Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Crossbill Challenge

A couple of weeks back I decided to take on a new challenge and try to get some photos of Crossbills for the first time. I have previously only ever caught fleeting glimpses of these birds as they have flitted through the tops of tall conifer trees.

Given these birds tend to breed early in the year, January and February seemed like a good time to try for them, on the basis that there calls and songs might make them easier to locate. I was under no delusion this was going to be an easy task as the birds tend to reside on the thin top branches of coniferous trees and so it would need to be a calm day with blue skies and sun. Such weather conditions have been very rare so far in 2011. The next problem would be location and trying to find some birds in some low trees.

As I left home in the dark, I must admit I was not brimming with confidence, particularly as the forest I was heading to covers 100 square kms. That is a lot of trees for a small population of birds that are only slightly bigger than a sparrow to disappear in to. At this point I would like to thank my friend Steve for providing a map with some areas to narrow down the search. As I approached the forest, the blue skies overhead during my journey, turned from white to grey. Hopeless conditions for trying to photograph these birds and this was coupled with a very cold morning and the car thermometer showing -10C. By this point I had fully convinced my photography session would probably become a reconnaissance mission.

The first area where I stopped was a relatively open area of sparse low trees and to my surprise it was quite easy to locate the birds by their noisy metallic calls. I even managed to get close to a green female but the light and light grey background sky only produced photos which were instantly deleted.

After spending a fair amount of time without success, during which I had also managed to get slightly lost by the disorientating forest, I made my way back to the car. I was just about to put the camera away and try elsewhere when three birds appeared opposite the car. Fortune smiled down as a wedge of blue sky started to open up beyond the birds....

and then sun shone for a few moments and the male Crossbills glowed a glorious red in the early sun.
and then one male moved to a lower branch...
The birds have a wonderful spectrum of colours ranging from green through yellow and orange to red. After a few moments the birds moved on and so did I.

I spent most of the remaining time, driving around various parts of the forest looking for birds. Even though I came across a few groups of Crossbills they were always at the top of very tall trees and beyond photograph range. With the clock ticking rapidly away I decided I would return to my starting location as it was the place that had produced some photographs. I decided to wait by the parked car and after a while three birds appeared briefly.
I waited once more and at one point eight birds appeared in the tres behind me but were backlit and there was no route through the dense trees to get round behind them to get a good light angle. Once more the restless birds quickly moved on and they were the last I saw that morning.

On the drive home I was quite encouraged by the results of this first Crossbill session. I had learnt a great deal about the birds behaviour which hopefully I can use on my next visit to produce some better photographs. Unfortunately despite being very keen to get back to the forest for another attempt, the necessary weather conditions has not coincided with my free time. However, I fully intend to return as soon as possible and take up the Crossbill challenge once more.

7 comments:

Birding is Fun! said...

Fantastic photos!

One winter, just a couple years ago, we had Red Crossbills and White-winged Crossbills at a cemetery on a hill in Caldwell, Idaho. Like your account, it was bitterly cold and the crossbills were feasting on pine cones. They were more interested in the food than us and were munching on pine cones right above our heads, literally inches away. If only I had a camera then!

David Álvarez said...

wow!! amazing species and great shots!!

Frank said...

Super images Richard. I guess it was all a question of 'location .. location'.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post. Do you mind if I ask what your source is for this information?

Steve Round said...

A great result for a first visit Rich, pity we haven't really seen the sun since so we can get back up there.

Rich Steel said...

Thanks for the comments. It is a pity Steve about the weather as I really want to have another go at these.

Talibra said...

Piękne ptaki, piękne zdjęcia, pozdrawiam.

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