For a lot of birders throughout the US, 2023 was pretty much as good because it will get. Rarities turned up across the nation, from a spate of Roseate Spoonbills in northern states to a Red-footed Booby greater than 100 miles inland in North Carolina. An Anhinga and a Black-chinned Hummingbird took a chunk out of the Huge Apple, whereas an arctic-dwelling Ross’s Gull swung south to see Chicago. A few of this yr’s shocking sightings match into well-documented tendencies, like the continuing Limpkin growth (extra on that under!) or the northern wandering of South American species in El Niño years, like the US’ first recorded Grey Gull (additionally under!). Others are outliers that mysteriously simply popped as much as shock ornithologists and birders alike—thrilling reminders that regardless of the place you reside, you by no means know what you would possibly discover proper exterior your door.
As we put together to welcome a brand new yr, revisit among the most enjoyable sightings and birdiest moments of the previous twelve months.
SoCal’s Snowy Owl
Southern Californians rang in 2023 with a really sudden visitor: a Snowy Owl. The arctic species can typically be discovered throughout the winter in northern states and all through the Northeast—particularly throughout irruption years—however are exceedingly uncommon to date south. The chook was first noticed within the space in mid-November 2022 and rapidly precipitated a stir. Hypothesized to be a younger feminine who dramatically overshot her first migration south (although some suspected an escape or launch from captivity was extra doubtless), the hanging owl settled in an Orange County suburb, simply south of Los Angeles, for a number of weeks earlier than flying off in late January.
An especially uncommon snowy owl made a shock look in suburban Southern California. What introduced it to Cypress, about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles, stays a thriller and the topic of impassioned debate amongst chook watchers and curious neighbors. https://t.co/7UJXIUjtFB pic.twitter.com/EkfQp8tlyP
— The New York Instances (@nytimes) December 31, 2022
Return of the Steller’s Sea-Eagle
Scientists estimate there are solely round 4,000 Steller’s Sea-Eagles on the earth. If you wish to catch of glimpse of the huge raptor (females can weigh as much as 15 kilos with an 8-foot wingspan), you’ll must journey to coastal Siberia, Korea, or northern Japan. Otherwise you would possibly attempt New England. In the summertime of 2020, a single sea-eagle crossed the Bering Sea to Alaska and spent the next year winging east (doubtless even detouring to Texas). After hitting the east coast, the traveler settled down for 3 months in Maine, drawing crowds and towering over the native Bald Eagles, earlier than heading north into Canada. To birders’ delight, the Steller’s Sea-Eagle returned to Maine in February 2023. Might the visits turn out to be an annual occasion? It appears attainable: The well-known vagrant, last seen in Canada, seems to be sticking round on the east coast.
It is referred to as a “twice in a lifetime” expertise alongside the Midcoast. An especially uncommon chook from Russia has been noticed as soon as once more close to Georgetown and it virtually actually is identical one. 🦅
— CBS 13 Information (@WGME) February 7, 2023
Arguably the most important chook occasion of the yr, a “Pink Wave” unfold throughout the US this September as American Flamingos blown astray by Hurricane Idalia confirmed up in shocking locations. Dozens of the enduring waders landed in Florida, the place they had been as soon as a fixture however haven’t had a breeding inhabitants since the 19th century. The leggy pink birds additionally turned up far exterior their historic stomping grounds. Flamingos appeared in not less than a dozen states, together with a flock of 11 in North Carolina and five in Tennessee. A number of states had their first-ever recorded look of the birds, together with Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Whereas many of the storm-blown birds have returned south, some have caught round Florida, elevating hopes for the flamingo’s reestablishment.
🦩Flamingo replace!🦩The ‘Idalia flamingos’ are on the transfer, making waves yesterday after they appeared in Wisconsin for the primary time in recorded historical past!#FlamingoUpdate #IdaliaFlamingos #ABCBirds #BirdNews #WisconsinFlamingo #GreatLakesFlamingo #AmericanFlamingo pic.twitter.com/gQL782vEcl
— American Chook Conservancy (@ABCbirds) September 26, 2023
March of the Limpkins
Though they garnered fewer headlines, one other tropical species additionally popped up in unlikely locales. This one, although, seems to be persevering with what chook consultants consider to be an ongoing vary growth. Limpkins hail, traditionally, from the neotropics, however for the final a number of years these brown wetland birds with mottled plumage have been edging northward, maybe following the unfold of the invasive apple snail they favor. This yr introduced sightings in Colorado, New Jersey, and even Nova Scotia, Canada.
— donnamcknight (@donnamc80950014) November 16, 2023
A tanager touches down
There’s a robust case to be made that probably the most thrilling place to chook in 2023 was…Wisconsin! The state hosted the aforementioned flamingos and Limpkins together with rarities like a Painted Redstart and a Band-tailed Pigeon. However among the many largest surprises was a sunny yellow feminine Flame-colored Tanager that arrived in Could, a primary for the state and much north of any earlier U.S. sightings of the fiery hued songbird, which usually ranges in Mexico and Central America.
