The Broad appeal
When a super rarity is reported, people get excited. When that super rarity happens to be a bird of unusual beauty or novelty, that excitement is compounded. Few families of birds reach that exceptional fever pitch like hummingbirds, and they typically have to be something a bit more unusual than the “regular” vagrants like Rufous or Calliope. It has to be something shocking, both in plumage and the idea that it traveled from points far away to really shake folks out of their complacency. A Broad-billed Hummingbird will likely do the trick.
North Carolina’s third record of Broad-billed Hummingbird was reported in New Bern, a town on the central coast of the state, about three weeks ago. For a week, birders traveled to gawk at the bird which, when banded, was revealed to be the exact same individual that had spent last winter in the Charleston, South Carolina, area. It had returned east, but decided it preferred UNC basketball to Clemson football. Not that I can blame it.
Following that first week, when I was unable to get out, the hosts of the bird shut up shop for some family stuff (Thanksgiving or some such nonsense) and asked that birders not return until after the holiday. So as soon as all that was over I headed down to have a look.
When I pulled into the driveway it was raining and overcast. I sat there with my window open watching the feeders hoping to catch a glimpse and getting little more than a face full of winter rain. I began to worry that the hard freeze we’d had the night before was enough to put the bird off or worse when a big hummer zipped over to a feeder and spent the next 30 seconds or so hovering and feeding.
In the time since I’d seen the bird nearly 15 years ago in Arizona, I’d forgotten how big Broad-billed Hummingbird is. It’s a substantial hummingbird and a real stunner even in the bad light with that bright red bill and green and blue iridescence all the while pumping it’s forked tail. I didn’t get any pictures in the weather, but here are some shots of the bird from earlier this month. Yes, it is impossibly gorgeous.
So with my main target in the books I headed coastward, to Atlantic Beach to see if the weather system was driving anything towards the shore. The waves were churning and this flock of gulls and pelicans on the beach looked as happy to be in the rain as I was, which is, not very.
I did find my first Red-throated Loon of the season and lots of immature Gannets flying as close to the shore as I’ve ever seen them. But no sea ducks, which was my long hope, and I thought about heading back home.
When the rain started to clear I decided to head into nearby Croatan National Forest, a place that’s known to be a good wintering spot for some odd sparrows like Henslow’s and LeConte’s. I didn’t, however, know precisely where in the extensive tract to find those birds, so I was limited to driving up and down the roads aimlessly, stopping from time to time to get out and listen. It was a pretty pointless way to find specific birds and I was kinda frustrated at myself for not taking the time to e-mail someone who might know where the secret special places are. That may be why my Big Year failed to even come close to the record, now that I think on it…
Anyway, I had picked up a map of the forest at a ranger station and saw some waterfowl impoundments that I figured might be productive so I headed that way. When I got to the impoundments, I stepped out and fairly quickly heard this whistly peeping that sounded a good deal like a Sora. I like Soras so I walked over to see if I could flush it out when I found this Myiarchus flycatcher staring back at me and peeping.
I realize this is a family blog, but in the interest of journalistic integrity, I have to admit that my first reaction was “Holy shit, that’s an Ash-throated Flycatcher!!“. So that’s what I said.
Regular readers may remember my failed chase of an Ash-throated Flycatcher a few weeks ago. I was disappointed as it was a missed opportunity to find a bird that’s been seen in the state fewer than 10 times before. Karma must have been with me this time. And this was no normal Ash-throat, it was hanging out with a pair of Mockingbirds who were hassling it at every opportunity. Even so, it was remarkably accommodating (to use traditional field report parlance) and I followed it around till it sat for me while I took these photos through my scope.
Pretty cool, no?
What started as an erratic trip through an area I’d never been before turned into a super self-found state rarity. Chasing vagrants like the Hummingbird is cool, but finding your own all by yourself? Exponentially better.
And to top it off, I flushed up a small flock of American Pipits from a fallow cotton field on the way home. Not a southwestern vagrant or anything, but not too bad.
Just seven more to go to 300.