Report - 2003
REPORT OF THE NEW YORK STATE AVIAN RECORDS COMMITTEE
The Committee reviewed 142 reports from 2003, involving
82 separate sightings, and an additional 14 reports from 2002 or earlier.
This high number of reports is typical of the past few years and marks
the steady rise in reporting since inception of the Committee in 1977.
As usual, the New York State Avian Records Committee (NYSARC) received
reports from all over the state, with 29 of 62 counties represented. The
three counties with the most reports submitted were Suffolk (22), Monroe
(21), and Erie (15). The overall accepted rate remained relatively high
at 84%. Interestingly, 35% of the reports involved multiple submissions,
meaning more than one independent report pertaining to the same sighting.
This is a welcome trend that generally provides a fuller account of the
sighting and helps to corroborate important details of observation, especially
subjective features such as size, flight style and so on. This is particularly
important when birds are seen only briefly such as at hawk or lake watches.
In the fleeting moments as the bird passes, observers will notice and
recall subtly different features, which in combination may give a more
complete picture. The same is true for vocalizations, which are notoriously
difficult to transcribe. If you are lucky enough to encounter a rare bird,
be sure to encourage additional observers to put their own notes and impressions
on paper and, if possible, submit these as independent reports.
A total of 93 contributors provided reports and/or photographs and their
names are listed alongside accepted reports as well as at the end of this
document. The Committee genuinely appreciates the time and effort that
goes into preparing these reports and we hope that the new online submission
form available on the New York State Ornithological Association (NYSOA)
web site has made this task easier. Many submissions were of a high standard,
not only in terms of the level of detail provided in the description but
also in the careful analysis of the identification. All too often, observers
omit an explanation of precisely how they arrived at their conclusions,
perhaps assuming that this will be self-evident from the description or
photographs. Unfortunately, this is not always true, and, without exception,
a report is much stronger and more compelling when the authors take the
time to explain what features convinced them that they were observing
the species in question rather than other similar species, including plumage
variants, exotics (cage birds), or other rare possibilities.
HOW TO SUBMIT REPORTS
Advice on how to prepare and submit a report is provided on the NYSARC
pages within the NYSOA web site:
Here you will also find an on-line reporting form that allows observers
to compose a written report and attach up to five digital image files.
The site also includes a list of species reviewed by NYSARC, information
on the composition of the Committee, a small gallery of rare or unusual
birds photographed in the state, and copies of previous annual reports.
NYSARC encourages observers to submit documentation for all species on
the review list, as well as species previously unrecorded in New York
State (NYS). We will also consider unusual breeding species and seasonal
migrants that are four weeks of more beyond the usual dates of occurrence.
NYSARC encourages observers to read the Kingbird article by former Committee
member Willie D’Anna on the documentation and reporting process
(D’Anna 2003). The Committee is grateful to Carena Pooth for regularly
updating the NYSARC web site. Those who prefer not to use the online reporting
form are encouraged to send us documentation (written and photographic)
via email or regular mail. Such reports, as well as correspondence for
the Committee, should be sent to:
Jeanne Skelly, Secretary for NYSARC
420 Chili-Scottsville Road, Churchville, NY 14428
OTHER COMMITTEE NEWS
It is with deep regret that we note the passing of Dr. Paul DeBenedictis.
At a meeting in 1975 of the Council of Delegates for what was then The
Federation of New York State Bird Clubs, Paul first proposed the creation
of a rare bird verification committee for the state, in line with committees
that already existed in California, Britain, and elsewhere. After two
more years of deliberation and planning, the formation of NYSARC was approved
and Paul was selected as the first Chair. He served from 1977 to 1984,
when he resigned from the Committee to devote himself to Editorship of
The Kingbird. After almost thirty years, NYSARC remains an important
and well-respected arm of the New York State Ornithological Association,
a fitting legacy to Paul’s many contributions to amateur ornithology
in New York and beyond. In other Committee news, Gerard Phillips rotates
off the Committee at the end of his five-year term as a voting member.
We thank Gerard for his many insightful and sometimes passionate contributions
to our deliberations. His knowledge and constant good humor made our work
all the more pleasurable. He is replaced by Jeff Bolsinger of Canton,
New York. Jeff is a field biologist with particular interest in the ecology
of passerines, especially the wood warblers. He has recently taken on
the role as Kingbird Editor for Region 6 and has played a major role in
gathering data from the St. Lawrence River plain and Adirondack region
for the Breeding Bird Atlas. We welcome Jeff as a voting member and will
make good use of his knowledge of the birds and birders in northern New
The present report represents a collaborative effort by the current,
undersigned, Committee members. We are also deeply indebted to Willie
D’Anna, who helped to review many of the reports included here.
On occasion we also requested assistance from experts outside the Committee,
and we would like to express our gratitude to all who have graciously
responded. We also wish to acknowledge Berna and Stan Lincoln for contributing
information concerning Paul DeBenedictis and his role in the early years
of the Committee and Patricia Lindsay for helping to proof-read this long
and complex document.
This report includes several notable rarities including three new additions
to the New York State Checklist: Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva),
Williamson’s Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus), and Cassin’s
Vireo (Vireo cassinii). The golden-plover is a long-distance migrant with
a proven potential for global vagrancy and has seemed like a good possibility
to reach NYS eventually. In contrast, the woodpecker was far beyond any
prior vagrant record and truly unexpected. As discussed in the narrative,
Cassin’s Vireo may occur with regularity in eastern North America
but its status as a vagrant is obscured by the difficulty of identification
in the field. The Committee also accepted the first NYS occurrence of
“Western Flycatcher,” a complex formerly recognized as a single
species but now regarded by the AOU as comprising two separate, although
very similar, species: Cordilleran Flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis)
and Pacific-slope Flycatcher (E. difficilis). Neither has been recorded
in NYS before, but the Committee was not convinced that these two possibilities
could be distinguished from the details provided. Including “Western
Flycatcher,” these additions bring the state list to a total of
466. Other notables include the second accepted records of South Polar
Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki), Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia
decaocto), and MacGillivray’s Warbler (Oporornis tolmiei) for NYS,
three Black-capped Petrels (Pterodroma hasitata) on or near Lake Ontario,
multiple inland Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (Oceanites oceanicus), Magnificent
Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens), and Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia
rosea). The Committee also accepted the first NYS occurrences of two subspecies:
a Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) belonging to the western North American
subspecies group swainsonii (“Western Warbling-Vireo”); and
a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) of the southwestern North American
subspecies chryseola (“Sonora Yellowthroat”). Finally, the
Committee accepted reports documenting the first NYS breeding records
for Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) and Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra).
Unless otherwise stated, each report number (e.g., Ross’s Goose
#2003-77-A/C, below) refers to a single individual bird. The letters following
the report number indicate how many independent reports pertained to the
bird in question (three in the example just given). County names appear
in bold font, and a few standard abbreviations, consistent with those
in Kingbird Regional Reports, are employed to save space.
Ross’s Goose (Chen rossii)
2003-2-A Fairhaven Beach SP, Fairhaven, Oswego, 6 Jan (Kevin
McGann; ph K. McGann).
2003-38-A Town of Holland, Niagara, 22 Apr (William W. Watson).
2003-65-A Lake Ontario Parkway, East of Rt 98, Carleton, Monroe,
10 Apr (Robert Spahn).
2003-77-A/C Cayuga Pool, Iroquois NWR, Shelby, Genesee,
27 Dec (Gerald Lazarczyk, William W. Watson, Michael Morgante; ph Kurt
As we have seen in past years, the number of reports of Ross’s Goose
has steadily increased in line with the overall growth of the population
and its spread eastwards. 2003 was no exception to this trend and justifies
the Committee’s decision to remove the species from the review list.
Four reports were accepted. Two of these included photos, and all four
provided acceptable descriptions, adequately addressing the Committee’s
concerns regarding small Snow Geese (C. caerulescens) and hybrid
Ross’s X Snow Geese, which can be identified by careful study of
head and bill shape.
Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)
2003-57-A/D Two to fourteen, Ringneck Marsh, Iroquois NWR, Shelby,
Orleans, 13 Oct to 9
Nov (Willie D’Anna, Michael Morgante, William W. Watson; ph W. D’Anna).
Western NY and especially the Iroquois NWR seem to be a regular wintering
ground for small numbers of Cackling Geese, possibly the same individuals
returning from one year to the next. The four reports described between
2 and 14 individuals that were seen over the period from 13 October to
9 November. The one photograph of a single individual was helpful in validating
the identification, and combined with the descriptions, left little doubt
that these were “Richardson’s” Cackling Geese rather
than nutritionally-stunted Canada Geese (B. canadensis).
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
2003-3-A Male, Port Kent Harbor, Essex, 11-13 Jan (Dana
2003-11-A/C Male, Oswego Harbor, Oswego, 2 Mar (Bill Purcell,
Barbara Herrgesell, Kevin McGann; ph K. McGann).
John Peterson and Robert Wei found a male Tufted Duck at Port Kent Harbor,
Essex on 11 January, and David Wheeler later discovered a second
male in Oswego Harbor, Oswego on 2 March. Since these locations
are somewhat distant from each other, it is unclear whether these pertain
to one bird or two. In both cases, the Tufted Duck was found with a flock
of scaup and descriptions of the tuft, flank pattern, and back color argued
against hybrid origin.
Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)
2003-8-A Pt Vivian, St Lawrence River, Alexandria, Jefferson,
12 Jan (Nick Leone).
This female/immature male was observed with a telescope for 45 minutes
at 150-250 yards. Some reviews voiced concern that the report did not
explicitly address separation from King Eider (Somateria spectabilis),
the more frequent eider within the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence system. However,
several details (general size, head and bill shape plus “feathering
of the loral area extending down the bill and tapering to a narrow, blunt
point slightly below the nostril”) were positive for Common Eider
and ruled against King.
Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica)
2003-9-A/C Captree SP, Suffolk, 1-3 Mar (Thomas W. Burke,
Dale Dyer, Angus Wilson; ph Ken Feustel, A. Wilson).
2003-15-A/B East River, Queens/Manhattan, 1 May (Angus Wilson,
Anne Lazarus; ph A. Wilson).
The Captree loon was discovered by Dale Dyer and subsequently seen by
hordes of local and visiting birders (Dyer 2003). Two observers submitted
a total of eight digital photographs and these proved valuable in documenting
the identification. Excellent descriptions also conclusively supported
the identification as an adult winter-plumaged Pacific Loon. Anne Lazarus
discovered the season’s second Pacific Loon two months later along
the East River, a site that generally receives far less birding coverage
than the outer coast. The two reports of this bird include seven digital
photos and thorough descriptions to conclusively document this record.
The bird appeared to be in active molt into summer plumage. It is possible
that a “mini-invasion” of Pacific Loons to the east coast
in 2003, like the widely documented invasion of Red-necked Grebes (Podiceps
grisegena) around the same time, was related to the complete freeze-up
of the western Great Lakes!
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
2003-19-A Riis Park, Queens, 23 Mar (Angus Wilson).
Angus Wilson and Andy Guthrie found this Western Grebe just beyond the
surf line on the Atlantic Ocean side of Riis Park. The bird was first
seen about noon and relocated at 4 PM. The description clearly indicates
an Aechmophorus grebe, which was studied for some time from a long
distance. The observers had noted several Red-necked Grebes (Podiceps
grisegena) earlier in the day. The details of the head and neck, with
the eye concealed within the cap, and the dark flanks confirmed the separation
of Western from Clark’s Grebe (Ae. clarkii) and were sufficient
to eliminate a possible hybrid. The previous winter, a Western Grebe was
present for several months off the southern shore of Staten Island, only
a few miles across the entrance of New York Harbor from Breezy Point and
Black-capped Petrel (Pterodroma hasitata)
2003-28-A/C Two, Lake Ontario, Fairhaven SP, Cayuga, 21 Sep
(Kevin McGann, Gerard Phillips, Bill Purcell).
2003-82-A Euclid Ave near Syracuse Ave, Syracuse, Onondaga,
24 Sep (Pete Hosner;
ph P. Hosner).
