Twelfth ARCC Report
by Jay Kaplan and Greg Hanisek
The Twelfth Report of the Avian Records Committee of Connecticut (ARCC) of the Connecticut Ornithological Association adds six species to the Connecticut State Checklist. These birds are Cackling Goose, Sooty Shearwater, Snowy Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Collared Dove and Spotted Towhee. All, with the exception of Cackling Goose, were added as the result of careful documentation of exciting finds by a number of diligent birders. The Cackling Goose, which appears annually in small numbers, is added by virtue of its split from Canada Goose by the American Ornithologists’ Union.
The report continues an ongoing effort to maintain an accurate record and historical archive of Connecticut’s avifauna. Current members of the committee who evaluated and voted on these reports, in addition to the authors, were Buzz Devine, Frank Gallo, Ed Hagen, Julian Hough, Frank Mantlik, Janet Mehmel, Dave Provencher, Mark Szantyr, and Dave Tripp. Former members who voted on some of the records include Chris Wood, John Gaskell and Richard Sofer. Mark Szantyr has stepped down as the ARCC secretary after many years of outstanding work, but he will remain a committee member. Under his leadership the committee stayed abreast of developing trends in identification, status and distribution, and in some cases broke new ground in handling difficult records. Mark’s work with Old World geese and Selasphorus hummingbirds has been recognized by records committees in other northeastern states. The committee hopes to have a new secretary on board in the near future. Jay Kaplan is the new chairman, succeeding Dave Provencher, who also remains a committee member.
In assessing records, the committee urges birders submitting reports to carefully detail the bird’s physical appearance, calls or songs, and behaviors, as well as the habitat and conditions under which the bird was seen. The enormous growth of digital imagery has been most helpful in providing photographic documentation for a number of species. In fact, much of the committee’s work can now be done electronically. It is anticipated that this will eventually streamline the process and the bylaws are now being rewritten to reflect these new technologies. It is hoped that revised bylaws can be presented to the COA Board at its fall meeting.
ARCC reports become part of a historic archive, and accepted reports must stand the test of time so that a future generation of birders might reach the same conclusion with respect to the bird’s identity. This permanent record may be re-opened at any time in order to consider new information, including additional observer reports, newly recognized field characteristics or changes in status and distribution. Unaccepted records, as well as accepted ones, become part of the archive. It has recently been recommended that ARCC reports be archived at the University of Connecticut’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department and also at Yale University’s Peabody Museum. ARCC members are currently working to make this a reality.
Finally, there has been some concern regarding the efficacy of the committee with respect to its review of unusual sightings within the state. The committee fully recognizes that there has been a longer than necessary delay between this report and the prior one found in the July 2002 edition of The Connecticut Warbler. The committee is taking steps to improve its efficiency, but it must also be noted that reports of unusual birds are not always submitted to the committee. Many of the reports submitted over the past several years have come from ARCC members, even though other persons made the initial discovery. There may be a perception that submissions are unnecessary if enough birders view a rare bird, or that if an ARCC member sees a bird a report is not required. Nothing is further from the truth, and it is hoped that the thirteenth report of this committee will be put to paper, complete with more new state records, in the not-too distant future.
STATE LIST AND REVIEW LIST
The state listed now stands at 414. The committee depends on observers to submit their reports of species on the Review List (these 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).
The committee periodically revises the Review List to reflect the latest information on the status of the state’s birds. In addition to adding the new state records listed in this report, the committee has removed the following species because the number of sightings has increased: Eared Grebe, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, American White Pelican, King Eider, Mississippi Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, Swainson’s Hawk, Ruff, Parasitic Jaeger, Razorbill, Rufous Hummingbird, Cave Swallow, Varied Thrush and Black-throated Gray Warbler.
We thank the following observers who submitted reports of these species prior to their removal from the review list. All are now officially accepted:
Eared Grebe, 16 Jan 2003 in Groton (Dave Provencher); 22-23 March 2003 at Harkness State Park, Waterford (Glenn Williams); 23 April 2003, Cat Den Swamp, Eastford (Mark Szantyr); American White Pelican, 2 on 3 Nov 2003 at Lighthouse Point, New Haven (Greg Hanisek); Nov. 13-15 2005, Essex (Hank Golet); Swainson’s Hawk, 23 Sep 2002, Lighthouse Point, New Haven (Greg Hanisek); 1 Nov 2002, Caswell Cove, Milford (Nita Hamilton); Parasitic Jaeger, 15 Sep 2002, Eastern Point, Groton (Rickard Ignell); Black-throated Gray Warbler, 12 Oct 2000, New Milford (Angela Dimmitt). In addition, Mark Szantyr banded and provided details and photos on four Rufous Hummingbirds visiting feeders in Simsbury, North Branford, Darien and Guilford from 2002 to the present. Photos of apparent Rufous Hummingbirds were submitted by Cindi Kobak from North Guilford and Jerry Connolly from Madison, both in 2005.
