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Rare Bird Alert: December 25, 2015

I mentioned last week that as Christmas Bird Counts ramp up across the ABA Area, the opportunity for interesting birds is only going to increase along with them. Close scrutiny of common birds is the age-old recipe for finding vagrants, and this past week made me sound prescient, even if, in all honestly, my prediction was of the bet the sun will come up tomorrow variety.  A number of the noteworthy reports this past week, including a couple continent-level megas, came about because birders were counting birds closely. Lo and behold, with enough quality eyes in the field the expected unexpected birds are sure to follow.

First, those that are continuing. At least one and likely two Northern Jacanas (4) are still hanging out in south Texas, even if they’re not always easy to find. The Kelp Gull (4) in Ohio is of the same sort, and has been seen on and off all week. The Western Spindalis (3) in Florida, however, has been a show-off since the day it was discovered.

On to those exciting new birds, though. Last weekend was a big one for vagrant thrushes in the northwest, as a pair of exciting Asian turdids highlight their respective CBCs. Barely eking out the top spot this week was a Fieldfare (4) in Missoula, Montana, if only because it’s a 1st for Montana and only the 2nd record for the center of the continent. The last update had the bird seen on the 23rd, but not yesterday.


This Montana Fieldfare is only the second record of the species in the center of the continent, and one of two Asian thrushes in the ABA Area this week. Photo by Alex Hughes

And that second exciting thrush was in British Columbia, where the province’s 2nd record of Redwing (4) (and the first twitchable one) was found on the Victoria CBC, bizarrely not more than a few hundred meters from the province’s 1st Redwing a couple years ago. Also notable for the province, an Indigo Bunting at a feeder in Coquitlam.

There were two additional first records this week, in addition to the Montana Fieldfare. Kansas had what is likely it’s 1st Purple Sandpiper in Russell, in the western part of the state. This makes them the second inland state in the last few months to get their first Purple Sandpiper, following one in Montana earlier this year.

And in Louisiana, a Pyrrhuloxia in Jefferson Davis is the state’s 1st record, and one of the farthest east records of this species.

Good for Florida was a Western Grebe in Polk.

In Georgia, a Calliope Hummingbird was visiting a feeder in Cobb.

North Carolina had a pair of Trumpeter Swans at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR in Hyde. The species is becoming more regular many places in the Mid-Atlantic as the re-introduced Great Lakes population grows.

In Tennessee, a Lesser Black-backed Gull was a nice bird in Blount.

New Jersey had a Varied Thrush in Cape May.

Pennsylvania becomes the latest place to host a “western-type” flycatcher, in Berks, though the consensus on this one is strongly leaning towards Pacific-slope Flycatcher, it would be the state’s 3rd “Western” Flycatcher pending acceptance.

A likely Black-browed Albatross (4) offshore Suffolk, New York, is an excellent bird anywhere in the ABA Area.

Connecticut also has a “Western” Flycatcher, as yet unidentified as far as I can determine, in New Haven. The same county is also hosting a Western Tanager.

In Massachusetts, a Swainson’s Hawk in Essex is the second in the northeast in as many weeks.

New Hampshire had a Bullock’s Oriole visiting a feeder in Rockingham.

There was also a Bullock’s Oriole in Sydney, Nova Scotia, this week.

In Newfoundland, a Townsend’s Warbler was found in Trepassey.

Quebec also had some vagrant warblers, with a Black-throated Gray Warbler on Morrison Island and a Hooded Warbler at Longueuil.

A Smew (4) south of Ottawa, Ontario, is getting a lot of attention, and some suspect an escapee given that a breeder claims to have lost a Smew 400km to the south. But 400km is a very long way and it seems (to me, at least) that natural provenance is an equally likely explanation. I know there’s been a lot of discussion on this bird, so any local information would be appreciated in the comments. Also in the province, a Vermilion Flycatcher was discovered in Wallaceburg.

Manitoba had a Eurasian Tree Sparrow at a feeder in Winnipeg for the second straight winter.

In Saskatchewan, a Scarlet Tanager is noteworthy in Regina.

A Pine Grosbeak photographed in Douglas, Nebraska, is an interesting find, particularly after one was found in Iowa earlier in the season.

In Texas, a Rufous-backed Robin (3) was found in Del Rio, and a Great Black-backed Gull at Quintana Beach.

Arizona had a Streak-backed Oriole (4) seen in Yuma.

In California, a Brown-crested Flycatcher in Contra Costa was a great find.

And in Washington, a dead Red-flanked Bluetail (4) was salvaged on Lopez Island sadly before any birder could see it as a live bird.


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.


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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

Latest posts by Nate Swick (see all)

  • Tony Leukering

    Birders should really endeavor to determine the type/subspecies of out-of place Pine Grosbeaks (PIGR; such as the Nebraska bird), as the combo of quite-different plumages (in adult males, at least) and vocalizations suggest the possibility of splitting. While a PIGR in Nebraska is probably a rep from the northern subspecies, recent records of Rockies birds on the Colorado plains suggest a second possibility for that bird.

  • Alan Wormington

    Surely a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher found on the Cedar Creek, Ontario, CBC (December 19) is worthy of mention — most likely the only one of its kind to be reported this winter anywhere in the ABA Area.

    • A cool record, for sure. But the species is regular in the province in season, correct? If I included records of out-of-season birds this thing would be 5000 words long! 🙂

      • Alan Wormington

        True enough!

  • Andrew Keaveney

    Southwestern Ontario has an accepted Pyrrhuloxia record! This is farther east than Louisiana.

    • My mistake. I’m surprised that wasn’t in eBird. Ontario generally does a good job getting historical records in there.

      • Andrew Keaveney

        Hey Nate. I found out that Ontario doesn’t have any of their accepted records post 2011 in eBird yet… they are getting to it.

  • Andrew Keaveney

    Your link to the “Western” Flycatcher in Connecticut is misplaced with the Brown-crested Flycatcher in Cali.

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