There are redpolls around, small birds with a blush of red across the top of their creamy, streaky chest. I know this now. But it makes me fairly certain that yes, there were a couple of bramblings around as well.
Both birds were tangled into my days by a series of events. Ten days after the “brambling” sighting, while returning from a long, arduous snowshoe up the valley, I spotted about ten birds on a hillside, right where the bramblings had flown off to, feeding on seed heads just like the bramblings did. They were distant, and I was too tired to leave my packed trail and wallow through deep snow to get closer, but I wondered… could they be the bramblings? They were chittering and calling, and sure enough when I got home and listened to the brambling call it sounded right. Yes!!
So I’ve been carrying my camera around, and then, yes! I saw the small group of birds way off on a different hillside, and I wallowed and wallowed through thigh deep snow to get just close enough to zoom with my camera, hoping the picture would reveal the truth. Hmm… no, wrong bird, I thought on approaching closer. But yes! a bit of a blush across the chest. Click. Click. Click.
More interested in getting a picture than being with the place and the birds, observing, sensing, I let myself believe it was possible these were bramblings. The resulting picture – fuzzy and indistinct – did in fact show a bird that looked remarkably like a female brambling. But a knowledgeable source spotted my mistake. Redpoll.
On reflection, I knew she was right. The birds in the small group behaved differently. They were smaller. They were flitty and busy and bouncy. Not like the two “bramblings” who were more sedate, larger. Like pine siskins compared to juncos.
(Also, the bramblings had absolutely no red on their head, though the redpolls were too far to see their little red cap, so that was not a visible feature of the redpolls!)
Yesterday, on a morning snowshoe, I spotted a small bird pecking at sagebrush flower-stalks. The bird flitted into dead grass showing above the snow, feeding on the seedheads. I watched for a while, noting the creamy breast, the forked tail – the bird was too far to see color, but I knew a redpoll by now. There really was little resemblance to the shape and actions of the other “brambling” birds. If I had been still and watchful and present on sighting the redpolls earlier, I would have known this. Lesson learned.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and I have a picture of a redpoll and only words as evidence of the bramblings. No matter, the bramblings (I think) were a wonder and I will hold that and keep silent. Though I will carry my camera more often now.
And now I am familiar with redpolls, another spark of beauty that graces this land.