Birds are a constant distraction.  Even as I was packing up the car at my parents’ house on June 28th after a weekend Up North, I saw some blackbirds that I suspected were Brewer’s, a bird I just discovered to be in the area, but I wanted to be sure.  I heard a vocalization and went to fetch my iPod from the car to listen.  Before I could even look it up, though, I heard “Kip-kip-kip-kip” coming from the small stand of Red Pines in my parents’ yard.  I knew that sound–I had been studying it in the hopes of finding a life bird some day–Red Crossbills!! I was just about to walk in that direction to find them when the nomadic flock flew in and landed in the Spruce right next to my car!

Many of the birds were juveniles.  Still, this was my first time looking at a crossed beak on anything, so it was pretty cool. I grabbed my camera out of the car and started shooting immediately.

Red Crossbills

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

They were such a swarm and so hard to see as it was cloudy and the dozen or so birds moved in and out of Spruce boughs at the top of the tree.  I started scanning the birds with binoculars while hollering to Dad and Evan who were inside the house to come see these birds.  Finally, I found a bird I would focus my camera on, a nice brick-red male.  It was the only one in the flock I observed.Red Crossbill Check out this sequence. Looks tasty…Red CrosbillA little snip and…Red CrosbillVoilà!

Red CrosbillDad and Evan did get out to see the birds. Evan saw the flock and said, “Yep, I see them,” and then went back into the house.  As usual, I wanted good looks and good photographs.  I was planning to keep working until I got some I was happy with, but poof! The nomads took off for their next stop on their life’s journey never to be seen by us again.   Red CrosbillWhat a thrill it was to get this life bird. Each new life bird now is especially fun because they are such good birds at this point proven by the fact that we still haven’t seen some of them after several years of birding.  Red Crossbills in particular are tough birds to get in Minnesota  even though they are year-round residents here. Not only was it a treat to finally see a Red Crossbill, but a three-generation lifer in the YARD is completely unheard of at this stage in the game.  I still can’t believe the serendipity of this encounter. Absolutely awesome, absolutely hands-down the best bird of this trip North. A Red Crossbill lifer and a Black-backed Woodpecker lifer seen within the same week at this time of year–unbelievable.  I thought I was going to have to wait for next winter to take another crack at those two.

The lifer train hasn’t stopped either. Two days later we’d be seeing a bird that is scarce even in its tiny, normal ranges in Arizona and Texas. What a week!

8 thoughts on “Kip-Kip-Hooray!

  1. Did you get any audio recordings? You’ll want to know which cryptospecies it was when the giant Red Crossbill split comes down the pipe.

    • Gah! Don’t tell me stuff like that! I hate splits. I’m pro-lumps–harder on life-list numbers, but easier on identification for this hobbyist. (I’ve secretly been excited about the prospect of going to a single Redpoll.)

      • My next Redpoll will be my first, so I’m not too bothered by the lumping, but I will likely see it in Alaska, so maybe Hoaries are more likely there and getting two ticks would be fun.

        I am afraid of the potential Red Crossbill cryptics split (or the Cardinal split, or the Painted Bunting Split). If I see any of them in Alaska, I’ll do my sure best to take some video. Maybe I should bring my audio recorder…

        Anything where we need sonograms to tell species apart is going to drive hobby listers like us nuts. I can live with it tell vagrants apart from locals or determine their provenance, but regularly occuring species? Eww. Now add to that the Red Crossbill situation, where most of these cryptic species are irregular nomads. Ewww, Ick, Phooey.

        • Perhaps modern birders will combine 19th century birding with 21st century birding by shooting such doppelgangers and then analyzing the DNA to get the proper tic? Kidding of course…but some birders will go mad not knowing!

          No Redpolls eh? They were thicker than flies in 13-14. I’ve got video on the blog of me feeding them out of my hand.

          • None in Brooklyn Park (remember, I don’t get out much).
            Plus, winter birding is very new to me. I’ve only done it the last two years, plus the New Ulm CBC back in 1992 or so.

          • You should be able to get Redpolls in your yard. I’m at your same latitude, and I had about 200 coming to my feeders.

            Winter birding is what makes MN famous in the birding world–by all means, get yourself up north this winter!

  2. Crossbills are so goddamned cool. They’re like a stage of evolution higher than all the other birds AND they’re polite enough not to rub it in everybody’s faces.

    • A superior bird indeed. They save their face-rubbing for picking grit off the road. Perhaps this weakness keeps them humble?

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