On the Trail of the Cone Crunchers

Ian and I had a day of birding marked on the calendar for Thursday with a lets see what’s about sort of plan. A flock of Parrot Crossbills in Berkshire was the obvious choice so 07.00 on a bright crisp morning found me yet again heading east on the M4. This time I had the pleasure of being in the left-hand seat. With plenty of Red Kites seen along the way and with managing to avoid heavy traffic the Sat-Nav got us to the Kings Ride in Camberley in good time. Not as grand as it sounds this leads onto a lovely area of heathland on the Berkshire / Surrey border. Being next to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst there was the almost constant sound of gunfire. Along with the many aircraft overhead and the distant drone of traffic it wasn’t the most peaceful of sites. Using directions from the Berkshire birds site www.berksbirds.co.uk we headed of onto the heath. As we hesitated at a crossway a couple of local dog-walkers who had somehow worked out where were headed pointed us in the right direction. We soon arrived at the small group of Scots Pines that the Parrot Crossbills have been favouring to be told by other birders that the flock was in the area. It wasn’t long the distinct calls heralded the arrival of the flock. The birds split up, disappearing deep into three of the pines before eventually, briefly coming into view, perched high up in view against the clear blue sky. In the sunshine the bright orange / red males were striking and obvious, the females a little harder to see, sometimes a branch jumping about deep in the tree was the only indication the birds were there. When a bird did decide to stay in full view for a while showing off the massive beak and solid build. It was easy to see the cones being ripped open by the powerful beak and on occasions a whole cone was removed from the tree and the bird stripped it whilst holding it in its claw. Eventually the whole flock, almost as one flew up and headed off to the east, we counted twenty birds so it may be that there were three or four Common Crossbills amongst the Parrots. It was now time to try and find a Dartford Warbler which had already been heard. After a few minutes of following small tracks through the Heather and Gorse we managed a couple of Stonechats, some Wrens and finally a brief glimpse of a Dartford. We then disturbed two Roe Deer before getting a better but still brief flight view of low flying Dartford. Agreeing it was time to head back to the car we had views of Jay and Great Spot Woodpecker. An appearing out of nowhere flock of birds were quickly identified by Ian as Woodlark, we counted eighteen in all, a real bonus. A celebratory sausage sandwich and hot drink were next. These were had at the  excellent cafe at Blackbushe Airport were we both enjoyed some time watching planes. Next stop was a small; wooded area at Hartley Wintney where Hawfinch had been seen the previous day. A short walk got us Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and frustratingly a heard only Hawfinch. With no other  obvious local sites to visit we agreed that heading to Old Sarum on the outskirts of Salisbury and then onto Salisbury Plain would be a good plan. There were a good number of Gulls at Old Sarum and getting out of the car we started to scan, Starting from the left the third gull in was  a smart adult Yellow-legged, Ian who had started from the right quickly got on it and then soon found another. Both gave good views. Further scanning found one more. Apart from four species of gull we also had Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Pied Wagtail, Starling and Mallard here. We then headed to the Plain accessing it from Netheravon. A few Fieldfare were on the airfield and a small group of small birds that flew up from the roadside were Chaffinches with a single Brambling amongst them. Weather Hill Firs was our first stop with Brambling being our hoped for bird. Coal Tit and Siskin were heard as we got out of the car. Wandering into the trees we soon found a small flock of birds dropping down to the ground, moving closer we managed to pick out a few Brambling amongst the Chaffinches. Then a Sparrowhawk shot through sending all the small birds into the hedgerow. After watching for a few more minutes it was time to move on. With the car not being ideal for many of the tracks on the east side we drove over to Upavon from where we would access the central perimeter road at Casterley Vedette. As we drove up the lane a large flock of pigeons took to the air, typically there was a car behind us so we couldn’t stop. Once we were able to let the other car passed we stopped and were lucky enough to pick up a Ringtail Hen Harrier low over the fields. We watched it until it dropped out of sight over the ridge. We then drove west along to the track and as we were heading into the sun viewing was quite difficult. So at Redhorn we turned and retraced our path. Not much seen, mainly Starlings with a lot of small flock presumably heading to roost, also a couple o Kestrels and Corn Buntings.  By now the light was fading fast so it was time to head for home. Despite driving the lanes and a look in at Barbury Castle no Owls were seen. We ended the day with around fifty species which included one lifer, one UK year tick and two Wiltshire Year ticks. Thanks as usual to Ian for chauffeuring me around.

2 responses to “On the Trail of the Cone Crunchers

  1. A grand day out Malc. A good number of Woodlark there.

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