Monday, 23 November 2020

Interesting Crossbills

Over the weekend Helen and I came across a flock of around 25-30 Crossbills on East Budleigh Common. Whilst watching the flock I was struck by at least one bird which appeared to show a fairly large looking bill but I was very aware of the poor light and I didn't have my camera. The flock then disappeared but I did get some sound recordings. 
I returned on Sunday with my camera to find the flock still present and I obtained some photos and more sound recordings. The weather was quite wet, so I focused on getting as many photos as possible rather than taking time to study the birds in the field.

In summary, I managed to obtain sound recordings of "flight calls" from the flock and "excited calls" of at least one bird but I was unable to attribute the recordings to specific birds that I photographed. The recordings can be heard below and all clearly suggest Common Crossbill by ear and from the spectrogram. 

On reviewing my photos, most birds' bill structures seem as you would expect for a standard Common Crossbill, but I was interested to see at least of couple of birds appeared to show quite obvious deep bill structures. One bird in particular (bird 4 wing-barred) looks strikingly large billed in the last photo of the sequence, with a strong gradual curving of the upper mandible and quite a stout lower mandible, superficially similar to Parrot Crossbill but it would be odd to show wing bars in this species.

I am all too aware of how different angles and open bills in photos can give very misleading impressions, so I am simply putting the down as large-billed Common Crossbills. Similarly, there is also nothing to suggest anything other than Common Crossbill from the sound recordings. 

Despite some good photos, they were surprisingly secretive and not easy to study as they disappeared into the pine trees to feed. I had a look today but couldn't re-find them. I will keep looking because I am very keen to see the flock again as Crossbills are certainly an interesting and variable group!

Bird 1 male

Bird 2 female

Bird 2 female


Bird 3 female and Bird 4 wing-barred

Bird 4 wing-barred

Bird 4 wing-barred

Bird 4 wing-barred

Bird 5 female 

Bird 6 male


Bird 7 female possibly same as bird 2


Male Brambling - One of at least 3 birds in same area as Crossbills

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Late Whinchat

Surprised to find a very late Whinchat during a coastal walk near Otterton this afternoon. 
I think my previous latest date was a bird on St Martin's, Isles of Scilly on 28/10/17.
Whinchat, near Otterton 

Male Cirl Bunting, near Otterton


Saturday, 24 October 2020

St Martin's, Scilly 14 - 23 Oct 2020

I have just returned from another somewhat impromptu visit to St Martin's Isles of Scilly!
Having enjoyed a great week from the 2 - 9 October with Helen and being very pleased to find another American passerine (a Red-eyed Vireo) this year, I saw the change in weather looked interesting for species from the east, so I felt compelled to return!

All in all it was another great few days and I clocked up 90 miles walking around this beautiful island. Once again, I pretty much had the island to myself and highlights included finding Radde's Warbler, Pallas's Leaf-Warbler and a Red-breasted Flycatcher, seeing a number of other commoner migrants and enjoying the spectacular scenery. Plus seeing a Dusky Warbler that was a great find for two visiting birders.

As I write this, another weather system has gone through the islands from the Atlantic and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak from North America has already been found on the island of Gugh near St Agnes! Oh, how I would love to be back on St Martin's............ 
Higher Town looking towards the Eastern Isles

This Radde's Warbler at Little Arthur Farm was a very welcome find on the afternoon
of the 14th and I had only just arrived on the island! This species breeds in Siberia.

Radde's Warbler, Little Arthur Farm

Radde's Warbler, Little Arthur Farm

The area in Little Arthur Farm where the Radde's Warbler favoured 

Ring Ouzel with St Mary's Island in the background

One of two Ring Ouzesl feeding on the beach one evening

One of two Ring Ouzels feeding on the beach one evening

Another Ring Ouzel near Little Arthur Farm

Viv Jackson's (resident birder) shiny tractor collecting seaweed from
Lawrence's Bay for use on the farm's potato crop

The view from Higher Town looking towards Tresco

Fieldfares were a constant distraction as small flocks arrived in the NE wind

A 1st Cal Year Blackbird

This beautiful Pallas's Leaf-Warbler was an exciting find on the morning of the 16th October.
A rare visitor from Asia.

The beautiful Pallas's Leaf-Warbler 

The beautiful Pallas's Leaf-Warbler 

The beautiful Pallas's Leaf-Warbler 

This Red-breasted Flycatcher was a welcome surprise on the morning of the16th and
led me to finding the Pallas's Leaf Warbler! The recording below is of the less
often heard alarm "peep" alarm call as opposed to the more common "rattling" call


This Pied Flycatcher was present with the Red-breasted Flycatcher.
They would mostly keep apart or one would chase the other off!

Great Bay on the north side of St Martin's 

Boot Flowerpots on St Martin's

Yellow-browed Warbler feeding in the fields by the Cricket Pitch.
The sound recording below was of a different YBW giving the less typical subdued call.


Dusky Warbler, St Martin's Isles of Scilly found by a couple of day visiting birders.
The sound recording below was taken just prior to me leaving the island.
Similar to the Radde's Warbler it breeds in Siberia.


The Cricket Pitch St Martin's where the Dusky Warbler spent much of its time by the small pool

The track to Little Arthur Farm. This whole area is a great migrant trap

Looking towards Round Island with the lighthouse and St Helen's Island to the left

Peek-a-Boo Merlin

Male Merlin, Chapel Down

Male Merlin, Chapel Down

1st Cal Year Ring Ouzel near Little Arthur Farm

1st Cal Year Ring Ouzel near Little Arthur Farm

Fieldfare, Higher Town
Fieldfare, near Little Arthur Farm
Imm male Black Redstart, Little Arthur Farm. There was a notable influx of these great birds 
 on the 19th October with at least 14 birds on St Martin's
Male Black Redstart, Little Arthur Farm. There was a notable influx of these great birds
 on the 19th October with at least 14 birds on St Martin's

Dusk on a very calm evening at Lawrence's Bay