Birdwatchers Events Fall 2005

In cryptozoology, we often here the refrain: "Why do birdwatchers never report Thunderbird sightings?"

Well, of course, they do. But most of the pressure is to run to the sightings of rare birds seen in your neighborhood, to add to one’s list of birds seen in the observer’s life – the life list. Three such events are occurring right now in the USA.

Saturday, November 12, 2005, while I was there, flocks of birdwatchers gathered at Perkin’s Cove, Ogunquit, Maine, which was being visited by a cave swallow (Petrochelidon fulva). I saw it skimming the water, only a few yards away. Cave swallows, like all other swallows, are diurnal (during the day) birds, but this species is rarely seen north of Mexico. Recently, there have been reports in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. The unusual sightings have become a new addition to many birders’ life lists.

On the same day, at La Grande, Union County, Oregon, birdwatchers reported a rare spotting of a white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica). In the United States, white-winged doves live in the Southwest and are most common in Arizona. They migrate to Mexico and Central America in the winter. But in Oregon? Another birdwatchers’ event is unfolding.

Black-billed magpies (Pica hudsonia), in August 2005, were confirmed in Ohio for the first time since 1950s. These rare crow-sized birds, the black-billed magpies were first reported in North America by members of the Lewis and Clark expedition 200 years ago. These magpies’ breeding range extends from Alaska south to eastern California and Arizona and east to Manitoba, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. The only other magpie seen in this country is the yellow-billed, whose range is limited to central California. Therefore, the recent sightings in Ohio have become a birdwatchers’ news alert, spread via the internet and birders’ networks.

No Thunderbird alerts, of course, cross the desks of most birders. That’s, well, outside the mainstream for birdwatchers, we are lead to understand. But something else is going on.

As it turns out, few in the general public hear about the Thunderbird sightings that do take place, as birdwatchers are discouraged to file a "bird report" of their "unusual" sightings. They are rushing to add to their life lists of known birds. That is the way of birdwatchers. This is a major reason many of us, including Mark A. Hall in his Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds, gather so many of the ignored "large bird" sightings. And it is another reason for why these accounts are so rarely discussed, nevertheless see: Coast to Coast AM, Tuesday, November 15th.