Sunday, July 25, 2010

Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush

I just returned from Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota having seen the above orange-billed nightingale-thrush. The photo is not mine because the bird is extremely difficult to see, and when it does come out in the open, it tends to be a long distance off. The photo above was taken by Christopher Taylor who provided a link on the Narba website. Remember to click on the photo to enlarge it.

I got up at 4:30 Friday morning to catch my 6:40 flight to SD, but was concerned from the Narba posting late on Thursday that the bird might have disappeared. I arrived in Rapid City, SD about 10 AM and immediately drove the hour+ west to Spearfish. I found the trailhead parking area in Spearfish Canyon where iron creek flows into spearfish creek. Fortunately a local birder, Jen Fowler, who has been there most mornings this past week, was there and said that the thrush was still definitely in the canyon. She helped me and other birders who showed up over the next few hours get a good sense of what the thrush's habits were. Most importantly, when it first sang after arriving, she led us to the area of the side canyon in which it was singing.

She also said that the birder who found the thrush, Eric Ripma, was doing some bird survey work in the area, and had heard it calling one day when he was having lunch in the parking area. He knew it was something unusual, and finally located and then obtained photos of the thrush before making a report on its discovery and location.

The thrush has 2 main songs, one of which sounds somewhat like a towhee, and it is rather loud when it sings. Once you have heard either song you can easily pick it out. Because it was the middle of the day it was not calling all that frequently, and when it did, it generally was buried in the leaves or the pine needles. It did fly across the old road/trail and onto the more open opposite hillside 3 times during the afternoon which were my first sightings of it, but not as good as I wanted. Jen had said it was much easier to see early in the day, but another birder said that it was also seen well late in the day, so I ended up staying until the late afternoon in hopes of a much better perched view of the thrush.

Having arrived about noon, this turned into one of those several hour "stakeouts" that I do not particularly enjoy, but in this case I had company as both birders and curious hikers came and went. And as is typical when an extremely rare bird is found, there were birders from all over the US who had come to see the thrush. Jen said at her last count, about 200 birders from 21 states so far had been to the canyon.

Friday afternoon was no different. 3 birders from Missouri arrived mid afternoon. A woman in this group I had also met in Madera Canyon, AZ in Feb. of 2008 when we were all looking for a crescent-chested warbler. Another of the MO threesome was a fellow I had met several years ago in Madera when we were both looking for the flame-colored tanager. Like the thrush, these are both birds that normally do not come north of the Mexican border.

Later in the afternoon, a guy from Waxahachie, TX arrived having driven in from Montrose, CO after hearing about the thrush. Another birder from Michigan who had seen the bird early that morning returned. I had not met him before, but I heard him being called Macklin. I thought I knew that name from reading the annual ABA life list report. When I got back home I found the 2009 report had arrived while I was gone, and Macklin Smith is at the top of ABA area life list with 880 species seen as of 2009. For the non-birders out there, this is a phenomenal number since the current affirmed number of different species seen in the ABA area (North America above the Mexican border) is 960 as of 2009. Only about 700 of the 960 birds are regularly seen in the US, and there are only 30 birders on the ABA area life list as of 2009 with 800 or more birds seen.

Macklin and the Missouri birders left about 6:30--Macklin to start his trip back home, and the MO crowd to regroup to return early on Sat. morning. About the time they left 2 birders from Illinois showed up. They had seen the thrush earlier that day, but were back for another look. About 7 PM I heard the bird call up canyon. It worked its way down the stream, and at 7:11 the TX birder located it singing in a pine tree, sitting out in the open like the picture above. Over the next 20 minutes we followed it down to the parking area, and were able to see it clearly a few more times before it stopped singing for the day.

Jen had said that the thrush for one of the morning birders (20-25 in total) was his 700th life bird. The TX birder told me it was his 600th. As followers of my blog know, I do not know what the total for my ABA area life list is other than it is north of 700 birds. For this big year, the thrush brings the YTD up to 643, and raises the new life bird total for the year to 19. Overall, 23 different species were seen so far this week. I will be flying back to Seattle early on Tuesday to begin 3 weeks of intensive birding on the west coast. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Darn -- sorry I missed you! I was at the canyon that morning and left to try for a few birds in the prairies before flying back home. Glad you got the bird. ~ C. English