Crossbill conundrum!

Reports of various Crossbills recently have prompted us to look at a few of the photos and the more we have looked the more confusing it has become! We have focussed on some excellent photos taken of a group of birds that have been present at Upper Hollesley Common in Suffolk. The following shots were taken by John Richardson and show several individuals with rather large bills that certainly hint at Parrot Crossbill

And this shot by Sean Nixon

To our eyes these look very Parrot-like with some birds showing parallel bill sides and a very deep bill base. These seem to have been never claimed as anything other than Common Crossbills though! 
Contrast these birds with this female bird in West Sussex a few weeks ago which was claimed and generally 'accepted' as a Parrot Crossbill. 

This one looks more like a Common to us!

All goes to show we still have a lot to learn about the crossbill complex. Where Scottish Crossbill fits in here is anyone's guess. Maybe certain authorities such as Lee Evan and the UK400 Club are correct in dismissing Scottish as a species and all crossbill bill sizes are variable??!!   

Cantley Marshes, Norfolk, 23 March 2012

With the unseasonally warm spring weather continuing and a free morning it was off to Station Road, Cantley to try to get some snaps of the group of 4 Glossy Ibis which have been in residence there for about 10 days. And very much at home they looked feeding and preening in the sun, it could almost have been the Med! Although not mega close I did manage some shots. Along the ditch behind me was a Cetti's Warbler, a few lingering Wigeon were on the marsh as well as 2 Chinese Water Deer out in the open. Chiffchaffs are now widespread after my 1st record of the year at Pulham Market on 16th.


Blyford, Suffolk - 11 March 2012

A very quick blog entry but 4 Common Cranes flying inland over Blyford on the upper Blyth Estuary couldn't be ignored! A nice end to a non-birding day out at Southwold.

Marlingford, Norfolk - 8 March 2012

We spent a rewarding couple of hours in the upper Yare Valley just west of Norwich today. Despite being elusive for quite a while the Great White Egret finally gave itself up and with a little naughtiness I managed to get a couple of record shots. The long-staying American Wigeon which we managed to catch up with back in December wasn't playing ball through and despite lots of looking couldn't be located. Other items of interest included Little Egret, c50 Wigeon, Common Buzzard and a pair of Grey Wagtails at Marlingford Mill.

Great White Egret, Marlingford

Goa, Day 14, 23 February 2012 - Arpora Woods & Baga

Our final day - sob!
Having arranged and paid the hotel for a late check-out we were able to get out again today knowing that we could return for a shower etc before the long journey home.
After a dashed breakfast at the hotel we grabbed a taxi to the nearby Arpora Woods and agreed to be picked up 2 hours later. This proved to be just about the right amount of time to cover this nice piece of open woodland and adjacent open clearings. A walk down to the dry stream bed and open area beyond initially revealed just loads of Red-whiskered Bulbuls but pretty soon we also had c6 Asian Koel, c5 Little Green Bee-eaters, Ashy Woodswallow, good numbers of White-rupmed Munias and an Indian Golden Oriole. 2 Paddyfield Pipits allowed close approach on the short cropped grass and then our main target bird - a pair of White-bellied Drongos flew into a large tree and showed very nicely.

White-bellied Drongo

White-bellied Drongo

Paddyfield Pipit

Returning to the main path Plum-headed Parakeets were very evident with several fly-overs, a Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters perched up and a White-bellied Sea Eagle flew over heading towards the coast. We also had 20+ Rose-coloured Starlings before some calling prinias caught my attention. After a while they were nailed as 5+ Ashy Prinias. A little further on a stroke of luck resulted in a lovely Black-hooded Oriole perched in overhanging branches over the path but is moved on all too quickly.
Back towards the entrance we walked down to the dry streambed again and in a final 20 minutes scored with loads more Red-whiskered Bulbuls, 2 Red-vented Bulbuls, Orange-headed Thrush, Loten's Sunbird and the final new bird of the trip - a long overdue pair of Coppersmith Barbets.  Just before we left a Shikra flew into a tree above our heads with a lizard it had caught and posed for photographs. One of 3 seen this morning.

