Friday, November 14, 2008

Two-barred Crossbrill !

Two-barred Crossbill at Garfitts Farm, North Yorkshire

On the afternoon of November 7th 2008 RSPB enquiries at Sandy, Bedfordshire received an email from Mrs Patricia Urquhart the owner of Garfitts Farm in Bilsdale, North Yorkshire. Accompanying the email was an attached image of a bird that had been visiting her garden peanut feeder since late October (probably around the 27th).

Darren Oakley-Martin opened the image and concluded the bird was a male Two-barred Crossbill. I was contacted and sent the image later that day, as I was birding at Buckton at the time. I was equally amazed when I saw the image. Not only was it a striking male Two-barred Crossbill but it also appeared that Mrs and Mr Urquhart, who enjoy feeding birds in their garden had checked in a friends bird book and had already come to the same conclusion!

Later that evening I called Mrs Urquhart and confirmed the identification. I explained the rarity of the bird and the likely scenario if she was kind enough to allow me to put out the news. She most willingly agreed and said that birdwatchers were welcome to visit their isolated garden and to see the bird for themselves. Later that evening I contacted various news suppliers and the word was officially out. I don’t think Mrs Urquhart really believed me when I suggested that by first light the next morning the garden would be full of birders with the hoards on their way!

Over 500 birders turned up over the weekend and I contacted the Mrs Urquhart several times to make sure things were going well. Apart from a few cars getting bogged down on the muddy track all was well and the family were enjoying the spectacle.

The bird had been showing extremely well often feeding on the front garden feeder at 30-minute intervals and delighting all comers.

On my visit I was fortunate enough to watch the bird at point blank range from within the Urquharts kitchen window, a most remarkable experience!

At the time of writing the bird is still visiting the feeders and is as popular as ever. It is great to report that all birders have behaved impeccably and the family are very impressed with the birding community.

Two-barred Crossbill breeds from northern Scandinavia eastwards to Amurland and also in northern North America and the West Indies. Mostly resident but food crop shortages cause eruptive and dispersive behaviour in some years. In the UK most have been associated with large eruptions of Crossbills, notably so in 1966, 1972 and 1990.

Autumn 2008 saw a significant influx of this species on the Northern Isles, particularly on Fair Isle where amazingly a flock of 9 juveniles were present along side several adults birds in August.

There have been nine previous Yorkshire records (12 birds) excluding the previously documented first county record at Plompton, Knaresborough in 1826, which is now deemed unacceptable.

1845 Cowick, Snaith (4 individuals shot)
1889 Easington (immature male shot)
1889 Flamborough (male obtained)
1931 Goathland (female on May 3rd)
1972 Whitby (male in garden August 3-7th)
1982-1983 Hollingdale Plantation (male on Oct 30th and January 9th –February 27th)
1983 Howden Reservoir (male 9th-10th January, 13th and 27th February)
1990 Bridestones, Dalby Forest (male on December 3rd)
2002 Bole Edge Plantation (male 1st-5th September)

The crossbill formed part of an east coast ‘round-robin’ for northern bound birders taking in the Steppe Grey Shrike and both Pied and Desert Wheatears, bringing a finale to a great autumn.

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