Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Two-barred Grip Back

Juvenile Two-barred Crosbill (c) Scott Reid
Juvenile Two-barred Crossbill (c) Scott Reid

Adult female Two-barred Crosbill (c) Scott Reid

A light northeasterly breeze in the last week of July was all it took for them to start slipping across the North Sea and within days there were numerous sightings along the east coast from Norfolk to the Northern Isles; the invasion was underway! The last invasion of Two-barred Crossbills into Britain happened in 2008, long before my twitching career had started in earnest, so this summer has been my first realistic shot of bagging one of these intrepid visitors from the north. I was in Cornwall when the Lynford birds turned up so you can imagine my joy when a juvenile was found on feeders near Clitheroe in Lancashire on the day I was travelling home. Unfortunately, thanks in part to the rather inconsiderate behaviour of a select few of the assembled masses, that twitch was an unsuccessful one!

Fastforward to Monday and a report of another juvenile near Stockdale, South Yorkshire, had me and Scott considering the possibility of a twitch at our earliest convenience. This happened to be today and after watching the number present swell to an astounding 5 over the course of Tuesday we were raring to go. Scott and Alex Jones picked me up just after 5am and we were on site just after 6. Despite some initial confusion we soon found a group of ten or so twitchers assembled at the correct location. After a short wait a reasonable flock of Crossbills flew in and me and Alex quickly got onto a juvenile Two-barred Crossbill in the top of a larch which promptly dropped out of sight calling. Elation at the feeling of redemption that came with the tick but a lurch of despair as Scott and the others present had missed the bird.

The next hour and a half was a nervous wait with no further sightings of any Two-barreds although we could hear at least one bird in the area intermittently emitting the distinctive nasal trumpeting call. After a while Scott and Alex got bored and decided to check the roadside larches where the birds where seen the previous day while I plumped for the lazy option of staying put with the masses. This turned pout to be the clever choice as within minutes a family party of what appeared to be 5 Two-barred Crossbills appeared in a larch above our heads and began to feed giving amazing views. After getting stunning views of both the adult female and several juveniles I decided to head off and find the others. Luckily they were heading back up the track and we were all soon enjoying cracking views of the birds as they fed. These prolonged views allowed me to appreciate the finer ID pointers on the birds such as the shallower bill and more slender structure as well as the obvious white tertial tips and covert bars.

After roughly 20 or so minutes the birds were flushed and flew off in a tight knit flock of 6. This caused initial confusion but we soon dismissed the extra bird as likely a Siskin. Satisfied with our views we decided to hang around a bit and after another half hour or so the birds reappeared in the same tree and recommenced feeding. It was at this point that Scott realised that there were definitely 6 Crossbills in the tree and after some painstaking observation we confirmed that all 6 birds were Two-barred Crossbills, an adult female and 5 juveniles to be precise! It was great to locate an extra bird increasing the total of what must be one of the largest groups of Two-barred Crossbill ever recorded on the British mainland! We speculated that these birds were a family party and joked about an adult male turning up, a dream that was sadly left unfulfilled.

We watched the birds until they departed with a large flock of Common Crossbills before deciding to hit the road for home. The twitch had been an educational one allowing us to get to grips with the plumage and more interestingly vocalisations of Two-barred Crossbill. As well as the distinctive trumpeting call, we also discerned the chipping call to be higher pitched, more metallic and slightly more urgent than that of a Common Crossbill. It was also great to see a family party feeding in their natural environment and a gathering of this size is something I'm unlikely to witness again in the British Isles. Suffice to say that on the way home we all realised just how lucky we were to dip the Clitheroe bird. Maybe I'll thank those inconsiderate twitchers next time I see them! Thanks to Scott as usual for driving and for allowing me to use his excellent pictures.

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