Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Texas Red Crossbills, Marathon style

Oh, we do have "winter finches" in Texas... we have American Goldfinches, Lesser Goldfinches, Pine Siskins and a smattering of not-so-finchy Dark-eyed Juncos when we're lucky (Slate-colored, for much of the state).  But crossbills of any kind? They're an irruptive treat. Matt saw Brewster Co's first reported Red Crossbills of the season back on November 14th but we've seen nothing of them since then, until today.

The image below? Taken just to the east of the house, yard bird #101 for the Double Bacon. No idea if it was a dull first year male or a super bright female, but check out the shadow of the crossed bill!

Red Crossbill, 27 November 2012, Marathon, TX
My first encounter with the Red Crossbill craze was when they descended upon Buffalo Gap, TX in the winter of 2007-2008. The town lies about 30 minutes south of Abilene, where I was living at the time, and our close little group of Big Country Audubon Society (BCAS) birders kind of went nuts. For one, Red Crossbills aren't your standard winter finch fare in Texas. Prior to the 2007 sightings, the Abilene area had not harbored Red Crossbills since 1997.

There may be a need for tissues, starting with the next paragraph.

Laura Packer, my friend, mentor, and all-around mother-figure for my time in Abilene captured some breathtaking images of Red Crossbills that winter. It was her second-to-last winter with us, and her images live on through the Big Country Audubon page. One of these days, after student loans have been paid and the world of employment catches up to the rest of us, I'd like to set up a pile of gift student memberships for BCAS in her honor... I think Laura covered my membership the entire time I was out there (and only a student for a year of it - during that year, she was an absolute godsend). Her presence in the birding world - especially her bluebird monitoring at Dyess Air Force Base - has left a lasting impression on those of us fortunate enough to have known her.
Click here to see Laura's photo of a male Red Crossbill.
Click here to see Laura's photo of a female Red Crossbill.
Heck, click here to see a pile of BCAS crossbills.

After feasting your eyes on those, you can use your imagination on these - mostly taken from half a block or a block away and heavily cropped. No sign of the rest of the flock from earlier this month, just a single bird that, for roughly 45 minutes, circled the block to the SW of our house.

Red Crossbill, 27 November 2012, Marathon, TX
The bird was very active and calling incessantly (rather clear compared to other recordings, almost a shorebird whistle in clarity and quality of 'tew-tew-tew' for what it's worth). Unfortunately, it was silent and/or absent by the time the first chaser showed up. Figures!

Red Crossbill, 27 November 2012, Marathon, TX
In all its grainy glory, the photo above shows a pretty rockin' eyebrow for an otherwise bright, yet muted bird. Photo below shows what it looked like when photographed without the sun cooperating (because one can never fault a bird for its location - the sapsucker at the cemetery prefers shade, you just have to time your visit and/or angle better!)

Dark and grainy, just the way we like 'em. Red Crossbill, 27 November 2012, Marathon, TX.