This was a weekend of winter finches.
Saturday, I joined the Menotomy trip to Horn Pond. It was billed as a winter finch trip, but Marj implied that it was mostly wishful thinking. However, a short distance down the trail, I noticed a few lumps in a birch and stopped to look (not sure why no one else did after being told to check every birch carefully). I was quite surprised to see the black spot on the head of a Common Redpoll. They’ve definitely been uncommon this winter and I was assuming I’d have to wait until late in the year to get them on my yearlist.
We moved in to get a better look and more and more seemed to be moving in. I counted at least 16. It was still pretty cold out so I wasn’t really into trying to keep the camera steady but I did get at least one acceptable shot.
And here’s a group shot. How many can you count?
We continued on and had a few other good birds including my first Swamp Sparrows, Winter Wren, and Sharp-shinned Hawk of the year. Reaching the pines, we spread out to check for owls and instead had a flock of White-winged Crossbills fly over. We raced out into the open but they appeared to be long gone. Marj decided to end the trip here, so I continued to work in the direction the crossbills had been heading. Unfortunately I didn’t see or hear them again.
On Sunday, I decided to head to Met State and look for more finches. I still haven’t seen a Pine Siskin yet this year and would have liked a redpoll for Waltham. At the first stand of birches I found a bunch of little birds but they all turned out to be goldfinches. I headed up the hill to the water tower and then started down the road. Near the gate to the Gaebler building, I heard an odd finchy call and hurried down one of the side paths to track it down. It took a few minutes to find and I ended up having to slog through snow that was approaching my knees, but I did find them.
A bunch of White-winged Crossbills!
The light was pretty bad and they were a good ways off but I was happy. I was even happier when they started flying in to the trees that were just on the other side of the fence. They sat around preening and my count jumped from 3 to 5 to 7 and finally to 9. The variation was quite interesting with some birds having much stronger wingbars and streaking than others. I snapped a pile of pictures, some of the better ones are below.
This last one barely had any hint of a wingbar.
And here’s a group shot of most of the flock:
Eventually, they flew back to the pine to begin feeding again. I started to move on and a huge flock of goldfinches flew over. I chased after them hoping for something better mixed in. They didn’t cooperate, landing in trees about halfway down the hill. I tried a few different angles and wasn’t able to find anything but goldfinches.
The birding slowed considerably after that as the wind picked up and eventually got to the point of being uncomfortable. By the end of the walk, I was barely able to find any birds. I decided to stop and Dunback on the way home but the wind had all but eliminated things there. I walked around for 25 minutes and saw a single robin and heard a junco.
Even with the slow finish, it was a great weekend.
And for other people’s cool photos: