Birdwatching is always interesting in St James’ Churchyard if you have time to take a look, but the strong easterly winds that brought chaos to most of the country in early March, brought fifteen or more very rare winged visitors called hawfinches. These are large finches with a thick silvery grey bill, a rufous coloured head, brown back and black wings with buff under parts. They have thick set bodies and often sit perched on tree tops for long periods. These extremely rare visitors have spent most of their time in the churchyard in the tops of the trees on the Littleton side of the churchyard, often disappearing into the tops of yew trees, or flying to the trees at the back of Christleton Hall, and the Morris Oak near the Mill mound. I also saw them on trees along Bricky Lane at the north side of The Pit. They have a robin like call and can be very very elusive. These delightful birds were lifetime firsts for me. Whilst searching for these exciting birds, first spotted by Clive Jones from Church Walks, I stood in the churchyard grounds for about an hour at the beginning of the month and recorded the following species;
hawfinches, great, blue and long tailed tits, dunnock and house sparrows, blackbirds, redwing, fieldfare, song and mistle thrushes, goldcrests and goldfinches, chaffinch, siskin & greenfinches, robins, wrens, jackdaws, jays, several rooks and a great spotted woodpecker. On the same day I spotted a lesser spotted woodpecker in an area of the village not far away, the second sighting of this rare woodpecker species in the village in the last six months. Several friends have also seen brambling and blackcaps, but there were none in the churchyard that morning.
Several of the visitors mentioned notably fieldfare and red wing will be flying back to Scandinavia or northern Europe in the next few weeks, but many others mentioned will be nesting in and around our church grounds to be joined in a few weeks time by our summer visitors eg. chiff chaff and possibly willow warbler. During summer months swifts, swallows and house martins can often be seen feeding on the insects in the air above the church whilst buzzards, kestrels and sparrowhawks can regularly be seen flying over. 3 buzzards during the time mentioned earlier. During winter months gaggles of exciting and exited Icelandic pink footed geese have been heard and seen flying over the church and village, and a red kite was a welcome and an even rarer visitor recently.
The first butterflies have been seen in the village, with a bright yellow male brimstone, and two small tortoishell’s spotted as early as mid March.
Hockenhull has also had its share of surprises this spring with the arrival of some new species. The highlights being marsh harrier and ring ouzel, both first for the site we think. 20 sand martins flew along the Gowy in early March, with a similar number of house martins seen at Walk Mill a week later. A rare female scaup and a male mandarin duck were on the river towards the end of March, with several teal, shoveler and gooseander seen on the lake. A pair of mute swans has built their nest at the edge of the lake, and a pair of great crested grebes, oystercatchers and several pair of lapwing are also nesting. A second pair of swans have been investigating the area, and have been seen on the Gowy, the canal at Rowton, and at The Pit in recent days.
A large party of yellowhammers and reed buntings have been with us for most of March, on hedgerows and a field full of seeds along Plough Lane, the first time such numbers have been seen for maybe thirty years.
The otters have been particularly active, with lots of spraints left on their favourite ledge and we suspect that the resident Hockenhull pair are the ones that have been seen with two cubs on several occasions near the bridges. On the second occasion at the end of March an American mink was seen actually swimming upstream past the otters in the opposite direction, an amazing sighting! A weasel was spotted running across Plough Lane in the village, and regular sightings of brown hare have been seen further down the Lane and in fields nearer the Gowy.
Long Tailed Tits