Date: 7/14/17 3:05 pm
From: Ned Brinkley via va-bird <va-bird...>
Subject: [Va-bird] The Next Fifteen (Bird) Species for Virginia?
Virginia’s Next 15 Species?

Every 10 years or so, I ask regional birders to help predict Virginia’ s
“Next 20 Birds.” Ten years after the publication of the Gold Book (2007),
many of the predicted species have now been detected and documented in the
state, including Red-billed Tropicbird, Smith’s Longspur, Crested Caracara,
Dusky Flycatcher, Townsend’s Solitaire (one report from Northern Virginia
had not been accepted), Brown Noddy, Calliope Hummingbird, Roseate
Spoonbill, Northern Lapwing, Ancient Murrelet, and Violet-green Swallow.
Other species that were not predicted, mostly because their patterns of
occurrence in the East were very weak, were nevertheless welcome additions
to our avifauna: Zone-tailed Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Bulwer’s Petrel,
Brewer’s (Timberline) Sparrow, Lucy’s Warbler, Brown-chested Martin, Lesser
Sand-Plover. And of course, those great rarities no one saw coming have
knocked our socks off, even if we might have missed them ourselves: Terek
Sandpiper, White-crowned Pigeon, Violet-crowned Hummingbird. (In the
business of predicting new species, being wrong is extraordinarily
enjoyable.)

Perhaps because pelagic trips are so few off our Commonwealth, Bermuda
Petrel was not predicted to be detected, even though tracking devices
indicate that these rare birds do transit the state’s waters routinely, and
North Carolina birders have documented at least 31 there since 1993. But
sharp-eyed Tom Johnson found one at sea far east of Rudee Inlet and managed
to get good images from a research vessel, for Virginia’s first.

Virginia has now added so many species with moderate to strong occurrence
patterns in the East at this point that in predicting the next set of
birds, I have limited the list to 15 rather than 20 species.

Below are consideration of the various “groups” of birds (seabirds,
raptors, passerines, etc.), with notes on the likelihood of occurrence of
new species based on records from surrounding states as well as Canada
(Ontario eastward) and Bermuda. The records mentioned for potential new
species are not exhaustive by any means, just an indication of context for
possible Virginia appearances.

SEABIRDS

Not all seabirds are seen from boats, but because Virginia has so few
pelagic trips these days (1-2 per year lately), only one seabird is
predicted to be among the Next 15 Birds added to the state list.

North Carolina has multiple records of Black-bellied Storm-Petrel,
Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrel, European Storm-Petrel, and Cape Verde Shearwater,
while Georgia and South Carolina each have a record of Red-footed Booby (as
does Nova Scotia). Records of Zino’s Petrel and White-chinned Petrel off
North Carolina are essentially singular in the western North Atlantic,
though Maine has a record of the latter. None of these birds above seem
likely to be recorded in Virginia unless more pelagic trips are undertaken,
though researchers might well encounter any of them. Masked Booby is
recorded almost annually now off North Carolina, with single recent records
from New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York, and I predict that
Virginia will soon add that species, probably from a research vessel
studying marine mammals.

Lesser Frigatebird might have already occurred in Virginia; photographs of
the Wythe County frigatebird from 1988 look very much like a Lesser to my
eye. No measurements were taken of that bird, unfortunately. In North
America, the species is known from Michigan, Maine, Wyoming, and California.

Tufted Puffin, as well as other Pacific alcids, now have open seas in the
higher latitudes in late summer, making plausible more Atlantic records in
addition to Maine’s (and England’s) recent records. Long-billed Murrelet
(two records each from North and South Carolina, three from Florida, and
about seven each in there Midwest and Northeast) could occur on an inland
Virginia lake in October/November, but inland records in North America have
plummeted in recent years.

We’d love to see an Arctic Loon (Ohio, Vermont, Colorado; possibly a few
more) but far more likely is Yellow-billed Loon (Maine, Massachusetts,
Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, with multiples from New York, Tennessee,
Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, and many in the Great Plains and
Rockies)which makes my Next 15 List. If one is hoping to add new seabirds
via “splits,” then Scopoli’s Shearwater and Madeiran Storm-Petrel would be
the next likely additions for Virginia (these are currently treated as
types of Cory’s Shearwater and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel). Both have been
observed off Virginia in recent years. Barolo Shearwater, recorded a few
times off Massachusetts and Nova Scotia, seems a long shot off Virginia;
the species apparently forages in very deep waters and would potentially be
seen only by researchers.

WADERS

Western Reef Heron has been photographed in New York, New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, with others in the Caribbean,
and it seems a good candidate to occur in Virginia some day, though records
are still few and far between. Scarlet Ibis—hardly known in the United
States except as escapees or released birds in Florida, with one found
breeding in South Carolina in 2001—was recently reported in western
Virginia with photographs, but the record is not accepted.

