In the birding world, folks talk about their nemesis bird, the one that got away, that elusive, irritating species that everyone else sees but you. Bragging rights and chest pounding are not uncommon.
So it has been for me, after many many forays to the highlands of our area, my search for the red crossbill has been but a bitter disappointment. Not anymore.
Some background and one good story should precede today's successful discovery. Prior to Glen Eller's moving back to his home turf in Tennessee from Grayson County, he (among others) was a great birding mentor to me. For him as well, the crossbill was for years a nemesis bird. These finches move around a lot, seeking the high pastures of red-spruce and other pine species cones, flying about in small flocks, not staying put in one place for dependable observation. Their presence in our area is exclusive to where an abundance of heavy cone crops occur, mostly in our highlands. They are more of a boreal species, but as we should all know by now, the Blue Ridge is a relict community extension of that ecosystem. Glen and I spent hours searching for this bird, but I never hit pay dirt.
Our son's good friend, Jessica Cheng, painted me a picture of a red crossbill for this year's Christmas.
For inspiration (and with Damien's help), Jess looked up a former blog post describing my quest and gifted me 'my red crossbill'. I am not one big on luck, but somehow Jess's gift encouraged me to not give up.
Yesterday afternoon, Joyce and William Roberts made a spontaneous run to Whitetop, after which they emailed their sighting of crossbills. That was all it took, so I called Allen Boynton, and the two of us headed up this morning to make good on the expectation of my first life bird in over three years. Half way on the service road to Whitetop, we found our first flock of at least five, flying about, but eventually landing in good light on the high tips of red spruce. At the very top of Whitetop, we found another small flock, minimum of three, but much lower down and close enough for Allen to photograph. Here are the results!
Thank you Damien, Jessica, Joyce, William, Glen and Allen. We form our own societies around shared pleasures...even though for some...might seem peculiar.