I recently decided to walk off the Xmas pudding and take a ramble in the hazel wood on the quest of bullfinches and birch trees. The latter shouldn’t have been too difficult to spot as they generally don’t move about ,the former proved quite obliging as well.I had in mind to do some woodcock and bullfinch paintings and needed to get in tune with them and their homes.
Squally thunder clouds raked across the skies as I headed up the hills towards Moycullen from Spiddal making me question my sanity on leaving the fireside!
Shortly afterwards as I was drawing close to the hazel woods a small flock of bullfinches flew from the side of the road and I managed to get a quick snap through the closed (and grimy) window . They had been feeding on some remaining hawthorn berries.I was quite pleased to have had such a close encounter but disappointed that they beat such a hasty retreat. Sometimes bullfinches can be quite relaxed after been disturbed and will often return to their feeding but not this time.
Shortly after this I parked the car , donned my wellies , wrapped up from the biting east wind and headed across the bog to sketch some birches and hazel trees for reference material. The sky was darkening over rather rapidly and as I entered the cover of the hazel wood the first hailstones began falling. The shower was incredible and the temperature must have dropped a couple of degrees.I huddled up until it was over . Shortly after it ended the bird life seemed to move about again.I was just deciding what to do when I heard the whirring of wings as a large bird landed 20 yards from me in the woodside sedges.It was a hen pheasant. It looked quite agitated as it picked its way into the hazel towards me.I froze but her keen eyesight spotted me and took off . Suddenly a female sparrowhawk swung rapidly over the hazelwood from the bogside sending some magpies into a chorus of criticism She probably was hunting the pheasant .
I decided to walk slowly through the woods hoping to get some bird snaps .The hazel wood is a wonderful place full of mosses ,stunted trees,limestone slabs and ferns.Even though it is dark it is warmer than the bog side and provides great shelter for foraging wildlife.I eventually crept up on a flock of feeding bullfinches more by luck than any great fieldcraft.They were feeding on the woodland floor and after eyeing me suspiciously inthe beginning decided I was harmless and relaxed again.I did get some snaps but the cover was so thick and shutter speeds so low that they were not very sharp.I love bullfinches, their dark heads make them quite comical.They always kept cover between me and them.I was delighted to observe them for twenty minutes or so.
I sketched some hazel after that and then went to sketch some birches. They are beautiful trees and the low winter sun between the squalls lit up their white trunks magnificently.I spotted some blackthorn bushes which still had a lot of ripe sloes on them.I thought they would have eaten by the birds by now.Thee was a good crop this year.
I decided to head back to the car as the evening was slipping when a pair of snipe exploded from a splash in front of me scaring the wits out of me!I decided to be really ready with the camera for the next one .I should have been watching where I was going as I stepped into a hole and promptly got a wellie full of freezing bog water!Ah well.A welcome cup of warm tea from the flask a few minutes later warmed me up again.How do the snipe stick the cold?!As I headed home the rain began in earnest.It wouldn’t be too bad in the hazel wood though.