Despite having only distant views of the two birds that flew past Fairhaven
State Park, the three reports helped eliminate other petrels, including
the very similar Bermuda Petrel (P. cahow), by virtue of the bold
white collar. Salient field marks and the well-described manner of flight
further eliminated other seabirds, including Northern Gannet (Morus
bassanus), Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea),
and Greater Shearwater (Puffinus gravis)—the latter two species
being unprecedented for inland NYS despite their abundance in our offshore
waters. This was the first sighting in Region 5 involving seemingly healthy
individuals. The report from Syracuse included three photographs and accompanying
notes of an “emaciated” female specimen now at the Cornell
University collection (CUM #50218). The bird was first discovered alive
in a bush on Euclid Avenue in Syracuse, Oneida Co, three days after the
passage of Hurricane Isabel on 22 Sep. An attempt was made to capture
the struggling bird but it escaped and was unfortunately hit by a car.
It eventually died at a local rehabilitator on 24 Sep. Although it is
tempting to speculate that this might have been one of the two individuals
seen on nearby Lake Ontario the afternoon of 21 Sep, there is no firm
evidence either way. The Syracuse bird constitutes the fourth record for
Region 5. Along with a number of storm-petrels (see below), it is almost
certain that these three gadfly petrels were swept inland from the Gulf
Stream by the passage of Hurricane Isabel.
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus)
2003-32-A/C One to two individuals, south end of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca,
Tompkins, 20-22 Sep (Wesley Hochachka, Pete Hosner, Curtis Marantz;
ph P. Hosner).
2003-33-A/E Woodlawn Beach SP, Hamburg, Erie, 19-20 Sep
(Mike Hamilton, Kurt Fox, William W. Watson, Willie D’Anna, Michael
2003-49-A/C One to five, Fairhaven SP, Fairhaven, Cayuga,
21 Sep (Kevin McGann, Bill Purcell, Gerard Phillips; ph G. Phillips).
2003-56-A Two, possibly three, Pendergast Pt, Chautauqua,
20 Sep (Willie D’Anna).
Hurricane Isabel carried an unprecedented number of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels
to inland regions including upstate NYS, evidenced by the number of sightings
documented and submitted to NYSARC. The Hamburg, Erie, bird was
seen by a number of individuals, and the written descriptions of this
bird, and of the two to three birds at Pendergast Point, Chautauqua,
firmly establish the identification of Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and
sufficiently rule out other contenders, in particular Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
(Oceanodroma castro) and Leach’s Storm-Petrel (O. leucorhoa).
The Fairhaven, Cayuga, sightings were accompanied by both written
descriptions and documentary photographs. One of these photographs captured
the unpleasant prospects faced by many storm-driven seabirds, in this
case being snatched and swallowed alive by a Ring-billed Gull (Larus
delawarensis). Cayuga Lake, Tompkins, hosted at least two storm-petrels.
Extensive observation, written documentation and photographs establish
that at least one of these birds could be safely identified as Wilson’s
Storm-Petrel (see discussion below regarding a candidate Band-rumped Storm-Petrel).
Although an abundant summer visitor to the coast, there are only five
previous inland records of Wilson’s Storm-Petrel for the state (Askildsen
White-faced Storm-Petrel (Pelagodroma marina)
2003-30-A Hudson Canyon, 39° 33.02’ N, 72° 20.09’
W, 17 Aug (Jeanne Skelly).
In recent years, late summer boat trips to the submarine canyons and shelf-breaks
off New England and south to the Carolinas have found White-faced Storm-Petrel
to be a regular, albeit scarce, denizen of the warm water currents that
move up with the Gulf Stream during the summer. This report is the fifth
in the past five years from offshore NYS waters, and the third of these
from organized pelagic trips out of Belmar, New Jersey, to the same section
of the Hudson Canyon. This bird was found at 39° 33.02’ N, 72°
20.09’ W, which is 92 miles due south of Southampton, Suffolk,
and seen very well off the bow of the Suzie Girl. It was seen long
enough for everyone on board to have excellent views and was last seen
at 39° 33.17’ N, 72° 20.95’ W. The Committee understands
that several excellent photographs were taken, but unfortunately they
were not submitted, and although a large number of trip participants (and
Committee members!) observed the bird, this report was the only one received.
This is the eleventh record for New York State.
Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)
2003-67-A/B Niagara River below flood gates, Niagara, 6-7 Oct
(William W. Watson, Willie D’Anna; ph W. D’Anna).
The two reports contained solid descriptions, eliminating similar species,
and were bolstered by three digiscoped photos clearly showing the bird
in juvenile (first year) plumage. Northern Gannet has become sufficiently
regular on Lake Ontario as to not require NYSARC review, but this sighting
on the Niagara River not far from its outflow from Lake Erie is much more
unusual. The fate of the birds that find themselves on freshwater for
extended periods is unknown.
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
2003-64-A Irondequoit Bay, Monroe, 8 Sep (Robert Spahn; ph
This report inadvertently circulated without an accompanying digiscoped
photo. However, the brief but adequate description of this highly distinctive
species sufficed. Likely this was the same bird first reported from Braddock
Bay on 7 Sep and seen again at Irondequoit on the 9th but no additional
reports were received.
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
2003-46-A Deruyter Reservoir, Madison, 19 Sep (Dorothy Crumb;
ph John Kennedy).
Barry Buyea reported a Brown Pelican on the east side of Deruyter Reservoir
and his friend John Kennedy was able to obtain recognizable photos of
the bird as it flew by. Although the Committee prefers to have some written
description, the photos were sufficient to confirm the identification
and location. Brown Pelicans remain very rare in NYS away from Long Island.
2003-44-A/C Female, Fire Island Hawkwatch, Robert Moses SP,
Suffolk, 2 Oct
(Robert Kurtz, John Gluth, Steven D’Amato; ph S. D’Amato),
see Fig. 1 on page 59.
An exemplary set of reports provided superb documentation of this
sighting. These included four well-taken photos of the bird in flight
plus excellent sketches conveying all the salient features, supporting
the identification as a female Magnificent Frigatebird. The thoughtful
analyses eliminated other members of the genus, including the two
that have occurred previously as vagrants in North America: Great
(F. minor) and Lesser (F. ariel) frigatebirds.
Figure 1. Magnificent
Frigatebird, Robert Moses SP, 2 Oct 2003, S. D'Amato.
Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)
2003-76-A Monroe, 7 June (Kevin Griffith).
Documentation of this medium-sized heron comprised a detailed sketch with
notations. A suite of characters, including the distinctive contrasting
underwing pattern, was fully consistent with Tricolored Heron, a notable
rarity away from marine habitat. The bird was discovered and sketched
by Kevin Griffith.
White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)
2003-37-A/I Benning Marsh, Montezuma NWR, Seneca, 27 Sep-5
Oct (William W. Watson, Dorothy Crumb, Kurt Fox, Barbara Herrgesell, Pete
Hosner, Kevin McGann, Robert Spahn, Curtis Marantz, Jay McGowan; ph Cheri
Sassman, P. Hosner, K. McGann, J. McGowan).
Any Plegadis ibis is noteworthy away from the coast in NYS. The
identification of individual birds can be difficult, particularly for
immatures or non-breeding adults, when White-faced Ibis lacks the distinctive
white facial feathering that lends the species its common name. This record
was extraordinarily well documented, due in various measure to the bird’s
lengthy stay at an actively birded hotspot, the highly efficient distribution
of timely reports over birding listserves, the increased use of ‘digiscoping’
to capture detailed documentary images, and not least the detailed written
reports submitted by multiple observers. This is the seventh record accepted
by NYSARC since 1979 (there are four additional sightings of 1-2 birds
each listed in Burke 1998), and the first record away from Region 10 since
Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)
2003-20-A Sub-ad, Ripley Hawkwatch, Site #2, Chautauqua, 20
May (Leonard DeFrancisco).
2003-22-A Sub-ad, Ripley Hawkwatch, Site #3, Chautauqua,
30 May (Leonard DeFrancisco).
Mississippi Kite is an annual but rare migrant in western NY and two sub-adults
seen ten days apart is extremely unusual. All of the salient features
were noted by the observer, including an incomplete white subterminal
tail band, which added a certain authenticity. The observer had good light
and saw both birds reasonably closely. Although he does not provide an
estimate of size with respect to the Broad-winged Hawks (Buteo platypterus)
accompanying these birds, he does provide a very detailed description
of the plumage and an excellent sketch. His description and drawing of
body, underwing pattern, and barred tail all seem to rule out the falcons
and Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus), the most likely alternatives.
Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)
2003-26-A Two ads, one chick, Carncross Rd, Savannah, Wayne, 5 June
(John Van Neil, John Foust; ph J. Van Neil).
John Van Neil and John Foust kept birders aware of the progress of a Sandhill
Crane colt that was discovered in the Montezuma wetlands complex just
north of the main wildlife refuge. The trio was watched anxiously all
summer as the immature progressed. Sandhill Cranes have been found in
previous years in this area but this is the first confirmed nesting record
Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva)
2003-70-A Mecox Bay, Suffolk, 28 Sep (Hugh McGuinness;
ph A. Baldelli), see Fig. 2 on page 59.
Jim Ash, Andy Baldelli, and Hugh McGuinness discovered and provided
excellent photographs of an adult Pacific Golden-Plover in rather
faded breeding plumage. See McGuinness (2003) for a full account.
The long tertials revealing only two
||exposed primaries and the long
tibia were among the field marks separating this species from American
Golden-Plover (P. dominica). Pacific Golden-Plovers breed on
arctic tundra from central Siberia across to western Alaska. The majority
of the population winters in coastal areas across southeast Asia,
Australia and especially the thousands of islands scattered across
the Pacific (Oceania). Small numbers are seen along the Pacific coast
of North America and regular vagrancy to Western Europe is well documented.
There are surprisingly few definitive reports of Pacific Golden-Plover
in eastern North America, perhaps a reflection of the similarity to
American Golden-Plover. Pacific Golden-Plover has been recorded in
Bermuda, Barbados, the Cape Verde Islands, Europe, and both coasts
of Africa (Johnson and Connors 1996, AOU 1998, McGuinness 2003). Prior
accepted records from the eastern USA include birds in Maine (11 Sep
1911), New Jersey (4-16 Sep 2001) and Massachusetts (21 Apr-5 May
2002). This is the first accepted record for NYS.
Figure 2. Pacific Golden-Plover,
Mecox Bay, Suffolk,
28 Sep 2003, A. Baldelli.
image to enlarge
Wilson’s Plover (Charadrius wilsonia)
2003-21-A/B Mecox Bay, Suffolk, 7-8 June (Angus Wilson, S.
S. Mitra, Patricia Lindsay).
The history of this species in NYS has been complex. It probably occurred
regularly on Long Island in the early to mid 19th Century (Giraud 1844,
Griscom 1923), when it bred commonly in southern New Jersey (Walsh et
al. 1999). Extirpated as a breeder from New Jersey in the late 19th Century,
records from Long Island lapsed for several decades. By 1942, however,
Cruickshank noted a resurgence and was able to list 13 well authenticated
Long Island records for the period 1915-1941. Thereafter, the species
was noted here only irregularly for half a century. Patricia Lindsay’s
and Tom Vezo’s record (NYSARC #1993-34-A) from 28 May 1993 at Napeague,
the site of at least one historical record,might be taken as the harbinger
of another, ongoing, period of more regular occurrence, leading up to
the present record: Lindsay’s discovery, with Shai Mitra, of a male
at Mecox Bay, another site that has hosted the species before. See also
NYSARC #1999-82-A, discussed below.
Willet (Catopthrophorus semipalmatus)
2003-83-A/B Bird Island Pier, La Salle Park, Buffalo, Erie,
12 Dec -3 Jan
(William W. Watson, Willie D’Anna; ph W. D’Anna).
Per these reports, a Willet was observed at LaSalle Park, Buffalo from
August 2003 until 1 January 2004. The descriptions of the distinctive
wing pattern, leg color and plumage were certainly indicative of Willet,
and the photograph provided by Willie D’Anna confirmed the identification.
