15 November 2012

Crossbill Excitement Wrought at Midcity Cemetery

The discovery of two sorts of crossbills at a midcity cemetery has brought many visitors looking up into trees, rather than at any ornate grave markers.

First reported online 11 November by an Omaha birder, the enote indicating the presence of Red Crossbills and White-winged Crossbills at Holy Sepulchure Cemetery, resulted in a quick response. Other birders visited the place southeast of 50th and Leavenworth Streets later during the day, and conveyed that both species were still present.

A spruce tree appreciated by the crossbills. The trees have been identified as Picea glauca and specifically either White Spruce (Picea glauca) or Blackhills Spruce (Picea glauca var. densata).

An influx of visitors resulted, with each of them intent upon finding the Gillaspie angel monument — indicated as a reference landmark — because in the nearby spruce trees was a multitude of brown cones with seeds which the birds eat.

There were bird watching visitors on Monday. Then more on Tuesday.

Crossbill watchers.

The birds of specific interest were very active later in the morning on 13 November. There were more than 20 present, notably counted as they flew, in two different bunches, from one tree to another. While there, two other bird-watchers arrived to get a view, including one from Lincoln.

There were other visitors during the remaining hours of the day. Tuesday afternoon, a depictive count of numbers was done, as provided by Lincoln visitors, John Carlini and Shari Schwartz. Results of their tally indicated online, were:

Red Crossbill (probably missed some, they indicated)
4 female
4 male
1 immature male
White-winged Crossbill
6 female
3 male
1 immature male

Some more watchers were on the scene early Wednesday, according to the cemetery caretaker, commenting in the afternoon, when he stopped by while another bunch of birders were present. He'd already gotten a summary of the situation on Tuesday, and on Wednesday afternoon he was given a visual perspective of crossbills since one of the birders had a field guide, so useful to convey the reason for the unusual influx of traffic.

This event is a notable occurrence for both species. It is not, however, the first record for their occurrence in the mid-city environs of Omaha.

From 1919 to 1925, there were a few records of Red Crossbill occurrence at Elmwood Park. A female on a nest was recorded in latter March, 1920. Sporadic records continued through the 1930s. More recent sightings occurred during May 1993 and May 1997.

The most recent known occurrence of the White-winged Crossbill in the vicinity was March 1970, also at Elmwood Park. A second record for this same place is available for November 1969. A long-ago record conveys that this species also occurred in the park in January 1920.

Though crossbills are obviously the primary interest for watchers of birds, there are other birds about in the cemetery. Species of some interest noted at the cemetery during these days, include the Red-breasted Nuthatch, with ten different species observed on 13 November.

Exciting additions to the tally have been the Merlin on Tuesday and a flighty Cooper's Hawk on Wednesday. Both raptors have had an obvious influence on the crossbills, either setting them to flight to another tree, or causing them to "go quiet" and making them less obvious.

A hearty crop of cones upon well-grown spruces trees brought crossbills to midcity. Because of this unexpected, yet widely expressed discovery, another distinctive aspect of bird-life within the urban setting of Omaha became obvious. Activities of these cross-billed birds is certainly being enjoyed by many bird watchers, whether they arrive by bicycle or motor-vehicle.

Despite any words by watchers, both species of crossbill are completely oblivious about what their presence has wrought.

Spruce cones beneath a crossbill tree.

There were six White-winged Crossbills present about 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning.