I returned to the Bohemian location on December 25th with a few hours to spare before family holiday celebrations. My hopes were to see if the cedar grove had any magic left before the year was out and it did in fact produce the Bohemian Waxwing again with a large flock of Cedar Waxwing. A few other birds were present like Red-breasted Nuthatch and Northern Flicker. This grove, though on private property, is the type of regular stop a birder should include in regular winter car birding routes. In the depths of a serious cold spell (-11 as I write this) that Cedar Grove has produced December birds of Bohemian Waxwing, Northern Flicker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Townsend's Solitaire, Red-shouldered Hawk, Eastern Bluebird, and a possible Hermit Thrush I couldn't get identified fast enough as it crossed the road.
I also stopped by the Grey Cloud Gravel Pit and found the water very steamy, but still open. This location is the deepest pool of water in the county so it stays open well beyond other lakes. The proximity to the Mississippi river allows a very nice collection of birds to collect and this day proved the same as I pulled in American Wigeon, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, and American Coot for waterfowl that are typically a challenge this late into December. With just a few miles separating the gravel pit and the above noted cedar grove the locations are amazing 1...2 punches of car birding that even in severe cold still produced 17 species in limited birding.
With little else shaking I decided to return home early and help prepare some food for the holiday celebration. As I pulled into my Lake Elmo neighborhood I saw a large flock of birds that immediately drew my eye as I had not seen any large song bird flocks in the area this winter. I stopped the car and threw up my bins to find a large flock of Common Redpoll at a feed station nearby. I pulled into the driveway and grabbed by camera to get a neighborhood first for me. I got more than I bargained for as the Redpolls quickly flew across the street and landed on the roof and trees of the sales office for the development. I began taking pictures and quickly realized I was looking at a very pale/frosty bird in the group that stuck out even without optics. After I reviewed the pictures I found every id mark needed to call the bird a Hoary Redpoll. Based on MOU data prior to 2017 the last accepted report for the species was 1988. Here I was wrapping up a big year in the county and a county life bird (year bird 243) landed just 100' from my home.
A Great profile viewing showing limited streaking on the flanks and white undertail coverts.
Another perfect view of the undertail showing no markings at all.
A straight on view making this Hoary Redpoll look like a ghost with the limited streaking and clean undertail. So fortunate to have found this bird and gotten these pictures.
I immediately sent messages to Peter Nichols and Greg Jahner even though it was Christmas. Pete was able to steal himself away for the quick trip north and snagged the life bird for himself also. In the coming days I've helped 14 friends and fellow birders get this amazing county bird to add to their own lists as well. Today marked the 6th consecutive day I have seen the Redpoll flock and the Hoary travelling with them. On the second day (12/26) I even chanced to find the Hoary on our own feeders and landing on the neighbors roof looking for grit. What fortune to wrap up December with Glaucous Gull, Bohemian Waxwing, and then Hoary Redpoll.
A view of the Hoary Redpoll the next day on a roof showing the level of lightness compared to Common Redpolls all around.
With a day and a half left in the year I may limit my efforts for county birds. So little is reasonably left on the table to find that I can't imagine doing yet another Crossbill & Pine Grosbeak route. The extreme cold has eliminated open water locations as a serious option, though I can think of a few places to bird a little bit if the itch strikes New Years eve and a last ditch effort to add a final bird on the year.