Willets are rare in winter anywhere in NYS, and winter birds generally
show characters consistent with the prairie nesting “Western Willet”
(C. s. inornatus).
Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)
2003-48-A Onondaga Lake, Geddes, Onondaga, 8 Sep (Kevin
Viewed at a great distance through a spotting scope, the less than favorable
conditions, including heat shimmer, hindered a straightforward evaluation.
Some concerns were raised that other godwits were not considered and that
details of the head were described quite well yet the bill was not perceived
as being bi-colored. However, in the second round, the considerably larger
size compared with Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) and Blue-winged
teal (Anas discors), extremely long “pale” bill and
overall buff coloration of the plumage were enough to convince the Committee.
Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
2003-35-A Juv, Hamlin Beach SP, Monroe, 30 Aug (Dominic
Sherony; ph D. Sherony).
Dunlin in full juvenal plumage are rather rare in NYS, even on the coast
where the species occurs in huge numbers. Unlike most shorebirds, in which
southbound adults arrive in NYS dramatically earlier than juveniles, a
few juvenile Dunlin are often among the vanguard of Dunlin arriving on
Long Island during September, but even these are usually already molting
into first basic plumage. The present individual was carefully studied
and photographed and is notable both for the relatively early date and
for the fact that it appeared to be in full juvenal plumage.
Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor)
2003-62-A Massapequa Preserve, Nassau, 27 Nov (Seth Ausubel;
ph S. Ausubel).
This species is unusual on Long Island even during its expected periods
of occurrence, and it is extremely rare anywhere in the state after September.
The present record, which consists of a well-described bird in winter
plumage that was also nicely photographed, comes from a notable late-season
shorebird hotspot that is often used by wintering Long-billed Dowitchers
(Limnodromus scolopaceus) and Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago
delicata). This exceeds the previous late date of 20 Nov (Able 1998).
California Gull (Larus californicus)
2003-78-A/B Ad winter, Robert Moses Power Plant, Niagara River, Niagara,
6 &16 Dec
(William W. Watson, Willie D’Anna; ph W. D’Anna).
California Gulls continue to be reported annually from the Niagara River,
where they are consistently found at the Adam Beck Power Station overlook.
In years when one or more turn up, they can usually be located sitting
on the rocks just down river from the Robert Moses Power Station on the
American side of the river. Willie D’Anna was able to photograph
this adult California Gull from the dam overlook. The description and
photograph were sufficient for acceptance.
|Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia
2003-1-A/F First winter, Irondequoit Bay, Penfield, Monroe,
9-13 Jan (Sharon Skelly,
Jeanne Skelly, Jeff Gerbracht, Dominic Sherony, Robert Spahn, William
W. Watson), see Fig. 3 on page 60.
Bob Spahn discovered this first-winter Ross’s Gull at the south
end of Irondequoit Bay on 9 January and to the delight of many birders,
this winter jewel remained in the same area until it was last seen
on 13 Jan (Spahn 2003). The following day, the entire bay was frozen
over and presumably the gull was forced to look for food elsewhere.
Dozens of people from all over the state and beyond came to view this
spectacular rarity and six reports were submitted, two supplemented
with sketches. Matt Victoria’s excellent photo of this bird
appeared in the cited Kingbird article. In these reports, the
similarly sized and patterned Little Gull (Larus minutus) was
adequately eliminated. This is the sixth record for NYS.
sketch by Jeff Gerbracht.
image to enlarge
Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)
2003-42-A/B Cayuga Lake, Ithaca, Tompkins, 19 Sep (Pete Hosner,
The occurrence of Arctic Tern in NYS has been historically difficult to
document due to the difficulty of field identification, particularly separation
from Common Tern (S. hirundo), and the often problematic conditions
(e.g., distant and fleeting views) under which most sightings occur. The
Common and Arctic Tern species pair has been popularly dubbed ‘Commic’
Tern, reflecting the reality that many sight records are best left unidentified.
As a result, although Arctic Tern no doubt occurs annually as an offshore
migrant within NYS waters, Cooper (1998) listed only six fully documented
records for the state. These include three old specimens (Suffolk
7/18/1884, Long Island 10/7/1897, and Cayuga Lake 5/20/16), and two more
recent records accepted by NYSARC (pelagic 8/13/1980 and Erie
11/12/1989). Cooper (1998) also mentions an “additional half dozen
or so records . . . seen by observers intimately familiar with the species
and . . . undoubtedly correct.” Since Cooper’s summary was
published, four more records have been accepted by NYSARC: Suffolk
6/16/1996 (#1996-48-A); Clinton 5/10/1999 (#1999-14-A); Monroe
10/5/1999 (#1999-69-A); and Suffolk 6/13/2000 (#2000-64-A).
It is interesting
to note that few of these documented NYS records accord with the species’
regular migratory periods in nearby Massachusetts, northbound from mid
to late May and southbound (really eastbound, toward the central Atlantic)
from early to mid August (Veit and Petersen 1993). Most NYS records are
more easily assigned to two other categories: non-breeders at coastal
inlets during June and July (see #1999-80-A, below); or, as in the case
of the present record, fall occurrences, sometimes associated with storms.
record involves an adult, apparently deposited on Cayuga Lake by Hurricane
Isabel, although it’s not clear whether it would have been brought
in from the ocean or forced down while migrating overland. Two of the
four observers submitted reports to NYSARC. The Committee felt that the
detailed reports submitted satisfactorily established the identification
as Arctic Tern, based on careful descriptions of the critical underwing
and upperwing patterns and other supporting marks, as well as direct comparisons
of shape and flight style with nearby Common Terns. Including the specimens
cited by Cooper and #1999-80-A (below), this represents the eleventh documented
record for the state, and the fifth inland record.
Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)
2003-51-A/C Juv, Oswego Harbor, Oswego, 20 Sep (Kevin McGann,
Bill Purcell, Gerard Phillips; ph K. McGann).
Another storm-blown vagrant deposited upstate by Hurricane Isabel. Four
written reports were received, accompanied by documentary photographs
which clearly show a juvenile Black Skimmer. This is the second record
for Region 5 and the seventh record away from the immediate coast. It
is preceded by a 1987 record (NYSARC #1987-25-A) of a juvenile on the
tidal section of the Hudson River at Croton Point, Westchester,
which is much closer to the species’ normal haunts.
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
2003-58-A/C Pine Island, Orange, 1-2 Dec (Warren Cairo, Mary
Ann Cairo, John Tramontano; ph W. Cairo).
Three reports were received for this sighting of a species that is only
slowly expanding into the Northeast from more established populations
to the south. The observers are familiar with this species and its primary
confusion species, Ringed Turtle-Dove (S. risoria), from the populations
in Florida. In addition to the written descriptions, the accompanying
photographs showed the contrasting dark primaries, an important feature
of the identification. Although the observers did not hear the dove vocalize,
a local resident provided a description of the song. This is the first
record for Orange and Region 9 and the second accepted record of
the species in NYS following a bird (NYSARC #2002-26-A/F) that spent several
months near Hamlin, Monroe.
||Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula)
2003-5-A/D Corbin Hill Rd, Root, Montgomery, 26 Jan to
12 Apr (Tom Salo, Joanne Shultz, Rex & Birgit Stanford, Curtis
Marantz; ph J. Shultz, Peter Doherty), see Fig. 4 on page 60.
This accommodating and popular owl was present for at least three
months, in the process establishing a record late spring date for
NYS. A diurnal hunter with a predilection for exposed perches, Northern
Hawk Owl is more likely to be discovered as a vagrant than the similarly
irruptive but more secretive and nocturnal Boreal Owl (Aegolius
funereus). Many of NYS’s Northern Hawk Owl records have
occurred during years in which large numbers of northern owls move
southward from their normal year-round ranges. Some years have resulted
in multiple individuals being found across NYS and in neighboring
states. The winter of 2002-2003 was a poor year in this regard, with
very few Northern Hawk Owls found in southern Canada and central and
eastern US, making it even more unusual that this bird lingered so
far south for as long as it did. This well described and photographed
individual represents the 16th documented record for NYS and the second
record for Region 8.
2. Northern Hawk Owl,
8 Mar 2003, Rex Stanford.
image to enlarge
Chuck-will’s-widow (Caprimulgus carolinensis)
2003-18-A/C County Rt 10, Pennellville, Oswego, 20 & 24
May (Dorothy Crumb, Robert & Kayla Fisk, Gerard Phillips, sound recording
by G. Phillips).
This was the first record of the species for Region 5. Credit goes to
Mr. Fisk’s young daughter Kayla, who initially heard the bird, then
went on the internet and identified it to species! During its stay from
20 May to 2 June, it was heard by as many as 72 birders and was seen only
once (28 May). Written descriptions of the vocalizations were submitted
along with an audio sample taken from a sound recording made on 24 May.
Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)
2003-29-A/B Ad male, Washingtonville, Orange, 31 Jul-2 Aug
(Rick Horn, Lloyd Spitalnik, video by L. Spitalnik).
2003-47-A Ad male, Route 4, Oxford, Chenango, 4 Nov (Fred
Over the past 20 years or so, Selasphorus hummingbirds have occurred
with increasing frequency in eastern North America, including NYS (Mitra
and Bochnik 2001). Growing awareness of the tendency of these vagrants
to appear in late fall and winter has prompted birders to scrutinize late
season ornamental plantings, and hummingbird feeders are often left hanging
well into November on the chance that a western stray might appear. Bucking
this trend slightly, an “early” adult male Rufous Hummingbird
was observed by Rick Horn in Washingtonville over a three-day period at
a sugar feeder and video taped by Lloyd Spitalnik. The tape showed an
all rufous-colored hummingbird with red gorget and a cap of the same rufous
tone as the body. This combination is fully consistent with the identification
and excludes other species, notably Allen’s Hummingbird (S. sasin),
which has been recorded in Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North
Carolina, and Virginia.
hummingbird was present for a short while into early November, more in
line with the recent pattern. The color description in the report initially
left the Committee divided on this record, but follow-up clarification
resolved the Committee’s concerns and also ruled out Allen’s.
These two occurrences, however, do point out that any records of Selasphorus
hummingbirds must be carefully scrutinized to establish the identification
and that it is not safe to assume these are Rufous Hummingbirds. Written
reports should endeavor to explain the basis of the identification. Females
and immatures present a particular challenge and of the ten accepted records
of Selasphorus hummingbirds, half have been accepted as “Selasphorus
species” only, rather than assigned to either Rufous or Allen’s.
In these cases, it is imperative to photographically document the shapes
of the tail feathers, a difficult and challenging task.
Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens)
2003-59-A Ad, Fresh Kills Landfill, Staten Island, Richmond,
24 Nov (Phillip A. Brown).
Three photos support the identification of Ash-throated Flycatcher. This
bird’s dark tail tip, pale belly, and overall appearance were typical
of Ash-throated Flycatcher and inconsistent with the other Myiarchus
flycatchers. The lack of a large bill and large crest further rule out
Great Crested (M. crinitus) and Brown-crested (M. tyrannulus)
Few vagrants have increased in frequency in NYS as dramatically as has
Ash-throated Flycatcher. Fritz and Quinlan (1998) cited only nine acceptable
records prior to 1996, of which only one was reviewed and accepted by
NYSARC (11/2/1993, Nassau, #1993-62-A). Then, on 10 Nov 1996, three Ash-throated
Flycatchers were reliably reported from two widely spaced sites in Suffolk
and one in Nassau, along Long Island’s ocean shore! Since
the publication of their review, no fewer than six additional records
have been accepted by the Committee for the four years 1999-2002: 11/20/1999
Queens (#1999-44-A), 9/5/2000 Queens (#200037-A), 12/6/2000
Queens (#2000-49-A), 11/27/2000 Kings (#2000-75-A), 11/25/2002
Queens (#2002-54-A), 11/21/2002 Nassau (#2002-59-A). The
present record’s November date and coastal setting conform closely
to the pattern emerging from these records.
