Redpoll-like Flyby

Brian Fitch

I haven't been engaged in any birding controversies this year, so I'm overdue.

Today at Battery Godfrey, in the late morning, a number of us heard an odd double jip call approaching.  At least two of us spotted the bird flying north along the bluff, just below eye level, but I was the only one to get binos on it.  My only bino view was of it heading away for a few seconds.

Judging size by having seen many warblers using the same flight path, it was a little shorter than a Yellow-rumped, roughly 5 inches, and its bodily dorsal side had a creamy white base color, with streaks, but no other notable marks.  The wings and tail were nondescript, but definitely not as pale as the body.  As we gathered to talk things over, I stated that if I had to shoot from the hip, it looked like a redpoll.  We also agreed that the calls were similar but not identical to Red Crossbill, one of which had been calling earlier from the cypresses behind us, with the flyby's sound tending toward the first notes of American Goldfinch.

Once back home, I listened to multiple recordings on Xeno-Canto, only flight calls from North American Common Redpolls, and heard several exact replicas of the battery bird, a double jip that was easily separable audibly from Red Crossbill.  I later worked my way through Sibley and other guides so as to consider any other contenders, and could find nothing else that fit the size, color, and sound characters.  I gave extra thought to Pine Siskin, but they're darker, show notable yellow in the wings, and their uncommon double call is duller sounding than what we heard.  I also searched images, and found a number of shots of C Redpolls with weak wing bars and relatively pale back streaking. 

I saw nothing of the bird's face and forehead, where the best field marks reside.  Neither the flanks.  The timing would be early by five weeks over any published sightings I found, and there has been only one known coastal occurrence.  There are bar charts for Washington and Oregon showing the species' presence in late October, and we just had a very unusual weather pattern of two full days of strong NW wind under clear skies. 

I'm mainly writing this up as an FYI, and am currently oscillating about how to treat it personally.  I hate ignoring phenomena based on skeptical conservatism, and yet the encounter was pathetically brief, and did not include the most reliable plumage marks.  Then again, see the above...
Any respectful comments are welcome.
Brian Fitch

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