My Bird Blog: A blog about my birding discoveries, bird feeders, birds on my life lists, and all things bird related

Chirps and Cheeps Bird Blog

A Birder's Blog About Birding in Western New York

A Common Redpoll Arrives!

Published December 11, 2014
Tags: General Observations, Common Redpoll, Rough-legged Hawk, American Tree Sparrow, Red-breasted Nuthatch

I was very lucky today to get invited to see a Common Redpoll at my friend, Celeste's house.  The female redpoll been coming since late yesterday afternoon and I've been anxious to see one again (the last time was at the end of the 2012-2013 winter). We've tried to find a redpoll a few times recently, so it was quite exciting when one showed up at her feeders! So - in spite of the traffic reports, I took the snowy drive up there to see this special visitor. Being an irruptive species, we just never know when we're going to get the opportunity to see one of these winter finches in WNY - so I felt it was worth the risk!

It didn't take very long for the little gal to appear after my arrival had scattered the flock of songbirds that she was hanging with. Soon, she and the House Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows, 2 Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Juncos, Cardinals, House Finches, and Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers were back at Celeste's abundant feeders where there was a great assortment of food choices. Celeste pointed out that the redpoll seemed to prefer feeding on the ground under the nyger thistle feeders and indeed, that's where the redpoll spent most of its time. Her comical way of "hopping" around on the ground was quite amusing to us as she foraged among the other songbirds.

We birders really love the irruptive years (years when northern species come southward in search of food) because it gives us a chance to see these winter birds. The Common Redpoll is usually found in Alaska and northern Quebec and, occasionally, makes it as far south as Oklahoma and to the Carolinas during the irruptive years.

Other irruptive species are: Pine Siskin, Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Purple Finches, Bohemian Waxwings, and the Great Gray and Snowy Owl.  Between the different species, there are different factors involved with these northern birds come south, but it's usually closely related to food availability.  You can find out what's expected for this winter by reading Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch Forecast on Jean Iron's blog here:  Winter Finch Forecast 2013-2014.

I'm hoping the fact that this redpoll is at Celeste's feeders is an indication that we'll see more Common Redpolls very soon.  There have already been a handful of sightings around the state, so watch your feeders!  They like nyger thistle seed, by the way, which other finches like too.

On the drive to Celeste's, I saw a female, light phase Rough-legged Hawk. I had my short lens on and didn't get a great photo of her, but I posted the two I got anyway.  That was a real treat to see that bird too!
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Common Redpoll
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Common Redpoll
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Common Redpoll
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Common Redpoll
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Common Redpoll
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Common Redpoll
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Common Redpoll
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Common Redpoll - caught mid-hop
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Female (light phase) Rough-legged Hawk
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Rough-legged Hawk
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Pine Siskin at the feeders
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Pine Siskin
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American Tree Sparrow
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Red-breasted Nuthatch


Lark Sparrow Revisited, Another Snowy Owl, and a Red-tailed

Published December 04, 2014
Tags: General Observations, Lark Sparrow, Snowy Owl, Red-tailed Hawk, Chipping Sparrow

We did a little lake watching up at Hamlin this morning for a couple of hours.  Nothing of interest came by, probably because the winds were too calm. They were blowing in the right direction but I don't think they were hard enough to cause any vagrants to come in.

Since we were there, Celeste, Pat Martin, Jennifer R., and I decided to pay the Lark Sparrow another visit.  Jim Adams and Dana Kalir had already stopped by the lake watch to say hi as they headed to see the lingering, celebrity sparrow.  We were all happy to find it still there and hanging with a small flock of American Tree Sparrows.  The Lark Sparrow gave us a few nice photo opportunities and Celeste and I were soon on our way to the Niagara River.