WATERFOWL

Pink-footed Goose! The Northeast has a lot of recent records, with the
southernmost to Maryland (three records) and Delaware (at least two). Just
a matter of time for Virginia then! Less likely, by far, would be a Tundra
Bean-Goose (records from Nova Scotia and Quebec) or Lesser White-fronted
Goose (W. L. Sladen reported one in Maryland many years ago), or Masked
Duck (multiples in Florida, singles in North Carolina, Maryland, Georgia,
Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Wisconsin), or Smew (New York,
Rhode Island, Illinois, Ontario), or Common Shelduck (records increasing in
the Northeast, with records south to Delaware). Mottled Ducks, introduced
to South Carolina, do not seem to be straying northward much, but Ontario
has a record, and the species has strayed in North Carolina as Lake
Mattamuskeet, so it should be looked for. See a funny-looking waterbird?
Take a photo!

RAPTORS

Neighboring states have records of Snail Kite (North Carolina has had one,
South Carolina two recently), Short-tailed Hawk (Georgia, Alabama; and
Michigan!), Eurasian Kestrel (Florida, Massachusetts, Nova Scotia,
Bermuda), Eurasian Hobby (Massachusetts), Red-footed Falcon (Massachusetts;
sight record at Cape May). Cape May has a possible banding record of Hen
Harrier, plus a sight report of Eurasian Sparrowhawk, to whet one’s
studying. None of these make the Next 15 cut, but any could occur!

CRANES AND RAILS

Virginia already has a record of Paint-billed Crake, and there are few
other rare rails we might add, though Corn Crake comes to mind (old records
from Maryland, New Jersey, New York, recent Maine record, and a suggestion
from Back Bay NWR’s first manager Romey Waterfield that he might have seen
one there many years ago!). Pennsylvania and Texas have records of Spotted
Rail, so almost anything in that family would be imaginable; Delaware and
Georgia and Bermuda have records of Purple Swamphens, and New York has a
record of Azure Gallinule, though some of these records are not favored by
local committees.

SHOREBIRDS

This is a huge group of species, mostly migratory, but many that have not
yet been reported in Virginia have weak patterns of vagrancy in the East.
None of the following would make the cut: Southern Lapwing (Florida,
Maryland), Wood Sandpiper (New York, Rhode Island, Delaware, Bermuda,
Newfoundland), Great Knot (Maine, West Virginia), Broad-billed Sandpiper
(New York, Massachusetts), Common Snipe (Newfoundland, Bermuda, and maybe
Maryland), Gray-tailed Tattler (Massachusetts), Surfbird (Pennsylvania,
twice in Florida, Maine, at least four times in Texas), and Greater
Sand-Plover (Florida).

More likely would be European Golden-Plover (Delaware, twice in New Jersey,
Maine, many times in Atlantic Canada), Little Stint (multiples for New
York, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, with singles for
Rhode Island, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ontario….we need not continue), Spotted
Redshank (North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts
several times, ditto Ontario, with singles in Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin,
Kansas, Texas….), Pacific Golden-Plover (New York, New Jersey, Maine,
Florida, Delaware, Vermont), and Common Ringed Plover (North Carolina,
Massachusetts, New York, Maine, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland many times,
Ontario). Of these, Little Stint and Pacific Golden-Plover seem most likely
to be among the Next 15 Birds.

GULLS & TERNS

Certainly among Virginia’s Next 15 should be Slaty-backed Gull, now known
from dozens of records in the Northeast and Midwest, with other records
from Pennsylvania (two) and North Carolina. There have been reports already
in Virginia of Ross’s Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, and Ivory Gull, not
currently accepted, but those could be probably the next most likely gulls
to be found, with single records of Ross’s from Maryland and Delaware the
closest to Virginia. Equally likely, perhaps, is Kelp Gull (Maryland,
Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, with many more from
the Gulf Coast states), but far less likely would be Belcher’s Gull
(Olrog’s Gull? Florida has three records), Gray-hooded Gull (New York,
Florida), and Gray Gull (Louisiana) could reach us. Large-billed Tern (old
records from New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, Bermuda) seems a pipe dream, but
Whiskered Tern (two in New Jersey, one of those shared with Delaware) less
so - though freshwater habitats near the coast in Virginia are sadly very
limited in recent years. Cayenne Tern is not recognized in the United
States as a distinct species, but it’s certainly a plausible visitor to the
state; it has been photographed as close as Dare County, North Carolina.

PIGEONS & DOVES

Band-tailed Pigeon, an irruptive and migratory species, should be among
Virginia’s Next 15, with oddly no reports from Maryland or Delaware but
records from North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, New York,
Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Ontario,
Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois and many more from Ontario and parts
farther west. Inca Dove seems less probable but still possible, with
records from Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland (but
still none from the Carolinas), while European Turtle-Dove (Florida,
Massachusetts) would be a shocker in Virginia.

