Fifth Report of the Avian Records Committee of Connecticut
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Report of the Connecticut Rare Records Committee
Connecticut Warbler 13: 2-13, 1993
George A. Clark, Jr. and Louis R. Bevier
This report contains 26 records of 23 species that have been reviewed by the Connecticut Rare Records Committee (hereafter the CRRC or the Committee). The 18 accepted records of 16 species represent an acceptance rate of about 70%. A great majority of the records (16) were received from coastal localities, and the overall distribution of accepted records was heavily in favor of the western and southwestern portions of the state, areas receiving the greatest coverage by observers--New Haven County (6); Litchfield County (5), Fairfield County (4). The records reviewed in this report span dates from 15 December 1973 to 15 December 1991, although most (21) are from 1989 to 1991.
We continue to encourage birders to support the CRRC review process by submitting written reports and/or photographs to the current CRRC Secretary, Louis Bevier, P.O. Box 665, Storrs, CT 06268. This process is carried out by similar committees in most states and provinces of North America (Roberson 1990), and we believe that the decisions provide highly qualified and standardized assessments regarding the validity of records. These decisions are not the final word on the validity of the record but are the Committee's best judgment based on the evidence provided; questions of identification and origin may be reviewed again in the light of new evidence or information.
Evidence for a record may be of a variety of kinds. Specimens, such as are kept in museums, constitute one important form of evidence, but only a minority of new records, and none in this report, are documented in this way. Photographs and tape recordings are frequently of major importance as indicated in the discussions of the records that follow. Detailed written notes, however, remain extremely important; such notes can capture details that may be missed by specimens, photography, and tape recordings. Basic information for notes should include locality, date, names of observers, conditions of observation, characteristics used in identification, and characteristics used to eliminate alternative possible species. Ideally, the notes should contain more than simply a record of presence or absence of field marks currently considered critical in identification. As complete a description as possible may ultimately provide the most useful record. As in the case of the Aechmophorus grebe (Western/Clark's Grebe) discussed below, ideas as to what constitutes a species may change over the years, and thorough descriptions provide a potential for future identifications of species not currently recognized as distinct.
State List and CRRC Review List. This report provides details on five additions to the Connecticut state list: Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvichensis), Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus), Bell's Vireo (Vireo bellii), and Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla). Two species formerly treated as hypothetical (supported by accepted records with written details only) are elevated to full status on the main list: Townsend's Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) and Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus). This raises the official state list to 386, nineteen of which are considered hypothetical. The Committee is now evaluating records of several species that, if accepted, would increase the state list. The most recently published state list contains 380 species (as of September 1989) and is available from the Connecticut Ornithological Association for $0.25 (see address inside back cover of this issue).
This report continues the format of previous reports (see for example, CW 10:84-91, 1990). In the case of accepted records, only observers who submitted reports are listed (by initials, alphabetically by last name), with the original finder listed first and followed by an asterisk. Observers who submitted a photograph are acknowledged with "†" following their names. Hyphenated numbers following the observers' initials in the parentheses (e.g., 90-6) are CRRC file numbers. Other abbreviations are CW (= Connecticut Warbler) and AB (= American Birds).
EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis). One was seen at close range from Point Folly on Bantam Lake near the Morris-Litchfield town boundary, 7 October 1988 (Figure 1; LBW*†; 90-6). One was seen by three observers at Cove Island Park just below the Holly Pond Dam, Stamford-Darien town line, during a Christmas Count, 17 December 1989 (TWB*; 90-7).
NORTHERN GANNET (Morus bassanus). An adult was seen flying and diving over Long Island Sound off Lighthouse Point, New Haven, 23 March 1990 (SJ & LC*; 90-10).
Before the last few years, this species was exceedingly scarce along Connecticut's coastline, but single birds have been seen with some regularity there recently, especially in fall and early winter. (Exceptionally, up to several hundred have been seen in one day.) Most of these reports have not been submitted to the Committee. This increase in sightings has prompted the Committee to consider removing this species from its Review List.
