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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hoary time

On December 6, 2007, several years before I became interested in Kent County listing, I received a call from a friend who had a frosty adult male Hoary Redpoll in with 200 Commons about 10 minutes away. I rushed over to the scene just to see a rare bird, only to find that only 75 redpolls remained, not including the one I was looking for. I searched for several days and never saw more than 75 birds nor the Hoary.

A similar scene played out at the DeBruine residence in eastern Kent Co. yesterday, and was even more painful now that I am interested in the species for my county list. Minutes before I arrived, the flock of 120 Commons with 2+ candidates for Hoary departed, and only 50-60 Commons remained. Oh, the agony. I assumed the flock of over 100 would never return, but was pleasantly surprised by the appearance today of about 200 Commons (many thanks to the DeBruine family for their amazing hospitality and birding ardor- there are a LOT of birders in that household!). Upon arrival today at about 11:15AM I was treated to two very good Hoary Redpoll candidates. Let's get right to the field marks:

Individual 1. This bird, like the other, was extremely frosty white, and stood out amongst the Commons very clearly, at distance, by naked eye. Neither bird had red on the breast/underparts, making them both NOT adult males, I believe. The flank streaking on bird 1 was very sparse and fine, quite delicate (and beautiful!). Its undertail coverts had but one streak on the longest coverts, and its upperparts and crown were very frosty white. The uppertail coverts and rump were not seen. Like the second bird, its bill was small, nasal tuft large, and the bird had a small red cap and bull-headed appearance. This changed with angle somewhat:
Frosty upperparts and single undertail covert streak:
Bird 2 was similarly frosty to the first bird, and stood out naked eye just as much as bird 1. This bird was more streaky on the flanks (immature female?), but was very frosty overall, especially on the scapulars, mantle, and crown. Its rump was completely white and unstreaked (pics below), the undertail coverts again had 1 streak on the longest feathers, and it had an even more pronounced bull-headed appearance. This is shown well in my photographs:
Rump looked like a white sugarcube:
This photo shows how well the bird stood out from the many Common Redpolls.
The nasal tufts were prounced, giving it the bull-headed appearance:
Frosty upperparts and single undertail covert streak:

In terms of grading these 2 birds using Sibley's index I scored these birds like this:

Bird 1
Undertail: 5
Flanks: 5
Rump: not seen
Score: Tough with rump not being seen, but rump was presumably not 1-3, making the total score at least 14. Sibley mentions that for female/immatures, 11 would be enough to qualify as Hoary, so even if it had a 1 (the lowest value), it would still be so.

Bird 2
Undertail: 5
Flanks: 4
Uppertail: 5
Score: 14
Sibley says no female/immatures scored higher than 13, so presumably I have incorrectly assigned these values, but since 11 is enough to make it a Hoary, I believe this ID is fairly conservative.

What a fun and strange winter it is! Over 50 degrees, in shorts, and have seen a Hoary Redpoll all in the same day.


Matt said...

on our HORE in Berrien I noticed the same thing you did that the birds seem to grade out whiter than the values the original author of the paper on variation assigned to female Hoaries. Not sure what to make of it.

Silly Putty said...

Matt- yes, I was not sure either. My guess is that we are scoring them incorrectly. Perhaps if we had the birds in the hand we'd see more fine streaking which isn't as apparent in our photos?