Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Brown-chested Martin in MA, mega rarity
We just got back from Cumberland Farms, Halifax, MA where we saw the Brown-chested Martin (Progne tapera) a very rare bird, initially discovered on Monday, the 12th, by Marshall Iliff and Jeremiah Trimble.
This is only the 6th record of its occurrence in North America. This bird normally lives in much of South America. Those birds of this species that live in the northern part of its range are not very migratory. The population of this species that lives in the southern part of its range, called the subspecies fusca (Progne tapera fusca), is an austral migrant to northern South America. This subspecies is the bird we saw, confirmed by the presence of the dusky marks down the center of the breast below the chest band, which helps distinguish it from the nominate race. It was identified as a juvenile by the pale tips to wing coverts.
This subspecies may be extending its wintering range and has been seen in Panama and Costa Rica. On rare occasions, it has migrated much farther, showing up in North America, and first was seen from Monomoy Island, Massachusetts on June 12, 1983. Another was seen in Cape May, New Jersey from November 6th to 15th, 1997. There are sight records of it appearing in Connecticut and Florida, and also, with photo, from Arizona's Patagonia Lake.
We were lucky to see this Brown-chested Martin, and so were scores of other birders some who had come from as far away as Ohio. Cumberland Farms is an IBA (Important Bird Area) with extremely large area of farm fields with dirt roads, in southern Mass. There were many other swallows feeding over the fields when we arrived, including Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows, Tree Swallows and Bank Swallows, with which you might confuse the martin since, like a Bank Swallow, it has a brown chest band. About 2:30 pm (we had been there since about 1:30) the Brown-chested Martin came into view. Yeah!!! Collective happiness from all who were waiting.
It was immediately apparent that it was larger (6 1/2" long, about the size of a small Purple Martin) and flew differently, than the other swallows.
Here's a very distant photo, blown up, of it gliding up over the tree tops. Notice how it's holding its wings, in this instance, in a downward V-like position as it glided – very unlike the other swallows that were there.
In addition to the thrill of seeing the martin, we also had a great time seeing old friends. Here's Don talking to Scott, another NH birder, like us, who came down to see the martin.
For additional wonderful photos of the martin, by other photographers, go here.