We enjoyed a great turnout of hawkwatchers and hawks for my hawkwatch workshop at Bradbury Mountain on the 29th as part of the 13th Annual Feathers over Freeport weekend of events.
In case you were wondering, the meteorological term for this week is “yuck.” However, despite the weather, some birds were pushing through. The storm also pushed a wreck of Red and Red-necked Phalaropes to the coast, and with reports of some very early arrivals and vagrant southern birds, there seems to be a rather widespread displacement/overshoot event caused by this massive and stubborn upper-level low rotating over the great lakes. I didn’t get out very much to help prove or disprove this, but I did have some decent birding this week. While migrants overall made very slow gains, I did have my best morning of spring so far this year…right in our yard!
My observations of note over the past seven days included:
1 Evening Grosbeak, Bowie Hill Road, Durham, 5/1 (with Jeannette).
3 Lesser Scaup, Sabattus Pond, 5/1.
6 species of warblers led by 50+ Yellow-rumped and 5-10 Palm, but also including 3 Pine, 2 Black-and-white (FOY), 1 Black-throated Green (FOY), and 1 Northern Parula (FOY), our property in Durham, 5/2. After corresponding with other local birders, I believe this was a localized, light fall-out caused by an isolated, dense fog bank that was centered around Lewiston-Auburn. Florida Lake Park, only about 9 miles away to the southeast, was nearly devoid of migrants for example (fide N. Gibb).
1 Red Crossbill, Littlefield Woods Preserve, Chebeague Island, 5/4 (with Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust tour group).
7 Evening Grosbeaks, our feeders in Durham, 5/5.
My other personal FOY’s this week also included:
1 Greater Yellowlegs, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 4/30.
1 Black-bellied Plover, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 4/30.
1 RUSTY BLACKBIRD, our property in Durham, 5/2 through present.
6 Lesser Yellowlegs, Rte 136, Durham, 5/2
1 Least Sandpiper, Rte 136, Durham, 5/2
1 Baltimore Oriole, our feeders in Durham, 5/2 through present.
2 Gray Catbirds, feeders here at the store, 5/3 through present.
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Chebeague Island, 5/4 (with Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust tour group).
5 Laughing Gulls, Indian Point Preserve, 5/4 (with Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust tour group).
3 Eastern Towhees, Indian Point Preserve, 5/4 (with Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust tour group).
1 BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, Indian Point Preserve, 5/4 (with Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust tour group).
1 Great Egret, Cousin’s River Marsh, Yarmouth/Freeport, 5/4 (yeah, it’s been a while since I have been to Scarborough Marsh!)
Despite a few wintery days this week, spring is most definitely in the air. As I have finally seemed to have turned the corner with my dreadfully slow recovery, I am also getting out a lot more. Therefore, with more to report, and more changes week-to-week, I’ll try to get back into my old habit of weekly posts here.
Observations of note over the past seven days:
increasing number of blackbirds
first trickle of migrant sparrows
1 SNOW GOOSE, our property in Durham, 3/27.
increasing number and diversity of waterfowl inland.
1 Tree Swallow (FOY), Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch, 3/31.
Despite only getting out into the field twice this week, I enjoyed some good birding. For now, my birding remains primarily feeder- and yard-watching, but this week, it was more evenly split between our feeders at home in Durham and here at the store in Freeport. Blackbird flocks are officially “in” and several species of sparrows are on the move.
At home, Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds are now present daily, in varying numbers (between 4 and 56 and between 3 and 26, respectively), with one or two Brown-headed Cowbirds on most days. Similarly, at the store, small flocks of Common Grackles come and go, but 7 Red-winged Blackbirds are more consistent. One Brown-headed Cowbird made only one appearance here.
A Fox Sparrow that arrived last Friday departed on Tuesday night, and a second Song Sparrow arrived this week. Dark-eyed Juncos continue, with fewer by week’s end. However, a third White-throated Sparrow arrived on the 30th. Here at the store, four Song Sparrows continue, and 2 American Tree Sparrows arrived on the 26th– surprisingly our first two of the entire winter.
