Saturday, 23 November 2013

An influx of PARROT CROSSBILLS in North Norfolk

PARROT CROSSBILL (male) - Holt Country Park, Norfolk
Photo by Dave Hutton

During the middle part of October it appeared there had been quite a movement of PARROT CROSSBILLS in northern Europe. On the 11th alone over 60 birds were noted at Nordjylland in Denmark which would have put birders along the British east coast on high alert. Low and behold four birds were then located the very next day at Shoeburyness in Essex. A scattering of birds were then reported from Yorkshire and Norfolk over the next few days with more birds as far apart as Kent and Shetland towards the end of the month and into early November.

On the 11th November a dozen birds were then located at a slightly inland location near Holt in Norfolk. After only seeing this type of Loxia species up in the Highlands of Scotland I was pretty keen to have a gander at this reliable group of birds and with a lull in the rarity proceedings I organised a hastily arranged trip out east with Dave Hutton and Julian Allen.

PARROT CROSSBILL (female) - Holt Country Park, Norfolk
Photo by Dave Hutton

Upon arrival at Holt Country Park there were a few birders milling around the car park but none of them seemed to be fixed on anything in particular. After remembering what my birding brother and Holt resident Kieran Nixon had told me the day before though, we strolled out to the park entrance to start our search there. As if by magic feeding up high in the canopy of an isolated pine tree there they were, a group of at least five hefty looking PARROT CROSSBILLS.

PARROT CROSSBILL (male) - Holt Country Park, Norfolk
Photo by Dave Hutton

Despite their size, like all crossbill types they could be quite difficult to see as you craned your neck skywards. Their presence however was given away as they bounded around the tree, plucking off pine cones at the stem before flying off a short distance to find a sturdy branch on which to enjoy their meal. Unlike Common Crossbills and Two-barred Crossbills there is nothing subtle and acrobatic about the feeding manner of a PARROT CROSSBILL and it was brilliant to watch. Eventually we managed to count a total of eleven birds as they flew from tree to tree, five of which were male birds.

PARROT CROSSBILL (female) - Holt Country Park, Norfolk
Photo by Dave Hutton

After a hour or so the party then split up into smaller groups to continue feeding and became quite mobile. This gave me the opportunity to forage around underneath their favoured trees and recover a small quantity of recently discarded cones as souvenirs. They would be a welcome edition to our Victorian style collection of natural curiosities. Some of the birds then showed very well indeed feeding lower down in a birch tree near the visitor centre before heading off elsewhere. Other birds in the area included a few Marsh Tits, numerous Coal Tits and the odd Nuthatch whilst a few skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead in an easterly direction.

Birders at Holt Country Park
Photo by Adam Archer

We then decided to go coastal and head the short distance up to Cley NWT. With the weather deteriorating though we opted for the shelter of the cafe first for a quick brew whilst a heavy rain shower passed through. It was then over to the Swarovski Hide on the beach where we found the water levels to be disappointingly high. The only highlights here was a handsome male Merlin perched up on a gate in the distance, a few marauding Marsh Harriers and a dozen Pintail. A quick seawatch produced a small group of Common Scoter and a single male Eider whilst Jules picked up the odd Red-throated Diver bobbing around in the choppy conditions.

Dave in that diagnostic photographers stance!
Photo by Adam Archer

We had better results birding along the East Bank where a super Marsh Harrier showed extremely well perched up attempting to dry itself off. We also managed to find a highly mobile flock of 350 Dark-bellied Brent Geese as they commuted from the cereal fields behind Walsey Hills down to the freshmarsh north of the road. After a patient bit of scanning Jules eventually picked up the single American vagrant goose amongst them, an adult Black Brant. Further along the bank we managed to pick out a new Norfolk bird for me, a rather messy looking first winter drake Scaup on Arnold's Marsh. There were also a few more waders in this area which included a single Bar-tailed Godwit, a Curlew, 16 Redshank and 80 Dunlin. With another shower drifting across it was then time to make our way back to the car, dry off and head back home.

Marsh Harrier (immature) - Cley NWT, Norfolk
Photo by Dave Hutton

As a bonus, whilst passing through Guyhirn, Cambridgeshire I picked up some suspicious grey shapes in the middle of a stubble field. Upon closer inspection they were as we expected, a trio of stunning adult Common Cranes. There have been up to nine birds in this general area on and off over the past few weeks but we considered ourselves lucky to connect with a few of them considering the vastness of this ideal fenland feeding area. After fifteen minutes admiring them from the side of the busy road and as the sun set in the west it was time to continue our journey back to Warwickshire. It had been yet another great day of British birding from start to finish.

An actual pine cone discarded by one of the
Photo by Adam Archer

The Parrot Crossbill in Britain

This species breeds from Scandinavia eastwards to the Kola Peninsula and Pechora River in north west Russia. It is mainly resident, however it is irruptive when the pine crop fails. During 2002 a report was published stating that Parrot Crossbill could be found breeding in parts of northern and north eastern Scotland where both Common Crossbill and Scottish Crossbill also exist. There is some evidence that suggests all three Loxia types there behave as good species when breeding sympatrically however DNA analysis has not revealed any notable difference between each of the taxa. The excellent new Bird Atlas 2007-2011 states that following a survey during Spring 2008 it was estimated that 131 birds were present, largely around Strathspey and Deeside. 

Since the first Parrot Crossbill was taken at Blythburgh in Suffolk during 1818 there have been three notable influxes into Britain. These came during 1962/63 (79 accepted individuals), 1982/83 (109 accepted individuals) and 1990/91 (264 accepted individuals). Following these influxes the odd pair also bred in England and Scotland. Away from these very occasional irruptions the species is a very rare creature indeed, especially in England.

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog! The parrot find out every where in the World. now You can get love from these parrots.