After working some strange shifts down in London during the week, I could quite happily have spent the weekend catching up on sleep, but I'd seen the forecast, and Saturday promised sunshine and calm conditions. Perfect for short-eared owls. Except I wanted something else. And the lack of wind would mean tree-tops wouldn't be swaying quite as much as they had been of late.
I'd set my alarm for 8am, but was wide awake at 6, and opted to get up half an hour later. Just before 9am, I parked up at the upper car park at Eymore Wood, near Trimpley, to hopefully catch a sighting of some common crossbills. I've seen them before, at the same place, but always right at the top of the trees, and usually in bright light, making them into silhouettes. It was cold, so I chose to stay in my car, and both watch and listen for the birds.
I'd been the week before, when huge flocks of siskins, redpolls and goldfinches feasted on the cones on the trees. Aside from small bands of tits, comprising of blue, great, coal and marsh varieties, there was little else around. A lone buzzard swooped occasionally into the trees down the road, and after 3 hours or so, I was beginning to think it wasn't to be.
Then a small flock - five of them circled overhead, calling loudly out. I craned my neck out of the window and was panic struck as one brightly coloured male landed at the top of a larch tree. Grabbing the camera, I lined up and took a couple of shots. Then I spotted the light meter and realised, as usual, the mode on the camera had been knocked from Manual to something else, and my shots were wasted.
Why on earth Canon can't make a camera that allows a mode to be locked is beyond me, but yet again, I'd failed to remember to check, and a car parking up beneath the tree, spooked the bird. Fortunately, the flock only flew away briefly and returned within minutes to allow for another go. Again though, the birds were right at the top of a tree, and I only bagged record shots.
Then Pam and family arrived, which was a welcome sight - we used to bump into each other frequently, so shared some banter and scanned the trees at the same time. Spotting a pair of crossbills (or canaries, as Pam joked) down the road, we scurried down to try again, and this time the birds were a bit closer, so better shots were to be had.
The birds seem to use their twisted beaks to prise open the cones, and then poke their tongues in, to get the seed. They're certainly acrobatic birds, and balance on the thinnest of twigs to reach the cones. They also seem to eat the buds off trees, doing so on a poplar tree in the car park, which proved to be another challenge, to get a clear shot.
By the end of the day, I had managed a few half-decent shots, and caught up with a bigger flock, near the top of the car park. They fed and then chased one another around the branches.
While I'd not seen them as close as I would have liked, it had still been a good day, and at least I now have some shots of this woodland bird.
Sunday's forecast was for cloud, so I had a bit of a lie in, before checking bird reports. I had planned to spend some of the day searching for the lesser spotted woodpecker at Upton Warren, but I had to fit in the hour from the conservatory first, doing the RSPB Bird Watch.
During which, I read online, that a black redstart had been spotted near Hartlebury, on an industrial estate, so that was my first place to stop off at.
No sign of the redstart (though it was seen later, after I left). There was, however, a berry-laden tree nearby, proving to be a real attraction for redwings and fieldfares. Ok, so the light was awful, but while I waited to see if the redstart would make an appearance, I took a few shots of these winter thrushes.
Quite noisy for redwings, and they frequently squabbled, but there were enough berries for all, and they seemed to be enjoying their fill.
Back at UW, the LSW proved to be a no-show, so I upped sticks and went home. Hopefully it'll stick around for next weekend.