Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A First State Record from Mecklenburg County

A big part of finding birds is being in the right place at the right time. When the birds show up, you have to be there. Last Friday, February sixth, local birder John Brammer looked out his window and saw a large yellow bird that he did not recognize. He had the presence of mind to snap off a series of great photos for the next fifteen minutes. Then the bird departed.

Local birders poured over online photos of immature male orioles (there are not all that many by the way), and identified it as a hooded oriole, a bird native to the southwestern United States and Pacific coast.

Though the bird was not seen at all the next day, eight birders gathered at the residence for over five hours on Sunday in hopes of catching even a glimpse of the far-ranging visitor. I set up a folding chair with a clear view of the feeders and for the next three hours and forty-five minutes  I watched a brown creeper, hermit thrush, pine siskins, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsucker, Eastern bluebirds, red-shouldered hawks, pine warbler, yellow-rumped warblers, an American woodcock fly-by, and more.  Over forty species total. But not one of them was a hooded oriole.

So this time the birders were at the spot but the bird did not keep the appointment. He probably did not know he was supposed to hang around. Eager to continue his whirlwind tour of the Eastern United States I suppose. Or maybe he is still in the area. I prefer not to think that bird may have been just few houses away the whole time we watched the original site.

Birders call birds like these “One-Day Wonders”; extreme rarities that just don’t linger long enough for others to enjoy them. I’m sure there are other rarities at area feeders right now. I am always eager to help with identifications if I can be sent a decent photo. It doesn’t have to be great, just good enough to see some detail on the bird. The hooded oriole is a first state record. Who knows, maybe you will be the next person to make a huge contribution to the bird records of the county or state. 

When I first saw this photo I figured it to be an immature orchard oriole, a local breeding bird that is supposed to be in the tropics this time of year. Even an orchard oriole would be an outstanding find in winter.
Hooded Oriole by John Brammer

But when I saw the bird from this angle, I realized the back color wasn't right and the bill was way to long and thin for an orchard oriole.
Hooded Oriole by John Brammer

The size comparison with this Eastern bluebird, as well as the longish tail, also helped local birders ID it as a hooded oriole. Look at the honker of a bill on that bird.
Hooded Oriole and Eastern Bluebird by John Brammer