Welcome to Autumn: The Vagrants

So far, this fall, Arkansas has seen several rarities show up.  We have had several storm cells move through, including Hurricane Patricia.  This may be the cause of some of our rarities.  I have chased one successfully as of yet.  The big one, a Brown Booby, is an ABA code 3 which is defined as rare breeders and visitors to the ABA area which is mostly U.S. and Canada.  I saw the one that visited back in 2012, which was the farthest inland record of one in the U.S. and the first state record.  Since then there have been more records in the state and in the interior of the U.S.  I have not chased this one yet and may not.  It is located on a lake at the western part of the state which is a 3 hour drive from my locale.  All birds mentioned now will pale in comparison to the Brown Booby.

Brown Booby seen at Lake Norell, Saline Co., AR 8/17/12

Brown Booby seen at Lake Norell, Saline Co., AR 8/17/12

A Merlin is the next step up from our American Kestrel.  They overwinter throughout the state as well as in the Midwest of the U.S.  If you look at a range map you might think that these are quite common throughout the state.  Unfortunately, and unlike the kestrel, these are not common and are regularly chased by AR birders.  There have been at least two records of these birds in central AR this fall.  One was reported around Conway in October.  My only state Merlin has been at this locale and I wonder if it is the same one.  The second one has been reported southeast of Little Rock.  Two years ago I chased a record at this locale several times only to be thwarted time and again.  If you have read previous posts you may have noticed that I bird this area very heavily; Harper Rd., David D. Terry Lock and Dam, and Sloane Dr. are all in this area.  It is in this same area that I have successfully chased Sandhill Cranes and Inca Doves this year.  I fully intend on pursuing this record as I am about to go on inactive status with my seasonal position at Logoly State Park.

The third rarity that I will mention is a Rufous Hummingbird.  Out of these three, this is my only potential lifer.  In Arkansas, this bird is a rare winter resident.  There seems to be at least one overwintering Rufous at a feeder in the state every year.  Even though some of these records have come from central AR and from people I know, I have yet to chase this bird.  I, and the team, only have two species of hummers on our list:  Ruby-throat (widespread in AR) and Anna’s (from a trip to British Columbia, Canada).  A couple that lives in central Arkansas, Danny and Rhonda Townsend, reported a Rufous at their feeders toward the end of October.  Busy with work and distracted by the Brown Booby record, I forgot all about this bird.  About a week after they had reported the bird I called them asking them about the booby.  We talked for a little bit and as we were giving our farewells they informed me of the aforementioned Merlin and invited me to see their hummingbird.  I audibly gasped and told them that I had forgotten this bird and that it would be a lifer.  I accepted their invitation and twenty-four hours later found myself seated in their lawn furniture next to their hummingbird feeder.  They share a landscaping business so their home and yard were incredible.  Their yard was alive with wildlife as it was structured to be.  The hummingbird showed up several times but usually fed on the other side of the feeder from me.  It appeared to be an immature male.  I never got a good enough look to distinguish it from an Allen’s Hummingbird but the Townsend’s had already done so by photographing it and examining the tail feathers.  In between bursts of Rufous activity, I would turn to the seed feeders to find countless Cardinals, White-throated Sparrows, and Juncos.  Their yard ended at a small creek which was bordered by a low area with willows and white oaks.  The creek was bordered by a hedge of privet.  This hedge held sparrows, thrashers, thrushes, and towhees.  Blue Jays, American Crows, and Turkey Vultures soared overhead.  The Jays and Crows started to mob something and a Chipmunk gave out a warning.  I never saw the threat but it had everything on alert.  After things calmed down the woodpeckers moved into the yard.  There were Red-headed, Red-bellieds, Downies, and Flickers.  After a while, a Chipmunk came across the little creek and moved into the yard.  I tried to move over and get it’s picture but scared it before I could get a shot off.  Shortly after scaring it away I heard it give a sharp, squeaking “smack” of a call.  This, I assume, was its alarm call and it gave it repeatedly for about 5 minutes.  This alarm brought out all manner of birds from the privet and surrounding cover.  The thrashers, thrushes, white-throated sparrows, and others all came out of hiding looking for the threat.  They did not find me threatening enough for they stayed perched in the opening near me.  I finished this outing with about 30 species.  I thanked them for lending their yard and hurried off to download the photos and submit the list to eBird.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

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