Crossbills’ cavalcade of colour
CLEVELAND has enjoyed a birding splash of bright colour during the past few weeks.
Crossbills, which feed almost exclusively on conifer seeds, have been seen regularly both at Lockwood Beck and at Tilery Wood, just off the Castle Eden walkway.
I stood and got neck-ache watching a flock of around dozen of these intriguing birds at the very top of a group of conifers as they sought out pinecones.
Evidence of the crossbills’ success was clear by the number of cones which dropped to the ground.
The cones are wrenched away from their stems by the crossbills and held tightly with their feet while the seeds are extracted with their uniquely shaped bills.
You usually need binoculars to get a good look at crossbills, but it’s well worth it because the male is absolutely stunning with his brick red plumage. This fine picture of a male crossbill was taken by Dave Pearce.
The female is pretty impressive too with her green plumage, which is a different shade of green from the familiar greenfinch.
Despite constantly searching for food at the very top of the conifer trees, crossbills are not really shy birds. If you are very lucky, one or two of them will drop down to drink from pools of water right in front of you.
Crossbills are unusual in that they can breed throughout the year. They have been recorded nesting in every single month.
So their family groups usually include the brown and heavily streaked juvenile birds, which give the flocks a strange mix of three separate colourations.
After leaving the crossbills to their meal, I was delighted to find a few large clumps of lungwort growing at Tilery Wood.
This evergreen plant gets its name because it was thought the leaves would cure pulmonary diseases because the spotted leaves were considered representative of diseased lungs.
Lungwort is grown domestically and there is always a chance that any lungwort which you see in the wild is a garden escape.
However this species at Tilery Wood was pulmonaria officinalis, which is the one found in the wild. So I like to think I was looking at the real thing – even though lungwort was originally naturalised in Britain from the Continent.
Lungwort is not common is our region and, with most of our familiar spring flowers still not in bud, it was wonderful to kick start the year with such a find.
Eric would like to hear from readers about what they have seen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org