Seventh ARCC Report
Connecticut Warbler 17: 97-122. 1997
Frank W. Mantlik, Mark S. Szantyr, and David F. Provencher
This seventh report of The Avian Records Committee of Connecticut (ARCC), formerly The Connecticut Rare Records Committee, comes 18 months after the sixth (Szantyr, Mantlik, and Provencher, 1996). The committee recognizes and thanks those who have dutifully reported their sightings of rarities. While the files are now current and up to date, a number of difficult cases remain pending.
The committee’s principal aim is to provide a complete and accurate record of rare birds reported in Connecticut. A rare records committee can neither verify nor invalidate any records, but can provide a judgment on the adequacy of the evidence presented in support of unusual sightings. In other words, this committee, in its rulings, is not saying that a person did or did not see a particular rare bird. Instead, it is ruling on the adequacy of the written documentation (and other evidence). All reports, including original field notes, photographs, tape recordings, descriptions, and members’ comments on each record are archived at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. For an overview of the committee and its operation, see Bevier (1996).
This report contains 86 records of 54 species, plus two subspecies, reviewed by the ARCC. The committee accepted 62% of all records reported here. The records span dates from 1916 to 1996, although the majority are from 1995, which was a banner year for rare birds in the state. Please note that the ARCC does not routinely evaluate reports of subspecies, but does so at its own discretion. Significant Connecticut records in this report include the following:
- First record for Audubon’s Shearwater, White-faced Ibis, Mississippi Kite, Sabine’s Gull and Say’s Phoebe.
- Second record for Arctic Tern, Rufous Hummingbird, and Bohemian Waxwing.
- Third and fourth record for Black-throated Gray Warbler.
- Third, fourth, and fifth record for Swainson’s Hawk.
- Fourth record for Painted Bunting.
One species (Long-billed Curlew) formerly designated as “Hypothetical” on the state list (i.e., species supported only by written details but lacking a specimen, photograph, or voice recording) now has that designation removed based on photographs deposited with the ARCC.
Please note that the committee has dropped the use of the term “Hypothetical” due to vagueness, and has replaced it with the more accurate “Sight Record Only” (SRO).
STATE LIST AND REVIEW LIST
This report provides details on four additions to the Connecticut state list, which now stands at 396. The most recently published state list contains 390 species and is available from the Connecticut Ornithological Association (314 Unquowa Rd., Fairfield, CT 06430). The committee depends on observers to submit their reports of species on the Review List —these are species marked with an asterisk on the Connecticut Ornithological Association’s Field Checklist — and any species new to the state. Submit written reports along with any photographs or sound recordings to the current ARCC Secretary, Mark Szantyr, 2C Yale Rd., Storrs, CT 06268.
The committee also requests that photographs submitted for documentation of a sighting be accompanied by a written report. Photos submitted alone are analogous to a museum specimen lacking a data tag; both are of little use. Several records in this report consisting of only a photo or sketch have sat inactive, due to the absence (until recently) of any accompanying written documentation.
The committee presents its most recent changes to the Review List (see elsewhere in this issue), adding some species, and deleting a number of others which have proven somewhat regular in recent years. Records in this report involving the latter are denoted “RX”.
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 and followed by an asterisk. Observers who submitted a photograph are acknowledged with † following their names. Hyphenated numbers (e.g., 92-24) following the observers are ARCC file numbers. The species are listed in order according to the A.O.U. Check-list (1983) and Supplements. Records are listed chronologically.
Abbreviations are: AB (= American Birds), AFN (= Audubon Field Notes), CW (= The Connecticut Warbler), Hammonasset (= Hammonasset Beach State Park), NASFN (= National Audubon Society Field Notes), RX (= no longer on Review List), SRO (= sight record only). Months of the year are shortened to their first three letters.
EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigicollis) One in basic plumage was at Cemetery Pond, Litchfield 17-19 Sep 1994 (G. Hanisek, C. Wood; 95-22). Published dates were not all inclusive (CW 15: 60). Eared Grebes move earlier in the fall than Horned Grebes, as exemplified by this Sep date. Any Podiceps grebe seen in Connecticut before Nov should be carefully scrutinized for Eared.
AUDUBON’S SHEARWATER (Pufftnus Iherminieri) One storm-related bird on Congamond Lakes in Suffield, CT (and Southwick, MA), 11 May 1977 (S. Kellogg*; 95-35). This bird’s appearance was the result of an intense coastal storm 9-10 May that brought high winds, heavy rain and wet snow. The bird alighted on and flew around Middle and South Ponds (in MA), and at least twice also flew over the narrow peninsula (in CT) separating the two ponds. The detailed description included small size, brown upperparts, dark undertail coverts, proper underwing pattern, and flight behavior. Although twelve or more people observed the bird and agreed on the identification, apparently no photos were obtained. This is the first accepted record for Connecticut (SRO). Massachusetts also considers it a valid record, but it was accidentally omitted from Birds of Massachusetts (Wayne Petersen, pers. com.).
WILSON’S STORM-PETREL (Oceanites oceanicus) Up to 45 birds feeding in Long Island Sound off Groton 14-30 Jul 1995 (M. Szantyr, C. Marantz, R. Naylor; 95-17). Initially, four birds were reported 14 Jul off Bluff Point by D. Provencher. Later that day, Szantyr saw five or more off Avery Point. Subsequently, these birds were seen by dozens of birders, though they were too far offshore to be photographed. The weather during the period was hot, hazy, and humid; speculation is that the flock wandered into the Sound under these conditions and then found a food source at the mouth of the Thames River. This was certainly a major incursion of this species into Long Island Sound. (CW 16: 49 50).
WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi) An adult in alternate plumage was at Hammonasset, Madison 16-19 May 1995 (D. Provencher*, M. Szantyr †, F. Mantlik †; 95-28). It actively fed in the salt marshes around Cedar Island with a flock of Glossy Ibis (P. faldnellus), and was seen by many. Being in peak breeding plumage, the bird exhibited a distinct white feathered border around the pinkish-red bare facial skin, a blood-red eye, pinkish-red legs, and a colorful, iridescent reddish-brown mantle with greenish wing coverts. This record is the first for Connecticut (CW 15:142, NASFN 49:228).
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albifrons) (RX) One adult was at Goodwill Park, Hartford/Wethersfield 26 Nov-2 Dec 1995 (M. Szantyr; 95-43) (CW 16: 85, 126). One was at Willimantic Reservoir, Mansfield 16 Dec 1995 (B. Carver, Jr., T. Harrington †; 96-15).
COMMON EIDER (Somateria mollissima) (RX) One adult male flew past Camp Harkness, Waterford 21 Oct 1995 (D. Provencher*; 96-4) (CW 16: 85). One female off Shippan Point, Stamford, and Weed Beach, Darien, discovered by Patrick Dugan, 8 Feb-15 Apr 1996 (G. Hanisek; 96-19). Seen by many during its stay (CW 16: 127,171).
HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus) An adult female discovered by L. & M. Ainiesbury at Merwin Point, Milford 16 Dec 1995 remained through 9 Mar 1996, and was seen by many (D. Provencher, M. Szantyr, F. Mantlik; 95-44) (CW 16:127,171-172).
BARROW’S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica) (RX) An adult male and female were on the Connecticut River, Enfield 9 Feb 1996 (M. Szantyr; 96-17); a lone female was initially discovered here 17 Dec 1995 by P. Desjardins and a lone male on 31 Dec 1995 by C. Taylor. The pair remained through 23 Feb 1996, and were seen sporadically by numerous observers (CW 16:127). Another adult male and female, initially discovered by R. Soffer, were present in Long Island Sound off Sherwood Island State Park, Westport 7-25 Jan 1996; the male remained through 16 March 1996 (M. Szantyr; 96-16) (CW 16:127,171).
MISSISSIPPI KITE (Ictinia mississippiensis) Three separate and independent sightings of a single bird in Stamford 13 June 1995 (P. Dugan*), 16 June 1995 (Cove Is. Park – M. Moccio*), and in Darien (Woodland Park) 17 June 1995 Q- Mehmel*, B. Van Loan*), were possibly of the same individual. Reasonably taken collectively as one record (95-14), this constitutes a first state record (SRO) (CW 16:47).
There was a large influx of Mississippi Kites north in May – June 1995, with sightings from Newtown, CT 3 June (95-11), Cape Cod, MA 17-19 June, and up to six birds in Cape May, NJ 1-9 June (NASFN 49:907-908, 912).
SWAINSON’S HAWK (Buteo swainsoni) Based on a request by Szantyr, the committee decided to reconsider this record (91-21) of a sub-adult bird seen by a hawkwatcher in Harwinton 20 Sep 1991 (P. Carrier*), which initially went three voting rounds and was not accepted (though went unpublished as such). While the written description lacked important information such as wing shape and flight style, and the drawing resulted in differing interpretations, what eventually swayed the committee to accept was input and analysis by Hanisek, Kaplan, and Brody, as well as the experience of the observer.
One light-phase immature was seen flying over Storrs, Mansfield 26 Oct 1995 (M. Szantyr* †, S. Suter; 95-34). The four slides taken of the high-flying bird nevertheless illustrate the proper wing and tail proportions as well as the dihedral wing aspect.
One adult was seen flying south over Sunny Valley Preserve, New Milford 17 Nov 1995 (C. Wood; 95-38). The brief though detailed description was accompanied by a convincing sketch. The late date is within the range of vagrants in CT and MA. These are the third, fourth and fifth accepted records for Connecticut
Swainson’s Hawk has become annual in the northeast U.S., particularly in autumn. It is not clear whether this is attributable to more aware, experienced hawkwatchers, or to an actual increase of this western species in the east.
GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus) A dark morph immature was at Hammonasset, Madison 4 Dec 1995 (D. Provencher; 95-39). Initially discovered perched in a tree, it soon took flight and stooped on the bait set up at the hawk banding station. Also seen (and videotaped) by the hawkbander (S. Roxbrough) as well as by three other birders.
PURPLE GALLINULE (Porphyrula martinica) An adult 25 Jun -28 Jul 1985 in Guilford, was in a residential backyard (Pat & John Littel) with a small pond and adjacent to coastal wetland. Initially published in an article (CW 5: 43-46) by Frank Gallo (with photos by R. Schwartz and F. Mantlik on file), the record (96-6) is now officially reviewed and accepted by the ARCC. An adult was seen 15 Jul 1994 in the marshes along the Connecticut River at Oliver’s Hole (north of Lord’s Cove), Lyme, by a single observer while conducting botanical research (S. Mickolyzck; 94-22). Despite no previous experience with the species, the observer described a combination of features and behavior which are distinctive of Purple Gallinule.
SANDHILL CRANE (Grus canadensis) (RX) One adult in a cornfield along Westwoods Rd., Sharon 11 Jul – 14 Dec 1993 (L. Whittlesey †, R- Naylor; 93-20). Despite rumors suggesting that this bird was of dubious origin (i.e., possibly an escaped captive), no concrete evidence existed to support that claim (CW 14: 73, 114).
LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus) An adult was present 10-16 Jul 1995 at Windham Airport, North Windham, where it was seen by many and photographed (M. Szantyr* †, C. Marantz, R. Naylor; 95-18). The thorough, detailed descriptions, coupled with fine drawings and photographs serve well to support this first documented Connecticut record. It should be noted that while several specimens from CT during the 19th century are mentioned in the literature, the whereabouts of these specimens are presently unknown (Zeranski & Baptist, 1990). A bird of the prairies of western North America, it formerly was a more common fall migrant in New England up to the 1850s. It is now only a rare straggler anywhere on the Atlantic coast (Bent, 1929). This individual obviously found the airport grasslands reminiscent of the prairies.
RUFF (Philomachus pugnax) One individual, a basic-plumaged male, was in the salt marsh at Milford Point, Milford 25 Mar – 14 Apr 1996 (G. Hanisek*, P. Brody, M. Szantyr, J. Wells, Jr., R. Stanford †, B. Finnan †, L. Burdge †; 96-23). The fact that the bird remained for so long resulted in it being observed by dozens of birders. Since adult males are typically in alternate plumage by late March, this individual was probably an immature (one-year-old) male.
LITTLE GULL (Larus minutus) (RX). An adult was found in a flock of approximately 150 Bonaparte’s Gulls (Larus Philadelphia) at South Cove, Old Saybrook 14 Mar 1996 (M. Szantyr*, D. Provencher*; 96-22). This site has become a traditional location for this species and for Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus), among the staging flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls. Little Gull has become annual in CT, often with multiple sightings.
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla) One was observed from Hammonasset, Madison, flying over Long Island Sound on 7 Nov 1995 (D. Provencher*, M. Szantyr; 95-42). The identification of this species, when observed at a distance, hinges much more on the pattern of the gray upperparts than on the black wingtips. Immature Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) is frequently misidentified as this species based upon the lack of white in the wingtip. A discussion of field identification of Black-legged Kittiwake will be published in a future issue of CW. (Szantyr, CW ID Series, in prep.)
SABINE’S GULL (Xema sabini) Finding a rarity is always exciting. It is surprising that the excitement of discovering two immature Sabine’s Gulls that briefly stopped at Mansfield Hollow Reservoir, Windham 5 Sep 1995 did not prove fatal! (M. Szantyr* †, B. Carver; 95-21). This species is highly pelagic, though a portion of the population travels overland from its breeding grounds to oceanic waters. Observations from inland locations are rare in the northeast. These individuals were two of five reported in the northeast during the fall of 1995 (NASFN 50:22). The other three individuals were reported in Massachusetts waters. This constitutes a first Connecticut record, well documented by two most fortunate, and alert, observers (CW 16:88).
ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea) Three adults were with a flock of Common Terns (S. hirundo) at Milford Point, Milford, 20 Aug 1991 (C. Barnard, Jr., J. Fengler, J. Bair; 91-17). This record, after much deliberation, was initially not accepted by the ARCC, and was published as such in the Sixth Report (CW 16: 20-21). Subsequently, the record was reconsidered, based on new and substantial information provided in a written report from another observer of the same birds the same day. In addition to corroborating descriptive details in the other reports, this observer noted the “whiter wings with windows” of one of the birds in flight, a distinct characteristic of paradisaea. Although there are several previous sight records and lost specimens, this is the second formally reviewed and accepted record for Connecticut.
THICK-BILLED MURRE (Uria lomvia) An individual was discovered at Jordan Cove, Waterford 13 Jan 1991 after it apparently, while in flight, struck power transmission lines. It died on the 15th and the specimen was presented to the University of Connecticut. (L. & M. Kalamian*, J. Zickefoose, G. Clark f; 96-11). Another individual was discovered off Meigs Point, Hammonasset, Madison 31 Oct 1995 by four experienced observers and watched for approximately 10 minutes (D. Provencher*, M. Szantyr; 95-41). The occurrence of alcids in Long Island Sound is uncommon at best and any sighting should be reported whether or not the observer is certain of which species was seen. While Razorbill is the most likely alcid to occur in the Sound, Thick-billed Murre also has a propensity to stay close inshore on occasion. The identification of large alcids on the water can be difficult and every possible detail should be noted during an observation.
GREAT GRAY OWL (Strix nebulosa) A single bird was present at Hammonasset, Madison 14 Jan 1996 (T. Harrington* †, S. Craig*, P. Fusco †; 96-18)(CW 16:130). There are three specimen records for this species in CT, the last of which was taken in East Haven in 1907 (Zeranski and Baptist, 1990). There have been several sight records in CT since, but this individual is the first well documented since the East Haven specimen. This individual was part of a significant southern movement of this species throughout North America which included an incursion into New England. Of fifteen Great Grays reported in New England, only this bird and a long-staying individual in Rowley, MA were documented for southern New England (NASFN 50:148). The Hammonasset bird delighted many observers but disappointed many more who tried unsuccessfully to relocate it the following day.
RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus) A hatch-year female was at a feeder in East Hartford from 26 Sep -12 Dec 1994. It was then captured and harbored through at least 21 Apr 1995 (J. Kaplan, M. Szantyr †, R. Yunick, A. Heidcamp; 96-21). The identification in the field of Selasphorus humming-birds is extremely difficult, with the exception of adult males. Of particular concern regarding vagrants to the east is to distinguish Rufous Hummingbird from Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin). Females and immatures of these species are indistinguishable in the field. All such individuals observed out of range should be identified as “Selasphorus species” unless examined in the hand. The identification of this individual was considered “probable Rufous” (based on vagrancy patterns) until the bird was examined in the hand and measured. The wing-cord, tail length, width of retrices, exposed culmen length, and pattern and shape of retrices showed the individual to be an immature female Rufous. Seven Selasphorus Hummingbirds were reported in the New England region during the fall of 1994 (NASFN 49:23). Four of these birds were described as adults. Many thanks are due the homeowners (R. & J. Morrison) who allowed many birders into their yard to observe this gem. Thanks also go to L. Bevier for his persistent hard work in arranging the examination of the bird, and to Robert Yunick for the detailed examination and measurements that allowed a positive identification. The individual was banded (number T 94809) and was released in excellent health in the spring of 1995. This represents a second state record (CW 15:65,146-147).
