Winter Visitors by Jim Block
This is the season for entertaining visitors, perhaps including some who come great distances by air. The majority who fly to visit us do not drop in unannounced and unexpected. But some of our northern neighbors seem to have a habit of doing this every few years in winter. This commonly happens when food up north is scarce. These visitors sometimes arrive in huge numbers, and sometimes come singly. Look for them this winter when you are out and about. Here is a very brief guide to their appearance and characteristics.
Perhaps the most colorful of the birds we see only during the cooler months is the Bohemian Waxwing. They are fairly easy to photograph since they tend to ignore anything else when they feed on berries of trees and shrubs…unless one spots danger and alerts the others. Then the whole flock, sometimes 50 to 100 birds, can explode as one and flee to the top of a nearby tree. They sometimes are in a mixed flock with Cedar Waxwings, but after a bit of experience it is fairly easy to identify which are Bohemians and which are Cedars. If you see a waxwing in summer in Sunapee it is almost certainly a Cedar. There have been numerous reports of large flocks of Bohemians already this winter in this area.
Another species that can arrive in large flocks is a finch, the Common Redpoll. They also are easy to see and photograph because they are attracted to backyard feeders, but do not look for them in New London in the summer.
Like the Bohemian Waxwing, this is an “irruptive species” that can be found in some years and be completely absent from the area in others. When these birds arrive in significant numbers it is said we are having an irruption—a dramatic, irregular migration of large numbers of birds to areas where they aren’t typically found.
Another finch that sometimes visits when the weather is cold and the nuts and seeds up north are scarce is the Pine Grosbeak. It is a beautiful bird. The males are pinkish-red and the females are yellow and gray. They are normally in small flocks, but sometimes in large numbers overrunning crabapples and other ornamentals.
Pine Grosbeak do not fear residential areas and can often be approached quite closely. The first time I remember seeing them was many years ago when I looked out my kitchen window and saw some birds that I did not recognize. I grabbed my camera, walked quite close to the group of perhaps 8 to 10, and got some photos. Later I identified them with help from a book and confirmed the ID with my slides.
And then there are the owls. They come singly and not as frequently. But when they do arrive in NH and VT they normally take up residence in one spot and stay for an extended time. There are birding list serves you can join to get alerted by email when they arrive. However, if you join a list serve, be prepared to receive many emails reporting sightings of much less common species also. These owls are special. Few of us have been fortunate to see them in the wild.
Many years ago a Snowy Owl visited my backyard briefly. And the Northern Hawk Owl is very special. The photos of these owls here were taken in different years in Vermont and during snowstorms!
If you would like to see more photos of these 5 species of winter visitors, please visit http://www.jimblockphoto.com/portfolio/birds-2/winter-visitors/ And while you are at my web site, please feel free to look around. I have put many photos on this site since I created it in January. And now I’m even teaching easy website creation classes in addition to my photography classes that I announce several times a year to those on my photography email list. For more information, visit www.jimblockphoto.com
Related Sunapee News articles:
Mink and muskrat and the changing season
Brookside Park – a spot rarely visited
Eagles fishing Lake Sunapee
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