Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rusty Blackbirds

Last year in November and December I spent some time visiting several places here in the Chapel Hill area looking for flocks of rusty blackbirds that would be migrating thru our area. Unfortunately I only found a single bird in mid November, and then on New Year's Eve day I found a group of 7 females. So last Sunday when I read on the Carolinas listserve that a flock of 150 rusties had been seen at Mason Farm, I jumped in my car, and drove over to check if they were still there.

I figured that they would be in a damp, oak wooded area that I had been visiting over the past couple of weeks, so I walked straight to that location. As I was scanning the trail one rusty flew up into a tree. When I began to study the oak motte sure enough I found the flock feeding in the leaf litter. For the next 30 minutes I tried to get close enough to get some good photos, but the flock was very skittish and kept flying further into the oaks. The photos just above and below were the best I could get (click on any photo to enlarge). I was elated to see so many rusties together because the rusty blackbird population has crashed over the past 40-50 years.

Turning again to how John Vanderpoel is doing in his quest to top Sandy Komito's full ABA area big year total of 747 (see last post), he did not see any new year birds on his pelagic trip this past Sunday; but yesterday John and his brother saw a rufous-capped warbler in Florida Canyon, AZ. This brings his YTD total to 740. He is flying up to Alaska today in a effort to push that total higher. Alaska is critical to all full area ABA big year efforts, and generally birders visit the state 2-4 times from May to October. His going in mid December may be a first for a big year, and his flying out to Adak in the Aleutian Islands is definitely unheard of for this time of year. This will be his 6th trip to AK in 2011.

He will be in Anchorage overnight, and will have a chance to see a dusky thrush that has been hanging out with a large group of robins. On Adak he hopes to see at least 3 rare new birds for the year. He will return to Colorado on the 19th which will leave him about 2 weeks to find any more late in the year rarities. Even with the trip to AK, getting past 747 is not a sure thing. After this date Bob Ake only saw 2 more new birds in 2010; I only saw 2 more in 2010; Lynn Barber only saw 4 more in 2008; and Sandy only saw 1 more in 1998. Out of this group of 9 different species, only the white-cheeked pintail seen by Sandy is a species that John has not already recorded this year. The statistical probabilities are not in his favor, but you just never know what might still show up. Stay tuned!

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