SAY’S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya) This record is the specimen mentioned in Zeranski and Baptist (1990). The specimen’s whereabouts were previously considered unknown. It was located, measured, and photographed in the Peabody Museum of Yale University (L. Bevier t; 96-10). The specimen was taken in Gaylordsville 15 Dec 1916. The specimen tag states “Collection of Louis B. Bishop, No. 29334, Shot by T. for E.H. Austin. Given me by latter & received in flesh on Dec 17.” This female is the only acceptably documented occurrence for CT. Though previously included on the state list, this is the first formal review of the record.
WESTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus verticalis) (RX) An alert and experienced observer sighted a single bird in flight at Lighthouse Point, New Haven 19 Sep 1994 (G. Hanisek*; 95-23). The observer watched the bird fly westward until it landed, thus allowing over sixty observers to see it. Another individual was carefully observed and well documented at Hammonasset, Madison 18 Nov 1995 (R. Pelletier*; 95-45).
BOREAL CHICKADEE (Parus hudsonicus) A single bird was briefly observed by an experienced observer near the raptor banding station at Hammonasset, Madison, 4 Nov 1993 (R. Schwartz*; 94-2). This species is mainly resident in northern New England and Canada but undergoes fall southward movements at irregular intervals. It has been nearly absent from southern New England in the last two decades. The fall and winter of 1993 in the east saw a massive southward movement of Black-capped Chickadee (Parus atricapillus) and a limited movement of hudsoniciis, with at least 14 reported from Massachusetts and one from Rhode Island (NASFN 48:183).
SEDGE WREN (Cistothorus platensis) An individual was observed well by three observers in Storrs near the University of Connecticut, 27 Sep 1995 (M. Szantyr*, Sherman Suter; 95-32). The bird could not be relocated later that same day. This dynamic little species has declined in the northeast due to loss of habitat but breeds in some numbers in the Great Lakes region. Breeding in the shallows and margins of interior marshes, it is usually found in similar habitat on migration.
NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe) One was discovered at Latimer Point, Stonington 18 Sep 1995 but could not be relocated the following day (B. Dewire; 95-37). One believed to be a female or a first-year male was present on the levy at the eastern end of the Windham Airport, Windham 18-20 Sep 1995 (M. Szantyr* †, S. Suter; 95-25). This record is unusual in that the bird was discovered away from the coast and it remained for several days. This attractive little thrush is usually found on its trans-Atlantic migration at coastal locations in the fall and is usually gone by the following day. Another individual was discovered by Simon Perkins of Massachusetts at Sandy Point, West Haven 23 Sep 1995 and was meticulously documented (C. Marantz*; 95-40). Another individual was observed feeding actively at the Sikorsky Municipal Airport, Stratford 6 Oct 1995 (S. Henckel*; 95-29). It should be noted that, apart from adult males, this species is extremely difficult to age and sex in the field during fall migration. The fall of 1995 was notable for Northern Wheatear sightings in New England, with at least eight being reported (NASFN 50:23-24).
VARIED THRUSH (Ixorcus naeviits) A male was observed coming to a feeder in Norwalk from about 12-28 Mar 1995 (J. Hough, F. Mantlik †; 95-07). The submissions to the committee were from observations on 21 March and included an excellent drawing of the bird (See CW 16:32). The owners of the property (R. Rabonold) were very cooperative in allowing birders to spend a great deal of time in their yard observing the bird.
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanins liidovidanus) An individual was photographed at Hammonasset, Madison 7 Sep 1986 (J. Kirk* †, M. Szantyr; 96-07). The photograph was not accompanied with written documentation until 10 years later. Another individual was observed at Milford Point, Milford 17 Mar 1996 (T. Kilroy*; 96-25). The dramatic decline of this species in the northeast U.S. makes all observations in Connecticut of heightened importance. Proper documentation should be made of all sightings.
BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Dendroica nigrescens) An apparent female was observed at Talcott Mountain Science Center, Avon 8 May 1991 (T. Harrington*; 95-20). Another individual (probable female) was observed 7 May 1992 at East Rock Park, Hamden J. Fengler*; 92-12). The committee benefited from information, passed on to it by L. Bevier, from Jon Dunn’s research for a North American warbler text. This information convinced some members who had concerns about the described throat pattern. These represent the third and fourth accepted Connecticut records for this species.
BLUE GROSBEAK (Guiraca caerulea) (RX). An adult male was photographed near the Manicatides’s feeder in Fairfield 16 Apr 1986 (M. Szantyr, M. Bull †; 96-09). The record was not officially presented to the committee until 1996.
PAINTED BUNTING (Passerina ciris) A male patronized a feeder in East Lyme for most of the day 11 Apr 1993. (E. Albert* t, L. Vegliante; 95-13). This occurrence is well within the pattern of vagrancy for the species and was one of five reported in the northeast that spring (AB 47:396). This is the fourth record of this species in the state.
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (Spizella pallida) (RX). A singing male was discovered at Northwest Park, Windsor 28 May 1994 (P. Desjardins*, G. Hanisek, M. Szantyr; 95-15). The individual was present through at least 31 May and was observed by many birders. Another was discovered at Hammonasset, Madison 23 Sep 1995, during the COA fall field day (R.Naylor, L. Whittlesey †; 95-27). This bird was extraordinarily cooperative and was studied at length by many observers, making itself the star of the day.
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephulus) (RX). An individual was observed in a mixed blackbird flock at Rocky Neck State Park, East Lyme, 25 Mar 1995 (R. Dewire; 95-36). The description suggests a first-spring male.
