July is hot. And humid. And July can also be downright buggy. So perhaps it is understandable why July is the month with fewer people participating in eBird than any other month. There are also fewer checklists submitted on an average day in July than any other day of the year. But July provides fascinating birding — perhaps some of the most interesting birding of the year. Many species are already on the move, with adult shorebirds moving in large numbers. In the West, molt migrants are headed to West Mexico where monsoonal moisture produces an abundance of food. Dispersing landbirds elsewhere can provide unexpected surprises. Herons, egrets and other wading birds disperse northward. Juvenile raptors also disperse in large numbers, although such movements are rarely appreciated by birders. So this month, we challenge you to submit 50 checklists. If you do, you will be eligible for this month’s eBirder of the month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optic. Our winner will be drawn from eBirders who submit at least 50 complete checklists this month (July 2014). Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month. Read on to find out more.
Looking for ideas of what to do this July?
We asked our regional editors for some tips on what to do this July.
- Watch for migrant shorebirds. Many editors commented on the magnitude of shorebird migration in July, from common species making big pushes south to rarities like Red-necked Stint, Little Stint, Ruff and Curlew Sandpiper. There is no better month to find stints, in part because adults are still in breeding plumage making them much easier to find and identify. Some recent Red-necked Stints include July 2013, Los Angeles, CA, June 28 1995 Santa Barbara, CA, and 19 July Clatsop County, OR. It is perhaps surprising to some at how early shorebirds arrive en mass in South America. Consider this checklist from Iquitos, Peru where there were already 170 Buff-breasted Sandpipers and 220 Pectoral Sandpipers by 5 September.
- Look for stray herons. After hatching, many juvenile herons and egrets wander north. July and August are two of the best months to find wandering herons, Wood Stork, and Roseate Spoonbills.
- Look for so-called “vagrant breeders” at the edge of a species’ range. Species like Dickcissel, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, southern warblers like Prothonotary, Hooded, and Kentucky, Blue Grosbeak, Clay-colored Sparrow, and a number of others are regularly “testing” the edges of their ranges. Others are on a long-term population expansion–including Mottled Duck, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Neotropic Cormorant, Glossy and White-faced Ibises, Black-necked Stilt, and Mississippi Kite–and should be expected to continue marching to new areas. Make sure someone is there to witness it if one of these species attempts to nest out-of-range in your area.
- Little Gulls in Wisconsin. There have been at least 11 Little Gulls along the Manitwoc County lakefront of Lake Michigan. Amar Ayyash has a great blog post here. And a link to a checklist with photos.
- Watch for seabirds. On either coast, July is a great time for seabirds. Many southern hemisphere breeders–like Great, Sooty, Pink-footed, and Buller’s Shearwaters, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, and others can be found at this season. Southbound migrants of other species, like Sabine’s Gull, may begin in July. Along the Pacific coast, some of the most exceptional alcid records for California have come from July. To quote the superb “Rare Birds of California” (available online here) edited by Robb Hamilton, Michael Pattern, and Dick Erickson, “California’s four most unusual alcid records—two of the Crested Auklet, one of Kittlitz’s Murrelet, and this one—all fall between 15 June and 16 August.” Check out their accounts for Least Auklet, Kittlitz’s Murrelet, and Crested Auklet if you need a reason to check a Pacific beach near you! And remember that Pacific alcids may no longer be limited to the Pacific basin, with the continued Arctic thawing; this Tufted Puffin was recently photographed in Maine!
- Watch for hummingbirds. Young hummingbirds are off the nest and hummingbird feeders are abuzz nationwide at this month. Migration is well underway for Rufous Hummingbird, and Calliope, Broad-tailed, and straggling Allen’s (most Allen’s migrate even earlier!) may be found. Vagrant western hummingbirds may start turning up in the East by mid-July, and several Green Violet-ear records are form this month.
- Bird Colorado’s Reservoirs. For years, July birding in Colorado has equated with first state records. In fact, Duane Nelson found three first state records in the month of July in just five years! Check out this list: Royal Tern (1997); Curlew Sandpiper (1998; okay, we admit it was found 30 June, but it remained until 1 July); and Black Skimmer (2001) Incidentally, Colorado’s 3rd Royal Tern was found 29 July 2012. More recently Steve Mlodinow photographed Cave Swallow in northeast Colorado, which provided the state with the first CBRC accepted record. But it isn’t just first state records. Check out this checklist from three days earlier that included an odd mix of Greater White-fronted Goose, American Golden-Plover and nesting Red-eyed Vireos.
- Find a first state record! It’s not just Colorado. The combination of dispersal and migration with little birding activity makes, July a prime month to find a 1st state record. Some highlights include: Wisconsin’s first Neotropic Cormorant present much of July 2011 and Fulvous Whistling-Duck 3 July 1989; Elegant Tern in New York, 3 July 2013 (nice discussion here and checklists here and here); Brown-chested Martin in Connecticut 1 Jul 2006; Bulwer’s Petrels in California and North Carolina. Two Coney Island megas for New York are July surprises that are hard to forget: Western Reef-Heron and Gray-hooded Gull. Not in July, but almost in July, was one of the more remarkable East Coast records: this female Williamson’s Sapsucker on Long Island. Team eBird’s most memorable July find was this one, a first state record for California.
- Ted Floyd also has a great blog post on the joys of July birding. Of course, each one of his examples has been eBirded.
Do your best to submit 50 checklists and who knows, you may just win the ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42! But more importantly, you’ll be contributing to our understanding of what makes July so fun.
Each month we will feature a new eBird challenge and set of selection criteria. The monthly winners will each receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular and a selection of books from another great eBird sponsor, Princeton University Press.
Carl Zeiss Sports Optics is a proven leader in sports optics and is the official optics sponsor for eBird. “Carl Zeiss feels strongly that by partnering with the Cornell Lab we can provide meaningful support for their ability to carry out their research, conservation, and education work around the world,” says Mike Jensen, President of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, North America. “The Cornell Lab is making a difference for birds, and from the highest levels of our company we’re committed to promoting birding and the Lab’s work, so there’s a great collaboration. eBird is a truly unique and synergistic portal between the Lab and birders, and we welcome the opportunity to support them both.”
Princeton University Press publishes many of the best books about birds and natural history, including the popular new “Warbler Guide” from Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle. “We are delighted to be able to support the Cornell Lab’s innovative and ambitious range of programs in science and conservation,” says Robert Kirk at PUP. “The rapid expansion of eBird has had a major impact on our understanding of bird populations and movements in North America and beyond, and is a testament to the Lab’s commitment to game-changing citizen science.”