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By Gary Swant
GoBirdMontana 

Addictive Birding Behavior: Search for Brambling leads to Three Forks

 

December 8, 2021

Brambling photo by Sam Koenen.

My wife claims that I am addicted to birding. I adamantly deny that claim, though I have never tried to quit since I seriously started in 1993.

The reason that my wife says am addicted is that I will chase the same bird year after year even though I have seen it many times. She thinks that is an addictive behavior. The only evidence of my birding becoming addictive is about this time of year when there is an uncommon bird, but not a rare one, I will drive to Great Falls or Missoula to get it, even though I have seen it many times in the last 10 years.

I drive about 10,000 miles a year on average chasing birds, with the exception of 2007, when I drove 24,000 miles. That's a story for another time. If you do the math that means that since I started in 1993 (the year I retired from teaching) I have driven 280,000 miles, mostly in Montana. That doesn't include the thousands of dollars I have spent to bird on all 7 continents. Hmm, maybe she is onto something.

I have tried to slow down a little, but when a bird shows up that I don't have on my year list, I just feel compelled to go.

It was entirely different a couple of weeks ago when a Brambling was seen in a Great Falls' backyard. It was confirmed with good pictures. Now the Brambling is a bird that breeds from Norway east across Russia and winters south into Western Europe, the Middle East and much of China. Not only was it a state bird, but it was also a life bird for me. This had nothing to do with addiction, I simply had to have it.

The Brambling was reported on Saturday evening, and after church on Sunday we headed straight to Great Falls. The host of the location was very gracious and said the bird had been there 10 minutes before we arrived. If we stayed on her back deck we would surly get it within minutes. We stayed about two hours until dark with no sighting of the bird. We were back the next morning by 8:00 am with high hopes, sat for five and half hours and finally gave up. We were officially the first persons NOT to see the Brambling. It was less than a 24 hour wonder. My wife didn't mind as much as I did, as she did get a nice meal at Jaker's Restaurant and a little shopping out of the trip. I mostly moped.

The rest of October was not that kind to me either. I have been stuck at 272 species for the year for a while now, and I had two more chances to raise that number. A Greater White-fronted Goose had been reported at the Three Forks' Ponds so my grandson and I cleared our schedules and drove to Three Forks. Again, we were the first ones to report the bird was NOT there, and it hasn't been seen since. Fortunately, both of us have seen the White-fronted Goose in the past. My last chance in October was a Lesser Black-backed Gull at the Helena Holding Reservoir. We took off the last Saturday of the month with high hopes of seeing it, but came back without a sighting. (eBird, keeps track of sightings). It was however seen the next day by other birders. Although we missed that one as well, we had both seen it the previous year in the same area. I did get a year bird on that trip, an Iceland (Thayer's) Gull.

So I currently have 273 species for the year, but I could have 276. Two-hundred and seventy three species puts me in sixth place for birds seen this year. (Records are kept on eBird for every state and person). I try to stay in the top ten for Montana.

So how important is staying in the top ten. Not very. I can't even remember what my number was last year. But one thing I do know is that I'm not addicted to birding.

Back to the Brambling. It's a member of the finch family, Fringillidae. The general characteristics of this family are they are seed-eating birds with undulating flight that usually flock with other finches in the winter. The House Finch is a common member of this family locally. The breeding Brambling male is striking with a black head and nape. In the fall the black gives way to pale feathers with blackish bases, looking much like the female. I believe the one pictured here and taken by Sam Koenen earlier on that Sunday is a female based on the white belly and gray face. I might be mistaken as I have no experience with the species.

Anyway, what a great bird that I missed. Perhaps the species will drop into Montana again sometime and I will get a second chance. All this to say, I don't believe I'm addicted to birding.

 

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