There wasn't much of anything happening on the river, except for the one, far out Snowy Owl at the north end of Donnelly's wall.  We scoped the owl and then enjoyed looking through the ducks and gulls at LaSalle Park.  After that, I continued on alone to see the Snowy Owl that had been reported at the small boat harbor.  I imagine both Snowys were two of the 6 or 7 owls that Jerry Anderson found on November 30th by the waterfront. He got some stellar photos early that morning and it sounded like an amazing scene to see so many Snowy Owls at one place!

This afternoon, I found the lone Snowy at the small boat harbor and it was amazingly tolerant of all the noise and commotion from the construction workers that were nearby. I sat in my car at a respectful distance, took a few photos, and watched him/her for about 15 minutes.  When I slowly drove away, it was preening in the afternoon sun.

Across the street at Tifft, I happened upon the young Red-tailed Hawk that's been photographed several times of late. The hawk had a picked-over kill that it was working on and I watched from my car as several other vehicles drove past it; I was amazed that the hawk never flushed.  It appeared to be much more concerned with its meal and wasn't about to leave it if it didn't have to.  I'm guessing he was very hungry.  By now, it was starting to get late and I needed to be on my way - so I decided to forgo the walk I had planned and just watched the Red-tailed for a little while longer. I grabbed a few photos from the car window and then left him to enjoy his rather sad looking leftovers.  I hope he fares well this winter.

When I got home, I found another Red-tailed Hawk perched on a utility pole just down the road from our house. And, at the back feeders, the Chipping Sparrow, who's been coming for a few days now, was there feeding once again. I think he missed the train to Texas and is now stuck here for the winter. Poor guy - if he can endure the cold, I'll make sure he's got plenty to eat!
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Lark Sparrow
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Lark Sparrow
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Lark Sparrow
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Lark Sparrow
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Snowy Owl at the small boat harbor in Buffalo
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Snowy Owl
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Snowy Owl
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Snowy Owl
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Young Red-tailed Hawk
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Red-tailed Hawk
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Red-tailed Hawk
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Red-tailed Hawk
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Red-tailed Hawk at home
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Rough-legged Hawk hunting over a field in Hamlin
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Chipping Sparrow - he should be down south now!
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Chipping Sparrow


A Townsend's Solitaire

Published December 01, 2014
Tags: Life List Happenings, Townsend's Solitaire

Occasionally, a Townsend's Solitaire winds up in the Northeast. This small thrush lives in the western half of the United States and Canada, wintering from southern California and southward.  The last time one was seen anywhere in the Western to Central New York areas, I wasn't traveling to see life birds and I missed a great chance for one that year.  A couple of days ago, when a birder from Erieville, NY reported one that he and his wife were seeing one on their property, Celeste and I decided to make a run for it, not wishing to miss another opportunity.

Only a few minutes after we arrived, the bird flew in landing near the top of a bare tree.  We had nice looks before it took off to another spot on the property, where it stayed for quite awhile. It left and returned at least a couple of times during our visit, giving closer looks a time or two. It even vocalized several times, giving us the "complete package".

The Townsend's Solitaire was named after the ornithologist, John Kirk Townsend and is the only solitaire that is native to the US.  This species is very territorial and both the male and the female will defend patches of juniper trees against others of their kind during the winter.  They are mostly gray with a strong, white eyering and buffy patches on their wings. Their forked tail is white underneath and gleams nicely in flight as it changes direction in a rather irregular pattern.  We had the opportunity to witness this as it flew several times during our stay.

The birders that the Townsend's Solitaire chose to visit were very helpful and eager to have others share their rarity.  We really enjoyed our time with them and we were very thankful for their generosity and hospitality!  Thank you, Brian and Connie!  Hopefully, the bird will stay awhile, but, as Brian said, it's best the bird moved on to where s/he belongs.
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Townsend's Solitaire - a gray bird on a gray day didn't make for very good photos!
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Townsend's Solitaire
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Townsend's Solitaire
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Townsend's Solitaire
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Townsend's Solitaire
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Townsend's Solitaire