Sunday, December 10, 2006

Black Guillemot

On this day in 1929, C. Eliot Underdown spotted a Black Guillemot at the long jetty north of Cape May Harbor. The guillemot flew in from the northeast and landed in the water on the lee side of the jetty. Here it dove several times as Underdown viewed it from within 20 feet. The bird was in the expected mottled grayish winter plumage that makes the Black Guillemot's name an apparent misnomer at times.

Black Guillemot is the least common of the alcids that visit NJ waters in the winter. There are 12 state records to date, with most coming from Monmouth and Ocean Counties. There are three records for Cape May County, however. There is also an inland record from Boonton Reservoir in Morris County. The vast majority have been one-day wonders, but just last winter NJ birders were lucky enough to have a guillemot that lingered for over a month from early December 2005 to January of this year.

Underdown, C. Eliot. 1930. Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle) at Cape May, N. J. Auk 47:242. PDF here

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ash-throated Flycatcher

On this day in 1984, an Ash-throated Flycatcher was found at Assunpink WMA in Monmouth County. Word did not get out for a couple of weeks, but the bird stayed until 9 January 1985, so many birders were able to see it (Boyle et al. 1985).

For a species with a relatively recent first state record, Ash-throated Flycatcher has quickly become an almost expected feature of NJ's avifauna. The lion's share of the 32 records to date are from the coast, most frequently Cape May. There are a mere handful of records from inland locations such as Assunpink (which got its second record of the species 12-16 November 2005). The December date of the first state record turns out to fall a little late seasonally; November is the month with the bulk of the records. Dates of occurrence run from 22 October to 12 January (no spring records), so Ash-throated Flycatcher demonstrates a marked season (although there are a few spring records from other Northeastern states). Many birds are one-day wonders, but some have lingered longer.

The relatively recent advent of NJ Ash-throated Flycatcher records is matched by nearby states: New York's first record was in 1970, Massachusetts' was in 1972 and Pennsylvania's was in 1997 (Levine 1998, McWilliams & Brauning 2000, Veit & Petersen 1993).

Boyle, William J., Jr., Robert O. Paxton, & David A. Cutler. 1985. The Winter Season, Hudson-Delaware Region. American Birds 39:150-154.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Rock Wren

On this day in 1992, David Sibley found a Rock Wren at Cape May Point. One of the rarer Western strays to the Northeast, this bird settled in for a long stay and was seen by many. It was last seen 28 March 1993, after a spring blizzard.

There are few other Northeastern records of Rock Wren, but they show a strong seasonal pattern. Both of Massachusetts' Rock Wrens were coastal long-stayers; the first was found at Andrews Point in Rockport on 19 December 1965 and stayed until 25 January 1966. The second one appeared at South Orleans on 2 November 1991 and it remained until the middle of February 1992 (Veit and Petersen 1993). New York has a record from Fredonia in inland Chautauqua County on 29 November 1986. This bird only stayed until 3 December (Levine 1998). Maryland also has a mid-October record from coastal Worcester County (Iliff et al. 1996).

In other words, Rock Wrens are not as common as, say, the 10 Cave Swallows that were reported from Cape May today in the wake of our latest front, but they otherwise fit the overall pattern of late fall vagrants from the West.