In Surrey, the rarest bird sightings this year has been a fleeting Roller (see by one observer after the bird had dropped into Thursley Common on its way out of Hampshire one morning), a couple of Red-rumped Swallow and a fly-over Red-footed Falcon.
Scarcities include one Red-backed Shrike, Great Grey Shrike, Wryneck, Great White Egret, Yellow-browed Warbler, Temminck's Stint, a few fly-over Spoonbill, a possible Pectoral Sandpiper and a couple of Common Crane. Great birds and sounds like a reasonable list, but only four were realistically twitchable – the Red-rumped Swallow, Red-backed Shrike, Temminck's Stint and Great Great Grey Shrike. In short, meagre pickings for the year so far.
In this land-locked county I live in we get very excited by birds seen regularly on the coast – a wayward Great, Arctic, or far better better, Long-tailed Skua. A Gannet, Kittiwake, Sandwich or Little Tern will get us running to the local patch. A Rock Pipit I saw at Staines Reservoir last week made my day.
So rare treats are hard to come by, and as a result Surrey birders are probably less blasé about even fairly common species than some other county birders.
I say this having read a blog the other day in which a fine Sussex coast blogger who, commenting on the fact a Yellow-browed Warbler and Red-breasted Flycatcher that morning had only showed very briefly to observers present, questioned why it was worth bothering with this pastime on such days!
I can't recall when the last Red-breasted Flycatcher appeared in Surrey but it must be some years ago, and Yellow-broweds only appear a couple of times a year at the very most, so even a tiny glimpse would be gold dust to us! He really should come over the border for a few days birding here to see how the other half live...
The sighting this morning of a female Two-barred Crossbill – perched high on a dead branch of an oak tree on Leith Hill – was, therefore, diamond-studded.
At the end of July, when Two-barred Crossbills were appearing in Yorkshire and Norfolk, a female was seen with a flock of about 150 Crossbills near Redlands Farm, just south of Dorking, on the slopes of Leith Hill in Redlands Forest. I'm not sure who found it, but it wasn't seen again until this week.
This time the Two-barred Crossbill was higher up on Leith Hill next to the Coldharbour Cricket Club pitch. For those who haven't been to the area before and are planning a visit, it's a remarkable spot.
|The Two-barred Crossbill favours a pair of oak trees just behind the cricket club pavilion|
|Coldharbour Cricket Club – high up on Leith Hill|
|The Leith Hill twitchers: (from left to right) |
Gerry Hinchon, Sam Bayley, Bob Warden, Dave Harris and Graham Osborne
|There have been Crossbills present in the area for many months|
It took two hours, with fingers numb from the cold, before a promising group of more than 20 Crossbills arrived from the south-east and flew into one of the oak trees, conveniently the one with dead branches poking out the top of it.
Gerry was the first to spot it – having watched a potential candidate for a couple of minutes – as it perched higher up on a dead branch. Bingo! The female Two-barred Crossbill showed really well for about a minute before flying off east with the flock.
|The female Two-barred Crossbill perched up high to show well|
The Leith Hill area is underwatched, probably because it covers a vast area, but its potential is obvious. During the past couple of days up to five Ring Ouzel fed on Rowan berries nearby (none today) and a Grasshopper Warbler was trapped.
Wood Warbler have bred here in the past (unfortunately not this year) as do Woodlark. During the winter numerous Mealy Redpoll get caught in the nets, as are Brambling.
The Two-barred Crossbill, meanwhile, has been present in the area since the end of July. Hopefully, it will stay long enough for more people to enjoy during the coming weeks.