Rosyfinch Ramblings
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May 2024
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Purple Finches and Rusty Blackbirds
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, Illinois, Birding "Patches", Wild Bird Wednesday, Bird D'pot
Posted by: Ken @ 6:10 am

Hurricane Sandy brushed by a couple of days after our departure, but otherwise we picked a terrible time to leave south Florida! The low temperatures at our Florida home are finally dipping to around 60 degrees (F), about 20 degrees warmer than the daily highs in Chicagoland. 

On our first morning upon returning to our Illinois condo, Mary Lou and I got out early to the east side of nearby Nelson Lake/Dick Young Kane County Forest Preserve. We immediately encountered a flock of 20+ Purple Finches that ranged in the woodlands at the lake’s eastern edge. Only one or two were in adult male plumage. It was this fall’s first reported sighting of the northern species at Nelson Lake.  

Purple Finch male 20121025

Purple Finch male 2-20121025

They bear some resemblance to the common resident House Finches (photos below), a few of which joined the Purple Finches. Note that the upper edge of this House Finch’s bill (the culmen) curves down slightly, parrot-like. It also has shorter wings, less pronounced facial markings, darker streaks on its breast, and a shorter tail that is not notched as strongly as that of the more robust Purple Finch.

House Finch male 2-20111112

Here is another House Finch, showing how the red color of its forehead and breast has an orange tint (”brick colored”) while that of the Purple Finch looks richer rosy-pink or purple and suffuses its head and upper back and chest  (as if dipped head first in raspberry juice).
House Finch male 20111112

The other Purple Finches were brown females and hatch-year males. They are boldly streaked and exhibit a bright white line over their eyes and a straight culmen.

Purple Finch 20121025

Purple Finch 5-20121025

Purple Finch 2-20121025

Several remained at close range as they feasted on berries.

Purple Finch female or 1st Yr Male 4-20121025

Purple Finch 3-20121025

For comparison, here is a photo of a female House Finch. Its face is noticeably plain and its streaks are less well-defined against a grayish background.

House Finch female 20111112

A Brown Creeper worked its way methodically up the trunk of a tree.

Brown Creeper Corel 20121025

In typical fashion, the creeper flew to the bottom of an adjacent tree and again moved upward, while a White-breasted Nuthatch (”upside-down bird”) tended to do the opposite. Between the two species, both the upper and lower areas of the crevices in the bark are more thoroughly gleaned.

White-breasted Nuthatch 20100316

The first Saturday of each month is “Scope Day” a Nelson Lake. Despite freezing temperatures, about a dozen birders showed up. The lake shore usually extends much more closely to the viewing platform, but this year’s drought has taken a toll.

ScopeDay 2-20121103

It was nice seeing (Slate-colored subspecies) Dark-eyed Juncos, hardy little winter visitors who do not make it down to south Florida. This one seemed to have indistinct wing bars, suggesting it might have some of the White-winged subspecies in its lineage.

Dark-eyed Junco 20121103

Dark-eyed Junco 20121029

Fox Sparrows were present in good numbers, many of them singing as if it were spring.

Fox Sparrow 2-20121103

Fox Sparrows 20121103

We saw a flock of seven unidentified swans, but they disappeared behind the trees before I could raise my camera. Canada Geese flew across the same area of sky. A hot air balloon added interest to the scene.

Balloon and Geese 20121103

 I also captured a pair of distant Sandhill Cranes in flight.

Sandhill Cranes 3-20121103

Hundreds of Common Grackles and other blackbirds, mostly Red-winged, flew overhead. Among them could be heard the calls of Rusty Blackbirds, a species I had seen before but never photographed. Luckily, a flock settled in a nearby tree, and I could pick out a few of the brownish Rusty species. They are slightly larger and have longer tails and more slender bills than Red-winged Blackbirds, but are smaller than grackles. Their pale eyes contrast with their dark faces.  

Rusty Blackbird 20121103

A species of conservation concern, the Rusty Blackbird population is declining. There is no clear explanation as to why their numbers have significantly decreased 90% over the past 30 years, both in their breeding grounds in far northern boreal forests and in their winter range. Theories about the cause of the drop in population include destruction of winter and or breeding habitat and acid rain (read more here). Even though they associate with the Red-winged species, the Rusty Blackbirds often stay slightly away from their relatives, making them stand out.