At both locations, breeding activity is heating up, too, with more territorial and courtship behaviors observed each day.
The yard highlight, however, was the Snow Goose – Yard Bird #125! -I spotted passing low over our yard on the 27th. While I didn’t technically see it from bed, I did get out of bed – where I was doing some of my physical therapy exercises to look at a large group of geese passing overhead. You may not be surprised to know that we have a pair of binoculars in every room, which is a good thing, as I was able to pull out the lone Snow from a flock of about 75 Canadas.
Speaking of binoculars, I need to take a moment to plug my Zeiss SFL 8×40’s. I fell in love with them when they came out last year, and I was very thankful for them when my shoulder was in pain. They’re just so incredibly lightweight, but I have found minimal tradeoff in brightness, color, etc. Since I am still a one-armed birder, they have been absolutely critical for my ability to look at birds when out and about now. Great balance combined with the light weight just makes them perfect for holding steady with one hand. I do need to rebuild my stamina, however, as there has been a lot of atrophy of field birding muscles over the last 2+ months!
Anyway, back to waterfowl….another highlight this week was the arrival of Wood Ducks in our backyard. A pair have been frequenting a vernal pool we can see from the house for the last few days, and Jeannette spotted them sitting in the trees just off of our porch on the 29th. Three more drakes are frequenting a pond across the street, where a pair of American Wigeon (my first of the spring) plopped in on the 30th).
Finally this week, I was able to get back up to the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch for a couple of hours on Friday. A few raptors were on the move (much less than we expected given the conditions), but I did pick up my first Eastern Phoebe and Tree Swallow of the year. Later that afternoon, another phoebe was staking out a territory around our house.
Quite likely the same individual that was first found in Portland before relocating to Thornhurst Farm in North Yarmouth, this Barnacle Goose was found on North River Road in Auburn on the 22nd. Dan Nickerson and I caught up with it two days later, here, on the 24th.
This (Two) Week’s Highlights:
Birding in Kentucky with the Beckham Bird Club
Changes at the feeding station.
Bradbury Mountain Spring Hawkwatch gets underway!
American Woodcocks are going wild!
2 Brown-headed Cowbirds (FOY), our feeders in Durham, 3/17 (with Dan Nickerson)
2 Common Grackles (FOY), our feeders in Durham, 3/18.
3 displaying American Woodcocks (FOY), our property in Durham, 3/18.
1 continuing BARNACLE GOOSE, North River Road, Auburn, 3/24 (with Dan Nickerson).
1 Fox Sparrow (FOY), our feeders in Durham, 3/24.
In contrast to my previous 8 weeks (summarized here and here), this period began with actual birding…in Kentucky! I had the pleasure and honor of giving a presentation at the Annual Meeting of the venerable Beckham Bird Club of Louisville. It was my first time birding beyond Greater Durham in two months; a most welcome change of scenery. But I must say, flying with a recovering shoulder really kinda sucks.
My new Kentucky state list kicked off on the morning of the 14th thanks to a local birding tour from Andrew Melnykovych. Starting at his patch, the Grand Allie section of Beckley Creek Park, I started to familiarize myself with the local wintering avifauna. I enjoyed revisiting with Carolina Chickadees in particular, with Black Vultures joining Turkey Vultures overhead. The weather didn’t feel like it, but I was definitely in the South!
That evening, I spoke to over 100 people at the banquet, offering my program about the Morning Flight at Sandy Point to describe concepts and techniques described in my first book, How to Be a Better Birder.
The following morning, I joined club members on a birdwalk to the delightful Anchorage Trail in the nearby town of Anchorage. Passing through a variety of habitats on an easy, paved, two-mile trail, we spent the morning slowly working through the various species we encountered (43 I believe was the official tally). Being from Maine, it was nice to hear Eastern Phoebes (overwintering and/or returning migrants), oodles of Carolina Wrens, and a nice variety of ducks in the pond: one Green-winged with a half-dozen Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Gadwall, Hooded Mergansers, Gadwall, Ring-necked Ducks, and Mallards (photo above). I also enjoyed the woodpecker sweep: Downy and Hairy, Pileated and Red-bellied, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Northern Flickers.
