Before I started doing this Rare Bird Alert feature for the ABA Blog nearly two years ago, I was not especially plugged in to the rarity scene on a continental scale. I knew good birds in my own state and region, but was largely ignorant of the ongoing drama of first records elsewhere. So perhaps the most amazing thing about compiling these reports is the regularity with which these first records turn up. Sure, there are 50 US states and another 10 Canadian provinces (plus 3 contiguous territories) which means a lot of jurisdictions in which unusual birds can turn up, but it seems as though nearly every week brings an addition to some state or province’s list. That’s a rate I barely expected when I started.
Anyway, I bring this up because this week brings a new record for firsts since I began doing this. Six, which is incredible enough without bringing up the multitude of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc reports in there too. With the additional two firsts last week, this has arguably been the best two weeks of birding, continent wide, in some time. It’s been completely nuts.
Cave Swallow is a likely choice for the bird of the period. Apart from one outlandish record (more on that later), the species has been seen in incredible numbers on the northeast coast, which is not entirely unexpected, but also around the Great Lakes, too. Cave Swallows have been seen regularly and unusually in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario.
Irruptive species continue to impress, and the latest push of finches has held Pine Grosbeaks and redpolls of both species. Remarkably, the Pacific coast has seen the makings of a second straight Snowy Owl year, with reports coming from the same coastal sites that held impressive numbers of the impressive birds just a few months prior.
As to those firsts…
Probably the most unexpected of the firsts this week, is the incredible report of a Cave Swallow near Vancouver, British Columbia. No report of this species in the east this fall would have surprised me, but this is the first record of the bird for the entire Pacific Coast save a couple inland records from southern California. Excellent photos of the bird are available, and as of yet I’ve seen no speculation as to the subspecies represented here.
Alaska is no stranger to incredible birds, but its first state records are a strange mix of Asian strays notable for the whole ABA area and vagrants from the rest of the continent. A state first Ash-throated Flycatcher found in Ketchikan is in the second category.
Nevada becomes the latest southwestern state to host a Rufous-backed Robin (ABA Code 3), as its first record comes from Lincoln.
In Kansas, a wren showing both plumage and vocal characteristics of Pacific Wren in Clark, would be the state’s first record of this cryptic species if accepted.
But it’s Delaware that takes the crown for first state records with not one, but two, species of vagrant hummingbirds completely new within its borders. An Anna’s Hummingbird in Newark and a Calliope Hummingbird in Wilmington.
Heading back up north for the non-first reports, the Northern Lapwing (4) invasion continues in Nova Scotia where a bird was seen in Shelburne. Also in the province, a Western Kingbird at Harlen Point.
An American White Pelican at East Point, Prince Edward Island, is the 3rd for the province.
One of the more interesting reports of Cave Swallows comes from l’Isle-aux-Coudres, Quebec.
Massachusetts is absolutely crawling with good birds. In addition to the lapwings reported last week, two more Northern Lapwings (4) have been discovered in Plymouth, one near Halifax and another near Bridgewater. Other notables include Mountain Bluebird in Essex, Western Grebe and “Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler in Barnstable, and an Ash-throated Flycatcher in Norfolk.
A second New England Ash-throated Flycatcher for the week was in New Haven, Connecticut.
More Northern Lapwings (4), a pair this time, were seen by many at Montauk, Suffolk, New York. Lapwing searchers also turned up a Brewer’s Blackbird there, too.
A possible first for the ABA Area Eurasian Greenfinch was visiting a feeder in Pulaski, Virginia. Provenance is obviously a question with any vagrant finch. Also in the state, a Western Tanager in York.
North Carolina’s first Evening Grosbeak of the year, and the most southerly report of this irruption thus far, was seen briefly at a feeder in Caldwell.
In Georgia, a Snow Bunting was found in Pickens, a Say’s Phoebe in Baker, and a Red-necked Grebe in Fayette.
Florida also had a Red-necked Grebe in Leon, the state’s 2nd. The state’s reputation as a hotspot for vagrant flycatchers is continued with a Say’s Phoebe in Okaloosa and a Vermilion Flycatcher in Wakulla.
Alabama’s 4th record of Rock Wren was seen and well-photographed at Ft Morgan, Baldwin.
A Broad-tailed Hummingbird is visiting a feeder in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Good birds in Tennessee include the state’s fourth Cave Swallow record, a pair of birds in Sullivan. Also, the second Ferruginous Hawk was seen in Dyer.
A Black-legged Kittiwake was reported at Falls of the Ohio, in Jefferson, Kentucky.
Much farther south than usually encountered, a Northern Goshawk was a one-day wonder in Washington, Arkansas.
In Missouri, a Mountain Bluebird in Johnson is the state’s 12th.
Townsend’s Solitaires have been reported across the middle states and provinces this year, including one in O’Brien, Iowa.
Along the lakefront in Cook, Illinois, both a Western Grebe and several Cave Swallows were reported.
Cave Swallows were in Manestee and Charveloix, Michigan, and a Vermilion Flycatcher was seen in Alger.
A journey to the James Bay region on Ontario turned up Great Cormorant, Northern Gannet, Western Kingbird, and a shearwater sp, all incredible regional records. Also in the province, a Townsend’s Solitaire near Toronto, a Thayer’s Gull near Ottawa, and a Mountain Bluebird in Prince Edward.
A Mountain Bluebird was also reported in St. Louis, Minnesota.
Another Townsend’s Solitaire was near Winnipeg, Manitoba, and yet another near Jamestown, North Dakota.
Varied Thrush in Mina Lake SP in Edmonds is a good bird for South Dakota.
Colorado had a Black-legged Kittiwake in Huerfano.
A Red-necked Grebe in notable in New Mexico, this one in Rio Arriba.
An “Atlantic” Brant in La Jolla, San Diego, California, is only the 3rd record of this subspecies in the state. A Little Bunting (4), also California’s 3rd, was reported recently on SE Farallon Island, San Francisco.
Tropical Kingbirds are all over the northwest US, with birds in Bandon and Stanley Lake, Oregon, and others in Ilwaco, and Clallum, Washington. A Eurasian Siskin in Moses Lake, Grant, Washington is another vagrant finch with potential provenance issues.
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 <aba.org/nab>, the richly illustrated journal of ornithological record published by the ABA. Place names written in italics refer to counties/parishes.