[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: Crossbills

On Sat, 8 Jan 2000, Will Cook wrote:
> Nineteen folks went to the spot this morning and did not see the Red 
> Crossbills.  Bird acrivity at this spot was just starting to pick up as we 
> were leaving at about 10 am.   We did see a couple of Purple Finches and 
> had an E-beak flyover further down the trail.  Sounds like lunch time is 
> the best for seeing the Xbills.

An epilogue to the story: Before the group dispersed, Will mentioned that 
the crossbills had originally been seen around noon. Steve Schultz 
mentioned how predictable and reliable the Virginia White-winged 
Crossbills had been in terms of what time of day they showed up, and one 
or two other people mentioned other anecdotes that agreed with him.

After Steve dropped me off back at my car at Ebenezer, I scanned the lake 
for a while with Lee Van Mallsen and Shelley Theye. Nothing really new, 
re-spotted the young Bald Eagle that had been there this morning, and 
still lots of Bonaparte's Gulls and Horned Grebes. Also saw a distant 
trio of Black Vultures. By the time I got restless and felt like moving, 
it was quarter 'til noon; I remembered all the anecdotes about reliable, 
punctual crossbills and thought "well, what else am I going to do besides 
work?" So I returned to the spot.

Instead of hiking in this time, I waited at the top of the first steep 
downhill slope. A couple of other birders - Tommy and Elizabeth, sorry I 
forget your last names - came wandering up the trail. Two birds making 
suspicious "pit pit pit" calls flew over but didn't land within view. 
Then, as Elizabeth reached the top of the hill at about 12:10, a flock of 
15-20 Red Crossbills flew over the road calling noisily, circled around, 
crossed the road again, and disappeared into the pine-tops.

Tommy and Elizabeth left, but I wasn't convinced that the birds had also, 
so I plopped down on a fallen tree trunk and waited and watched for half 
an hour. Lots of the usual suspects which we had seen on the CHBC walk, 
plus one new one: a Solitary Vireo, but no XBills. But when I got 
restless again and started walking out, a pair of birds flushed from a 
nearby pine and up into a taller one. I followed with binoculars, and 
there they were! They had been calling noisily when in flight, but while 
perched and feeding they were almost completely silent (this did not 
surprise me; over Thanksgiving I found a flock feeding at eye level in 
some stunted sand-dune pines in Massachusetts, not by hearing calls, but 
by hearing the scratchy noises of pine cones being dismembered). They 
were still there when I left at 1 PM.

So tips for finding them: don't come early! Arrive at maybe 11:30 AM, and 
stay until at least 1 PM. And don't hike in; the tree in which the 
flock was feeding is visible from the paved road (but the view was 
better a little ways past the gate). A good plan might be to arrive 
early, hike in, look for other birds, hike back out, get lunch from 
your car, and picnic at the top of that hill while looking for 
crossbills. If you hear calls, look to the sky, they are probably in 
flight. If you don't hear calls, scan the upper parts of the pine trees, 
particularly those with lots of cones. And if you see what looks like 
little bits of paper drifting down from the treetops, follow the trail 
up, the little bits come from pine seeds which are being eaten.

> The directions again -- from the intersection of US 64 and 1008 
> (Wilsonville, the stoplight on the east side of the lake), take 1008 south 
> for a few miles.  Turn right on Pea Ridge Road (the first road to the 
> right, just after the Ebenezer boat ramps).  In a mile or so, you'll pass 
> Lower Thrift Rd. on the left.  About 0.4 mi. after this look for a gated 
> road leading into the open pine woods.  Park in the space near the gate 
> and walk in a short distance until you see the Xbills :-).  Be prepared to 
> have very muddy shoes!

Good birding!


Joshua S. Rose
Duke University
Department of Zoology