Bird #315 — Red Crossbill

loxia (crosswise) curvirostra (from curvus, curved, and rostrum, bill)

Saturday, April 30, 1988 — 9:25 am

Zion, Illinois — Illinois Beach State Park

I had lost some of my earlier excitement about birding.  Bethany came along and and I’d gotten into raquetball, golf, softball and going to baseball games.  In 1987, I had only gone birding twice and only saw 87 birds the entire year.  I hadn’t seen a lifer since 1984.

But once in a while, for old time’s sake, I’d call the Audubon hotline.  For over a month, as many as 30 Red Crossbills were being seen at Illinois Beach.  I kept telling myself I ought to go see them, and I finally found the energy.  I had almost waited too long.

They were in the pines on the south end of the park.  This area is a nature preserve and entrance is allowed only with a permit.  But you could get there by parking south of the park and walking north along the beach.  I had done it many times, and even met other birders there, and never ran into any problems.  I arrived early and spent over an hour searching through the pines.  My field guide told me to listen for the sound of cracking cones.  Without this advice, I never would have found them.  Three (an immature male and a pair) were quietly foraging in the top of the pines about 100 yards in from Lake Michigan and 20 yards south of the Dead River.  They didn’t move around much and were very difficult to spot.  They perched silently and made an occasional peck at nearby pine cones.  At one point, the pair “kissed” each other.

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