When I arrived at Jones Beach on Thursday morning I planned to check out the area around the Coast Guard station for early migrating shorebirds and to photograph some terns. Was I ever surprised to see what I presumed to be a female Yellow-headed Blackbird!

I first saw the bird foraging in the grass just east of the bathrooms near the Coast Guard Station, where House Sparrows normally feed, shortly after 9 AM. I got some pics, but with my 100 mm lens, the best of which is below, heavily cropped.

female Yellow-headed Blackbird

From there the bird flew to a bush on the south side of the parking lot, where I kept an eye on it while I walked backwards to my car to get a field guide, as I had never seen a Yellow-headed Blackbird before and while the males are easy to identify I had no idea what a female’s field marks were, though for some reason I was pretty sure of the bird’s ID.

I went back and forth between the guide and the bird, and then the bird flew to a tree between the parking lot and the water. With what little light was getting through the clouds behind me I got a couple more shots:

Yellow-headed Blackbird on branch

and again...

Then, while I was switching to my big lens, the bird flew over the bathrooms, making a “check” call, and looking like it was going to come down where I originally saw it…but when I walked around the building it was gone, and 2.5 hours of searching did not make it reappear.

What I saw was a solid dark brown bird with yellow cheeks, chest, and eyebrows. The guide I was using was the National Geographic guide, which says the female has white stripes running down its belly, which I did not see (odd that the stripes show in the pics though, and odder still that Sibley’s guide does not portray nor mention this field mark). I wasn’t 100% sure that it was a Yellow-headed Blackbird, but I was sure enough to call Will and get him to post it to the New York State listserve.

On my way back upstate today, before I had gotten these pics loaded on the computer for review, I got a call from my frequent birding companion, Jory, who let me know that the bird had been refound and confirmed! Whoo-hoo! My first self-found New York State rarity!

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.