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Rare Bird Alert: October 13, 2017

The California Blue-footed Booby (ABA Code 4) continues in the Farallons, and as the only long-staying ABA Area vagrant seeming to stick tight in this season of bird movement. One exciting re-discovery came from South Carolina, where the American Flamingo (3), originally found in the immediate wake of Hurricane Irene, was refound in the extensive estuary marshes of that state where it has a lot of room to roam.

We’ll start, as we so often do this time of year, in Alaska, where Gambell has been the epicenter of new additions to the ABA Checklist (at least until the Hawaii birds drop). A Brown Shrike reported last week was, after a great deal of study, found to be a juvenile Red-backed Shrike, a potential 1st for the ABA Area, at least as a full species. But that wasn’t all, a few days earlier, the ABA’s 1st record of River Warbler was discovered in the near boneyard, making the 3rd potential ABA 1st in the last 6 weeks, a phenomenal run.

River Warbler was hardly on anyone’s radar for an ABA first, but birders in the Bering Sea have to be prepared for just about anything. Photo: Clarence Irrigoo

Another wild sighting comes from North Carolina, where an apparent Common Swift (5) was photographed as it buzzed lucky birders on the Outer Banks, Dare, in the immediate wake of Hurricane Nate.

Down to Texas, where a young White-crowned Pigeon was received by a rehab facility in Galveston, a potential 1st documented record for that state (the previous record was on the state’s presumptive list).

In New England, a pair of cryptic species represent 1sts for two states. New Hampshire had a Western Wood-Pewee in Rye that was well-documented by photos and audio.

And in Maine, a good candidate for Cassin’s Vireo on Monhegan Island would represent a 1st. Also in Maine, the season’s first Pink-footed Goose (4) in Aroostook.

An interesting hawk in Torrance, New Mexico was originally identified as the state’s 2nd White-tailed Hawk, but subsequent reports have called it potentially the ABA’s 1st record of Variable HawkThe bird is still unidentified at the time this post was written, though it’s very good either way.

California has been full of Dusky Warblers (4) this week, with individuals found in Los Angeles (the second this fall), San Mateo, and San Diego. In the northern part of the state, a Cassin’s Sparrow was in Humboldt, and a McCown’s Longspur in San Francisco.

In British Columbia, a Costa’s Hummingbird was photographed at a feeder in Powell River, one of two in the province currently.

Wyoming had a Yellow-throated Warbler in Laramie.

Good for Colorado, and one of many this fall, a Long-tailed Jaeger was photographed in Pueblo.

In North Dakota, a Red Knot was found in Sargent.

South Dakota had a Flammulated Owl in Deer Mountain this week.

Kansas’s 6th Painted Redstart was photographed in Finney.

In Oklahoma, a Hepatic Tanager was photographed in Cimarron.

Always nice inland, a Great Black-backed Gull was present at Lake Dardenelle in Yell, Arkansas.

In Louisiana, a Black-whiskered Vireo was found in New Orleans.

Tennessee’s 2nd record of Black-capped Petrel was found at Woods Reservoir this week, a surprise waif resulting from the relatively weak Hurricane Nate.

In Michigan, a Vermilion Flycatcher was photographed in Chippewa. Also a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was found in Antrim and a nice Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on Mackinac Island.

Manitoba had a Townsend’s Solitaire near Selkirk.

In Ontario, a Rock Wren showed nicely for many in Tobermory, and a Lark Bunting was in the same location the week before.

Pennsylvania’s 2nd White-winged Tern, found not long after the state’s 1st last month, was seen by many birders in Philadelphia. It’s always nice when a red letter rarity shows up in a place where lots of birders can see it.

In New York, a Brown Booby (3) was in Suffolk and a Say’s Phoebe in Yates.

Quebec had a young Swainson’s Hawk in Gaspésie and a California Gull in Centre-du-Québec.

And in New Brunswick, the latest of many Fork-tailed Flycatcher (3) in the ABA Area this fall, this one in Miscou.


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

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  • Mark Lockwood

    There was a Red-backed Hawk, now Variable Hawk, in Colorado during the summer of 1987 and I think it returned in 1988. At the time Red-backed Hawk and Puna Hawk were considered separate species.

