A year of thrills for rare birds Md. Birdwatchers

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By Mike Burke, Bay Journal News Service

Time for the quiz! In what condition would you find an anhinga, a roseate spoonbill and a painted sparrow? Florida? Yes, of course, Florida. But this year, if you answered “Maryland”, that would also be correct.

A painted male sparrow started the year with a surprise appearance along the C&O Canal National Historic Park in Great Falls. The bird was quite the sensation, as Bay Bulletin reported.

The adult male Painted Sparrow is one of the most colorful birds in North America. A bright red underside extends from its chin to its tail. Equally bright, a blue head and shoulders create a stark contrast. He has a green back and an additional red on his rump. This bird practically screams, “Hey, look over here! Take my picture! “

The sparrow has caused traffic jams outside the park as bird watchers lined up for a closer look. It was a rarity, of course, but he wasn’t the only one of his kind seen in Maryland. In fact, Painted Buntings were seen in eight other Maryland counties in 2021. These birds are seen with increasing frequency in the mid-Atlantic and even further north, suggesting they may be expanding their range. distribution.

To see a true Maryland rarity, you had to be 150 miles east, in Ocean City Inlet. On January 5, a red-billed phaeton was seen there. Ornithologist Suzette Stitely was with three other people, checking out the many winter species that use the beaches and the cove, in addition to the flying ocean birds. The small group saw the extraordinary bird and Stitely captured its image in flight with his Olympus camera and telephoto lens.

The red-billed tropic rarely wanders far from the tropics, but the large white bird with distinctive tail feathers was first sighted in Maryland in early 2021, near Ocean City. Photo: Aftab Uzzaman, CC BY-NC 2.0

The red-billed phaeton had never been documented in Maryland. Typically, it is found over the sea near its island breeding sites, which are scattered throughout the South Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans and the Caribbean Sea. It is predominantly bright white, with black flight feathers, black streaks behind its eyes, a sturdy red bill, and a pair of elegant streamers. These incredible tail feathers double the length of the bird. In flight, it is simply magnificent.

Florida also sent us a limpkin – a medium sized wader that is the visual opposite of the sparrow and the tropicbird. It is heavily streaked with brown and white, a cryptic coloration that provides camouflage. The bird has a long, curved bill that is twisted at the end. This unusual feature is an adaptation that allows him to extract snails from their shells. The species specializes in apple snails found in warm, humid freshwater wetlands.

The limpkin has been found irrelevant in habitat as well as in latitude. Fifty miles upstream of the Potomac River from the District of Columbia, he made his home at Snyder’s Landing in Sharpsburg, Maryland (site of the Battle of Antietam in 1862). Recorded by a photographer in June, the bird remained in the Appalachian foothills until the end of August. This is only the fifth confirmed limpkin record in Maryland.

In July in North Beach, near the border of Calvert and Anne Arundel counties, a little egret appeared in the swamp. Remarkably resembling a snowy egret, this little white wader has dull yellow feet, not the shiny golden feet of snowy people. The bird is not native to the Americas, but is common in Europe, South Asia, and parts of Africa and Australia. It sometimes appears in the Americas when washed away by tropical storms or hurricanes.

Trumpeter swans have been observed sporadically in the waters of the bay for years during the winter. During their summer breeding season, however, these enormous birds are found in Alaska and other northern climates, including the western Great Lakes. Yet in the summer of 2021, for the first time, Maryland welcomed three breeding pairs. The pair that settled on Hart-Miller Island were the first successful breeding pair, producing three swans.

Mississippi kites have gradually shifted their range north. The long-distance migrant generally breeds along the gulf coast and its namesake river. These kites selected the city of Rockville for Maryland honor, becoming the second successful breeding pair of the species in the state.

A roseate spoonbill, the large, bright pink wading bird with the spatulate bill, has been seen in Maryland in Prince George, St. Mary’s and Baltimore counties. Thousands of motorists were able to see the bird when it landed for a few days on a strip of land bordering the Washington Ring Road near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

A wood stork, this large prehistoric-looking wading bird, also made the trip north of its usual haunts in Florida. Like painted buntings, sightings of wooden storks were found to be abundant in 2021. The birds have been seen in at least five counties in Maryland over the summer.

So what’s up with all of those rare bird sightings so far this year? After breeding, many birds spread far away. Part of what is happening concerns the usual patterns of post-breeding dispersal in action. Obviously, other sightings are linked to climate change, with southern species moving north in response to warming temperatures. Trumpeter swans may be heading south because of the melted tundra. A few birds may be here due to severe weather, which is also linked to global warming.

The simple fact is, we don’t know why. Other Bay States are enjoying equally exciting years. The pure joy of bird watching is here. Go outside and see for yourself.


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