Fifteenth ARCC Report

By Jay Kaplan and Greg Hanisek

In the Fourteenth Report of the Avian Records Committee of Connecticut (see April 2009 Vol. 29 No.2 of The Connecticut Warbler), two new species, Slaty-backed Gull and Broad-billed Hummingbird, were added to Connecticut’s State List. This year, another species, Western Meadowlark, was accepted to the list bringing the state total to 424 birds.

As discussed in recent ARCC reports, advances in digital photography have, in one sense, made the committee’s work somewhat easier because, as the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, maybe…. It is still imperative that written documentation accompanies photographic submissions. Details concerning rare sightings provide a much fuller accounting and valuable information that cannot be inferred from photos alone. It should be emphasized that all records submitted to the committee are archived for use by future generations of Connecticut ornithologists and birders. The maintenance of older records can be of great value as new information may shed light on records received long ago. In fact, at this time, Connecticut’s only Jackdaw report, a West Haven sighting from 1988 is being re-opened in light of new information on the appearance of this species on this side of the Atlantic. The record originally was not accepted because of origin questions. Other old records may also be re-opened and reviewed.

At a recent meeting the committee touched upon two topics that may be of interest to Connecticut birders. The first concerns the reporting of unusual subspecies or hybrids that may appear in the state. It should be noted that the committee does review such reports. In this report, one will find accepted records for “Black” Brant, a western subspecies of Brant that occurred with our familiar eastern subspecies, “Atlantic” or “Pale-bellied” Brant . Attention was also paid to a possible Glossy-x-White-faced Ibis hybrid. A committee member reported that a researcher in Arizona is currently working on how to distinguish such ibis hybrids.

A second issue of note is that the ARCC portion on the COA website has been updated and careful scrutiny will find that the Review List now includes Tufted Duck and Black-throated Gray Warbler. These species, originally on the Review List, were deleted after numerous accepted records indicated an emerging pattern of increased vagrancy of these birds to our area. Now, following a decade or more without reports for these species, the committee has determined that they should be returned to the Review List. Interestingly enough, one might note the numerous reports for Northern Wheatear found in this report. The committee will be watching carefully over the next few seasons to determine if action is warranted concerning this handsome Review List vagrant.

Finally, it should be noted that the secretary of the committee has received numerous e-mails from Connecticut birders concerning the status of the Graylag Goose reported from Wallingford in the fall of 2008. Committee members continue their investigation on the status of this species. At present, there is one accepted North American record for this goose, from an offshore oil rig near Newfoundland. At present, there have not been enough reports to suggest any pattern of occurrence for this species in New England, but the committee continues to seek input from experts in Northern Europe, Iceland and Greenland. Decisions such as this one take time and we ask for patience.

STATE LIST AND REVIEW LIST

The state list now stands at 424. The committee depends on observers to submit their reports of species on the Review List (they are species marked with an asterisk on the COA Checklist plus any species new to the state). The most recent State List and Review List can be viewed on the COA Website. Submit written reports along with documentary material to Jay Kaplan, ARCC chairman, (address below).

FORMAT

This report continues the format of previous reports. In the case of accepted records, only observers who submitted reports are listed, with the original finder listed first followed by an asterisk. Observers who submitted a photo are acknowledged with ‡ following their names. Hyphenated numbers (e.g. 02-01) preceding the observers are the ARCC file numbers. The species are listed in order according to the AOU Checklist. Multiple records of a particular species are listed chronologically. Months of the year are shortened to their first three letters.

ACCEPTED RECORDS

“BLACK” BRANT (Branta bernicla nigricans) A bird was found 10 Apr 2009 at Short Beach, Stratford (09-21 Nick Bonomo*‡, Bruce Finnan‡). The discovery, among a flock of Atlantic Brant (Branta bernicla hrota), represented a first accepted state record for this subspecies, which breeds in the western North American high Arctic and winters primarily along the West Coast. It remained through at least 13 Apr. Another individual was found on 24 Jan 2010 at Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford (10-01 Nick Bonomo*‡). It was seen through at least 30 Jan, with sightings by other observers at adjacent Waterford Beach Park and at nearby Eastern Point, Groton. There are a number of records of this form from neighboring and nearby states.

PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica) A juvenile was found on 10 Nov 2009 at Lake Quassapaug in Middlebury (09-16 Greg Hanisek*, Bruce Finnan‡, Frank Gallo‡, Frank Mantlik‡, Mark Szantyr‡, Charles Barnard). This cooperative bird remained on the lake through 26 Nov. It was seen by many observers, and the wide array of digital images obtained provided the state’s first photographic documentation for this species. There was one previous accepted sight record. The bird’s presence on the confines of a mid-sized lake facilitated the documentation that had been frustratingly elusive with a number of previous reports from Long Island Sound, where distance, lighting, weather conditions and brief appearances left room for doubt.

WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi) One was found on 30 Jul 2009 at Silver Sands State park in Milford (09-04 Frank Gallo*‡, Mark Szantyr‡, Charles Barnard). The bird, present until at least 6 Aug, was believed to be a molting adult. This is the sixth state record, with the others all occurring in spring. Of additional interest, Fran Zygmont photographed a possible hybrid White-faced X Glossy Ibis on 6 Aug 2009 at Silver Sands. Last year an adult White faced Ibis was seen in a nesting colony of Glossy Ibis in Massachusetts. The bird was seen to drop into the colony, but nesting was not confirmed. Future White-faced Ibis reports must be carefully scrutinized to eliminate hybrid birds

NORTHERN FULMAR (Fulmarus glacialis) One was observed from Stonington Point on 6 Dec 2009 (09-19 Phil Rusch*). The bird followed an incoming fishing trawler to the outer breakwater, accompanied by hundreds of gulls and about 70 Northern Gannets. The observer, a veteran of more than 30 pelagic trips, was familiar with the species, providing a written description of appearance and behavior, along with a sketch. The bird immediately reversed course when reaching the breakwater, illustrating why this and other pelagic birds remain very rare in Long Island Sound. This is a third state record, followed by a specimen taken off Branford on 10 Oct 1909 (Zeranski & Baptist) and a bird photographed from a boat off Fairfield County on 14 Sep 1997 (Connecticut Warbler, Vol. 18 No. 4)

RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicaria) One in basic plumage was seen on 20 Sep 2009 from a boat in Long Island Sound off Shippan Point, Stamford (09-06 Al Collins*). The bird was seen in flight and on the water at close range. One was found on 4 Oct 2009 swimming in the Connecticut River near the Vibert Road boat launch in South Windsor (09-07 Denise Jernigan*, Sara Zagorski*, Robert Simon‡). One of the observers pointed out the bird to the photographer, who was launching a kayak. He obtained digital images. The bird appeared to be molting from juvenile into first-winter plumage.

MEW GULL (Larus canus canus) An adult was found on 20 March 09 on the beach at Bradley Point, West Haven (09-03 Nick Bonomo*‡, Mark Szantyr‡, Frank Gallo‡). Close observation and excellent photos, including detailed shots of the spread wing, allowed identification of this individual as the nominate form from Eurasia, Canus canus canus, known as “Common” Gull, the expected subspecies in the Northeast. This represents the first photo documentation for Connecticut. Two previous sight records cited by Zeranski & Baptist date to 1965 and 1973. In neither case was subspecific identity determined.

DOVEKIE (Alle alle) One was picked up alive on 21 Dec 2009 on Tobacco Road, Lebanon (09-08 Steve Morytko‡). It was transported to Tufts University Veterinary School in Massachusetts, where it succumbed.

CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOW (Caprimulgus carolinensis) One was heard calling for about five minutes at about 5:00 a.m. on 3 May 2009 at Barn Island Wildlife Management Area in Stonington (09-18 Glen Williams*, Phil Rusch, Jim Dugan). The second observer heard the bird at about 10 p.m. and saw it silhouetted in flight.

SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER (Tyrannus forficatus) One was present 21-23 Jun 2009 at the Aspetuck Land Trust’s Trout Brook Valley Preserve in Easton (09-05 Peter Davenport*, James Dugan‡). A video tape was obtained by Dugan on 23 Jun. The bird fits the predominant pattern of occurrence. Of at least 12 state records, two are in Oct, with remainder in spring and early summer.

NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe) A female/immature male was photographed at Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison, on 4 Sep 2009 (09-11 Paul Fusco*‡). An adult male was found at Sikorsky Airport in Stratford on 5 Sep. 2009 (09-12 Mona Cavellero*, Paul Desjardins*, Julian Hough‡, Bruce Finnan‡, Mark Szantyr‡). This bird stayed through 14 Sep and was seen by many observers. Another female/immature male was found at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks on 1 Oct 2009 (09-13 Rollin Tebbets*‡). It was present through 4 Oct, a late stay for this species with a very consistent mid-Sep arrival schedule. The arrivals of the first two were a bit early. It’s worth noting that these birds were found at the three premier locations in the state for this species, with previous records at each of them.

LE CONTE’S SPARROW (Ammodramus leconteii) Two observers found one on 9 Oct 2009 on Strong Road in the Station 43 area of South Windsor (09-14 William Asteriades*, Rick Macsuga*). This secretive species is difficult to observe, but in this case it showed itself long enough to allow for a detailed description. This represents the fifth state record for a species that is probably under-reported because of its skulking nature.

WESTERN TANAGER (Piranga ludoviciana) An adult male made an unexpected visit to a backyard in Branford on 14 July 2009 (09-09 Diane Hull*‡). The observer was able to get identifiable photos, an increasingly and gratifyingly regular event given the advent of easy-to-use digital cameras. The mid-summer sighting did not fit the traditional pattern for strays from the western mountains, which are usually found in the Northeast in late fall or winter (as in the case of the Sterling bird, below). However, recently a number of vagrants from that region have been turning up in the Northeast in early to mid-summer. A female made a brief appearance on 20 Dec 2009 in the observer’s yard at 179 Main St., Sterling (09-17 Robert Dixon*, Linda Dixon‡). The bird was present for only a few minutes, but fortunately the observer and his wife were in the yard taking pictures after an 18-inch overnight snowfall. She was able to take several photos before the bird flew off.

WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta) One was found on 20 April 2009 on the model airplane field at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport (09-02 Tina Green*, Patrick Dugan‡, AJ Hand‡, Nick Bonomo‡, Mark Szantyr‡, Meredith Sampson‡). Despite the well-known difficulties this identification presents, the observer quickly notified others of her suspicions about its identity. Others were able to get photos on 20 April under difficult weather conditions. Fortunately the bird remained, in direct comparison with several Eastern Meadowlarks, through at least 25 April. This allowed for compilation of an excellent set of digital images and, crucially, a voice recording by Bonomo of the species’ blackbird-like “churk” call. Szantyr also provided color-illustrated field notes. This represents a first state record. There had been reports of one or more singing Western Meadowlarks from the Mansfield-Storrs area from 1965 to 1975, but no documentation was preserved, a situation described in detail by Clark.

