Saturday, January 28, 2012

Guest Blogger: Arizona's Next Ten

While I'm occasionally adding to a blog post I'm writing about the Nutting's Flycatcher, David Vander Pluym has been working on a very interesting project: a list of the birds he thinks will be added next to Arizona's state list.  Only time will tell how accurate it is, but such projects always give birders something to think about and something to study up on for the next outing in the field.  Enjoy!


I’ve long been interested in vagrants and what might be the next birds to occur in an area. I’ve been
meaning to put together a next 10 for Arizona and so a recent question by Jason Wilder and Brain Gatlinon the Northern Arizona Birds Forum got me thinking once again and I managed to come up with a “Next 10” list. I decided not to rank them and so the only order they are in is taxonomic.  I first started with a list of nearly 130 species of birds that seemed reasonably possible though some were very remote possibilities and there was a certain wishful thinking on some species. This larger list was easily whittled down to about 50 species but after that it got harder and I found it difficult to just pick 10 species. Nonetheless here is my pick of 10.

1. Surfbird – Uses the Gulf of California as a major stopover point in spring and is casual in spring in
the Salton Sink. A spring migrant up the Colorado River (Yuma?) seems likely, but with records
east to Texas and Florida (as well as the Black Turnstone record from Wilcox) a southeast Az
record is not out of the question.
2. Curlew Sandpiper – with every surrounding state boasting records this seems long overdue
for the state. Most interior records are for spring, when it is also easiest to identify, but pay
attention in fall as well!
3. Ancient Murrelet – With records from the surrounding states and multiple records for the Salton
Sink it seems a matter of time before one is recorded. Most likely in late fall but there are several late
spring records for the Salton Sink (coming out of the Gulf of California?). Most suspect a record
from Lake Havasu or elsewhere along the Colorado River, but this species is possible on any body
of water or even in a parking lot!
4. Red-billed Pigeon – Occurs as close as 150 miles south of the border and like most pigeons is a
strong flyer. Movements are not well known to me, but a vagrant seems plausible. It could be
overlooked and hard to document, though, if one blasts by.
5. Alder Flycatcher – This one is almost certainly overlooked due to identification problems but
with multiple records for the southeast deserts of California (including one from the Salton
Sink) this species likely passes through Arizona. Either late spring or fall could produce this species at migrant traps across the state. Studying Willow Flycatchers and its whole range of variation in both plumage and vocalizations will help one prepare for the possibility of this species. Though vocalization recordings will be needed to confirm identification, some potential birds can be picked out by plumage. A willow flycatcher with a green back and crown, along with bold edgings to the flight feathers that strongly contrast with the rest of the wing, would be worth a closer look and perhaps enticed to call.
6. Fork-tailed Flycatcher – A species that could turn up anywhere, with records from both Nevada
and California. Its penchant for wandering, as well as being easily identifiable, makes it a likely candidate to occur in the state.
7. Mangrove Swallow – Likely has some seasonal movements in the NW, as well as movements
based on local conditions. This combined with its regular range extending nearly to the head of the Gulf of
California makes it a prime candidate for occurrence. Should be looked for in large flocks of
swallows moving north in spring as well as other seasons. Note that given its white rump, it may be passed off as a Violet-green Swallow.
8. White-throated Thrush – Similar range in west Mexico to Rufous-backed Robin (though not as far north) with known casual dispersal into Texas gives potential for wandering into Arizona as well. To be looked for anywhere robins occur.
9. Rusty Sparrow – A record seems overdue as it occurs very close to the border. Though it can be
difficult to detect, learning the song and calls would be helpful in finding one.
10. Tricolored Blackbird – Though there are few records for the eastern deserts of California there are now
multiple fall/winter records for the Salton Sink in the large blackbird flocks there. This may be
the reward for anyone willing to pick through the large blackbird flocks in Yuma or elsewhere
along the Colorado River.

Given the difficulties in predicting vagrant species the next new species to occur could easily be one
not mentioned above as I left off many plausible species. White-tipped Dove, for example, was just recently mentioned on the AZ/NM listserve.  This species would have easily made a top 20 list of mine as it just barely didn’t make the cut (mainly as I thought a Red-billed Pigeon may be easier to document). One should study up on the identification of any of the possible species as who knows what may cross your path. Part of finding rare birds is knowing what to look for and how to pick one out from the common species (and how to document them), and of course getting out there regularly is also a major part of it.

See also articles on predicting vagrants in Birding May 2010 and Dec 2008 (as well as articles mentioned

What are your Next Ten?

David Vander Pluym

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