Saturday, February 6, 2021

ME - a REDWING in Portland!


Redwing (1st-winter) - Capisic Pond Park, Portland, Cumberland Co., ME. February 4th, 2021.

Few ABA area birds have haunted me more than two Scandinavian thrushes - Redwing and Fieldfare. Having grown up in the UK both species were familiar winterers, and migrants often occurred in spectacular flights of thousands (literally) during sustained migration watches carried out at my local park in Sheffield. The key period was late autumn but mid-winter flights or 'hard weather movements' would sometimes involve thousands of birds and rival the biggest days of fall migration. Outside of Atlantic Canada, there can be little doubt that the New England states offer slim but realistic opportunities for seeing both species. In fact, I've already narrowly missed chances to see a Fieldfare in Carlisle, Massachusetts (mid-March 2013) and a Redwing in Hollis, New Hampshire (mid-March 2018), both of which directly overlapped with my traditional spring migration tour in Israel. Needless to say, when I learned (last Saturday) of a Redwing being seen incredibly well in a city park in Portland, Maine, I became distinctly 'edgy' and waited patiently for a pause in family commitments before heading out towards the Maine Coast.

February 4th saw me join a modest group of no more than ten birders at Capisic Pond Park, Portland at about 09:45 am. Early reports from birders leaving the site had been favorable offering plenty of room for optimism. The day was warming up nicely with periods of bright sunshine and conditions simply 'felt' good. It wasn't long before the Redwing flicked from ground level up through the undergrowth but stayed faithful to its favored thicket. It put on the most fantastic show devouring Multiflora Rose berries right in front the assembled birders. After 20 minutes or so I was surprised to find myself alone with the Redwing, nothing short a surreal experience given its 'mega' status and not something I'd envisaged on the drive out. But there was the Redwing in plain sight, feeding and soft-singing only feet away with no one in the audience but myself! It seems that my field companions had already seen what they wanted to and moved on to chase the other rarities present within the park. 

While trying to assign Redwings to sub-species in the field isn't recommended and might not be reliably possible, the dark brown upperparts with an olive tint, the dense blurry streaking on the underparts and the brown rear flanks appear to favor coburni, the Icelandic breeding form. 

Breeding, migration and winter range of Redwing Turdus iliacus in the Western Palearctic. 
Courtesy H. Shirihai and L. Svensson from the Handbook of Western Palearctic Birds, Volume 1. (2018)

While I was aware of other rarities being seen in Capisic Pond Park, I hadn't appreciated that they'd be such a compelling draw for visiting birders. But, having already had views of the Redwing that couldn't be bettered, I wandered off to check for the previously reported Dickcissel and a Black-headed Grosbeak, finding the Dickcissel with ease and eventually having satisfactory views of the Black-headed Grosbeak. The latter was perhaps the most tricky of the three rarities present within the park and just happened to be my first in the New England states so was well worth the wait. 

Black-headed Grosbeak - Capisic Pond Park, Portland, Cumberland Co., ME. February 4th, 2021.

Dickcissel - Capisic Pond Park, Portland, Cumberland Co., ME. February 4th, 2021.

Capisic Pond Park, Portland, Cumberland Co., ME. February 4th, 2021.
It's hard to imagine that a  Redwing was lurking the hedgerow to the left when this shot was taken - and nary a birder in sight!

On drive the home I thought about how obliging the Redwing had been, seemingly quite content keeping company with House Finches, Song and White-throated Sparrows. In fact, given the quality and crispness of the New England winter light, I doubt if I've ever had better views of a Redwing anywhere! 

As always, gracious thanks to the finders of these fine rarities. While I was hopeful of simply seeing the Redwing, the close, intimate experience that I had with this bird was way beyond anything that I could have expected. Thank you!

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