— Uncommon Chook Alert (@rbabox) April 30, 2023
Tern will get high billing in Florida
Giant-billed Terns—and their actually astounding, must-be-seen-to-be-believed oversize yellow payments—had been noticed in the US simply 3 times earlier than this yr, and the final sighting was in 1988. That made it all of the extra exceptional that not one however two Large-billed Terns were spotted in different Florida counties on the primary of June, removed from their South American residence. A minimum of one of many birds determined to increase the holiday, with sightings persevering with into December.
TWO MEGA rarities of the identical species had been found in South Florida simply someday other than one another! David Simpson and Monica Higgins, each individually, found a Giant-billed tern within the first week of June. pic.twitter.com/tEq4uEcGGF
— Florida Ornithological Society (@FOSBirds) June 16, 2023
A Grey Gull within the Sunshine State
Simply three months after the Giant-billed Terns visited Florida, one other South American rover got here calling. A Gray Gull scored some beach time within the Florida Panhandle, apparently holding its personal amid a crowd of squabbling Laughing Gulls. The seabird breeds within the Chilean excessive desert and spends the remainder of the yr on the west coast of South America; the Florida jaunt marked the species’ first recorded look in the US. Gull experts have suggested that northward wandering is very doubtless in El Niño years like 2023.
The primary confirmed Gray Gull for the US has been found in western Florida: https://t.co/awbnRlNGPQ
— BirdGuides (@BirdGuides) September 12, 2023
One very misplaced auk
Murrelets—family of puffins, Dovekies, and, sure, murres—elevate their younger largely at sea. The youngest Historical Murrelets take to the waves as quickly as someday after hatching and spend most of their lives within the Pacific Ocean. Even so, the species is an everyday vagrant within the inside of the nation, although the arrival of 1 notably out-of-place particular person in Tennessee this fall precipitated a stir. The murrelet stayed placed on a Chattanooga lake for greater than per week, charming birders who got here to admire the auk.
When a pair of Lobelville, Tennessee, brothers heard in regards to the first-ever sighting of an historic murrelet diving chook from the Pacific Coast in Tennessee, they had been on the chase of a lifetime midway throughout the state with a clock ticking its method to sundown. https://t.co/DuYv5kxkCP
— Instances Free Press (@TimesFreePress) November 29, 2023
Irruption from the western pines
This yr noticed a trio of pine forest dwellers roaming far past their ordinary high-altitude haunts within the western mountains. Probably resulting from poor pine seed crops, irruptions of Pinyon Jays, Clark’s Nutcrackers, and Pygmy Nuthatches led to sightings all through the United State and Canada. Most notably, a flock of Pinyon Jays appeared in low-lying Los Angeles, whereas Clark’s Nutcrackers had been seen within the Nevada desert, Texas mountains, and that 2023 birding hotspot: Wisconsin. Of the three, the Pygmy Nuthatch is the least more likely to rove too far—however one particularly intrepid particular person made its method to Saskatchewan.
— Dexter Patterson (Wisco Birder) 📷👐🏾🖤 (@wiscobirder) October 22, 2023
A southern neighbor’s first go to
The Blue-black Grassquit is a standard species in its residence vary from northern Argentina to Mexico, even breeding a mere 300 miles south of the U.S. border. And but the small songbird had by no means been seen in the US—until this year, when an inky black male visited southern Arizona.
A giant week in Texas
To not be outdone by the grassquit, one other first-time customer to the US. landed this fall in Corpus Christi, Texas. Till it was noticed downtown, eating its fill of local insects, a Cattle Tyrant had never been seen north of Panama. The perky flycatcher drew crowds, treating birders to views of its vivid yellow stomach and even a glimpse of the sometimes hid scarlet patch on its crown. However that was simply the pièce de résistance of a whirlwind week of Texas birding, notably alongside the Mexico border: Days earlier than a Texan birder spied a Bare-throated Tiger Heron—solely the third time the species has been seen within the nation—and two Roadside Hawks had been noticed about 50 miles aside. Frequent in a lot of the Neotropics, the raptor had not been seen north of Mexico for the previous 5 years.
Persons are flocking to South Texas to see one thing that’s by no means earlier than been seen in North America: the cattle tyrant, a flycatcher chook native to South America.https://t.co/3EWlGeuvUh
— KUT Austin (@KUT) December 3, 2023
Slipping just below the wire of a exceptional yr of uncommon sightings, yet another extraordinary vagrant despatched birders racing to New Jersey this December. Pink-flanked Bluetails are identified to undertake lengthy migrations, however their travels sometimes take them from their winter vary in East and Southeast Asia to breeding grounds that stretch from Japan throughout Siberia and into Finland. The Previous World flycatcher has reached the US earlier than however by no means additional east than Wyoming. Its sudden, stunning arrival in the Garden State left birders questioning whether or not the traveler had flown over the North Atlantic (perhaps even hitching a experience on a ship) or crossed the continent. We’ll by no means know, however that didn’t diminish the marvel for its many admirers who made their very own sojourn to New Jersey to look at the small chook flit via the leaves and bob its distinctive blue tail.
US birders had been left shocked when information broke of a Pink-flanked Bluetail in a New Jersey neighbourhood earlier this month: https://t.co/FWfzCaRVlO
— BirdGuides (@BirdGuides) December 20, 2023
Right here’s hoping 2024 might be each bit as birdy!