Coppersmith Barbet


The remainder of the day was spent in Baga, chilling and getting ready for the journey home. Still, I did manage Ashy Drongo, Long-tailed Shrike, Indian Roller, Black-shouldered Kite, Marsh Harrier and Green Sandpiper. We decided on a final stroll on the low path at the seaward end of Baga Hill in the later afternoon which yielded 2 Western Reef Herons, Striated Heron, loads of Red-rumped Swallows, White-beiiled Sea Eagle, Common Tailorbird, Jungle Myna, Oriental Magpie Robin and Purple-rumped Sunbird. Baga Fields held both Stonechat and Pied Stonechat and then, as the sun set on a fantastic trip the Cinnamon Bittern showed once more at the Biera Mar.

Ashy Drongo

Cinnamon Bittern

Triplist = 211
Lifers = 142

Goa, Day 13, 22 February 2012 - Cotigao & Palolem Beach

Deciding to forego breakfast at the Village Guesthouse this morning we'd arranged a taxi through our hosts to the nearby nature reserve of Cotigao.

We were the first visitors of the day to the reserve and having paid our modest entrance fees we proceeded along the entrance track in the taxi and bizarrely enough saw the best birds of the morning in those first few minutes - A Grey Junglefowl on the track and then a male Malabar Trogon which flew into a trackside sappling! After that is was downhill for a while as our taxi driver decided to 'escort us' on a rather unproductive walk to an observation tower. Along this trail we did at least get some good views of Forest Wagtail plus Malabar Grey Hornbill and Orange-headed Thrush but the habitat was very enclosed and difficult to work. We were then left to walk back along the main track ourselves where things weren't much more lively. Several Orange-headed Thrushes, another Forest Wagtail, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and an elusive Malabar Pied Hornbill were all we had to show for a great deal of effort. Nearing the waiting taxi however we at last found an open area and suddenly birds - 2 Golden-fronted Leadfbirds, 2 Scarlet Minivets, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, 1-2 Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, Common Iora and both Purple and Purple-rumped Sunbirds. Overhead a Crested Serpent Eagle circled, 3+ Plum-headed Parakeets moved noisly through and a welcome Pacific Swift was also bagged. The morning was saved and we even made it back in time for breakfast!

Orange-headed Thrush

Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Malabar Giant Squirrel

That afternoon we opted for another walk north along Palolem Beach as I wanted to photograph some of the waders on the beach. We also gave in to a boat ride up the small river which turned out to be very entertaining and gave some more good photo opportunities. Greater Sandplover on the beach was followed by White-bellied Sea Eagle over the sea before we boarded the boatfor our private tour. While the birding wasn't spectacular it did yield 3 Red-wattled Lapwings, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Striated Heron, c8 Little Cormorants, Little Green Bee-eater, Common, Stork-billed and White-breasted Kingfishers, White-throated Fantail and Wire-tailed Swallow.

Greater Sandplover 

Stork-billed Kingfisher

Red-wattled Lapwing


Little Cormorant

Common Sandpiper

Wire-tailed Swallow

The afternoon taxi drive back north to Baga wasn't without its birding highlights - c6 Openbill Storks, c6 Glossy Ibis, several Intermediate Egrets, 2 Purple Herons, Grey Heron and Indian Roller making it an entertaining drive.      

Goa, Day 12, 21 February 2012 - Palolem & Patnem

After exploring Palolem beach yesterday and making a short pre-breakfast walk to the north end (Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Common Sandpipers only) we decided to wander a little further today, south to Patnem.
Midway between the 2 beaches and slightly inland our walk took us through a wooded area that was surprisingly productive. Several Asian Koels, shared the trees with 3 Shikras and 2 Black-rumped Flamebacks even put in a appearance. Over head were 2-3 Asian Palm Swifts, Ashy Woodswallow and a Little Swift. Best of all was a Jacobin Cuckoo which quickly flew away through a large copse where we also saw Greenish Warbler, White-breasted Kingfisher, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Oriental Magpie Robin and Purple-rumped Sunbird. Down on Patnem Beach a White-browed Wagtail flew north along the tideline and several Jungle Mynas and Ring-necked Parakeets lurked noisily behind the beach. On the return walk a nice Sykes's Warbler showed well in a roadside bush.

Several Greater Sandplovers and Kenitsh Plovers were on Palolem Beach late afternoon when we decided to walk inland of the north side of the village for my only Indian geocache. It was  a success not only for finding the cache but also Striated Heron and a White-throated Fantail! All that despite being bitten to death by mozzies! 