While it will be a little while longer before our Saturday Morning Birdwalks return, it was sure nice to get out in the field on a pleasant (by Maine standards that is!) early spring morning to help folks see some birds!
But then it was back to my usual routine. Arriving at home at 1:30am on Thursday the 16th, it wasn’t exactly an early start to my window-watching day, however. Not surprisingly, I spent less time looking out at our feeding station over that week than I have at any point over the past two months. Being out of town for three days coupled with a few visits to the store and lots of physical therapy resulted in fewer hours spent evaluating feeder bird numbers. Sharp-shinned Hawk presence didn’t help either, with our adult male continuing.
This continuing adult male continues to wreak havoc at the feeders, but my consistent observation this winter has offered me insight into this species’ natural history.
Nonetheless, there were plenty of changes in species composition and quantity noticed this week. We only received about 5-6 inches of snow here in Durham as temperatures hovered around the freezing mark for most of the day on the 14th, preventing accumulation until the late afternoon. In fact, there was less snow on the ground two days after the storm than there was the day before the storm (that was far from true for most of the state, however.
Not surprisingly, there were fewer Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows this week. Three Red-winged Blackbirds are regular, while the high counts of Northern Cardinals and Eastern Bluebirds continued to decline as territories began to be established and enforced. We also saw a noticeable decrease in the size of our American Goldfinch flock this week. Then, in the afternoon, my first two Brown-headed Cowbirds of the year (in Maine, that is) appeared.
The following week was much more spring-like, and the avian changes were even more evident. At least here in Durham, and changes to species composition and quantities are happening fast now.
Natural food is becoming more available as the snow recedes and the first “new” food sources emerge. A new uptick in American Goldfinches to 45 on 3/23 saw most of the birds spending most of their time eating aspen buds. Although a Pileated Woodpecker remains in the area, I did not see it visit the feeders once this week. We still have 8-12 Dark-eyed Juncos around, but they are often dispersed under brush away from the feeders. Our overwintering male Red-bellied Woodpecker, pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches, and our Carolina Wren have also spent considerably less time at the feeders this week. And not a single House Finch.
The last of our two American Tree Sparrows of the winter departed on the 17th, but a presumably new bird – a migrant – was at the feeders on the 21st through the end of the week. Our first Song Sparrow of the year arrived on the 18th and has been under the feeders since. Two White-throated Sparrows continue as well, and our first Fox Sparrow of the year appeared in the evening on the 24th.
While one Brown Creeper has been regular in the trees immediately behind the feeding station for a couple of weeks now, we now have a pair, and on the 23rd I spotted one of them creeping on the ground under a hulled sunflower tube. I didn’t see it eat anything, so I won’t count it on the feeder list quite yet, but I can see its bravery increasing.
Red-winged Blackbirds are now here to stay, with 2-3 territorial birds occasionally joined by migrants (high of 14 on the 21st), while we had Brown-headed Cowbirds (1-2) on two days this week. After our first two Common Grackles of the year briefly visited on the 18th, a flock of 22 dropped by on the 21st.Also on the 21st, we had 2 Pine Siskins – our first here since January 21st. I also spotted our first Turkey Vulture over the yard this year later that day.
Meanwhile, my yard-listing gears shifted from sorting through commuting gulls to commuting geese. With growing numbers of Canada Geese beginning to arrive starting on the 17th, flocks would often be visible from the window and over our yard as they commute between the Androscoggin River and local fields.
Our suspicion that the area right around our house would be a perfect place for displaying American Woodcocks was confirmed on the first warm and calm night of the spring: 3 birds displaying closely and vociferously right over our driveway on the 18th with two displaying and one silent fly-by (a female?) on the 22nd. Speaking of American Woodcocks, our first tour of the season is right around the corner: Woodcocks Gone Wild at Pineland Farms is only a week away!