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)
2003-45-A SE edge of Brocton, Portland Township, Chautauqua,
28 Jun (Terry Mosher).
This bird was studied by Terry Mosher and Dick Miga, and the very detailed
description of the bill, head and body plumage, and tail convinced the
Committee of the identification as a Western Kingbird. The description
of the shape and coloration of the tail feathers was particularly important
in ruling out other yellow-bellied Tyrannus and hybrids. This species
is very rare away from the coast in NYS, and this record’s June
date is also unusual. Most coastal sightings occur during the fall (September-November),
but there have been two additional recent records from late May and June
(25 May 2001, NYSARC #2001-77-A and 19 Jun 1998, NYSARC #1998-90-A). Most
unusual and intriguing in the present instance were very detailed second-hand
descriptions of breeding activities attributed to this Western Kingbird,
presented and analyzed in commendable detail by Mosher (2004). Mosher
concluded that the available evidence fell short of confirming actual
breeding, and the Committee did not review the report in this context.
Nevertheless, even the possibility of extralimital breeding raises many
fascinating issues, including the possibility that a vagrant breeder might
not find a conspecific mate, but instead hybridize with a related species
that is locally prevalent. For instance, Western Kingbird has been known
to pair with Eastern Kingbird (T. tyrannus) where one or the other
is scarce (Gamble and Bergin 1996), and pioneering Clay-colored Sparrows
(Spizella pallida) have been known to hybridize with both Field
(S. pusilla) and Chipping Sparrow (S. passerina) in the
Northeast (Hoag 1999). In view of these issues, and considering New York
birders’ recent experience with a presumed hybrid Scissor-tailed
Flycatcher X Couch’s Kingbird (see NYSARC report #2003-60-A, below),
extra care should be applied in identifying suspected vagrants in the
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus)
2003-31-A Imm, Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, Westchester, 5
July (Thomas W. Burke; ph Gail Benson).
The written report and color photographs firmly establish the identification
as an immature Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher has
been known to hybridize with Western Kingbird (Tyler and Parkes 1992,
Regosin 1998), and New York birders have recent experience with a presumed
hybrid Scissor-tailed Flycatcher X Couch’s Kingbird (see NYSARC
report #2003-60-A, below). In light of these considerations, the Committee
considered hybrid origins as well as the standard identification criteria
in reviewing this report, but there was no evidence of hybridization.
Whereas 30 of the first 40 NYS records came from Long Island (Koeneke
1998), nine of the last ten accepted records have come from elsewhere
in the state. This record is the second for Westchester County, 58 years
after the county’s first was found by Helen Cruickshank in Rye on
7 May, 1945.
2003-60-A River Rd, Town of Leicester, Livingston, (Robert
Spahn) 17-25 Nov.
Gary Chapin discovered this Tyrannus flycatcher hawking insects
from the fence running along Chandler Road near Geneseo. The bird remained
in the area until 2 Dec and was viewed and/or photographed by many people.
Only one report was received and this is extremely unfortunate because
the identification proved controversial and ultimately very interesting.
In his initial internet posting, Chapin identified the bird as a Western
Kingbird (T. verticalis), citing the yellow underparts and white
outer feathers seen when the bird landed. A week later, Willie D’Anna
saw and digiscoped the kingbird at this same locality but after studying
his photos, D’Anna raised some questions about the identification.
In particular, the relatively heavy bill, extensively yellow upper breast
and green hints on the mantle pointed away from Western Kingbird. The
arrangement of feathers in the tail was also unusual and initially interpreted
as active molt. The vocalizations D’Anna heard corresponded to a
very loud sharp single-syllabled call and in an internet posting, Matt
Victoria stated that he heard the bird give a distinct “WICK!”
call several times. This is consistent with Western or perhaps Couch’s
Kingbird (T. couchii) but seemed to exclude Tropical Kingbird (T.
melancholicus). The photos were posted on Angus Wilson’s web
site (www.oceanwanderers.com) and discussed extensively on ID-Frontiers.
Whilst many expert commentators felt the bird more closely resembled a
Couch’s or Tropical rather than Western, others felt that these
species were not quite right either. A short way into the debate, Bruce
Anderson of Winter Park, Florida made the insightful observation that
this might in fact be a hybrid between Western Kingbird and Scissor-tailed
Flycatcher (T. forficatus), a known hybrid combination (Tyler and
Parkes 1992, Regosin 1998). This idea gained favor, and Kevin McGowan
and Bob Spahn, both of whom studied the bird in life, developed a robust
argument in support of a somewhat different hybrid hypothesis. These authors
concluded that the most likely parentage was in fact a hybrid between
Couch’s Kingbird and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher—potentially
the first example of this combination (McGowan and Spahn 2004). Their
thoughtful and informative analysis of the plumage and structural details
is highly recommended. The breeding range of the two species overlaps
narrowly in southern Texas and northern Mexico and the two species are
known to form mixed flocks at times. An important lesson from this fascinating
bird is that identification of scarce or rare species needs to be made
with great care. Not only is it important to use a suite of positive characters
but also to heed aspects that don’t quite fit.
Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)
2003-13-A Rt 63 and E Lakeshore Rd, Shadigee, Orleans, 15 Apr
Loggerhead Shrike formerly bred in western NY but is now only found as
a rare migrant. Kurt Fox found this Loggerhead Shrike on the Lake Ontario
plain in mid April, an early date for this species. The field marks provided,
especially the black feathers going over the bill, are a clear and diagnostic
indication of Loggerhead Shrike rather than the much commoner Northern
Shrike (L. excubitor). The lack of barring on the breast and the
location of the black mask with respect to the eye are also appropriate
for Loggerhead Shrike. The date of this occurrence falls among the latest
dates for Northern Shrike, emphasizing the importance of careful study
when reporting either species during periods, such as April and November,
when either might occur.
Cave Swallow (Petrochelidon fulva)
2003-72-A Five, Hamlin Beach SP, Monroe, 24 Nov (Robert Spahn).
The sighting of five swallows on Lake Ontario in late November is unusual
in itself. Past records indicate that late swallows often turn out to
be wandering Cave Swallows, an essentially central American species. Following
a spectacular population increase in the late 20th Century, during which
Cave Swallows began nesting under bridges and culverts and greatly expanded
their breeding distribution north of Mexico (West 1995), Cave Swallows
have begun to make regular incursions into the northeastern United States
and southeastern Canada during late fall, especially in November (McNair
and Post 2001). David Tetlow discovered these birds and he and Bob Spahn
identified them by their buffy throats, square tails and overall appearance.
Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)
2003-27-A/B Hempstead Lake SP, Nassau, 15-20 Mar (Alvin Wollin,
Angus Wilson; ph A. Wilson).
Discovered by Alvin Wollin, this interesting but at times elusive bird
was seen by many observers, photographed and well described in the reports.
The bird was very unusual in that it behaved like a male (heard singing
on three occasions) but lacked a strong breast band, which is at odds
with plumages of either sex. Geographic variation apparently is weak,
clinal and based almost entirely on plumages of females (general color
of underparts/upperparts). Hybridization has not been recorded in this
species. For more discussion of this unusual Varied Thrush see Wilson
Yellow-throated Warbler (Dendroica dominica)
2003-61-A/B Male, Riverfront Park, East Water Street, Elmira, Chemung,
3 Dec (Anne Thurber, Bill Ostrander; ph Mike Powers).
Both the descriptions and the photographs were convincing concerning the
identification of this species. This bird was observed in Elmira over
a four-day period and, at one time, was seen in an abandoned Cliff Swallow
(Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) nest, which it presumably used as a
roost site. The occurrence in early winter is not atypical of this species.
|MacGillivray’s Warbler (Oporornis tolmiei)
2003-24-A Male, Braddock Bay Bird Observatory, Monroe,
4 June (Cindy Marino; ph Laurie Zagmester), see Fig. 5 and 6 on page
|This MacGillivray’s Warbler was banded on 4 June 2003 by
Cindy Marino, providing NYS with its second record (Marino 2003).
Ten photographs were provided, including one with side-by-side comparisons
with a Mourning Warbler (O. philadelphia). All of the field
marks of this bird are those of a breeding-plumaged male MacGillivray’s
Warbler. In particular, the bold, white eye crescents and
|black lores extending over the bill are not expected
in Mourning Warbler. Furthermore, the broken black mottling on the
lower portion of the hood above the breast and the
6. MacGillivray’s Warbler,
Braddock Bay Bird Observatory, Monroe,
4 Jun 2003, Laurie Zagmester.
images to enlarge
|extensively olive flanks are more characteristic of
MacGillivray’s than of Mourning. When examining the photographs
at high digital magnification, it is also clear in several of the
photos that this bird has a very small area of white feathers on the
chin just under the center of the lower mandible. This feature is
referred to in Dunn and Garrett 1997 (p. 494) as “a tiny spot
of white feathering on the extreme upper chin on spring male”
MacGillivray’s Warblers. The same authors describe this feature
as “deep gray” in Mourning Warbler.
concerns raised regarding the identification involve the crescent
above the left eye, which seems less pronounced than expected for
this species, and the relatively short tail length (49 mm) associated
with a relatively large value of flattened wing minus tail (13 mm)—both
somewhat unusual values for MacGillivray’s and within the ranges
shown by Mourning. It should be noted that the upper crescent on this
bird’s right side appears entirely normal, and that the upper
eye crescents are often finer than the lower eye crescents in MacGillivray’s
Warblers—as is the case for this bird. Therefore, it appears
that this somewhat anomalous feature is most likely a part of the
normal variation that can occur in any bird of any species, rather
than an indication of hybridization. This bird’s structural
intermediacy is worth noting, but does not place it outside the range
of variation observed in MacGillivray’s Warbler. Most importantly,
there are no other marks indicating possible hybridization with Mourning
Warbler or any other species.
Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow (Ammodramus nelsoni)
2003-40-A/F Two, Amherst Bike Path, Amherst, Erie, 6 Oct (William
W. Watson, Gerald S. Lazarczyk, Gerry Rising, James Pawlicki, Willie D’Anna,
Six commendable reports conclusively documented what eventually turned
out to be two individuals together in a small swale, the first discovered
by James Pawlicki on 6 October. The reports described the species in detail,
with due consideration given to potentially confusing species such as
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed (A. caudacutus), Le Conte’s (A.
leconteii), Henslow’s (A. henslowii), and Grasshopper
(A. savannarum) sparrows. Key field marks covered were “striking
orange-buff upper breast and face…fine brown streaks on the orange-buff
upper breast and along the breast sides.” The gray
median crown stripe flanked by two brown lateral crown stripes was also
Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea)
2003-17-A Poughkeepsie, Dutchess, 4 May (Pat Gabel).
Even though this report provided few details, the combination of an all
blue bird about the size of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)
and with decidedly brown wingbars seemed adequate to specify Blue Grosbeak.
The observer took particular care to rule out Indigo Bunting (Passerina
cyanea) and Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), the most likely
Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)
2003-73-A Male, feeder on River Rd, Cuylerville, Livingston,
4 Dec (Robert Spahn).
Diane Henderson and Lucretia Grosshans found this male Indigo Bunting
in basic plumage at a feeder in Cuylerville, NY on 30 Nov. The bird was
seen by a number of observers over the following days and was reported
and photographed by Bob Spahn on 4 Dec. This species is rare in NYS after
October, even on the coast, and Lindsay (1998) lists just four winter
records later than early December.
Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)
2003-85-A Ad male, Derby Hill Bird Observatory, Oswego, 26 Apr (Gerard
Phillips; ph G. Phillips).
The report included a diagnostic digiscoped photo of this adult male.
The bird was first heard singing among a small chorus of blackbirds at
the top of a tall maple beside the observatory cottage. With the prospect
of a poor hawk watching day due to no wind and drizzle, the bird was enjoyed
by a handful of lucky observers visiting the observatory.
Hoary Redpoll (Carduelis hornemanni)
2003-10-A DeRuyter, Madison, 16 Jan (Charles C. Spagnoli).