RECORDS NOT ACCEPTED, Identification Questionable.
REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens) A single bird in full alternate plumage was reported from rain pools at Hammonasset, Madison, 28 Sep 1975 (88-3). The committee received the account of this sighting in 1988, more than ten years after the reported occurrence. The record has been in review until its final disposition in 1995. The committee believes that there are too many unanswered questions as to plumage, mechanism of occurrence, circumstances of the observation, and discrepancies between the published account in American Birds (AB 30: 29-36) and the account received by this committee, to accept what would be a first state, and one of possibly two regional records. During the mid 1970’s, Reddish Egret was scarcely known from even as far north as North Carolina. It was not until 1992 that this species was first documented in the Northeast, following a significant increase of this species in the south. Since that time, post-breeding wanderers typically have been immatures, only rarely adults, and none have been reported to be in full alternate plumage. It is interesting to note that herons and egrets are rarely included in the lists of storm-blown species found following the passage of severe tropical storms and depressions.
TUNDRA SWAN (Cygnus columbianus) (RX). Two birds were reported flying up the Connecticut River at South Glastonbury 24 Dec 1995 (96-26). The observer eliminated Mute Swan (C. olor) in the description of the bill, but did not consider nor eliminate Whooper Swan (C. cygnus) or Trumpeter Swan (C. buccinator). As stated in previous reviews by this committee, Whooper and Trumpeter Swans have recently been seen in Connecticut under circumstances that suggested the individuals were escaped birds or birds from introduced stock. Numerous reports of Trumpeter Swans are being received from the eastern United States, most if not all of them attributable to the introductions in central and eastern North America. An interesting note involves six Whooper Swans that have been in Massachusetts for a few years and are now actually breeding and raising young (Wayne Petersen, pers. com.). Although a review of the recent records of Tundra Swan in Connecticut has shown that this species is regular enough to warrant removal from this committee’s review list, swans provide a difficult identification problem and all swans suspected of being Tundra Swans should be carefully scrutinized to eliminate these other possible species.
COMMON EIDER (Somateria mollisima) (RX). Fourteen females were reported from Long Island Sound, seen from Greenwich Point, Greenwich 14 Sep 1991 (91-24). The committee, after long, laborious debate, agreed that the description does not convincingly describe Common Eider, nor does it adequately eliminate other duck species, including the similar King Eider (S. spectabilis). The committee tried on numerous occasions to secure additional corroborative descriptions from other observers, but to no avail. Common Eider is proving to be a regular migrant into Long Island Sound in the fall and winter and the date of this report, while early, is not out of the question for the species.
MISSISSIPPI KITE (Ictinia mississippiensis) One adult was reported from Sandy Hook 3 Jun 1995 (95-11). While this report is quite likely correct, the committee agreed that the brevity of the observation did not allow for enough detail to convincingly document what would be a first Connecticut record. The committee paid special deference to the extensive hawk-watching experience of the observer and to the seemingly perfect timing for the occurrence of this northward wandering raptor. This species is regularly recorded at Cape May, New Jersey in the spring and summer and there are at least twenty records from Massachusetts, nearly all from the spring, and most from the southeast section of the state. A large majority of these occurrences pertain to first year birds with adults forming a very small minority. (For Connecticut’s first accepted record of Mississippi Kite, see previous citation in this report.)
BLACK RAIL (Laterallus jamaicensis) One was reported seen in daylight in a saltmarsh channel along Leete’s Island Road, Guilford 30 Jun 1994 (94-17). Another was reported running across Rt. 146 in Guilford 7 Jun 1991 (96-20). The sighting from Jun 1994 (94-17) was previously reviewed by this committee and not accepted (Szantyr, Mantlik, & Provencher, 1996). This record was reopened at the request of the observer with the submittal of new information concerning the sighting. After review, the committee agreed that the additional information did not alter the original decision to not accept, as the new information still did not satisfactorily eliminate the young of other rail species or even other possible black birds that might be seen in coastal marshes, nor does it answer the questions raised as to the circumstances of the observation. Similar concerns troubled the committee regarding the Jun 1991 report (96-20). While the committee agrees that the described plumage characters could pertain to Black Rail, the circumstances of the observation, that is seen from a moving car, at night, in headlights, and at a distance of twenty meters without optical aids, raises a question as to the certainty of any description, especially that of a very small, dark, running bird. While both these reports might be correct, the committee laments the lack of follow-up to locate this rare species after dark as well as the lack of communication to other members of the birding community. Any and all documentation of the occurrence of Black Rail in Connecticut is most welcomed by the committee. This species historically nested in our state and may do so presently but its secretive nature and habitat requirements make its discovery very difficult.
SANDHILL CRANE (Grus canadensis) (RX) One was reported flying above Penwood State Park, Bloomfield 17 Apr 1994 (94-9) and another was reported over Lighthouse Park, New Haven 2 Oct 1994 (94-24). Common Crane (G. grus) has been reported from North America about nine times and recent occurrences of presumed escaped captive Common Cranes in New York and New Jersey make positive and complete identification of Sandhill Crane mandatory. The committee agrees that neither of these two reports conveys the certainty with which the observers claim to have made the identification and, again, while probably correct, the reports do not include convincing details that eliminate possible identification contenders.
GULL-BILLED TERN (Sterna nilotica) One was reported from the sandbars off of Milford Point, Milford 13 Aug 1994 (94-18). While many of the characters described in this report suggest Gull-billed Tern, the committee agreed that Forster’s Tern (S. forstcri) was not sufficiently eliminated. Gull-billed and Forster’s Terns can be quite similar in comparison to Common Tern (S. hinindo). Both are much whiter and can have similar dark head markings, as well as both having heavier, all dark bills in the fall. Close and careful descriptions of tail shape and length as well as wing pattern are critical in identifying members of a very confusing group of birds.
