Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Starting the Year Off Right

For the past 20 years of my birding life I've tried to start each new year off with a good bird, an exciting field trip, or at least SOME sort of birding activity. This, unfortunately, often comes into conflict with the revelry of New Year's Eve, especially in years when I am playing music for someone's party. Arriving home in the wee hours of New Year's Day, crashing hard, then waking up well after the sun's appearance has usually meant that the new year starts off with a cup of coffee at 11 am, accompanied by a bleary cardinal or two at the feeders.

I always note my first bird of the year. Last year it was an American goldfinch. I'll tell the tale of this year's first bird in a future post.

The subject of today's post is the first stop on the birding trip Julie and I took on New Year's Day with our pal Shila. We called all the members of The Whipple Bird Club to organize an impromptu field trip for January 1. The fact that it was already nearly noon on January 1 was of no concern.

The Whipple Bird Club may be the only bird club in the world with its own gang-style hand sign. From left: Shila, Steve, Bill, Julie.

Shila could make it. Steve could not. Our destination was The Wilds, a recovering strip mine about 40 minutes north of Indigo Hill. The soil there is too poor to support trees, so it remains grassland and thus attracts birds that prefer vast open spaces: northern harriers, rough-legged hawks, short-eared owls, horned larks are just some of the winter species regularly found at The Wilds.

Before we could head north, we had to head south into town to drop of kids at my folks' house and to pick up Shila. En route to Shila's abode my cell phone rang. It was Steve.

"Billy! I've got a bird here that's different. Can you help me ID it?"

Now I know enough about Steve's birding skills to realize that he would not be fooled by a female red-winged blackbird, a leucistic house sparrow, or a winter-plumaged starling.

"I think it's something good."

We high-tailed it to Steve's and this is what we saw at his thistle feeders:

How many bird species are in this photograph (above)? Two? Three?

Is this any more helpful? There's an American goldficnh (upper left), two pine siskins on the upper and lower right. And...

An adult female common redpoll!

Steve had found a common redpoll among the 30 or so pine siskins at his feeders. We waited for about 40 minutes before the redpoll showed up and when it did, Steve's the one who spotted it for us. This was a great bird to see so early in a new birding year!

From the reports I've heard this is a big pine siskin year and a big white-winged crossbill year here in Ohio. We've had siskins at the Indigo Hill feeders for a month, but no other special northern finches have visited us (evening grosbeaks, crossbills, redpolls). However Steve's bird gives us all reason to check through the feeder flocks.

I first saw common redpolls at the Thompson family feeders in Marietta, Ohio in the winter of 1978—the very same year we started Bird Watcher's Digest. They came in with some evening grosbeaks and siskins and stayed for more than a month. They all came back the following year, too—both '78 and '79 were fierce winters. Little did I know it would be 14 more years before I'd see redpolls in Ohio again. We've had two visits—both short and more than a decade ago—from common redpolls at Indigo Hill. The last one we saw here was in 1994.

So this lone female common redpoll is a special bird, seen with great birding pals, on the very first day of a new year. Here's hoping 2009 turns out to be a special, memorable birding year for all of us!

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At 11:54 AM, Blogger dguzman said...

Neato! I guessed right with three species, but I didn't get the female redpoll, dangit. Nice first bird!

At 2:35 PM, Blogger Jayne said...

Didn't notice the little red spot until the bird turned! Cool beans! We'll never see those guys down here in Georgia. :c)

At 7:50 PM, Blogger Heather said...

Excellent bird sightings! I pat myself on the back for IDing all 3 correctly before reading the answers. We had our very first Pine Siskins ever at the feeders this weekend, and now I'm gonna keep my fingers crossed for a redpoll.
I'm SO excited to hear you guys went to the Wilds!!! Will you post about what you saw? I would love to go there in the winter sometime.

At 8:19 PM, Blogger curlgurl said...

I got it! But not until the second picture. It's a big deal when we see them here in CT, too.

At 8:24 PM, Blogger KatDoc said...

I only got two, missed the redpoll. Sweet bird!

My first bird last year was goldfinch, too. It was Song Sparrow the year before that, so this year I worked hard for a more interesting species. I was birding before dawn (having NOT been out till the wee hours the night before) and got a hooting Great Horned Owl as my First Bird of 2009.

Can't wait till the Wilds trip Jan. 17. Will the Whipple Bird Club be there in force?


At 11:39 AM, Anonymous BLRem said...

Congrats - what a great way to start out 2009!!!

At 12:45 PM, Anonymous veagle said...

I'm out in western South Dakota, and the Pine Siskins have been my most numerous customers at our feeders this winter, with some days 30 -35 birds. Typically get a few American goldfinch as well, and house finches. But on January 3rd I spotted both a male and female redpoll. I'd never seen one before, being new to birding this year, but I have learned that the last one spotted here in western SD was about 4 years ago. Haven't seen it since then, but I generally don't see any birds before going off to work, so I'm hoping it will stay around for awhile.

At 8:52 PM, Blogger Mary said...

No reports of redpolls in these parts. That's a great start for 2009!

At 11:24 AM, Blogger RuthieJ said...

I had pine siskins at my finch feeders earlier this fall, but it looks like they got smart and flew off to Ohio once the Minnesota winter kicked in. Some folks are still seeing redpolls in southern Minnesota, so I haven't given up hope on spotting some of them at my feeders this year.

At 10:31 PM, Blogger NatureMama said...

Steve just told me about this the other day, and I had to come check out the pictures. Awesome!


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