Sunday, April 15, 2007

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

On this day in 1872, C. C. Abbott collected a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on Crosswicks Meadow in Mercer County, a few miles below Trenton. Abbott was an all-around naturalist who compiled some of his observations in A Naturalist's Rambles About Home, first published in 1884. Crosswicks Meadow (not far from Trenton Marsh) was one of Abbott's favorite places to visit. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher specimen was eventually deposited at the Academy of Science in Salem, Massachusetts (Abbott 1887), but it has since been lost.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher has gone on to become one of the most frequently reported rarities in NJ, with 41 accepted records through 2005. Although a quarter of the state's records cover the period from September to December, it is more expected in spring, particularly May. There are no fewer than 20 records for May. Interestingly, the earliest seasonal record is the first one in 1872; there is only one other record for April, a bird that arrived in Cape May 28 April 1990 and remained until 5 May.

Although many NJ Scissor-tail records come from the expected migrant traps like Cape May and Sandy Hook, there are a fair number from inland locations as well. In common with many vagrant flycatchers, most Scissor-tails are one-day wonders (sometimes even five-minute wonders). On the other hand, this conspicuous species should catch the attention of any birder (and many a non-birder) lucky enough to run across it.

Abbott, C. C. 1887. A Naturalist's Rambles About Home. Appleton, New York, NY. 2nd ed.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Hoary Redpoll

On this day in 1960, a Hoary Redpoll appeared in a flock of Common Redpolls that were at a feeder in West Englewood, Bergen County. Frank B. Gill noticed the bird's paleness compared to the other birds in the flock and collected it. The bird was subsequently identified as a Hoary Redpoll. The specimen is now at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology (Gill 1961).

Hoary Redpoll is one of the rarer vagrants to New Jersey. This northern species occasionally moves south with irruptions of Common Redpolls, but many Hoary Redpolls do not come as far south as New Jersey. Adding to the difficulty of finding a Hoary Redpoll in NJ are identification issues. Redpolls of both species are variably marked, and sorting out which is which can be an exercise in frustration, even for those with previous redpoll experience (Czaplak 1995).

There are only two other accepted records for NJ; one from Plainfield, Union County, in 1974, and one from Rockaway, Morris County, in 1994 (Hanson 2005).

Czaplak, Dave. 1995. Identifying Common and Hoary Redpolls in Winter. Birding 27:446-457.
Gill, Frank B. 1961. A Hoary Redpoll Specimen for New Jersey. Wilson Bulletin 73:388-389. PDF here