One of the most important field marks separating Hoary from Common Redpoll
(C. flammea), the lack of streaks on the undertail coverts, was
noted in this report. The remaining field marks provided were observed
in comparison to the Common Redpolls present and were also good indications
of this species. With improved understanding of the important field marks
and better photo documentation, NYS has seen a sustained increase in acceptable
reports of this species, and NYSARC will no longer require documentation
for reports from northern and central parts of the state. Hoary Redpoll
remains exceedingly rare in coastal NYS, and sightings there should still
be carefully documented and submitted for review.
Reports Accepted but Origins Uncertain
As its name suggests, this category involves records where the identification
to species is clearly established but the provenance (wild origins or
otherwise) of the birds in question is uncertain. Most often this involves
waterfowl which are commonly kept in captivity, exotic gamebirds that
are frequently released for hunting, and popular cagebirds such as parrots.
Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)
2003-7-A Baiting Hollow, Suffolk, 2 Feb (Angus Wilson; ph A.
2003-53-A/C Four, Mountain Rd, La Grange, Dutchess, 27-31
Oct (Chester Vincent, William Case, Binnie Chase; ph W. Case).
The first report above is that of a single bird discovered by Andy Guthrie,
Tom Burke, and Gail Benson in Suffolk on 18 Jan and later photographed
by Angus Wilson. The second report is of four Barnacle Geese seen together
in Dutchess. The descriptions and photographs leave no doubt about
the identification of these Barnacle Geese. The observer in the first
report correctly points out that the origin is the issue. Breeders do
not necessarily band their birds, so these could be escapes. There is
a large breeding population of Barnacle Geese in eastern Greenland, but
little consensus exists concerning the interpretation of records of this
species in northeastern North America. For example, Szantyr (1988) proposed
that many occurrences represent wild birds, but Ryff (1984) concluded
that most or all Barnacle Geese reported in the US are escapes. Although
some North American records of Barnacle Geese are undoubtedly authentic
(individuals banded inthe Old World have been shot in Newfoundland and
Ontario), NYSARC continues to apply a conservative standard to individual
reports while awaiting stronger evidence of a regular pattern of natural
vagrancy to our region.
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)
2003-12-A Three, Little Sodus Bay, Fairhaven, Cayuga, 2 Mar
2003-39-A Dunkirk Harbor, Erie, 5 Jan (William W. Watson).
Trumpeter Swan is not a straightforward identification but the details
provided in these two reports of the bill shape and the eye and bill pattern
confirmed the identifications. In the first report above, the swan was
also calling, further establishing the identity. Many of the Trumpeter
Swans in NYS are known to have come from the introduction program in Ontario
(often marked with collars or wing tags) and from captive birds known
to have escaped in Wayne. They have continued to breed in NYS and
wander widely across central and western NYS during the winter months.
NYSARC is following the progress of this feral population closely but
does not yet accept unmarked individuals as established.
Chukar (Alectoris chukar)
2003-14-A Bristol, Ontario, 26 Apr (Gail Wiechmann; ph K. Wiechmann)
This submission and accompanying photographs indicate an Old World partridge
of the genus Alectoris. Various species, in particular Chukar and
Red-legged Partridge (A. rufa), are commonly raised on game farms
and accidentally or intentionally released into the wild. These species
share a similar overall appearance and can, at times, be difficult to
identify with certainty, particularly since hybrids are common. The description
and photographs provided strong support for the identification as Chukar,
excluding even the extremely similar and considerably less familiar Rock
Partridge (A. graeca). Although Chukar is occasionally reported
from NYS, there is no evidencethat a sustainable breeding population exists
in the state or nearby. It therefore seems most likely this individual
represents an intentional or accidental release, presumably for hunting.
Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus)
2003-23-A Two, Lakeshore Rd, Hamburg, Erie, 4 May (Stephen
McCabe; ph S. McCabe).
The description and photograph provided clearly show two Monk Parakeets,
a South American species that is locally well-established in the New York
City area (especially Brooklyn), suburban sections of coastal Connecticut
(Bull 1971), and upper Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Another established
population exists well to the west in Chicago, Illinois (Moskoff 2003).
Although vagrancy from known populations is theoretically possible, the
Committee felt this was unlikely in this case, given the distance of the
sighting from known populations and the fact that the species appears
to be non-migratory in North America. For instance, this species is very
unusual even short distances from established stations in the New York
City area. The fact that the species remains a popular cage bird leaves
room for spontaneous appearances (i.e. escapees) away from established
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
2003-41-A Two, feeder in Harrisville, Jefferson, May (Kathy
Two individuals were observed visiting a feeder in May (exact date unknown)
and one was photographed. They were not seen subsequently. The color photograph
clearly showed the plain chestnut cap and prominent dark spot on the ear
coverts that distinguish this species from House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
and other Old World Sparrows. Eurasian Tree Sparrows were introduced to
North America in 1870 when birds of German origin were released in St.
Louis, Missouri. That population has persisted to this day but remains
localized to eastern Missouri, west-central Illinois, and southeastern
Iowa (reviewed in Barlow and Leckie 2000). The species is essentially
non-migratory both in North America and its natural range across Europe
and temperate Asia. Some individuals may wander, especially in winter,
although these movements tend to be over relatively short distances. There
are a scattering of reports from other parts of North America which might
involve escaped cage birds imported from Asia. The Committee accepts the
identification but could not determine if these birds had wandered from
their rather localized mid-western range or were more recent escapes.
These uncertainties aside, the Committee strongly encourages the reporting
of so-called “exotics,” especially if they are carefully documented
and photographed. Only by collecting this type of valuable information
can we hope to establish patterns of colonization by introduced species
or, in some cases, previously unsuspected occurrences of true vagrancy.
South Polar Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki)
2001-82-A Democrat Pt, Suffolk, 23 June (S. S. Mitra, Patricia
This skua was studied carefully from shore and gave sufficiently good
views for it to be identified with confidence as a South Polar Skua (Mitra
and Lindsay 2001). It was identified as a large skua (“Catharacta”)
by the combination of its size compared to some Greater Shearwaters, conspicuous
upperwing flashes, wedge-shaped tail, gray-brown plumage without barring
on the wing and tail coverts, and pale yellowish nape. It was separated
from immature Great Skua (S. skua) by a detailed analysis of its
plumage. Although South Polar Skua probably occurs fairly regularly in
NYS’s pelagic waters during late spring and summer, the present
record is just the second documented occurrence in NYS, and one of very
few shore-based records from northeastern North America. Observers are
strongly encouraged to publish or submit documentation for all observations,
including past ones, so that the status of this species, and also of Great
Skua, might be understood more clearly.
Cassin’s Vireo (Vireo cassinii)
2001-83-A Hatching year, Fire Island Lighthouse, Suffolk, 19
Oct (P. A. Buckley, S. S. Mitra; ph Patrick Doyle).
Banded by Shai Mitra, this bird represents the first accepted record for
NYS of this cryptic western relative of the familiar Blue-headed Vireo
(V. solitarius). Prior to 1997, Cassin’s, Blue-headed (V.
solitarius), and Plumbeous (V. plumbeus) vireos were considered
a single species, termed Solitary Vireo. They were subsequently split
into three species based on a variety of criteria (AOU 1997). The individual
in question was carefully studied in the hand, measured and photographed
(see Buckley and Mitra 2003). In its deliberations, members of the Committee
reviewed the specimen collections at the American Museum of Natural History
in New York City and collectively agreed that the Fire Island bird showed
plumage features outside the range of variation expected among Blue-headed
Vireos. It is conceivable that as the identification criteria become better
understood, Cassin’s Vireo will join the ranks of the more regular
strays to New York from western North America. However, until such a pattern
has been firmly established, submission of exhaustive documentation, preferably
with color photographs, will be necessary for acceptance of future reports.
2000 Report Accepted
2000-85-A Port Byron, Cayuga, last two weeks of Sep (Donna
Originally submitted as a video recording to a Committee member and subsequently
presented to the committee for review. The bird visited a private hummingbird
feeder for at least two weeks in late September 2000 along with Ruby-throated
Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris). The Committee was able to
assemble a crude description after study of twenty still images prepared
from the video by Kevin McGowan. Evidently, a female or immature male
Selasphorus hummingbird, the detail was unfortunately insufficient to
identify the bird to species.
Wilson’s Plover (Charadrius wilsonia)
1999-82-A Male, Pike’s Beach, east of Moriches Inlet, Suffolk,
4 May (S. S. Mitra)
As noted above for NYSARC #2003-21-A/B, Wilson’s Plovers have been
reported from NYS more frequently in recent years. In the present report,
Shai Mitra provided belated documentation for a bird originally discovered
by biologists engaged in Piping Plover (C. melodus) research and
conservation. It is worth noting that these biologists also reported a
Wilson’s Plover at the same site two years earlier, in spring 1997,
but that documentation submitted to NYSARC in that instance was not considered
adequate (#1997-24-A, not accepted). The vicinity of Moriches Inlet, like
Napeague and Mecox Bay, has proven attractive to this species in the past.
Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)
1999-80-A Second year, Democrat Pt, Suffolk, 13 Jun (S. S.
Mitra, Patricia Lindsay).
Whilst studying a flock of terns feeding in the Fire Island Inlet, Shai
Mitra noticed one individual with a noticeably buoyant flight compared
to the Common Terns (S. hirundo) around it. The bird was relocated
with a group of Common and Roseate Terns resting on the edge of a lagoon
at Democrat Point and scrutinized carefully. Soft parts colors and the
presence of a strong carpal bar suggested a one year-old bird (= first
summer). The convincing description noted a suite of features including
extremely short blackish legs, small bill, narrow black trailing edge
to the underwing, lack of a dark secondary bar on outstretched wing, and
uniformly gray uppersides to the folded primaries. In eastern North America,
Arctic Terns breed as far south as the Gulf of Maine (abundantly) and
southeastern Massachusetts (a few pairs), where they arrive in mid to
late May and depart in early August. Although the majority of one and
two year-old Arctic Terns are believed to remain in the Southern Hemisphere
during the boreal summer, observations from Cape Cod suggest that some
immature Arctic Terns migrate north and summer at favorable coastal sites
not necessarily associated with breeding colonies (Veit and Petersen 1993).
Careful scrutiny of terns in late spring and summer along the ocean shore
of Long Island suggests that this phenomenon might occur regularly, though
rarely, here as well. See NYSARC #2003-42-A/B above.
Cave Swallow (Petrochelidon fulva)
1999-81-A/B Cornell Biological Field Station, Bridgeport, Madison,
5 Nov (Pete Hosner, Scott Haber)
This swallow was found dead by Connie Adams and donated to the Cornell
University collection (CUM # 50066), where it was identified as a Cave
Swallow by Pete Hosner. Three color photographs of the prepared specimen
were submitted. The bird had an empty stomach and was in an emaciated
condition. Although submitted as belonging to the Caribbean subspecies
P. f. fulva, wing cord measurements by Scott Haber were more consistent
southwest race P. f. pallida, in keeping with other specimens from late
fall incursions into the northeast (McNair and Post 2001). See NYSARC
“Western” Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus swainsonii)
1998-91-A Hatching year, Fire Island Lighthouse, Suffolk, 29
Sep (P. A. Buckley, S. S. Mitra; ph S. S. Mitra).
Warbling Vireos are very scarce during migration on Long Island’s
barrier beaches, and all examples are worthy of close inspection. Thus,
when this individual was captured near Fire Island Lighthouse, its tiny
bill and buffy wingbars were carefully noted (Buckley and Mitra 2003).
The bander, Shai Mitra, was aware of on-going research concerning molt
and vocal differences between eastern and western subspecies groups (Voelker
and Rohwer 1998), specifically that hatching-year birds from western North
America retain juvenal greater coverts during their first south- bound
migration, whereas eastern birds typically do not. The combination of
these retained feathers, a strikingly small bill, and, to a lesser extent,
several features of the dorsal coloration, were all consistent with the
western subspecies group swainsonii. This is the first accepted
record of this taxon for NYS and possibly only the fourth for eastern
North America (Buckley and Mitra 2003).
