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Sunday, 24 November 2013

10 Parrot Crossbills at Tunstall Common

I had been planning to visit the Parrot Crossbills at Holt for sometime and an offer of a lift today, Sunday 24th November, with OFB was gratefully accepted. As we drove up to Acle the weather really closed in with thick black cloud and steady rain. A tweet came through that yesterday's Parrot Crossbills at Tunstall were still there. A quick call to Carl B revealed the weather was much better in Suffolk, so we turned around and diverted via Poringland, Bungay and Halesworth and just 3 1/2 miles past Snape we turned left (by the black barn) by the sign pointing us to Tunstall Common carpark and we were soon parked up in a heath with heather and some Pine trees. They were initially in a large Pine and I saw a Crossbill type bird fly quickly past a gap before all 10 Parrot Crossbills (8 males and 2 females) all flew up calling a deep " Chuup chuup" and flew to the top of a smaller stand of pines 100 yards further south. One fine male Parrot Crossbill perched on the top with a few more seen further down. The large bulging bills was clearly seen. I walked over to obtain close views. It was here they spent the entire time in a stand of some 7 Pine trees in front of us. They would often completely disappear from view and we were grateful for the male they continued to perch at the very top. Just under him and to the left a grey green female fed from within a "dark hole" area. For the next few hours birds were seen feeding within several "dark hole" areas, often obscured and seen feeding behind pine cones or the pine needles. It was also apparent that these Parrots would often pull off Pine cones and hold them firmly in their substantial bills. As we continued to observe the odd male, paler immatures and adult male perched out completely in the open from time to time. The Parrot Crossbills differed from ordinary Crossbills in appearing slightly bigger with significant bull necks. They had very thick bulging bills being as wide as they were long and the lower mandible showing a distinct "S" curve on the top leading edge. Plumage wise the rear of the ear coverts, "neck" and shoulders" were greyer than ordinary Crossbills and the call occasionally heard was a deeper "chuup chuup" call. When finally the sun came out the birds appeared as if by magic with 3 together (all males) with an adult male just below and just below and left of that an immature male and near the top left a female Parrot Crossbill. Managed to get a few shots too, albeit at not very close range. It was fantastic to see these birds after a 30 year gap, the last ones I saw were the breeders at Wells Wood in Norfolk, way back in 1982! Also a really great addition to my Suffolk list, my second of the year following the Trimley Pacific Swift in the spring! A Kestrel hunted on the common nearby. Later on at 2.30pm I checked the stubble field just east of the old Sewage works and just a few yards east of the OSW 2 birds flew up calling the distinctive "pprrrt" call revealed them as 2 Lapland Buntings. They flew towards the cliff top path area, from here they flew to the field just south of here and whilst walking along the cliff top path, first one and then 2 of the Buntings flew low just past us and north and settled by the central path leading east. From here I saw 1 Lapland Bunting perched in the grassy tramline area it turned left showing it was quite a well marked bird before darting in the central stubble where I was happy to leave it.

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