The part of the NYC Metro area that I feel most at home in, basically western portions of the Bronx and most of Westchester County, has been awash with exciting rarities in the last month. Around Thanksgiving, a Hammond’s Flycatcher got really, really lost and wound up in the Marshlands Conservancy in Rye. At the same time, a Western Kingbird challenged its geographical stereotype by exploring some of the easternmost reaches of this continent; I believe this bird is still holding court at the New York Botanical Gardens. Although both of these twitchworthy specimens, particularly the kingbird, are fairly close to my house, I’ve resisted the urge to hunt them down. One twitch I could not resist, however, was the Rufous Hummingbird enjoying the winter accommodations at Lenoir Nature Preserve.
Although America doesn’t seem to possess the same “patch” culture exhibited in British birding circles, this American considers Lenoir his patch. Lenoir is my default birding spot, hawk watch aerie, and home base for my local Audubon chapter. It’s also a place I can bring Mason without worrying about disrupting serious bird watching activity. For all these reasons, I could not in good conscience ignore such a startling rarity at Lenoir.
How significant is the appearance of a Rufous Hummingbird in a suburb of New York City? The sexy, sexy Selasphorus rufus breeds from southern Alaska to northern California and winters from California all the way down through Mexico and east to Texas. The rufous does not normally range to my side of the Mississippi, although it is considered the western hummingbird most likely to turn up at feeders in the eastern U.S. Lenoir has hosted Selasphorus hummingbirds before and, through some strange trick of terrain, has managed to lure one again.
It took me two tries to locate the hummer in Lenoir’s Butterfly Gardens. The first time out, I heard its insistent chatter from the trees, but couldn’t coax it out in the few minutes Mason and I had available. The second time was much simpler; the hummingbird was already under surveillance and was consequently easy to spot. This frenetic female lacked, except for a few feathers at her gorget, the electric brown plumage for which the species is named. She did display a lovely coat of olive, white, and buffy burnt orange. In typical hummingbird fashion, she moved too quickly and unpredictably to photograph well, but actually seeing this beauty was enough.
Oddly enough, this is not the only Selasphorus hummingbird celebrating the holidays in the New York area. Another bird, hunkered down in Northport on Long Island, has been giving our local avian authorities fits. Selasphorus hummingbirds, particularly females and juveniles, can be devilishly difficult to differentiate and Northport bird is a case in point. Separating a Rufous from an Allen’s (S. sasin) demands detailed examination of a bird’s back, crown, and tail, a level of scrutiny that often isn’t possible in the field. At this point, I’ll just leave that task to the experts.
My impression is that most winter Selasphorus hummingbirds on the east coast turn out to be Rufous and not Allen’s once they are banded and identified. It makes some sense given that their range is larger and more northerly. With a longer migration they have more opportunity to be blown off course, and they have a better shot at surviving an east coast winter after spending their spring and summer in Alaska or British Columbia. It would be interesting to know what the banding records show.
Good insight from John… congrats on the sighting!