Friday, February 26, 2021

MA - White-winged Crossbills


White-winged Crossbill (male) - Montague Plains, Franklin Co., MA. February 25th, 2021. One of at least three males present. 

Of all the winter finches during the current 2020/21 irruption, I'd have to say that the White-winged Crossbill has given me the most grief. Aside from a few pesky flyover flocks in November and December I've actually done incredibly badly when it comes finding the species grounded and feeding. I don't have a clear explanation as to why my luck has been so poor but I am aware that many birders have met with success elsewhere with daily sightings coming from within a  50 - 60 miles radius of our home in Northfield. Reports from southern Vermont and southern New Hampshire have been especially prolific and, while certainly being tempted, I've managed to avoid chasing those flocks in favor of doggedly working the pine stands in Franklin County with the hope of finding a few my own. 

My luck finally changed on Feb 25th when a routine check on the Red Crossbill flocks in the Montague Plains produced at least three White-winged Crossbills, and I must say it was a real treat! I can't remember the last time I had such good, prolonged views of White-winged Crossbills anywhere in the US. 

White-winged Crossbills (males) - Montague Plains, Franklin Co., MA. February 25th, 2021. 

The overall experience was quite mesmerizing. Two mild, spring-like mornings in succession with over 65 calling/singing Red Crossbills scattered about the plains, easily the most abundant species present. I traded sound recordings for views and eventually focused on at least three male White-winged Crossbills that seemed to be working together as a loose flock in the Northern Red Oaks and Pitch Pines. As a general observation I hadn't quite appreciated just how easily overlooked White-winged Crossbills  could be when seen from below with the wing bars hidden from view. On the other hand, the heavy black markings on the undertail coverts, the grayish vent, the heavily streaked rear flanks and slender bill all stood out even when the wing bars couldn't be seen. Most of the birds I saw were males, possibly one full adult and two first-spring males plus I'm looking at (bad) photos of a possible streaked juvenile and another that may have been a female, so perhaps as many as five White-winged Crossbills in all. 

Montague Plains, Franklin County. February 25th, 2021.
Currently home to tens of Red Crossbills and a handful of White-winged Crossbills.

White-winged Crossbills (males) - Montague Plains, Franklin Co., MA. February 26th, 2021. 

Red Crossbills - Montague Plains, Franklin Co., MA. February 26th, 2021. 

After two mornings of excellent crossbill viewing, I was again reminded of just how fortunate we are to have such fantastic birding areas so close to home in Franklin County. 

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