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December 28th- crossbills in snow

It is not often I go for a walk and record just one species. A family walk on a local moor dusted with snow was just what was needed after a few rather lovely, lazy days enjoying a very quiet Christmas, just the four of us.

The moor needs a lot of snowfall to look pure white as clumps of heather nearly always provide some shelter. They make a great subject to paint in their winter garb, with dark sepia areas of heather contrasting with the topping of snow. The old Scots pine looked dark against the wintry landscape. The skyscape consisted of a variety of cloud from low mist above the moors to cold blue above when viewable through the moving gaps. To the north we could see majestic cumulonimbus clouds twenty or so miles away over the relatively warm North Sea.

I wouldn’t normally expect a big list of birds in these conditions but coal tits and bullfinches are usually found feeding on heather seeds and red grouse often shatter the silence as they speed away on arched wings. But after nearly a mile we had seen no birds. As we approached an area of larch I remembered making some studies of crossbills back in October. We were in luck, very soft calls in the exact same trees gave away a small flock and as they clambered parrot like amongst the branches, puffs of snow fell to the ground together with larch cone shrapnel. They were only twenty feet away and feeding at eye level. We stood mesmerised by these colourful finches, enjoying their acrobatics as they used their crossed mandibles to extract the seeds.

Snow up-lights birds adding additional beauty to plumage. The pattern of nobly larch branches and crossbills against snow made an irresistible subject. They were very tame and totally absorbed in feeding; it turned out to be one of those situations in birding when you almost feel guilty for leaving such stunning views, but having dragged ourselves away we snowballed our way to hot drinks back at the car. I think I broke a personal best for the lowest number of species seen on a walk, just one, but what a species!

Crossbill studies- October

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