Rarity Watch: PPTE

by Greg Neise on April 29, 2011

Among birders there’s a colloquialism for magic: the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect. In 1971, a group stopped at a roadside rest near Patagonia, Arizona for lunch. The rest stop was just that, basically…a pull-off with a picnic table. While munching their sandwiches they discovered the first ABA area record of Black-capped Gnatcatcher. Birders came from all over to find the Gnatcatcher and discovered the first North American record of Yellow Grosbeak as well.

As more birders came to look for the reported rarities, they themselves found more great birds, and the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect entered our lexicon.

"Skylarking" Cassin's Sparrow, Aberdeen, NC. © Nathan Swick.

PPTE was in full swing this week, most notably in North Carolina. On the 22nd, a message went out on the Carolinabirds listserve that someone had called in a report of a well-described Cassin’s Sparrow (would be a new species for that state) in Scotland county. The next day, several birders went out to check, and sure enough, there was the first NC record of Cassin’s Sparrow up skylarking and everything. Then the area was hit by PPTE waves, and things started to get, well…weird.

While out looking for the Cassin’s a day or two later, John Haire discovered a Fork-tailed Flycatcher in the same field. There was some brief discussion that this could have been a funky Eastern Kingbird, but John’s photos are diagnostic. “Okay”, you say, “crazy enough for sure, but…”

But wait. Did I say this was over? Because it’s not.

On Monday, the 25th, Dwayne Martin reported two Cassin’s Sparrows, both singing in the same field! After some momentary confusion, it has now been confirmed that there are indeed two Aimophila cassinii dueling it out in a field near Aberdeen, North Carolina. North Carolina also hosted a Chestnut-collared Longspur, a White-winged Dove and a White-winged Crossbill, just to make sure that Aberdeen didn’t hog all the glory.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Aberdeen, NC. © John Haire

Okay, on to the rest of the report. In Florida, a La Sagra’s Flycatcher was discovered at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Trail on the 26th, and in Alabama, a Black-whiskered Vireo and Glaucous Gull were both seen on Dauphin Island on the 25th, and a Long-tailed Duck was reported there on the 24th. In Maryland, a Swallow-tailed Kite passed over the hawk watch at Fort Smallwood, also on the 25th.

New Jersey has a thing for tails this week, with a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and two Swallow-tailed Kites being seen this week. A Northern Goshawk was seen near Burrillville, Rhode Island this week, and yet another extralimital Swallow-tailed Kite was seen near Hinsdale, New Hampshire. Also in New Hampshire was a Ruff that was last seen on the 25th near Stratham.

In NYC, the Varied Thrush that has made Central Park it’s new home has moved to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, thus confirming what we already knew about VATH: they’re artsy-fartsy types. I mean, come on…who wears black and orange in spring? On Staten Island, a White Ibis was dressed properly for the season.

In Massachusetts, a White-faced Ibis was delighting birders at Plum Island until it became lunch…and we have video:

Not exactly the manifestation of PPTE they had in mind, I’ll bet.

In Maine, a Tricolored Heron was found at Scarborough Marsh near Portland, as was a White-faced Ibis on the 26th. Let’s hope this one keeps an eye in the sky. A Yellow-throated Warbler was reported from Gray, ME on the 24th.

In Connecticut, yet another White-faced Ibis was found on the 22nd near Madison, and a Mississippi Kite in Norwalk on the 21st.

Black-chinned Sparrow, Mesa County, Colorado, Colorado National Monument 22 April 2011 © Brandon K. Percival

Ohio has had some fun birds this week as they get ready for Kaufman Fest, otherwise known as The Biggest Week in American Birding. A White-winged Dove was reported in Cuyahoga county on  4/28, Jen Brumfield reported a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on 4/27, and on the 26th, a Tricolored Heron was discovered at Metzger Marsh. Nearby, an Audubon’s (Yellow-rumped) Warbler was seen at Magee Marsh on the same day.

