I saw a life-list bird last January. Not the season you think of when seeing new birds, but this visitor is usually in Canada for the winter. And that makes even Ohio in January look reasonable!
The bird was reported seen in Delaware State Park, north of Columbus. This park surrounds Delaware Lake- a reservoir constructed in 1951 to provide drinking water and recreation to the area’s residents. This is a park with lots of different habitats and is a good birding spot.
The Sweet Gum Area contains (you guessed it) mature Sweet Gum trees spaced out in grassy fields. This is where the bird had been seen, associating with a flock of American Goldfinches.
I was not the only birder looking for this particular bird. It’s good to get outdoors on a sunny winter’s day and move around. Cabin fever begone!
I did a blog post on American Sweet Gums some time ago. These particular trees were quite tall, and full of their spiny seed pods.
Sure enough, a flock of a couple of dozen American Goldfinches flew into the area. They set about attacking the Sweet Gum balls to get at the seeds inside.
The Goldfinches were in their modest winter plumage. In the spring, the males will become bright yellow to attract mates.
Like a decent amount of bird species, Goldfinches flock together in the cold winter months. There’s safety in numbers with all of the extra eyes looking out for threats- and food. Spring will see the birds start to pair off in anticipation of nesting and raising the next generation of Goldfinches. These birds nest later than many species- you can often see them nesting in the early autumn, after Thistles have matured. They use Thistle down to weave their nests, which are often watertight.
It’s not uncommon for different species of birds to flock together. This bird stands out from the Goldfinches by its streaked breast, pointed beak and yellow-tinged wingbars. What bird is this?
This is not our uncommon winter visitor I was searching for. This is a Pine Siskin, and actually it is fairly erratic in its winter presence in Ohio as well. This bird loves foraging in the trees. It will occasionally be seen at feeders as well. Its name indicates that it often is seen in evergreen trees, but this one liked the Sweet Gums as much as its Goldfinch buddies.
As time went by, my fellow birders and I started developing sore necks from looking nearly straight up at the treetops. This condition is often called ‘warbler neck’ (Warblers love treetops too). So many Goldfinches roamed the treetops that it was difficult to sort out other birds.
Wait! What was that bird with a streaked breast and a bit of black around its yellow bill? Seeing it from underneath made it harder. Not to mention trying to tell others where it was- ‘this tree, the left fork, the third branch up 2/3 of the way out from the trunk’…
There’s the red spot on its forehead- it’s definitely a Common Redpoll.
These finches are hardy residents of the Arctic tundra and northern boreal forests. They are used to far colder weather than Ohio can throw at them. These birds sometimes tunnel into the snow to keep warm!
This bird may have traveled far to get here. As Cornell University’s All About Birds webpage devoted to them says:
A few banding records have shown that some Common Redpolls are incredibly wide ranging. Among them, a bird banded in Michigan was recovered in Siberia; others in Alaska have been recovered in the eastern U.S., and a redpoll banded in Belgium was found 2 years later in China.
After a bit, I lost the bird in the trees among the Goldfinches. Then most of the Goldfinches flew off. But I had seen another life-list bird. That warmed up the chilly day indeed.