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CBC notes about the publication and rarities; also duck ID

Hi Carolinabirders,

For those who do not usually read the CBC issue of American Birds (or 
whatever they call it), and are wondering why Harry, Robin, and others 
are making a big deal about it, I found a post on the Virginia listserv 
today which demonstrates nicely why the publication is worth paying for. 
A couple of top VA birders went through last year's issue and figured out 
for which species the mid-Atlantic area has the all-time high counts. I'm 
pasting the summary below. You'll notice that many of the highs are from 
North Carolina (for whatever reason, the authors didn't include South 
Carolina in their analysis). Just one example of the many little factoids 
which you can find in the CBC issue, if you order one.

Also, by one of the same birders, there was a great rundown of species to 
which you should pay a little more attention on your CBC; things which 
are commonplace and easily ID'd during the breeding season, but which are 
highly suspect in the winter. In the Carolinas, we could call this the 
Hilton Head CBC effect... For instance, Broad-winged Hawks spend the 
winter in South America; anyone who thinks they see one had better be 
prepared to document, in agonizing feather-by-feather detail, why it is 
not a Red-shouldered Hawk.

This goes double this year, when many western vagrants are turning up in 
the east, and many of them look strikingly similar to eastern species. In 
some cases, the common breeding species are actually *less* likely in 
winter than the out-of-range vagrants. For example, Eastern Kingbird has 
*NEVER*, to my knowledge, been recorded reliably in the US during the 
winter; a Fork-tailed Flycatcher might actually be more likely! 
Similarly, in some parts of the Carolinas, Ash-throated Flycatcher may be 
more likely in winter than Great Crested, and Cave Swallow more than 
Cliff. Anyone who thinks they see a Purple Martin or Chimney Swift should 
also look very closely, and of course anyone who sees a flycatcher other 
than Eastern Phoebe should keep last year's Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, as 
well as our recent Vermilion visitor (the females aren't nearly so 
obvious) in mind... Complete text of the message below.

But first: a short blurb from TEXBIRDS on how to distinguish between 
Mottled and Black Duck, inspired by a report of American Black Duck in 
the LRGV that was probably a Mottled misidentified by an out-of-town 
birder. We're in the part of the country that could concieveably get both 
species every year, especially in SC. Hope I get to try these field marks 
out sometime...

Good birding,


Joshua S. Rose
Duke University
Department of Biology (Zoology, R.I.P.)



Subject: Question on American Black Duck and Mottled Duck
From: Tim Brush <tbrush@PANAM.EDU>

From Oberholser's Bird Life of Texas, modified by Moorman and Gray's 
Birds of North America species account on Mottled Duck (BNA No. 81):
        Mottled Duck is very similar to Black Duck, in that both have 
flashing white wing linings but body of Mottled Duck is tawnier (more of 
a darkish golden-brown) while Black Duck is sootier (more blackish 
brown). Mottled Duck also has  a pale buffy chin which is usually 
unstreaked [hard to see except at close range], sparingly streaked buffy 
sides of head, and an iridescent speculum which is more greenish blue 
[but varies somewhat]. In comparison, American Black Duck has throat and 
chin pinkish buff, with throat (and chin?) heavily streaked blackish, 
sides of head pale gray-brown with blackish flecks, and iridescent 
speculum more purplish blue. I'm assuming in all the above that a person 
is familiar with Mallard (in both the green-headed and Mexican forms), 
which can be distinguished, by whitish outer tail-feathers and 
easy-to-see white borders to the speculum, from the above two species.

Tim Brush
Edinburg, TX

From: Mark Lockwood <Mark.Lockwood@TPWD.STATE.TX.US>

There are two problems involved.  The first of which is that the 
subspecies of Mottled Duck that occurs in Texas, _Anas fulvigula 
maculosa_, is considerably darker in overall plumage than the one in 
Florida which is most often illustrated in field guides.  The second is 
that the differences between these two species are often difficult to 
detect in the field, as Tim alluded to in his earlier post.  For more 
information on this visit Greg Lasley's web site. I suspect that Mallard 
x American Black Ducks could occur in Texas and thus further cloud the 

Mark Lockwood
Secretary, Texas Bird Records Committee
mwlockwood@juno.com (for messages with no attachments)


Subject: CBC season rarity pitfalls
From: Miliff@AOL.COM
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2000 15:39:57 EST


With Christmas Bird Count season only days away (first counts will be 
this weekend) I wanted to send a quick post to raise the general 
consciousness about some common CBC errors. Often the best bird of the 
count season goes unidentified because the observers reported the bird as 
the "expected" species, without knowledge of which of several similar 
species is more expected! Often in winter, the common summer breeder is 
far less likely than a rare western vagrant.

