Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Hemsted Parrot Crossbills - all sounds good

One advantage of moving down to Poole has been the social aspect as the Poole Harbour birders meet up on a fairly regular basis. I already knew a couple of guys from my twitching days and it's been great to make some new acquaintances and develop what I hope will become good friendships. As any of you who have read "Catching the Bug" from the Sound Approach team will know, Mark Constantine is a fairly central figure within this group and through him I have had the great pleasure to meet such birding luminaries as Magnus Robb. Apart from the fact that he is a top bloke he is generally regarded as the go to man for sound recordings. It must be difficult for birders like Magnus who are inundated with requests to id this and that so before I sent him the recording of the Hemsted Crossbills I emailed him first to see if he wouldn't mind if I forwarded it to him for his opinion. He quickly got back to me and after listening to the recording replied as such:
"At first when I heard the recording I was a bit pessimistic because it was difficult to distinguish between flight calls and song fragments. Then I noticed that around 0:15-0:18 there are several deep took took excitement calls that are definitely Parrot Crossbill. They are much more abrupt-sounding than the excitement calls of any other crossbill vocal types that I know.

Also of interest - I can hear juvenile crossbill calls (vocal type unknown) around 0:05-0:08 and there are some Glip Crossbill flight calls around 0:08-0:10."
The good news is that there are definitely Parrot Crossbill on the recording! It's also good that Magnus could hear Glip Crossbill and these would be the two small birds which were in the flock. The interesting thing is that Magnus intimates that it's not possible to safely identify juvenile birds from their calls. I asked him to clarify this and here is his reply:

"It's true that juv crossbill calls all sound pretty much the same. Parrot juvs no doubt have slightly deeper calls, but the shape is the same as in other crossbills and I think it would be unsafe to try to identify Parrots to species just by their begging calls."
So what conclusions can be drawn from all this? To be honest I think it all backs up my original thoughts that the flock we saw and sound recorded contained 12 Parrot Crossbill and 2 Glip (Common) Crossbill. Since last Friday Parrot Crossbills have been recorded in group sizes ranging between 3 and 7 birds and most reports seem to relate to adult birds. I certainly saw at least 4 birds which I considered to be juveniles due to the pale tips to the greater coverts as well as overall plumage details. These juvs were actually the showier birds when feeding and the adults were keeping a bit deeper into cover so I preferred to study the juvs rather than catch glimpses of the far more obvious adults which swayed into view every now and again. My thoughts are further borne out by the fact that when the flock flew around us there were 12 brutes and 2 tiny by comparison birds. So, as Magnus has confirmed that there are Parrot Crossbill calling on my recording then surely all 12 brutes must be Parrot Crossbill and I will be submitting such accordingly to the KOS rarities committee.

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.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Many a migrant moth

I volunteered to help empty the moth traps at Durlston over the weekend as part of the Dorset Bird Fair. I'm glad that I did as with many thanks to Steve Whitehouse I managed to see a species which was high up on my wish list.
Steve had put out five traps around the Castle in addition to the two I had promised to sift through up at the Learning Centre. Whilst we were having a look through the second trap up at the Learning Centre news filtered through that Steve had caught not one, but two, Crimson Speckled - it's fair to say that I was quite excited and couldn't empty the trap quick enough. We hastily made our way down the hill and met up with Steve who still had two traps to empty and was looking somewhat exhausted. He produced one of the most stunning moths I'm likely to ever see from his cool bag and it was a glorious moment. OK, it's not quite the same as turning over that egg box and finding one in your own trap but sod it - I know that many a moth-er will be gripped by the photos below!

 Crimson Speckled - one of two on Saturday morning

I put out two of my traps Saturday night and William and I headed over there early Sunday morning. The 40w Actinic Skinner was pretty quiet but the 125w MV Robinson was heaving and I have to say that I felt a little overwhelmed by the numbers. Typically the best two moths were neither in the trap nor found by me! The Crimson Speckled pictured below was found by one of the BTO chaps just by their stand and the Bloxworth Snout was found in the gents by Luke from the RSPB (Lodmoor) - so many thanks to both of them.

Crimson Speckled - Sunday's individual

I won't list all the numbers as it's getting late and I want to get this post completed and get to bed! The probable highlight of Sunday's catch from me was two individuals of the pyralid pictured below - another scarce migrant.
Antigastra catalaunalis

Bloxworth Snout - another new moth for me

Eupoecilia angustana - rather a late record assuming I've got the id correct

Palpita vitrealis - at least ten were caught over the weekend 

 Uresiphita gilvata - another scarce migrant, sadly it wouldn't show the distinctive yellow hindwings.

I would have liked to photograph some more of the moths out of their pots, but as there were some people travelling to see them it would have been a bit selfish if they had taken flight! I also neglected to take a decent photo of the 10 Convolvulus Hawk Moth neatly lined up on the Saturday morning or the 6 found on Sunday morning!!