Saturday, January 31, 2009

Crossbill Irruption

This morning, me and my wife, Stephanie, went to Spring Grove Cemetery in search of the previously reported White-winged Crossbills. Although, crossbills do not normally come this fall south, this is an irruption year for this species. This means that they come farther south than their normal range in search of a food source. I was able to get my lifer White-winged Crossbill in December on a birding trip to Chicago with my brother Eric. They were an amazing sight to see but, they never got closer than 50-60 feet. Since that trip, I have watched as reports of these spectacular birds crept farther and farther south and hoped for the opportunity to study these birds more closely. In Indiana, there have been a record number of White-winged Crossbills reported and a single large group of 220 or more in the northeast part of the state broke the old record by almost 200 individuals. Since crossbills will nest at any time of the year as long as there is enough food to feed their young, many people are hoping to find evidence of nesting in the region.

I watched the as the reports out of Indiana and Ohio crept southward. About one week ago, they were reported at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis. I knew it wouldn’t be long until they were sighted in the Cincinnati area. On Thursday, they were reported for the first time at Spring Grove Cemetery. They were reported again on Friday and I decided that Saturday was the day for me to drive over and check it out. This is the first time I have ever birded here but it will not be my last. It is a very large and heavily wooded area with tons of birding potential. As I drove slowly through the cemetery, I kept the windows down and listened for their call.

After just 3 minutes, I heard the crossbills over head. We pulled over and got out of the car and watched them fly over our heads into some pine trees a few hundred yards from out car. After tromping through the snow, we came upon the pine trees that were loaded with crossbills. Most were staying well hidden deep in the pines but every once in a one would perch out in the open providing great views for all. While watching the crossbills, we also observed a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker fly into the pines.

As we worked our way around the pines, we found ourselves within 20 feet of 10 crossbills feeding low in a pine tree. It was awesome to watch as they tore pine cones off the tree and proceeded to carefully pick the cones apart while holding them steady with their feet. After just 2 minutes and with no apparent reason, they took flight and we lost track of them as they flew deeper into the cemetery.


Kelly said...

Wow! That's so cool you were able to find them. I've been watching the Birding in Cincinnati Web site and have seen the reports of them over the past couple of days. I'm hoping to make a field trip to Spring Grove tomorrow.

Chad said...

Congrats on the Crossbills!!!