FIRST REPORT OF THE RHODE ISLAND
AVIAN RECORDS COMMITTEE
S. Mitra, Chair
Emerson, Rachel Farrell, Richard Ferren, Christopher Raithel, Scott Tsagarakis
Following the death of Harry S. Hathaway in 1946, the
work of collecting, evaluating, and preserving evidence supporting reports of
rare birds in Rhode Island was performed by the Rhode Island Ornithological
Club. Seven decades is a long time, but contemporary Rhode Island birders are
linked to the RIOC’s early figures, including Roland C. Clement, Henry E.
Childs, Sr., William B. Dean, William H. Drury, Jr., Harold Gibbs, Alvah W.
Sanborn, Charles Wood, and Carlos Wright, by a trio of talented and dedicated
naturalists: Douglas L. Kraus, born 1912 and active 1924 until his death in
2000; David L. Emerson born 1924 and active 1939, or earlier, until his death
in 2004; and Richard Bowen born 1922 and active 1939, or earlier, until his
death in 2009. With the passage of half a century or more, it is hardly
surprising that many figures from the early RIOC years lost contact with the
birding community, moved away from Rhode Island, or died, but these three men
remained among Rhode Island’s most active, productive, and congenial field
workers through the 1990s. Emerson also made notable contributions to the
permanent record of Rhode Island ornithology by painstakingly tracking bird
records and updating Rhode Island’s Field
Checklist over many decades. Junior to those mentioned above, but equally
talented and dedicated, Richard L. Ferren connects past with present. Working
closely with many of those named above, Ferren has literally written the book
on Rhode Island birds, a project undertaken as early as 1956 and planned for
publication this year or next.
Recognizing the need for continuity as
the RIOC era waned, the Rhode Island Avian Records Committee drafted and
approved bylaws during two meetings in Kingston, on 8 January and 15 February
2008. These bylaws can be viewed at: <http://sites.google.com/site/riarcribirds/>.
The present report describes the Committee’s evaluation of 37 reports from 2007
and earlier, involving 33 separate occurrences and 28 species. It also includes
an updated Checklist of Rhode Island birds and a review list of species
requiring documentation. We intend to publish future reports each year, with
the second annual report expected to focus on reports from 2008 and 2009.
recognizes its indebtedness to the birders of Rhode Island and gratefully
acknowledges their efforts in contributing written descriptions, photographs,
and other kinds of information concerning unusual birds in the Ocean State.
Reports are always welcome, even long after an observation. As a practical
matter, however, reports prepared promptly after an observation tend to be more
detailed and more reliable—and also much easier to prepare—than those assembled
long after the fact. Guidelines for the preparation of reports are presented at
the website cited above and are also available on the websites of many other
state records committees. Common sense is the rule in this regard: a report
ought to express clearly who saw the bird, where and when it was seen, exactly
what features were observed, whether photographs, recordings or drawings were
obtained during the observation, and how other species were ruled out during
the identification process. Although the Committee welcomes reports in any kind
of format, electronic files such as Microsoft Word documents and jpeg image
files are the most convenient and can be sent as email attachments to Doug
Wilson, Secretary of RIARC, at <email@example.com>.
grouped below by year of observation and then by whether the Committee found
the available documentation acceptable after review. It is worth emphasizing
that the purpose of review is to evaluate as objectively as possible the degree
to which a report of an unusual occurrence is supported by documentary
evidence. The Committee understands that many reports that are not accepted
likely pertain to birds that were correctly identified; the distinction
concerns the degree to which the available documentation can be used to revise
or improve our understanding of the status and occurrence of bird species in
entry includes summary information in the following format:
Number, Vote (Accepted-Not
Accepted-Natural Status Uncertain), # of birds reported, location, date(s),
reporters (I = initial observer, R = report submitted, P = photograph
2007 REPORTS ACCEPTED
GOOSE (Anser brachyrhynchus)
(6-0-1) Two; Fort Adams, Newport;
6-Jan-07 to 19-Feb-07; Robert Weaver (I,R,P), Marshall Iliff (P), Richard
Greenland-breeding species represents an addition to the Rhode Island avifauna.
