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Entries in rare birds (3)


a lucky turn of events

Western KingbirdFinding a new species here in Vermont, for those of us who have birded a long time, is a rare event. This past Sunday I was scheduled to lead a marsh walk for Otter Creek Audubon (click here to find out how that turned out). I attribute my good luck in finding a rare bird to that event. On Saturday I went to our local ATM to procure lunch money for the following day. There, on a bulletin board, was an ad for a program at Mt. Independence that afternoon. The subject matter was of interest to me so I proceeded over to Orwell.

Driving along the Mt. Independence Road, I was watching for whatever birds are usual there, knowing I would see and hear Purple Martins by the farm. Just about a half mile from Mt. Independence, there sat a bird on the wire. I immediately thought Stop and look at this. Something is different. As soon as I got the bird in my binoculars I knew I really had something special – a Western Kingbird! Putting the four-way flashers on, I jumped out of the car with a camera in hand and took two photos before it flew off across the field.

Had it not been for the pending field trip, I would not have gone to the ATM, learned about the program, made my way to Orwell, and found the kingbird. So thank you OCAS for this most exciting find!

[What to do if you find a rare bird? Click here.]


rara aves

Rare bird - now what? You’re out enjoying a day of birding when an unfamiliar bird pops into view. You quickly go through your mental files only to find the bird doesn’t fit anything you know. Or you know the bird, but the season is wrong (a Cape May Warbler in January, for example). Click here for the Official Vermont Checklist to find out what birds are expected and when.

a rare Ivory Gull thrilled birders in New York and Vermont last winterIf possible, take a photo. The advent of digital cameras and cell phones with cameras has been a boon to birders in recording both common and rare species. Photos can be deceptive, however, so take notes while watching the bird or immediately after. Don’t trust your memory! Be as detailed as possible, noting the overall size of the bird, shape of the bill, tail, and wings, leg and bill color, and any other prominent field marks, as well as behavior and habitat.

Don’t consult your field guide while watching the bird and note taking. Use the time instead to observe the bird and jot down all the details. If possible, and the bird hangs around, contact a birding friend to meet you for a second opinion (another advantage of cell phones).

Later, if you use eBird, you’ll get message asking you to confirm your observation when you submit your sighting. That will be a clue you might need to submit your documentation. Also, if a bird does not appear on the Vermont Field Card or is out of season, you should probably follow up to see if it should be reported.

As a member of the Records of Vermont Committee, I have reviewed many reports only to find that the person submitting the data did not include sufficient details. That doesn’t mean the bird wasn’t there. It means there wasn’t enough detail to convince the committee that the bird was not mistaken for another species.

It is important to report all potential rare or unusual species so that ornithologists and conservation biologists can track trends in bird populations. It also alerts the birding community to be on the lookout for any species that may be expanding into the area (and the opportunity to add to life lists.)

Reporting detailed documentation, known as a RSD (Rare Species Documentation), can be done online the Vermont Center of Ecostudies. Click here to find compete instructions for reporting your observation, as well as helpful hints on what makes a good report. You will also find a list of the birds that require documentation and under what circumstances. For example, Yellow-breasted Chat always requires documentation in Vermont while it’s only necessary for Pied-billed Grebes if evidence of breeding is observed.

Annually a report of the year’s rare species is published and can be accessed by clicking here. It's interesting reading. And it's a real thrill to have your report accepted.

So the next time an unusual bird comes into view, watch it like a hawk and get the details. 





exciting sparrow discovery at Pomainville WMA

On October 17, 2009 three of Vermont’s top birders Ted Murin, Craig Provost and Allan Strong reported exciting discoveries at the Pomainville Wildlife Management Area in Pittsford Le Conte's Sparrow– a Nelson’s Sparrow (formerly called the Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow, infrequently seen in Vermont), and, even rarer, a LeConte’s Sparrow. Both birds are in migration this time of year.

Rutland County Audubon is happy to include Pomainville WMA as one of its “Birding Hotspots” We have monitored the area for the past seven months, appreciating the area more with each visit. Thanks to the generosity of landowner Edward Pomainville, Jr., and the combined efforts of Ducks Unlimited, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Vermont Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Pomainville WMA preserves a wonderful tract of wetland and upland habitats along the Otter Creek.  While none of the birds found reach the level of excitement as a LeConte’s or Nelson’s sparrow, RCAS and others have recorded 99 species there. This includes Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren and nesting Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Yellow-throated Vireos.

The recent sparrow report highlights two important things. First is the value of conserved land. It provides places for many species (butterflies, mammals, plants, amphibians and reptiles as well as birds) that have specific habitat needs. And at the same time we have the opportunity to visit these wonderful public places and connect with nature.

Second, unless we get out and look, we may miss birds that either travel through during migration or stay here to nest. Who knows what birds may be here and when simply because we haven’t bothered to check? To quote Aldo Leopold “the first rule of an intelligent tinkerer is to keep all the pieces.” So if want to preserve what is important to us, and we don’t look, we won’t know what those pieces are. In this case the pieces are birds.

One more reason to bird locally! Thanks to Ted, Craig, and Allan for finding and reporting these sparrows!