THE GOOSE QUESTION
Few birding conundrums become as contentious as the origins of unusual waterfowl. The committee has addressed the problem by creating a special category – Accept, Origin Uncertain. This allows acceptance of a species when the preponderance of evidence suggests wild origin, even though it can’t be proven with absolute certainty. This category was used for the first time in the eleventh report to add Barnacle Goose to the State List. In the tenth report, both Pink-footed Goose and Cinnamon Teal were accepted, based on the preponderance of evidence, in the traditional Accept category. However, the discussions about those two species led to creation of the Accept, Origin Uncertain category. It acknowledges that in most cases absolute certainty isn’t possible. The evidence used to accept a first state record for each of those species is spelled out in the Tenth (Pink-footed Goose and Cinnamon Teal) and Eleventh (Barnacle Goose) ARCC reports. Having established all three species as valid additions to the state’s avifauna, the committee has decided that, in most cases, it will not address questions of origin raised by subsequent records of those species. All of them can occur as either escapes or wild vagrants. One hundred percent certainty will never be achieved unless banding information establishing point of origin can be obtained. That was the case with the banded Cinnamon Teal acted upon in this report. The committee still encourages reports on rare waterfowl, such as the two Pink-footed Geese seen in Enfield and Suffield in January 2006, to establish correct identification and for inclusion in the historical archives. To date, no one has submitted a report on those birds, although there are photographs. The Accept, Origin Uncertain category will still be used when applicable to establish first state records, as was the case with the Eurasian Collared Dove in this report. Garganey, anyone?
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) following 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.
SOOTY SHEARWATER (Puffinus griseus) A lone bird was seen at close range from a boat near Falkner Island off Guilford on 8 Jul 2004 (06-22 Patrick Comins*, Peary Stafford, Daniel Donn). All three birders were familiar with the species and all three submitted reports, an excellent effort for which the committee is grateful. This provided strong documentation for a first state record. In addition to good descriptions, one observer offered a careful analysis of how the bird was separated from similar species. This exercise is especially important with pelagic species, which can be wide-ranging and show up in unexpected places. It is worth noting that this record adds to the recent trend toward pelagic and offshore species entering Long Island Sound in greater numbers and variety.
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis) An immature was seen at close range from a fishing boat near the New York-Connecticut border in eastern Long Island Sound on 5 Sep 2001 (02-01 Mike Horn*). The observer’s familiarity with nautical charts assured that the bird was seen in Connecticut waters. Four observers found an immature sitting on a jetty at the mouth of the Housatonic River off Milford Point on 1 Aug 2002 (02-34 Dori Sosensky, Lynne James).
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus) An adult was observed at Barn Island in Stonington on 21 May 2003 and seen by several observers (06-13 Nick Bonomo ‡). A silver band was observed on the bird’s right leg just above the foot, but the inscription could not be made out.
YELLOW RAIL (Coturnicops noveboracensis) The observer flushed the bird several times while mowing a field near Mitchell Pond in Salem on 4 Nov 2004 (06 15 David Bingham*). The field is managed for grassland birds, which accounts for the late (and fortuitous) mowing. This species is believed to be a regular migrant through Connecticut but is almost never seen because of its secretive ways.
SNOWY PLOVER (Charadrius alexandrinus) A bird discovered 1 Oct 2004 at Sandy Point in West Haven constituted a first state record and only the second for the coastal northeast (06-02 Julian Hough* ‡). It remained until at least 7 Nov and was seen by many observers. This is a wide-ranging species with races occurring from the United States across Europe to Japan. Assigning it to a geographic race, as well as to an age and sex class, proved problematic. For a more detailed account see The Connecticut Warbler, Vol. 25 No. 2.
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus) An adult male was found 21 Jun 2003 at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison at the newly created shorebird scrape (06-03 William & Claudia Ahrens*). An adult male was seen and well-described by a single observer on 30 May 2004 at Sandy Point in West Haven (06-04 Maria Stockmal*).
