Saturday, May 29, 2010

May 29: West Meets East

And I'm not talking about the Asian-style dinner we ate tonight at the Trailing Yew, either. My husband and I are out on Monhegan Island for the long weekend, birding with our friend Brian. As is usual during this holiday weekend during spring migration, we ran into many fellow birders while traipsing around the island today. Of course we ask what people have been seeing so we have an idea of what we should be looking for. One of the first "good bird" rumors we heard was that someone (a non-birder) had supposedly photographed a bird at Lobster Cove this morning that was later identified as a Western kingbird. No one we ran into had seen this bird, so we were skeptical. But also hopeful.

Western kingbirds are rare in the entire Eastern half of the US, with the exception of wintering populations in southern Florida. If you hit the plains of West Texas, you'll find one on every fence post--a pretty, grey flycatcher with a yellow wash on its belly. But here in New England--not so much. Hardly at all, in fact. In the East, we have our very own Eastern kingbirds, a black bird with a clean white belly that right now seems to be migrating through in numbers. Early today we observed maybe half a dozen of them darting about the Meadow, the island wetland / water supply. But no Western. And no one else who had seen one either.

Until late afternoon just before dinner, when a birder we knew came running up the hill waving her arms at us. The Western kingbird was in the Meadow right now! We jogged down the road until we reached the knot of birders all peering intently into the tall grass, where a couple of Eastern kingbirds were flitting about. Another birder we knew said the Western had been seen about 20 minutes ago--her husband kindly showed us some photos--but it seemed to be lying low in the weeds. We all waited about ten more minutes in a rather festive mood--as if waiting for a parade--when our patience was finally rewarded: the Western kingbird flew up to perch on a wire fence in perfect, full view of all of us. Even better, an Eastern kingbird then flew up to perch a couple of feet away. Western and Eastern, side by side (at least till the Western decided to chase off the Eastern). That's the kind of moment that makes birding on Monhegan so wonderful.

Western kingbird (left) and Eastern kingbird (right). Photo by Brian Willson.

Western meets Eastern
kingbird--this offshore island's
bird magic made real.

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