Nineteenth ARCC Report
By Jay Kaplan and Greg Hanisek
This is the 19th report of the Avian Records Committee of Connecticut (ARCC).
With the help of numerous board members, as well as students and staff from the University of Connecticut, all previous paper records and reports have now been archived at the university in Storrs in digital form. Additional work remains to be completed with regard to organizing the files and more recent digital reports prior to making them available to the public. However, there is now light at the end of what has been a very long tunnel, and the authors appreciate the efforts of all those who were involved with this project.
In the last report (see the Eighteenth Report of the Avian Records Committee of Connecticut, Vol. 33 No. 2), it was noted that in spite of the severity of “superstorm” Sandy in late October of 2012, no new birds were added to Connecticut’s State List. This year four birds were added, bringing the State List to 435. One of these birds has not been observed in the state over the past two decades, while another has not been seen in Connecticut since the 19th century.
As discussed in previous reports, the Avian Records Committee welcomes the opportunity to view what are termed “historical” records, including records that may be one hundred or more years old. One such record is that of a Fieldfare, an Old World thrush. A specimen, tracked down at Chicago’s Field Museum by former committee member Louis Bevier, was labeled Stratford, Connecticut where the bird was reportedly collected in 1878. It is often difficult to find additional information on these long ago specimens, and committee members have voted to accept the bird with the addendum “origin uncertain.” At that time, birds were heavily collected and specimens were often traded, sold and bartered as young boys of a later generation might have done with prized baseball cards. While Bevier found compelling evidence that the bird was of wild origin, this cannot be known with 100% certainty, hence the “origin uncertain” appellation.
A second bird from years past is a Jackdaw that was found in West Haven in 1988. Although this bird’s identity was never in question, the committee at that time felt that a leg injury suggested captive origin. During that period, there were a number of Jackdaw records from the Northeast, but little was known about Jackdaws and their movements. Over the years, more information on these birds has been compiled, and members of the committee, led by Frank Gallo, reviewed all of it, including the notation of a Jackdaw with an injured leg from Maine. Based on new evidence, the Jackdaw was accepted to the state list. Older files may be re-opened by a request from a committee member should new information become available, even if it happens many years later.
The other new additions to the State List are from 2013: a Brown Booby that alighted on boats in the western part of Long Island Sound and a Black-chinned Hummingbird that visited a yard in Fairfield for more than a week, allowing a large contingent of birders to view, photograph, and take notes on its feeding behaviors and flight patterns.
Of the many records reviewed by the committee this year, one record that was not accepted is noteworthy for the unusual circumstances surrounding it. A Le Conte’s Sparrow, or rather a portion of a Le Conte’s Sparrow, was retrieved from a Connecticut airport. Subsequent DNA analysis provided the identification, but there was no method of determining where the bird collided with the aircraft during this flight that originated out of state.
At its meeting, the committee stood at nine active members, and bylaws allow for 10 to 12. The committee moved that Jacob Musser of New Haven and Phil Rusch of Chaplin be added. At its April meeting the COA Board confirmed the nominations as per ARCC bylaws. Members, in addition to the authors, who voted on records in this report were Nick Bonomo, Frank Gallo, Julian Hough, Frank Mantlik, Dave Provencher, Dave Tripp and Glenn Williams. Former members Janet Mehmel and Mark Szantyr also voted on some of the records.
STATE LIST AND REVIEW LIST
The state list now stands at 435 species, with the addition of Brown Booby, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Jackdaw and Fieldfare. 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).
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. For reopened files, an “R” follows the 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.
PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica) One flew by Stonington Point on 30 Oct 2012 as “superstorm” Sandy approached. The observer, familiar with the species, included a sketch and field notes with his report (12-25 Tom Auer*). Connecticut’s first spring bird, molting into alternate plumage, was found on 18 May 2013 at the Oyster River mouth in West Haven (13-17 Frank Gallo*‡, Frank Mantlik‡). It was last seen on 20 May at Bradley Point, West Haven. An adult in basic plumage was seen on 4 Jan 2014 from a ferry inside the mouth of the Thames River between New London and Groton (14-09 Shaibal S. Mitra*). The observer, who provided a copy of his field notes, has extensive experience with the species in New York and Rhode Island waters.
WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophoros occidentalis) One was seen and identifiably photographed off Mulberry Point, Guilford, on 29-30 Apr 2013 (13-13 Sol Satin,* Ann Peterson‡). There are two previous accepted records since the 1978 split of the taxon that elevated Clark’s Grebe (Aechmophoros clarkii) to species status. Records prior to the split do not include sufficient detail to assign them to a species.
