Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bulgaria: Bullfinch and Hawfinch

With the exception of my British birding friend, Malcolm Richards, who I enjoyed birding with in 2008 and 2010, I have almost no experience birding with non-American birders, especially in the United States.  For lack of this experience, I always imagine that when non-American birders prepare for their first U.S. birding trip they spend at least some time focusing on cardinals, blue jays, goldfinches and robins as birds they would really like to see.  Then I imagine that we, as their guides, rightly focus on Kirtland's Warbler and other good birds we know they should see while completely ignoring our spectacular cardinals, blue jays, goldfinches and robins.  This is all in my imagination.  Of course, we know that foreign birders will see our spectacular common backyard birds almost without even trying. Mostly. We also know, especially when considering the season, that they could easily miss some of our more common birds.  Woodpecker enthusiasts might have a hard time finding, say, a Hairy Woodpecker.  When I was birding with Malcolm in early September we missed seeing a Field Sparrow at Crosswinds Marsh.  Go figure.        

While preparing for my trip to England in June, 2010 I dearly wanted to see a Bullfinch and Hawfinch.  When studying the range maps for these two species I thought I would see both.  So, when I didn't see either, I was surprised and disappointed.

Knowing nothing about the bird in the painting or of my desire to see one, this past Christmas my mother gave me an inexpensive, but beautiful, oil on canvas bullfinch which she bought for me just because she found the bird so irresistible and could not leave it in the store.  It's been hanging in my dining room since February.  

Each time I walked into my dining room I thought about my upcoming trip to Bulgaria and of my hopes of seeing a bullfinch and a hawfinch.  Of course, I now also know that these are not common backyard birds.

As you can see by the photos below, at least with the Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), I did.  The Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) photos are not nearly as identifiable.  However, as it turned out, seeing both of these birds was difficult.

The Bullfinch was seen in Trigrad during my pre-breakfast walk around the village on the morning of our Wallcreeper day.  Carol Thompson saw it first and when our paths crossed on the road she told me about it.  A magnet pulled me to the spot.  The bird did not present itself immediately and I was both patient and impatient.  After approximately ten minutes of looking and listening, I saw movement to my right and looked just in time to see a male and female bullfinch perched on a wooden fence rail.  I got a good, but brief, look before they flew off to scrubby bushes at the back of a farm building.  The movement from
lifting my binoculars was probably enough to flush them.  Seeing the male and female together suggested they had an active nest.  I walked up a path on the other side of the building but there was no sign or sound of the birds.  I retreated back to the front of the barn and after another wait saw the male bird moving around in the trees behind the barn.  He perched in the sun and looked around.  I fumbled with my camera and had just enough time to take the terrible photograph above.        

I thought the Trigrad Bullfinches would be the only ones I saw.  Then on the last morning of our trip in the central Balkans near the Hotel Sima, another out-of-season ski resort, Mladen heard a Bullfinch call and a split second later it flew out from trees at the edge of the trail and across a short field to perch at the tip of a conifer tree. Another split-second photo opportunity yielded the above result just before the bird took off and flew away from us and out of sight.  Mladen said that in Bulgaria the Bullfinch is a bird of higher elevation habitats which explains why we saw the bird in the locations we did.  I've added this RSPB link with the Bullfinch vocalization here.  

Arguably it was even more difficult to see the Hawfinch.  Each time we were alerted to their presence when Mladen heard them.  But actually seeing one was a different challenge.  A Hawfinch would perch and as Mladen set up the scope it would fly off.  This happened every time. On the 13th, shortly after departing Nessebar, we arrived at the wooded location where we called unsuccessfully for Grey-headed Woodpecker and saw the movement of several Hawfinches in the trees - probably a family.  It was with this group of Hawfinches that we had our best chances for a good view.  Finally we decided that the best way to see the Hawfinch was in bits and pieces; that is, tail, then wing patch, then bill, head ... , etc.  As the rest of the group was leaving I stayed behind and managed the two dreadful photos above and below.  Both are obscured shots of the same bird.  Above the Hawfinch is finding a caterpillar and below the caterpillar obscures its huge bill.  The RSBP link with the Hawfinch vocalization is here.  Additionally, the RSPB synopysis offers an explanation for why the Hawfinch is so hard to see.         

In the end I saw both birds.  The challenge made it very satisfying.

Още, за да се!

No comments: