Elusive finch draws bird lovers to Webster

21 Jan
Male Pine Grosbeak (S. Webster)

Local and regional birders are all atwitter about a rare sighting in our area which has drawn birdwatchers to Webster from far and wide.

The cause of the excitement is a large, plump, colorful finch called the Pine Grosbeak. Typically found in much colder climates like Canada and Alaska, a couple dozen of them have migrated much farther south this winter, and have been spotted at Webster Park and Mendon Ponds Park.

Greg Lawrence, a research scientist from SUNY Brockport and a board member of the Rochester Birding Association, explained that the migration event is unusual because the Pine Grosbeak is an “irruptive” species. Basically, that’s a species that usually only migrates short distances, but will occcasionally move far south in large numbers. He theorizes that’s the case this year because the food supply is poor up in their Canadian breeding grounds.

He added that it’s been eight years since the Pine Grosbeaks last migrated this far south.

Birders have identified two groups of about a dozen birds each, most of them females and juveniles. Apparently, sightings of male Pine Grosbeaks are even more rare, but one has been spotted in Webster Park, an event which Lawrence called “unique.” It’s so unusual that birders have traveled from all over the state and even Pennsylvania in hopes of catching a gimpse of the beautiful finches.

Female Pine Grosbeak (S. Webster)

The stunning images you see here are courtesy Suzie Webster, a local photographer and birder, who has especially enjoyed the hunt.

She wrote,

Some other photographers and I have had so much fun trying to track (the finches) down and get the timing right so they are in a place that they can be photographed to highlight their beauty. … They are a very challenging bird to photograph because they are frequently high up in tree tops and don’t always come down low enough to get a clear image.

Having the opportunity to photograph and view the rare and uncommon Pine Grosbeaks here in Webster and in Mendon has made winter nature photography much more exciting and colorful! Spring and summer were full of brilliantly colored birds to find and photograph such as the Warblers, but winter is a lot more challenging overall. I’m thankful that this year just happened to be an irruptive year for the Pine Grosbeaks and a few other winter species because it has made outings more exhilarating and fun!

According to Greg Lawrence, the Grosbeaks will probably hang around through March or April before heading back north, and perhaps even longer if they can find enough food. So there’s still plenty of time to get out on the trails and try to see one for yourself. A nice hike to appreciate these stunning Canadian visitors would be a welcome diversion from all the negative news which dominates our lives these days.

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