The Ohio birding network went aflame on the afternoon of Monday, December 28, when word went out about a Brambling that was discovered in Medina County. In this part of the world, a Brambling is a mega-rarity of the highest order. There had only been one prior Ohio record, WAY back in 1987. The current bird and the one of 28 years ago share some eerie similarities. More on that later.
Recently retired Medina County Park District naturalist Dan Bertsch found the bird, and must have nearly flipped his lid when he realized what he was looking at. Dan's discovery sparked a Great Medina County Brambling Rush, as listers from far and wide dropped everything and sped to the locale.
Photo courtesy Leslie Sours
That's the Brambling, on the left, consorting with some much more familiar fare (for us), three American Goldfinches. Perhaps the Brambling feels comfortable with them, as they're all in the same family (Fringillidae). I suspect that this is a scene similar to how Dan first saw the bird. It's been frequenting some feeders at a house or houses very near Allardale Park, which is one of the Medina County Park District's holdings. Leslie Sours, who made this image, was among the wave of first responders, and at that time the best ways of seeing the bird had yet to be determined. Views were rather distant, but certainly diagnostic.
If you're not a hardcore birder, you may wonder why the hubbub over a small rusty finch. Look at the map below...
The Brambling has an enormous range, as depicted by the green portion of the map. The finch is a common breeder in much of northern Asia and Europe, and is highly migratory, wintering throughout the southern portion of the green area. Bramblings can form enormous winter roosts, and individuals are well known to wander far afield. The areas of the map in blue represent regions where wayward Bramblings have appeared, but records would be very few and quite far between in most of the shaded blue areas.
The scientific name of this species is Fringilla montifringilla, which literally translated means "Mountain Finch." The great Swedish naturalist and Father of Binomial Nomenclature Carl Linnaeus bestowed this name on the finch, and published it in his Systema Naturae (10th edition) in 1758. He described the finch under its current name, Fringilla montifringilla, a remarkable case of nomenclatural longevity.
Photo courtesy Alex Eberts
This great photo by Alex Eberts really brings out the charms of this stocky bullheaded little finch. It's easy to see why Dan would have done a double-take upon clapping eyes upon it. It's an adult male, and no regularly occurring Ohio species really looks anything like this. In breeding finery, the bird's head and back will be ebony black.
The 1987 bird turned up on the heels of a major snowstorm on March 31, 1987, and stayed until April 7. It also spawned an avalanche of visiting birders, but the star was not nearly as cooperative as the current Brambling. I was one of the lucky ones that got to see it well. Many birders, often having traveled long distances, were unsuccessful.
Although I've not been to see the present bird, I've seen photos of the lay of the land, and it appears remarkably similar to the neighborhood that hosted the first bird. Then, as now, birders had to stand along the public right-of-way of the road, and try not to trespass onto private property or otherwise misbehave. I guess there have been some minor squabbles and bickering about behavior among the current Brambling-seeking throngs, just as there was with the first one. I remember that shortly after arriving at the 1987 Brambling site, I was watching and waiting with the others when I saw movement in a bush. A gentleman, who shall remain nameless, had crawled into the shrubbery - we were supposed to stay off the property - and was using the thicket as a blind. Moments later, a quite loud, large and brash woman, who will also remain nameless, spotted the trespassing birder. She let out a roar and charged into the brush, tugging the much smaller man out of there like a ragdoll, all the while berating him for his stupidity. It is a moment of birding infamy I may possibly never cast from my mind.
So, if you get the opportunity to visit this beautiful rarity, do so! You may not get another chance to see another Brambling in Ohio. But I'd advise staying out of the shrubs and on the road with everyone else. And if you see the feeder-owners or any of the neighbors, be sure and thank them for their tolerance. And offer kudos on a great find to Dan Bertsch should you cross his path.