PPTE was in effect in Tennessee, where a birder who went to chase a Marbled Godwit that was seen at Snow Bunting Peninsula on the 26th, came away with a Buff-breasted Sandpiper on the 27th.

In Michigan, the White Wagtail seems to want to stay for the summer, and is reportedly looking into English lessons. Up in Delta county, a Cinnamon Teal discovered on the 25th is the state’s 6th record.

In Minnesota, a Laughing Gull was seen at Duluth, and in Wisconsin, the Pacific Loon from last week was seen well again on 4/28 in Monona Bay on Lake Monona in Dane County. The Eurasian Tree Sparrow in Cambria that has been present for almost a week, was seen on the 28th also.  On Sat morning, a Black-bellied Whistling-duck was found along County F just north of Hwy 29 on the north side of Eau Claire. If accepted, it would comprise only the 6th state record.

Illinois had some PPTE mojo working downstate. Over the weekend, 7 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were reported in Union County. Then a trio of White Ibis were seen in Massac county on the 28th. Birders looking for the Ibis found 3 more Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, but came up ibisless. A tad bit north, 4 Glossy Ibis were found in Jasper county on 4/28, and in Missouri, a Ruff was found at Squaw Creek NWR on the 27th.

Broad-billed Hummingbird, Oklahoma, Comanche County April 26, 2011 © Steve Metz

Birders in Kentucky are combing the hills for a Gray Kingbird that was seen and photographed in Boone county on the 26th, but has gone missing. They’ve posted flyers on telephone poles across the region, but so far, no calls.

In Texas, a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher was seen at Boy Scout Woods in High Island, and a Black-vented Oriole photographed at a feeder on South Padre Island was seen this morning (4/29).

New Mexico has a nice list of chaseables including a Varied Thrush in Bernalillo county, a Yellow-throated Warbler in Socorro county, Worm-eating Warblers in three counties, and a Swainson’s Warbler in Sandoval county. The Rufous-winged Sparrow in Hidalgo county is still present as well.

In Oklahoma birders are thrilled with the 3rd record of Broad-billed hummingbird seen on the 26th.

In Colorado, a Black-chinned Sparrow photographed on 4/22 in Mesa county is the state’s 3rd accepted record of that species, a Black-throated Sparrow was photographed in Boulder county on 4/24 and a Little Blue Heron was seen in Adams county on the 28th.

Neotropic Cormorant, Ontario, Wheatley Harbour, Essex Co. April 24, 2011 © Alan Wormington

In southern California a Curlew Sandpiper in Chula Vista apparently didn’t get the memo, and has been spending time being not seen because it prefers private property. In northern Cali, the Brown Shrike in McKinleyville was reportedly spending time at Home Depot, talking to the experts about pavers and landscaping. In Oregon, a Clay-colored Sparrow was a bit out of range, visiting a feeder in Deschutes county and a Vermilion Flycatcher was seen in Portland on the 26th.

Things seemed rather quiet across Canada, but Ontario had a biggie with the second record of Neotropic Cormorant for the country being discovered in Wheatley Harbour on the 24th, and a Worm-eating Warbler was seen at Long Point Provincial Park on the 26th.

A Black Phoebe seen today in Vancouver’s Jericho Park by Rick Wright is a bit north of it’s usual range.

The Black-tailed Gull in St. John’s, Newfoundland seems to really like the Lake Quidi Vidi parking lot, despite being run over by a van earlier in the year (true!), and is now in breeding plumage.

And don’t forget about our Facebook group: check in with us and share your reports at our ABA Area Rare Birds page on Facebook. See you next week!

Lastly, you may have noticed that we didn’t link to individual listserve feeds at birdingonthe.net in this report. The reason for that is I’ve been using Dave Ranney’s excellent digest of listserves, Siala.com. Check it out, you’ll be glad you did…

(Rarity Watch is a weekly feature of NA Birding and is written and compiled by Chris West and Greg Neise)



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