Friday, 2 July 2010

Finch country

Excellent habitat for the wrong kind of finch ...

There have been a number of reports in the last couple of weeks of Common Crossbills on the move. Sightings of small groups have come mainly from coastal locations, but yesterday a flock was seen in London heading west over Wimbledon Common. Midsummer is the classic period for arrivals from the Continent of this irruptive early breeder, and even if this isn't a classic irruption year, there are certainly some on the move.

Having missed a small party earlier in the year at Broxbourne Woods, I resolved to try and make my own luck today and headed out to the western edge of the London Area in search of Loxias. The venue I selected was Black Park, on the Buckinghamshire fringe of the recording area, and the same place where I saw my first Common Crossbills in the capital many years ago. In fact, it is probably the most consistent site locally for this irregular species.

Well, I made my own good fortune, but not in the way intended. I searched the area extensively for a number of hours, listened, waited, played recordings and examined fallen pine cones. Not a sniff of anything with overlapping mandible tips, but I unexpectedly made another finch discovery: Siskin. I was amazed to hear distant Siskin calls coming from an area of tall pines with a few birches, and when I got up close almost immediately I found a male in full song perched up high in the canopy.

I watched the area for about an hour, and during that time had about 10 encounters with what I reckon were probably five or six individuals. The most visible at any one time were three, including a male and a juvenile, so breeding has surely taken place locally. The Birds of Buckinghamshire (1993) states that Siskin "may breed occasionally", and perhaps that has been confirmed since then, but in the London Area it seems the species still hadn't bred with certainty by the time of the last London Bird Report (2006). Enquiries are ongoing.

Either way, the discovery livened up an otherwise quiet day, which included numerous Nuthatches, Coal Tits and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, six Mandarin Ducks on the lake, and two Red Kites in the M40 corridor afterwards (with Muntjac the best mammal and Ringlet almost the only butterfly).

London speciality: Mandarin Duck.

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