Goa, Day 11, 20 February 2012 - Palolem Beach

Escape from Baga, part 3! We'd booked a couple of nights in a plus guesthouse in Palolem in south Goa towards the end of our trip to unwind and relax. That meant I didn't do too much birding but still managed the odd goodie.

Santosh gave us a good price to take us down there abd collect us 2 days later. On the journey down Indian Roller, 2 Pied Stonechats, several Great White Egrets and a White-eyed Buzzard were seen from the car. The rest of the day was spent leisurely strolling along Palolem beach where waders are quite numerous at low tide - c10 Kentish Plovers, 4 Greater Sandplovers and c25 Common Sandpipers. Black and Brahminy Kites were joined by 4 White-bellied Sea Eagles over the bay and then while sitting at the north end of the beach a very surprising Indian Vulture flew over and headed inland. Other than that there was Greenish Warbler and Oriental Magpie Robin near the guesthouse and a Blue Rock Thrush at the north end of the beach on a rock in the sea.    

Goa, Day 10, 19 February 2012 - Zuari River & Baga Hill (west)

A few days previously we'd arranged a taxi ride and river trip with Santosh. For 1000 INR taxi fare and 1200 INR each boat fare we'd got places on one of the renowned Zuari River Trips to see some of the scarce kingfishers that are extremely difficult to get to grips with otherwise. Belinda was also very keen to see crocodiles! It proved to be a wonderful experience and one I'd thoroughly recommend to any birder.

When we arrived at the small slipway on the edge of the south side of the Zuari River we had a few minutes to spare so indulgd ourselves in some birding - a large tree on the opposite side of the road held Indian Golden Oriole, Spotted Dove and several Red-whiskered Bulbuls while a Common Sandpiper was on the slipway and a White-browed Wagtail flew along the river bank. Next to the boat - there were only about 6 of us on board so it was a lovely relaxed trip with no jostling for viewing position. The boatman is very skilled at finding the birds and is able to cut the motor and drift up to them to give mega views. Initially we motored under the road and railway bridges heading in a seaward direction. On the first set of posts in the water were 2 Swift Terns and a single Brown-headed Gull which we gopt seriously close to. Gull-billed Terns passed every now and again as we headed further west to a nother post which held a perched White-bellied Sea Eagle. The following photos wil show how close we got to these birds!

Swift Tern

Brown-headed Gull

White-bellied Sea Eagle

White-bellied Sea Eagle

We did a u-turn next and headed east back under the birdges and towards the north bank of the river. On the road bridge was a sitting Peregrine and several Dusky Crag Martins. Within a very short space of time we saw first Stork-billed Kingfisher, Marsh Mugger Crocodile and then one of our most wanted birds - Black-capped Kingfisher. Both at point blank range. Common Kingfisher, White-breasted Kingfisher, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Baya Weavers, Little Cormorants, Osprey and Marsh Harrier were added as 'padders' (!) as we headed up a side creek.

Stork-billed Kingfisher

Marsh Mugger Crododile

Black-capped Kingfisher

Blue-tailed Bee-eater

Further up the side creek our boatman then located the rarest kingfisher, the much sought after Collared Kingfisher and in the same area we also found Western Reef Heron, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black-headed Ibis, Wooly-necked Stork and brief views of Blue-faced Malkoha and Clamorous Reed Warbler


Collared Kingfisher

Western Reef Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Reluctantly turning around for the return journey we clocked Spotted Doves, Redshank, loads of Great White Egrets, c20 Flying Foxes and then a superb Lesser Adjutant sat looking menacing in a dead tree.

Spotted Dove

Great White Egret

Flying Fox

Great White Egret

Lesser Adjutant
The rest of the day was bound to be an anti-climax after that but we opted for a late afternoon walk up the west side of Baga Hill. The sun was still burning down which made for a sweaty walk. On the edge of Baga Fields from the road were a Pied Stonechat and a Richard's Pipit and then just before we began the walk up the western path up the hill an Alexandrine Parakeet and 2 Yellow-footed Green Pigeons showed nicely. The trawl up the fairly obscure path gave us just a few White-rumped Munias and a brief Blue-faced Malkoha before we reached the more open scrub on the top. Birding was slow but I located a White-browed Bulbul and then taking a detour just onto the northern slopes gave me a singing Indian Robin and 3 Grey-breasted Prinia. On the way back down 2 Black-rumped Flamebacks flew into and then out of some of the bigger trees before we trudged back through the chaos of Baga to our hotel.