TUNDRA SWAN (Cygnus columbianus). One was seen on Mirror Lake on the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs, Mansfield, 29 November 1989 (JH*; 89-9). This is the only known record for northeastern Connecticut, and one of the few seen away from a major river or body of water. Most records for the Tundra Swan are from the state's southern tier of towns, especially coastal localities (Bair 1990).
HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus). A male was seen off Gregory Point in Norwalk harbor, Norwalk, 17-21 December 1989 (DRP*†; 90-18).
BLACK RAIL (Laterallus jamaicensis). Two were heard in the higher portions of the salt marsh along the Lewis Gut, Great Meadows, Stratford, 18 May 1990 (MSS*, EH; 90-20).
One bird was first heard while the observers were playing tape recorded vocalizations of a Least Bittern. The possibility that the rail vocalization might have been due to another birder playing a tape was eliminated by a careful search of the area. During that search a second Black Rail was heard at the same time the first one was calling. Only later did the observers play tape recorded Black Rail vocalizations to the first bird whereupon it moved quickly away through the marsh and then became quiet.
The identification of rarities solely by vocalization remains controversial in the view of some ornithologists, but identifications of common species by sound are now routinely accepted. In the case of nocturnally active species, well documented identifications by sound seem as fully satisfactory as sight records.
RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicaria). One in basic plumage was seen off Linden Road, Indian Neck, Branford, 11 November 1990 (NSP*; 90-22).
SANDWICH TERN (Sterna sandvichensis). Numerous observers saw one on a sandbar at Milford Point, Milford, 24 August 1991 (TAM*, PD†; 91-22).
This is the first state record for this species. The occurrence of the Sandwich Tern in the state is not entirely unexpected given the large number of records from surrounding states, especially Massachusetts. Most occurrences in New England are associated with hurricanes, as was this individual. Hurricane Bob passed just southeast of Connecticut on 19 August 1991, and Sandwich Terns were a prominent component of the storm's cargo--Long Island had twelve, Rhode Island sixteen, and Massachusetts six. This individual showed a white crown and a narrow shawl of black around the nape, the expected plumage for this species in late August; the black crown of breeding birds typically is replaced gradually by white beginning in late June and early July.
CHUCK-WILL'S-WIDOW (Caprimulgus carolinensis). One was seen and photographed at Lake Wintergreen, Hamden, 26 April 1989 (JG*†; 90-15).
This bird was published as having been found 27 April, apparently an error, and heard calling 3 May, for which date the Committee has no details (CW 9:92, 1989). Unfortunately, the photograph alone was submitted, without field notes. As useful as photographs are, observers should take care to record written details as well. The Committee would welcome copies of field notes written by any other observers of this bird.
RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus). An adult male was present and photographed at a feeding station in New Hartford, 24-27 July 1991 (Figure 2; DPG*†; 91-19). (Published in error as 21-27 July, CW 12:31 and AB 45:1095.)
The first accepted record for Connecticut, this occurrence fits a pattern of late summer and early fall records in New England, where three other records exist between 18 July and 15 September. There is also a mid-April record for Massachusetts and later fall records, especially to the south. The principal timing of occurrences here is perhaps best explained by the migration route of adult male Rufous Hummingbirds, which generally follow an elliptical path, moving southeastward through the Rocky Mountains beginning in mid-summer and northwestward along coastal routes, primarily west of the Sierra Nevada, beginning in very early spring (Phillips 1975). A summary of Rufous Hummingbird records east of the Mississippi River is given by Conway and Drennan (AB 33:130-132, 1979).
Although the adult male Rufous Hummingbird is a rather distinctive species, care must be taken to eliminate Allen's Hummingbird, especially since an immature male of that species was collected recently on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts (AB 43:429-430, 1989). As to the Connecticut record, the observer noted that the bird showed 'a solid rufous back' when viewed from as close as ten feet. The photographs support this fact and, additionally, show that the rear crown and nape were rufous, the gorget was solid orange-red, and the tail was completely rufous. The latter two characters confirm the age and sex. Adult male Allen's Hummingbirds never show a solid rufous rear crown, nape, and back.