WHITE-WINGED TERN (Chlidonias leucopterus) One was reported from the Housatonic River in New Milford 13 May 1979. This report (85-3) was reviewed and not accepted by a previous committee (Purnell & Mantlik, 1987). Current identification information prompted this committee to reopen this record and to reassess the account in light of this new information. The committee believes that, even in light of new and more complete methods for identifying terns, the description provided does not satisfactorily eliminate other Chlidonias species and, in fact, does not eliminate the possibility of a Sterna tern. Various committee members felt that the description most closely approximates Black Tern (C. niger), but even some aspects of this identification are troubling.
An important thing to note here is that the files of the Avian Records Committee of Connecticut are never really considered closed. At any time, with the advent of new information as to the record in question or with new and more critical identification information for the species in question, a record can be re-opened and re-assessed.
THICK-BILLED MURRE (Uria lomvia) One was reported from Long Island Sound off of Griswold Point, Old Lyme 13 Jan 1991 (91-2). While reasonably well-described, the committee determined that details of the sighting do not convincingly eliminate other large alcid species, such as Common Murre (U. aalge) or Razorbill (Alca torda).
RAZORBILL (Alca torda) One was reported from Long Island Sound off of Meigs Point, Hammonasset, Madison 14 Nov 1991 (92-4), and three were reported 7 Feb 1995 one to two miles off of Waterford by two observers riding the New London-Orient ferry (95-08). The 1991 report consisted only of a sketch with minimal descriptive notation and no details of the observation. The committee decided that this lack of important details as well as some discrepancy in the plumage described for the time of year left too many unanswered questions to accept this report of what is, at best, an irregular visitor to Connecticut waters. While the 1995 report has much more complete details, the observers themselves admit to a small degree of uncertainty about the identification. While the committee agreed that the description probably refers to Razorbill, they decided to err on the side of caution and to not accept this report.
VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus) A male was reported in “the first week of June”, 1995 from Wilton (95-24). The committee agreed that this report lacked sufficient detail to warrant acceptance as a first state record. Details of plumage were not conclusive and aspects of the reported vocalization seemed wrong for any North American flycatcher species. Vermilion Flycatcher is a very rare vagrant to the northeast, with only three or so records from Massachusetts and New York. These records all occurred in fall and most pertain to immature males or females.
CAROLINA CHICKADEE (Parus carolinensis) One was reported from New Canaan 16 Dec 1990 (96-13). Separating Carolina Chickadee from the more expected and variable Black-capped Chickadee (P. atricapillus) is a very difficult identification challenge. A series of audio and visual field marks must be noted and even then, due to the variability within each species, identification may not be possible. The differences are very subtle and confusing even to experts that study this group (Kaufman, 1990). While the bird was reasonably described, the report neither convincingly eliminates Black-capped Chickadee nor the possibility of a hybrid between these two similar forms. Carolina Chickadee is virtually unknown as a vagrant even a short distance away from its more southerly range. Any suspected occurrence in our area should be accompanied by complete measurements and photographs as well as sound recordings in order to make possible a reasonable evaluation of the report.
SEDGE WREN (Cistothorus platensis) A singing bird was reported from Bakerville Swamp, New Hartford 13 Jul 1977 (87-44), and reportedly stayed for approximately two weeks. While this report is undoubtedly correct, no details in the report conclusively eliminate Marsh Wren (C. palustris). The importance of taking good, clear, and complete field notes was not stressed as strongly twenty years ago as it is today and basing decisions on the recollection of individuals without the aid of written details from the time of the observation allows for too much vagueness and for too much interpretation.
BOHEMIAN WAXWING (Bombycilla garulus) A small flock was reported from Miles Wildlife Sanctuary, Sharon 29 Oct 1995 (96-3). While the ability and credentials of the observer are beyond question, circumstances of the observation did not allow for complete and positive documentation. The observer himself admits to the insufficiency of the report. This report is of interest, however, especially in light of an invasion by this species into western Massachusetts at the time.
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovidamis) One was reported from Greenwich 26 Jul 1995 (95-30). The committee agreed that, while the date is suggestive of Loggerhead Shrike and the observer is quite experienced, no details of structure or plumage were noted that conclusively eliminate Northern Shrike (L. excubitor). Shrike identification is an under-appreciated identification challenge. Descriptions of shades of gray are too subjective to be of any real use and geographic variation in both species seem to include a broad array of shared plumage characters. Details of head structure and patterning, including close study of the color and structure of the bill, are necessary to conclusively identify a shrike to species (Szantyr, CW ID Series, in prep.). This report was very interesting as Loggerhead Shrike is becoming increasingly rare in Connecticut and with the fact that it came a few months prior to the largest invasion of Northern Shrikes in recent Connecticut ornithological history (Hanisek, CW 16:91,131-132).
YELLOW-RUMPED “AUDUBON’S” WARBLER (Dendroica coronata auduboni) One was reported from Woodbury 2 May 1986 (96-14). While intriguing, this report does not conclusively nor convincingly eliminate “Myrtle” Warbler (D. c. coronata), which can have highly variable plumage characters depending on age, sex, and molt. Various elements of the report, including the description of the white area in the median coverts, indicate confusing plumage and molt characters that do not allow for confident identification.
SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra) (RX) A bird judged to be an immature male was reported from New Haven 18 May 1995 (95-19). The committee agreed that various elements of the described plumage, including “olive wings and belly”, an all darkish bill, no description of the tail color, and the reported incessant singing of an “atypical Summer Tanager song”, together with tough backlighting during the observation make acceptance of this record difficult. Reports of rarities with aberrant plumages or singing unusual songs should receive extremely close scrutiny. Rare species usually occur in what would be typical plumage and singing typical songs or calls. Anyone seeing what appears to be a rarity but with atypical plumage or song should carefully and critically eliminate all more expected possibilities before giving a positive identity to the bird in question.
