Saturday, November 12, 2011

A rash of vagrant birds in the western Great Lakes - Nov 21 update

Over the last few weeks birders in the western Great Lakes states have been enjoying an amazing parade of rare vagrant birds.

Minnesota birders turned up Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Tropical/Couch's FlycatcherScott's Oriole and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. 

Almost all of the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch sightings in the Great Lakes region have occurred at feeders. The recent Minnesota bird; however, was spotted on the shore of Bear Island Lake, about 150 km. west of Thunder Bay, ON, on October 27. Like the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch that showed up here last year, it was a free-ranging individual associating with Snow Buntings.

The Scott's Oriole was sighted a few days later (Oct 30) in a crabapple tree in Grand Marais - tantalizingly close to the Canada-US border!

Just to the south in Illinois a Sage Thrasher, was a highlight.

Recent discoveries in Wisconsin include Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Say's Phoebe, and Inca Dove, a state first.

[click on images to enlarge]

More photos and details can be found on the eBird Wisconsin page where the authors plausibly speculate that these birds got caught up in a westerly weather flow and then stopped when they encountered the big waters of Lakes Superior and Michigan.

So what about the Thunder Bay District here in Ontario? Hands down, the most exciting report so far is that of a Clark's Nutcracker that made a one-time visit to a backyard feeder in Thunder Bay on October 25. Efforts to relocate the bird in the Vickers Heights neighbourhood were unsuccessful. If accepted, this will be only the third Ontario record for this montane corvid.

The volunteers at the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory have an impressive record of encountering rare vagrants in the fall - notables include Violet-green Swallow (Oct. 28, 1992) and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Sept. 30, 2010). As yet I haven't heard of anything unusual at The Cape this season.

On November 5th the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists held its annual Fall Round-up. From dawn-to-dusk birders along the north shore tallied species at favourite spots from the Minnesota border to Thunder Bay, eastwards through Nipigon/Dorion, Terrace Bay and Marathon. I'm sure I wasn't the only participant excited at the possibility of someone turning up a rarity. Sixty-two species were seen but alas, nothing exceptional.

So what's next? Well, it looks like we're in for a very good winter finch season and I'll continue to enjoy the conspicuous flocks of Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls and White-winged Crossbills. They'll likely stick around, given the abundant crops of their favourite foods. And as for rarities in this corner of Ontario, well you never know...

Update: A few new stellar western strays have turned up Illinois and Wisconsin in the recent days:
  • November 10 - a Mountain Bluebird was found during the autumn hawk watch at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.
[click on images to enlarge]
  • November 12 - a Brewer's Sparrow was found at Northerly Island in Chicago.
  • November 11 - a White-tailed Kite was observed foraging over Crex Meadows in Burnett County Wisconsin.
  • Nov 12 - a Broad-billed Hummingbird showed up at a feeder in Mequoun, WI, photos here.
  • Nov 12 - a Lucy's Warbler was photographed at Whitefish Point, MI, photos here.
  • Nov 21 - a Selasphorus Hummingbird (possibly a Broad-tailed, a would-be state first) was photographed at a feeder in Oak Park, IL, photos here.

    Acknowledgment: Many thanks to Rita Wiskowski,  Matthew Cvetas,  Josh Engel,  Mary Backus, Dave Freriks and Deb Falkowski for sharing their photos.

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