Finding a First

by Ali Iyoob on October 16, 2011

The day was going like any other. I had finished a mound of chemistry homework and was halfway through writing a paper on Native American and English confrontations in the Northeast, when I decided to go up to the local apartments to see a friend. After an hour of Mario Kart and Ramen Noodles, I decided to pop down to the little pond behind the complex to see if I could refind the Bank Swallow I saw there a few days earlier.

When I got to the pond, I was greeted by a juvenile Eastern Phoebe, some hummingbirds, lots of catbirds, and a few swallows swooping and feeding over the pond. There were four swallows in all, and I first identified the two on the close side of the pond as Northern Rough-wings. It was getting late for this species, so I considered it a decent find. The other two swallows were getting a bit closer to me, and I easily identified one as a Barn by silhouette alone. The over was being a little more difficult, and because of the bad light, all I could make out was that it was shiny. Naturally, I assumed it was a Tree Swallow.

However, that all changed when the bird got even closer and banked away from me, flashing a rump with two big white patches on either side. It was at this time that I also got a glimpse of a white face on the bird, and realized these were characteristics I recognized from my time out west. This bird was a Violet-green Swallow!

I scrambled to grab my camera, and started firing off random shots as the bird zipped by me. After about twenty-five shots, I got one of it flying away from me, showing the rump and wings. At that point it started going farther and started feeding on the opposite side of the pond. I quickly sent out an email to the listserv (one handed too, I had my binoculars in the other), then gave Nathan Swick and Robert Meehan quick calls.

Nate answered and tried to get down there as fast as possible. Robert never answered, and is probably beating up his phone now for not receiving up the call. I continued to watch the bird, though by then it was too far for good photos, and eventually saw it follow the Barn away from the pond and to the road, where I lost it. Nate arrived not more than 3 minutes after the bird was last seen, although we searched hard for it both on the pond and in the adjacent power lines and field.

Nate also came bearing some stunning news: Violet-green Swallow would be a first state record, something I honestly hadn’t even considered. Jeff Pippen pulled up later, and, although late for a dinner, knew his priorities, and spent some time waiting to see if the bird would reappear. When the bird failed to show, both Jeff and Nate left, and Robert showed up, having walked to the pond from his house a half mile away.

Robert and I watched the pond until dusk, but when we started mistaking bats for swallows, we knew it was time to go. The next day there were a number of birders at the pond, and I ran into a few later in the afternoon when I went back, but unfortunately no one refound it. After the bird was long gone, I wrote up a rare bird report, and it’s waiting to get voted on in a few weeks!

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  • Tim Schreckengost

    Awesome find and photo! It is incredibly difficult to get photos of swallows in flight!

    • Alex

      This turned out to fake right?

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