BAR-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa lapponica) A shorebird survey at Harvey’s Beach, Old Saybrook, on 18 April 2001 proved spectacularly productive when the surveyor found this first state record (02-26 Dennis Varza* ‡). The bird could not be found by other observers, but photographs and a written description clinched the identification. This observation underscores the importance of field notes, even when photos have been taken. The photos were distant, but the field notes provided critical details, including the presence of a dark rump, which allowed assignment of the bird to the Asiatic race baueri. The addition of this bird to the state list was probably overdue, considering that Massachusetts has at least 14 records. It has also been recorded in New York and New Jersey.
POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus) A group of five observers on land had the good fortune to see a single bird fly directly overhead at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison on 11 May 2002 (02-33 Dori Sosensky*). The description and a sketch indicated the bird was an adult.
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla) From a boat off of Stamford the observer saw a group of three in first-winter plumage on 21 Oct 2005 (06-06 Al Collins*). Sightings appear to be increasing in Long Island Sound but to date few reports have been submitted.
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica) One appeared briefly in a yard in Sterling on 10 Sep 2001 (02-15 Linda Dixon*). The observer provided details that separated the bird from Mourning Dove. The same yard produced the first state record for this species on 18 May 1997!
CHUCK-WILL’S WIDOW (Caprimulgus carolinensis) A bird first heard calling on 28 April 2005 in Nehantic State Forest in Lyme continued to be heard, and occasionally seen, until at least 11 June (06-18 John Gaskell, * Glenn Williams). Most records have involved short-staying birds heard by a limited number of people. This species, perhaps the same individual, was present at the same location in May 2006 (GW et al.).
FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER (Tyrannus savanna) One, the state’s second record for this spectacular Southern Hemisphere species, made a brief appearance on 12 Aug 2003 in Stonington (06-21 Glenn Williams*). The observer made detailed notes that not only established the species but also suggested this may have been the same individual seen later in the fall in Rhode Island. The flycatcher didn’t stay long, but the observer was able to show it to his family and one other birder who lived near by.
TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE (Myadestes townsendi) One was discovered on 22 Jan. 2006 at Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden. On 28 Jan it became apparent that two Solitaires were present (06-09 Kristof Zyskowski* ‡ Julian Hough ‡). They were last reported on 22 Feb after being seen and heard singing by many observers.
MACGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER (Oporornis tolmiei) One, representing a second state record, was found in a thicket at Silver Sands State Park on 12 Jan 2002 (02-27 Buzz Devine*). Despite a fairly brief look at the bird, the observer’s experience allowed him to home in on key features needed to distinguish this bird from similar species. The date of occurrence fit the seasonal pattern for this species but not for other Oporornis warblers. This discovery followed close on the heels of the first state record, a bird found on 15 Dec 2001 in New Milford (see Eleventh Report of the Avian Records Committee of Connecticut in The Connecticut Warbler Vol. 22 No.3).
SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus) A first state record for this recently split species was established when one was found on 31 Dec 2005 at Groton Long Point on the New London Christmas Bird Count (06-08 Scott Tsagarakis*, Mark Szantyr ‡, Ryan Sayers ‡). It was seen my many observers until at least mid-February. Plumage details ruled out the identification as a hybrid with Eastern Towhee and suggested the bird was a first-year female of the Great Plains race arcticus.
HARRIS’S SPARROW (Zonotrichia querula) An apparent adult wintered at a feeder in Bloomfield from 21 Nov 2002 to 28 April 2003 (06-01 Cathy Schlude*, Jay Kaplan, Mark Szantyr ‡,). This was the ninth documented state record but the first since 1986.
BREWER’S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus) One was found on 10 Nov 2002 at the old airport in Waterford (02-38 Dave Provencher*). The observer’s careful description of the bird’s structure and its call notes were critical in establishing the identity of a species easily confused with the regularly occurring Rusty Blackbird.
