Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, November 22, 2020

A Finchy November to Feel Squirrelly

Fox Sparrow
Fox Sparrow

If I had to be stuck at home, limited pretty much to birding in my own backyard, this has at least been as good an autumn as I’ve had in years. I don’t think I’ve ever had as many Fox Sparrows during fall migration as I did this year, and they stuck around all the way through November 8—late enough and in big enough numbers that I often had to document the day’s sightings for eBird. 

Lincoln's Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow

I saw only one Lincoln’s Sparrow all spring, but then I had individuals now and then from October 23 through November 2, again having to document them for eBird. 

White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrows stuck around through November 15.  Sometimes one or two show up on the Duluth Christmas Bird Count, but they certainly wouldn’t have stayed any longer in my yard this year because rats showed up again in October, meaning I had to stop all my ground feeding. 

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal. Unlike every other photo on this blogpost, this one was not taken this year or in my yard.

On lucky days, I’m spotting a male cardinal or one or two females—on November 15, I was lucky enough to see all three at once. Even though on most days I don’t see them at all, it doesn’t seem to curb my optimistic hope. 

Cool as my sparrows and cardinals have been, it’s also been exciting seeing true finches this year. I’ve been keeping track of the ones being counted from Hawk Ridge, only about half a mile as the crow flies from my own backyard. What with people standing up there counting them throughout each day, way bigger numbers are tallied up there than down here, and I’ve been working on another book, so only able to check out the windows periodically.  

Purple Finch
Purple Finch

Like the counters at Hawk Ridge, I started seeing Purple Finches in late summer. The handful that I was seeing down here stuck around until November 1. Goldfinches seem to have disappeared as of Halloween down here. Many years they overwinter this far north, but this doesn’t seem like it’s going to be that kind of winter in Duluth. 

Over 1,000 Pine Grosbeaks have already been counted up at Hawk Ridge starting on October 23—I haven’t noticed a single one in my yard so far, but I’m hearing from people all over northern Minnesota and Wisconsin who are enjoying them, and also Evening Grosbeaks. No Evening Grosbeaks have shown up in my yard yet this fall. The Evening Grosbeak is one of my favorite birds, and used to be genuinely abundant up here, so I keep hoping. I was lucky enough to have a single one fly over on May 11 but yearn to see more this fall.   

Pine Siskin
Pine Siskin

Pine Siskins showed up both at Hawk Ridge and down here in early September. That was one of the most abundant birds of the season at Hawk Ridge, with well over 11,000 seen, and as many as 1500 in a single day; the most I had in a single day was 300. A few times they descended in big numbers to my birdbath when my trail cam was recording, and I’ve had a few good photo ops. 

Pine Siskins and White-throated Sparrows at bath
Pine Siskins at my bird bath (also some White-throated Sparrows)

But Pine Siskins seem to have disappeared now—the questions I’ve been hearing about them recently have come from people well south of here.  

Common Redpoll
October 20 Common Redpoll!

So far, the Hawk Ridge counters have had over 1,600 redpolls. I saw my first a few days before they tallied any—one was hanging out with the still abundant Pine Siskins at my feeder on October 20. But the most I’ve had in a single day is 10—they’ve had well over 100 on some days up at the Ridge. I’m seeing small groups some days, but overall am still missing them more days than I’m seeing them. 

When I think of it, I look out my living room window or from my front porch to scan through the branches of a few pine trees a couple of houses away, hopeful that I’ll eventually spot some Red Crossbills. Over 500 have been counted from Hawk Ridge, but I’ve not seen any yet. 

White-winged Crossbill
White-winged Crossbill

Right up until late this afternoon, I hadn’t seen a single White-winged Crossbill, either, but suddenly a flock of about 25 descended upon my big spruce tree. They were high up and the light was awful, but I got a few photos. While I was enjoying them, a flock of 30 more flew over. My dream is that they’ll descend on the spruce trees right next to my office window, where I’d have at least a chance of decent photos. 

Red Squirrel eating the seeds from a spruce cone
My red squirrel devouring spruce seeds

But even if I don’t see any there, I’ve been having lots of fun checking. This is one of the rare years when a red squirrel seems to have moved into my neighborhood. So far, the little guy hasn’t shown the least bit of interest in any of my bird feeders, apparently being on a more natural diet. I’ve taken photos of it eating spruce seeds and various fungi, and quite literally squirreling away lots of cones somewhere in the area behind my backyard. Red squirrels are most certainly not birds, but I love them a lot despite that serious shortcoming, and having this little guy here for a season when I am stuck at home is a saving grace.

Red Squirrel


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