Let's go back to 2004 and play a little game. If you were a birder in Utah at that time, or for that case any number of western states, it is very likely that you had never seen a Glossy Ibis
on your home turf. I can't independently verify dates, but here is what I found for first records: Wyoming (July 2005), Nevada (May 2009), Idaho (June 2005), and Arizona (April 2008).
My first Utah Glossy Ibis, April 2007
The dates above are from information available on the Internet, but may not represent first reports. Colorado and New Mexico had already recorded Glossy Ibis
more than a decade earlier from the east side of the Rockies so I did not include them above. Montana appears to have a single report from 2004
, and Washington from 2005
. Oregon is seemingly the only Pacific state without a record. California is of course the anomaly, as with many other sightings of eastern species they had numerous prior to 2004.
Most Utah birders probably didn't have Glossy Ibis on their radar in 2004, it was a species associated with the east, and even with some westward expansion, a giant mountain range was separating them from our fair state. I know a lot of birders keep wish lists of birds they hope will eventually show up in state, or that might be here and have gone undetected for years due to small populations, or hard to reach habitat, or a general lack of scientific understanding of distribution. But I personally didn't have Glossy Ibis
on my list, I had seen them on the east coast, and associated them that way.
Glossy Ibis in Salt Lake County, 2008
Fast forward to 2006 and out of nowhere the dam broke. Overnight Utah went from 0 reports of this species to at least 3 separate sightings in the month of June. And then again in 2007, 2008, 2009... To the point that now this species that less than a decade ago had not been reported in Utah, was now almost expected
annually. So what happened?
Glossy Ibis at Bear Lake, 2010
Did the numbers of Glossy Ibis across the nation rise? Did the populations expand their ranges further west? Were the birds always there, but due to conventional wisdom went overlooked for years? Were birders better? Were birders paying more attention or even looking for these birds? Maybe a combination of factors? Something changed in 2006 in Utah, which of the states mentioned above has seen more reports since these initial finds, than the rest of the states around us (Colorado is about par with us).
Glossy Ibis in Lehi, 2012
Looking back through my own reports, I have had Glossy Ibis
every year back to 2007, with the exception of 2009. I will be the first to admit that prior to the first report in 2006, I hadn't spent very much time scanning flocks of ibis in hopes of turning up a Glossy. But since then, rarely do I see a flock that I don't give the twice over just to make sure one is sandwiched into the group. How many birders fall into that category?
I would imagine quite a few are in the same boat. What about being better birders? We all get better each year, without a doubt skills improve as we hone them in. And that may play into finding rare birds--in that if you are looking, or know what, and when to look for certain things, you are more likely to find them.
Utah's first ever Western Gull, Farmington Bay 2007
I have my doubts that the birds were always there, just mixed in unnoticed. It is possible, but I would guess that it more has to do with some type of expansion than just being overlooked for so long. Combine that with more ardent observers and the increase in sightings makes sense. The same could be said for a number of other species. Dare I suggest Western Gull
? A bird that before 2006 had never been confirmed away from the coastal states
, and now is expected during the winter on the Great Salt Lake. What about Lesser Black-backed Gull
? Their expansion may be one of the most dramatic from east to west, and as with the above it is now expected every winter. How about Neotropic Cormorant
? Why is a bird that 5 short years ago never showed up away from the the southern borders is now popping up all over the country, and in some places even apparently breeding?
Count them--6 Neotropic Cormorants
in Salt Lake County in May 2010
The list could go on. The reasons may be varying, and truthfully, I don't think anyone can pinpoint the exact reason for many of these presumed "expansions". I think the one thing the majority of birders can agree on is that the sharing of information is far more extensive now than a decade ago. This makes learning about birds, patterns, migration, distribution, etc, easier than it used to be, and with more people armed with knowledge about these subjects it can only help in making us better and more informed birders. It's not just a hobby where retirees (no offense intended) spend their morning walking around the parks admiring the ducks. Birding has become more scientific and more mainstream than it was when I was growing up. The leaps and bounds of the last decade will probably seem minuscule with what happens in the next ten years. I guess I'll have to look back then and see how things have changed even more. The only question is,what birds will I be using as examples then?
Labels: commentary, distribution, divers, gulls, rare birds, vagrant, waders