BROWN BOOBY (Sula leucogaster) One landed on an oyster boat off Westport on 23 May 2013 and was relocated later in the day off Norwalk, where it landed on boats including one piloted by one of the birders trying to find the bird (13-25 Patricia Rauscher,‡* Nick Bonomo‡, Larry Flynn‡, T. Wetmore‡). The bird was assessed from photos to be a female at least 2.5 years old based on molt and soft part colors (Peter Pyle, personal communication). An unexplained increase in reports north of the species’ normal range has resulted in at least 15 reports in the last five years from New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Ontario. There was only one in the five years before that. This represents the first documented state record. However, one was reported to have been collected in Guilford in the 19th century (Sage et al. 1913). There is no specific date associated with the report, although it was prior to 1843, and the whereabouts or existence of a specimen is unknown. It was excluded from the original state records committee report for lack of evidence, and Zeranski & Baptist (1990) also found its documentation insufficient.
YELLOW RAIL (Coturnicops noveboracensis) An experienced observer flushed one from salt marsh at Barn Island Wildlife Management Area in Stonington on 17 Nov 2013 (13-19 Tom Auer*). The written description was supported by a sketch of the bird in flight showing the white inner secondaries.
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus) Two were found and photographed from a kayak by a single observer on 20 Jun 2013 on the west-facing sandy shore at Great Island in Old Saybrook (13-18 Dave Lester*‡).
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla) An adult was seen on 12 Jan 2013 on the New London to Orient, N.Y., ferry route (13-12 Patricia J. Lindsay,* Shaibal S. Mitra*). Two experienced observers who regularly travel this route provided a good description as well as documenting the bird’s presence in Connecticut waters.
MEW GULL (Larus canus) An adult in basic plumage was found on 30 Jan 2014 on the Housatonic River below the Shepaug Dam in Southbury (14-07 Patrick Comins,*‡ Frank Mantlik‡). It was seen sporadically through at least 2 Feb. Features including wing tip pattern, mantle color and head streaking are indicative of the European nominate subspecies, L. c. canus. This is the state’s second photo-documented record.
THAYER’S GULL (Larus thayeri) A first-cycle bird was found and extensively photographed on 24 Jan 2014 at the Windsor-Bloomfield landfill, the site of a number of rare gull discoveries since it became the last garbage dump accessible to the state’s birders (14-01 Patrick Comins*‡). Identification requires careful assessment of a subtle array of plumage and structural characters, a process greatly aided by a photo array.
SANDWICH TERN (Thalasseus sandvicensis) A dead hatch-year bird was picked up on the beach at Milford Point in late Aug or early Sep 2005 and taken to Yale Peabody Museum for preparation as a specimen – YPM 141912 (13-16 Frank Gallo*‡). This record had never been entered in the ARCC archive, so Gallo prepared a report that included multiple photos of the specimen. The report includes details on the likely age of the bird, as well as noting that the solid dark base of the tertials and inner wing coverts is consistent with the North American race T. s. acuflavida. This is significant because the nominate Old World taxon has been split into a separate species, although this has not yet been adopted by the American Ornithologists’ Union. Were this to happen, the North American form would probably be renamed Cabot’s Tern, a name formerly in use in North America. There are two documented North American records of the Old World form. A bird photographed in Illinois in September 2010 is believed to represent the first record of Thalasseus sandvicensis sandvicensis. A banded Old World Sandwich Tern found and photographed at South Beach, and then at Nauset Marsh, Cape Cod, Mass. in July-August 2013 originated in the UK.
POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus) An adult light morph bird was identified from a car traveling on Interstate 95 in Bridgeport on 31 Oct 2012 (13-27 Tom Johnson*). Although the view was brief, the observer, who has extensive experience with all three jaegers at sea and from land, was able to see the long and rounded tips of the central tail feathers characteristic of adults of this species. The observation was made in the wake of “superstorm” Sandy, when Pomarine Jaeger was one of the signature birds displaced into the Northeast.
COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge) One in basic plumage was seen by a group of eight observers riding the New London to Orient, N.Y., ferry on 13 Jan 2014 (14-04 Frank Mantlik,* Greg Hanisek). Its presence in state waters was determined by use of GPS on a smartphone. One in alternate plumage, possibly the same one seen a month earlier, was observed on the same ferry route on 16 Feb 2014 (14-08 Shaibal S. Mitra*). The observer, a frequent ferry rider, was aware of the demarcation of the Connecticut-New York boundary, confirming that the bird was in state waters.
THICK-BILLED MURRE (Uria lomvia) An experienced observer saw one sitting on the water as the New London to Orient, N.Y., ferry passed at close range on 20 Jan 2013 (13-14 Patricia J. Lindsay*). The observer, a frequent ferry rider, was aware of the demarcation of the Connecticut-New York boundary, confirming that the bird was in state waters. One was a surprising find on 18 Jan 2014 well inside the mouth of the Housatonic River off Birdseye Boat Ramp in Stratford (14-03 Stefan Martin,*‡). Although never common, historically this was the alcid most often documented or reported in state waters. Razorbill, now by far the most-often seen large alcid inside Long Island Sound, and no longer a review species, wasn’t accepted to the state list until 1992. Common Murre, which is now being seen more often than Thick-billed Murre, was not documented here until January 2011.
