Common Redpolls began showing up along Pennsylvania’s northern tier and particularly the Lake Erie coastline earlier this fall, but sightings throughout the rest of the state have been few and far between. Presque Isle State Park has consistently had flocks of 100+ migrating past or feeding on birches since October but in the central and southern portions of the state, birders that did come across redpolls were only finding singles or pairs of birds visiting feeders. A few decent sized flocks ranging from 15 to 30 birds were reported only a handful of times so far this winter away from the northern tier of the state, and it was clear that the redpolls were sticking to the Great Lakes and not staging a broad, southward movement like the crossbills, siskins, and Evening Grosbeaks.
However as the first days of 2013 came around, Common Redpoll sightings have exploded throughout the entire state with singles, pairs, and some fairly large flocks visiting feeders and being seen mixed with Snow Buntings and Horned Larks in fields. The State College area, where I spend most of my time birding, had its first redpoll sighting on November 6th at a feeder in Kaywood Park. There was another bird seen at feeders in Toftrees over the next few days but then things died down again until December 31st when a few birds were seen mixed with Snow Buntings and larks on Nixon Rd.
Starting on January 5th, the flood gates apparently busted open and redpolls were being reported all over the county – 12 birds were seen at Bob Snyder’s home in Howard, 2 were seen at Ron Crandall’s home in State College, 2 were seen at the feeders at Bald Eagle SP , 8 at a feeder in Unionville, 6 at another feeder near State College, and 25 were reported from Ron Rovansek’s feeders in Stormstown, as well as a few other sightings around the county. Local bird bander, Nick Kerlin had his nets set up today for the first time this year and was lucky enough to have a single redpoll fly in and get captured – the first time Nick has ever banded a redpoll in his 36 years of bird banding!
I still had never seen a Common Redpoll in Centre County before, so I raced back up from Hershey this afternoon and went out to Bald Eagle SP with Josh Lefever. We stopped by Bob Snyder’s home in Howard and were happy to see a single redpoll at his nyger feeder. From there we checked a few spots in Bald Eagle SP for waterfowl and then went up to the feeders at the Nature Inn. When we pulled up to the feeders, there was a single bird and then it was soon joined by a second. We could hear a few other redpolls nearby but had no idea what was about to happen – suddenly a flock totaling at least 90 Common Redpolls dropped down onto the feeders, small trees, and roof of the Nature Inn! After about 8 minutes, the flock took off and flew towards Howard and only 2 birds stayed behind, which then soon left as well. Josh and I both tried to scan carefully for Hoary Redpoll-type birds and noticed at least two fairly pale individuals but didn’t get good enough looks to say they were anything besides Common Redpolls. A careful scan of all the photos I took didn’t turn up any Hoarys either but if more and more redpolls start showing up, it may only be a matter of time before we get a Hoary Redpoll.
The history of redpolls in Centre County is much like the rest of Pennsylvania – uncommon and irruptive, with most winters not seeing any and then once every decade or so, a winter with astounding numbers. The winter of 1997-98 was the most recent mass influx with flocks of redpolls first being discovered in December and some birds staying in to April. Nemesis Bird’s Mike Lanzone was fortunate enough to witness quite the redpoll spectacle on March 7th, 1998 when 5,000 to 10,000 birds landed and flew past at the Tussey Mtn Hawkwatch near State College! The winter of 2007-08 was also better than normal for Common Redpolls. There is only one record of Hoary Redpoll from Centre County, a bird banded in State College on March 19th, 1971.
Hopefully the rest of this winter and early spring see more and more redpoll sightings throughout Pennsylvania, I know I’ll be out there searching for a Hoary Redpoll every chance I get! By the way – all links above go to eBird checklists.
“Birds of Central Pennsylvania” by Nick Bolgiano and Greg Grove
“Birds of Pennsylvania” by Merrill Wood