Rare bird sightings

Perhaps none. The whooping crane and the California condor are rare also because they are few in number. I have never seen a live ivory-billed woodpecker and, further, I never expect to see one. I have seen live whooping cranes, in winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge along the coast of Texas, at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in winter in New Mexico, though none winter there anymore, and one, last spring, incredibly, in northwest Indiana near the Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area.

Ivory-billed woodpecker, whooping crane and California condor are rare because they are few in number. The ivory-bill may be less than few, it may be gone, extinct. A black-necked stilt in Indiana, a pine flycatcher in Texas is rare because it’s out of its normal range.

To a birder, seeing a rare bird, whether it’s rare because it is few in number or because it is out of its normal range, is a special occasion, a time and a place that will be remembered. But seeing the bird, recognizing it, naming it isn’t enough for most birders. The sighting must be confirmed.

To do that the bird must be photographed or it must be seen by other birders.

After my wife and I spotted the black-necked stilt in Indiana last spring we hurried home and I phoned two other birders. One went to the sight immediately after I called. I returned and met her there. The stilt was gone. The other birder I called went to the place the next morning with several other birders. They saw not one but two black-necked stilts and got a good photograph. Thus our stilt sighting was confirmed. Nobody could doubt it.

I’ve seen other rare birds, all but whooping cranes rare by reason of range.

I once saw a western kingbird in New York State.  I saw American black-backed and three-toed woodpeckers in South Dakota. I saw an Arctic loon and a black-legged kittiwake at a lake in north-central Indiana. I saw a clay-colored robin, a white-throated robin, a flame-colored tanager and a northern beardless-tyrannulet in southern Texas.

Were all my sightings of rare birds confirmed? Most of them, but not all. I was alone when I saw the three-toed woodpecker and, though I told others about it, I never heard from anybody else who found the bird. Only my wife was with me when I saw the beardless-tyrannulet. But even though I have no confirmation, you believe me, don’t you?

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