Thursday, December 27, 2012

Two tyranids from out of town

Ed Corey spotted a Say's Phoebe this morning while covering his territory for the Pettigrew Christmas Bird Count.
Say's Phoebe - Washington County
 Luckily Kyle Kittelberger and I were already on our way there to do some birding around Lake Phelps en route to the Outer Banks and were able to refind it easily.
Say's Phoebe
This is only the 10th record of this western flycatcher for North Carolina (and a lifer for me!).  Ed seems to have especially good luck finding vagrant flycatchers.

After scoping a nice assortment of ducks, included a few Common Mergansers, on the lake we drove over to the "Park Office."  While Ed Corey and Kyle were fiddling with gear at their trucks I wandered down toward the water with my scope.

An odd low chup sound coming from the flooded wood edge caught my attention.  A Hermit Thrush perhaps?  But it didn't sound quite right for that...
Ash-throated Flycatcher
 ...and then I realized a Myiarchus flycatcher was staring me right in the face!
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Several years ago this was considered a Mega-rarity in NC, but they have become more regular recently (in fact this is the fourth Ash-throated found in NC this season!).  There are probably 25 to 30 state records, but this might be the first for Washington County.  I saw my first on the causeway at Lake Mattamuskeet.

Ash-throated Flycatcher
Kyle played some tapes and the call I heard sounded like his tapes from the Utah population (and not the Texas population).

It was a great day for flycatchers from out west; now we just need to find a Western Kingbird!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

An encounter with a 'Cling Rail?'

Last weekend I was down in Dare County, NC with Jeff Pippen and a group of Duke graduate students when we saw this bird in the pond at the Bodie Island lighthouse.

Definitely a large rail...either a King or a Clapper, but which one?  If watch the video with your volume up, you can hear us trying to figure it out.

Of course the harsh back-light makes the bird look like a silhouette in the video, but through binoculars field marks were discernible.  And with heavy cropping and brightness enhancement, they even come out in the photos.

 Jeff and I called this bird a King Rail in the field because of the rusty orange on the chest and neck.

But the more I have shared these photos, the more different reactions I have received.
 Both Clapper and King rails are known to inhabit brackish marshes, so the habitat may not be much help in sorting out the ID.  And there are plenty of records on ebird for both species at this very pond.
So I'm curious as to what YOU would call this bird if you saw it at this spot and why.  A King Rail?  A Clapper Rail?  A 'Cling Rail?'*

Please post your opinions in the comments below or email them to me (scott dot winton at gmail dot com). Hopefully we can all learn something!

*If you would call it a 'Cling Rail,' please be specific about what you mean.  The term 'Cling Rail' gets used in two ways: 1) To refer to rails that we can't ID beyond Clapper/King because we don't have enough information (essentially, 'I can't tell from your crappy photos'); and 2) to refer to Clapper X King hybrids, which have been documented along the Gulf Coast, though I'm not sure how well we understand the frequency and extent of hybridization.