For the past few weeks there has been an invasion of Hawfinches, far more than the usual few thousand that visit the UK. They had been spotted at both High Batts and RSPB Fairburn Ings just a few days after I had visited these reserves and I was beginning to think I would not see my first Hawfinch. However I discovered that they had been seen in large numbers at the Yorkshire Arboretum, reaching more than fifty at times.
So on Friday I visited the Yorkshire Arboretum which is located at Castle Howard just a few miles west of Malton. The arboretum as it is today was created by George Howard (Lord Howard of Henderskelfe) & James Russell between 1975 and 1992. George Howard originally started an arboretum in 1959 but most of the trees died and it was 1968 before the arboretum started again with James Russell moving to Castle Howard.
The one hundred and twenty eight acres that makes up the Yorkshire Arboretum was formerly parkland on the Castle Howard estate. The original bastion wall still forms a large section of the southern boundary and there are Oak and Sweet Chestnut trees which date from the 1780s. A large number of specimens were brought to the site from Hillier Nurseries in 1979, but since then the vast majority of trees that have been planted are of wild-origin. The Yorkshire Arboretum is regarded as a back up collection for Kew Gardens by Defra.
In 1994, John Simmons, the then curator of Kew Gardens, initiated the formation of the Castle Howard Arboretum Trust in a partnership with the Castle Howard Estate and Kew Gardens. The Arboretum first opened to the public in 1999 for a few open days necessitating the building of the Visitor Centre which opened in 2007 by the Earl of Selborne, Chairman of the Trustees at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and in 2012 the name The Yorkshire Arboretum was adopted for the main site.
The trees at the Yorkshire Arboretum come from regions around the world such as Chile, Australasia, North America, Europe and Asia. The collection here is labelled, with each tree having a label attached to a branch and another on a stake in front of it. There are two trails that you can follow, the Short Tree Trail and Long Tree Trail. The Short Tree Trail takes approximately one hour and trees to look for are marked with a blue number on a white background and include trees such as Sessile Oak, Oriental Spruce, Chinese Whitebeam and Sea Buckthorn.
The Long Tree Trail takes approximately one and half to two hours and trees to look for are marked with a red number on a white background and include trees such as Southern Beech, Chinese Tupelo, Colorado White Fir, Oriental Beech, Korean Pine, Sitka Rowan and Caucasian Wingnut. In the north eastern corner of the Arboretum is Atkinson's Bog and the site is intending to install a bird hide once £10,000 has been raised.
Before I started on the Long Tree Trail I had a brief look for the Hawfinches in front of the visitor centre as there were other people with scopes and cameras looking for them. After a couple of minutes a single Hawfinch rose up from its hiding place and flew across to a tree to my left and I had seen my first Hawfinch, but sadly all I could see was the back of it partially obscured by a branch. After a couple of minutes it flew off towards the trees at the south east corner of the site, closely followed by a few more Hawfinches.
I headed off in the direction the Hawfinches had flown past the bird feeders situated just to the left which were awash with Blue Tits, Tree Sparrows, Coal Tits and a single Willow Tit. As I reached the Siskiyou Cypress and Southern Beech trees at the south eastern corner I turned westwards along the Bastion Wall and I had only gone a few feet when a Nuthatch started calling and then flew across to the Bastion Wall and proceeded to move up and down the wall probing the cracks for food.
I had just gone past Almond-leaved Pear and Colorado White Fir trees when I spotted a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the trees and a little further along a pair of Nuthatches were creeping up the trunk of a large tree. I had only moved on a few more yards when a group of three male and two female Bullfinches appeared at the top of a tree before flying off through some trees and disappearing. I followed the Long Tree Trail along the southern Bastion Wall to the far end of the Arboretum following it round to the northern border and east towards the Arboretum Lake.
At the top of the Arboretum Lake is a Caucasian Wingnut tree on the banking separating the lake from Atkinson's Bog which had several Mallards on it. As I made my way back to the visitor centre there was a lone male Pheasant walking along the grass. When I reached the visitor centre a lone Peacock was slowly making its way along the grass towards the bird feeders. As I was having my lunch a male and female Chaffinch perched on the fence, chairs and tables of the outside seating area looking for scraps dropped by customers.
To my right a Pied Wagtail walked along the top of a wooden gate and about thirty to forty yards in front of me a trio of Robins were perched in a tree. Once I had finished my lunch I made my way back down to the south eastern corner again where just over the wall are some Hornbeam trees which are a particular favourite of the Hawfinch. There were a few other people with the same idea looking through binoculars, scopes and cameras and in the trees there were six or seven Hawfinch.
After watching the Hawfinches for a while I made my way back down towards the visitor centre where there were now two Peacocks chasing a group of about eight Guinea Fowl. I decided to take one last look around the trees in front of the visitor centre to see if I could get a closer look at a Hawfinch before I left and after a few minutes I spotted a Hawfinch near the top of a tree and managed to creep close enough to get a half decent photograph of one.
A couple of minutes later the Hawfinch flew off towards the previously mentioned Hornbeam trees and was closely followed by a group of about ten Hawfinches flying over my head. I have attached a few photos and a full sightings list from my first visit to the Yorkshire Arboretum.