10th May 2015

Well, once again we decided to go up north to try to get the Harlequin Duck in Aberdeen, and as with the weekend of the Hudwit the duck buggered off again. We tossed up whether to go anyway and decided on caution and stayed at home. And guess what? Once again we were disturbed by a morning mega alert! This time another real amazing bird, a Citril Finch in Norfolk at the end of Holkham Pines where they join the Burnham Overy Dune system. When the first record of this montane finch in the UK turned up on Fair Isle in 2011 every one was a little incredulous, what was a species that inhabits high altitude alpine pasture and conifer woods doing in the UK at all…. was it an escape etc. Any way it wasn’t, they are not really held in captivity and detailed analysis of feathers dropped when the bird was ringed indicated it originated in the areas of Vosges, Jura or the Black Forest at the north end of its range. But we didn’t twitch it Fair Isle is a long way and expensive to do, so I figured we’d never get it on our British lists as it was such a crazy record.

Back to today and it was a bombshell… The bird was reported in flight and being very mobile and elusive. We debated for a short while (!) then of course set off! The reports were patchy and not encouraging especially when it was reported to have been finally seen on the ground and confirmed in good nick and unringed but flushed by a rabbit! It was seen again but then there was a large delay when it wasn’t seen.We worried at that point and did consider turning round but the if you don’t go you don’t see statement we have used so often came back to us so we pressed on. I cannot believe how long it took to get to Holkham, used to be about 2.5hrs, it took over 3! Any way we were buoyed by the news it had shown again and soon parked at Lady Annes Drive, £6.50 to park, flippin’ horrific! The walk out was a fair way and it was a warm day! A Hairy Dragonfly brightened the walk and we arrived to find everyone gathered round a “bowl” in the dunes exactly where the pines end. It was apparent they were watching it, but as we walked up it flew into the pines and we missed it. There followed an anxious wait…. then we saw people running in the edge of the wood, cue a mad dash by the crowd, nearly trampling a reporter and cameraman from “Look East” who had just carefully set up their shot and had just started to record!

We arrived in the edge of the pines to find the bird was showing on the steep bank of the first dune as it sloped down into the wood, forming a sort of natural viewing place, however the bird was very difficult to pick up as it crawled slowly round in the vegetation, indeed people were getting very fraught as they couldn’t see it.. I ended up only getting to look at it for a few seconds as I kept directing people to it. However you could see it was a very beautiful, citrus green, yellow and grey finch.

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I eventually managed good views of the bird through the scope! Then it seemed to just flick to the left and we lost it. Cue an exodus of birders leaving a much smaller crowd. I wanted better views for the artwork so we stayed around and went with only about 8 others to search the dunes, everyone else in the crowd stayed back int the same place. In the end after searching we positioned ourselves on the ridge above where it had last been seen.

We were actually wondering if it had never left this spot, I passed time by watching a singing Chaffinch in a small tree in front of us.

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But after about an hour I heard a shout, turned and saw a finch flying in from the distance, then it called… a similar tone to a Siskin, but different and distinct. The bird flew over us and pitched down into a tree right in front of us, near the singing Chaffinch. Then it flew down to a smaller open sapling closer still and for about 2 minutes gave amazing views before dropping back onto the bank.

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It then spent the next hour or so feeding in front of us on the sandy tracks through the dune vegetation. It afforded close views here if often through the vegetation.
The bird was a stunner. A medley of greens and yellows with blackish wings with yellow feather fringes and two strong yellow wing bars, beautiful citrus yellow green underparts and a grey head and nape with a neat lemon yellow forehead. In flight it showed a brightish yellow green rump.

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Bit of my video from when it was in the tree.

Link to video.

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