Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Years Day with Red-Tails and Redpolls

Red-tailed Hawk
I started 2012 birding at Nahanton Park on New Years Day and thought it only appropriate that I start 2013 the same way.  I also thought this would be a good second outing with a new camera lens (I'm so glad to have autofocus again).

Nahanton was a sunny and snowy winter wonderland when I arrived at noon, much later than planned. The first find of the day was a small cluster of juncos (first birds of the year) while parking. The lower gardens were initially pretty quiet with a few song sparrow and house finches. As I rounded the back corner of the gardens  I heard blue jays calling, then I startled as a jay right behind me imitated a red-tailed hawk. It took me a second to realize that this scream had too much power to be a blue jay! I spun around and found three massive buteos circling right above me. Then she screamed again, and if the auburn tail didn't give it away, the single descending scream is unmistakable. I wish I had been able to record that sound (here's a link to a recording). I watched as one adult and two juveniles circled overhead before raising in altitude and soaring off over the park. No hint of Haynes' red-shouldered hawk though.

Common Redpoll
While walking towards the upper garden I spotted the Carolina wren, if only for a few seconds and some fly over crows. The upper gardens were even quieter than the lower gardens. I almost made a full circuit with only some furtive song sparrows to show for it when I reached the small clearing with two birches, one of which leans heavily. I think Suzette called this spot warbler city at one point. I was almost on top of the trees when I realized they contained two common redpolls! I was so excited, not only were these life birds for me, but I have also been searching for winter finches recently! I sat and watched them for a long while as they bounced around the birches eating the seeds from the catkins. It was amazing to think about their stubby beaks and small seeds compared to their crossbill cousins with massive curved beaks for prying open pine cones. The redpolls' purplish-red caps were iridescent in the sun making a wonderful addition to the snowy park. These little balls of feather are able to survive some of the harshest arctic winters with their thick plumage and sometimes even burrow into the snow to shelter during the night.

Brown Creeper
I tore myself away from them with difficulty and headed down the path by the swamp and river. The river was high and some of the path and flooded and frozen making the going slow. The only birds down there were house sparrows, robins, and a lone titmouse. There was a downy by the nature center and up in woodcock meadow I was delighted to hear the thin waivering call note of a brown creeper! I was able to find him and enjoyed watching him spiral the tree trunks searching for food.

I was hoping to make it through the woods by the JCC searching for more finches in the pines, but my time was running out and I really wanted to see the redpolls again. I passed through the soccer field checking the birches, but only found some white-throated sparrows. Back in the upper gardens the two birches now had five redpolls! So I spent a few more minutes soaking in their presence before heading back to the car.

This was truly a fantastic way to start 2013 and I would like to wish everyone a happy New Year!

1/2/2013 Today I found a flock of 7 redpolls in the birches by the soccer field, so maybe they are staying around?


  1. Good finds, Matt, and good shots! Nothing so exciting at noon today, though the snow is pretty.

    1. Thanks Haynes! I did really enjoy the walk, the snow definitely added to the fun. I was hoping others would get a chance to see the redpolls though, hopefully they will come back.

  2. Matt,

    I can't believe what a lucky day you had. I hope those red polls stick around through the weekend. I've never seen one and would love to. Alison had had them in her neighborhood but I found out about it too late.

    New camera lens is great!

    1. Thanks! You are right though, it was an all around lucky day. I think the snow even helped as it made everything brighter too. I hope that the redpolls come back again!