Any good “birder” in Massachusetts can tell you in a year when White-winged Crossbills are to be found the first place to look is (SBSR) Salisbury Beach State Reservation. Located just south of the New Hampshire and across the channel from Plum Island this late fall and winter “Hot Spot” can really deliver the goods for birders and bird photographers looking to score a nice selection of birds that we do not see every year here in Massachusetts. In fact the last time we had a good southward movement of Crossbills was back in the winter of 2008/2009. While that was a good year for Crossbills it’s NOTHING like we are seeing this year. I’ve been birding or photographing at this location for about 20 years and I have never seen this many Crossbills at SBSR, and it’s not even close! It’s impossible to get an exact count of how many Crossbills there are this year but a conservative estimate would be 100+ and that might be low.
If you go arrive at sunrise and as you enter the park look for the campgrounds on your right. The X-bills are usually not difficult to locate if they are present and this year as I stated there are more Crossbills then I have ever seen at this location. The vast majority of which are White-winged (95%) with a few small flocks of Red Crossbills mixed in along with Redpolls, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Pine Siskins. All of these birds are there for one main reason….food, and their food of choice are the seeds found in the pine cones that scatter the entire campground area. The birds will move from tree to tree looking to split open these cones and extract the seeds and sometimes they are even found hopping around on the ground picking seed that have fallen from the trees. While the Crossbills are busy feeding another group of birds are also moving in looking to feed. Only these birds are not interested in seeds. Sorry to say these birds are looking to catch and eat other birds and in this case Crossbills are on the menu. These are the mid-sized falcon we find in the Northeast the Merlin and possibly a Cooper’s Hawk or Sharp-shinned Hawk. These birds of prey arrive looking to take advantage of their own harvest just as all the seed eating birds are reaping the benefits of a good years crop from all the seed bearing trees. So as you are photographing or viewing Crossbills be on the lookout for any number of raptors that may appear.
Another good wildlife viewing opportunity is at low tide look across the channel towards Plum Island. As the large rock become exposed the local Harbor Seals will haul out and begin to sun themselves or rest for a few hours. For Photographers this is best done in the afternoon or on an overcast day. This is possible one of the best locations to see Harbor Seals on the North Shore in large numbers and different color morphs.
Additional updates, we are happy to announce anyone interested in purchasing Migration Productions latest video “Epic Journeys” you can now do so from Buteo Book.
As always enjoy the great outdoors and please help to protect wildlife and wild places.
Shawn P. Carey