[Tweeters] Pine grosbeak and White winged crossbills invasion in OR and WA?

Khanh Tran fsprucegrouse at yahoo.com
Sun Jan 11 18:53:08 PST 2009

Hi all,

To add to the discussion generated on INLAND NW of a good flight year for Pine Grosbeaks this winter, I would have to agree. Many birds have been seen and reported in the areas of North Central and North Eastern WA and now North Eastern Oregon near the Wallowas.

Of course, my assessment is based on my limited experience and bird reports of the last few years. I have combed the archives pretty extensive the last ten years and I realize some birders don't report on these online birding forums of their sightings. Even then, there are only a handful of White winged crossbill reports.

The last three summers and winters in the Wallowas did not produced any significant number of both species as I usually bird there several times a year. This last November, reports showed good numbers in early fall especially November in the higher elevations of the Wallowas and the Okanogan areas. There is a lot of ground to cover.

If I recall correctly, the winter of 2006/2007 had good numbers as more pine grosbeaks were found at much lower elevations including Discovery Park in Seattle, several at the Skagit Game Range near Conner, WA, and one bird at Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon.

White winged crossbills is a different story. These erratic birds are much more tougher to pin down since they feed on a much more varied diet and tend to move more from place to place when one food source is depleted.

According to the the Davis, Clement and and Harris, the birds feed on extracting seeds of larches, cedars, spruces, and hemlock. They also take a variety of berries, spiders, and insects from their larvae. This probably explains why I have seen a few birds pick out protein matter from horse dung along some of the alpine trails that allow horse.

In addition, their ideal habitat requires much more effort to reach or inaccessible in winter. So I really don't have a basis to compare as reports are so far and few. These birds probably breed in these high alpine areas of WA and Oregon where few birders hike and venture into. From my research, I don't think there are any confirmed records of breeding in Oregon and Washington. I did hear several males burst into songs starting in late summer to early winter the last two years.

Also, if these birds are not flying around, they tend to blend in quite well and are much quieter than the incessantly calling pine grosbeaks. As a result, birds are tougher to detect and numbers are more difficult to assess.

Last winter, good numbers of XX bills trickled in the Okanogan Highlands and Salmo Pass areas and a reliable number remained at Stevens Pass.

However, if you want an easy place to see white winged crossbills right now, the town of Enterprise, Oregon is the place to be. Several flocks have been seen in the cone-laden conifers in town the last several weeks. You can almost seem them out of your car without snowshoes and cross-country skis.

For more details, see my recent weekend trip report below of birding the Wallowas in NE Oregon. It is a wonderful area to bird and the scenery is beautiful. You can never have a bad time in the WOWallowas!


Hi all,

My whirlwind trip to the Wonderful Wallowas with Dave S. went well. We found most of the wintering target species in the Lostine, Enterprise, and Joseph areas. We had a great time and Dave netted 7 lifers on the trip. Yipee!!!

Surprisingly, much of the warm rains earlier in the week melted a lot of snow as some of the rural roads were bare or muddy. As usual McCully Creek near Joseph is hammered with snow so we had to snowshoe in the last mile or so where the junction splits.

Cone crop and berries are at their fullest I have seen it but interestingly, we found no PINE GROSBEAKS in town but instead, observed several flocks of WHITE WINGED CROSSBILLS in the residental areas. The mischievous alpine parrot-like birds were feeding and ripping down cones while emitting their chet-chet-chet calls as they constantly flew to and from various cone-laden tree tops. To me they have a different flight pattern than the red crossbills and their calls are more electric in quality compared to their red cousins. Very cool birds to watch indeed!

We also noted that both species were not mingling together when observed at various locations during the trip.

If you need these elusive, erratic visitors as a lifer, this is the time to GO! It doesn't get any easier than this. No snowshoes or cross-country skis required to the proper habitat. You can see the birds right out of your car! I think the birds will stay around with this abundant cone crop. Melody Phillips and I first noticed the invasion mid-November at McCully Creek while Russ Namitz saw a few more weeks later.

Thanks to Kyle Bratcher and Margaret LaFavie for their sightings as well!

Here are the highlights and species seen:

GREAT GRAY OWL: One magnificent bird along Hwy 3 about 20 miles north of Enterprise.

SHORT EARED OWL: One hunting bird before dusk on School Flat Rd.

LONG EARED OWL: One bird along Philberg Rd at dusk near Elgin.

NORTHERN PYGMY OWL; Two birds one in Lostine and another at Wallowa Lake Rd.

GREAT HORNED OWL: Three birds in Lostine, Joseph, and Enterprise.

SPRUCE GROUSE; One beautiful male in spruce trees at McCully Creek. (Must snowshoe in)

DUSKY GROUSE; Two birds in conifer trees at McCully Creek.

RUFFED GROUSE; One bird at Hurricane Creek Rd

SHARP TAILED GROUSE; Flushed two birds along Leap Lane

GRAY PATRIDGE; A flock of five on Leap Lane. Eight birds along Praire Creek Rd.

NORTHERN GOSHAWK: One adult bird along road leading to Lostine Campground.

FERRUGINOUS HAWK; One beautiful adult on Alder Slope Rd (same bird reported by LaFaive?)

ROUGH LEGGED HAWK; Up to 6 birds mostly in Joseph.

MERLIN; One bird in town of Enterprise near Courthouse.

WHITE HEADED WOODPECKER; One flying bird at Wallowa Lake SP.

NORTHERN SHRIKE; Up to 3 birds near Enterprise and Joseph.

BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS; A flock of 200 birds in Enterprise. 60 birds near Fish Hatchery Rd

CEDAR WAXWINGS; A flock of 100 birds mixed with some Bohemians near Golf Course Rd.

AMERICAN THREE SPARROWS; A flock of 5 birds near Leap Lane.

WHITE THROATED SPARROW; One bird on Golf Course Rd.

SNOW BUNTINGS; A pure flock of 150 plus birds along Ant Flat Hill Rd.

GRAY CROWNED ROSYFINCHES; A flock of 350 plus birds along School Flat Rd and a few stranglers near Ant Flat Hill Rd. Some roosting at dusk near eaves of barns.

PINE GROSBEAKS: A small flock of 15 birds along Hwy 3 about 22 miles north of Enterprise. A flock of 5 birds along Cascade Auto Route about 14 miles north of Enterprise. Three birds in McCully Creek. None were found in towns of Lostine, Enterprise or Joseph despite hordes of fruiting ornamental trees and hundreds of feasting robins!

RED CROSSBILLS; A flock of 20 birds in Cascade Auto Route and 10 birds in town of Enterprise.

WHITE WINGED CROSSBILLS; A large flock of 40 birds near City Center intersection and Fish Hatchery Rd, a dozen in Enterprise on Garfield and 1st St. A small flock of 5 birds at McCully Creek. A flock of 20 plus birds in Cascade Auto Route.

COMMON REDPOLLS; A flock of 25 birds on Prairie Creek Rd not far from cemetery.

Good birding,

Khanh Tran (Portland, Oregon)

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