Monday, 20 January 2014

Parrot Crossbills Budby Forest

Ever since the Parrot Crossbill influx last autumn, I have been hoping to see some. The only ones I have seen have been in Scotland about ten years ago, when we came across a small flock in Abernethy. The light was poor, but everyone present seemed happy that the huge bills and large heads were good enough to id them as Parrots. No chance of photographs though. The next day Colin and I came across birds in Forest Lodge which seemed more like Common Crossbills but with large strong bills so called them Scottish. Of course trying to identify Crossbills in Scotland is a nightmare even if they are calling (seems like the 'original' Sottish may have changed their vocalisations) and many of the birds I have seen and heard there have best been left as Crossbill sp, so seeing these new birds would be worthwhile. Not having an opportunity in autumn and last weeks failed attempt at Spinks Lodge meant I was more enthusiastic to see some.
The best bet seemed to be Budby Forest, adjoining Sherwood Forest where 14 birds were being seen frequently coming down to a small pool to drink.  The drive up in light rain and poor light was a bit uninspiring but had brightened by the time we arrived. The car park held a calling Nuthatch, one of many, as well as numerous tits and crests.
I had got directions and had a mental map of where to go but we were joined by another birder who had some more information plus printed maps so we were pretty confident of our destination. The walk through Sherwood Forest was pretty good with a large number of very ancient trees including the Major Oak, but many were in a poor state. Would be nice to see how they looked in summer, but it is clearly a very busy place with hoards of walkers and dogs even now.
Despite the directions which we followed to the letter and the maps, we managed to get lost, turning onto a westward path far too early. Asking a local dog walker who knew about the interest in Crossbills suggested we were still too far south so turned right and onto a drivable track which looked more promising. Thinking it was still a long trek to the described cattle grids we heard a flock of about 14 Crossbills flying towards us. Sounding rather different to the calls I was used to, having less of a ringing quality they dropped down into a tree not far away. Our colleague got his scope on them and instantly noted the huge bills. Colin and I tried to get closer with our cameras but eventually I returned to the path and alternated between viewing and digiscoping with the RX100.
Structurally the birds were very distinctive, the very large rectangular heads, huge deep square bills with pale cutting edges and chunky front heavy bodies clearly indicated that we were lucky to have the Parrot Crossbills all to ourselves.
The birds performed extremely well and the only problem really was the poor light.

Eventually the Crossbills flew away so we slowly made our way back to the car. Passing a clearing we could see groups of birders on the other side-presumably where we should have been, though I doubt if they had such good views. At one point the Crossbills flew over again, and on two occasions, single Commons were also heard.
Our next destination was a Great Grey Shrike fairly nearby at Culverthorpe. Not knowing the precise location, we ended up on the wrong road, but bumped into a local birder who put us right. Approaching the location we saw birders in the distance and suddenly I saw the Shrike perched on the hedge just in front of us. Unfortunately as we found out several times it did not like cars and flew off. It was eventually seen distantly for a while. Returning to the car we were surprised to see it perched in a nearby ash. Got a few quick images before it then flew to a more distant tree. It then decided to return to the hedge where we had first seen it. Colin got close, but I stayed back trying to digiscope it, but had problems with the harsh light and atmospheric conditions.

With not much else nearby we decide to return home via Landbeach in the hope of picking up some gulls. Though both Glaucous and Iceland have been seen, the best we could manage despite searching a large area including the tip was a 1w Caspian.

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