Sunday, 20 February 2011

Crossbills at Helsington Barrows.

Crossbill. Simon Hawtin

In the late-spring to mid-summer period of 1997 there was an exceptional influx of Crossbills in the North West Regions of Wales/Cheshire/Lancashire/Cumbria and including the Isle of Man, and a total of 1,340 birds were seen at 43 different sites. During this period some long staying Crossbills - 50 on one visit  made - were at Helsington Barrows near Kendal in Cumbria and John Leedal and I visited the area on a few occasions. John took several photographs over the visits and some of the results developed into something of much interest to us. Eventually I was in touch with an authority and made some comments in an initial letter which read something like....

'Through his photographs John Leedal and I have realised the presence of a male individual which displays it's odd distinctly yellowish feathers. In one picture this bird is perched next to a female Crossbill which gives the opportunity to compare and appreciate the greyish-green upperparts of this male, but the main features noted were the distinct yellow crown and mantle, the vent was also distinctly yellow and notably lacking in notches'.

Although 1st winter males are variable in plumage detail this Crossbill was in due course featured in an annual report in which it was referred to as a possible xanthachroistic male seen on five visits to Helsington Barrows showing yellow feathering around the body, with some hint of red, with the exception of the mantle, back and upperwings which are coloured as female.  

Over the years I've come to appreciate some adult males can resemble females as opposed to being mainly reddish, whilst others appear distinctly orange in tone. Even 14 years on this Crossbill at Helsington Barrows in 1997 remains intriguing to me.

Many thanks for the pic Simon....long time no see.

I'D SOONER BE BIRDING!....and hopefully will tomorrow at least for a couple of hours.

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