Foam Lake Birding No. 169

No. 169
            In the same sense that Remembrance Day, to me, is the unofficial start of winter Valentine's Day is the unofficial end of winter.  Yes, there will be more frigid temperatures to come and probably some more significant snowfall but the worst is over.  Days are noticeably longer; cold spells are shorter; warm spells more frequent; temperatures are rising overall.  Finally, our first spring birds, the Horned Larks, are back. 
            In the meantime it is back to our winter birds.  As I have mentioned previously we have had a Hoary Redpoll in our yard this year mixed in with the hordes of Common Redpolls.  The Hoary Redpoll, like the Common, is circumpolar in distribution but, unlike the Common, it tends to stay in the Arctic all year round (hence its European name - the Arctic Redpoll).  Although it is essentially non-migratory some individuals do fly to our area with flocks of Common Redpolls. 
            The Hoary is a washed out or frosty version of the Common Redpoll and sometimes is hard to differentiate from a pale Common Redpoll.  Even experts will, at times, hesitate to positively identify one in a mixed flock of Redpolls.  For this reason the two species were, for awhile, lumped into one species - the Redpoll.  Some older bird books will list the two as one species.  There are several field marks that can be used to separate the two species.  I will refer to only three and all three should be seen before safely identifying the bird.  First, the bill is stubbier with a straight culmen (top edge of the bill).  This field mark is subtle to say the least and photos of both species for comparison is a good way to go about it.  Second, The flanks of the Hoary are only faintly striped, if at all, while the flanks of the Common are boldly striped.  Third, The rump and under tail coverts of the Hoary are not striped and almost a pure white while the same areas in the Common are striped and look much darker.  With good binoculars, a sharp eye and a lot of patience these last two field marks are very useful in identifying the Hoary Redpoll. 
            Until this morning I was unable to get a photo of the Hoary Redpoll because it was constantly moving and "disappearing" among the Common Redpolls.  This morning it was cooperative and I was able to get several good shots of it.  Two of the photos show full body profiles of a Common and Hoary Redpoll highlighting the differences in the striping on the flanks and to a lesser extent the shape of the bill.  The third photo is a rear view of a Hoary Redpoll sunning itself early in the morning.  It was all fluffed out thus clearly exposing the rump and to a lesser extent the under tail coverts.  In this photo the "frostiness" of the bird is emphasized.  Finally, this particular bird was treated rather harshly by the other Redpolls and was constantly chased away from the feeders by them.  As a result it was isolated and fed a respectable distance away from the Common Redpolls.  This interaction convinced us that it was indeed a different species - the Hoary Redpoll.