Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bird of the Day: Red Crossbill in the Bristlecone Forest

Sometimes you get only a split second. I was wandering near the visitor center for the Bristlecone Pine forest at the 10,000 foot level of the White Mountains east of the Sierra Nevada when I noticed a gentleman with binoculars staring intently at the lower branches of tree. He motioned to me and said "Crossbill!". I looked, lifted my camera, got two shots before even framing and focusing, and it was gone. The only Red Crossbill I've ever seen, and I had all of five seconds to get any pictures.

I was happy to see that both shots came out, and even look kind of good with some judicious cropping. The Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) is one of the most uniquely adapted birds around. The beak doesn't line up! Looking like a design flaw, it actually allows the bird to pry open pine cones while grabbing the seeds with its tongue.

Crossbills are found across the northern states and in southern Canada, and luckily for me, in the high mountains of California. I hope I get a few additional seconds to frame my pictures next time! Of course, I'll take any excuse to get up to the Bristlecones. The diminutive trees are the oldest living things on the planet, and they live in one of the most challenging environments possible: very dry and bitterly cold for most of the year. If you are ever in the Bishop/Big Pine region, be sure to make some time for the drive up into the White Mountains. There is a lot to see out there!


  1. Wonderful photos - regardless of the situation you were in! Thanks for sharing them, plus the information.