Hi all, Brendan here,
Pine Siskins have been moving down the eastern seaboard in mad numbers lately. Some estimates from the barrier beaches of New York lately have peaked at 6,000 birds. I was able to see some on two occasions recently. The first instance was a rolling flock of ~50. The second was a smaller flock feeding in some pines that I check regularly this time of year for Northern Saw-whet and Long-eared Owls (those two and Snowy Owl are the only owls I have in my county!). There they all were, quietly nibbling on cones. Interestingly, I was repeatedly encountering tapping noises that day in the grove of pines but could locate no avian source. Finally I noticed some cones were shut tight and others were open like a flower. The noise was actually the cones popping open! Good timing for the siskins, who also seem to notice a difference (below).
On a different note, Pine Siskin happened to be my 299th New York state bird. Pine Siskins are pretty regular upstate, but aren't terribly common in the state most years, much less downstate. I am also missing several other winter finches, including both redpolls, both winter grosbeaks and Red Crossbill. Luckily, none are expected to invade soon so I can still control my 300th state bird!