A purple surprise
(posted 3-8-08)

OK, it wasn't really purple. Not literally. In fact, it was a Little Brown Job.

Fortunately, I looked a little closer at the bird perched on my black-oil sunflower tube feeder on February 9. Behold, a Purple Finch! It was a female, making it quite easy to identify. Purple Finch is a species where the female is more obvious than the male. Usually it's the other way around.

The brown and cream-colored head pattern was unmistakable, and not seen in my backyard since October 2005. That was the only other time a Purple Finch (two or three females as I recall) came to visit.

I look forward to when a male finally shows up, and when it does I'll make sure it's not just a House Finch. The two can be confused, but the Purple Finch male lacks streaking on the flanks and its head and breast color is more raspberry than the red-orange sported by the House. It's a handsome bird.

When I saw the female last month I knew instantly it was a Second Sighting for the yard. Second Sightings are special. They make the Yard List, Life List or any other list a little richer.

And no doubt, Second Sightings are sometimes more satisfying than the first. I thought of this recently when I settled the score with an old nemesis species, the Common Redpoll. My first redpoll sighting occurred at Fermilab in 1999. Talk about a frustrating lifer. There were three birds, and by the time I got my binocs on them they were gone. At most I enjoyed a two-second peak, and our group never relocated the birds.

I had really hoped to see a redpoll at my thistle feeder this winter, which would have been a first. Lots of other birders have reported them, so it's clearly been a good year for this species in our region. Many years, redpolls are virtually impossible to find around here.

Not wanting to let a good opportunity get away, I went looking for redpolls at Springbrook Golf Course in Naperville on February 23. I'd heard through friends in the DuPage Birding Club that redpolls have been regular visitors this winter to the thistle feeders hanging by the maintenance shed, just off 83rd Street near Book Road.

Pulling into the driveway, the first thing I noticed was male Ring-Necked Pheasant. How could I not? What a striking bird. He'd probably been cleaning up spilled seed under the feeders. Without even leaving the car, I then focused on the large hanging thistle sacks. Within moments, I saw them--Common Redpolls coming and going, unconcerned by my presence. Because of that day at Fermi, this wasn't a "lifer," but it sure felt like one. I watched the redpolls for 10 minutes or so from different angles, savoring my Second Sighting of this often elusive winter finch.

A high-quality Second Sighting can be a worthy goal. You probably know without checking some of the birds you've only seen once. Think especially about species you've seen but not seen well, or have not seen for many years. Then get busy and track them down. Spring is a great season for treasure hunting.

Copyright 2008 by Jeff Reiter. All rights reserved.