Common “Sonora” Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas chryseola)
1997-73-A Second year male, Fire Island Lighthouse, Suffolk,
18 May (P. A. Buckley, S. S. Mitra; ph S. S. Mitra)
This large and strikingly patterned Common Yellowthroat was mist-netted
by Shai Mitra at the Fire Island Lighthouse banding station and identified
as belonging to the southwestern subspecies chryseola, known colloquially
as “Sonora Yellowthroat” (Buckley and Mitra 2003). The report
consisted of the description, measurements, photographs, and analysis
provided in the above publication. In considering such an unusual report,
the Committee focused on the degree of confidence with which other North
American subspecies could be excluded—and this confidence was necessarily
held to a very high standard given the improbability of long-distance
vagrancy in a partially resident taxon from the southwestern corner of
the continent. Examination of specimens at the American Museum of Natural
History, conducted independently by Buckley and Mitra, and then again
by members of this Committee, confirmed that the combination of plumage
characters and measurements shown by the Fire Island bird closely matched
the distinctive taxon chryseola. Furthermore, its completely yellow underparts
and very broad forehead band (white with a trace of yellow) was not approached
by any of the specimens of other yellowthroat taxa. Finally, the Fire
Island bird’s wing length and tail length were typical for chryseola
and significantly longer than those of male trichas measured by the same
bander (male spring migrants at Fire Island and male breeders in Rhode
Island). Although the improbability of such an exceptional occurrence
was considered very seriously by all reviewers, and although one reviewer
voted against acceptance in the final round of review, other reviewers
were impressed by the distinctiveness of chryseola relative to other yellowthroat
taxa, the close resemblance of the Fire Island bird to the typical appearance
of this taxon, documented vagrancy by chryseola to northwestern and eastern
Texas, and precedents among other partially resident southwestern North
American species, such as Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus),
Painted Redstart (Myioborus pictus), and Black-throated Sparrow
as vagrants to the Northeast.
|Williamson’s Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus)
2003-86-A After hatching year female, Fire Island Lighthouse,
Suffolk, 22 Jun (P. A. Buckley,
S. S. Mitra; ph S. S. Mitra), see Fig. 7 and 8 on page 62.
|Mist-netted by Shai Mitra at the Fire Island banding
station and photographed by him in the hand, this female woodpecker’s
identity was never in question (Paxton et al. 1996a). In reviewing
the photographs and other documentation presented by Buckley and Mitra
(2003), the Committee focused on the extraordinary nature of
|the record. In addition to being the first occurrence
in NYS, this remains by far the most easterly record of the
Fire Island Lighthouse, Suffolk, 22 Jun 1996, S. S. Mitra.
images to enlarge
| species anywhere. Williamson’s Sapsucker breeds
in mid- to high-elevation evergreen forests in western North America,
primarily in the Rocky Mountains, Cascades, Sierra Nevada, and scattered
ranges in the Great Basin, southwestern California, and northern Baja
California. It winters, generally at lower elevations, from the southern
portions of the breeding range (northern California, northern Arizona,
and northern New Mexico) south to Jalisco and Michoacán in
central Mexico (Dobbs et al. 1997). Northern breeders (e.g., from
British Columbia, Idaho, and Montana) migrate fairly long distances,
and females migrate farther than males (Howell 1953, Davis 1962).
There are a scattering of records away from the normal range, including
Minnesota, Illinois, eastern Texas, and Louisiana (Remsen 1991), and
Buckley and Mitra (2003) cite recent records from Kansas and Oklahoma.
Although the June date of the present record falls outside of the
conventional late fall/early winter window for western vagrants in
NYS, it is nevertheless matched by a surprisingly long list of vagrant
landbirds of western origin observed in NYS between mid-May and mid-July,
including Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis), Say’s
Phoebe (Sayornis saya), Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus
cinerascens), Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis), Townsend’s
Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi), Townsend’s Warbler (Dendroica
townsendi), and Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana). The Committee
duly considered the possibility of assisted origins (this species
winters widely in Mexico, where there is an extensive bird trade),
but this was deemed unlikely.
Report Accepted in Revised Form
Pacific-slope/Cordilleran Flycatcher (Empidonax dificilis/occidentalis)
2003-54-A/B Fire Island Lighthouse, Suffolk, 14-16 Sep (P.
A. Buckley, S. S. Mitra; ph P. A. Buckley and Angus Wilson).
This report was published as Cordilleran Flycatcher. Although the Committee
agreed the bird in question was referable to the “Western Flycatcher”
complex (e.g., that it was either a Pacific-slope Flycatcher (E. dificilis)
or a Cordilleran Flycatcher), we concluded that it could not be safely
identified further. The flycatcher genus Empidonax contains a number of
exceptionally difficult identification challenges. In many instances,
silent birds in the field are best left unidentified. Even in the hand,
distinguishing between cryptic sibling species, not only Pacific-slope
and Cordilleran, but also Willow (E. traillii) and Alder (E.
alnorum), is frequently impossible. In recent years, the number of
western North American Empidonax documented in the East has increased
dramatically, including records of Pacific-slope, Hammond’s (E.
hamondi), Dusky (E. oberholseri), and Gray (E. wrightii),
mainly in late fall and early winter. These species, plus the regular
eastern Empidonax, must be carefully considered before arriving
at a firm identification. In particular, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (E.
flaviventris), closest in appearance to the “Western Flycatcher”
complex, presents a significant identification challenge (Heindel and
than the now-expected date range for such vagrants, this individual was
first captured by Randy Moore, then recaptured several times by Moore
and P. A. Buckley over the next two days. This report was reviewed primarily
based upon an article summarizing vagrants encountered at the Fire Island
Lighthouse banding operation (Buckley and Mitra 2003). Other resources
included a black-and-white photograph by Angus Wilson that was published
in Field Notes (Paxton et al. 1996b) and a series of color slides,
again by Angus Wilson, which were available during the later stages of
review. In addition to consulting a number of reference materials (notably
Whitney and Kaufman 1986 and Heindel and Pyle 1999) and Ned Johnson’s
analysis of the bird (summarized in the original article), the Committee
solicited the opinions of several outside experts. Pyle’s (1997)
authoritative banding manual, published subsequent to this record, contains
a complex series of criteria for the separation of Empidonax in
the hand. Unfortunately, the measurements taken in 1995 were insufficient
to fully apply these criteria. One of the criteria available for review,
wing length minus tail length, was actually more indicative of Yellow-bellied
Flycatcher than either member of the “Western Flycatcher”
complex. Despite this wrinkle, the Committee was convinced that the weight
of the descriptive and photographic evidence—including the slightly
tear-drop shaped eye-ring, the distinct crest, the brownish wing coverts
and flight feathers, and the overall color—was sufficient to indicate
either Pacific-slope or Cordilleran Flycatcher, but not adequate to further
narrow the identification to either of these two species.
accepted in-hand identification criteria incorporate multiple wing measurements
which were not available for this record. Cordilleran Flycatcher is typically
longer-winged than Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, and the proposed identification
was based on the measurement of the longest primary of the banded bird,
70 mm. This measurement, however, was just within the range of measures
provided in Pyle (1997) for Pacific-slope (59-70 mm). Given uncertainties
concerning the exact age of the bird and the methods of measurement employed,
the Committee felt that the wing measurement alone was insufficient to
establish an identification of Cordilleran Flycatcher.
by Lowther (2000) and Buckley and Mitra (2003), Pacific-slope Flycatcher
has been recorded in eastern North America on several occasions: three
Louisiana specimens; two Pennsylvania records from Dec 1990 and Dec 1991
(which may represent a single returning individual); and one North Carolina
record from 15 Jan 2000. The latter three were identified by call notes
(and in the case of the North Carolina bird, its responses to recordings
of both species), and Lowther (2000) cautions that call notes given outside
the breeding season may not be diagnostic for Pacific-Slope. Cordilleran
Flycatcher has been recorded only twice in eastern North America, two
specimens from Louisiana. Through 2003 there were six additional reports
of “Western” Flycatchers in the East, not identified to species.
The Fire Island bird represents the first record of this species pair
in New York State.
Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)
1990-31-A Two ads and one juv, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Suffolk,
6, 21, and 25-27 Jun (James Clinton).
This report concerns the first documented breeding record for NYS. The
original version of this report was not accepted (see NYSARC 1990 Annual
Report, #1990-31-A) because the materials provided focused on breeding
evidence and neglected to document the identification of the adults. Fortunately,
this critical information has now been provided and the report accepted
A number of factors may contribute to a report being denied acceptance.
By far the most common is that the material submitted was considered insufficient
or too vague to properly document the occurrence and/or eliminate similar
species. For example, written documentation or descriptions prepared entirely
from memory (sometimes weeks, months, or years) after a sighting are seldom
voted on favorably and the Committee cannot overstate the importance of
taking field notes of uncommon or rare birds. These notes should be taken
while the bird is under study or, if this is not possible, immediately
afterwards. It is very helpful to include a photocopy of your notes with
the formal typed or neatly written report. This helps the Committee to
know what was seen at the time of the observation, before field guides
or other sources of information were consulted. If you feel your handwriting
is illegible, especially with the excitement of finding a good bird, it
is a good idea to add a key that explains or decodes your notes. Crude
field sketches are often very useful in illustrating what you saw and
should always be submitted as part of the report, even if they are drawn
on a napkin!
Advice on report preparation is available on our web site (see above),
and in several published articles. We recommend the article by Willie
D’Anna (2003), as well as the benchmark article by Dittmann and
Lasley (1992). The key elements to a good report are (i) the description
of the bird with as much detail as possible, (ii) the names and contact
details of the observers, (iii) location and date of the sighting, and
lastly (iv) an explanation of how the identification was made. This last
category is frequently omitted but is extremely important. Ask yourself
the following questions: What features led you to this conclusion as to
the species involved? What other species might this bird be confused with
and how were these possibilities ruled out? By providing this information,
you invariably build upon the basic description and present a much more
compelling case. By necessity, the preparation of a good report takes
time and effort. It is not enough to scribble a few disjointed lines of
description and leave it at that. Once the description of what you saw
has gone down on paper, it is a good idea to consult reference books,
audiotapes and so on. From the details you recorded, can you determine
the age and sex of the bird? Are there identifiable subspecies that might
tell us where the bird came from? What similar species are there and how
can these be ruled out from the details you recorded? The latter is especially
important. Sometimes it is worth considering and discussing exotic possibilities.
Escaped waterfowl, birds of prey, parrots and finches are relatively common
and can resemble North American species.
We do not reject records because the observer is unfamiliar to us or
has had records rejected in the past. Likewise, it is relatively uncommon
for records to be rejected because the bird was clearly misidentified.
We make every effort to be as fair and objective as possible, but if the
Committee is unsure about any particular submission it tends to err on
the conservative side, preferring not to accept a good record rather than
validate a bad one. All records, whether accepted or not, remain on file
and can be re-submitted to the Committee if additional substantive material
is presented. In such cases, please contact the Secretary at the address
Reports Not Accepted
Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)
2003-4-A Corona Park, Queens, 19 Jan.
This report predates the recent split of Cackling Goose from Canada Goose
(B. canadensis; see NYSARC #2003-57-A/D, above) and was submitted
as B. c. hutchinsii (alternately called, then and now, “Richardson’s
Goose”). With the increase in interest in ‘white-cheeked’
geese since the split, the identification criteria, and potential
pitfalls, have become somewhat clearer. This bird, while appreciably smaller
than the Canada Geese it was associated with, differed from typical “Richardson’s”
Cackling Goose in that the bill and head proportions were not as small
as expected. In addition, the upperparts color was closer to that of Canada
Goose than the silvery-gray color of “Richardson’s.”
The Committee felt that these problems with critical identification points
precluded the proposed identification. Although a detailed written description
and excellent photographs were provided, the uncertainty in assigning
individual birds within the “white-cheeked” goose complex
is such that the Committee felt this bird could not be confidently assigned
to any of the forms.
Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica)
2003-63-A Hamlin Beach SP, Monroe, 14 Apr.