OWLS & NIGHTJARS

With the warming of the planet, visits from Northern Hawk Owl, Great Gray
Owl, or Boreal Owl seem less and less likely every year; records stop at
about the latitude of New York City or north of it for these birds, but
there is an odd report, not substantiated, of a hawk owl from West
Virginia. Antillean Nighthawk, with two North Carolina records (and one
from Louisiana), seems possible, but far more likely would be Lesser
Nighthawk, recorded in New Jersey (twice), West Virginia, and many times in
the Gulf Coast states. Lesser gets my vote.

SWIFTS & SWALLOWS

Hurricanes have produced (or been associated with) records for Common Swift
in Massachusetts and Black Swift in New Jersey (and both have been seen in
Bermuda after storms), and these are possible in Virginia, but the records
are not yet numerous enough to get the nod. Virginia has recorded most if
not all likely swallows and swifts; an addition to the Virginia avifauna
from either group of aerialists would be a remarkable rarity, possibly from
the Caribbean or Mexico but perhaps from Europe. Records of Alpine Swift
from the Caribbean suggest that these powerful long-distance migrants can
clearly survive the trans-Atlantic crossing.

HUMMINGBIRDS

Records of Violet-crowned and Magnificent Hummingbirds from the Virginia
mountains are truly remarkable, but consider that Virginia is almost
surrounded by records of Mexican Violetear (reported once in Virginia but
without photographs; records from West Virginia, Maryland twice, New
Jersey, Maine, Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana, Michigan, etc.), and we still lack
an Anna’s Hummingbird record (3x in North Carolina, 2x each in
Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Ohio). Both should be on the Next 15
list. Likewise possible are Broad-tailed Hummingbird (North Carolina,
Delaware, New Jersey, many times in Georgia), Buff-bellied Hummingbird
(multiples for both Carolinas and for Georgia), Blue-throated Hummingbird
(Georgia, Louisiana), Costa’s Hummingbird (Alabama, Florida, Michigan),
White-eared Hummingbird (Alabama, Mississippi, Michigan), and Berylline
Hummingbird (Michigan again!), or perhaps a Bahama Woodstar/Sheartail
(Pennsylvania), Amethyst-throated Hummingbird (Texas, Quebec), or
Green-breasted Mango (North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Wisconsin)?

The non-passerines don’t have many more other groups that would provide a
likely vagrant, though New York has a record of Williamson’s Sapsucker, and
Pennsylvania has some tantalizing older records of Black-backed Woodpecker.

PASSERINES

Although Virginia has made up some ground lately and added Dusky Flycatcher
(and has a nice photographic record of Tropical/Couch’s Kingbird, probably
Tropical), the Next 15 will almost certainly include a few new flycatchers,
my guesses being Hammond’s Flycatcher, which is known from Maryland,
Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Alabama, Nova Scotia, and Massachusetts
(four times!), and Tropical Kingbird, with three in North Carolina, one in
Maryland, two each in Delaware and Pennsylvania, three in Massachusetts,
one in Maine; the latter species has nested in Florida now, and records
from Gulf Coast states are increasing. Couch’s Kingbird (Maryland, New
York, Massachusetts, Michigan) and Cassin’s Kingbird (three each
Massachusetts and Ontario, plus two in New York, many in Florida) would be
next in line, but less likely, with Thick-billed Kingbird (Ontario, Texas)
a dream-on sort of vagrant, and Great Kiskadee (New York, South Carolina,
recently to South Dakota!) slightly less so. Gray Flycatcher
(Massachusetts, Delaware, North Carolina, at least twice each in Ohio,
Louisiana, Ontario) seems very likely to appear in Virginia, but records
are not quite numerous enough to put it on the Next 15. The same is true
for those streaky enigmatic Sulphur-bellied, Variegated, and Piratic
Flycatchers, any of which could appear in Virginia, most likely in fall on
the coast: records of vagrants are widespread but thin on the ground. A
silky-flycatcher like Phainopepla (not a flycatcher, of course) would
brighten birding in Virginia, but records of vagrants only reach Ontario,
Wisconsin, and Massachusetts.

Of the other passerine groups, thrushes, warblers, blackbirds, and finches
are more likely than vireos or smaller taxonomic groups to produce new
records, but White Wagtail is worth a mention: though there are only about
nine U. S. records east of the Mississippi, three are from the Carolinas.
Yellow-green Vireo also merits honorable mention, with records from
Florida, South Carolina, and Massachusetts but many more from coastal Texas
through Alabama.

