Like many birds on my New York State Checklist, I don’t exactly remember my first bird. My parents tell me that when I was little, 25 years ago, that flocks of 50-100 of the sunflower seed eating machines would take over the feeders. In many cases they were so tame they wouldn’t even leave the feeders when they would be refilled, often several times a day.
However shortly after that, it became tough to find Evening Grosbeaks suddenly, anywhere. On New York State Christmas Bird Counts in the late 1970’s upwards of 30,000 individual birds were counted, statewide. In the last couple of years often less than 300 birds were counted, despite increased number of counts and observers.
In the early 1990’s while living in Ravena, New York, I awoke one morning and proceeding downstairs to get ready for school. It was then that my father informed me that there had been a female Evening Grosbeak at the bird bath only a few moments before I got to the kitchen. I remember coming home from school every day and watching the feeders hour after hour, waiting for that one glimpse. It never happened. Sure a female Evening Grosbeak periodically spent some time at our feeder, but never when I was looking, only when my father was! (In retrospect my bad luck may have started then)
After that time, it was not unusual to see Evening Grosbeaks at our feeders, especially in September and again in April or May. They never rivaled the flocks my parents had in years past, but they were always a thrill to see.
The winter/spring of 1994 was perhaps the best year for the species in my backyard, I had about a dozen birds from mid April to mid May. I also saw them at Five Rivers EEC that same year, but afterwards they became difficult to find again. Sure I saw some one July in the late 1990’s in Weston, Vermont, but my declining interest in birding may have had more to do with the draught.
When I first started dating my wife, she got me back into birding. By 2003 we were both actively twitching with our young daughter Sophia in tow. In 2004, an active flock had taken up residence at the Feeders at the Newcomb Adirondack Visitors Interpretive Center in Newcomb, Essex County, New York in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. The Adirondacks have remained this species stronghold, but even there it was easier to find them during the breeding season than in winter when many birds simply vanished.
My wife, who had never seen an Evening Grosbeak was eager to go on the trip just before Christmas. This trip turned out to be significant because we were able to document a Hoary Redpoll and my wife was able to get her life Common and Hoary Redpoll and Pine Siskin as well, but the birds we came for did not disappoint. My wife was in awe as she happily took pictures of some of the most striking male Evening Grosbeaks I had ever seen. The two photos are scans off crappy film (and she also took the pictures through a screen and glass windows), we didn’t have a digital then, but for now they will have to do, plus my scanner died and the one at work is less than ideal.
Since then I have seen a grand total of ZERO Evening Grosbeaks (Even though Danika and I are pretty sure we heard a flock looking for Crossbills last winter on Bigelow Road). Reading the various bird reports, list servs and e-bird reports, these birds have arrived nearly everywhere in New York State, all the way down to Orange County, just outside of New York City! And it’s only the beginning of November? Well only time will tell exactly how good of a year it will be, but there is always hope.