The Brambling

Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla) are the northern counterpart of the chaffinch and have a long history as a winter visitor to our shores. Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) referred to Brambling as the “Mountain Finch” and noted that it made better eating than the chaffinch although he found it to be rather bitter in taste. Three hundred years earlier a William Turner referred to it as the “bramlyng” which suggests a connection with bramble. The real derivation of its name could be “brandling”, an old word for an animal of brindled pattern i.e marked with spots or streaks. Certainly its non-breeding plumage gives this impression as the dark underparts become frosted with a series of pale crescent-shaped lines.

Almost all Bramblings leave their northern breeding areas in the winter and migrate largely at night, it is thought, to warmer latitudes like Britain. The overall wintering numbers in Britain are thought to vary from as low as about 50,000 in poor years to two million at their peak. These numbers are small compared with flocks wintering in central Europe, for instance in Switzerland in 1951 an estimated 72 million birds were recorded in a roosting flock. The Wensum valley cannot boast these sort of numbers but some flocks of 100+ have been recorded over the past 30 years. In 1971 200 were present until mid-March at Taverham and in April 1986 100+ were seen in mixed finch flocks at Costessey. Weston Longville had 280 during the first winter period of 1993 and since then there have been records of 280 at Honingham (Mar 1994), 350 at Stibbard (April 1994), 220 at Sennowe Park (Feb 1998), 200 at Taverham (Jan 1999), 100 at Pensthorpe & Langnor Bridge (Dec 2001-Jan 2002) and 100 at Fakenham (Jan 2003). Since then I am not aware of any flocks of 100+ or do you know better?

Note: first-winter period = the winter months at the beginning of a calendar year.

Alwyn Jackson

Sources: “The Birds of Norfolk” Taylor, Seago, Allard & Dorling Pica Press

“Birds Britannica” Mark Cocker & Richard Mabey Chatto & Windus

Norfolk Bird & Mammal Reports 1971-2005

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