Brambling in Medina County Ohio, 1 Jan 2016 (photo by Shawn Collins)
I usually don’t chase rare birds because it often ends in disappointment. If I don’t find the bird, the trip was wasted. If I do find it, it’s a let-down because the bird — or my view of it — is less exciting than I anticipated.
However, at dawn on New Years Day 11 of us piled into three cars and drove to Medina County, Ohio to chase the brambling.
If you’re new to birding, you may not have heard of this slightly eccentric activity. Chasing involves lots of hurry, planning, travel, high tech communication and patient waiting. It does not mean we approach our object closely. If the bird feels threatened it will fly away and no one will see it so those who approach too closely are told to back off. Humans do freak out when we’ve spent time, money and anticipation on a spectacle that another human is about to wreck!
The rarer the bird, the more people chase it. Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla) are exceedingly rare in Ohio so this finch has attracted hundreds of people per day.
Common in Eurasia, bramblings nest from Norway to Siberia and spend the winter in a wide swath of Africa, Europe and Asia. Sometimes one makes a wrong turn in the fall and migrates south through our continent. Solo bramblings usually end up in northern coastal or north central states. This adult male is the first brambling in Ohio in 28 years.
And so we made the trip.
Our group arrived just after the brambling had visited the feeder and disappeared. The parking lot was emptying. We found good standing room in the viewing area.
Birders line up to see the brambling just after he made an appearance, 1 Jan 2016. This is half the crowd that was there 10 minutes earlier. (photo by Donna Foyle)
And we waited. The group swelled to about 60 people.
We’d heard that the bird appeared every 30 minutes. Not so! At just below freezing we were not dressed for a long wait but no one wanted to leave. After two hours the bird appeared for three minutes.
My first view was similar to this photo by Donna Foyle. That’s how I’ll remember the brambling. I didn’t see the clear view Shawn Collins obtained above.
A brief glimpse of the brambling, 1 Jan 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)
Through my scope I did see the bird’s back just before the flock scattered, as in Shawn’s photo below. The brambling is very well camouflaged on the ground.
The brambling matches the ground when his back is turned, 1 Jan 2016 (photo by Shawn Collins)
And then the flock lifted off and he disappeared.
But I saw him! Fortunately everyone else in our group did, too. Others who missed the bird stayed behind to wait, perhaps for another two hours.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of birders have seen the brambling in Medina County since he was announced on December 28. Read more about his fame and discovery at Cleveland.com.
(photos by Shawn Collins and Donna Foyle)