Occurring with flocks of wild Canada Geese that also included multiple
“Richardson’s” Cackling Geese, these birds showed no signs of captive origins
and were closely studied by scores of observers. Coincident with a major
population expansion (Mitchell and Hearn 2004), Pink-footed Geese have been
occurring with accelerating frequency in northeastern North America (Wilson et
Photo by Richard Johnson
GOOSE (Branta leucopsis)2007-23
(7-0) One; Middletown; 13-Jan-07 to
28-Jan-07; Dan Finizia (I) & Sue Talbot (I, P), Shaibal Mitra (R,P),
Marshall Iliff (P).
preceding species, this Greenland-breeding goose has been occurring more
frequently in northeastern North America in recent years, in contexts
indicative of natural vagrancy. Unlike Pink-footed Goose, the present species
is very popular in captive waterfowl collections, and older records tended to
be treated with considerable skepticism. In the absence of any evidence
suggestive of captive origins, and in view of the emerging trend toward regular
occurrence in our region, the Committee voted unanimously to accept the present
record. The 2002 edition of the Checklist
of Rhode Island Birds lists five records from 1989-2002.
GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)2007-24-A,B
(7-0) Six; Newport/Middletown;
7-Jan-07 to 23-Jan-07; Shaibal Mitra (R,P), Marshall Iliff (R,P), James Smith
American Ornithologists’ Union’s split of Canada Goose into two species (Banks
et al. 2004), interest in the extralimital occurrence of the various taxa
greatly increased. Previously, birds described as “small forms” of Canada Goose
were occasionally reported in Rhode Island, but mostly without much documentary
evidence or critical attention to subspecies identity. The present birds were
carefully scrutinized during January 2007’s Aquidneck Island goose chases and
confirmed as Branta h. hutchinsii,
long known as “Richardson’s Goose” and now properly referred to as
“Richardson’s” Cackling Goose.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (Anas crecca crecca)
One; Mud Pond, South Kingstown; 26-Dec-07; Bill Heck (I), Hank Golet (P).
nominate subspecies of Green-winged Teal has been recorded on more than a dozen
occasions in Rhode Island, including at least twice before at nearby Cards Pond
(29-Mar-48 and 30-Apr-89: Ferren, in
litt.). Reports of this form deserve careful documentation, as provided in
the present case, to rule out obvious signs of hybridization with the locally
prevalent subspecies carolinensis.
(7-0) One; Succotash Marsh, Narragansett;
19-Oct-07; Zack Sevarino (I), Rebecca Raymond (P), Christian Nunes (R).
Photo by Hank Golet
LOON (Gavia pacifica)2007-18 (6-1)
One; near Old Harbor, Block Island; 2-Oct-07 to 6-Oct-07; Hugh Willoughby (R),
Sue Talbot (P), Dan Finizia (P).
Massachusetts in recent years, this vagrant from western North America has
occurred frequently enough in Rhode Island over the years to warrant placement
in the main body of the Rhode Island Ornithological Club’s 2002 Checklist,
rather than among the rarest vagrants on the back of the card. Even so, the
non-breeding plumages present a genuine identification challenge and all
reports deserve detailed documentation. Photos of the present bird were deemed
adequate by the Committee to rule out the very similar Arctic Loon, a bird only
tenuously known from eastern North America.
(Eudocimus albus)2007-2 (7-0)
One; Arnold’s Mills Reservoir, Cumberland; 2-Sep-07 to 8-Sep-07 Mark Lynch
find by Mark Lynch was about the seventh record for the state and much the
farthest from the outer coast.
probably occurring much more regularly than sight observations suggest, this
species is notoriously difficult to detect. Its actual status might be inferred
somewhat better through the dozen plus records of birds taken by experienced
shooters using trained dogs, both during the early 20th Century
(more than a dozen records 1908-1912), and more recently by Bob Saunders (three
collected fall 1970).IVORY GULL
(Pagophila eburnean)2007-6 (7-0)
One; Briggs Marsh, Little Compton; 7-Dec-07 to 8-Dec-07; Robert Emerson (I,R),
Shaibal Mitra (R,P), Geoff Dennis (P), Paul L’Etoile (P).
Photo by Rebecca Raymond
CRANE (Grus Canadensis)2007-15
(7-0) One; Mud Pond, Trustom Pond
NWR, South Kingstown; 6-Dec-07 to 29-Feb-08, Dot & Bruce Kindseth (I,R),
Andy Boyce (R), Paul L’Etoile (P).
exceptional vagrant to our region, Sandhill Cranes have increased greatly in
the Northeast in all seasons and now breed regularly in New York State and
northern New England.
