Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Birding Tales [A Bird in the Hand]

I love reading birding email lists, and from time to time there are really great stories that come through. The following post, a rare bird report submitted to the New York State Avian Records Committee (NYSARC), came across Cayugabirds-L this weekend. It's a fascinating encounter with a bird seldom-seen anywhere, and just about never in New York. It's also a call to expect the unexpected.

It also serves up some food for thought that has been bandied about for a long time: how many birds go undetected by observers on migration? How many species go undetected?

17 October, 2009
From: John L. Confer
Biology Department
Ithaca College,
Ithaca, NY 14850


Yellow Rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis) report.

On the afternoon of 17 Oct, 2009 I was walking through a ~60 acre hay field that was mowed this past July. This site is adjacent to the Goetchius Preserve, owned by the Finger Lakes Land Trust, about one mile west of the eastern edge of Tompkins County, NY and bordered to the east by Flatiron Rd, in the Town of Caroline. The coordinates are N42o, 25’30”, W76o 17’42”.

The mixed vegetation averaged about a foot high with patches of taller goldenrod and some areas with shorter vegetation. My dog, Belle Flower, began pouncing in the grass with stiff front legs and then grabbed something in her mouth. I fully expected the creature to be a dead vole, as has happened in the past. I pried her mouth open and was shocked to find it was a bird. I opened my hand and rolled the bird over for a better look. I was actually flabbergasted when it started to move. I’ve banded thousands of birds, but having just gotten it from Bell’s mouth, I was certain this one was dead and left my hand open. In a few seconds, this creature, which I had thought was certainly dead, flew out of my hand.

Frankly, I could have gotten a much more detailed view of this hand-held bird if I had anticipated it was well enough to get up and fly a few seconds after I removed it from the jaws of death. In fact this observation might be the shortest view of a potential NYSAR bird on record. Nonetheless, some of the features were seen in hand with complete certainty, enough so that I offer this report. I am quite certain of the features I saw, which I think are sufficient to definitively identify the bird. However, I know that there are features that you might well expect, which I did not have the time to observe. Please don’t pillage me too harshly for not noting several other features.

Note that this is only the description of the encounter, though the Cayugabirds-L post did include Dr. Confer's responses to the NYSARC's Rare Bird Report questions (such as description of the bird's appearance, flight pattern, and how it similar species were eliminated in the identification process).

So, have you had any crazy encounters like this? Or know of any great stories like this from your area?



Anonymous said...

I love the "please don't pillage me too harshly" line.

It says so much.



noflickster said...

It does say a lot, doesn't it? In general, my feeling is that it's a shame on both sides: on the one hand, reviewers (and other birders) can solicit further documentation in a respectful manner, while on the other, observers should expect a certain amount of skepticism when rare birds are encountered.

In this case, it's a shame John expects to be raked over the coals by the local birding community and the reviewers. As far as I know, any follow-up discussion has been respectful.

A very tricky line on both sides!

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