Edward's Birding Diary
|16 October 2005|
Iceland's a great place to see Hawfinches
Sunday on Heimaey dawned with the same weather, moist winds, claustrophobic fog; miserable for most people but full of promise to vagrant seekers. And indeed the day got off to a good start when we walked round the first corner and were stopped dead in our tracks by the sight of a very bedraggled Long-eared Owl Asio otus in the garden recently frequented by the Swainson's Thrush. It was obvious that more birds had come in over night and at the fish drying racks (a kind of fish graveyard of hanging fish-heads, foul-smelling but the birds like the associated insects) another local rarity was located, Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis, with fewer than fifty records in Iceland. The best bird of the day was found in the strangest location,
a bleak black sandy beach, with some grassy tufts the only vegetation, no trees visible anywhere. YK had just flushed a European Robin Erithacus rubecula so we knew that there were vagrants around. Suddenly we heard a Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, calling repeatedly in flight, a bird I failed to see at all in 2004 and one I was yet to see in 2005. A finch flew over and landed amongst the tussocks on the black beach and I focused on the Chaffinch, except this Chaffinch was orangey brown, and had a huge bill, and a broad white tipped tail. Because I had expected this bird would be a Chaffinch, it took a few seconds to realise that it was in fact a Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes, a great rarity in Iceland and an attractive bird anywhere. I've looked and listened for Hawfinches in England, the Netherlands and Spain and never seen them there, but have now seen two in Iceland. Does this mean Iceland is the best place in Europe for Hawfinch? Must be. Back in town, DH, a British birder working in Iceland and who had twitched the Hermit Thrush after reading about it on the rare bird news section (somebody actually reads the rare bird news? How gratifying!), pulled YK and me out of the hot dog stand to point out a House Martin Delichon urbicum, amazingly only the second one I've ever seen in Iceland. The ferry journey back was lovely and smooth, but our peace of mind was broken by the news that HG had just found a Blackpoll Warbler Dendroica striata in Þorlákshöfn. And where's that? It's the port that the ferry we were on would dock into, but by the time we got there it would be dark........