Tuesday, December 11, 2012

BSBO Pelagic and A Very Strange Kingbird

Rob writes:  I found myself back in northwest Ohio this weekend for another Black Swamp Bird Observatory's (BSBO) Lake Erie Pelagic trip. The weather looked terrible for the day, but sometimes that is what you need to drive the good birds in off the lake! Several of us that were going on the trip meet up at BSBO so that we could ride together on the BSBO Bird Bus to Cleveland where we were meeting the boat for the trip. We were surrounded by fog and rain for the entire drive, but it stopped raining just as we arrived and didn't rain at all while we were on the boat. After cruising down the river to Lake Erie, it became evident that gulls were going to be a theme for the day! There were too many Ring-billed, Herring, and Bonaparte's Gulls to count and several Great Black-backed Gulls as well. Not too long after reaching the lake, one of the other leaders, Gabe Leidy, spotted a Pomarine Jaeger flying right over the coastline!

We tried to go farther into the lake, but it quickly became evident that there was too much fog for us to find many birds, so we headed back towards the breakwall to see if we might be able to spot a Purple Sandpiper. Unfortunately, there were no sandpipers to be found, but we did find the likely reason why they were no where to be found - at the end of the breakwall sat a beautiful Peregrine Falcon! Although a little cold with the wind, it was a great day to be out on the lake.

When we arrived back at BSBO on Saturday evening, we found posts on the Birding Ohio Facebook Group about a very strange kingbird that had been found in Sandusky earlier in the day. Any kingbird in Ohio in December is crazy, but something was just not right about this bird. As others had already suggested, it was clear that this bird was likely a hybrid. From the photos it seemed that one of its parents was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and the other was likely either a Western or Couch's Kingbird! Scissor-tailed Flycatcher/Western Kingbird hybrids are well documented, but as far as I know, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher/Couch's Kingbird hybrid has never been recorded.

Kenn Kaufman and I decided that we were going to drive to Sandusky on Sunday morning to see if we could re-find the bird and get some more photos. We arrived at Pipe Creek pretty early, and the kingbird was nowhere to be found. After walking around for a long time, one of the other birders started motioning for us to hurry over. The kingbird was perched in the open not all that far off of the road! We all quickly started taking pictures as the bird flew from perch to perch. We spent the next couple of hours watching and photographing the bird and studying its call to see if it was any indication as to what species the second parent might be.

Here are some of the shots I took of the bird. The lighting was not great while we were there, so some of the photos are not nearly as sharp as I would like.  But I can't really complain since I got to watch this bird for so long!

This was the closest I got to the bird. It was perched up on this wire for several minutes.

A blurry shot but you can see the shape of the tail very well.

This shot very clearly shows the shape of the tail.

A side shot of the bird showing some yellow-green color on the back.

The bird seemed to like to land on street signs as we saw it on several different ones!
While it may never be known what species hybridized to create this bird (without DNA analysis), it was absolutely awesome to see it in person. I know some people will not go see this bird because it does not "count" on their life lists, but they are really missing out!

-Rob

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