Sunday, 15 December 2013


It's been more than 23 years since I've seen parrot crossbill in the UK. One at Gib Point in October 1990 and 4 at Holme, Norfolk a few days later. Part of a small invasion which also involved a good few two-barred. Just lke this year, except now there's even more, with perhaps HUNDREDS of rare crossbills in the country - flocks of up to 25 parrot and 17 two-barred are out there!

I'd already seen some TBC's in the Brecks this year but I resisted the temptation to twitch some of the parrot crossbills near the coast. The Mayday ones however were just 40 minutes from home so it would be rude not to try.

Yesterday was my second attempt. Crossbills were present most of the time I was there. Initially they were quite tough to i/d, a small group of both species (common & parrot) it seemed but had I been in Speyside I would have called most of them Scottish - they looked rather intermediate and it was hard to assess bill structure at certain angles as it should always be judged in profile. Eventually they departed and soon after a flock of better-looking crossbills came in - they looked like they were all parrots and included 'The Guv'nor', proclaiming his dominance on the topmost branch and proving steroid abuse is alive and well in the Loxia group!

The others were more subtle, as can be seen. They were not calling much and I found the call to be of less use than expected though I thought I'd heard the two clear types in the earlier flock. Then again on my first visit there was clearly a common giving a parrot-like call which reverted back to normal call in flight. Clearly it should only be used as a supporting feature.

The photos below start with the obvious brutish one and show some smaller-billed parrots as you go down, finishing with a couple of straightforward female commons (the one at the puddle actually photographed recently at nearby West Stow). Comments on I/D are welcome.

parrot crossbill flock
parrot crossbill flock

obvious female parrot even from this angle!
probably a large-billed common but initially thought to be parrot

Probably a pair of large-billed common, the female could be said to display the 'bull neck' and flat crown/ 'lack of forehead' typical of parrot crossbill but structural differences should be treated with caution when viewed from a single photo as the impression can vary with the bird's posture

presumably large-billed common
standard female common
standard female common
standard female common

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