The Committee would also like to caution against confusing the superficially similar sphinx moths of the genus Hemaris, three species of which are known from Connecticut (J. O'Donnell, personal communication). In one case, G. Clark was told about a possible hummingbird from northeastern Connecticut, but a photograph submitted later showed one of the sphinx moths.
TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus). One was seen by numerous observers at Lighthouse Point Park, New Haven, 11-14 November 1990 (RLE*, LRB, CSE, JMF [tape recording submitted], KMu, RS|, JW; 90-21).
This is the first state record and only the second confirmed for New England, excluding a record from Massachusetts that may pertain to this species or Couch's Kingbird (Tyrannus couchii). The Tropical Kingbird is very similar in appearance to Couch's Kingbird, and without having a bird in the hand, the only known reliable method of separation of the two species is by their vocalizations. Many observers, including one familiar with the vocalizations of both species, carefully described the calls of the New Haven bird as matching those of the Tropical Kingbird. From tape recordings submitted by J. Fengler, Bevier prepared visual graphs plotting frequency and intensity of call against time (Figure 3), showing that the vocalizations of the New Haven bird did indeed correspond to those of the Tropical Kingbird rather than Couch's Kingbird (Smith 1966). This finding confirmed the impression of listeners and the identification of the bird.
TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE (Myadestes townsendi). One was found in Woodbury near the junction with Watertown and Middlebury, 16-23 December 1989 (MSS*†; 90-12).
This is the first photographic documentation of the occurrence of this species in Connecticut, and thus the status of this species is now changed from hypothetical to full on the state list; there are two other reports for the state that have not been reviewed by the Committee. Townsend's Solitaires apparently staged a small invasion eastward in the fall of 1989 (AB 44:227). Richard Bowen published the first photograph of this species in New England, at Rhode Island, and summarized previous records in the region (AB 33:142, 1979).
BELL'S VIREO (Vireo bellii). A single observer carefully studied and photographed one at Longshore Club Park, Westport, 14 October 1991 (FWM*†; 91-28).
This is the first record for this species in Connecticut, and only the second record for New England. These records and all verified records from New York and New Jersey (a total of three) have occurred in fall between 15 September and 19 November.
YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (Dendroica dominica). Two birds were seen by numerous observers along River Road by the Housatonic River in Kent from 7 May into June 1990 (PEL; 90-9). (First found by N. Currie fide FWM.)
As noted by P. Lehman, these birds had white lores and were thus apparently of the interior subspecies albilora, the 'Sycamore' Yellow-throated Warbler. Furthermore, as he also commented, the habitat was correct for this subspecies as there are numerous stream-side sycamores in that area. Unfortunately, documentation for the breeding of these birds was rather limited. Second hand reports were received of a bird carrying nest material and later of adults carrying food, but neither a nest nor young were seen. The Committee would appreciate receiving further details from observers who might have obtained evidence on the breeding of these birds.
A single Yellow-throated Warbler was first noted at this locality in May 1989 (CW 9:93). A pair, presumably the same birds as the above, nested in a large white pine at this locality in 1991. J. Young photographed the nest 19 May 1991 (on file with CRRC). The occurrence was published (CW 12:32), but no other details are known.
PROTHONOTARY WARBLER (Protonotaria citrea). One was seen by two observers at Barn Island, Stonington, 2 September 1989 (LRB*; 90-5). This is only the third fall occurrence of this species in Connecticut. The description indicates that this was likely a female based on the suffusion of green blending from the back up the nape to the crown.
GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE (Pipilo chlorurus). One was seen by five observers and photographed with still and video cameras at a feeder on Pawson Park Road, Indian Neck, Branford, 27 April 1991 (MA†, NSP; 91-13). (Found by J. Kirby fide NSP.)
