Parrot Crossbill – Pitts Wood Inclosure, Hampshire

A male Parrot Crossbill had been reported at Pitts Wood in the New Forest on Monday 7th March. I wasn’t particularly excited at the prospect of seeing the bird, I think this was because crossbill identification can be difficult and part of me believed that the identification was mistaken. The bird was looked for the next day and wasn’t seen and like a lot of other people I assumed that the bird was in fact a normal crossbill and that the record would be forgotten about.

That was how it stayed until Saturday night when at 9pm the pager reported that the Parrot Crossbill had been seen again that day. I cancelled my plans which were to go to Holton Heath to see the Woodlarks and at 1:15am our evening guests Tracey and Tony left and we went to bed. I was up again at about 6:45am and I headed off to the New Forest.

By about 7:15am I was pulling up in the car park next to Godshill cricket pitch. I got my map out and began to walk in the vague direction of Pitts Wood. As I got over the brow of the hill I could see the wooded inclosure and there were good numbers of birders around the perimeter. Five or so minutes later and I was joining the group, there had been no sign yet of the Parrot Crossbill or indeed of any Crossbills.

As the morning began to drag on and with only brief glimpses of single Crossbills I began to lose heart. I decided to move around the edge of the wood to join another group of birders. Paul Gale was with them and so I began to chat to him. It was at about this time that someone called out from 50 yards or so in the wood and part of our group started to move towards him. Surprisingly no-one seemed to be moving with any urgency and so I was the first person to join the pair of birders who had their telescopes trained on a bird at the top of a tall pine.

I scoped the bird and was immediately struck by its heavy headed appearance, the overall stockiness also made it appear rather short tailed. The bill was large although it was the heavy head which caught my eye. There was silence from the rest of the group other than the sound of Paul firing off several shots. After the bird had flown off I was amazed to hear that most of the group doubted that this was the Parrot Crossbill, they had been expecting a much larger bill.

Even so I was sure of the identification and asked Paul to send me a couple of photographs. During the next hour or so there were several false alarms with birders finding likely candidates but to my mind none of these birds were much like our original crossbill.

Paul sent through some photos of the bird a few days later and having seen them I suggested that he post them to Steve Gantlett for his opinion. I e-mailed Steve to say they were on their way and he e-mailed me back to say that he felt that my identification was correct and the photo was published in Birding World as a Parrot Crossbill.

Overall this was a strange twitch with most of the pleasure coming not when I first saw the bird but about 7 days later while sat at my computer screen!

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