Of the thrushes, it is tempting to imagine a Fieldfare or Redwing in
Virginia, but both are still represented by only a sprinkling of records in
the Northeast. North American wood-warblers are more likely: Virginia’s
Warbler would be especially appreciated in Virginia (Maryland, West
Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, Maine, Georgia, with many more in the
Midwest), but a Hermit Warbler (multiples for Connecticut, New York,
Massachusetts, one for Maine), Grace’s Warbler (New York, Ontario,
Illinois), or Red-faced Warbler (Georgia, Louisiana) would be fine, as
would a Painted Redstart (New York, Massachusetts, Alabama, Ohio, Ontario,
twice in Wisconsin). Unlikely, surely, is Golden-cheeked Warbler: single
vagrants have made it to California, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Florida.

Among sparrows, we still await our first Cassin’s Sparrow (North Carolina,
New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, and many more) and Golden-crowned
Sparrow, for which there are perhaps two-dozen records from Maryland to
Maine, a similar number in the nearer Midwest, and singles from South
Carolina and Tennessee. Both make my Next 15.

In the blackbird family, a stealth vagrant, Western Meadowlark seems likely
enough to get a vote for the Next 15, with multiples documented in North
Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, etc. The slowly expanding
Bronzed Cowbird, with a record north to South Carolina, could be a
contender. Of the orioles (as a group, very much on the rise as vagrants in
fall/winter), Scott’s Oriole (North Carolina, South Carolina, New York,
Pennsylvania, Kentucky) and Hooded Oriole (Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama,
twice in Ontario) would be most likely, if not more likely than the
meadowlark and cowbird, but there are far-flung records of Altamira Oriole
(Mississippi) and Audubon’s Oriole (Indiana) and now Black-backed Oriole
(Pennsylvania, Connecticut). We can dream. Finally, a Brambling or
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch or Eurasian Tree Sparrow could pop up at a feeder
in winter, as there are increasing patterns beyond the West/Midwest for
all. Georgia and Massachusetts have single records of McCown’s Longspur,
and Tennessee has three; this bird seems unlikely to make the cut to me.

We would be remiss in neglecting records from Bermuda, which is closer to
us than is Chicago! There, Arctic Warbler, Dark-sided Flycatcher,
Ferruginous Duck, Booted Eagle, White Tern, Eurasian Dotterel (a 2015
record from Ontario provides some hope!), Caribbean Martin, Common
House-Martin, among other gems. For veteran birders in Virginia, one of
these species has probably been seen, if distantly, at Craney Island, way
way back. Hmmmmm….

So what does this give us for our list of the Next 15 Birds?

Masked Booby
Yellow-billed Loon
Pink-footed Goose
Pacific Golden-Plover
Little Stint
Slaty-backed Gull
Band-tailed Pigeon
Lesser Nighthawk
Mexican Violetear
Anna’s Hummingbird
Hammond’s Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Cassin’s Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Western Meadowlark

Most of these have been on previous rounds of “Next 20 Birds,” though not
the Pink-footed Goose or Yellow-billed Loon. If one had to pick five more?
A hummer, a flycatcher, a shorebird, a gull, and an oriole!

Why do this exercise every decade or so? Careful study of the birds that
are in front of us is greatly enriched when we are aware of all
possibilities, even remote ones, and critically identify the birds we see,
rather than logging the species we know to be most likely. Perhaps our
state lacks records for Western Meadowlark because most of us assume all
meadowlarks we see are Easterns? And perhaps we should pay more attention
to plovers with rings or with gold tones above? When we study birds closely
and we eliminate vagrants from consideration, we affirm these
identifications more definitively, confidently. Naturally, we don’t have
time to study every meadowlark we see to rule out Western, but when birding
is slow, why not look and listen to them for a few minutes, or hours?
They’re really beautiful birds to study for a good while, every now and
then. And when we study birds closely, we learn not just about plumage and
vocalizations but also about habits, habitat, and ultimately their status
and distribution where we are birding. Part of picking out something new
and unusual is learning the variation in the plumages, calls, and behaviors
of the birds that are not unusual. We sometimes see aberrant plumages or
even hybrids when we’re looking at each bird carefully, but often we learn
a new vocalization or see a new behavior. Some describe bird identification
as “educated guessing,” but careful birding can have a very high degree of
accuracy, of course. Having a few silent meadowlarks recorded on our lists
as “Eastern/Western” can remind us to spend more time looking and
listening. We also benefit from knowing what birders in surrounding regions
are seeing, as our planet changes and birds respond to these changes; we
continue to witness profound shifts in bird populations, and this
witnessing puts us in closer touch to our planet and our fellow species.
And we can communicate what we see to members of our own species, perhaps.
Finally, there is the particular thrill of seeing something we’ve never
seen before, or never seen in our local area, and sharing the discovery
with others.

Ned Brinkley
Cape Charles, Va.
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