Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Fine Finch: the Pine Siskin plus Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and White-breasted Nuthatch

[Wetzel SRA and Lake St. Clair Metropark. MI. October 2014]

The family of American finches boasts a wide array of finches, grosbeaks and crossbills. Some are truly spectacular -- such as this blogger's personal favorite: the Rosy Finches.  However, there's more to finches than the rather small-ranging and hard-to-see iconic rosy finches of the West. And, a prime example of a finch that is both delightful and yet fairly common across all of the US is the Pine Siskin.

Famous for its periodic irruption, Pine Siskin numbers can spike unpredictably year over year; but, the best chance of seeing one is definitely going to be in Winter -- a time when they can range as far down as Texas (eg., in Hueco Tanks) but rarely as far as in Southern Florida.

A quick tour of a couple of choice birding locales -- Wetzel State Recreation Area and Lake St. Clair Metropark -- yielded the Siskin as well as some other species:
  • Pine Siskin
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • European Starling
We start with the Pine Siskin observed at Wetzel SRA:
    Pine Siskin observed at Wetzel SRA
    Wetzel SRA is open to hunting starting September 1st and during this blogger's brief visit, more hunters than siskins were observed. While the identification characteristics of the former are somewhat more obvious (it's hard to ignore shotguns, orange vests and hunting dogs-in-tow); the latter may be identified by heavy streaking, a thin, pointed bill, a strongly notched tail and a conspicuous patch of yellow in the wings.

    Pine Siskin observed at Wetzel SRA
    Pine Siskins are both gregarious and noisy; their chattering, buzzing chips are often the first sign of their presence.
    Pine Siskin observed at Wetzel SRA
    With the Siskin "in the (photographic) bag" (so to speak), this blogger beat an urgent retreat from Wetzel as a result of stern and repeated admonishment administered by the hunters present -- the reason being, and rightly so, for the lack of bright safety-clothing on my person.

    Conditioned, as any birder is, by years of trying to blend into the surroundings, sartorial inconspicuousness is, regrettably, a virtue that can prove fatal in the hunting season.

    Clearly, "hunting plumes digitally" and "hunting plumes with lead" are vocations that require some important differences in approach.

    Ruby-crowned Kinglet seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
    Unlike the dozen-odd species of finch, there are only two kinglets in the US -- the Golden-crowned and the Ruby-crowned.

    Ruby-crowned Kinglet seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
    A tiny, olive-drab songster with a prominent white eye-ring and wingbar, this neckless, small-billed feathered wonder, unlike the seed favoring Siskin, is an insectivore.

    Other birds observed included the resident White-breasted Nuthatch:

    White-breasted Nuthatch seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
    This nuthatch is ripe for a split with studies suggesting 3 (even possibly 4) species.

    White-breasted Nuthatch seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
    The bird shown here would belong to the "Carolina" species if the split were to go ahead -- with a broad, black crown, pale grey back and buffy flanks. Unlike the finch and the kinglet, the Nuthatch is a year-round resident throughout its range.

    White-breasted Nuthatch seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
    Next, a thrush, hiding in the thickets blending in perfectly:

    Hermit Thrush seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

    Hermit Thrush seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
    A view of its rusty tail, confirms that this is a Hermit Thrush:

    Hermit Thrush seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
    Red-winged Blackbirds, which have been silent for a couple of months, have started to display and vocalize again:

    Red-winged Blackbird seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
    And seen here with an autumnal background:
    Red-winged Blackbird seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
    Derisively termed as a "trash bird", the European Starling is here for no fault of its own:

    European Starling seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
    .. .and it has done in its adopted home what Nature demands of it -- adapt and survive.

    Winter threatens a slower recreational season with colder temperatures and shorter days but delightful arrivals such as the unique Pine Siskin keep the fires of birding aflame.

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