Extraordinary winter rarities. Twice.
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Birders in southeastern PA were treated to two very special gifts during the winter holiday season. On the morning of December 9, 2020, while I was sitting in my sunroom watching chickadees and titmice, a hummingbird zipped by and landed at the still-full nectar feeder. I could immediately see that it was a Selasphorous, but not sure if it was Rufous or Allen’s, as non-breeding females and immatures of the two species are very difficult to tell apart. The bird drank frequently from my feeder, and two days later bander Sandy Lockerman confirmed that it was a mature female Allen’s Hummingbird, as she slipped a tiny silver band on her leg.
Allen’s Hummingbirds are rare winter visitors in Pennsylvania – this was only the 6th state record for the species, and the first record for Delaware County. They breed along the pacific coast from southern Oregon to California, and overwinter in Southern California and central Mexico.
While our Allen’s Hummingbird delighted visitors from our county and state, she could not compete with the next rarity that showed up just days later, and less than 5 miles away – a Tundra Bean-Goose! That one was found on December 16, foraging with a large flock of Canada Geese in a school ballfield. The species breeds across Siberia and northern Scandinavia, overwintering across Central Europe. In the lower 48 states, there are only a handful of Tundra Bean-Goose records, and only one east of the Rocky Mountains. Over the next 5 days the Bean-Goose ranged between several local fields and golf courses, tracked by an eager crowd of birders, including some who jumped onto airplanes to chase this North American rarity. Word spread about the rare Allen’s Hummingbird nearby, and many people were able to see both species within minutes of each other.
On December 19, the 99th Glenolden Christmas Bird Count was conducted with 75 field observers and 19 feeder-watchers dedicating 139 party hours to scouring much of Delaware County. Both the Allen’s Hummingbird and Tundra Bean-Goose became brand-new species for the tally – remarkable additions for a 100+ year long CBC. The Allen’s Hummingbird was not seen again at our feeders after December 19, and the Bean-Goose disappeared the following day.
It was amazing to experience two rare species within 5 miles of each other, on the same 3 days in mid-December, in Delaware County PA. Incredibly, the story didn’t end!
On January 6, birder Peter DeStefano walked out the front door of his row home in East Falls, Philadelphia, and noticed a hummingbird zipping into a tall spruce tree. What are the chances that a hummingbird is seen in the dead of winter, not at a feeder?! He got his camera up quick, and photographed a Selasphorous that looked very similar to the one that spent 11 days in my backyard. Philly birders came running, and soon there were several pics that showed the band on its right leg. Pete quickly setup feeders on his back deck, but this hummingbird appeared infrequently, didn’t come to feeders, and was usually quite high in the tree. People wondered where it went most of the day, when it wasn’t across the street from Pete’s place. In the meantime, brief daily sightings provided more photos to compare to “Allena,” the so-called DelCo bird. Various visual field marks matched. Then the last digit of the band on “Pete’s bird” was matched to Allena. Then the prefix letter became clear, and matched Allena.
On January 11, Peter finally saw the hummingbird at his feeder, and photographed her perched straight-on at close proximity. Peter’s photo, compared with the Allen’s Hummingbird from my backyard, reflects nearly a carbon copy. The field marks and match of two band digits firmly supports that the Philly hummingbird is the same individual Allen’s Hummingbird.
It’s an extraordinary-enough story that the Allen’s Hummingbird found in Delaware County in December 2020, reappeared 10 miles away in Philadelphia, 27 days later. Even more remarkable is that the Tundra Bean-Goose also reappeared in Philadelphia, found on January 9, 2021 along a stretch of the Schuylkill River less than 3 miles from the Allen’s Hummingbird!
Multiple observers – including many of the same people who saw it first in Delaware County – flocked to see the Tundra Bean-Goose once again, this time in Philadelphia.
Both the Allen’s Hummingbird at Pete’s place, and the Tundra Bean-Goose on the Schuylkill River, were counted as brand-new species for the long-running Philadelphia Mid-Winter Bird Census, held on January 9, 2021. These rare birds are being well documented for historical records in southeastern Pennsylvania!
The year 2020 was extraordinary for many reasons. It looks like 2021 is starting with some remarkable stories, too.
Wishing you a happy, birdy New Year!