2/28 – HOARY REDPOLL, Fairfield

3/5 Note: After a lengthy period of discussion and review of photos, we have concluded that this bird is actually a Common Redpoll, instead of a Hoary as originally thought.

3/2 Note: We are still trying to wrestle with the identity of some of these birds, and whether or not any of the photos below show the true Hoary. Therefore, I would take each photo with a grain of salt, and try to exercise your own judgement, rather than going by what the captions say.

Yesterday morning, Aidan Kiley and I found an adult male Hoary Redpoll in a flock of around twelve Common Redpolls at Pine Creek in Fairfield. We were able to observe the bird nearly consistently during a period of roughly five hours. In that time, we were able to get good looks (including scope views for a time), at all of the necessary features to distinguish this bird from Common Redpoll, take some documentary photos, and even show the bird to a number of birders that had arrived on the scene.

While I have seen Hoary Redpoll four previous times (three of them in Canada), this was nevertheless an extremely tedious identification process, that required lengthy periods of study, and review of photos. Eventually, after viewing this bird for over an hour, and talking it over with friend Nick Bonomo, I felt confident enough to put the word out to CTBirds. Over the next few hours, eight other birders came and went. All of them were able to get good looks at the bird, which was a life bird for multiple people.

All in all, spending an extended period of time with this bird amounted to an incredible learning experience in the tricky nature of redpoll ID, and mirrored my initial encounter with Hoary in Ottawa, Ontario as being extremely illustrative in this subject.

Notable field marks used to distinguish this bird from Common Redpoll included:

  • Noticeably paler overall
  • Slightly larger and bulkier (“fluffier” was the way some people described it)
  • Almost a complete lack of streaking on the undertail coverts (only one distinguishable streak)
  • Lightly streaked flanks
  • Limited rosy coloration on the breast
  • Slight buffy wash to the face (not necessarily crucial in telling this bird apart from CORE, but a feature that many Hoary Redpolls show)
  • Overall very pale below
  • Short, stubby, “pushed in” look to the bill
  • White rump with no streaking (this feature took a LONG TIME to milk out, and it wasn’t until the very end of our visit that it was finally visible in the scope)

The only thing we’re really lacking on this list are distinctive upperpart features. Unfortunately, looks at this area of the bird were extremely difficult to come by, as it spent its entire time feeding in a birch directly above our heads, really never providing an unobstructed, clear view of its upper half. Limited views of the upperparts were consistent with the general points noted above (that is, noticeably pale and whitish).

Below, I have posted some photos of the Hoary, photos of redpolls that raise questions, and finally some pictures of the adjacent Common Redpolls:

First up, some photos of the Hoary Redpoll:

Hoary Redpoll; note the sparse flank streaking, the single streak on the undertail coverts, limited rosy of the breast, and overall paleness.

Hoary Redpoll; note the sparse flank streaking, the single streak on the undertail coverts, limited rosy of the breast, and overall paleness.

Wow - look at that bill! How does that guy get anything in there?

Wow – look at that bill! How does that guy get anything in there?

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll, Pine Creek, CT

Note the paleness and slightly larger size in comparison to the adjacent Commons. Despite these birds' consistently close proximity to each other, comparison photos were slightly difficult to obtain, especially with my fixed lens.

Note the paleness and slightly larger size in comparison to the adjacent Commons. Despite these birds’ consistently close proximity to each other, comparison photos were slightly difficult to obtain, especially with my fixed lens.

Now, a look at two birds that are really quite frustrating. The Hoary is presumably the lefthand bird, but quite honestly, were I at a slightly higher latitude, there’s a good chance I would’ve called both of these birds Hoaries. If you have any thoughts on these birds, please comment!

Hoary Redpoll, Pine Creek, CT Hoary Redpoll, Pine Creek, CT Hoary Redpoll, Pine Creek, CT

Hoary Redpoll, Pine Creek, CT

Also, a pale female Redpoll that was floating around for a while. Comments on this bird are welcome as well.

Redpoll, Pine Creek, CT

Lastly, here are a couple of Common Redpoll photos:

Note the very brownish, streaky appearance of this bird, approaching something like Pine Siskin.

Note the very brownish, streaky appearance of this bird, approaching something like Pine Siskin.

An out-of-focus shot of the rumps of one of the same bird. A Hoary's rump would be completely white, lacking the streaking found on this bird.

An out-of-focus shot of the rumps of one of the same bird. A Hoary’s rump would be completely white, lacking the streaking found on this bird.

Comments on any of these photos would be much appreciated. Redpoll identification is a tricky topic, no matter what the skill level, and any input would be helpful to the knowledge of the identification of this difficult group for all of us.

The Hoary Redpoll continued into today, where it was seen by more than twelve others. Jory Teltser was there to see the bird, and picked up a few shots that show the field marks well:

This photo shows many of the field marks mentioned above very well, including the very limited streaking on the flanks and undertail coverts, stubby bill, and overall paleness and bulky shape (even if there are no Commons in the photo with which to compare it).

This photo shows many of the field marks mentioned above very well, including the very limited streaking on the flanks and undertail coverts, stubby bill, and overall paleness and bulky shape (even if there are no Commons in the photo with which to compare it).

All in all, a really fun weekend. I was supposed to be spending my Saturday and Sunday concentrating on my upcoming Cuba trip, and not digging into the world of Redpoll ID, but you can blame the Hoary Redpoll for that.

-Alex

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