This loon was studied briefly as it flew past the lakewatch and was already
heading away from this experienced observer when first spotted. A number
of details including fast wing beats and two relatively narrow checkered
stripes along the back were suggestive of the closely related Pacific
and Arctic (G. arctica) loons. However, in mid-April many loons
are in odd, transitional plumage and the Committee was not convinced that
one of the commoner species could be adequately ruled out.
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma castro)
2003-36-A/B Cayuga Lake, Ithaca, Tompkins, 21-22 Sep.
Hurricane Isabel transported a number of small, dark storm-petrels to
upstate NYS. Most of these individuals were identified as Wilson’s
Storm-Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus, see species account above),
but the identification of some birds was less certain and Cayuga Lake
became the unexpected focal point for discussing the intricacies of storm-petrel
identification. Birders scouring the lake after passage of the hurricane
turned up at least two storm-petrels. Debate over their identification
lingered into a second day as the birds remained land-locked at the southern
end of the lake and allowed extended viewing opportunities for a large
number of birders. Several observers felt that two individuals could be
distinguished in the field, and that one was larger and longer-winged
than the other. In flight, the longer winged bird was perceived to spend
more time gliding, and less time flapping. These marks would favor Band-rumped
over Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, and the observers are commended for
their attention to these and other details listed in the extensive reports.
Image captures from video made of the birds was also submitted, but the
distance involved precluded a firm analysis. After reviewing the submissions,
the Committee felt that in accordance with the typically distant views
and the inherent difficulties in separating Band-rumped and Wilson’s
Storm-Petrels, the identification was not fully established. Although
Leach’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa), historically
the best candidate for hurricane transportation in our region (Askildsen
1998a,b), could be ruled out, the Committee felt there were no sightings
that could be confidently assigned to Band-rumped. Factored into the decision
was a concern that transported birds, perhaps weakened by the storm or
faced with difficulty feeding over unfamiliar fresh water, might exhibit
different behavioral tendencies than typically encountered over open ocean.
Indeed, at least one observer commented on the apparent weakening of the
birds from one day to the next. It was also noted that some experienced
observers at the site felt only Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were present,
highlighting the difficulties involved. Given these uncertainties, the
Committee was unable to accept these reports as Band-rumped Storm-Petrel,
a species that has not yet been accepted onto the NYS Checklist.
King Rail (Rallus elegans)
2003-25-A East Quoque, Southampton, Suffolk, 4 May.
This rail was studied for a few seconds after being flushed from a stand
of Phragmites on the edge of a saltwater marsh. The observer was
immediately struck by the bright and well-patterned plumage that argued
against Clapper Rail (R. longirostris), the common species in the
marsh, and raised the possibility of King Rail. Some Committee members
were concerned by the extent of detail provided in the description considering
that the bird was seen under such fleeting circumstances and by the “contrasting
gray on the face,” a feature more consistent with Virginia Rail
(R. limicola). Given strong similarities between King and Virginia
Rails in appearance and the inconclusive description, with the identification
hanging entirely on the observer’s perception of this fleeing bird’s
size, the Committee after discussion declined to accept this report.
Thayer’s Gull (Larus thayeri)
2003-66-A First basic, Irondequoit Bay, Monroe, 3 Feb.
2003-75-A First basic, Irondequoit Bay, Monroe, 1 Jan.
Understanding the status and identification of Thayer’s Gull in
NYS remains a perplexing, and often frustrating, challenge to the Committee,
regional editors, and serious field birders alike. The contributors of
these two reports are to be commended for their valiant attempts to document
these challenging birds and for doing so in this unfortunate climate of
taxonomic confusion. As outlined in previous Annual Reports, there is
great uncertainty among ornithologists about the relationship between
Thayer’s Gull and the two generally recognized subspecies of Iceland
Gull (nominate glaucoides and “Kumlien’s” Iceland
Gull, L. g. kumlieni). Whereas many authorities, including the
AOU (1998) regard Thayer’s as a species distinct from Iceland, others
contend that Thayer’s and nominate Iceland are two ends of a west
to east gradient, with kumlieni referring to birds that fall somewhere
in the middle. There is a variety of evidence to suggest that the two
extremes were isolated during the last Ice-age but have come together
in recent times, allowing intergradation. Until expensive and time-consuming
genetic and ecological studies are performed on the breeding grounds,
it seems unlikely that these muddied waters will clear. With regard to
field identification, the challenge is to agree on what distinguishes
a nominal Thayer’s Gull from a Kumlein’s Gull. Based on careful
studies in California and Newfoundland, a reasonable set of criteria has
been developed which relies on the careful evaluation of multiple criteria
(Howell et al. 1999, Howell and Corben 2000, Howell and Elliott 2001,
and Howell and MacTavish 2003). In general most of the reports received
by NYSARC simply do not reach this high bar and thus defy unambiguous
assignment to one form or the other. Many of the reports we receive, including
these two from 2003, do sound like excellent candidates but simply lack
the feather-by-feather descriptions necessary for acceptance. It cannot
be overstated how important it is to photograph the candidate Thayer’s
Gulls as extensively as possible. With the power of digiscoping, this
is not nearly as challenging as it once was and allows birds that are
quite distant to be documented. Very detailed field sketches may substitute
but should be made in the field and should strive to record the exact
patterning and colors of all the major feather groups, in addition to
the colors of the legs, bill, and iris.
Elegant Tern (Sterna elegans)
2003-43-A Woodlawn Beach SP, Erie, 16 Oct.
This moribund tern was discovered on a beach overlooking Lake Erie when
it was accidentally flushed by the observer. It was studied briefly in
flight before settling again behind some driftwood, where it was viewed
for about 10 min at a distance of 20 feet or so. Unfortunately, no effort
was made to photograph the bird. The detailed description is consistent
with one of the crested terns (sub-genus Thalasseus), a notoriously
difficult group, represented in North America by Royal Tern (S. maxima),
Elegant Tern, and Sandwich Tern (S. sandvicensis)—the last
including the yellow-billed Cayenne Tern (S. s. eurygnatha), which
is casual along the US Atlantic Coast. Elegant Tern is essentially confined
to the Pacific Coast from southern California down to Chile. There are,
however, a handful of accepted records away from the Pacific, notably
singles from Massachusets (Rines 2003) and Virginia (Wilds 1985) and several
from western Europe (Lewington et al. 1991). The separation of Elegant
from Royal Tern in the field relies on a suite of subjective features.
The bill was described as long with a prounonced droop and with generally
a red color with hint of orange. The black feathering on the head was
restricted to the hind crown and nape. The observer felt the tern was
larger than a Common (S. hirundo) or Forster’s (S. forsteri)
Tern and smaller than Caspian (S. caspia) or Royal. Although this
intermediate size seems a favorable point, some reviewers were concerned
that the unusual circumstances in which it was studied and absence of
side-by-side comparison to other terns or gulls meant that accurate assessment
of size would be inherently difficult. Overall, given the lack of photographic
or specimen evidence and reliance on subjective impressions from a single
observer, the Committee was unanimous in its view not to accept this as
a first occurrence for the state and one of extremely few for eastern
Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii)
2003-16-A Hamlin Beach SP, Monroe, 27 Apr.
Roseate Tern is uncommon and local along the coast in NYS and in spring
is rarely seen away from breeding locations. Inland, it is an extraordinary
rarity. Hays (1998) recounts Bull’s (1974) summary of upstate records,
none of which were documented with physical evidence at the time of Bull’s
writing. Only one of the six inland records he describes was supported
by a specimen and even this had been lost. Thus Bull’s characteristic
skepticism of sight records was heightened in his reviews of Sterna
tern records, and he regarded the sight records listed as unreliable.
Although improvements in optics and field identification techniques have
mitigated some of the historical concerns with sight records, the separation
of the mid-sized Sterna terns remains one area where caution is
still very much the rule. The relevant field marks are subtle, and applying
them can be made even more difficult by distance and lighting conditions.
Documentation may also be hampered by the standard difficulties of sea
or lake watching, where most sightings are fly-bys offering only limited
opportunity for observation and documentation. Consequently, the Committee
felt that given the extreme rarity of Roseate Tern anywhere away from
the coast, more complete documentation of the relevant field marks would
be required to accept a sight record. The date was also a concern as it
would represent a record early date (by two days) for the species anywhere
in the state, including Long Island. Since publication of Hays’
summary in 1998, NYSARC has accepted only one sighting away from the coast
(NYSARC #1996-42-A). Elsewhere, Roseate Tern remains a major rarity inland.
Hays (1998) lists two records from Indiana, one a bird collected in August
1916 and deposited in the Field Museum in Chicago, and the second a record
of an adult found in August 1957, which had been banded as a chick on
Bird Island, Massachusetts. Oddly, the species account in The Birds
of North America omits the first Indiana record entirely and considers
the second unconfirmed (Gochfeld et al. 1998).
Bridled Tern (Sterna anaethetus)
2003-34-A Hamlin Beach SP, Monroe, 20 Sep.
Two terns were studied carefully flying east along the shore of Lake Ontario
two days after the passage of Hurricane Isabel. One was a Common Tern
and the other was identified as a Bridled Tern by virtue of the dark primaries,
brownish secondaries and back, distinct line through the eye and white
forehead. The Committee agreed that Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)
was ruled out but were not convinced that these brief details could properly
exclude Sooty Tern (S. fuscata).
Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata)
2003-68-A Hamlin Beach SP, Monroe, 23 Sep.
This tern was observed shortly after the passage of Hurricane Isabel,
a time when sightings of marine terns on inland bodies of water might
not be entirely unexpected. Unfortunately, this bird was seen only very
briefly and critical details such as the undersides of the wings and tail
were not visible to the observer. Although several reviews were initially
favorable to the identification, the Committee agreed that the unavoidable
brevity of the sighting and difficult viewing conditions, combined with
the limited details in the description, made it difficult to exclude other
species with certainty.
White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis)
2003-55-A/B Mount Peter, Warwick, Orange, 7 Nov.
While conducting the hawkwatch at Mount Peter, Orange, two observers
studied a distant “boomerang” shaped bird wheeling around
in the sky. The bird gave the impression of being slightly larger than
a Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica), a familiar sight at the hawkwatch,
and had a white throat continuing as a vee-shape onto the chest and belly.
The sides of the neck were white with a buffy area through the eye and
across the forehead. One report described the back as very dark blue and
that the underwings were not as dark as the upperwings. The bird was visible
for an estimated five to ten minutes but remained distant at all times.
Regrettably, it was not photographed. Two others watchers who were present
at the time were unable to locate the bird against the sky, an indication
of the distance involved. The Committee found this to be a highly intriguing
report with some significant strong points but also some troubling flaws.
Both observers were familiar with White-throated Swift from hawkwatching
in the western US and are warmly commended for their open-minded approach
to the identification. When considered together the descriptions were
sufficiently compelling to gain some positive votes in the initial round
of review. The Committee’s subsequent deliberations and ultimately
its decision not to accept the identification hinged on a number of key
discrepancies and omissions. Both descriptions referred to a “white
rump,” which is not correct for White-throated Swift. Acknowledging
this discrepancy, one observer made the valid point that the white feathering
of the flank patches is separated by a rather narrow strip of dark feathers
and can thus give the (mis)impression of a rump patch when viewed in the
field. Several reviewers empathized with this assertion based on their
own experiences. A more serious concern was that the broad white tips
of the secondaries were not noted in either description nor was the relatively
long tail, a useful distinction from partially leucistic Chimney and Vaux’s
(C. vauxi) Swifts. Given the gaps listed above, the Committee was
unable to accept this as an unequivocal White-throated Swift, a species
so far unrecorded east of Michigan, Missouri, and Arkansas. In the southern
portion of its range, White-throated Swift is essentially resident (barring
localized movements to avoid extreme weather), but birds from the northern
portions are genuine migrants, probably moving southwards into the range
of resident birds. Described as casual to Kansas and Texas, there are
a handful of records from as far east as Missouri and Arkansas with a
specimen record from Michigan (AOU 1998).
Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)
2003-81-A One male, one or two females, Chester, Orange, 25
The report comprised two photographs of a female Archilochus hummingbird
without further written description of this bird or the reported male.
The Committee concluded that these were more likely to be Ruby-throated
Hummingbirds (A. colubris).
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)
2003-69-A Hamlin Beach SP, Monroe, 20 Sep.
This kingbird was seen for 15 seconds as it flew along the lakeshore.
The description noted the bright yellow underparts, dark and barely notched
tail and darkish back. The Committee agreed that this was most likely
one of the yellow-bellied Tyrannus flycatchers but felt there was
not enough in the report to identify it to species.
Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus savana)
2003-71-A Near Sodus, Wayne, 28 Sep.
The observer spotted this unfamiliar bird perched on a roadside wire whilst
he was driving and immediately turned the car around. By the time he had
reached the spot, the bird had moved but he was able to see it briefly
a couple of more times in the nearby field. After consulting references
later that evening, he concluded that this must have been a Fork-tailed
Flycatcher that was missing the long tail extensions. These distinctive
feathers are often dropped or broken. The report described the pure white
underparts and gray back contrasting with darker wings and tail. The observer
also noted that the head shape was wrong for Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus
tyrannus), although this key point was not addressed in detail. Given
the limitations of the sighting, the Committee felt that Eastern Kingbird
could not be ruled out on the basis of the brief details provided.
Bell’s Vireo (Vireo bellii)
2003-54-A/B Mariner’s Marsh, Richmond, 4 Nov.
This greenish passerine was studied for a few minutes and identified after
the fact. Bell’s Vireo is considered by many as a particularly difficult
bird to identify by virtue of its strikingly non-descript appearance and
similarity to Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) as well
as several other vireos. The effects of wear, immaturity and continuous
movement only serve to further compound the difficulties. In their reviews
several Committee members highlighted the fact that the description of
the eye-ring and the bright yellow fringing to the flight feathers were
counter-indicative for Bell’s Vireo and more consistent with other
vireos, notably an immature White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus). Other
important details such as the bill shape, body posture and so on were
not described in sufficient detail. There was general agreement that the
reports would have been strengthened by explicit discussion of the identification
in reference to other more likely species, notably White-eyed Vireo.
Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
2003-84-A Two, Bayard Cutting Arboretum, Oakdale, Suffolk,
This was a perplexing report involving two birds studied at a very close
range (“started at two feet of distance”). Most Committee
members agreed that the description and sketch were highly suggestive
of Jackdaw, as was the description of the contact call. At the same time,
the limited experience of the observer and curious circumstances left
room for other possibilities, such as Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus).
For the reviewers comfortable with the corvid identification, it was agreed
that wild origins were very unlikely.
Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)
2003-80-A West Dryden, Tompkins, 22 Sep.
Female Western Tanagers can present a significant identification challenge
because of their similarity to some female Scarlet Tanagers (P. olivacea).
This individual was carefully studied and photographed. It showed fairly
broad yellowish upper wingbars and whitish edges to the tertials, both
suggestive of Western Tanager. The color of the breast and bill were also
supportive. Although uncommon, some Scarlet Tanagers can show noticeable
wingbars due to retained juvenal greater coverts. Unfortunately, the extent
of contrast between the crown and back—a critical field mark—was
difficult to evaluate in the photographs, which showed the bird perched
on high branches. The fact that the pro-Western features were not particularly
well developed and the date was on the early side, the Committee opted
for caution in making a firm identification. These concerns were shared
by the observers, who cautiously referred to this as no more than a “probable
“Slate-colored” Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca schistacea)
2003-74-A Hamlin Beach SP, Monroe, 7 Dec.
The taxonomy of the Fox Sparrow complex is involved and unsettled. The
AOU currently recognizes a single species (Passerella iliaca),
and Pyle (1997) describes 17 subspecies allocated among four main groups.
Some authorities consider each of these main groups to be separate species.
The Hamlin Beach bird was thought to be either P. i. schistacea
or P. i. altivagans. To add to the taxonomic confusion, altivagans
has been placed by some authorities in the schistacea group (“Slate-colored”
Fox Sparrow) and by others in the iliaca group (“Red”
Fox Sparrow, which includes the birds which normally occur in NYS). Under
either interpretation, altivagans appears to be an intermediate form between
“Red” and “Slate-colored” Fox Sparrows. It should
also be noted that “Red” Fox Sparrows vary clinally in color,
with western birds (P. i. zaboria, which breeds into Alaska, and
which occurs rarely in NYS) tending to have a grayer head and nape and
browner ventral streaking than eastern birds. The Committee recognizes
that the pattern and overall color of the bird described in the report
suggest a Fox Sparrow unlike the typical “Red” Fox Sparrows
that occur in eastern North America. But apart from the confusion engendered
by taxonomic issues, the Committee was concerned that certain details
of the head pattern and bill as reported were not correct for any subspecies
of Fox Sparrow. Given these discrepancies, and the additional possibility
that a hybrid combination or color aberration could be responsible for
the unusual appearance of this bird, the Committee felt that this record
could not be safely assigned to any subspecies of Fox Sparrow. There is
one previous record of an altivagans Fox Sparrow for NYS, a bird
captured and collected at a banding operation at Fire Island Lighthouse,
Suffolk on 12 May 1971—the first, and perhaps still the only,
record from the Northeast (United States National Museum #566277; Buckley
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)
2003-6-A Feeder in West Chazy, Clinton, 24 & 27 Jan.
The brief description lacked sufficient detail, concerning shape and posture
in particular, to safely exclude Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus).
Report Not Accepted
Pink-sided Junco (Junco hyemalis mearnsi)
2000-84-A Fire Island Lighthouse, Suffolk, 19 Oct.
Captured by Shai Mitra at the Fire Island banding station, photographs
and a description of this junco were published by Buckley and Mitra (2003).
The juncos represent a notoriously difficult group in terms of assigning
individuals to particular populations, subspecies or even species. The
taxonomy is not fully understood and divisions are blurred by genetic
mixing and individual variation. For an up-to-date discussion of these
issues see Dunn (2002) and Neal (2003). After careful review and comparison
to specimen collections, the Committee was not satisfied that this individual
could be safely assigned to a named population. Notably, it lacked the
characteristic blackish lores and extensively pink flanks expected of
a Pink-sided Junco, and the demarcation of the gray breast leading to
a very pale whitish belly is not typical of Pink-sided.
Report Not Accepted
White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla)
1995-25-A Derby Hill Hawkwatch, Oswego, 24 Apr
This submission concerns a large eagle that was seen by an assemblage
of observers as it passed over the hawkwatch at Derby Hill at the southeastern
corner of Lake Ontario. The eagle was studied at relatively close range
and for at least two minutes. Several of the observers were intimately
familiar with both Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and Golden
Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and were immediately convinced they had
something different. One of the observers contributing a report was also
able to study the bird through a telescope. Initially, three reports were
submitted to NYSARC: two regarded the bird as a White-tailed Eagle (#1993-25-A
and B), whereas the third regarded the bird as a Steller’s Sea-Eagle
(H. pelagicus; #1993-24-A). In an unusual step, reports #1993-25-A
and B were withdrawn by the observers prior to review, and only #1993-24-A
was reviewed. This report was not accepted (see NYSARC 1994). The observers
who withdrew their reports did so in reaction to conflicting responses
from international experts in raptor identification whom they had approached,
rather than a change of heart. After extensive correspondence and literature
review, these two observers resubmitted their original field notes and
descriptions, again concluding the bird was a White-tailed Eagle, and
added the voluminous results of their research. Documentation of the eagle
consists of written descriptions and drawings and a single photograph
of very limited utility. All these materials were scrutinized carefully
by the Committee, several of whom have field experience with all the species
under consideration. The Committee also consulted additional reference
material that has become available in the interm.
The bird was
described as huge, with long, broad, straight-edged wings, a massive yellow
bill, yellow feet and tarsi, and a long, wedge-shaped tail. Unlike adult
Bald Eagle, the head was described as mostly dark, and the rectrices as
mostly dark, with white centers on at least some of the individual feathers.
The body and wings were uniformly very dark, or blackish, with hints of
brown tones on the underwings. Although the bird was seen and described
very well, there was no indication of any white visible on the underwings,
including the axillaries. Both observers described counting seven clearly-defined
Committee found the level of detail in these reports admirable, and despite
considerable evidence that many details of plumage and structure were
consistent with a White-tailed Eagle, the final combination of characters
was difficult to reconcile with this identification. According to the
most current literature on the identification of this species (e.g. Forsman
1999), essentially all non-adult White-tailed Eagles will show at least
some prominent white markings on the axillaries. Although this trait is
subject to much individual variation, as in Bald Eagle, the total absence
of white markings on the underwings of the Derby Hill bird was of serious
concern, especially as the tail and body plumage were not fully adult.
In summary, the anomalous or unexpected combination of an adult-like bill
color, adult-like uniformity of the underwings, non-adult tail, and non-adult
dark body color does not correspond neatly with any typical, well documented
plumage of White-tailed Eagle. Given these difficulties, the Committee
decided that even better documentation, preferably involving high quality
photographs, would be necessary to support such an exceptional record.
White-tailed Eagles have occurred and sometimes bred in Alaska (principally
the Outer Aleutians). There is also a significant resident population
in Greenland (Boertmann 1998), presumably the source of three early to
mid 20th Century records from Massachusetts, the most recent being from
1944 (Veit and Petersen 1993).
Observers: Seth Ausubel, Jessie Barry, Edward S. Brinkley, Phillip
A. Brown, P. A. Buckley, Thomas W. Burke, Adam Byrne, Mary Ann Cairo,
Warren Cairo, William Case, Binnie Chase, Judy Cinquina, James Clinton,
Dorothy W. Crumb, Steven J. D’Amato, Willie D’Anna, Leonard
DeFrancisco, Peter Doherty, John Duffy, Dale Dyer, Bill Elrick, Kayla
Fisk, Robert Fisk, John Foust, Kurt Fox, Pat Gabel, Jeff Gerbracht, John
Gluth, Kevin Griffith, Scott Haber, Michael Hamilton, Judith Heintz, Roger
Heintz, Barbara Herrgesell, Wesley Hochachka, Rick Horn, Pete Hosner,
Robert Kurtz, Gerald Lazarczyk, Anne Lazarus, Nick Leone, Patricia Lindsay,
Kathy Luther, Curtis Marantz, Cindy Marino, Stephen McCabe, Kevin McGann,
Jay McGowan, Kevin McGowan, Hugh McGuinness, Shaibal S. Mitra, Michael
Morgante, Terry Mosher, Bill Ostrander, James Pawlicki, Gerard Phillips,
Bill Purcell, Gerry Rising, Dana Rohleder, Tom Salo, Eric Salzman, Joanne
Schultz, Michael Shanley III, Dominic Sherony, Jeanne Skelly, Sharon Skelly,
Charles C. Spagnoli, Robert Spahn, Lloyd Spitalnik, Birgit Stanford, Rex
Stanford, Herb Stein, William Symonds, Anne Thurber, John P. Tramontano,
Donna Jeanne Trumble, John Van Neil, Chester Vincent, Fred von Mechow,
William W. Watson, Gail W. Wiechmann, Angus Wilson, Alvin Wollin, Seth
Photographers: Seth Ausubel, Andrew Baldelli, Gail Benson, P.
A. Buckley, Warren Cairo, William Case, Steven J. D’Amato, Willie
D’Anna, Peter Doherty, Patrick Doyle, Ken Feustel, Kurt Fox, Pete
Hosner, John Kennedy, Stephen McCabe, Kevin McGann, Jay McGowan, Shaibal
S. Mitra, Gerard Phillips, Mike Powers, Cheri Sassman, Joanne Schultz,
Dominic Sherony, Lloyd Spitalnik, Rex Stanford, Donna Jeanne Trumble,
John Van Neil, Kurt Wiechmann, Angus Wilson, Laurie Zagmester.
SUBMITTED ON BEHALF OF THE NEW YORK STATE AVIAN RECORDS
Angus Wilson (Chair)
Jeanne Skelly (Secretary)
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