Rockjumper Tours

Blog Birding #390

Evolution works in funny ways, and the famous Galapagos Finches may be evolving in response to tourist junk food, according to

Galápagos finches are famed for being the inspiration behind Charles Darwin’s pioneering work on evolution. They are an example of adaptive radiation, an evolutionary process that produces new species from a single, rapidly diversifying lineage. Their common ancestor arrived on the Galápagos about two million years ago, and since then Darwin’s finches have evolved into more than a dozen recognized species differing in body size, beak shape, and feeding behavior.

Sneed Collard of Father Son Birding writes about an experience with a pelican trapped in fishing line, and the importance of disposing plastics.

Back at my hotel in Houston, however, I decided to see if there was any help available. Earlier, I had met three young employees of the Houston Audubon Society who lived at High Island. I called HAS and left a detailed message about the pelican’s predicament and location and asked if the High Island crew might go out there to free it.

The bizarre American Coot is one of the continents most common, and arguably one of its least appreciated birds. At 10,000 Birds, Larry Jordan attempts to put that right.

Maybe it’s because the American Coot (Fulica americana) is the most abundant and widely distributed species of rail in North America that it gets no respect? I mean we see them everywhere, in almost any of a broad variety of wetlands, including freshwater lakes, ponds, marshes, roadside ditches, and industrial-waste impoundments, as well as in coastal marine habitats. As we come upon winter, we often find Coots in rafts of thousands!

The depths of winter are perhaps the best time to think back on warmer and greener birding experiences, as Steve Tucker of Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds does with a remembrance of Sabine Woods on the Upper Texas Coast.

At dawn we started the birding the trees at Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge, which is right on the way to Sabine Woods. It’s not an impressive looking patch (some pieces of private property in the area appeared better suited as migrant traps), but since this is the UTC it should be checked! It was really slow at first, but after a while we began to see sweet sweet migrants coming in off the coast. Not many were stopping, but it was encouraging. The Northern Parula above was very accommodating, and ended up being the only one we would see that day.

Bird evolution has explored some pretty remarkable avenues, but iridescence must be among the most amazing. Albertokynus of Raptormaniacs explains the evolution of it all.

On its own, melanin generally produces shades of gray, brown, or black, but iridescence has the potential to create just about any type of color. This is determined by the thickness of the keratin and melanin layers, which influences the specific wavelengths of light they reflect. Given this versatility and its inherent glimmering qualities, it’s no surprise that iridescence has been adopted by so many birds (and other animals) for the purpose of visual display.



Rare Bird Alert: December 7, 2018

Lots of exciting rarities continue into the first week of December, including the Great Black Hawk (ABA Code 5) in Maine, which now appears to have settled into a public park in Portland where birders have been able to relocate it fairly regularly as it terrorizes squirrels. This is another chapter in what has been easily the craziest vagrant story of the year. Also around the ABA Area, Roadside Hawk (4) and Golden-crowned Warbler (4) continue to be seen in Texas, the Gray Heron (5) in Newfoundland has been intermittently seen this week, and the Bean Goose in Oregon, now being called Tundra Bean-Goose (3), is present into the week as well.

One rather surprising 1st record to report this week, in New Hampshire, where a Ross’s Gull (3) was seen just offshore in Rockingham this week. It’s a little surprising that this pink pilgrim of the high arctic hasn’t yet been seen in New Hamsphire, a state which sees birds of the higher latitudes with some regularity, but Ross’s Gull is nothing if not enigmatic.

Nova Scotia’s 3rd record of Brewer’s Blackbird was seen this week at Cape Sable.

Always noteworthy for New England, though more regular in the west and in Atlantic Canada, a Tufted Duck (3) was found on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts this week.

New Jersey had a Ash-throated Flycatcher in Mercer.

Pennsylvania has hosted the farthest south record of Barnacle Goose (4) so far this season, with one in Bucks.

In Ontario, a Slaty-backed Gull (3) was seen at a landfill in Nipissing.

Missouri had a Mountain Bluebird this week in St. Clair.

