Saturday, 19 October 2013

Hemsted Parrot Crossbills

With a busy weekend ahead I decided to take Friday off work and try for the Parrot Crossbills which had been recorded back up in Kent as it would be a welcome addition to my Kent list. The only previous Kent record is of a lone male at Sandwich on the 7th October 1990.

I arrived at Hemsted Forest just after 9 and was greeted by a crowd of around 40 or so birders which contained many familiar faces, and it was good to catch up with them.

At around 10:30 a flock of Crossbill flew in with one particularly large adult female standing out as a very good candidate as Parrot but it soon dropped out of sight. It wasn't until early afternoon that the Crossbill action started to liven up. A few groups of Common could be seen feeding in the tree tops, delicately picking at the cones with their wafer thin beaks and generally slim profile allowing for a clear identification. Some birds had larger looking bills but to me none seemed right for Parrot. We then picked up a group in the NW corner of the clearing which looked interesting. Initially, one or two birds looked good, the bill profile was perfect with a bulbous lower mandible, heavy build and the fact that they were ripping the cones off the trees is also of interest. I looked through the rest of the group and pointed out that if one was a Parrot Crossbill then they all were. I didn't count the proportion of males to females as well as how many were birds of the year. However, several appeared to be first winter birds as they had pale tips to the greater coverts. The flock then took flight and flew straight towards us and circled us a couple of times before alighting far too briefly in a nearby tree. Two smaller birds were in this flock and somebody called them as a Siskin until I pointed out that they were actually two Common Crossbill!! These birds were massive, looking like Hawfinch on steroids, to my ear the call sounded different too and I grappled with my Remembird to try and obtain some recordings. Thankfully the birds flew around us a couple more times and I was relieved to get something on tape. The flock (12 Parrots) landed again behind us but then split into two groups, I watched seven birds drop down not far from the road and decided that I would call it a day. Much discussion was had, some positive, some negative, but it was clear that these birds weren't the Common Crossbills which breed in these parts. Were they good enough for Parrot Crossbill?

As ever, the trusty Macmillan guide to Bird Identification provided some answers (assuming that this info still holds). This from the book: "Noticeably larger and heavier than Crossbill...large bill and thick neck (recalls Hawfinch). Smaller billed females and juveniles generally show more pronounced forehead. Upper mandible prominently but evenly arched, while lower bulges at base of gonys before angling up to tip. It must be stressed that bill size increases with age, and males have larger bills than females, so it is adult males that are most likely to have classically huge 'parrot-like' bills, but even females usually look larger-billed than male Crossbills. Juveniles in particular may be altogether less impressive, so careful assessment of bill shape essential."

I didn't actually manage to get a good look at an adult male (others did), but the females and young birds fit in with the above perfectly. All the birds had the distinctive bulge on the lower mandible, were massive in flight and having listened back to the recording I can also hear the deeper calls. If you listen to the 11th recording down (42 seconds long) on then this sounds most like the predominant call in my recording.
It takes a few listens but on mine at around 8 seconds you can hear a couple of deep chup chup calls as well as on around 15-16 seconds. At this second point you can also hear a Blackbird like call which also features on Xeno-Canto as being within Parrots repertoire.
Hopefully this is a link to my recording: and it's best to listen to it with headphones.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Marcus, sorry to have missed you - Liz and I were there on Thursday and I didn't like to push it too hard by going two days in a row! A couple of Parrots certainly shared a tree with some Commons near the tiny drinking pool when I was there. Forget all that technical rubbish, if non-birding Liz can instantly pick out a Parrot Xbill then they must be pretty darn disctinctive! have you looked at the photos on Tony Morris's blog? One female has a far smaller bill than the male we saw, but seems to share the somewhat bulbous shape.