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This was supposed to be the day when the chip on my car door was repaired, but I turned on my computer this morning to an email from the Paint Man, saying that the weather was too cold and too damp for car paint, and we would therefore need to reschedule. I’d have been less waspish about this if he’d contacted me before I washed the damned thing yesterday (as per his requirements) – but stepping around that, I found myself with an unexpected block of free time, and decided to spend it on a bird hunt.

After checking various birding web sites and calculating driving distances, I zoomed off to Tardebigge – which sounds like a made-up place, but is actually a rather pretty little village with an unusual church, in the graveyard of which were reported to be some hawfinches. There are two car parks in Tardebigge, and I turned off the main road too early and parked in the wrong one, giving me a short walk up a muddy track to reach the church, where I found a small group of shivering birders huddled by some yew trees, looking very much like people who hadn’t seen a hawfinch all morning. In fact there was one, but so high up in a tree that was swaying wildly in the stiff breeze, that I didn’t manage to find focus on it before it got bored and left. Knowing that hawfinches eat seeds and berries, I wandered all around the (surprisingly large) church yard looking for likely food sources, but all I found were other birders on the same quest, and a flock of long-tailed tits.

After about an hour, with no sign of the hawfinches returning and the weather looking as though it was starting to close in, I decided to cut my losses and move on to Bewdley, where there was definitely a flock in the Jubilee Gardens. I stomped back down the muddy track to the Community Centre car park, put bag, camera and jacket into the passenger well of the car, shut the door, and turned to walk around to the driver’s side…. and a hawfinch flew quite low out of the school garden, over my head and off towards the road. In circumstances like that, all you can really do is laugh, and I did – partly for the pleasure of seeing a bird I’d never seen before (two firsts in one week!), but largely because while half a dozen birders had been tiptoeing round the church yard, desperately trying to find it without scaring it, the hawfinch had been casually hanging out fifty yards away, right next to where a school’s worth of small children were noisily running around playing.

By the time I reached Bewdley it was raining icily, but I braved the Jubilee Gardens anyway (they’re lovely, should you be in the area)…. found nothing (including any other birders); walked round the town in search of coffee and cake…. found nothing; nearly gave up… but then it stopped raining and birds began singing again, and I thought I’d just take a last pass through the Gardens before going back to the car. And as I walked across the wooded section, a man with a pair of binoculars (and crutches, which didn’t make handling the binoculars especially straightforward) hailed me and pointed way up into a tree about a hundred yards away, where a single hawfinch was hanging out with four greenfinches. Even trying to take its photo at that distance was frankly ridiculous, but if I’d reached this point in the tale with no evidence, you’d be justified in thinking that I’d fabricated the entire saga just to waste your time. So I’ve put the hawfinch here.