This constitutes the first photographic documentation for this species in the state, and thus the species should be changed from hypothetical to full status on the state check-list. This is the second accepted record for the state, the first also being found at a feeder, 7 February 1983, at Orange (CW 7:50).
GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia atricapilla). One was carefully studied by two observers at Naugatuck, during a Christmas Bird Count, 15 December 1991 (MSS*; 91-29).
This is the first record for the state and is accepted to the state list with hypothetical status. A potential first state record is treated with great scrutiny by the Committee, especially when it is only a sight record by a single party of observers, regardless of their number. In this case, the record was accepted by all but one member, the detailed description and experience of the observer overcoming most concerns. The four other records for New England have occurred from 6 January to 15 April. Two sight records from Connecticut, both in April, are listed by Bagg and Eliot (1937), but neither is supported by a written description.
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus). One was well photographed at a feeder in Clinton, 26 April-1 May 1990 (KMo*†; 90-16). The photographs show what appears to be male in first alternate (breeding) plumage.
RECORDS NOT ACCEPTED, identification questionable
EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis). Griswold Point, Old Lyme, 30 March 1979 (88-14). Very brief field notes with little description and a field sketch were submitted for this sighting. Several members were disturbed that the drawing appeared to be more like that of a Horned Grebe than an Eared Grebe; lack of details in the report leaves open the possibility that this bird was actually a Horned Grebe.
WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis). South End Point, East Haven, 15 December 1973 (88-13). This bird was seen well, and most members agreed that this bird was a "Western" grebe of the genus Aechmophorus. This sighting occurred before the Clark's Grebe (A. clarkii) was separated as a species distinct from the Western Grebe. Unfortunately, the sketch and written notes do not provide enough detail to be certain as to which of these two species was present.
MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (Fregata magnificens). Falkner Island, Guilford, 18 July 1990 (90-13). This bird was seen by six observers, and the written description clearly indicates that the bird belonged to the genus Fregata, but members were unable to determine the species from the details provided. Indeed, the observers themselves stated that they did not see the bird well enough to determine the particular species. Although Magnificent Frigatebird might seem most likely to occur in Connecticut because the species has a normal range closer to Connecticut than that of any other frigatebird, a specimen from Maine is that of a Lesser Frigatebird (F. ariel) (see CW 12:40, 1992).
PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus). Station 43 (Hartford Audubon Society Sanctuary), South Windsor, 9 April 1988 (88-30). The account for this bird seen by a single observer indicates that the bird was partially back lit and seen for less than a minute without the aid of binoculars or telescope. Although the observer reported seeing central rectrices extending about four inches beyond the end of the tail, the described conditions of observation were unfavorable, and the date is improbably early in the spring for this species.
CALIFORNIA GULL (Larus californicus). West Haven, 1 January 1990 (90-11). This was a first winter gull from a group of species that are very difficult to distinguish in the field. The sole observer provided a detailed account of many aspects of the appearance of the bird, but this was insufficient to rule out the possibility that the bird was a Herring Gull or some other species. If a California Gull could be satisfactorily documented, it would be a first state record.
RAZORBILL (Alca torda). Between Osprey Beach and New London Ledge Light, New London, 10 January 1991 (91-4). This alcid was seen through binoculars and a telescope by two observers at an estimated distance of at least 600 yards. The description of the bird does not rule out either of the two species of murre. These three species of large alcid are very difficult to recognize to species even at moderate distances (AB 45:252, 1991). Connecticut awaits a convincing written description of this species, which has been reported on several occasions but not yet accepted to the state list.
HARRIS'S SPARROW (Zonotrichia querula). Avon, unreported date in October 1989 (90-14). The only available evidence on this bird is a photograph showing a bird on a lawn, but the image of the bird in the picture is too small for the species to be identifiable. What can be determined, however, is that the bird was gray and had unmarked upperparts, thus eliminating Harris' Sparrow.
RECORDS NOT ACCEPTED, origin questionable (identification accepted)
EURASIAN JACKDAW (Corvus monedula). West Haven landfill, West Haven, 16 February-13 March 1988 (88-21).