Another sure sign that spring really is here, the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch kicked off on March 15th as usual, albeit delayed by 2 hours as the last of the precipitation cleared. It absolutely pains me that I cannot be up there, but thankfully Zane Baker has returned for his 5th season as Official Counter. While Jeannette and I will be up there much less than usual for a while longer at least, we know the count is in great hands!
I did, however, make a cameo on the 20th, spending an hour and a half to test drive my stamina. A handful of migrant raptors were spotted, and I was rewarded for the effort with a flock of 6 Northern Pintails flying by. This was my personal 144th species at Bradbury Mountain State Park, and we believe a first record for the Hawkwatch -and therefore the park itself!
Speaking of appearances, Jeannette and I appeared on Newscenter Maine’s 207 last week, discussing birds, bird feeding, and the changing climate and bird populations. Check it out!
I think my friend Dan Nickerson took pity on me – or was just tired of reading about our feeder birds? – so he was kind enough to pick me up and take me birding for the morning on the 24th for some local birding. It was great to get out, and I was most appreciative. And what a day we had!
We worked our way up the Androscoggin River, finding one 1st-winter Iceland Gull still at the Auburn Riverwalk and some new arrivals at the south end of North River Road in Auburn, including the boat launch area: a total of 10 Ring-necked Ducks and 3 Double-crested Cormorants (both being my first of the year in Maine), and off the boat launch, a small flock of 5 Lesser Scaup with one female Greater Scaup hanging out with them. The first of our three Ring-necked Ducks joined them briefly.
Further up the road, we looked for a previously-reported Barnacle Goose in the farm fields, but we couldn’t find it. There were a goodly number of Canada Geese around though, and with birds in and out of gulleys and presumably moving back and forth from the river, we decided to check back later.
We looked for Snow Buntings and the like along Upper Street in Turner, kept an eye out for frugivores, and then paid the Lower Street Harris’s Sparrow a visit. I saw this bird back on January 13th, but it was too good of a bird to not see again. When it immediately popped out of its favored bush, Dan got a life bird and I enjoyed a nice long view (but not so much photographs with one hand in a cold and gusty wind!).
We then returned to North River Road where I spotted the Barnacle Goose immediately this time. We savored this sighting – Dan’s second lifer in an hour! – and photographs were more successful (see above). We decided to celebrate with Thai food and broke for an early lunch as my shoulder was starting to whine a little about all of this excitement and activity. Thai food made everything better though, as it usually does.
Hopefully, I have finally turned the corner on my slow recovery, and next week will feature a little more time in the field and at the store, but for now, I will continue to track feeder birds in between.
It’s been a crazy two weeks! Other than two wonderful weekends on Monhegan – personal and professional – and an incredibly Sandy Point Morning Flight last week, my birding has been seriously limited. With the weather pattern and so many rarities around, this was frustrating, but as of today, we have (mostly) completed our move from Pownal to Durham.
Monhegan Island, 9/22-9/26. Highlights included 1 LARK SPARROW, 6 LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS, 3 CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS, 2 DICKCISSELS, 1 ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, 16 species of warblers, and an insane falcon show. Complete Tour Report and daily checklist here.
Sandy Point Morning Flight, 9/29: 6,183 migrants of 69 species highlighted by 1 BLUE GROSBEAK, 20 species of warblers, and my 195th all-time patch bird in 2 high-flying Little Blue Herons! It was a great enough day to deserve its own blog, which can be found here.
1 Brown Thrasher, here at the store, 9/29. Our second ever in the garden here.
Pownal Morning Flight, 9/30: 289 individuals of 29 species. Complete list here. Our last morning flight at our old property, with a final yard list of 136.
