Thursday 30 April 2009

Speyside, Monday 20th April

A busman's holiday for me today with a quick sortie over into Speyside to see what is happening with all things loxia.

Arriving late morning it was decided to target the woods at Grantown as I had heard from a correspondent that birds were present and nesting. Lots of dog walkers were an ominous sign (sorry, but I can't stand muts running about off the lead all over the place, though I do like dogs). The most abundant species was without doubt Siskin and we even had a female gathering moss and flying up to her nest.

The big open space after the curling ponds produced faint crossbill calls but the birds were very difficult to locate and we proceeded further into the wood. Shortly, 3 Parrots were found ( two males and one female). They flew directly over but muggins had forgot to switch on the power on the K6 module for the Sennheiser mic - twatsville ! I had decided to record on to minidisc as it is a bit more portable than the dish. All my 'other' recorders supply phantom power so I just forgot. Yes, I know it is reall amatuerish, but then, I am an amatuer. How did I know they were Parrots ? Well:

1) Their flight calls were a deep, slow "Choop", not the fast, thin "cheep's" of the commons that are abundant just now in the pinewoods.

2) They were MASSIVE ! They had big bodies and big heids = Parrot.

On we went, especially in search of Cresties for the missus. We reached a quiet area that I reckoned looked great for cresties - lots of pine snags, birches and some plantation. A bit of pishing brought one in and one of us had their day made......for the time being.

About a quarter of a mile on the track we turned the corner and CRRRRASH, a male Caper twenty yards away flew broadside right across the track and gave crippling views. Normally I hear them crash out of trees away from me so this was the closest I have been to a male ( I got really close to a female gritting at Glen Tanar once). It wasn't the first for my missus though definitely the best views. Surprisingly, we saw one flying a mile across a valley at a height of around 200 ft. just two days earlier on Deeside. Surreal.

Just when things couldn't get much better crossbills were calling all around though distant. Most of these were common types which have settled in the woods in large numbers waiting for the larch and sitka to cone. Typical 1A's though the ones with the 'parroty' looking Fc's (Fc's and Ec's present in this sonogram):

On the way back to the car we picked up that group near the open space by the curling ponds. A group of 8 Commons, all feeding happily on scots pine. As the flew off I got these flight calls:

Those with keen eyes will see the Fc4 type call in there. Another recording had a Fc associated with the type that is 1B - this has been the most dominant Common call for the last 3 years in NE Scotland at least, and seemingly wider afield. In late 2007 25-30% of the Common Crossbills we were catching were type 4E, the others mainly 1B and some 1A's of various sorts. With the larch failure and poor sitka crop things have been mixed up and 1A is now the most prolific call in NE Scotland. However, 4E and 1B are still present albeit in very small numbers. Clearly, the birds have been highly nomadic this winter due to crop failure. What is interesting is that 1A appears to have regained it's 'Scottish' Common status and the other types have apparently fizzled out, at least locally - dead or relocated, who knows ? It is going to be really interesting to see what types come in with the big irruption we are going to have this summer ( here's hoping, ringing licence poised and all) !

For anyone going to Speyside this Spring take heed: most of the crossbills in the native pinewoods just now appear to be Common types. Same over here in Deeside. Happy hunting !

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Private Members Bill

A nice bill study of a 'pine' crossbill. Somewhat spoiled by the grass in the way but a real impromptu 'stealth' shot. Will leave it up to the individual for identification.......but, let's just say if it was a 'published' photograph it would be a Scottish Crossbill. You do the math, as they say !

Got much better pics of both pine species but am holding these back for publication.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Well I'm Back..........Back In Black.

Loxia Fantastica is back, at least in some form ! So, you can't accuse me of throwing all my toys out of the pram.... well you can I suppose, but I have just jumped out and bunged em all back in, if you want to think that way. I feel it is important to highlight some of the dedicated work that is (still) being undertaken on the loxia taxa and to at least continue to give it a UK, and dare I say, Scottish profile.

The 'lab' work and analysis/writing up is still well underway and all being well some may be in print later this year inc. some short notes/papers. Some potentially really exciting stuff for next year in the can. It is also giving me an opportunity to see exactly how much stuff I have for the CD project - I suspect I need at least one more Winter and possibly Spring to complete this, not sure - I want it to be as complete as possible but am beginning to accept that this may never happen....something 'new' always appears.

For all those keen bean loxia fanatics who simply can't wait there is an alternative: you can always do your own research/study/project ! But just remember, you will not always be able to identify every crossbill call, and, for every question you do think you answer be prepared for several more to be raised in response. Oh, and expect to spend a LOT of time in the field, sometimes with seemingly not much return. And, without biometric or biochemical data all you have is "this call was here then" and "this call (possibly) matches with this call". Useful yes, but not definitive, if there ever is such a thing with crossbills !