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Rara Avis (Avii?)

August 29, 2007

Two very unusual birds were recently found on opposite sides of North America this week. I’m not in any position to chase these birds unfortunately, but it’s cool anyway.

This guy to the left is a Brown Hawk-Owl (also kind of awesomely called the Brown Boobook) that was found on St. Paul Island in far western Alaska, which is way the hell out there, half-way to Siberia. This great photo represents the first ever record of this species in North America. Brown Hawk-Owls are relatively common across Asia but until now, one hasn’t made the jaunt over the Bering Sea, or at least, until now no one has seen one. Begging the question, if a rare bird comes to North America and no one sees it, is it really there? This little guy’s prospects are bleak however. It’s probably made what will be a fatal mistake, ending up in Alaska instead of Siberia. It may find food for now, but will die alone, the odds are long for another Brown Hawk-Owl to make it to St Paul Island and it’s unlikely this one will make it back to Asia. Most vagrants to North America end up dying here, the sad but true story of many birds that make it to our shores from parts unknown. (Photo credit: Jake Mohlmann)

It is a reminder of how desolate islands end up populated with life though. Pardon me while I drop a little island bio-geography on y’all. Owls in particular, are strong fliers and prone to wandering, and many island groups have endemic owl species that evolved from vagrants that end up sticking like our friend the Alaskan Brown Hawk-Owl. Hawaii sits in the middle of nowhere, yet life flourishes there because animals and even plants (in the form of seeds and spores usually) got blown off course and washed up on the big island. It happened often enough that these travelers evolved separately becoming the birds, insects, mammals and more that are found nowhere else on Earth. Hawaii’s just one example, the same thing happens on the Galapagos and New Zealand and Madagascar and Japan. Islands are hotbeds of endemism, and whenever some weird bird shows up in North America by crossing an ocean we remember why that is.

The other bird is to the right, a Macaronesian Shearwater, found on a seabirding trip out of Massachusetts. It’s not the first time it’s been seen in North America, there are a couple additional reports from when it was called Little Shearwater, but it’s still a very rare bird on this side of the ocean. Seabirds like Shearwaters travel widely and you never know when one’s going to pop up, the sea being so large and all. This bird nests in burrows on islands on the other side of the Atlantic, the Canaries and Cape Verdes. I suspect that because this is a North Atlantic species they are more common in North American waters than sightings bear out, most really rare pelagic species we get in North America come from the southern hemisphere where there’s more ocean and thus more seabird diversity, most of the northern hemisphere pelagics seem to be regulars, at least in the Atlantic. Pelagic trips can only census a small part of the ocean at a time, for the most part the birds have to come to you, these folks were lucky this one showed up. Hopefully I’ll be as lucky on my pelagic out of North Carolina next month, fingers crossed! (Photo credit: Scott Surner)

UPDATE: I just read that someone found a freaking Jabiru in Mississippi! No photos out yet of the Mississippi bird but here’s an unrelated one from Brazil. The Jabiru is the largest stork in the new world (5 feet tall!) and ranges from Mexico to Agentina. It’s been seen in the US a handful of times before now, usually in south Texas. How far away is Mississippi from North Carolina again?

UPDATE 2: Mapquest says 12 hours, a little far methinks. Too bad…

UPDATE 3: A photo of the Mississippi Jabiru here, also some info for those who would look for it. I have to admit I’m a sucker for big flashy rare birds. Really really very neat and cool.

  1. Rick permalink
    August 29, 2007 2:20 pm

    Rarae aves indeed!
    The photo on my b-log is by Seymour Johnson, Indianola, MS; he sent a whole selection of distant but diagnostic views of the bird. Full directions and details went out this morning in the latest edition of the American Birding Association’s PEEPS.
    Rick Wright

  2. August 29, 2007 2:35 pm

    Got the PEEPS, wish I could get out there. If only I could bend time and space to make North Carolina closer to Mississippi. With the three day weekend it’s so tempting though…

  3. Aaron permalink
    August 29, 2007 9:28 pm

    I’m 12 hours away also and if they relocate that thing during the week, I’m leaving Friday night! I’ll have to skip a wedding and a bachelor party, but like you said: its a freaking Jabiru. The owl photo about knocked me out of me seat, but then you expect craziness from the islands.

    This is what makes birding great!

  4. August 30, 2007 2:00 pm

    Can’t find any updates on the Jabiru so there’s no word on whether or not it’s been seen lately. The Mississippi listserve is no help, after the Jabiru post it’s nothing but discussion about nighthawk migration.

    C’mon MS birders! It’s Jabiru time and you guys are stuck in Nighthawk town!

  5. John permalink
    August 30, 2007 10:34 pm

    I’m not sure which sighting is most amazing of this group. Probably the owl, but it’s hard to say.

  6. Aaron permalink
    August 31, 2007 12:43 am

    Still no Jabiru update on the Mississippi list, but they have now at least covered how to correctly pronounce it!!! There is a cryptic message on the Florida/Bahamas list tonight. Makes me wonder if something unfortunate has happened to this bird. I hope I’m wrong.

  7. August 31, 2007 10:37 am

    Also, poor Rick Wright. He posted the Jabiru picture on his site and the server exploded.

    Such is the power of the Jabiru.

  8. August 31, 2007 3:25 pm

    Updates, Rick Wright’s site is back, good news for him.

    The Jabiru is still MIA, bad news for birders who traveled a long way to see it. The MS listserve finally posted an update. Hope that bird gets seen again.

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