Video! Couch’s Kingbird – Allegany County, Maryland

With CBC season on the horizon, this reminds me of an old saying by one of my favorite compilers. “Any yellow birds?? Anything yellow on a Christmas Bird Count is a good bird!”

This is a very improbable bird. What we have here is Maryland’s first record of Couch’s Kingbird (Tyrannus couchii). While November is historically a fantastic month for finding rarities in the Mid-Atlantic region, the weather we’ve had since this bird was found on November 11th must be a challenge for this guy! We’ve had some nights under 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Today it climbed above 40, but we’ve had entire days that were sub-freezing. Yet the bird survives. (So far…) It seems to roost in large, dense spruce trees near a pond, and then it ventures up Evitts Creek hunting insects.

The other thing making this bird so improbable is its location–far out in the Panhandle of the state. It was found near Cumberland and first identified as the nearly identical (and formerly conspecific) Tropical Kingbird (T. melancholicus). Maryland has one record of Tropical Kingbird, near the southern boundary of the Eastern Shore. The Tropical was found in Somerset County, Maryland, on December 27, 2006. I have a personal history with that bird, having chased it unsuccessfully with Tom Johnson on New Years Day 2007. It was a dreary and inglorious day.

Today was a different story! I woke up early (but not too early) and drove a mere 50 miles from my house in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, to get to this bird. There were lots of birders already on the scene, and some had gotten a glimpse of it on its way from the spruce trees over to Evitts Creek. In pursuit, we walked down the road and tried heading it off at the pass by waiting at the bridge for it to travel past us up the stream. The strategy worked, and Nick Flanders and Elisa Enders Flanders were the first to spot the bird. (Always awesome seeing folks from my time in Virginia!)

This goes on my list of rare birds that I’ve seen ALMOST in Pennsylvania. In fact, I measured. It was less than 2.0 miles (as the flycatcher flies) south of the Mason-Dixon line. So close! (No offense, Maryland.)