Rusty Blackbird in flight 20121103

It’s always nice to see American Robins, as they do not nest in south Florida and only show up there irregularly during the winter.

American Robin 20121103

The past two weeks have been very eventful here in Illinois, limiting our time afield (as well as computer face time). Our son-in-law was deer hunting in North Carolina and fell as he was climbing into a tree stand. He broke bones in both legs and after he was stabilized was flown back to Illinois. Since he fell from a height of 20 feet, he is lucky that he landed on his feet rather than his head or back, as he could have been paralyzed or killed. He needed surgery (ten screws, two pins, a metal plate and cadaver bone transplants) on both legs and got out of the hospital only yesterday. We have been busy minding our two granddaughters.

We are looking forward to our return to Florida, where our local pair of Bald Eagles is preparing to start a family. Here is one of the pair that I photographed last breeding season.

Eagle SOOC HDR edit 20111209

20 Responses to “Purple Finches and Rusty Blackbirds”

  1. Boom & Gary Says:
    Beautiful series!!Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.
  2. phil uk Says:
    A fine narrative there Ken complemented as usual by some superb pictures. Your explanation of the House and Purple Finch differences is both concise and very welcome to my limited experience of both (Ontario). The story of the Rusty Blackbird is so sad but common nowadays, good to see your pictures. Send us some Florida weather please, not the Chicago version - we’ll get that soon enough.
  3. Hanne Bente Says:
    Hello Ken Incredibly fot photo series showing the different birds. Thanks for the comment on my blog. Wish you a good Sunday night / good new week. Hanne Bente
  4. Pam Says:
    You live in the best of two wonderful worlds for birding. I enjoyed your wonderful photos and info. I’m sorry about your son-in-laws 20ft fall. Hope his recovery goes well.
  5. Eileen Says:
    Hi ken, Lovely collection of birds. The Purple Finches are always a treat to see. I really like the Rusty Blackbird, great shots!
  6. I'd Rather B Birdin Says:
    Marvelous array of beautiful birds, once again. Your ‘in flight’ images are super. And the one with the hot air balloon…fantastic. They say a picture is worth 1000 words, this one is to me for some reason. PS….I have yet to find a birder’s club here in my town. Maybe I should start one. I guess I should check around to see if there is any interest.
  7. Hootin' Anni Says:
    …also, that’s sad to read of such a decline in the blackbird’s population!!!
  8. Dave Says:
    Wow, what a post, some very smart birds on show here, great to get the Balloon into the action too
  9. TexWisGirl Says:
    we get the house finches here, but i’ve never seen a purple finch. beautiful shots of these sweeties. love the nuthatch and creeper shots, too!
  10. Pam Says:
    Ken, you captured the beauty and personality of each and every one of these birds. Great action shots too. Florida Birder
  11. Dina J Says:
    Love all of the shots. I think I’ve been getting house finches in my yard instead of purple finches. I was thinking they were purple at first. Hope you have a nice cold winter here in Florida. (I’m sick of the heat and last year wasn’t too cold.)
  12. Adam Jones Says:
    A fabulous post, with so many stunning birds. Great shots.
  13. Mick Says:
    Wow! such a difference in the temps between your two places. A great series of beautiful birds again. I hope your son continues to get better.
  14. Rohrerbot Says:
    Whoa! Cool shots! Love your birds in flight pics. Absolutely incredible and my favorites today. Thanks for sharing.
  15. Brian King Says:
    Great shots of the nuthatch and junco! We don’t get Purple Finches, but the House Finches are here. And your eagle shot…wow! That is fantastic!
  16. Stewart M Says:
    There are some great images here - I really like the geese and hot air ballon shot. The finches must be difficult to identify when you are just getting started. Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW - Stewart M - Melbourne
  17. Pat Says:
    A great series of beautiful birds!
  18. Wally Says:
    Our thoughts are with you and we hope your son-in-law has a quick recovery. Terrific study of the Finches and Blackbirds. As usual, your images are top-notch! We’ll try to keep the weather here in FL on simmer for you.
  19. Mary Howell Cromer Says:
    Rosy Finches, Grackles, beautiful and then I scroll down to your amazing Bald Eagle…wow, very nice! Happy weekend~
  20. Ken Says:
    Thanks, all, for visiting and leaving your comments. I will be moving this blog to Blogspot: Please follow me there, as I am closing all comment moderation on this site because of the huge volume of unfiltered comment spam.

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