Saturday, November 26, 2011

Brambling chase

BramblingBrambling, Scappoose, Oregon, 26 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


It's been several years since I "chased" a rare bird outside of my home county. ('Chase' means to drop everything and try to go see a rare bird found by someone else, often far away.) Last year I worked on a County Big Year, setting a new record by seeing 199 species in tiny Washington County, Oregon. So I went looking for every unusual bird seen locally last year. This year I did more "relaxed" birding, with no numerical goals.

It took me a while to remember the last bird I chased outside of my local county. It was a Northern Wheatear on the coast in September 2009. I did get several good photos of this rare Eurasian (even rarely Alaskan-nesting) thrush-like bird.

When I heard of the Brambling (boldly-colored Eurasian finch) Friday afternoon in Scappoose, I was under the influence of cold medication and didn't really care. By evening I had convinced myself I felt better and would leave at dawn and join the chase! It was only 20 miles away, after all, and it was supposed to be sunny! There are only 11 previous Oregon records of Brambling. All prior records were birds that were found at residential feeders and most remained several days or longer. This one was in a wetlands with flocks of other sparrows, so would likely be more of a challenge to refind...

It was just starting to get light when I pulled into the parking lot at 7:20 AM. But it was a gloomy, cloudy day, not sunny as forecasted. For such a rare state bird I was surprised no one else was there yet. Where was Russ Namitz, who is working on a state Big Year this year?

I walked down the path toward the green shed where the bird was seen yesterday afternoon. There were 3 birders gathered near the shed. They had walked in from the other side. The three birders soon built to five. No joy. No bird. We were prepared for a long wait.

Photo above by Marlene Gillson just after we'd seen the bird!

At 8:10 AM, after we'd been waiting there by the shed about 30 minutes without success, a birder approached. It was Lona Pierce, who had discovered the bird yesterday. She didn't make it to us when she stopped and pointed and said, "There it is!"

True enough, we all got brief looks as it appeared in a hawthorn tree above the blackberries. I snapped off some quick photos, but none were very good. It was so dark that I tried flash, but that always makes birds look so horrible. Then it was gone.

Over the next hour and more, additional birders came. Some names I remembered, some I did not. Sadly, I am better at identifying birds than bird watchers. I think the following birders were present: John Gatchet, Bob Stites, Scott Carpenter, Don Wardwell, Henry Horvat, and Lona Pierce were the others I believe saw the bird. Birders that showed up later were Jay Withgott, Shawneen Finnegan, Dave Irons, Liz Gordon (wife of American Birding Association president, Jeff Gordon), Diana Byrne, Jim Danzenbaker, and several others. By the time I left, about 9:30 AM, the bird hadn't returned.

My other photos of the Brambling are linked here.

The complete area checklist from eBird.