Some People Have All the Luck
Some weeks I’m scraping the bottom of the birding barrel looking for “Bird Report” content. This is not one of those weeks. No, this past week brought the opposite problem, the one where a truly absurd number of noteworthy bird happenings coincide, leaving me wondering how to tie them all together.
First there’s the story of the family that has all the bird luck you lack – the Budnicks of Eastham. While you sort through chickadees everyday hoping for something unusual, this family, tucked away in the piney woods of Eastham, has been fairly swatting away top-tier rare birds over the last month. And in one case, literally tripping over rare birds.
Back in mid-December, the Budnicks’ feeders hosted a Painted Bunting, one of those gaudily colorful finches of the southeast. For reasons that escape me, sometimes several of these tropical-looking waifs end up here on the Cape each winter. Then last week, a Western Kingbird was perched atop their suet cage. Western Kingbirds are, and this may surprise you, a western species that does not belong here. In fact, this bird chewing the fat with the Budnicks is the only individual Western Kingbird seen north of the Carolinas in the last month.
Apparently the Budnicks, who include Lynne, Mark, and daughter Rachel, a former scholarship winner at Cape Cod Bird Club, weren’t done hoarding all the best birds on the Outer Cape. A few days later, while mountain biking through the woods behind the house, Lynne, naturally, found a live Dovekie, a small Arctic seabird, sitting helplessly in the path. Rachel got it quickly to Wild Care, where it was doing well last we knew. The chances of these three birds co-occurring in one non-descript wooded neighborhood over the course of a few weeks is roughly negative infinity, as the kids might say.
At the other end of the Cape, or actually just off-Cape, another avian improbability was developing at the same time. I’ve referred many times before to the “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect”, a birding phenomenon named for a famous roadside birding spot in Arizona. It means that one rare bird sighting brings lot of birders, who then find more and more rare birds. This was on full display at a seldom birded park along the canal in Sagamore this week, where, for some reason, very rare birds were stacked up like tourists waiting to get over the bridge on a Saturday morning.
First, someone found a Black-headed Gull, a handsome European gull species. They’re rare, but one or more are around somewhere on the Cape each winter. In the course of visiting this gull, someone then found an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a smaller, paler, southwestern cousin of our locally breeding Great-crested Flycatchers. This species should be on the Pacific coast of Mexico or El Salvador right now. Like many weird birds trying to overwinter here, it was in a viney tangle feeding on various nonnative but persistent fruits, like multiflora rose and Euonymous.
This even more sought-after bird brought yet more birders and their high-end optics to this canal-side park, at which point someone looked in a nearby yard and noticed a small, bright yellow bird with a dark mask – a Townsend’s Warbler. Another westerner, the nearest breeding site is in Idaho, and the closest wintering site is in southern Arizona. With only a handful of previous records for the Cape, this was now the undisputed king of the oddball birds at this Patagonian Picnic Table.
Given the sheer density of amazingly improbable birds along this stretch of bike path in Sagamore, I’d recommend grabbing the binos and heading there, post-haste. Unless you’re the Budnicks, in which case you can stay home - an even rarer bird is probably knocking on your living room window right now.