RECORDS NOT ACCEPTED – ORIGIN QUESTIONABLE

TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator) Two were on Cranbury Pond, Stratford, 28 Mar – 1 April 2010 (Brian Webster*, Frank Mantlik‡, Brenda Inskeep‡; Charles Barnard). Identification was not an issue, but unlike a group of seven Trumpeter Swans that appeared in the lower Connecticut River Valley in Feb and Mar 2007, these birds lacked origin markers. The 2007 birds, seen in Deep River and Chester, bore wing tags that pinpointed their place of origin as an Ontario introduction project. An individual in Danbury in 1993 also was traced to the Ontario project. Inability to establish origin for the Stratford birds resulted in a vote not to accept. There are no proven records of wild Trumpeter Swans wandering to the Northeast in historic times, and the extent of their range and movements up to and including early European settlement remains a matter of uncertainty. Re-introduction (or introduction, depending on interpretation of the historic range) has been undertaken as far eastward as Ontario. Without wing tags or bands, it is impossible to tell if the birds came from any of these projects. Establishing their wild status is further complicated by American Birding Association rules on declaring an introduced population as naturally reproducing and established. For more information on this process, visit ABA Exotics Criteria. In this instance the establishment arguments could be considered moot because there is no way to determine the place from which these two individuals originated. Additional comment on the origin question was provided by Barnard, Jim Bair, Nick Bonomo, Jamie Meyers , Bill Yule and Mark Szantyr.

RECORDS NOT ACCEPTED

PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica) A single bird was reported off Compo Beach in Westport on 19 Oct 2007 (07-13). Following the pattern of several other Pacific Loon records that have not been accepted, this one presented itself under less than ideal conditions. The observer, who was equipped with binoculars but no telescope, had a limited amount of time, and weather conditions deteriorated before others could study the loon, which was not unequivocally relocated. However, it should be noted that a Pacific Loon was reported by another observer from nearby Sherwood Island State Park in Westport the next day. That observer, unaware of the specifics of the 19 Oct sighting, submitted a separate report that was not accepted by ARCC (2007-16, see 14 th Report of the Avian Records Committee of Connecticut, The Connecticut Warbler, Vol. 29 No. 2). It was not clear if the reports referred to the same individual, and the report on the Sherwood bird included some features suggestive of Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica).

LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus) One was reported from Windham Airport in North Windham on 20 July 2006 (09-20). An experienced observer reported the shape and structure of the bird, but distance and poor lighting conditions made a positive identification difficult. It should be noted that the only documented state record of this species, a bird photographed during the period 10-16 Jul 1995, also was from this location. Several 19 th Century specimens are mentioned in the literature, but their whereabouts are unknown (Zeranski & Baptist, 1990).

GRAY KINGBIRD (Tyrannus dominicensis) A bird believed to be this species was seen, and more importantly photographed, on 6 Sep 2009 at Greenwich Point Park in Greenwich (09-10). The photos were somewhat distant but provided enough detail to determine that the bird lacked the large, blocky head and very heavy bill of Gray Kingbird. Its structure was more suggestive of Eastern Kingbird, and plumage details pointed to a juvenile. The worn juvenile plumage offered some features suggestive of Gray Kingbird, such as lack of an obvious white tail tip and a masked appearance, but the bird’s structure, well-illustrated by the photos, did not fit that species. Coincidentally, one of the state’s two records for Gray Kingbird occurred at Greenwich Point Park on 17-18 Nov 1992.

LITERATURE CITED

Clark, George A. Jr. 1999. Birds of Storrs, Connecticut and Vicinity. Third Edition. Natchaug Ornithological Society, Mansfield Center, CT, & Joshua’s Tract Conservation and Historic Trust, Mansfield, CT.

Hanisek, Greg. 2005. Connecticut Birds By The Season. The Connecticut Warbler. Vol. 25 No. 1

Hough, Julian. 2008. Pacific Loon: Problems and Pitfalls. The Connecticut Warbler. Vol. 28 No. 1

Howell, Steve N. G. & Dunn J. Gulls of the Americas. New York, NY: T. & A. D. Poyser, 2007.

Sibley, D.A. 2000. National Audubon Society: The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Veit, Richard R., and Wayne R. Peterson. 1993. Birds of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Audubon Society, Lincoln, Mass.

Zeranski, J.D. and T.R. Baptist. 1990. Connecticut Birds. University Press of New England, Hanover, N.H.


Greg Hanisek, 175 Circuit Ave., Waterbury, CT 06708

Jay Kaplan, 71 Gracey Road, Canton, CT 06019