Thursday, November 9, 2017

Cassin's Kingbird on MJC's West Campus: a bird out of place and out of time

I don't see rare birds all that often. Call it a combination of inexperience and impatience, and maybe lack of persistence, but I've only had one legitimate discovery of a bird that was unexpected or rare for our region. It was a Cassin's Kingbird (Tyrannus vociferans) that was hanging around the pond area on west campus last January. I didn't even recognize it as a Cassin's. I thought it was the more common Western Kingbird, but even at that, the Kingbirds in general are tropical species and they don't spend winters this far north. Members of the local Audubon Society pointed out the correct identification.

So...I was out for my normal lunchtime stroll, and was looking for a small raptor that I've seen hanging out in a dead ash tree at the north end of Parking Lot 209. I noticed another bird in the upper branches and turned on the camera to get a closer look. It had the characteristic yellow underside and the charcoal colored head with the white neck stripe of a Cassin's. I got these pictures, did a quick check with the local Audubon folks and confirmed that my identification was correct. So now I've seen two rare birds, even though they could be the same individual. There have been four reports of Cassin's Kingbirds in our immediate region over the years.

The distribution map below gives an idea of how unusual sightings actually are this far north (and keep in mind that most sightings are in spring and summer). In other words, our campus Cassin's is quite a bit out of place, and out of time.

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