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STOKES BIRDING BLOG: European Goldfinch Magic!


The finches keep calling me. Yesterday morning it was raining. I am in MA, and, on a hunch, I checked Massbird to see what was around. A European Goldfinch was being discussed. What!! I was just close to writing the chapter on European Goldfinch in my new book, with co-author Matthew A. Young, Stokes Guide to Finches of North America. I looked up the sighting’s map, and next to the area it was being seen, the road sign said Lillian Rd. No way, you can’t make this stuff up. Was this to be one of those special finch moments I keep having, like the Montague Magic moment I had when I met Matt for the first time, Red Crossbills descended on us, and, as I drove away, the road sign said Lillian’s Way?

I loaded the car with binoculars and cameras, and we took off, hoping for clearing weather. When we arrived, the rain had stopped, but the wind began. The area was Lexington Community Farm, a large area with back woods and lots of weeds and tangles. A birder walking towards me said that he had the bird earlier, but it had flown. For those of you that have gone after an unusual bird, you know the feeling, the you-should-have-been-here-an-hour-ago sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. I desperately wanted to see and photograph this bird. It took a few hours and 5 birders. First, a pair of birders saw it briefly down low and back in tangles, but it flew. The wind was likely keeping it well under cover and deterring it from vocalizing. Then Don briefly spotted a bird with black and white that flew. Then my friend, Dave, saw it, and he and I moved a bit and got on it. To my astonishment, this European Goldfinch proceeded to feed in front of me, visible without much obscuring vegetation. I became lost in an adrenaline rush, altered state of consciousness, through my camera lens. I call it “becoming one with the bird.” I fired and got as many photos as possible.

Wow! At an incredibly challenging time in my life, I just had an uplifting, almost spiritual experience in which the stars aligned. Through time and space, I had connected with this amazing finch who lifted my spirits—what a gift. Lessons from finches; experiences like this are open to all who trust that the improbable is possible. Yes, finches keep calling me and I keep answering.

And FYI, a European Goldfinch is not a native bird. It is native to Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia and likely does not cross the Atlantic. Sold as a caged bird in this country, the European Goldfinch often can escape or be released and possibly live in the wild. There have been 3 times when populations of it have bred in the wild. In southern California, it has bred a few times; in Brooklyn, N.Y., there are a few dozen breeding around parks. Around the Great Lakes, however, they seem to be taking off. The population in WI may be expanding to Chicago and MI. Evidently, eBird may be revised to class the Great Lakes population as Provisional. This MA European Goldfinch is thought to be an escapee. However, finches are full of surprises. They can move distances. Who knows how the future will play out for this species.

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