In Texas, a Rose-throated Becard (3) was seen in Starr.

Colorado continues to add to its surprising reputation as a vagrant gull magnet with a Glaucous-winged Gull in Larimer. 

Nevada’s 11th record of Black-legged Kittiwake was seen on Lake Mead in Clark.

Washington’s 8th Vermilion Flycatcher is present near Stanwood, though does not seem to be chaseable for the moment due to local antagonism towards birders.

And in Alaska, the state’s 2nd Marsh Wren was seen in Ketchikan.


Omissions and errors are not intended, but if you find any please message blog AT and I will try to fix them as soon as possible. This post is meant to be an account of the most recently reported birds. Continuing birds not mentioned are likely included in previous editions listed here. Place names written in italics refer to counties/parishes.

Readers should note that none of these reports has yet been vetted by a records committee. All birders are urged to submit documentation of rare sightings to the appropriate state or provincial committees. For full analysis of these and other bird observations, subscribe to North American Birds <>, the richly illustrated journal of ornithological record published by the ABA.


Avians and Humans, in Antiquity and Today

A review by Alison L. Beringer

Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words, by Jeremy Mynott

Oxford University Press, 2018

426 pages—hardcover

ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14880

At the risk of revealing that I am a slow reader—and an even slower writer—I admit that I began reading Jeremy Mynott’s Birds in the Ancient World [read more…]

Wild Anecdotes and Curious Asides

A review by Lori Potter

Birdmania: A Remarkable Passion for Birds, by Bernd Brunner, translated by Jane Billinghurst

Greystone Books, 2017

292 pages, hardcover

ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14791

The book jacket of Birdmania advises that its contents are “quirky.” Soon enough, we learn that this disclosure is not misleading. The book’s quirkiness [read more…]

Happening NOW: Palm Warbler Fest in Colorado

By Dean Shoup

Something is going on with Palm Warblers in Colorado this fall of 2018. The species is a regular visitor to Colorado in the fall, with scattered reports every year. But 2018 has been a crazy banner year for the species. The nearest year in recent times with a similar irruption was 2012, [read more…]

Welcome to the Jungle

A review by Rob Fergus

The New Neotropical Companion, by John Kricher

Princeton University Press, 2017

432 pages, softcover

ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14727 or

The American tropics host some of the world’s most beautiful and charismatic birds. But birding there can be tough. Dazzling looks at radiant displays of iridescence may come [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: November 30, 2018

It was a big week for vagrant raptors, not least of which because of the dramatic return of the Great Black Hawk (ABA Code 5) in Maine, rediscovered in a Portland city park eating squirrels after a multi-week absence. This bird is rapidly turning into the nuttiest vagrant of the year by virtue of its [read more…]

American Birding Podcast: Best Bird Books of 2018 with Donna Schulman

We’re getting to the end of the year and it’s time for a look back at the best bird books published in 2018. Once again, 10,000 Birds book reviewer Donna Schulman joins me to talk about our favorites. Donna and I each share our Top 5, including field guides, family specific guides, and narratives from [read more…]

A New ABA Young Birder Camp in COSTA RICA!

Starting next summer, the ABA is partnering with friends from Audubon’s famous Hog Island Nature Camp to host a brand new experience for teen birders in the incredibly biodiverse nation of Costa Rica!

Spend a week, July 21, 2019 – July 26, 2019, with Hog Island and ABA youth leaders birding, observing local scientists at [read more…]

Birding Photo Quiz: December 2018

“BVD,” we birders like to say, when confronted with views such as these. No, we’re not talking about the brand of men’s underwear. “BVD,” to the birder, stands for “better view desired.”

Is that an aesthetic judgment? We’d rather see a bird’s face than butt? Let’s not go there. Or is it a pragmatic assessment?—an [read more…]

American Birding Podcast
Birders know well that the healthiest, most dynamic choruses contain many different voices. The birding community encompasses a wide variety of interests, talents, and convictions. All are welcome.
If you like birding, we want to hear from you.
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