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Winter finches raise hopes

November 26, 2012

Male Northern Cardinal a few metres from our balcony

Over the past few months, I’ve not been too serious about my big year, limiting my intentional efforts to a couple early mornings (5 am) in late October that netted me an American Tree Sparrow (calling while migrating over our apartment).  Outside of that species, the few new listings have been entirely unintentional, and entirely finches of the winter variety.  Evening Grosbeak was the first ‘new’ finch, as I heard some flying past overhead on the 16th of October.  Their call note is an easy one to remember from my childhood, when some years flocks of hungry grosbeaks would descend on our flowering crabapple tree in front of the living room window, and strip it of its tiny apples in a day or two.  The ground beneath the tree would be covered with the pulp of those berries after the grosbeaks were done.  This mysterious species really peaked my curiousity, as I saw and heard it only occasionally during the winter and not every winter.  The spectacularly bright coats of yellow, white and black of the males, the softer greys of the females, and those massive bills made grosbeaks seem more exotic than most species around our yard.  Unfortunately I did not see the ones that flew over on the 16th of October 2012, but I did hear them, and that is good enough to make it on my list.   Exactly one month later, the 16th of November, I heard another beautiful large winter finch from the bed – Pine Grosbeak.   Its distinctive 2 note squeaky whistle brought a smile to my face, which repeated during the next few days, but like the Evening Grosbeak, I never actually saw one, and they appear to have moved on.   Finally, on the 20th of November, I noticed a new species again from the bedroom.  There, in amongst the cacaphony from the usual flock of gregarious Goldfinches were the slightly ‘harder’ notes of a lone Common Redpoll.  It was on the feeder and I was able to show it to Cris, who appreciates when we can actually see these new birds.    So, here I am in late November, at 82 species for my big year from our apartment and balcony.  I’ve cracked 80, and now have my eye on 85.   This is a modest goal but will require some effort likely.  I still have to find time to pull my scope onto the balcony to watch the river.  This time of year, the sun is low to the south, where the river is, which makes good views of distant gulls and waterfowl a challenge but one I am up for.  My friend Al reported to me in late October.  He was up to 110 for his Heidleburg property in 2012, a new record for him!  Congrats Al!     I believe that Rod was up to 150 or so. . . .  yea, the upper Bruce. . . .I am already thinking about what I might do differently next year to get closer to 100.  Move to the Bruce maybe?   Naw, maybe spending more time on the balcony would be a good start!

In the meantime, we are enjoying the interactions between the ‘geegeezinhos’ as Cris calls the Chickadees, the ‘Goldies; (Goldfinches), the acrobatic and dominant Sittelles (my daughter only has one ‘t’ in her name though she is very acrobatic also), the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers who appear very happy about those two suet feeders, the Juncos, which always look so round and feed on spilled seeds, Cardinals, which are in the neighbourhood but don’t drop by that often except when they want their pictures taken, and the vacuum-cleaner like gray squirrels which clean spilled sunflower seed bits off the deck of the balcony.


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