    • Elias Elias
    • Bill Maynard

      The Colorado Variable Hawk (the lowland Red-backed type) was present for 8 consecutive summers in Colorado. It bred once with a Swainson’s Hawk and the offspring looked mostly like a SWHA with some Variable Hawk characteristics. The Variable Hawk departed each fall and returned the following springs. If the New Mexico Variable Hawk record, with convincing photos btw, is accepted by the New Mexico Rare Bird Committee, and if the Colorado bird is reviewed a second time, which the state bylaws allow since Variable Hawk is now known to be migratory in part of its range, and if it is then accepted by the CBRC, the Colorado bird would become the first ABA area record for this species. Variable Hawk is no longer in the Buteo genus, but now Geranoaetus polyosoma. Red-backed Hawk and Puna Hawk were lumped to become Variable Hawk a few years ago.

  • Steve Shultz

    I believe the NC swift is supported only by very poor photos, so the presumption that it is Common Swift is, if I am not mistaken, supported by statistics (that a swift of that size and the basic description provided by the observer would most likely be a …) rather than any supportable or diagnostic evidence. The observer was not familiar with out of range swifts and the photographs are not diagnostic and don’t eliminate other possible (but potentially less likely) species such as Pallid Swift. Should the rare bird note reflect Apus sp? instead of Common Swift?

    • I think the apparent white on the forehead should rule out Pallid, no?

      In any case, I’m glad I’m not on the NC committee this year. 😉

  • Steve Shultz

    I forgot to mention that the link between tropical cyclone Nate and the NC swift seems tenuous at best. The likely path of a vagrant from Europe (or Asia) would not be as a result of a weather system approaching from the south. If I recall, Nate was in the Gulf at the time of the sighting, and the OBX was under the influence of a 1020 mb high pressure system unrelated to the tropical storm. Here’s a weather map from the day of sighting:

    • I was careful not to imply causality. The bird was seen as the remnants of Nate passed NC. I think it’s fair to assume the weather played some role, even if it’s unclear exactly what.

  • Tim Birder

    The vast majority of people agree that the New Mexico hawk is a Variable; in fact, I have not seen a dissenting opinion since the identification was changed on eBird.

    • I don’t know about that. I think a silent majority are unwilling to commit given the ambiguity of the photos.

      • Though I do note you can see the red back in one of the photos.

  • Mark Brown

    1. Swift.
    Discussion of Apus apus in Suriname: . There was an Alpine Swift in Barbados September 20-27 1955 “after hurricane Janet”.
    2. Hawk. People are getting picky about the quality of pictures required for a record! The hippie era birders never have the “courage” to publically discuss concerns but rely on whisper campaigns.
    3. Warbler. A British birder and two Hong Kong birders question whether this is a River Warbler and suggest Chinese Bush Warbler Locustella tacsanowskia. .

    • Tim Birder

      As for the warbler, the thread quickly dismisses the possibility of Chinese Bush Warbler because the primary projection is much too long for that species.

  • John Gluth

    In the opening paragraph you make reference to Hurricane IRENE (2011) as influencing the appearance of the SC American Flamingo. Shouldn’t that be IRMA?

    • Whoops. You’re right. Those I names turned me around. I’ll fix when I get a chance.
      Sent from my phone

  • Steve Shultz

    I believe the NC swift was seen on Saturday, October 7 (unless the date indicated by the observer on the photo was incorrect). Nate did not make landfall in the United States until October 8, and the remnants passed west of NC on the 9th, so the appearance of the bird on the 7th was not likely due to the influence of the (weak) storm, which was in the middle of the Gulf at the time of the sighting (see link to weather map from date of sighting)

    As to the apparent white on the forehead…. the photos are of such poor quality that attempting to discern whether that pixel is a white forehead, or something else, is probably more conjecture than not. The observer did not mention any plumage details other than an overall dark bird. I think it’s human nature to want to neatly box sighting to the species level, but one has to wonder how much of our “science” is more assigning probability than actual diagnostic evidence?

    I too suspect this is Common Swift, as do folks in the UK I sent the photos to, but the point is not what this bird is or is not, it’s how much do we as birders allow assumption, probability and peer influence, along with the naturally human trait of wanting to positively categorize what we see, to influence what we accept as diagnostic
    . I too am glad that I am not on the NCBRC this year, as I would not want a first state record to be supported by only the scant evidence received so far.

    • That’s fair about the weather timing. I recall the observers saying something about Hurricane Nate being involved, but how much is not clear.
      As to an assumption being made, I don’t necessarily see that as a issue. Likelihood is, in its way, a field mark too, to be assigned as much weight as any individual birder wants to give it alongside the rest of the evidence. I think I would probably give it more weight than you might, which is fine. Your mileage may vary and all that.
      Sent from my phone

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