For the Birds: How to find the rarities

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak A common yellowthroat sings from a perch in Brookfield, Conn., during spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Rare bird alerts are a good way to find out when spring migrants, like this yellowthroat, are arriving.

What do we do now with spring migration winding down and birds busy with the task of continuing their species?

We still look for birds, of course, but where to find them? Resident birds make themselves scarce as they hide away in holes and on nests. We don’t want to disturb the birds at this time of year anyway.

It’s a good time to check out the rare-bird alerts to see what others are finding throughout the region. I’ve never been a big “chaser,” but it’s always fun to see what birds are around. You never know, maybe one of the rarities is in your town or in a neighboring town.

The best place to look is birding.aba.org, which is run by the American Birding Association. It is a combination of birding news and rare-bird alerts. Not all of the sightings listed are rare, but may be unusual for location or time of year. Sometimes, contributors just have a bird question for the community.

The “landing page” of the website gives users the option to click on any state. It’s fun to click on random states to see what’s showing where. If you’re traveling, you can always check to see if any unusual birds are hanging around your destination.

Some of the recent sightings in New Hampshire include nighthawks, chukar, king eider, mourning warbler and snowy owl. Yes, you read that last one correct. A snowy owl is still around the New Hampshire coast.

New Hampshire Audubon also maintains a great rare-bird alert system. Visit www.nhaudubon.organd click on “Get Outside,” then “birding.” It is updated frequently and lists rare and unusual sightings from around the state. There is also eBird, which is revolutionizing birding and bird tracking, but I’ll save that one for another day as it warrants its own story.

The lists will not let you know how the common species are doing, or where they are being seen. Cardinal and chickadee sightings are not appropriate for the rare-bird alert lists, but you can always send them to me if you feel the impulse to share. I’m always interested in knowing what people are seeing — rare and common species welcomed.

The ABA site is also good fodder for bird discussions. Many birders use the site to have questions about birds answered. A birder posted last week about a bird song she had heard and wondered if anyone could figure out what it was.

While I’ve never been a lister or chaser, it’s always good to check in occasionally with the rare-bird alerts. You’d hate to find out too late that a once-in-a-lifetime bird was right under your nose.

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Yellow-headed Blackbird in Stamford, CT

Photo by Chris Bosak A Yellow-headed Blackbird perches in a tree at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in April 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Yellow-headed Blackbird perches in a tree at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in April 2014.

By now you may have heard about a Yellow-headed Blackbird that has been hanging around Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Stamford, Conn. If not, don’t worry. I was a little late to the game, too.

But on Sunday morning I took a trip over there to see if the bird was still around. A birder from Rowayton was already there looking at the bird, which was at the main feeding station within the sanctuary. It remained only a few seconds before taking off to the top of a nearby tree. It returned after a few minutes and fed on the ground under the feeders for several minutes.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds are rare sightings in New England. They are western and Midwestern birds. I love my New England Red-winged Blackbirds, but Yellow-headed Blackbirds are even more colorful and much larger. Having never seen on in New England before, I was very impressed with the bird’s color, size, yellow rump patch and white wing patches.

David Winston arrived and said the bird had been there for several days and it frequented the feeding station. Suddenly the birds all darted off into the woods and other safe areas. While the bird was elsewhere temporarily, David Winston took the opportunity to make sure the feeders were filled and the ground underneath had plenty to offer. David is tireless in his efforts to promote and maintain the sanctuary.

Photo by Chris Bosak David Winston fills the feeders at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary this weekend, hoping to keep a rare Yellow-headed Blackbird in the area.

Photo by Chris Bosak
David Winston fills the feeders at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary this weekend, hoping to keep a rare Yellow-headed Blackbird in the area.

See more photos of the bird (taken by David Winston) by clicking here.

David spotted a Cooper’s Hawk in a somewhat distant tree, hence the apprehension for the feeder birds to stay at the feeder. Eventually the hawk flew off and the blackbirds came back. By now a few more birders had arrived and the star of the show returned.

In the field guide “Birds of North America” Kenn Kaufman mentions something about the Yellow-headed Blackbird’s “awful attempts to sing.” I can now vouch for that as the Stamford bird vocalized several times while I was there.

I returned very briefly this afternoon (April 28, 2014), but did not see the bird. Truthfully, I didn’t look that hard today. Time was short. Hopefully it’s still around and many other birders will be able to see it.

Another great rarity spotted at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Yellow-headed Blackbird eats seeds under a feeder station at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in April 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Yellow-headed Blackbird eats seeds under a feeder station at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in April 2014.