Monday 23 September 2013

A Spotted Crake, Red Backed Shrike and More Two Barred Crossbills at Lynford Arboretum - 21st and 22nd of September 2013

The last time we went to Lynford Arboretum to look for the juvenile Two Barred Crossbill (the one  that Matt and me had seen a few days previous) we dipped. So when reports started appearing of adult Two Barred Crossbills joining the juvenile we couldn't help but head back over for another look. So on the Saturday the 21st of September John Friendship-Taylor, Sam Candy, Jon and Kirsty and myself met up nice and early in the morning and started the drive to Lynford Arboretum. we arrived on site and wandered over to the visitor hut to wait patiently for Crossbill flocks and we didn't have to wait long until a few started to pour into the tall trees at the entrance. They didn't seem too shy as they fed among the trees but getting a good look at all of them was a bit of a pain as they worked their way around the branches. It wasn't long though before they all flew up and into the trees behind us and after a quick scan I managed to see a juvenile Two Barred Crossbill which was then joined by another one. Great stuff! Everyone managed to get views in our group before they all flew up and over towards the trees out of sight further back towards the road. We also met another Northants birder there in the shape of Andrew Dove which was nice (even if I was so transfixed on finding the Two Barred Crossbills I didn't recognise him straight away - ha ha sorry Andrew!) A couple of male birds had been reported in the week and we did really want to see those so we hung around for quite a while longer. Gradually flocks came and went and the juvenile and adult female Two Barred Crossbills showed very well on and off but you had to be quick when getting pics. Jon let me use his 500mm lens to get pics of a juvenile and he got a cracking pic of the adult female sat high in a tree.

Juvenile Two Barred Crossbill
Female Two Barred Crossbill (taken by Jon Philpot)
We then waited a little longer and it was absolutely worth it. A fairly sizeable group of twitchers had accumulated during the morning and Common Crossbills still kept coming and going but then a bigger group of birds arrived and started to feed in the trees. I left the group and headed a bit further along to get a view from the back of the trees and it wasn't long before I had another juvenile and then as I scanned with the binoculars I saw a very crimson looking male Two Barred Crossbill. I never did manage to see it in the scope as it was so mobile keeping up with it in the bins was a challenge in itself. Jon Philpot walked over and he saw it too just as it then got into a squabble with a female Common Crossbill and they flew up and circled each other into the tops of the trees. We were then treated to the trumpeting call of the male Two Barred Crossbill showing just how different it was from the many chipping Commons. Jon managed to grab a pic of the bird which is below.

Male Two Barred Crossbill, Lynford Arboretum, Norfolk (taken by Jon Philpot)
 John Friendship-Taylor had also managed to find another male for the rest of the group of birders at the front of the trees. More birders came along and as I had managed to get the scope on the juvenile that was still here they all had a look and connected pretty quickly. It became fairly clear that we had exhausted the site and saw all the birds we had wanted to see. In the two hours we were there we had seen two males, one female and one (but almost certainly two) juvenile Two Barred Crossbills! We headed up to the coast after this to look for the Red Backed Shrike that had been found a few days previous at Walsey Hill. We arrived on site and noticed a group of birders on the top of the steps overlooking Cley Marshes. The bird had been reported all morning showing at the opposite side of the reserve which was a bit disconcerting. We headed up to join them and they said they had seen the bird fly over to Cley Marshes and land in a tree near the beach bank, it had then disappeared from view! Our hearts sank but as we had arrived we had noticed a group of birders still looking through binoculars at the south side of the reserve so after a bit of a scan I decided it would be a good idea to go and have a word with them. I left the group and walked over saying I'd ring if I heard anything of it's whereabouts, and as I approached I met a couple heading back and asked if they seen the Shrike. They looked puzzled and said yeah it's still there! I guess I then looked puzzled and said we had just been told that it had been seen flying away from the reserve and the gentleman and his wife said it hadn't moved from where it was all morning! A serious lesson is to be learnt here as if we had listened to the people on top of the hill we may very well have just left empty handed. God only know what the people up there had confidently said was the Shrike but it wasn't it and they've obviously walked away ticking something else entirely. Even if you are told a bird isn't present it is always worth birding the site just in case as although I have met some incredibly good birders at twitches I have also met some incredibly bad ones too! Anyway I'm drifting from the point, I headed around the corner and swaying backwards and forwards on a twig was the female Red Backed Shrike. I quickly called Sam to get the other round here and it wasn't long before we were all on the bird. It posed nicely for pics even though the distance made phonescoping a nightmare.

Red Backed Shrike, Walsey Hills NOA, Norfolk
 We spent the last part of the day at Titchwell RSPB where lots of waders were present. A wander to the beach and back is always a nice end to the day and although we didn't see anything outrageous we did get good pics of Spoonbills. The amount of waders was great to see with the odd Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint in amongst the many Dunlin. A nice looking Snipe snoozing away capped the day of nicely, although obviously a very common bird it's always nice to get close to one.

Two Spoonbills and a Little Egret, Titchwell Beach, Norfolk

Common Snipe, Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk.
We ended the day here and headed home. The plan for the following day involved a "lay in" in the morning and a trip to Bedford town centre to hopefully see the Spotted Crake that had been showing near the embankment. We (Sam Candy, Jon and Kirsty Philpot and myself) set off about 10am and we found ourselves on site fairly quickly after trying to navigate around Bedfords town centre road network. We walked around the lake getting some funny looks off the passers by as we wandered around with lots of optical gear, and evetually we found the area the bird was in. We found a group of birders who were already on the bird and we connected pretty quickly before the bird (in a typically Spotted Crake fashion) shot back into the undergrowth. We waited a while before another birder managed to relocate it just around the corner and viewable from the other side of the lake. We headed round and spent the next hour or so getting incredible views of this very secretive little bird. It did spend a lot of time in the vegetation preening away before coming down to the waters edge to feed on Black Pond Snails. We all got magnificent views through the scopes and we even managed to get shots as although we were on the opposite side of the lake we were still fairly close. Jon once again lent me his camera to get the pic below.

Spotted Crake, Longholme Lake, Bedford.
 We watched the bird for a couple of hours before we decided reluctantly to leave. I certainly think me and Jon could've spent all day watching it. We then went to Pitsford water and managed to see the Ruddy Shelduck wandering around in amongst the geese. Although you cant add them to your British list they're still a nice bird to see all the same, and as it was such a nice day we retired to the pub and had a few beers in the garden. It had been another great and successful weekend and not only did we see the birds we wanted to see but we all got amazing views of them too!


  1. The Spotted Crake is great and it's location has intrigued me. I know that ZSL at Whipsnade are doing at a breed and release scheme, I believe they're being released at the Ouse Washes?.. I was watching with interest a documentary how at the zoo they were having to keep them indoors at night as they "map" the stars for migration/navigation and this how they return to their breeding sites, so they didn't want to them to return to the zoo....maybe this one hasn't read the rule book.

  2. Hi Douglas, are you sure you mean Spotted Crake and not Corncrake? I know they did a breeding programme with those and they released them onto the Nene Washes near Peterborough. I heard a lost one earlier this year on the Ouse Washes near the RSPB end. Spotted Crakes do breed on the Ouse Washes and they are believed to be commoner than thought but the only way to monitor them is to go out in the middle of the night and listen to calling birds. I had a chat with the warden at RSPB Manea and he said he had to do it most years which involves being in the hide at 2am listening for the distinctive whiplash call.

  3. Ooops :o) it was me that didn't read a link properly at not the poor old spotted crake misreading the rule book


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