Photo by Paul L'Etoile .
RUFF (Philomachus pugnax)2007-28
(7-0) One; Napatree Point, Westerly;
31-May-07, Chris Raithel (I,R), Richard Ferren (I).
Seen by two of
the state’s most experienced field ornithologists and described in detail, this
observation provides welcome documentation for a species whose occurrence in
the Northeast might be declining.
Just the second
record for Rhode Island and the first seen by multiple observers, this first
winter Ivory Gull was one of the most unexpected birds of 2007.SOUTH POLAR
SKUA (Stercorarius maccormicki)2007-3 (7-0) Two;
Pelagic, Mud Hole; 24-May-07; Scott Tsagarakis (R), Carlos Pedro (P), Paul
Photo by Paul L'Etoile
LITTLE GULL (Hydrocoloeus minutus)2007-5 (7-0) One; Sachuest Marsh, Middletown; 9-Sep-07 to 16-Sep-07; Rey Larsen (I,R,P), Paul L’Etoile (P).
Like Ruff, this species has been reported very sparingly from Rhode Island in recent years, so this cooperative and attractive juvenile provided welcome documentation.
Photo by Rey Larsen . SOOTY TERN
(Onychoprion fuscatus)2007-10 (7-0)
One; Quicksand Pond Beach, Little Compton; 17-Apr-07; Geoff Dennis (I,R,P),
Chris Raithel (P).
extraordinary northeast storm of 15-Apr-2007 produced a seasonally
unprecedented series of Sooty Terns in RI, CT, and Long Island, as well as a
major fall-out of Neotropical migrant landbirds. The present record of Sooty
Tern is supported by a bird found dead on the beach and prepared as a specimen
for the American Museum of Natural History, and others were convincingly
reported (although without details provided to the Committee) from Pt. Judith.
photographed, these birds were readily identifiable to species. South Polar
Skua is the expected skua species in our region during the warmer months, but
the status of Great Skua is not well understood, and other taxa breeding in the
Southern Hemisphere are remotely possible. We encourage observers to study all
skuas they encounter in Rhode Island waters as critically as possible.
KINGBIRD (Tyrannus verticalis)
One; Camp Cronin, Narragansett; 9-Oct-07; Phil Budlong (R), Linda Gardrel (R),
Mary Jo Murray (R).
Western Kingbird occurs regularly in the Northeast, RI records have been scarce
and several similar-looking species have been documented in the Northeast in
recent years (Tropical and Couch’s Kingbirds in MA and Cassin’s Kingbird in
NY). Thus we appreciate the details submitted in support of the current report.
The dissenting vote reflected one member’s concerns that the level of detail
provided was less than ideal. Overall, however, the Committee recognized that
these reports were compiled after the fact in response to the Committee’s
appeals for documentation, and the information provided was adequate to rule
out other species.
BELL’S VIREO (Vireo bellii)
(7-0) One; Sachuest Point NWR,
Middletown; 24-Nov-07 thru 1-Dec-07; Patty O’Neill (I,R), Shaibal Mitra (R), Paul L’Etoile (P), Carlos Pedro (P).
added another one to the Rhode Island list (it hardly feels like fifteen years
have passed since she stunned New England with her Black-tailed Gull) when she
discerned that this drab green little bird wasn’t just an Orange-crowned
Warbler and got the word out to the birding community. Beautifully photographed
by Paul L’Etoile and Carlos Pedro, this bird was seen by many during its
Photo by Carlos Pedro
Photo by Paul L'Etoile
SWALLOW (Petrochelidon fulva)
(7-0) Ten, South Coast of RI;
8-Nov-07; Pete Capobianco (R), Paul L’Etoile (P).
(7-0) Three; Watch Hill Light,
Westerly; 24-Nov-07; Glenn Williams (I,R).
(7-0) Four; Westerly; 10-Nov-07;
Marshall Iliff (I,R,P).
Less than a
decade after Rhode Island’s first records in 1998, Cave Swallows are
establishing a predictable pattern of November occurrence in the Ocean State, as well as in the surrounding region. For now, the Committee still seeks documentation for all Cave Swallow reports, in order to clarify arrival and departure dates and to determine whether Cliff Swallow might occasionally co-occur as a very rare late fall vagrant.