One of the most frustrating things to read about in the CBC results is an 
extraordinary unseasonal rarity that was poorly documented or probably 
misidentified as the "more expected" species. Below is a short list of 
potential pitfalls. If anyone sees one of these groups during a CBC, or  
is on a CBC where one is reported, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE send a post to  
MDOsprey. Even if it doesn't turn out to be a mega-rarity, it is worth 
fully-documenting late records of any of these species.

* Hummingbirds - I think we all know by now that a November-February 
hummingbird is exciting. If it isn't a mango, it may very well be a 
Rufous. The three November Ruby-throateds this year were unprecedented.

* Swifts - I can't imagine what species of swift would be most likely, 
but suffice it to say that from November to March, any reports of Chimney 
Swift should at least rule out Vaux's and White-collared, both of which 
are known from Gulf Coast states during CBC season (while Chimney is 
unknown during that time).

* Empidonax - Any Empidonax flycatcher should be thoroughly documented as 
the western species (Hammond's, "Western", Gray, Dusky) are at least as  
likely as eastern species (only Least is known from winter in this area, 
Acadian, Yellow-bellied or Traill's would be astounding!). Any Empidonax 
has an extraordinarily good chance of being a VERY rare bird - Maryland's 
three winter reports were all not differentiated to species, but with 
today's field guides, cameras, video-recorders, and tape-recorders, any 
"sp." would very likely get nailed down to species. I recall an 
"Empidonax sp." that was reported on the Salisbury CBC a few years ago, 
which was not reported. There has recently been a Hammond's Flycatcher in 

* Myiarchus flycatchers - Our only regular Myiarchuis flycatcher is the 
Great Crested Flycatcher, but Great Cresteds are virtually unknown in 
winter in the mid-Atlantic. In fact, after late October ANY flycatcher in 
that genus is far more likely to be ASH-THROATED than Great Crested. 
Brown-crested and Dusky-capped are still not confirmed from the East 
Coast, but might be possible as well. That said, ANY flycatcher in this 
group should be carefully documented (with attention to call and tail 
pattern) even if it is the "common" species.

*Wood-Pewees - Pewees are essentially unknown in the Northeast between 
October and late April. Some rpeorts may pertain to Empidonax, but any 
claims should be thoroughly documented. It is anyone's guess which 
specie smight be most likely.

*Swallows - Any martin would be extraordinary and may more likely be a 
South American species than our summer Purple Martin (my November martin 
in Kent County was frustrating!). A swallow that looks like a Cliff 
Swallow would probably more likely be a Cave Swallow, at least until 
April. Otherwise, our summer swallows do sometimes linger, with Tree 
being most common by far, followed by Barn and Rough-winged. Bank, along 
with martins, are unknown in this area by December.

* Warblers - Black-throated Green Warbler reports should be checked for 
the possibility of similar Townsend's (on at Cape Charles, VA last 
winter) and Hermit. Any reports of Mourning or Connecticut Warblers 
should be checked for the possibility of the very similar MacGillivray's.

* Tanagers - Western Tanager is at least as likely in December as Scarlet 
or Summer, and Hepatic Tanager is known from Indiana!

* Buntings - Any Indigo Bunting reported should be checked for Lazuli, 
and even Varied, as there is a record of the latter from Ontario.

* Orioles - While Baltimore Oriole lingers in the area every year, often 
at feeders. We should still take pains to examine each and every oriole 
as carefully as possible. Though identification is difficult, recent 
winter records from the East have included Hooded Oriole in Quebec, 
Scott's Oriole in Illinois (I think...), and STREAK-BACKED ORIOLE in 

* A few other species are perennially reported on CBCs but require 
excellent documentation before acceptance. Examples are Common Tern 
(several reports from OCean City CBC - NONE are well-documented); 
Semipalmated Sandpiper (Western and Least Sandpipers are regular in 
winter - Semis are almost unknown); Red-necked Grebe (possible but 
definitely over-reported on some counts); Broad-winged Hawk (almost 
unknown on the East Coast in witner and a prime candidate for confusion 
with Red-shouldered); Chipping Sparrow (over-reported on some Piedmont 
and Mountain counts where birders confuse them with American Tree 
Sparrows); and American Tree Sparrow (which, conversely, is over-reported 
on many Eastern Shore counts where they may be confused with Chippings or 

Worst of all are spotted thrushes. Every CBC season sees multiple reports 
of Veery, Swainson's, Gray-cheeked, and Wood Thrushes although virutally 
NONE are well-documented. Obviously most are the result of confusion with 
Hermit Thrushes, which are regular in winter. Any claim of any of the 
other species needs exceedingly good documentation to convince the 
skeptics such as myself.

