Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Birds not seen (by me): More winter finches

The winter finch invasion continues, although other commitments have kept me away from it since Saturday.

This weekend, every classic winter finch was found in the Cayuga Lake Basin except Hoary Redpoll:

Evening Grosbeak
Pine Grosbeak
Pine Siskin
Red Crossbill
White-winged Crossbill
Common Redpoll

On Saturday, I saw Evening Grosbeak, Siskin, and Red Crossbills at the classic Basin spot for finches: Summerhill. Seen on Saturday by others included flyover Common Redpolls at another location.

Then on Sunday, the entire list was seen (minus Hoary) and I wasn't there. Shawn called me at 9am to wake me up with news he was looking at a White-winged Crossbill (a highly coveted would-be lifer for me) in with a flock of Red Crossbills at Summerhill. More flyover Common Redpolls were reported. Finally, for the near sweep, a singing Pine Grosbeak was found by Mike Harvey et. al.

All of these winter finches have been found in greater abundance in the hills to the east of the basin, east of Cortland, mostly by Matt Young. In light of Basin birders focusing mostly on Summerhill, Tom Johnson issued a call to cayugabirds-l to get out and bird everywhere to try to get the full scope of the winter finch invasion:

While Summerhill has been getting a lot of birding coverage recently (which it clearly deserves), it seems like there are numerous other patches around the area that might attract finches and other boreal species that are not getting covered as well. On that note, I'd recommend sharing new potential locations for boreal magnets like spruce groves/ fruiting trees/ areas that attract robins/ etc if you happen to come across them in your back roads travels. It is fantastic that folks are getting out birding (it was good to see numerous birders out this weekend around the lake), and I just think we'll get a more complete picture of this boreal invasion if the birding coverage widens a bit.

I certainly agree, although its nice to have a reliable spot to go and observe these birds. Now that I've seen some of them, I can focus on finding others. I've never been terribly fond of Summerhill, and until this past weekend I don't think I'd ever seen anything good there or found it worth it. Tim Lenz summarized feelings about Summerhill perfectly: "Finding an exciting bird here can be an orgiastic experience amidst the bitter cold imposing forest".

This idea sparked a discussion on the habitat preferences and where to look for these birds. Matt Young, the local finch guru and dedicated reporter on all things crossbill, had this to say:

Lastly, the fruit crop is good this year, not bumber like 2001 when Pine Grosbeaks visited Dryden and nearby areas, but good.....this includes, winterberry, wild grapes, apple, crabapple, sumac and buckthorn. Also, black locust and boxelder have "bumper" or great crops. These species are a preffered food for Evening Grosbeaks and certainly species that Pine Grosbeaks and Purple Finches will also dine on. This bodes well for us here in CNY.

Chris Wood suggests another option:

I'll mention that several irruptive species hold a special fondness for Mountain Ash. Don't, as our president may say, misunderestimate suburban areas and towns, which are often better than "wild areas" for irruptive species. Sadly, your average homeowner in the Cayuga Lake Basin doesn't have the same fondness for mountain ash . . . too bad since Bohemian Waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks have an amazing ability to find these berry producers . . . perhaps only surpassed by the ability of freshman of our species to find Friday festivities . . . and the results of these fermented frenzies can bear surprising similarities as well. Seriously, though, mountain ash are good. Really good. If you're of the landed gentry, plant some.

Other suggested fruits and seeds included Cranberry Viburnum and Birch.

Other increasingly frequent sightings and signs of winter:
Snow Buntings
Lapland Longspurs
Northern Shrike
Rough-legged Hawk
Building numbers of waterfowl rafts on the Lake and at Montezuma, particularly increasing numbers of Aythya

Pictures of the winter finches seen recently by Paul Hurtado (under recent birds: Nov 4th) and Ryan Douglas.

As I stated before, I really hope this trend carries through the rest of the season, it could be killer. We are so close to the winter finch sweep!

One final rare bird not seen by me: a Cave Swallow was seen this morning at Stewart Park by Tom Johnson, Mike Harvey, and others. I chased it soon as I could, but it was gone.


  1. I could have heard some Evening Grosbeaks the other day but never did get a good chance to see them to confirm that sound I have not heard in a few years! Besides that, I have yet to find any of these guys! Thanks for the heads up though! Saw-whets have been good this year!

  2. I'd imagine your neck of the woods would be good for winter finches - almost too good. So much habitat they are spread out rather than somewhat concentrated as here? Then again I have to wonder about their dispersal - you're right in the shadow of the Great Lakes, a movement barrier, whereas we're more or less due south of the 'dak region. Just some ramblings on the thought. Maybe you just need to get out more :)