Monhegan Island, 9/30-10/2 with Jeannette. We were here for a friends’ event, so birding was not always the priority. Nonetheless, we had some good birds included the continuing juvenile RED-HEADED WOODPECKER, at least one continuing CLAY-COLORED SPARROW and DICKCISSEL, 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker, our first coastal Pine Siskin of the fall, a late Veery, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in every apple tree, warblers on the ground, and a big Yellow-rumped Warbler morning flight on the 1st.
Unlike last week, I was out birding plenty this week, including some of my favorite fall activities: Sandy Point and sorting through shorebirds. Here are my observations of note over the past seven days:
Morning flight over our Pownal yard, 9/10: 6:15-7:30am: 250+ warblers of at least 10 species, led by 40++ Northern Parulas and including 1 Bay-breasted and 2++ Cape May Warbler.
“Zeiss Day” Hakwatch right here at the store, 9/10 (with Rich Moncrief): 95 individuals of 11 species of raptors led by 21 Ospreys and 18 Broad-winged Hawks. Full count here.
20-25 Common Nighthawks, over our yard in Pownal at dusk, 9/10, and 5-10 on 9/11.
6 Northern Waterthrushes, 6 Swainson’s Thrushes, etc, Capisic Pond Park, Portland, 9/11 (with Down East Adventures Fall Songbird Workshop group).
It was a slow start to the week with just a trickle of migrants arriving from the weekend through the storm system on Wednesday. However, a successful twitch, and a couple of light flights overnight made for a great week of spring birding. Of course, there was also another successful Feathers Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend on Saturday and Sunday. Even though they didn’t produce any birds of note, it was a wonderful weekend full of birdwatching highlights. Photos will be posted soon, while the summary of our morning birdwalks is posted here.
My observations of note over the past seven days included:
1 SANDHILL CRANE (Finally, my FOY after missing a bunch of them at the watch this year), Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch, 5/1.
Persistent winds from unfavorable directions precluded a big push of migrants this week, but the season is slowly progressing. There were a couple of decent nights of migration this week, on Sunday and Monday nights. My observations of note over the past seven days included:
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (FOY), our yard in Pownal, 4/23.
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Cape Elizabeth Greenbelt Trail, 4/25 (with Jeannette).
My personal highlights over the past six were as follows. Not surprisingly, it was mostly first-of-year new arrivals. The new bird for my Bradbury Mountain list, however, was definitely more of a surprise!
3 male and 1 female NORTHERN SHOVELERS (FOY), 100+ Greater and 10+ Lesser Scaup, 1 drake American Wigeon, 1 Bonaparte’s Gull (FOY), etc, Wharton Point, Brunswick, 3/19 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
4 Horned Larks and 1 American Wigeon, Highland Road, Brunswick, 3/19 (with Saturday Morning Birdwalk group).
2 Eastern Meadowlarks (FOY) and 5 Brown-headed Cowbirds (FOY), Chesley Hill Road, Durham, 3/20.
1 Great Blue Heron (FOS), Cousin’s River Marsh, 3/20.
4 American Kestrels (FOY), Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch, 3/20.
1 adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, fly-by at the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch, 3/20 (with Zane Baker). This was my 142nd all-time Bradbury Mountain State Park species!
20 Ring-necked Ducks (FOY), 2 American Wigeon, etc, Mouth of the Abagadasset River, Bowdoinham, 3/21 (with Jeannette).
6 Fish Crows (FOY), Maine Mall Road, 3/22.
6 Brant, Kettle Cove, Cape Elizabeth, 3/22.
7+ American Woodcocks, Pownal, 3/23 (with Jeannette).
The Blizzard of 2022 provided some great opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing locally for the first time this winter, so I took full advantage of that, even if it did further limit my dedicated birding during this busy week plus. Interestingly, my most “serious” birding was a half day (post-snowblowing and shoveling) on Sunday searching Portland through Cape Elizabeth for storm-related birds, but that effort turned up nothing at all of note! Here are my observations of note over the past 9 days:
5 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, 2 COMMON REDPOLLS (FOY), 6 Pine Siskins (FOY), and 1 Purple Finch, Long Falls Dam Road area of Carrying Place Township, 1/31 (with Jeannette).