BLACK GUILLEMOT (Cepphus grylle) A long-staying bird, first found on the 1980-81 New Haven Christmas Bird Count, was seen on 19 and/or 26 Apr 1981 at the Thimble Islands off Stony Creek, Branford, by tern wardens traveling by boat to Falkner Island (14-06 Frank Gallo*). One was found off Meigs Point at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison on 1 Jan 14 (14-02 Dan Rottino,*‡ John Marshall,*‡). Despite its year-round presence just a few hours away, this species had been undocumented in the state for many years prior to the 2014 sighting. Noting this, Gallo realized that the 1981 record had never been presented to ARCC. He used CBC records, his own recollection and contact with others who had seen it to provide documentation. The 2014 observers broke the drought by providing good written descriptions along with a photo and videos. This is a good example of how photos alone may not always be sufficient to document a species. Neither the photo nor the video was of high quality, but in combination with written details they provided solid evidence. The bird, in basic plumage, was very white and thus suggestive of the arctic subspecies C. g. mandtii. The subspecific taxonomy is complex and unsettled. Birds of North America Online notes that mandtii apparently intergrades along the coast of Labrador with P. g. arcticus, the subspecies breeding as nearby as New Hampshire, and possibly occurs south to New England. A specimen from Massachusetts was reported in Ridgway (1919).
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica) One was seen and photographed on 12-13 Jul 2013 in the Lordship neighborhood near Stratford Point in Stratford (13-24 Frank Mantlik*‡). It was also heard vocalizing.
BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus alexandri) A homeowner in Fairfield noticed a female/immature hummingbird coming to blooming Pineapple Sage in her yard on 23 Oct 2013 (13-26 Sara Jaeger,* Frank Mantlik‡, Jesus Tirado‡, Russ Smiley‡ m.ob, m.ph.). The bird was positively identified as a first state record after photos taken on 30 Oct resulted in a visit by several members of ARCC on 2 Nov. Photos taken then provided conclusive images showing the inner six primaries proportionately narrower than the outer four, with the outer primary (P10) being broad and blunt tipped. The latter feature distinguishes Black-chinned from its congener, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, which is very similar in non-adult male plumages. The bird was seen by more than 150 people. It was last seen on 13 Nov, when it apparently departed after a very cold night that killed the flowers on which it had been feeding.
FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER (Tyrannus savana) Connecticut’s fourth record was a bird found on 30 Nov 2013 at the Hadlyme ferry slip on the Connecticut River in Lyme (13-15 Jeff Feldmann*‡, m.ob, m.ph.). A large contingent of observers from around the U.S. and Canada saw the bird through 11 Dec 2013, establishing a late date for the state. Dan Rottino, who lives nearby, monitored the bird and visitors throughout its stay and put the number of observers at about 600. The bird was identified as an adult male based on wing molt, tail streamer length and notching on the outermost three primary flight feathers (A. Lamoreaux). The primary notching also confirmed it represented the southernmost and most migratory subspecies, T. s. savana. This is the only subspecies that has been unequivocally identified in North America.
EURASIAN JACKDAW (Corvus monedula) One was observed on 16 Feb 1988 at the West Haven landfill (88-21R Frank Gallo*). ARCC originally voted not to accept the record because of origin questions, in part because of a leg injury that some members believed could be attributed to caging. Gallo asked that the record be reopened and provided an analysis supporting natural vagrancy. This Eurasian corvid has a unique history in northeastern North America. There was a major influx in the 1980s, including the 1984 arrival of 52 ship-assisted birds in Quebec, but the first few arrivals, including Nantucket, Mass., birds in 1982-84, predate the Quebec incursion. The ABA Checklist Committee accepted an April 1984 record from Block I., Rhode Island, stating: “Origin – Natural vagrant. The various subsequent sightings in eastern Canada and in New England indicate a broad pattern of vagrancy rather than an escaped or ship assisted waif.” In his reassessment Gallo said: “Eurasian Jackdaws have undergone a range expansion in Europe over the last 30+ years, and they are still occurring regularly in Iceland. There are at least two more-recent records in the ABA area, both from Newfoundland, in 1994-96 and 1996-97. According to Howell et al. (2014), as of 2006, there were 258 records for Iceland, and I found an eBird record there for as recently as 2011. It is clear that Eurasian Jackdaws have a record of moving west from Europe and are reaching the New World… Many authorities see this and all jackdaw records during the period as valid.” This represents the first documented state record.
