Mt. Riga Winter Finch Extravaganza

Salisbury, Sunday 11/11/20 — myself, Nicolas Main, and Preston Lust headed up to
one of the highest and northwesternmost birding spots in Connecticut, Mount
Riga in Salisbury, to search for northern specialties, as this winter is
proving to be one of the best in decades for finches and other irruptive
birds. We were amazed at what we found!

Finches were indeed extremely abundant. PINE SISKINS were the most numerous
species, with a few flocks numbering over 30. Over 100 were observed in the
course of the day. Many (15+) COMMON REDPOLLS were interspersed in these
flocks; one stand of birches along Mt Washington Rd was especially
productive, and flyovers were relatively frequent.

However, the clear finch highlight must have been the double-digit numbers
(~18) of RED CROSSBILLS we encountered on the mountain. Our first finch of
the day was a flyover flock 7 at South Pond; one other large flock
followed, with scattered small numbers later. We were not able to see any
of these birds perched (there are few large pine stands that we could see),
but they afforded great flight views.

The non-finch highlight was a euphoric experience with a RUFFED GROUSE, a
rarely seen northern specialty, feeding in the road in front of the car.
Other notables included a very small number of EVENING GROSBEAKS, high
numbers of FOX SPARROW, and one RUSTY BLACKBIRD flyover. There was a
possible encounter with flyover White-winged Crossbill that sadly went
unresolved.

I really must personally urge birders to get out to the northern (and
especially northwestern) parts of the state, which are
desperately underbirded, but during this winter, are sure to hold many
truly exceptional experiences, beyond our own extravaganza. Reports of Pine
Grosbeaks are starting to trickle in, and Bohemian Waxwing and White-winged
Crossbill are already in Massachusetts. Mount Riga, much of the Appalachian
Trail, Canaan Mountain (Great Mountain State Forest), Haystack Mountain,
Aton Forest, around Colebrook River Lake, and Mohawk Mountain are all
exceptional high-elevation northwestern spots that have low coverage. Who
wouldn’t want to get the glory of finding a cooperative flock of
White-winged Crossbills eating grit along a pine forest road, or an apple
tree covered in Pine Grosbeaks? Or…. and with these birds present as
rarities in MA, it’s not all pipedream fantasy… a Boreal Chickadee? First
state record Canada Jay? Fellow CT birders: go north! There are birds!

Checklist with media and pins here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S75992107

Will Schenck
Greenwich

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