WESTERN TANAGER (Piranga ludoviciana) A bird described as an adult male was reported from Simsbury 29 Aug 1994 (94-20). While adult males of this species should be relatively easy to identify, the possibility of a molting Scarlet Tanager (P. olivacea) showing characters similar to this western species must be considered. The committee, after long debate, concluded that there was insufficient information in this report to convincingly eliminate a molting Scarlet Tanager, or to eliminate the possibility of some escaped exotic cage species. Western Tanager is an uncommon vagrant to our area and, interestingly, the August date of this report coincides with past records of adult males in the east (Zeranski and Baptist, 1990; Veit and Petersen, 1993).
SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus) A male was reported from Rowayton 4 Nov 1990 (96-8). This form recently received full species status as Rufous-sided Towhee was split by the American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list Committee into the eastern form, Eastern Towhee (P. erythrophthalmus) and the more western Spotted Towhee (P. maculatus). The committee agreed to be conservative m the evaluation of this record, which would be a first of this form for Connecticut. While this report may be accurate, the inexperience of the observer and the possibility of misinterpreting the pale tertial edges shown by the more expected Eastern Towhee as the mantle spotting of Spotted Towhee were deemed sufficient reasons not to accept this record. It is important that observers become familiar with the topography of birds and that they learn to use the proper names of the feathers or feather groups they are intending to describe. Such attention to detail makes evaluation of sight reports much easier for the committee, leaving little uncertainly to our interpretation of what the observer meant. There are no accepted records of Spotted Towhee in Connecticut.
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (Spizella pallida) (RX). One was reported from Storrs, Mansfield 21 Sep 1989 (89-16). While no doubt accurate, this report is not detailed enough to conclusively eliminate other possible sparrows, including Chipping Sparrow (S. passcrina).
LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus) One was reported from Storrs, Mansfield 6 Oct 1994 (94-27). The report and sketch suggested that the bird in question was in juvenal plumage, showing extensive heavy streaking on the flanks and sides of the breast. A search of the literature and review of museum specimens reveal that Lark Sparrows lose most if not all of this streaking before they leave the breeding grounds, and an immature Lark Sparrow, by this date in Oct, would be virtually indistinguishable from an adult. Other details of the description, including the extent of the pale area at the base of the primaries, the lack of description of a central breast spot, and inconclusive description of the diagnostic tail pattern did not convincingly identify this bird as a Lark Sparrow, nor were other possible sparrow species eliminated. Observers are reminded that one of the first steps in any identification is the accurate aging of the individual in question. Other characters of plumage and molt can be better assessed when this has been determined.
LE CONTE’S SPARROW (Ammodramus leconteii) An individual initially identified as a “very pale Le Conte’s Sparrow” was reported from Stratford 7 Oct 1995 (95-26), and was seen by several observers through at least 12 Oct. This report is almost a case study in how not to identify a bird, and is a testament to the hard work it often takes to “get the identification right”. This bird was seen briefly and fleetingly, and “by elimination” was identified as a Le Conte’s Sparrow, as it was the only species that the plumage characters seemed to fit. Further brief glimpses over the next few days also pointed out characters that seemed appropriate for the pale extreme of immature Le Conte’s Sparrow. Again, observers were starting with an identification and interpreting and sometimes imagining field marks to their identification. Finally, on 12 October, the bird was carefully studied and photographed. It was determined to be some sort of escaped, non-native, cage bird, probably of the widow/whydah/ bishop group. An outside expert was recently consulted to evaluate the slides and a preliminary identification as Red Bishop (Euplectes orix) was made (M. Gustafson, pers. com.).
So what do we learn from all of this? One, two, and sometimes many field marks don’t always add up to a positive or correct identification. The realm of possibilities sometimes isn’t limited to what you might expect. Starting with an identification and finding field marks to fit is the wrong way of going about identifying any bird. “Rarity Hysteria” can readily cloud the judgment of otherwise critical field observers. This points out the need for each and every one of us to independently identify each suspected rarity, and not to accept an identification without personal corroboration. Too often, in the search for “twitches” on a checklist or numbers on a lifelist, observers accept someone else’s identification by showing up at the site of a find simply to see and check off another “good one”. All of us, including this writer, have learned an important and embarrassing lesson at the “hands” of this little cage bird.
DARK-EYED “OREGON” JUNCO (Junco hyemalis oreganus) A female or immature was reported from Southbury 30 Nov 1985 (91-8), one was reported from Middlebury 21 Dec 1985 (91-9), and two immatures were reported from Southbury 6 Nov 1994 (94-30). Juncos are a very poorly understood group, with as much variation within each subspecies as there is between each subspecies. While typical “Slate-colored” adults and typical “Oregon” adults pose little confusion, immatures and females of these and the adults and young of other geographic forms can be so similar that in-field identification becomes nearly impossible. This committee did a remarkable amount of research into the descriptions and variability of each form and determined that these sight reports were inconclusive as to the actual subspecies being described. In fact, various committee members believe that the reports refer to the brown immatures of “Slate-colored” Junco, which can show very rusty flanks and mantles. The committee warns observers that close and careful scrutiny of the hood shape across the breast, the extent of the hood around the nape, the color of the hood, the color of the lores, the color and extent of the flanks, and the color of the back are critical to even begin to identify a junco to subspecies. Even with all of this, a good, clear photograph is necessary to evaluate this information and please know that, even with a photo, the identification may still not be possible.