ACCEPT – ORIGIN UNCERTAIN
EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) One appeared in the Waterbury yard of David Coutu on 2 May 2004 and was photographed on 4 May, the last day it was present (06-07 Mark Szantyr ‡, Greg Hanisek). This is a first state record for a species with a fascinating history. After spreading westward across Europe, it colonized Caribbean islands, jumped to Florida and has since dispersed widely through North America. Two issues arose with this observation – identification and origin. Eurasian Collared Dove is superficially similar to Ringed Turtle Dove, a common cage bird. In the past committee members have investigated several reports of possible collared doves that proved on close examination to be turtle doves. Close observation, field notes and photos allowed positive identification of this individual. Key points included dark undertail coverts and the tricolored effect of the folded wing (warm buffy brown secondary coverts, gray secondaries and dark primaries). Photos were shown to experts from areas where the species is well-established, and they confirmed the identification. The origin question arises because the possibility of captive individuals exists. However, Eurasian Collard Doves have been undergoing a rapid and wide-ranging natural expansion in North America. The bird’s arrival in conjunction with a May storm fit natural dispersal patterns. The committee accepted it in the Origin Uncertain category, which gives it full status on the state list while acknowledging that it is impossible to assign origin with absolute certainty.
RECORDS NOT ACCEPTED, identification questionable
PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica) One was reported off Mystic on 1 Jan 2001 (01-11). This remains a difficult species to document in Connecticut. In this case observers noted some features indicative of Pacific Loon, but distance and unfavorable lighting conditions raised concerns for committee members. It is worth noting, as evidence of the difficulties this species continues to provide, that and experienced observer submitted a report of a different individual but later withdrew it after researching identification challenges.
ANHINGA (Anhinga anhinga) One was reported soaring high over New Milford on 22 April 2001 (02-03). The observer provided several details suggestive of this species, but the committee continues to struggle with reports of Anhinga because of persistent difficulty in separation from soaring cormorants, even by experienced observers. Following the pattern of Pacific Loon, an experienced observer reported two in high soaring flight but after further field work with soaring cormorants reconsidered his original identification.
WHITE-TAILED KITE (Elanus leucurus) Two birds believed to be an adult and an immature were reported from East Hartford on 26 April 2002 (02-31). While details were suggestive of this species, the committee believed the observation from a car without binoculars was too brief to confirm what would have been a first state record.
GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus) A report of a possible white Gyrfalcon on 16 Mar 2005 in West Suffield (06-16) did not address the possibility of leucistic Red-tailed Hawk, which was known to be in the area.
BLACK GUILLEMOT (Cepphus grylle) One was reported off Stratford on 23 March 2001 (02-05). The committee considered the rather brief look at a fly-by bird insufficient to confirm a species for which there are no recent records and only a handful overall. However, this observation serves as a good illustration of the importance of all reports, accepted or not. With the general increase of birds formerly rare in Long Island Sound, along with increasing reports of this species at other Northeast Coast locations, the anomalous nature of this record could change over time.
BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER (Picoides arcticus) One was reported from Stamford on 3 May 2005 (06-20). Although there are more than 30 state records, including at least three from May, this species’ periodic invasions have failed to materialize for several decades. Most of the records date to major incursions in the 1920s and 1950s. The observer reported an all-black back and lack of yellow on the head, which could be indicative of a female arcticus, but the report lacked other details such as the malar pattern, flank barring and tail pattern. Observers should attempt to note as many details as possible when documenting a rare species.
RECORDS NOT ACCEPTED, origin questionable
CINNAMON TEAL (Anas cyanoptera) A drake bearing a red leg band was in West Hartford on 25 March 2006 (06-10). The colored band indicates captive origin. This was probably one of up to three Cinnamon Teal, one male and two female, seen from Avon to West Hartford starting in fall 2005. See Connecticut Warbler Vol. 26 No. 2 for additional information on their possible origin.
RED-CRESTED POCHARD (Netta rufina) A male and a female were at Bantam Lake in Litchfield on 19 Nov 2000 (06-14). This species breeds in southern and eastern Europe, is kept in waterfowl collections and has no history of trans-Atlantic vagrancy.
NUTMEG MANNIKIN (Lonchura punctulata) One was seen on 18 Sep 2002 in a yard in Sterling (02-28). This southeastern Asiatic species has established populations in the Los Angeles area and in southeast Florida. It is a common cage bird, and this individual was clearly an escape.
The committee thanks Blair Nikula and Louis Bevier for helpful comments on the Bar-tailed Godwit and Eurasian Collared Dove, respectively.
Hanisek, Greg. 2005. Connecticut Birds By The Season. The Connecticut Warbler. Vol. 25 No. 1
Hough, Julian. 2005. Snowy Plover at Sandy Point. The Connecticut Warbler. Vol. 25 No. 2
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