Monday, December 12, 2016

1st State Record: Northern Wheatear, Loudon County, TN

    This year has been rather epic for Tennessee birding. We've had four (or five) 1st state records*, which hasn't happened since Hurricane Katrina slammed the Southern U.S. in 2005. Although not new for the state, other rarities seen this year include Pomarine Jaeger, Sabine's Gull, Eurasian Wigeon, and Smith's Longspur.
    Although we had not done much chasing this year (or general birding, for that matter), Nolan and I really wanted to see the Northern Wheatear, which had been found in Loudon County, Tennessee. Those who had already seen the bird said that it was an easy chase. You could simply pull up and the bird would be sitting on a fence post fifteen feet in front of you. All we needed was a means of transportation, so we were thrilled when a few of our birding buddies offered to give us a ride. We left early on Saturday morning, November 19. I was extremely anxious, worried that the bird would be gone, so I was relieved to hear positive news that the bird had been sighted during our two and a half hour drive to Windy Hill Farm. When we arrived, it turned out to be just as easy as described. Indeed, the bird was sitting on a fence post and allowed close approach. What a gorgeous bird!**

    The Northern Wheatear is known for having a diagnostic bright white tail with a black "T", so I tried to get a flight shot. This was the best I could manage:

    I didn't want to just come here, tick off an easy lifebird, and then leave. I wanted to actually observe the bird and learn something. I watched it for a few minutes. When feeding, the bird would stand still for a moment, then run on the pasture and attempt to catch a meal (usually crickets). I also noticed that it bobbed its tail, the speed and motion most similar to a Northern Waterthrush. However, what I found most interesting was that it kept bending over and flashing its bold tail pattern. The behavior reminded me of what I had seen with a large flock of peeps at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge in 2013. The shorebirds would feed with their short tails up in the air, marking their feeding territories. With this in mind, I looked up the behavior when I got back home. Sure enough, I found a link with interesting information online, confirming my hypothesis. "T" is for "territory" after all. Such a fascinating species!
    This was my 349th ABA area lifebird and my 291st Tennessee lifebird. Our complete eBird checklist is here:

*1. January 5, 2016: Lesser Goldfinch found by Mark Greene in Lake County, TN
2. October 2, 2016: Brown Booby found by Ruben Stoll in Benton/Humphreys County, TN
3. November 13, 2016: Northern Wheatear found by Tony King in Loudon County, TN
4. November 22, 2016: Bohemian Waxwing found by Colin Sumrall in Knox County, TN

    In 2011, a Hooded Oriole was discovered on July 8 in Lincoln County, TN; however, despite most birders believing that it was of wild origin, it was, incredibly, not accepted by the Tennessee Bird Records Committee. Not surprisingly, a second Hooded Oriole was seen from June 1-3, 2016, at a private residence in Giles County, TN. Thus, you could consider this a fifth 1st state record for the year.

**Click photos for a sharper image.