The Androscoggin River between the downtowns of Lewiston and Auburn remain a surprisingly productive mid-winter hotspot. On 2/1, Jeannette and I discovered an incredible (especially for the interior of Maine) five species of dabblers from the Auburn Riverwalk! Amongst the Mallards and a couple of American Black Ducks, there were single female GREEN-WINGED TEAL, AMERICAN WIGEON, and NORTHERN PINTAIL. Making this even more interesting is the fact that it’s usually the drakes that we find overwintering in Maine. Additionally, the drake RING-NECKED DUCK continues, and we had a single 1st-winter Iceland Gull. Two Bufflehead and 5 Hooded Mergansers joined the usual Common Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers for a goodly inland total of 10 species of waterfowl. A unusually conspicuous Beaver continues to amuse here as well.
3 drake and 1 hen BARROW’S GOLDENEYES and 8 Dunlin (FOW here), Winslow Park, Freeport, 2/13.
My article – a 13-page photo salon – on the Hybrid Herons of Scarborough Marsh (Patches!) has finally been published in the most recent issue of North American Birds. In it, I lay out the theory that at least 5 different individuals have been seen in Scarborough Marsh since I first found an odd juvenile heron in July of 2012 that we now believe is a hybrid between a Snowy Egret and a Tricolored Heron.
I made the case that the two current birds are backcrosses, one with a Snowy Egret (SNEG X TRHE X SNEG) and the other with a Little Egret (SNEG X TRHE X LIEG). I’ll be watching them carefully for the potential of a developing hybrid swarm.
Unfortunately, at this time, the journal is only available online to members of the ABA. However, digital e-memberships (with access to all of the ABA publications) are only $30 a year, and you can purchase issues of the magazine directly from the ABA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you wanted to take a peek at the article, I do have a couple of extra copies here at the store for you to peruse.
Believe it or not, a hybrid heron is much rarer than a Steller’s Sea-Eagle, at least from a world perspective…in fact, it’s possible these birds are one of a kind!
On Saturday, July 31st, 2021, Jeannette and I were sitting on our back porch in Pownal sharing a beer in our usual after work beer o’clock/feeder and yard bird watch. We almost skipped it, however. We were leaving for a trip the next day and had yet to pack, the mosquitoes have been annoying, and besides, the Olympics were on. But I said “It’s my birthday and I can have a beer on the porch if I want to!”
We were enjoying our beverage while watching the constant activities of baby woodpeckers learning the ropes at the suet and nut feeders, and the aerial acrobatics and constant combat of hummingbirds. I’ve worked hard at increasing our hummingbird population with feeders, of course, but more importantly a near-constant source of natural nectar throughout the season. We have been rewarded in our efforts with two nesting females almost every year, and a constant stream of adult males. And now juveniles were about to fledge, adding to that activity.
It was about 7:00pm when I was enthralled with a particularly aggressive dogfight in the red Bee Balm. And then I basically did a spit-take when one of the combatants flashed rufous in its tail.
A SELASPHOROUS HUMMINGBIRD!!!!
I scrambled for the binoculars, Jeannette raced for her camera, and Bonxie wondered what all of the commotion was about and why we were disturbing his chipmunk watching.
We observed and photographed it for over an hour, finally retiring inside for dinner at about 8:15 when the hummingbird activity shut down for the evening. Emails were sent and calls were made.
Here are Jeannette’s best photos from the evening:
It was already getting dark, it was tough to observe details, and her shutter speed was too slow to capture motion: and we really needed to see the spread-tail to have hopes of identifying this inordinately tricky genus.
We decided to invite a handful of folks over to our yard the next morning to share in our excitement over this special backyard visitor. We also hoped to have more long lenses pointed at that tail!
Studying the books and reviewing the photos – along with soliciting some input from other birders – it became readily clear that this was an adult female (based on overall wear and throat pattern) Rufous or Allen’s Hummingbird. We systematically eliminated the other members of the genus, and saw nothing suggestive of the even less likely Allen’s. But this is one of the most challenging species-pairs in North America, depending on the age and sex.