Photo by Marshall Iliff
Photo by Paul L'Etoile
(7-0) One; Durfee Hill Mgt. Area,
Glocester; 18-Aug-07 to 21-Aug-07; Charles Brown (I), Chris Raithel (R).
regular fall migrant in Rhode Island, this species has been confidently
reported just a dozen or so times since 1968. The present detailed description
of an apparently territorial bird is especially noteworthy because several
historical reports of breeding in Rhode Island are open to doubt (Ferren, in litt.). A more recent report of
breeding from 2005 is currently under review.
NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)2007-11
(7-0) One; Easton’s Pond, Newport;
31-May-07; Charles Avenengo (I,R), Robert Weaver (R,P).Approximately
the sixth record for Rhode Island, this represents the first spring occurrence
for the state.
Photo by Robert Weaver
WAXWING (Bombycilla garrulus)2007-1
(7-0) One; 22-Dec-07; West Kingston;
Shaibal Mitra (I,R).Although
Bohemian Waxwings occur regularly in northern New England, sometimes in large
numbers, this species’ status in Rhode Island for years was based on just a few
sight reports accompanied by scanty details. The present record involves a bird
seen by two participants in the South Kingstown Christmas Bird Count and
includes a detailed description.
BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)2007-8 (7-0)
One; Avondale Preserve, Westerly; 21-Nov-07; Phil Rusch (R).
(7-0) One; West Warwick; 18-Mar-07;
Robert Touhill (I,R,P).Although
Yellow-headed Blackbirds occur regularly in the Northeast, Rhode Island records
are relatively few and the Committee appreciates the documentation provided in
support of the present records.
Photo by Robert Touhill
GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator)2007-19 (6-1)
One; Diamond Hill Reservoir, Cumberland; 2-Dec-07; Mark Lynch (I,R).Formerly
occurring in flights about once per decade in Rhode Island, Pine Grosbeaks have
been virtually absent from the Ocean State since 1978. The present record
involves a bird briefly seen and heard by an experienced observer at a site
notable as the location of one of the largest flocks of Pine Grosbeaks ever
recorded in the state (1-Feb-47).
2007 REPORTS NOT ACCEPTED The reports summarized here did not, in the judgment
of the Committee, include adequate evidence to be accepted as fully documented
records. This certainly does not imply that these reports are erroneous, and in
the present context, all of the reports listed here received support from one
or more Committee member. Many non-accepted reports involve very brief
encounters by single observers, in which circumstances precluded the acquisition
of the kinds of evidence useful for substantiating a rare event. It is
important to emphasize that these reports will not be discarded. They will be
preserved in the Committee’s archives and can be re-evaluated in the light of
additional evidence or knowledge in the future.
GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis fulva)2007-7 (1-6)
One; Andy’s Way, Block Island; 22-Sep-07.Distinguishing
Pacific and American Golden-Plovers is exceedingly difficult even where both
species might be expected. In the eastern United States, however, where Pacific
Golden-Plover is known from just a handful of documented records, the standard
for acceptance must be set very high. This description from a single observer
was suggestive of Pacific Golden-Plover in several respects, perhaps most
notably in terms of facial color and pattern. Notably, calls were heard
(rendered as “Too-Le-Uh”) and described as “stated or strongly stated, not
vibrant and urgent.” To at least some on the Committee, this description seemed
at least as apt for American as for Pacific, and in the absence of photographs
or a critical analysis of plumage and structure (e.g., primary projection), the
identification was deemed uncertain by six members.
SWALLOW (Petrochelidon fulva)2007-27
(4-3) One; Briggs Marsh, Little
Compton; 6-Dec-07.This single-observer report involved a
brief view of a swallow in flight, in which only the undersides of the bird
were seen. While acknowledging the likelihood that this may have been a Cave
Swallow, several members preferred a greater level of detail than was possible
in this instance in order to fully document what would be a record-late date
for Cave Swallow in the state.
BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)2007-12 (4-3)
One; North Kingstown; 14-May-07.This report was
based on the observation of a single observer of a bird seen briefly in flight.
The Committee fully understands the difficulty of recording critical details
under such circumstances, and the reviews uniformly praised this report for its
candidness and sincere acknowledgment of its limitations. In many ways, reports
of this kind are particularly difficult to evaluate; the members who voted to
accept all expressed at least some reservations, and those who voted not to
accept all expressed the idea that they believed the identification was likely
correct. Ultimately, there simply was not enough detail to warrant acceptance.
BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus)2007-14 (3-4) One;
Seapowet, Tiverton; 18-Dec-07.Seen briefly
but well by two observers, this blackbird was described as an adult female
Brewer’s Blackbird, mostly on the basis of its dark iris. Again, the Committee
expressed support for the identification along with frustration concerning the
lack of critical detail—e.g., concerning bill shape, tail length, and posture.
The circumstances of the observation did not allow for photography, and the
Committee wishes to emphasize that the report in question was generously
provided at our request, long after the fact, by one of the observers. In other
words, this report was not prepared as formal documentation at the time of the
observation, and it is certain that many details observed in life were not
preserved. Given the genuine rarity of this species in our region and the difficulty
of distinguishing it from variant Rusty Blackbirds (or even Shiny Cowbirds,
which have been documented in Maine and Nova Scotia), the Committee deemed it
best not to accept this report.
2006 REPORTS ACCEPTED VIRGINIA’S
WARBLER (Vermivora virginiae)2006-2
(7-0) One; Walker Farm, Barrington;
8-Oct-06; Sue Talbot (I), Dan Finizia (I,R,P), Scott Tsagarakis (R).Nicely
photographed and carefully described, this Virginia’s Warbler constitutes a
first state record for Rhode Island, and one of very few for the Northeast.
Photo by Paul L'Etoile .MEW GULL (Larus canus)2006-3
(7-0) One; Watchemoket Cove, East
Providence; 6-Jan-06 to 11-Feb-06; Carlos Pedro (I,P), Shaibal Mitra (R,P),
Paul L’Etoile (P), James Smith (P).Mew Gulls have
been reported several times from Rhode Island, but remarkably, the species was
never fully documented here prior to Carlos Pedro’s discovery of this
cooperative and long-staying individual. Ironically, this bird probably
pertained neither to the nominate, European subspecies, which has furnished many
records in nearby Massachusetts and a few on Long Island, nor to the western
North American subspecies brachyrhynchus,
which has occurred a number of times in the Great Lakes region, but rather to
the Siberian subspecies kamschatschensis.
In our reviews, the Committee did not address the question of subspecies, but
we may do so in the future, pending publication of a critical analysis (Mitra
et al., in prep.).
Photo by Carlos Pedro
2005 REPORT ACCEPTED REDWING (Turdus iliacus)2005-3
(7-0) One; South Kingstown;
26-Dec-05; Christian Nunes (I,R).One of the most
astonishing Christmas Bird Count discoveries ever in Rhode Island, this Redwing
was studied in detail, heard singing, sketched, and carefully described by
Christian Nunes, barely a mile from where he grew up! Unfortunately, the bird
was never found again after the initial encounter, despite considerable effort.
2003 REPORT ACCEPTED
EGRET (Egretta rufescens)
(7-0) One (im.); Charlestown
Breachway [A], Quicksand Pond, Little Compton [B]; 5-Jul-07 to 27-Jul-07; [A]
Scott Tsagarakis (I,R), Carlos Pedro (I,P), Shaibal Mitra (R). [B] Geoff Dennis (I,R,P), Robert
state record was studied by many observers and nicely photographed. Although
its species identity was not an issue, questions arose concerning how many
individuals were involved. Not only the physical appearance but also the dates
of occurrence pointed strongly to a single individual that moved between
Charlestown, Little Compton, and Westport, MA (Rines 2005).
Photo by Carlos Pedro
Banks, R. C., C. Cicero, J. L. Dunn, A. W. Kratter,
P. C. Rasmussen, J. V. Remsen, J. D. Rising and D. F. Stotz. 2004. Forty-fifth
Supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list of North American
Birds. Auk 121: 985-995.Mitchell,
C. and R. D. Hearn. 2004. Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus (Greenland/Iceland population) in Britain and Ireland
1960/61-1999/2000. Waterbird Review Series, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust/Joint Nature
Conservation Committee, Slimbridge, England.Rines, M. 2005. Ninth Annual Report of the
Massachusetts Avian Records Committee. Bird Observer 33: 86-91.Wilson, A., J. Skelly, J. S. Bolsinger, T. W. Burke,
W. D’Anna, A. Guthrie, S. S. Mitra, and D. Sherony. 2009. The report of the New
York State Avian Records Committee (NYSARC) for 2007. The Kingbird 59: 306-332.