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March 10th

On Sunday afternoon I took a phone call from my Mum and Robin who were in Witton Woods. They had been walking through the woods, enjoying the sunshine, in the hope of finding some Crossbills when they were lucky enough to come across a party of 10-12 feeding in a stand of Larches; the tree of choice, it seems, whenever Crossbills turn up at this site. Speaking to Robin that evening, he talked of one he had seen with white wing bars, and although unlikely, the possibility of it being a Two-barred Crossbill meant it warranted further investigation. Anyway, even if it wasn't one, the Crossbills, along with several Siskins and some Redpolls, would be worth seeing on their own merit. Some local birders spent the next few days looking at them and I managed to visit on Wednesday for about an hour. Walking up the track towards the favoured trees I heard the excited 'chip, chip, chip' calls of several birds as they took flight and on looking up, I could see a group of 25-30 quite bulky finches flying away. Positioning myself so as to be able to watch any returning birds, I waited. There was movement amongst the high branches but viewing against the cold grey sky, trying to get a clear view of small birds in the thick tangle of Larch twigs and clusters of small cones, wasn't easy. A male Siskin was atop one tree, singing his heart out, and a general twittering from other Siskins and at least one Lesser Redpoll filled the air. It was wonderful to experience but standing around, I felt rather cold. Two Goldcrests were noteworthy, they were almost absent from the coast last autumn and my first of the year, and Coal Tits were best described as abundant. Eventually a couple of larger birds drew my eye and I was pleased that some Crossbills had returned to feed. They remained silent as they fed and getting good clear views was difficult, but this small group were all Common Crossbills, males and females. All the finches occasionally took flight, seemingly spooked by something unseen by me, but they soon returned. I watched a couple of Siskins and a Coal Tit come to drink at a small puddle and had time been on my side, I would have staked out the puddle for longer as Finches, being seed eaters, need to drink regularly and in doing so they usually give good views. I didn't see the flock of 25-30 birds anymore but speaking this evening to another birder who visited today, I learned that perhaps as many as 40-50 Crossbills may be present.

A male (top) and female Common Crossbill, Witton Woods,
March 2010 © Bob Cobbold

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