The next morning, 6 people joined us on the porch, and luckily, our bird showed up. And eventually, showed up really, really, well! Unlike the previous evening however, where she spent prolonged periods at the feeder, she rarely lingered at any one flower or feeder for long before be driven off by one of the resident Ruby-throats (at least two adult males, 2 adult females, and either another female or a juvenile were all present and protecting their resources). Plenty of photos were taken, but we had not yet seen the tail pattern clearly.
Jeannette and I really needed to go pack now, and so we left the hummingbird watchers to themselves. Eventually, Bonxie went off to camp, I packed the car, and soon it was time for us to depart. Luckily, Ethan and Ingrid remained vigilant as Ethan finally acquired those critical tail shots:
His arrows point to the critical R2, the 2nd tail feather from the center on each half of the tail. On most – but not all – adult female Rufous Hummingbirds, there is an emargination (often called a “nipple tip”) which is not present on Allen’s Hummingbird. Unfortunately, this birds tail is worn – not surprising at this time of year – and the exact original pattern is just impossible to deduce.
We are therefore left with less-reliable set of field marks and circumstances. Often, the fallback here is to band and measure it, but we decided not to consider that unless she was still present when we returned.
So this is what we have:
Tail feathers, including R5, look “wide enough” to be a Rufous. This is pretty subjective visually, however, and usually takes in-hand measurements to confirm.
Limited rufous in the uppertail coverts as expected on Rufous.
Overall wear and fading of plumage is rather minimal; most Allen’s Hummingbirds would look very worn and likely really tattered by now.
The circumstantial evidence is also quite strong:
Rufous Hummingbirds are early long-distance migrants who are on the move in the west by now. Breeding as far north as southeastern Alaska, Rufous Hummingbirds have a pattern of fairly regular vagrancy to the East in late summer. Allen’s does not.
The only New England record of Allen’s Hummingbird is from Nantucket on 8/26/1988 (Massachusetts Avian Records Committee). Admittedly, that is only a month later (I was surprised to learn!).
The next closest records are seven in New Jersey (mostly from Cape May) that all were first found between September 3rd and November 14.
Of course, the preponderance of unconfirmed/unidentifiable “Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbirds” records clouds the judgment of this pattern of occurrence a little.
We already had scheduled someone to take care of our feeders while we were gone, and when he did so on 8/4, he did not see our Selasphorous. We returned home in the evening of 8/8, and sugar water was still available and our meadow of Wild Bergamot was now in full bloom. But alas, our visitor was not present. There were plenty of Ruby-throats still buzzing around – perhaps one less adult male and one more juvenile now, but not surprisingly, our vagrant had continued on, whether by choice or by force.
Now if she was still here, we would have pondered opening our yard up to visitors (not visible from the road, let alone a public one) and perhaps arranging for a bander to visit and attempt to capture her for measurements. But alas, these are the best shots and information we have to work with at this time.
So I am still soliciting comments, but personally, I think this bird is a Rufous Hummingbird. While we might not have absolute conclusive proof, I see absolutely nothing to suggest Allen’s so for me, I am happy with the most probable identification and Rufous Hummingbird is our 133rd Yard Bird!
And after 16 years here, our backyard has finally attracted a bona fide vagrant (although the two Hoary Redpolls were pretty great as well). I just wish her timing was a little better. Then again, she could have shown up the next day and we would have never known! Nevertheless, it was a wonderful birthday present!
Thanks to Michael O’Brien and Paul Lehman for helpful comments on the bird’s suspected identity, and especially to Ethan Whitaker for the diagnostic (or nearly so?) photos.
Howell, Steve N.G. 2002. Hummingbirds of North America: The Photographic Guide. Princeton University Press: Princeton and Oxford.
West, George C. 2015. North American Hummingbirds: An Identification Guide. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque.
Williamson, Sheri L. 2001 Hummingbirds of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company: New York and Boston.