Bird activity throughout the Northwest continues in high gear, and that could mean we will get a real summer.
A number of interesting reports indicate the species that nest at the higher elevations are still passing through the lowlands. Warblers, flycatchers, tanagers and vireos are bringing tropical color as well as unfamiliar voices. Some of the reports coming in could end up in the record books. This illustrates an old birder adage: “The more eyes looking, the more birds seen.”
Black-headed grosbeaks arrived in good numbers, and it appears they have some cousins traveling with them. So far, this column’s readers have accounted for two reports of rose-breasted grosbeaks, and that’s exciting. One report is rare; two is over-the-top special. Will there be more?
If you have black-headed grosbeaks at your feeders, take a hard look at them. A rose-breasted grosbeak is easy to spot. The male is black and white and has a rose-red breast. Its belly and rump are white, and there are white stripes on its wings. The tail is black. The female looks like a large purple finch but has white stripes on her wings. The bills of both are pale pink.
Both of these grosbeak species prefer the same type of habitat, and even their voices sound alike. They sing a loud, warbling-type song; their calls consist of a sharp “eek” or “pik.” Rose-breasted grosbeaks are more commonly seen in the eastern half of the country on up to central Canada and parts of Alaska. They winter in Mexico, Central America and the West Indies. A small number winter in coastal California south to Baja California, Mexico. They are rare but regular visitors to western Alaska and other places in the West.
Red crossbill reports are growing, and it’s apparent the birds are moving toward nesting territories in the mountains. Sunflower seeds at feeders are melting away like butter on a hot potato. Visits from these gregarious birds are welcome, and their flocks can contain surprises. White-winged crossbills frequent the mountains on the eastern – especially the northeastern – part of the state, but the occasional bird or birds can also be spotted on the western side.
I saw my first white-winged crossbill while watching a flock of red crossbills on Bainbridge Island. The words of wisdom to cross my lips were: “Look, there’s one with white in its wings.” In a split second, I realized what I had said. If you see a red crossbill with white in its wings, I want to hear about it, and so do the folks who keep records on this state’s birds. Two reports have already come in. Due to growing red crossbill numbers, I’m hoping more white-winged crossbills will be seen.
Finally, just to show that I don’t bear grudges, there is one more exciting report that needs to be mentioned. The goldfinches we recognize as our state bird began arriving some weeks back. These are the American goldfinch. Two other goldfinch species are seen in North America. The lesser goldfinch is seen in Klickitat County near the southern border and ranges from Oregon to California, Arizona and throughout the West. Less easy to see is Lawrence’s goldfinch. Yes, it’s still on my wish (want) list.
When the report of one arrived in email (with a photo), I was very interested. The bird showed up so close to where I live that it could have continued on and landed in our yard. It didn’t, and it was gone by the time I found out about it. This was a rare bird that could qualify for a state record. I am convinced this is a year for rarities. Just be sure you tell me first.Write to Joan Carson, P.O. Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.