Little Green Bee-eater

White-rumped Munia

Indian Robin

Goa, Day 9, 18 February 2012 - The Hermitage, Karnataka

On our 3rd and final day at the Hermitage we made another early morning walk walk before breakfast. This time to a similar area as yesterday but using a different path down to the stream. My only regret was not taking my camera because we enjoyed some fantastic views of my much wanted bird - Malabar Trogon. And it was a nice bright male into the bargain! 2 Asian Paradise Flycatchers, including a mega white phase male, 1 Dark-fronted Babbler, 2 Yellow-browed Bulbuls, 1 White-rumped Sharma, c5 White-cheeked Barbets, 2 Brown-cheeked Fulvettas, Orange-headed Thrush, loads of Blyth's Reed Warblers and a Greater Coucal made it a very rewarding early morning.

After a leisurely breakfast we ventured out again in the heat of the late morning to walk along the main track and a side track through a citrus grove. 2 Tickell's Blue Flycatchers and a Nilgiri Woodpigeon started things off and then I got onto a very welcome and surprisingly distinctive Taiga Flycatcher on a low wire fence by the track. Further on a group of Jungle Babblers skulked in low bushes and a couple of unidentified rufous quail flew quicky across a gap. A small group of pipits in the citrus grove turned out to be Tree Pipits when they were seen well enough.

Blyth's Reed Warbler

Red-whiskered Bulbul

After one last sumptuous lunch it was time to leave the Western Ghats for the last time and bid our farewells to our great hosts. Our taxi driver took us back to Baga in very heavy traffic and despite driving like a nutter he got us back without incident - until he hit a motorbike right outside the hotel gates!        

Goa, Day 8, 17 February 2012 - The Hermitage, Karnataka

A self-imposed early morning start today as I was keen to get out and do a short walk before returning for breakfast. A walk along the main access track initially produced 4 Malabar Grey Hornbills and both Malabar and White-cheeked Barbet. We then retraced our steps and walked down past fields close to our accomodation and dropped down through some lush woodland to a stream. Long-tailed Shrike was one of the next birds seen followed by White-breasted Kingfisher and a noisy group of Jungle Babblers. Entering the wood we could here woodpecker noises and eventually tracked it down to a lovely and unexpected Streak-throated Woodpecker on an old dead bamboo clump. Moving along the track through the wood there were Blyth's Reed Warblers, Large-billed Crows, Brown-cheeked Fulvettas, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and a nice White-rumped Shama before a strange call alerted my attention. With a bit of patience a splendid pair of Indian Scimitar Babblers showed nicely, what a bird these are! Down by the stream we were then amused by the sight of a Greater Coucal chasing a White-breasted Waterhen which had obviously caught something. On the walk back Spotted Doves were obvious.

Malabar Grey Hornbill

After breakfast and then a lazy lunch we chilled around the garden enjoying the antics of 2 Golden-fronted Leafbirds and White-cheeked Barbet in our fuiting tree and then a beautiful Oriental White-eye in low bushes right in front of us. A Greater Spotted Eagle sailed over as did an Oriental Honey Buzzard. We went on a long sweaty walk after lunch over the other side of the stream we'd been to earlier but in the heat of the day things were quiet. We did add Green Warbler to the list as well as Purple and Purple-rumped Sunbird, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Asian Koel and were then entertained as a Shikra sped through a group of Jungle Babblers causing mayhem!

Jungle Babbler

Jungle Babbler

Oriental White-eye

Oriental White-eye

White-cheeked Barbet

Our evening walk with David was a hike up his self-named Bear Hill which has a claim to fame of being the site that his daughter Katrina has discovered a new species of red crab that lives in the cracks of the rocks on the summit and survives on water from the rains. Birding was slow with c10 Pompadour Green Pigeons, Malabar Barbet and White-cheeked Barbet being the highlights of the walk up. Near the top a brief view of a skulking Red Spurfowl was had and an Orange-headed Thrush showed. The view from the top was spectacular however which was more than can be said with the very brief and rather unsatisfactory view I got of Forest Wagtail on the way down! After a detour so Belinda could see the tribal village on the way back the regular female White-bellied Woodpecker was again going to roost in her hole.

After dinner Katrina showed us a couple of Tarantulas at the entrances to their holes - awesome!