It isn't every year that we see pine grosbeaks. Pine grosbeaks are our largest and rarest winter finch. They live in the northern forests, feeding on small fruits, buds and seeds. In some years, when food isn't abundant, they come south into New England seeking greater bounty. This year is such a year and we don't need to look far for them.
One place I check is the Worcester Airport. You might not think of it as a place for wildlife but with acres of grasslands it can surprise you. I've found snow buntings, horned larks and pine grosbeaks there in past winters. So I check from time to time to see what's up there.
I was in the area the other day and decided to make a pass by, intending to look for snow buntings and horned larks. They're fun birds with interesting plumage and make good pictures if you can get close enough. That doesn't happen often since all kinds of raptors hunt them and flocks of them are quite wary.
I drove up Airport Drive lined with crab apple trees, anticipating arriving at the top to look for my quarry in the parking lots by the terminal. I scanned the trees as I went. The fruit attracts cedar waxwings, always nice to see, robins and pine grosbeaks. It's been a while since I've seen waxwings locally but you never know.
As I drove, one of the trees had several lumps scattered across its top. I couldn't tell if they were robins in the backlit overcast gloom, so I pulled over for a better look. And there they were, several colorful pine grosbeaks greedily eviscerating the overripe fruit in the tree. The light was bad with a storm front coming in, so I snapped a few shots for the record and went back about my business.
I expect the pine grosbeaks to stay in those trees until they exhaust the food supply. Perhaps I'll return on a nicer day. Living up north away from people most of the time, they seem quite tame. With care you can walk right up to them, providing an unusually cooperative subject. But not today.
So I went up the hill to look for horned larks and snow buntings. The horned larks were there but no snow buntings. They might be around. They often are when the horned larks are there, but I didn't find them and the clouds were getting thicker and the light was failing. More than satisfied with my finds, I decided to head for home.
If you enjoy winter birds and haven't seen these, consider the Worcester Airport. It has a few treats to offer and they'll be around for a while.