Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bohemian Waxwing!

Photos of waxwing: Tom Bartlett

Bohemian: wanderer, vagabond, or adventurer.

A stunning Bohemian Waxwing, Bombycilla garrulus, plunders fruit from a crabapple on Kelleys Island, Ohio. This is a fantastic discovery in Ohio, and a bird that very few have on their Ohio list.

Discovered by the indefatigable Tom Bartlett last Sunday, December 19th as he and Sandy Tkach censused the island for the Lake Erie Islands Christmas Bird Count.

Here's the rub, should you be inclined to chase the bird. It's way out in Lake Erie, on an island (Kelleys Island circled in red). There are only two practical ways out there: boat, and airplane.
More bad news for the waxwing chaser: this is what Lake Erie looks like right now. I took this photo on December 14 a few hundred feet over the lake, in the vicinity of the Lake Erie islands. Since then, the ice has thickened up considerably and the ferry - the only regular public-access boat - has quit running. That means you'll have to hop a flight, and your only option is probably Griffing Flying Service. This Bo-wax is definitely not the easiest of chases!

Bohemian Waxwings are even cooler than Cedar Waxwings, and that's saying something. They are bigger and chunkier, with beautiful cinnamon undertail coverts and wings marked up with white. I have seen them numerous times in their breeding haunts in Alaska and the far northwest, and once, in a spurt of greatly fortuitous luck, had a flock of nine on a wintery day at East Harbor State Park in Ottawa County, Ohio many years back.

A dweller of boreal forests, Bo-waxes are strongly associated with mountain-ash trees, genus Sorbus, of which fruit they are exceedingly fond. Mountain-ash is also a tree of the north, and only one of those species, the Western Mountain-ash, Sorbus decora, makes it into Ohio. It is listed as endangered here, with a smattering of plants found in Ashtabula and Geauga counties.

This waxwing is notoriously nomadic, and it's hard to say whether Tom's bird is still on the island. Waxwings tend to wander far and wide, pilfering fruit from berry trees and then moving on in search of the next crop. In recent decades, we've only had a report of Bohemian Waxwing about once every five years, so this is truly a great find.

Congratulations to Tom and Sandy for their discovery.


Vincent Lucas said...

That's a great find by the two "enumerators". (I had to use that term because I was a US Census worker this summer and that was our "official" title). Folks might be interested in seeing some incredible photos and great blog on Bohemian Waxwings by none other than Lillian Stokes (Stokes field guides) here:

Jim McCormac said...

Excellent link to some stunning photos - thanks for sharing vince!

Randy Kreager said...

What a cool find!!! Many thanks to you and Tom for sharing!