Photographs (e.g., AB 43:192, 1988) and descriptions show that this bird was correctly identified as a Eurasian Jackdaw. The controversy lies in whether this bird was a natural vagrant, perhaps ship assisted (AB 41:63, 1987), or might have been a released or escaped captive (CW 12:83, 1992). A Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) found in the state about the same time (CW 9:24, 1989) has been nearly universally considered to be of captive origin, and this raises a question as to whether an aviculturalist might have been keeping European corvids in the region. One peculiar feature of the West Haven bird as seen in two photographs was a conspicuous deformity on the lower part of the left leg near the distal end of the tarsometatarsus; this abnormality, however, does not provide clear evidence as to whether the bird was of wild or captive origin. Some members pointed out that other records of this species in North America lack any clear pattern of seasonal occurrence and are not preceded by a pattern of intervening records across the North Atlantic, as exists for other Eurasian vagrants. On the other hand, given the North American records, some members believed that those questioning the bird's natural occurrence should bear the burden of proof that this bird did not arrive on its own (either naturally or ship assisted). Despite this argument, most members agreed that the individual merits of each occurrence of the Eurasian Jackdaw in North America should be considered separately and that some may pertain to escaped birds. The Committee has been unable to resolve the issue of origin for this bird, and, in such a situation, the conservative interpretation is that the bird might have been an escapee.
It should be noted that the AOU (1985) has accepted this species based on the 1983-1984 records in northeastern North America but regards an earlier record from Fort Myers, Florida, as an escaped cage bird. The Connecticut record is accepted without qualifications by Zeranski and Baptist (1990).
Margaret Ardwin, Louis R. Bevier, Thomas W. Burke, Leslie Coates, Paul Desjardins, Carl S. Ekroth, Richard L. English, Jeff M. Fengler, Sam Fried, Dawn P. Gallo, Frank Gallo, Jon Gibbs, Ed Hagen, Jocelyn Hudon, Steve Jones, Paul E. Lehman, Frank W. Mantlik, Todd A. McGrath, Ken Moore (KMo), Kathleen Murphy (KMu), Dan R. Pokras, Noble S. Proctor, Ray Schwartz, David Sibley, Jeffrey A. Spendelow, Fred Sutton, Mark S. Szantyr, Anita TeHennepe, Eugene TeHennepe, Lyle B. Whittlesey, Jay Withgott.
The Committee is most grateful to the 31 observers who submitted reports. Those who submitted photographs are especially thanked. We thank Jane O'Donnell for providing helpful information on sphinx moths and Charles Henry for help in the preparation of visual plots of tape recorded vocalizations. Former members of the Committee Thomas R. Baptist, Winifred Burkett, Neil Currie, Frank W. Mantlik, Fred Sibley, and Joseph D. Zeranski voted on some of the records in this report. Current members of the Committee who reviewed an earlier draft of this report and made many useful corrections are Polly Brody, Milan G. Bull, Thomas W. Burke, Robert C. Dewire, Ed Hagen, Richard L. English, Jay Kaplan, and Frederick Purnell, Jr.
AOU (American Ornithologists' Union). 1985. Thirty-fifth supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 102:680-686.
Bagg, A. C., and S. A. Eliot, Jr. 1937. Birds of the
Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts. Hampshire Bookshop, Northampton,
Bair, J. 1990. The Tundra Swan in Connecticut. Connecticut Warbler 10:49-61.
Phillips, A. R. 1975. The migration of Allen's and other hummingbirds. Condor 77:196-205.
Roberson, D. 1990. North American bird records committees. Birding 22:276-285.
Smith W. J. 1966. Communication and relationships in the genus Tyrannus. Publications of the Nuttall Ornithological Club, No. 6.
Zeranski, J. D., and T. R. Baptist. 1990. Connecticut birds. University Press of New England, Hanover, New Hampshire.
Submitted: January 1993
Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of Connecticut, Box U-43, Storrs, CT 06269-3043
P.O. Box 665, Storrs, CT 06268