For the Birds: Sightings from around New England

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-breasted nuthatch grabs a seed from a feeding station in New England last week. (October 2020)

I keep seeing reports of more and more pine siskins and purple finches being seen throughout New England and farther south. I guess the Winter Finch Forecast was right about these species.

The Winter Finch Forecast also predicted a strong year for movements of red-breasted nuthatches, which started as early as August. The red-breasted nuthatch, of course, is not a finch but is included in the annual forecast because of its irregular migration patterns.

While I haven’t personally seen siskins or purple finches this year, I have seen a few red-breasted nuthatches. These birds are much more common in northern New England and become scarce as you head south in the region, where its cousin, the white-breasted nuthatch, is a common feeder bird.

(Update: I’ve seen a pine siskin and purple finch since this column was originally written.)

I had seen and heard a few red-breasted nuthatches in September, but those individuals made only quick appearances. Last week, I had one that remained all day, feeding with the black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice and white-breasted nuthatches, and entertaining me as I worked from home.

Combined with the fall colors, it was a fun day watching the feeders. I set up a feeding station whereby I positioned a large section of an old rotten log in front of a small sassafras tree that was bursting with color and spread seeds and suet on the log. The birds came nonstop, reminiscent of the airport analogy made by Bill from Keene a few weeks ago.

The frequent fliers (chickadees, titmice, white-breasted nuthatches and downy woodpeckers) were joined intermittently by the likes of cardinals, blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, house finches, Carolina wrens and dark-eyed juncos.

A surprise visitor to the feeding area was a hermit thrush. They are not feeder birds, of course, and this one wasn’t eating seeds or suet, but it did explore the feeding area for morsels along the ground. It didn’t linger long, maybe 10 minutes, but it was a fun, unexpected visitor.

Elena from Westmoreland has been watching the birds carefully as well. Her bear-proof feeder pole proved to be up to the challenge as a large male black bear attempted unsuccessfully to get at the feeder earlier this year. With the feeder in place, recent sightings have included juncos and white-throated sparrows. Northern flickers and American robins have been scouring the lawn for meals. She also reports large numbers of cardinals and blue jays daily.

Elena added this cool sighting: “Both my husband and I observed a leucistic mourning dove (not a rock dove!) on the ground at the base of our feeder pole. One side, as well as the entire head, is cream-colored, almost yellow. The other side is mostly typical mourning dove coloration. Most unusual.”

Interestingly enough, a few days later, Karen from Spofford wrote to say she and her neighbors have been getting visits by a leucistic red-tailed hawk. She sent a few photos of the white bird as proof.

Leucism is fairly common in the bird world. It differs from albinism in that there is only a partial loss of pigmentation.

It’s about time to focus on the ponds, lakes and rivers for migrating waterfowl. Tom had an interesting sighting last week at Otter Brook Lake in Keene when he spotted a group of 10 black scoters. We tend not to think of scoters as inland, freshwater ducks, but their migration route from northern Canada sometimes takes them over our lakes and ponds.

The warmth of summer may be gone and the colors of fall may be fading, but there’s still plenty going on in the natural world. Let me know what you’re seeing out there.

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