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'Fowl' Weather Brings Rare Bird Sightings

Carolyn Longworth
A still image from the video of a Fairhaven Northern Lapwing

With the snow flying as I write, and a few wintry cold fronts already under our belt, it may not seem like prime time for finding rare birds from around the globe. But once again this week, feathered visitors from weird places have descended upon us, demanding my attention.


At the ragged fringes of our listening area, some truly astounding birds were reported this week, along with a more pedestrian rarity, if I may coin an ornithological oxymoron. That bird, a female-type Painted Bunting, made an appearance at a feeder in Provincetown this week. While this species should seemingly never occur on the Cape based on their southeastern breeding and wintering range, one to a few show up each year, usually around now. The ones we see typically sport the more subdued all greenish-yellow female/immature plumage rather than the eye-popping electric blue-green-red adult male plumage. These are the only all-greenish birds we would ever see in these parts, so do keep an eye out for one.

On December 1, Mike Sylvia, the rare bird king of Cuttyhunk, found his latest doozy of a bird on that quirky little island in the form of a Shiny Cowbird. The only other record for Massachusetts was also in Dukes County, found by our own Vern Laux near Edgartown almost 20 years ago. This fascinating species didn’t occur north of South America until the 20th century but has been marching north ever since, aided by deforestation throughout Central America. They now breed in South Florida and have been recorded as far north as Maine. A brood parasite like our local Brown-headed Cowbird, they will only lay eggs in other birds’ nests, and as such have caused declines in some Caribbean species. I don’t expect this bird to turn up again, but just in case, keep an eye out for a glossy purple blackbird looking more like a small grackle than like our cowbird.

Also on December 1, some “fowl weather” brought a rare Pink-footed Goose to Stephens Field on Plymouth Harbor. This handsome, if subtly plumaged goose of Iceland and Greenland shows up around here maybe once every ten years, so it’s not a bird to sneeze at. It seems to have left the area, but look for it among Canada Goose flocks  - one wintered on the Dennis Pines Golf Course back in 1999, and another on Siders Pond in Falmouth in 2009.

Lastly, a European visitor that we haven’t seen on this side of the “pond” since hurricane Sandy in 2012 – Bristol County birder Carolyn Longworth found a Northern Lapwing in Fairhaven on the 28th – here is Carolyn’s video of the bird.

This big, weird European plover is a short distance migrant from Northern Europe to middle and southern Europe, so it generally takes a lot to get one across the Atlantic, largely because the prevailing winds flow west to east. In the case of Superstorm Sandy, it was multiple days of strong westerly air flow from Europe that brought several lapwings to the Eastern US, an unprecedented ornithological event. Several of those lapwings stayed the winter, including two on Nantucket.

Could this Fairhaven lapwing still be out there somewhere? And could there be others? Stay tuned here to find out. Of course, with temperatures and snow both falling around here, I suspect this common bird of the UK may live to regret exiting the EU in such hasty, poorly reasoned fashion. I mean really, what was he thinking?

Mark Faherty writes the Weekly Bird Report.