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Secret Birding

April 1, 2010

Way back in January when I traveled to Massachusetts to compete in the SuperBowl of Birding with several notorious nature bloggers, I was privy to a secret bird.  A species whose identity had to be kept under wraps lest hordes of greedy listers descend on the relatively tight kitchen of the folks lucky enough to host it.  That doesn’t mean the word didn’t get out of course, eminent Massachusetts birders were allowed entrance on an invitation only basis to see the little guy, and the Bloggerhead Kingbirds were lucky that one of our members, the gregarious and apparently well-regarded Christopher of Picus Blog, was considered among those worthy few, and he thankfully got to drag some riff-raff in off the street to check it out too.

As you may or may not know, the Bloggerheads typically spend the day before the SuperBowl checking out interesting or rare birds in the area that any of us haven’t seen.  Massachusetts in winter, for all its brutal weather, is a fantastic place to bird and hosts lots of tundra birds that would never in several hundred years make it as far south as North Carolina.  But the northeast corner of North America also sits in a unique place with regard to vagrants from Europe as well. As it’s often the first bit of land trans-Atlantic travelers find when weather or wanderlust pushes them westward, New England and the Maritime provinces of Canada have lists fat with first records of European birds as well others that make the jump more regularly.  If you ever hear of a Fieldfare or a Hawfinch in North America, chances are it’s up that direction.

So enough exposition!  What was the bird, you’re probably screaming at your monitors by now.  Well, at the home of Jason (another nature blogger incidentally, who writes at Brewster’s Linnet) was a phenomenal bird for North America, a Common Chaffinch!

I got terrible and only slightly recognizable photos as you can see above, but we all enjoyed the little pink finch for nearly an hour as it came and went from the feeders.  There was one scary incident with a passing Sharp-shinned Hawk where we were nearly certain that we would be the last birders to enjoy the Chaffinch, but it stuck around until late last week, at which point Jason gave us the OK to begin talking and posting about it.

The provenance of the bird is still a little in doubt.  Chaffinches are occasional cage birds, and there’s an outside chance that this particular Chaffinch didn’t make it to North American under its own steam.  Fortunately, the bird was netted and banded, with a couple of its feathers plucked for testing that should give a good indication of where it came from.  For the time being, however, I’ve got it ticked where it now holds the distinction of being the rarest bird on my ABA list.

So yeah, now I can celebrate!  Thanks for Jason and his family for letting us in on the secret!

  1. April 1, 2010 9:50 am

    As a birder from Europe, I can confirm that it is not – as stated – a Chaffinch but a particular domestic breed of the Common Canary, known as the Rosy-roller.

    That should settle things.
    Get on with it…

    … on April 1st.

  2. Nate permalink*
    April 1, 2010 12:32 pm

    @Jochen – No foolin’ here! The bird is legit, though it’s provenance may yet prove not to be.

  3. April 1, 2010 3:13 pm

    I would be insanely jealous if I didn’t already see Common Chaffinches on a recent trip to Europe….

    k, who am I kidding, I’m still insanely jealous! This is the kind of rarity I only dream about. Congrats!

  4. Nate permalink*
    April 1, 2010 8:25 pm

    @Robert- Yeah, I’m not gonna lie. It was really cool.


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