HOARY REDPOLL (Acanthis hornemanni) One visited a feeder in Plymouth on 11 Jan 2013, part of the winter 2012-13 invasion of a species seldom documented in the state (13-11 Buzz Devine*). For more on the subspecies status of birds reaching Connecticut during this flight see the Eighteenth Report in the Connecticut Warbler Vol. 33 No. 2.
RECORDS ACCEPTED, ORIGIN UNCERTAIN
FIELDFARE (Turdus pilaris) One was collected in April 1878 near Stamford and the specimen is now in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago (13-10 Louis Bevier). This bird, then called European Thrush, was originally reported by William Henry Hoyt in a short note in Ornithologist and Oologist (Hoyt 1889). The record had never been considered by ARCC because the whereabouts of the specimen, originally in a private collection, was unknown. Zeranski and Baptist (1990) considered it hypothetical for this reason. Bevier investigated in 2013, discovered the specimen was in Chicago and arranged for photos to be taken. He then prepared an illustrated report. Sage et al. (1913) relegated the record to a section titled “Catalogue of introduced species and doubtful species.” It remained in limbo until Bevier’s recent efforts. Bevier noted that despite Sage’s categorization, that author said the feet and plumage were of a bird not recently in captivity (an opinion also shared by Bevier). Sage also quotes the collector as saying its actions were those of a wild bird. In conclusion, Bevier noted that the record fits neatly into the modern pattern of occurrence. He suggested that the bird was caught in weather over the North Atlantic during late fall or early winter, a scenario closely linked to other European birds that are vagrants to North America. The committee chose the above category as a conservative approach, noting that the specimen predates the next North American record by 60 years and occurred at a time when cage bird trade was common. Placement in this category denotes full acceptance to the state list but recognizes that in some cases 100 percent certainty is unrealistic despite a preponderance of positive evidence.
RECORDS NOT ACCEPTED
BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus alexandri) An adult male was reported from a feeder in Monroe on 26-27 Jun 2011 (11-45). The bird, which would have constituted a first state record, was seen only by the homeowners and was not photographed. The report generated vigorous discussion through the maximum three rounds of voting. Lack of a pattern of spring-summer occurrence in the Northeast played a role in the committee’s decision.
GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus) One was reported flying over a yard in Stamford on 24 Oct 2013 (13-20). Identification of this species, especially flyby birds seen by a single observer, is fraught with difficulty. These birds present very little in the way of field marks, placing emphasis on description of shape, flight style and perceived size. In this case, the observation was rather short and lighting conditions were less than ideal. The description of the bird as an apparent white morph raises the problem of abnormally plumaged birds of other species. Another problem that may be unsolvable for briefly seen birds is the possibility of hybrids used in falconry.
COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge) One was reported on 29 Jan 2014 from Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison (14-05). The single observer reported difficult conditions including strong wind and very rough water in which the bird was swimming farther out into Long Island Sound. The description included some features that did not eliminate other large alcids.
RECORDS NOT ACCEPTED, ORIGIN UNCERTAIN
LE CONTE’S SPARROW (Ammodramus leconteii) Remains were found on 16 Apr 2012 at Tweed New Haven Airport (13-22). Andrew Dasinger learned of the record through a query of the Federal Aviation Administration Wildlife Strike Database, listing birds struck by aircraft. He then wrote to Carla Dove of the Smithsonian Feather Identification Lab, which is responsible for examining and identifying wildlife remains from aircraft-bird collisions. She said the Smithsonian received “a large chunk of wing and body feathers and a foot.” Ultimately the identification was confirmed by DNA analysis, but there was no way to prove that the bird wasn’t struck by a plane elsewhere and carried to New Haven.
The committee thanks Louis Bevier for researching the Fieldfare record and assisting with the Eurasian Jackdaw and Peter Pyle for comments on the Brown Booby.
Hanisek, Greg. 2005. Connecticut Birds By The Season. The Connecticut Warbler. Vol. 25 No. 1
Howell, S.N.G, I. Lewington, and W. Russell. 2014. Rare Birds of North America. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.
Howell, Steve N.G. 2002. Hummingbirds of North America. A Photographic Guide. Academic Press natural World. San Diego Calif.
Hoyt, William H. 1889. European Thrush (Turdus pilaris) and Lawrence’s Warbler at Stamford. Ornithologist and Oologist 14 (3): 44.
Pyle, Peter. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds, Part I, Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, Calif.
Ridgway, R. 1919. The Birds of North and Middle America, Pt. 8. Bull. U.S. Natl. Mus. no. 50.
Sage, J.H., L.B. Bishop, and W.P. Bliss. 1913. The Birds of Connecticut. Connecticut Geological and Natural History Survey Bulletin No. 20.
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