28 June 2011
Vagrant Dickcissel and Birding Slump
Last week, Tony Jones heard a bird singing from the fields behind his house in Farmington; a bird he didn't recognize. It took him three more days to be able to see the bird, and then he was able to identify it as a Dickcissel. Dickcissels are typically an eastern species, so he knew this was a big deal. He sent word to the Utah birding community via the Utah Birders website, and many avid and excited birders soon arrived in his neighborhood to look for the bird. Today, I was one of those birders. I got this photograph, and some audio recordings (which I will share here later).
Only three previous records of Dickcissel have been accepted by the state Bird Records Committee. With the excellent photographs that have already been taken, it is almost certain that this bird will stand as the fourth accepted state record. What a great bird!
The timing of this bird is a bit of a surprise, as most vagrant records of this species, and the majority of vagrant records in general, come during spring or fall migration. This is the time when more birds are moving, and hence more birds are likely to get lost. But the fact that this bird was found in what is ornithologically-speaking the dead of summer supports the old axiom that anything can turn up anywhere. It is always a good time to go birding.
Birders in Utah have submitted fewer records to eBird for the first week of July than for almost any other week of the year (exceeded only by the second week of December). July is typically the start of a mid-summer birding slump. Spring migration is done, and fall migration hasn't picked up yet, so the motivation to go birding, and to enter those records in eBird, declines. But as the recent Dickcissel shows, rare birds can be found in mid-summer, too. And, the distribution and abundance of breeding birds is arguably the most important data that eBird can collect - especially now that the new data input pages allow you to record breeding indicators such as parents carrying food and the presence of fledglings. So don't let July get you down - go birding, and go eBirding. You never know what you might find.