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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

More material relating to the West Country MEXICAN HOUSE FINCH occurrence

Neil Alford (of North Norfolk, and one of the UK's leading listers) has very kindly provided me with this very detailed essay on Mexican House Finch occurrence and status in Florida......

''Lee, I have been taking a look at records of HOUSE FINCH (from hereon referred to as HF) from the lower part of Florida. There are some other records from the lower bit of Florida but they are few and far between but there are a couple of interesting records...

This record I thought was of particular note is from the tip of the most southerly county -Monroe - and appears to represent the only record.........

House Finch 1 May 2009

Location...Fort Zachary Taylor historic NP Key West (next stop south is Cuba at 97 miles).
I checked out the length of the Keys from the mainland (Key Largo) out to Fort Zachary and following the road it would be in excess of 100m (and as the HF flies 94miles). There are several considerable expanses of open water following the route which are covered by causeways however one of the longer ones is 14 miles in length. I have been unable to find any records of HF on the Keys themselves. The record begs the question about which direction was the HF going...early May in the company of common migrants moving N would suggest a similar direction but from where. Similarly if it was moving south in May why would it attempt so many open water crosiings (perhaps if HF are reluctant to cross water it could have walked across all the causeways)? However, we know from previous correspondence that there is a record of one up to 20 Nautical miles off New Jersey.

I have provided a map above of the geographical location of the Keys and Fort Zachary is the last point before making a sea crossing. It is also a migration hot spot.

Here is another record I found......2 , 29 sept 2009 at Bill Braggs Cape Florida State Park which is at Key Biscay off shore SE Miami.

I have also been able to obtain the maximum daily counts from every east coast State over the last 10 years which highlights some interesting information..............

Cape May, New Jersey...3000 ..31 Oct 2006 (this is an incredible number moving with other migrants)
1000... 17 Nov 2008
300....17 Nov 2007
250....26 Oct 2009 for example on this day the following movement of migrants were also noted....
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker X
Western Kingbird 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 20
Tree Swallow 1000
Barn Swallow 10
Carolina Chickadee 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
Brown Creeper 1
Carolina Wren 4
Golden-crowned Kinglet 5
Eastern Bluebird 10
Hermit Thrush 5
American Robin 3800
Gray Catbird 2
Northern Mockingbird 5
European Starling 300
American Pipit 200
Cedar Waxwing 75
Yellow-rumped Warbler X
Blackpoll Warbler X
Common Yellowthroat 3
Eastern Towhee 2
Chipping Sparrow 10
Savannah Sparrow 5
Song Sparrow 25
Swamp Sparrow 25
White-throated Sparrow 20
White-crowned Sparrow 5
Dark-eyed Junco 5
Northern Cardinal 3
Red-winged Blackbird 4000
Eastern Meadowlark 40
Rusty Blackbird 5
Common Grackle 70
Boat-tailed Grackle 20
Brown-headed Cowbird 100
Purple Finch 10
House Finch 250
American Goldfinch 100
House Sparrow 20
Another location showing significant fall counts is.....................
Lighthouse Point,Newhaven,Connecticut...opp Long Island (20m south across water)

1600 ...... 27 Oct 2008
1400....... 22 Oct 2007
240....... 30 Oct 2006
340........31 Oct 2005
220...... 1 Nov 2004
70..........6 Oct 2003
140.........28 Oct 2002
180...... .22 Oct 2001

I have checked all the other eastern States and Mid-West States maximum numbers but all are low hundreds apart from 413 @ a farm in Maryland on 13/1/08 ....319 in Maine 19/12/09...210 in Virginia 9/10/07.
On the Northern shore of Lake Ontario (New York State) 170 on 3/10/09. There is a banding study from the Mid West showing many recoveries ...I have checked several of the longer trips which I make 679m, 648m, 617m, 591m and 516m.

I presume these birds were merely controlled at fixed locations and may well not represent the maximum distance they could have travelled. I gather weather and feeding in winter is an issue as several commentators reckon numbers reduce considerably during the winter although they are also considered to be capable of managing to feed in severe weather (feeding stations clearly helping). Makes you wonder in bad winters how far south these birds move..The often quoted record is Long Island , New York to Gastonia,N Carolina (on the S Carolina border) which is 560m.

Back to Florida.......................

It seems clear they move about and probably some distance. The next country for the one at Key West wishing to continue going S /or coming from S would have been Cuba and if it found the 97m too much could have dropped onto one of the many ships passing enroute from the Gulf states to Europe.
A supporting cast at Fort Zachary on 1 May 2009...follows. (the date interestingly very similar to the Lands End record).

Here is a list of the other birds recorded ' Fort Zachary on May 1st...

Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica 2
Gray Catbird - Dumetella carolinensis 1
Northern Mockingbird - Mimus polyglottos 2
Northern Parula - Parula americana 5
Cape May Warbler - Dendroica tigrina 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler - Dendroica caerulescens 7
Yellow-throated Warbler - Dendroica dominica 1
Prairie Warbler - Dendroica discolor 1
Palm Warbler - Dendroica palmarum 5 all western race
Blackpoll Warbler - Dendroica striata 6
Black-and-white Warbler - Mniotilta varia 8
American Redstart - Setophaga ruticilla 8
Worm-eating Warbler - Helmitheros vermivorum 1
Indigo Bunting - Passerina cyanea 1
Common Grackle - Quiscalus quiscula 8
I have also been looking at shipping traffic off of the east coast and the Keys...
This map indicates the actual ship movements a few days ago around the Florida Keys for ships from the Gulf of Mexico to Europe.

You will see from the index that passenger ships travel much closer to Key West and they can make the trip across to UK waters in just 7 days and as stowaways birds have feeding opportunities on these ships.

Also incidentally 2 HF recorded at Fort Lauderdale on 3 January 2010 which is a major port for Cruise ships which also travel across to the UK...a recent crossing was to Cork, Cardiff and Southampton...

So to try and put all this into some perspective, it seems East coast and mid west HF clearly move about and at two locations there are some significant numbers during some falls and in association with other migrants. The records from the tip of Florida Keys last May also raises a few questions as does the opportunities from the east coast and Florida for ship assistance. I have been monitoring shipping movements from this area on a daily basis and there are endless movements of ships to all parts of the UK on a frequent basis.

Finally I offer this information in the spirit of trying to help move the issue forward but I have no desire to become involved in a lengthy and bitter debate which appears to have taken place from what I have viewed on various forums on the internet.


Neil Alford''