Thursday, 18 January 2018

Jan 18th Santon Warren

Robin at the Crossbill puddles
Today, I have returned to Santon Warren for another crack at finding Parrot Crossbills. This time, I have Dad with me. He has a lot more patience when it comes to bird watching with me and I often see the much scarcer birds with him on my side. I have also learned from my mistakes from last week. I now know the best way of seeing them is to wait by some puddles and hope for them to come down for a drink. We parked the car at a layby/mini car park covered in large puddles where they have been seen visiting almost daily this month and we waited. And we waited.

One of the bridges over the River Little Ouse
After about an hour of seeing only robins, we decided to stretch our legs for a bit and went exploring along the River Little Ouse to try and find the locally famous otter and her cub that appears very regularly and is often quite approachable. However, after walking different sections of the river on three separate occasions throughout the course of our visit today, we could not locate her despite passing several people who did. There were no sign of the crossbills either, but we did see a kingfisher briefly and saw plenty of siskins and little grebes as well as a kestrel and a redwing.

Little Grebe
Carrion Crow
Mute Swan having a bath
Parrot Crossbills!
Between the second and third river walks, we returned to the layby for lunch. Several other cars were also parked beside these puddles at this point and inside each were twitchers watching them and the surrounding trees like hawks. These puddles were not very productive while we were eating our packed lunches and were constantly disturbed by the comings and goings of cars and dog walkers. Surely, no Parrot Crossbill would even dare drinking from these puddles while so much is passing through them? But then, a mini bus belonging to a bird tour group arrived and as if by magic, so did the crossbills! About 12 of them flew in and land into a few trees beside the roadside. They were preparing themselves to come down for a drink at the puddles.
These birds were bigger than your average crossbill. Though they look pretty much identical to Common Crossbills, with the males being red and the females green-grey, Parrot Crossbills are larger and have a much bulkier bill, which is iconically crossed. Unlike Common Crossbills, which can only use their crossed bills to prize open the cornels of a pine cone that's hanging on a tree, Parrot Crossbills uses their bills to take the cone off the tree like a pair of secateurs and take it with them. But living on a diet of pine cones leaves you with a dry mouth and a constant need to drink. This is why these 12 birds are sitting patiently in the trees, waiting for us, a large crowd of twitchers armed with cameras, scopes and binoculars, to move away from the puddles so that they could drink.
Eventually, after mustering enough courage, a few of them came down to the puddles to quench their thirst. You could hear them calling to each other constantly, encouraging the others to do the same. "Chub-chub-chub-chub!" While at the puddles, they were quite on edge and as more twitchers arrived, they took to the air and perched on nearby trees before coming back down once they felt it was safe to do so. Once they drank their fill of puddle water, they disappeared back into the forest. I couldn't believe my luck! It took 3 hours of waiting and searching, but it was worth it. What stunning and impressive looking birds they were!

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Jan 17th Strumpshaw Fen

Sun and Reeds
After a slight delayed train journey, the walk up to Strumpshaw today was a little bit brighter than it usually has been lately. Dawn was already in motion when I finally arrived at Brundall station this morning and in the rapidly fading darkness, I was able to spot a hare run away from me on one of the fields as I made my way up the country road leading to the reserve. Strong, bitterly cold winds were blowing throughout today and frost covered some of the paths during my walk to Fen Hide. It was one of those days that you'd rather be inside where it is warm. There was also a brief spell of hail at one point. At least, for the most part, it was a nice sunny day (just very cold) and watching the sun rising over the reeds with bright rays of sunlight was the real highlight of my day. 

Frosty path to Fen Hide
Sun rising over the river

Pretty sky over Strumpshaw at dawn
Frost on a leaf
There wasn't an awful lot to see this morning. I guess this was no thanks to the wind making many things to take cover from it. There was nothing to see at Fen Hide, so I decided to walk around the woods for a  bit. Not that there was much about here either, though I did see 4-5 bullfinches flee from my presence and a quick moving goldcrest hopping around the vegetation just by my feet. The snowdrops are now starting to appear in one corner of the woodland trail, not many but still a sure thing that spring is arriving early this year. At the bird feeders, the hungry blue and great tits were attracting the attention of a male sparrowhawk, which I saw flash past the feeders with little success before darting over the Reception Hide. This hawk made a couple more runs at these birds, taking the same route and we could see it from the hide.

Great Tit
Blue Tit
I was feeling a lot warmer under the heaters of the Reception Hide, but the wind was causing a draft under the window flaps which blew directly at me, keeping me from feeling completely cosy. About 45 coots were my main source of entertainment (and yes, I was that bored that I counted them), though there were also a few distant marsh harriers, brief visits from flocks of teal that came and went, a couple of cormorants, a pair of gadwall, a mute swan and Cobber the black swan (both preferring to hang about at the back of the broad than to come see us at the other end) and 2 bearded tits making a quick visit by the front of the hide for just a couple of seconds before disappearing again into the reeds to our left.