as we watched it happily mooch amongst the weeds.
Citril Finch, Holkham Pines, Norfolk
Citril Finch, Holkham Pines, Norfolk
There is always some speculation about rare finches and whether they may be escapees – it was only after a lot of research in to feather isotopes that the Fair Isle bird was accepted, having proved to originate from the Black Forest area in Germany. However, the absence of any rings and the fact that our bird was in the most natural habitat as possible that mirrored the alpine forests of its usual range (not a feeder in someone’s garden or anything dodgy!) really strengthens this individuals credibility of being a wild bird.

Indeed, whilst Citril Finches are largely sedentary birds and are often described as only short distance migrants, studies have shown that birds do move between breeding and wintering ranges, with the longest distance travelled by an individual bird measured at a remarkable 615km.

As Norfolk is only 732km from the Black Forest (the closest Citril Finch population to Britain) it is more than likely that this individual, like the Fair Isle bird, also originated from there, having got caught up in a weather system, Indeed, a female was similarly trapped in Finland during the spring of 1995 having been travelling amongst a flock of Siskin.
Black Forest to Holkham Map
The distance from the Black Forest in Germany to Norfolk
Having seen a Citril Finch briefly feeding on the ground on our trip to Northern Spain last April, I never would have imagined that we would be seeing one here in the UK just over a year later! A great bird for those who weren’t able to get up to Fair Isle 7 years ago and proving that you never know what can turn up!
Citril Finch, Northern Spain
Citril Finch from Northern Spain
Present until dusk and seen very briefly around 6am on Monday with no further sign since, the bird has sadly probably now moved on. With Britain’s only record of Red-breasted Nuthatch also coming from Holkham Pines, having overwintered there in 1989 through to the May of 1990, it’s anyone guess what the next mega to hit land there will be – White-crowned Black Wheatear anyone?!

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