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Rare birds at Yorkshire arboretum draw artist among crowds

A hawfinch.
A hawfinch.

A rare invasion of finches from Eastern Europe to Yorkshire has had birdwatchers ‘twitching’ with delight this month.

The colony of 100 hawfinches was filmed by Yorkshire artist Robert E Fuller at The Yorkshire Arboretum.

Artist Robert Fuller at Hawfinch Hide

Artist Robert Fuller at Hawfinch Hide

This unique footage is due to feature on BBC2’s Winterwatch tonight (Jan 30) at 9pm.

Hawfinches are a beautiful autumnal-coloured bird so difficult to spot they enjoy a near-mythical status among birdwatchers.

Registered on the RSPB’s red list, there are estimated to be just 1,500 resident in the UK.

But this winter an invasion of finches from Eastern Europe to the UK has thrilled birdwatchers.

The latest influx is estimated to be around 50,000 and is the largest ever recorded.

The majority of these are in the south of England, where hornbeam trees are found.

The Yorkshire Arboretum, a botanical tree garden affiliated on the Castle Howard estate, has a stand of hornbeams that is believed to have attracted the species north this winter.

Dr John Grimshaw, director of The Yorkshire Arboretum, said: “It’s been great to have the hawfinches at the arboretum.

“It’s great to see the trees we have planted is helping such a scarce species.”

Yorkshire wildlife artist Robert E Fuller was given exclusive access to the arboretum whilst it was closed to the public for winter.

He built a hide at the site and carefully enticed hawfinches to feed on bespoke bird table outside it laden with their favourite seeds and stones. The artist uses his photographic and video footage as studies for his detailed paintings.

“Hawfinches are really attractive birds. They have a graphic, eye-catching bill and a plumage that is the colour of autumn, making them perfect subjects to paint,” he said.

“They are also really interesting. They have huge over-sized beaks that are so strong they are avian equivalent to a fireman’s hydraulic cutter.

“They use these to shear open tough stones like plum and cherry stones.

“They also seem to be able to eat almost any seed or stone, even the poisonous stones inside yew berries. It would take just three yew stones to kill a human and other bird species only ever ingest them and then eject whole - yet hawfinches consume them like confectionary!”

A hawfinch uses the cutting edge at the back of its beak to hold a stone or seed whilst it skilfully extracts the kernel with its tongue. This process is known as mandibulating.

Robert Fuller will be exhibiting his unique photographs and video footage alongside the painting they inspired at a special exhibition held in the visitor centre of The Yorkshire Arboretum at Castle Howard from February 10 to March 17.

The display will also be available to see at his gallery in Thixendale over the same period.

The Yorkshire Arboretum is open daily from 10am to 4pm and The Robert Fuller Gallery is open from 9.30am to 4.30pm on weekdays and from 10.30am to 4.30pm on weekends.