Wednesday, March 16, 2016

On a Redwing and a Prayer

For a long time I have been jonesing for a Redwing. Some of you might think I am referring to a Red-winged Blackbird, often referred to in a more simple form as ‘Red-winged’ or ‘Redwing’ but you would be mistaken. A Redwing is a Thrush, while a Red-winged is a Blackbird. Just to confuse you even more, in Europe the bird they call 'Blackbird' is a Thrush. Sheesh... er, no Thrush.

The Redwing: Turdus iliacus or the “Hippy Thrush” is a European bird, in the same family as our Robins. It is a very rare visitor to our continent, as evinced by its ABA code 4 level. Some describe it as the miscegenistic product of a Robin and a Waterthrush, but they have been roundly criticized for this. Others refer to this and other vagrants in the thrush family as “Euro Turds”, when looking for them in the far more likely location of Newfoundland. As enticing as the reports may be, it’s a wee too far away for a day trip.   

With recent reports albeit not very local, I was nevertheless getting more hopeful. I have been scanning the seemingly ever larger flocks of Robins for the past few years, hopeful that I would find one of these birds. In a way, they are overdue. This prolonged checking either irritates or amuses my co-conspirators, but if one wants to find a bird like this, scanning the flocks of Robins is the best way to do so. From a previous exchange on the intertubes: “(Q) How many Scaup must one look through to find a Tufted Duck? (A) All of them”

When a Redwing was found recently in New Hampshire I was both piqued and a bit frustrated. To quote another post on the intertubes: “Why do the good birds have to be found on Sundays?”

It was found by birder Chris McPherson on March 13. For better or worse I first found out via Farcebook, as using the listserves is no longer preferred method of disseminating sighting info. To be fair, I am not in the habit of checking the New Hampshgire list; though a bird of this magnitude usually is cross posted. Ah, too many lists... eburd... farcebook. Too many sources of information can be just as bad as not enough...

It should come as no surprise that I checked for updates on that following Monday. I was not however holding my breath, because this bird is a notorious one-day-wonder. I unsuccessfully went for one in Reading PA and for another in Rhode Island. Verily, a nemesis bird for me and many other birders.

But this bird reappeared! Its always a great sign when a bird exhibits site fidelity. With that in mind I made inquiries for co-conspirators. A plan was hatched and despite the weather forecast which deterred one potential participant, Earic Miller, Capt’n Bob and I made our way up to the  quintessentially New England town of Hollis NH in search of this good bird.

The day began dark dreary and damp. But the traffic gods were with us and we made our way effortlessly to the prescribed parking location. The fields that the enormous flocks of Robins were frequenting were adjacent to a school, so good judgement was needed in order not to alarm the school officials and ruin it for other birders. We went to and parked on Jeff Smith Way as instructed in the NH list posts. Other cars were present, so that was a good sign, but no birders were in evidence.

We checked the field in front of us, but as far as we could tell they were all Robins. We then walked over to Love Lane where there was more fields, but no parking.  Off in the distance we spotted a couple who appeared to be intently looking at something, and they being Carla and Sam, birders from Acton MA, were on the bird! I ran back to the car as did Earic, because we hadn’t wanted to bring our scopes out in the misty rain. 


With the bird foraging near the fence, and roughly halfway between where we were and where Carla and Sam were stationed we got on it rather quickly much to our delight. I got my scope on it, shared the view with other birders present, and there was much rejoicing. MUCH rejoicing. And then Bob said: “Great, lets get something to eat.” 

Redwing. Zoomed in on crappy photo :(

The bird was a distance away. I was content with scope views, and did not venture closer lest the bird be spooked. As a result and partially due to the lighting conditions, my attempts at photographing the bird were much less than good. Add to that camera settings that had been altered perhaps by leaving the camera on and it being jostled in the car. I managed just a few shots before the bird disappeared. While chimping, I discovered that they were over exposed. Groan.

Not wanting to stay standing out in the misty rain, Bob sought shelter in his car while Earic and I tried to relocate the bird after it had flown off. I was hoping for an opportunity for better photos and we did our best, but there was a lot of area to check, lots of Robins, and the mist seemed to have the uncanny ability to fall sideways and ~into~ our optics making the view blurry. Repeated drying of the lenses helped only temporarily.

Eventually with the writing on the wall and stomachs growling, we gave up searching and called it quits. We had an uneventful trip back with minimal traffic; this time thankfully Earic’s presence ( yes I blame him ) did not result in damage to the vehicle.

The birds M.O. can be found here as well as a map of the location

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