|Hawfinch feeding on milk thistle seeds: a photo through the kitchen window (Martin Kelsey)|
I look forward to this time of year in the garden, as the Hawfinches reappear. It is a welcome reaquaintance with a species that I will see now probably on a daily basis whenever I am working in the garden. During the summer, these engaging birds will come to the birds' bathing pool to drink and splash, they will feed on the fruit of the cypress trees and throughout autumn and winter, visit the garden to peck at the energy-packed flesh of the olives. In late winter, as the almond tree blossom falls, a series of disjointed chinking notes will betray a singing male Hawfinch, perched atop the very same tree in front of the house, its grey nape contrasting with a warm chestnut cap. As it flies the broad white wing bar appears almost translucent, whilst the wide white band at the tip of the tail is bold and eye-catching.
As the elms produce their lime-green mast, before the leaf buds have opened in late March, the Hawfinches feast on these. They must be a real delicacy for these birds, for parties will feed on these and become almost oblvious of one's presence below.
And then they disappear. For the rest of spring, Hawfinches become almost impossible to find. They are silent and I still have yet to find out what they feed on during these weeks. This is the time they are nesting and secrecy becomes their tallisman. Days will go past with not even the briefest evidence of their presence, until they reappear, often with fledged young, as the Milk Thistles go to seed. They must be nesting close to the garden, but it was not until this year that I found for the first time a Hawfinch nest. High in a poplar tree, persistent begging calls rang out from a rather bulky nest of small twigs, adorned by lichen. I could just about see the shape of nestlings bobbing their heads, but it was not until an adult Hawfinch arrived and I saw it carefully masticating its bill to extrude food for the young that I was sure of the identity of the brood. It was as if a final piece of my long jigsaw game with this species had been put in place.