Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Finches and Trees January 25, 2009

We spent Saturday looking at the nature in other people’s neighborhoods.

We had a goal: We wanted to find more winter finches for our year lists. Last week, we had a Common Redpoll visit our feeders. That was great, but we still needed a Hoary Redpoll for this year. One visited our feeders last year, but that no longer counts. We also saw Pine Siskins and Purple Finches at our feeders back in November, but we needed them for this year, too. Our prime targets, though, were the Crossbills, White-winged and Red. Since the boys and I read the Birdmail lists several times a day, we knew that White-winged Crossbills have invaded the lower Great Lakes states in huge numbers this year. A recent Illinois report from Morton Arboretum mentioned a possible Red Crossbill along with many White-wings and Siskins. The Arboretum is a 25 minute drive on a Saturday morning, so that’s where we went.

I shouldn’t even tell what happened next, since the events took place in someone else’s neighborhood. But we did find Pine Siskins in large numbers, especially at the Thornhill Education Center feeders. We also found Red-breasted Nuthatches in the trees, another year bird. And at Hemlock Hill we found a birder staring at treetops through his binoculars. With his help, we spent the next 15 minutes watching a pair of White-winged Crossbills tear hemlock seeds out of tiny cones.

In the parking lot we met another birder, who told us a Hoary Redpoll had just been sighted at Chicago Botanic Garden feeders. So guess where Aaron and I went next? Ethan had a birthday party at noon, so he missed our first Hoary Redpoll on the year. Aaron ended the day with his 75th year bird, and my year list stands at 71.

But, those were other people’s neighborhoods. What’s important for this blog is what happens in our neighborhood. We’ll be watching our feeders for Siskins, Purple Finches, and Hoary Redpolls, so we can add them to our yard list for 2009. And we’ll be watching the neighborhood trees for Crossbills and the other finches, too. Most blocks in south Oak Park have at least a few big spruce trees — this year the spruces are loaded with cones, which White-winged Crossbills like to eat. By following a discussion on the Indiana Birding list, we learned that Crossbills also feed on neighborhood trees like sweetgum and alder. The Hoary Redpoll we saw at the Botanic Garden was feeding on birch catkins, and birch trees are also found on most blocks in our neighborhood.

But the Crossbills we saw loved those hemlock cones. We have not seen hemlock trees in our neighborhood, so we checked the Village of Oak Park website, where there’s a pdf file with a 374 page inventory of the village’s parkway trees. A search revealed only two hemlocks along village streets, and they were both pretty small.

On Sunday afternoon, Aaron and I will search Columbus Park for a Merlin, a small falcon I’ve seen several times in the Park and nearby neighborhoods. We’ll also watch for winter finches in our neighborhood trees.

Added 4:40 p.m. the same day (Sunday, January 25):

Aaron and I drove around Columbus Park and nearby neighborhoods for about 45 minutes this afternoon. We had no luck finding the Merlin, but we will try again another day. Merlins are beautiful, and Aaron needs one for his year list!


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