Don't let this call for documentation be discouraging and by all means go 
out and have fun - but please do let MDOsprey know if you find any 
whacky out of season birds on your counts. With so many people afield 
each CBC-season rare birds ALWAYS turn up somewhere, and many of us would 
like to share in the excitement and insure that the birds are 
well-documented for posterity.

Good CBCing,

Marshall Iliff
Ocean City, MD


Subject: Mid-Atlantic CBC highs
From: Miliff@AOL.COM
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2000 15:37:30 EST

Hi all,

On a recent Mango chase George Armistead and I had a chance to have a 
thorough look-through the latest CBC issue from National Audubon. We 
particularly enjoyed the "All time CBC highs" section which not only has 
some fascinating trivia, but also a few outlandish obvious errors (e.g. 
51,000 Semipalmated Sandpieprs reported from a Florida CBC -- Semis are 
now known to be extremely rare winterers in North America). That said, 
the issue provided some interesting reading.

Of interest to area birders may be our compilation of all time record 
high counts held by the mid-Atlantic area, loosley defined by us as 
PA-NJ-DE-MD-VA-NC. We believe this list is fairly complete, but could 
have missed one or two high counts. I will make no comment as to the 
accuracy of some of the numbers - while some counts seem far-fetched 
others were simply the result of an extraordinary effort or extraordinary 


Red-throated Loon 6350 (NC, Pamlico Sound-88)
Common Loon 2500 (NC, Morehead City 81)
Horned Grebe 2683 (VA, Back Bay NWR 67)
Bermuda Petrel 1 (NC, Continental Shelf 85)
Black-capped Petrel 115 (NC, Continental Shelf 83)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 351 (NC, Continental Shelf 87)
Brown Pelican 5444 (NC, Cape Hatteras 99)
Tundra Swan 51,000 (NC, Lake Mattamuskeet 89)
Mute Swan 1413 (MD, St. Michaels 100)
Greater Snow Goose 15,000 (Back Bay NWR 46)
American Black Duck 36,000 (NJ, Oceanville 66)
Canvasback 61,000 (MD, Susquehanna Flats-Sassafras River 53) - typo 
reports location as FL 
Black Scoter 16,300 (VA, Chincoteague NWR 65)
Ruddy Duck 152,688 (VA, Williamsburg 97)
Eurasian Woodcock 1 (NJ, Cape May 56)
American Woodcock 570 (VA, Cape Charles 94)
Bonaparte's Gull 148,000 (PA, Erie 89)
Ring-billed Gull 600,000 (NC, Cape Hatteras 84)
Black-tailed Gull 1 (Cape Charles 99; Chesapeake Bay 99, 100; Little 
Creek 99) 
Lesser Black-backed Gull 169 (PA, S. Bucks Co. 98)
Kelp Gull 1 (Patuxent River 99, 100)
Bridled Tern 2 (NC, Continental Shelf 85)
Eastern Screech-Owl 220 (VA, Lynchburg 77) - vulnerable in some MD 
Great Horned Owl 153 (NJ, Cumberland Co. 98)
Downy Woodpecker 719 (MD, Seneca 81)
Red-cockaded Woodpecker 82 (NC, Southern Pines 98)
Yellow-shafted Flicker 620 (MD, Seneca 84)
Pileated Woodpecker 138 (MD, Seneca 98)
Brown-headed Nuthatch 482 (MD, S. Dorchester Co. 60) - amazingly high 
count for a bird at the northern limit of its range
Brown Creeper 182 (MD, Seneca 76)
Myrtle Warbler 19,582 (NC, Bodie Pea Is. 76)
Ipswich Sparrow 63 (MD, Ocean City 99) - I remember counting 55 of these 
birds personally...
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow 64 (NC, Morehead City 99)
Song Sparrow 3624 (PA, Glenolden 66)
White-throated Sparrow 7323 (PA, Central Bucks Co. 86)
Purple Finch 4453 (NC, Chapel Hill 81)


Marshall J. Iliff

George L. Armistead

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