Wednesday, September 7, 2011

More on the large swift species

A little more on the large swift species seen by myself at Covey WMA in Belchertown, MA on September 1.  I doubt there is any way to positively identify the swift I saw to species but the evidence certainly points toward Black Swift given the other reports and the track of Hurricane Irene which hit here just a few days prior to the sighting.  The track of the storm came right through the range of the Caribbean race of the Black Swift (Cypseloides niger niger) which is reported as widespread in the West Indies in "A Guide to Birds of the West Indies" by Herbert Raffaele, et al..  It is considered a powerful long-distance flyer and can disperse I have included my description that I submitted to the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee (MARC) as well as a post on Massbird from Marshall Iliff.  Keep your eyes open, you never know what will turn up!

"I was standing at the edge of a marsh area and had a group of Common Nighthawks moving from north to south at 9:40am. I would estimate them at a few hundred feet. After snapping a few photos of the lead birds I put the camera down and noticed three more birds appear. Two were nighthawks but the other immediately struck me as odd. It had typical swift shape but the bird was quite bulky and I would estimate the size as about 1/2 to 2/3 that of the nighthawks. The tail was somewhat broad and was neither forked nor tapered. The tail did seem to me to be a little longer than Chimney Swifts would be in relation to the body. The wings were bulkier and the bird overall was just more solid looking. I got no color beyond dark overall. The wing beats were slower than a Chimney Swift and did not seem as deep.  The bird was in a glide as it went over top of me. The bird was in view for only a few seconds (approx 5 seconds) and then it disappeared behind trees.  I was unable to get the camera up quick enough to get a photo. I moved about 75 feet to a more open area beyond the tree line but I was unable to relocate it.  I continued to look for the bird following the initial sighting but had no luck.  I believe Black Swift comes the closest to matching the bird I was but I cannot say for certain.  Given the hurricane that had moved through on Aug 28 the possibilities are many.  (part of MARC submission)

Submission to Massbird by Marshall Iliff on Sept 7

It has become apparent that Hurricane Irene displaced more than just
seabirds. In addition to the Brown-chested Martin in Cape Chalres, VA, on 28
Aug, which *might* have been related to Hurricane Irene, one other extremely
interesting passerine record has surfaced. Today I saw images of a GREAT
KISKADEE which was photographed aboard a ship in New York Harbor on 28 Aug,
the day of Hurricane Irene's passage. With no other well-documented East
Coast records, this bird does seem likely to have been the result of Irene.
Kiskadees are introduced to and common on Bermuda, so perhaps the storm
displaced a restless bird to New York. Either way, it should remind us to
keep our eyes out and to get out birding this week. [I would not draw a
hurricane connection for the Yellow-green Vireo, especially since it is
molting ad may have been present for some time...but I wouldn't necessarily
rule it out either!]

Of perhaps even more interest, is the fact that I have now heard of four
separate sightings of large swifts on the East Coast in the week following
Hurricane Irene. It seems likely that these all may have been Caribbean
Black Swift, given the track of the Hurricane and the tentative
identification of the Cape May swift as that taxon. These birds may have all
moved back south already, but it would behoove us all to visit known swift
roosts, watch any migrating swifts, swallows, and nighthawks (see below)
carefully, and to generally keep the possibility of a large swift species
mind when birding. Look up, and be alert!

The sightings I have heard of are as follows:
1. Photographed at Cape May, NJ, 28 Aug 2011: Very likely a Black
Swift, and presumed Caribbean given storm's track.
2. Glimpsed over the Hudson River, seen form Manhattan, 28 Aug 2011.
Impression was of "large swift"
3. One seen well moving south with nighthawks (!) at Herman Covey WMA,
Hampshire Co., by Larry T, on 1 Sep 2011. I hope Larry does not mind
me sharing this very interesting sighting. See
4. Two seen by a very reliable observer at James Island, Charleston, SC, in
direct comparison with Chimney Swifts, 30 Aug 2011. Suspected of being Black
Places to check might be any known areas of swift/swallow concentrations
(Great Meadows NWR and Cumberland Farms come to mind), any Chimney Swift
roosts, and any migration spots like Pilgrim Heights, Lot 1 at Plum Island,
or any hawkwatch or ridgeline where nighthawks move. That Larry Therrien's
bird was moving with nighthawks is extremely interesting I think.

Let us all know immediately if you see such a bird. Documenting and
conclusively identifying any large swift will be a real challenge and the
quicker the word gets out the better!


Marshall Iliff

I hope a few more sightings turn up and some positive identifications can be made on these 'large swift species'.  Perhaps all of them have already moved on but there is always a chance a few are still around somewhere on the east coast.

1 comment:

  1. We live in Sullivan IN - the last 2 days there have been several large swallow looking birds feeding on insects. They are not afraid of cats,dogs, or humans as they will fly right beside us to eat. They are gray colored with white bands on their wings making sounds similar to a barn swallow. Looked like this evening they might even have a little yellow on their bellies. Last night they flew very low to the ground tonight they were flying more around the level of the top of the house. The regular birds that we have are afraid of them. The minute they show up the smaller birds set on the electric lines.