I joined Ann Mitchell, Brad Walker, Mitch Walters, and Shawn Billerman for a day of Basin birding. Starting off the morning at Myers point on Cayuga Lake, we found nothing of note, so we headed over to the best winter finch spot, Summerhill.
Driving up Salt Road, looking and listening, yielded essentially nothing. From there we went to the Hovel Chalet feeders on Filmore Rd, the best reliable place to see Evening Grosbeaks. We saw no winter finches at first, just the regular feeder birds like goldfinches and chickadees. Then, a bright pink Common Redpoll flew in - sweet! Almost all previous reports in the Basin this winter have been flyovers. Then the Evening Grosbeaks began pouring in by flocks, totaling at least 45 before we decided to look for more finches.
We did a loop through the best habitat at Summerhill (down Lick Road, across Hoag, and back up Salt Road). The most prominent encounter on Hoag Road (indeed, everywhere today) was gobs of hunters in blaze orange - opening day of deer season. At one point on Hoag, I did briefly hear flyover Crossbills (not sure of the species).
When we turned back north on Salt Road, in the stretch of spruces where we previously had flocks of Crossbills, all hell broke loose. We stopped to listen, and then heard and saw flyover Red Crossbills as Paul Hurtado came pulling up from the north. Other birds appeared, unfamiliar whistly call notes began, and near simultaneous shouts of "PINE GROSBEAK" went up from Paul jumping out his van, Shawn, and Ann moving for her scope. I grabbed my scope and we all had a fantastic time observing a flock of 25 Pine Grosbeaks (Pinicola enucleator) feeding in the spruces and on the road - see Paul's pictures and video here. We called everyone we knew, and birders closed in as rapidly as possible (see the last of Paul's pictures).
As the Grosbeaks moved deeper into the spruce forest, another flyover Crossbill call had us debating Red vs. White-winged. After several minutes of nothing, we decided to split up and do more loops around Summerhill to try and locate Crossbills. My group did not find any, but others briefly observed a group of both species on Salt Road - damn! White-winged would be a lifer. Meanwhile the Evening Grosbeak flock at Hovel Chalet had grown to 75.
After Summerhill, my group went up to Montezuma NWR to look through the waterfowl flocks for rare geese. We found no Ross's, White-fronted, or Cackling Geese in the thousands of waterfowl present on the main pool and in the Mucklands. We did find a Northern Shrike and a Rough-legged Hawk.
To end the day we drove down the west side of Cayuga Lake, stopping at Sheldrake for an attempt to relocate last week's Pacific Loon. We had no luck with Pacific Loon or even Red-throated among the many Common Loons. We did pick out an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, Red-breasted Mergansers, and a female Long-tailed Duck.
Lesser Black-backed Gull (left)
After the day was over, we learned that Pine Grosbeaks were not the only finch to finally arrive in numbers. Ryan Douglas had a flock of 73 Common Redpolls in the fields near his apartment after heading home from Summerhill. So much for flyovers! For even better news, a Hoary Redpoll was reported to the northeast, near Rochester, so I think we're very near to the winter finch sweep.
One final note - I found this link from Kevin McGowan documenting the last winter finch invasion - check out the photos.