Well to the Forest to be precise. The Forest of Dean. A modest little jaunt in Terry's car from my home in northwest Oxfordshire, traversing the northern Cotswolds, across the River Severn and into the Forest of Dean, where time seems to come to a halt in a huge area of woodland betwixt England and Wales.
The weather was not good as we left Kingham but crossing the Cotswolds we could see the retreating edge of the weather front and by the time we arrived in the forest the rain had gone and the sun was high in an azure blue sky with just a breath of wind. We knew it would not last as yet another weather front of torrential rain and winds was heading our way from the wastes of the North Atlantic but thankfully for today the weather was going to be pleasant. Personally I blame the Tories and that disgrace of an Environment Minister and global warming denier Owen Paterson. Greenest Government ever Mr Cameron? I don't think so but as long as one has gone to Eton who gives a toss.
Our first destination was Serridge Ridge near Brierely. This is an area of larch trees with a woodland track running along the top of the ridge and from which it has been possible for some weeks now to see various numbers, anything from three to seventeen, of Two barred Crossbills feeding in the tall larches beside the track. Well that's the theory but the practicalities were somewhat different today. The short walk up to the ridge from the car was pleasant enough. Three Jays, one after the other flew across in front of us whilst a Raven went cronking over the approach road and away above the trees into the forest. We turned onto the track and we walked down it and back up it and back down it and back and ... well I guess you get the picture. It was not an unpleasant stroll back and fore but there were no crossbills.
|The track atop Serridge Ridge looking west with larches on the left|
|The track atop Serridge Ridge looking East. |
The Two barred Crossbills were feeding in the tops of the larches on the right
This partial success raised our spirits and we ascended yet another mossy ride and back onto the track. Still nothing and certainly no crossbills. Terry suggested we go and look for Hawfinches at Parkend and come back later to try our luck with the elusive crossbills. Three hours had now elapsed. I agreed that this might be for the best. We set off down the track. As we passed some larch trees I could hear a subdued singing coming from some invisible birds high in the larch trees to our right. "Listen Terry I can hear a flock of small birds singing in the trees. Follow me, they are up there somewhere but I cannot see them from here. I don't think they are the crossbills. I don't know what they are but would like to find out".
We went back down a few metres off the track into the wood. "Damn it they have stopped singing". We stood briefly under the larches. The singing started again. Where were they? Which larch were they in? I walked a few paces right and saw two birds perched high up on spindly twigs on the left hand side of a larch tree.
Bins up. The first one I saw was bright cherry pink with two huge white wing bars. "Terry! They're here! Look! Hurry! There's a male Two barred up on the left of that tree! Terry promptly joined me and quickly saw it too and he in turn alerted another forlorn birder wandering the track of shame who also quickly joined us. No wonder I could not recognise the singing as it was a male Two barred Crossbill that was singing. I had never heard them sing before. A male with its red flank feathers fluffed out, sat on high in the sun a picture of contentment, singing away as a green female fed on tiny larch cones just below him. Occasionally he would stop singing to preen and then recommence singing. Others previously un-noticed joined them from the tops of adjacent larches. It was incredibly hard to pick them out in the tangle of branches and cones. We counted four, five, then no, six at least. Five males and one female. We circled around beneath them to try and get some photos but they were too high up so we were mainly looking at their undersides. I went back up to the track and managed to get some not very good images as they fed avidly on the larch cones.
Always they were at the wrong angle or obscured by branches and cones but I did my best. It was however just great to see them, especially after such a long wait and the males in the scope were simply magnificent in their pleasing combination of pink, white and dark brown. We watched them for around fifteen minutes and then, as is the way with crossbills, loud, excited metallic chipping calls signified departure and they flew as one flock out of the tops of the larches and away. Another lone one followed a few seconds later which made a total of seven. We tried to follow where they went but despite searching they had clearly travelled some distance and we could not find them again. No matter we had achieved our aim. I recollected that there had been no calls to alert us as to their arrival and but for the pure chance that the male was briefly singing as we passed we would never have known they were there.
Thrilled with our success we headed for Parkend for a go at the Hawfinches. Perceived wisdom was that to see them close, if at all, it was sensible to remain in the car. You could park relatively close to the Yew trees below which the Hawfinches would feed if undisturbed. My heart sank as we arrived at the Yew trees at Parkend to see a small line of very obvious birders standing out in the open scanning fruitlessly for Hawfinches, which being the ultra shy species they are were remaining well hidden in the trees if they were there at all. Eventually all these birders left and we were alone in the car with just one other person insisting on standing under a tree out in the open on the other side of the Yew trees. Needless to say no Hawfinch came down to feed under the Yew trees. We did however have the satisfaction of seeing no less than five or six Hawfinches arrive and perch, as they do, at the very tops of some high trees under which the annoying person was stood and noting that he was totally unaware of their presence.
|Distant Hawfinch cTerry|