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9th October- crossbills

I have spent a couple of days this week concentrating on sketching crossbills. They are very obliging as subjects being very tame. I was able to sit quietly by a small flock as they fed in the morning sunshine. On occasion the birds would feed above me and I would have bits of larch cone raining down around me. Whilst feeding, the noises of the cones gently split by the crossbills along with their soft contact calls was quite soporific. They are full of character, parrot like in the way they feed, easily clinging upside down whilst clenching the cones and knobbly larch twigs. Their diet is exceptionally dry and they have a very frequent need to drink- this helps to soften the pine seeds.

Crossbills have been common in this area since birds started moving back in June. Here in Gilling their “chip chip” calls have been heard on most days. Some are undoubtedly migrating with many heading in a south westerly direction. A well loaded Douglas fir in a neighbour’s garden has nearly attracted them down to feed. Several times small parties have noisily circled the tree. I hope they might yet settle.

Crossbills are great wanderers and are known for invading countries. They move from Scandinavia when numbers are high and food is scarce. This does appear to be an invasion year with many records on the coast. Because they feed on pine seeds they are able to breed very early and birds are often seen preparing to breed around Christmas and into the new year. The young are fed on pine seed ‘soup’ regurgitated by the parents.

It is good sometimes to really concentrate on a single species. There has been an opportunity for prolonged exceptionally close views and I am making the most of it, filling sketchbook pages with pencil and watercolour sketches.

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