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) A female was reported from Greenwich 5 Sep 1994 (94-33), and another, a probable male, was reported from Rowayton, Norwalk 18 Jul 1995 (95-16). Both of these reports include remarkably early dates for the occurrence of Yellow-headed Blackbird in Connecticut but coincide very well with the first dispersals of Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) after the breeding season. Female and young Red-winged Blackbirds can be astonishingly yellow-faced and dark-bodied at this time of the year. A photograph shown to the committee shows a female or young Red-winged Blackbird with a bright chrome yellow face and chest that could easily be mistaken for a Yellow-headed Blackbird. The committee agreed that the unusual dates of these reports, coupled with minimal details, do not convincingly support the identifications.
HOARY REDPOLL (Carduelis hornemanni) A female was reported from a feeder in Torrington 7-8 Apr 1994 (94-14). The field identification of redpolls is very difficult and rests on a number of very minute differences in plumage and structure. While this description seems to be suggestive of Hoary Redpoll, there is not enough detail to conclusively eliminate Common Redpoll (C. flammed). A very informative article in Birding (Vol. 27 (6): 446-457) gives extensive information into the identification of the redpoll complex and is worth consulting when trying to identify any “pale” redpoll.
RECORDS NOT ACCEPTED, Origin Questionable.
TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator) One was seen on a small pond near the Danbury Fair Mall, Danbury 21 Aug 1993 (96-27). This bird was seen by a number of observers and over a few days time. The individual sported a patagial tag with the number 227, which indicated that it was part of a captive breeding program and had been released into the wild in northern Ontario. Trumpeter Swans are being seen from many locations in the east and most are directly attributable to these reintroduction programs. The committee wants to thank the sole reporter who took the time to submit details of this sighting. Information on birds such as these is very important and many of us are quick to dismiss any species or individual that is not “countable” on a life list.
Data on all birds that occur in Connecticut is of interest to either the ARCC or the Field Notes Editor of CW and we thank you for your time and effort in ensuring the complete documentation of any unusual occurrence.
EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH (Carduelis carduelis) One was present at a Bethlehem thistle feeder 6 Jan – 24 Feb 1991 and again 29 Oct – 21 Nov 1991 (96-12). This species is occasionally reported from throughout our region. As this attractive species is widely available from pet stores and as no pattern of vagrancy is seen from intervening land masses between northeastern North America and its normal European range, it seems unlikely that these occurrences are natural in origin. The committee wants to stress, however, the importance in documenting the occurrence of presumed exotic species for posterity, should such patterns of natural dispersal become evident.
PIN-TAILED WHYDAH (Vidua macroura) An adult male was present in a Fairfield backyard 27 Jun 1995 (95-23). This highly distinctive African species is a popular caged bird and is widely available at pet stores. There is no record of vagrancy across the Atlantic and occurrences of this species is properly attributed to unnatural means. Interesting is the occurrence of this or another male of this species in Stratford in Oct 1995 where a Red Bishop (Enplectes orix) was misidentified as a Le Conte’s Sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii).One can only speculate as to the source of these very popular pet trade birds.
The committee greatly appreciates the time and effort expended by the following people who submitted reports or photographs of rarities: Ellen Albert, James Bair, Thomas R. Baptist, Bob Barbieri, Charles Barnard, Jr., Louis Bevier, William E. Bolster, Polly Brody, Milan Bull, Les Burdge, Winifred Burkett, Paul Carrier, Bruce Carver, Jr., George Clark, Patrick Comins, Fred Comstock, Sue Craig, Neil Currie, Julio de la Torre, Paul Desjardins, Robert Dewire, Patrick Dugan, Carl S. Ekroth, Jeff Fengler, Bruce Finnan, Gordon Fox, Paul Fusco, Frank Gallo, Frank B. Gill, Ed Hagen, John G. Haig, Greg Hanisek, Tom Harrington, Arnette Heidcamp, Keith Hubbard, Lisa Kalamian, Mimi Kalamian, Seth Kellogg, Scott Henckel, Julian Hough, Keith Hubbard, Jay Kaplan, Joseph Keating, Tom Kilroy, Jeff Kirk, Carol Lemmon, Frank Mantlik, Curtis Marantz, Janet Mehmel, Susan Mickolyzck, Michael Moccio, Gerry Nason, Russ Naylor, Ron Pelletier, Simon Perkins, Noble S. Proctor, David Provencher, Sally Reynolds, Ray Schwartz, Dori Sosensky, Jeffrey A. Spendelow, Rex Stanford, Eric Sullivan, Sherman Suter, Mark Szantyr, Andrew Vallely, Bill Van Loan, Linda Vegliante, John F. Wells Jr., Lyle Whittlesey, Christopher Wood, Robert Yunick, Joseph Zeranski, Julie Zickefoose, and James Zingo.
Several people helped the committee with its decisions in this report. We offer our appreciation to Wayne Petersen, Mary Gustafson, and Louis Bevier, for help in documenting or resolving difficult records. George Clark and Fred Sibley gave assistance with the specimens in their care and offered sage advice. Jon Dunn and Paul Lehman settled some particularly knotty identification issues. Currently the ARCC consists of members: Polly Brody, Buzz Devine, Bob Dewire, John Gaskell, Greg Hanisek, Julian Hough, Frank Mantlik (chairman), Dave Provencher, Mark Szantyr (secretary), and Christopher Wood.
Former members who voted on certain of the records in this report are: Louis Bevier, Milan Bull, Tom Burke, George Clark, Richard English, Ed Hagen, and Jay Kaplan.
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Frank W. Mantlik, 261 Chestnut Hill Rd, Norwalk, CT 06851
Mark S. Szantyr, 2C Yale Rd, Storrs, CT 06268
David F. Provencher, 43 Branch Hill Rd, Preston, CT 06360