On my tod today as my usual partners in crime are otherwise engaged or ill. I often find the Brecks difficult and I underperform expectations, so a chance to put in some time researching the favoured places, specifically Santon Downham. There has been a regular Great Grey Shrike, but other Brecks specialities such as Crossbill, Firecrest, and Woodlark I often find hard or impossible so maybe a chance to get some of these on the list here or elsewhere. Goshawks would have to wait for another day with less wind and more sun.
The omens weren't great as a gusty wind was blowing low cloud and intermittent rain across the sky as I pulled up at St Helens, but straight out of the car up by the railway line a large flock of Great tits with a few Chaffinches and Coal tits and a couple of Bramblings. I bumped into a couple of others looking for the Great Grey Shrike, and we looked round the eastern edge of the car park drawing a blank on GGS but did get a couple of Crossbills that turned into a male, an imm male, and two females. We spent a time watching these superb birds in a birch tree, although obviously I was not too excited as for me these are a common garden bird.
After that I headed west along the river. My first time along the river, and what a great piece of habitat. Several sightings of Kingfisher and permanent accompaniment of Siskins. Great views of quite a few including a pale one, which if such a bird existed would surely be an Arctic Siskin. Nuthatch showed well, and then across the bridge at Santon Downham and more Bramblings on the opposite bank. By this point there were many other birders looking for the Great Grey Shrike, but we drew a blank as after a brief sighting in the morning it had not been seen since. There was little else to be seen here as the drizzle had set in, just another couple of Crossbills as I walked back to the car.
Then off to the old reliable of Lynford Arboretum for Hawfinch. Immediately on arrival there were a couple of Bramblings, then a few more down by the bridge, and then at the Paddocks a Hawfinch at the top of a tree. A half hour watch finally delivered five birds with splendid scope views in a tree and a few flight views, as well as a couple of Redwings and a Marsh Tit. It seems hard to believe that just a year ago I was watching sixty Hawfinches in the local wood.
Chat with a couple about Firecrest, and yes they are seen but rarely. Then back to the car, but coming back by the puddle (you know, the small puddle by the feeders about 100 yards down the path) a flock of Bramblings. About 40 birds in a range of plumages with some getting blackish heads. Very skittish flying up and then drifting down. What a sight! Surely there's nothing better in birding then a flock of these fantastic finches.
Just as I was leaving these birds and heading back to the car there was a shout and a wave from the couple I had been chatting to earlier. They were looking intently into the foliage by the entrance. I knew instantly what they were looking at and dashed up there to see a male Firecrest picking its way through the ivy. Ten minutes just a few yards away from this terrific little sprite picking its way through foliage with a few spells of total visibility out in the open was a great way to end the day, and a big thank you to the couple who found this gem and put me and several other birders onto it.