Last week I heard Steven Fry liken some aspects of the internet to a modern day Pandora’s box, containing many of the evils of the world. However, it does have some great benefits. One being if some interesting wildlife appears in your local area the word soon gets out. This was the case last week when reports of  a small flock of parrot crossbills had been seen by  early morning visitors to Sandringham. Then reports of sightings of large numbers in Thetford forest began to circulate in various birding forums. 

Male parrot crossbill showing off his dusky red to orange colouring


Male Parrot Crossbill showing off his dusky red to orange colouring

So last Friday, on our way to Felixstowe, despite the grey skies and light rain, we decided to stop off and chance seeing these Scandinavian  visitors.  Dozens of bird spotters  had all converged on the Suffolk-Norfolk border to see these rare visitors. Unfortunately, on this occasion  the bird watchers scouring the area reported that the flock had disappeared. A friend who visited on the following day also drew a blank. Had the birds moved on? Only time and the internet would tell.

Female Parrot Crossbill using her cross-over bills to prise into pine cones.


Female Parrot Crossbill using her cross-over bills to prise into pine cones.

Parrot Crossbills 

Parrot Crossbills  resemble a larger version of the Common Crossbill but with a thicker bill. You can see how they get their name as they behave like a parrot, hanging upside down to feed. They use their beaks to prise open the pine cones to get at the seeds. Earlier in the year the first news of these visitors was reported with sightings in Shetland. They are a bird that often moves south and west from  Scandinavia in the winter due  to food shortages in their home territories. In 2013 the UK saw an invasion of Parrot crossbills, so possibly it’s time again for another influx. We may have these colourful bird hanging literally around for the winter. 

Male Parrot Crossbill captured in the early morning sunlight


Male Parrot Crossbill captured in the early morning sunlight

Santon Downham

The weather was much improved on Monday on our return from Felixstowe we chanced a second look at the St Helen’s picnic site car park, at Santon Downham, Thetford. This time there were treble the amount of bird watchers and about half were sporting high end cameras. It was obvious as we drove down to the almost full car park that the birds had returned. In fact a small flock were feeding in a stand of Scots pines near the road. Unfortunately,  despite there not being a cloud in the sky, they were feeding in the shaded area. They were also a long way off to get any reasonable images. After about 20 minutes watching this group they decided to fly off to a distant beech tree near the river, followed by many of the birders. Some of whom had traveled from across the country in the hopes of seeing these visitors. But now they were even further away from the path and across the other side of the river.

Female Parrot Crossbill


Female Parrot Crossbill

With the roar of  F-15s overhead and trains on the nearby rail line not disturbing them it seemed that getting any close images might have to wait for a return visit. However, things change very quickly when watching any wildlife and after a short time the whole flock was up and off into the sky This time to the Scots pine stand in the middle of the car park with the sun in the right place. This provided an opportunity for  the crowd who were standing, just yards away, to get some excellent views and images.

Hopefully these Crossbills will still be around when we go back to try to find the Hawfinches in a few weeks.