A Blue-winged Warbler seen at Newton Hills State Park in South Dakota. Most sources would consider it to be very rare for the area, or an out-of-range vagrant. Thanks to “citizen scientists”, I think our understanding of bird distributions is going to be much improved in the coming years.
I visited Newton Hills State Park this week. It’s a wonderful place to bird, and rarely fails to produce some interesting birds, particularly given that its an oasis of forest in a vast plain of corn and soybeans. While walking along a path I heard what is now a familiar song, a buzzy quiet song that sometimes sounds like half insect, half bird. Soon the source the song popped up on the top of a nearby cedar…a Blue-winged Warbler. I was able to take quite a few decent photos of him before I moved on to find other quarry.
What’s always interesting about that spot in Newton Hills, and that species, is that they’re generally assumed NOT to be there. Oh, among local birders, that particular spot is well known as “the” place to find a Blue-winged Warbler in South Dakota. However, if you look at field guides or other sources of bird information that provide range maps, southeastern South Dakota is either on the very extreme edge of the Blue-winged Warbler’s range, or it’s outside their normal breeding range. Despite that, most years you can find a couple of pairs of Blue-winged Warblers breeding in this corner of Newton Hills State Park.
As always, I recorded the Blue-winged Warbler sighting in eBird, along with all the other birds I saw on that day. If you’re not an eBird user, when you report a “rare” or unusual bird, the software flags it, and makes you enter a bit a detail about the sighting. To further verify the identification, you can upload a photo that you may have taken of the bird. EBird flagged Blue-winged Warbler as rare and unusual for the area, so I added a blurb about the very clear sighting, and also later uploaded a photo to accompany the report.
I’m in the habit now of entering eBird sightings most of the time when I go birding, but I’m still surprised sometimes when eBird flags a sighting as rare and unusual. It does make you realize how incomplete our understanding is for even the most basic of characteristics of a given bird species…where they can be found. There have been a number of times where I’ve casually entered a species in eBird, and have been surprised when eBird has flagged it as rare for the area. Many times, it’s a species I’ve found in that area quite consistently.
I’ve brought up eBird here before, but as I photographed and reported what many sources consider to be a “non-existent” species for this part of the country, it does make you realize the power of “citizen science” and what a massive database such as eBird can do to improve our understanding of bird species distributions, migration timing, etc.