Birds at High Camp

August 30th, 2013 in Around the Woodstove

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You don’t have to hike far to find birds around High Camp. In fact you don’t need to leave camp at all. Everyday red crossbills and pine siskins have been coming to camp to gobble up our grade A grit. The grit is used in their gizzard’s to grind up their food, a function performed by our teeth. And while the crossbills don’t have teeth, it does look like they need an orthodontist to straighten out their beaks! Their goofy looking bills are adapted to pry open conifer cones, letting them access the energy rich seeds. This year there is a spruce cone crop that the crossbills are feeding on. The flock already has some young but the males are still singing, often in the evenings while perched on treetops. This means more mating could continue to occur in the area. Interestingly crossbills do not restrict their mating to the spring or summer months but will in fact breed whenever they find a large enough cone crop to sustain themselves. Both crossbills and siskins are members of the finch family, famous for the rapid evolution of bill sizes and shapes driven by their effectiveness at consuming available foods. In fact different populations of crossbills have larger beaks and prefer pine seeds whereas our spruce eating crossbills presumably have smaller beaks (I haven’t measured, yet).

Other birding highlights this summer have included sightings of western tanagers, mountain bluebirds, Clark’s nutcrackers, nuthatches, brown creepers, lots of grouse and many raptors.

In early August, mountain chickadees nested in front of the lodge. For several weeks the busy parents could be seen swooping in every couple minutes to feed the chicks. The young have since fledged but flocks can still be seen and more often heard around camp.

Eric