Re: Flying mystery - Anhinga

Brian Fitch

Here are a few findings from some simple on-line research over the past few hours.

Anhinga species (4 world wide), do not seem to be kept regularly in zoos, though there was one in recent years at San Diego's; it may still be there right now.  SF's zoo didn't have one the last time I was there a year ago.  The only SF record for Anhinga was from June 2nd until July 16th, 1939, at Lake Merced.  The CBRC has only one record of Darter, but I also found that the last accepted Anhinga record for the state was the bird that I and many others saw near the Salton Sea in the spring of 2004.  That surprises me, so perhaps I didn't find an updated list, not having spent much time in their database.  Regardless of species, this is an extremely unusual sighting.  No darters on eBird...

It seems to me that the biggest factor suggesting wild provenance, circumstantial though it is, is that we're having so many visitors from the southeastern quadrant of the continent, with the weekend's Mississippi Kite being the other mega, in addition to multiple warblers.  And today's bird showed up in the aftermath of a warm and unusually late storm.

However I end up treating this bird on my personal list, I want to thank Aaron for spotting it and sticking with it until I paid attention.  It's still out there somewhere, so watch the sky, and the surface of any murky non-salt water for a Snakebird's neck and beak.  Adjacent snags too.
Brian Fitch

On Mon, May 18, 2020 at 3:30 PM Brian Fitch <fogeggs@...> wrote:
Just received word that escaped African Darters have been seen in the south state in the past.  I'll leave it to others to consider the likelihood of one making its way up here, or to discover whether it or some other darter species has escaped from a local zoo.  Today's bird was too far away to differentiate between the members of the darter family.

On Mon, May 18, 2020 at 3:13 PM Brian Fitch via <> wrote:

Around 10:30 this morning, Aaron Maizlish and I were standing at the north end of the Fort Scott ball field discussing how to judge the odd weather in regards to where to search for birds.  The wind was sporadic in both speed and direction, and the clouds and humidity were abnormal.  Aaron then picked up on what he thought was a cormorant heading over, and I ignored it, as D-c Cormorants are regular flybys here.  But then he said it was soaring, and that maybe it was an ibis, so I tracked his sight line and spotted the bird.  It was very high, only a speck to the naked eye, it was well south of us, and backlit, but I immediately noted why he was thinking ibis, as the proportions were odd, too long in front and back for any cormorant species.

As it circled into full ventral outline, I fell into shocked silence as I saw that the aft portion of the body did not consist of the gangly legs of an ibis, but was a long fan-shaped tail with tight corners, like a Sharp-shinned, only much bigger.  I could pick up no color at that point, and I asked Aaron if he could try to get a photo on the next circle.  But that was a mistake, as while he was pulling his camera up, he lost sight of the bird, and it broke its kettling and took a line west-southwest toward Baker Beach and maybe Land's End.  I was able to track it as it continued in a long, slowly descending soar, and as it became less backlit, I finally saw some buffy coloring on the front portions.  I can't recall even a single flap of the wings, and did not give adequate attention to their proportions.  In profile it was very clear that the bird was elongated on both ends relative to cormorants, but again, it was distant enough to leave me room for doubt.  But I posted the sighting anyway in case anyone else was watching along its path.

When the bird did not reappear, I pulled out my Sibley and did a little research before writing the second message.  Aaron soon left, and I went over to the Sutro Baths, where only a single cormorant was swimming, and then headed down to the cormorant rookery at Lake Merced.  Only after seeing multiple D-c's fly over me did I feel ready to face the negative energy from the sceptosphere and head for home to write this up.  I also checked other cormorant hangouts around the lake with no further luck. 

Just for background, I have seen many Anhingas in their normal range, two at the Salton Sea years ago, and just this past January, when life was still normal, saw several Oriental Darters in India.  There is one previous record of Anhinga that I know of here in the city, but from very long ago (1930's?).  As always, I am open to respectfully put questions about anything I may have failed to include above.  And Aaron, if you have anything to add or a differing memory, let me know.

I had already been out for hours prior to this sighting, with no shorebirds at all on Ocean Beach (so much for Birdcast!), a single Brant during an early Sutro seawatch, and a few tanagers singing at Dragonfly Creek.  A mother and calf Gray Whale were also highlights on the first Sutro visit.
Brian Fitch

On Mon, May 18, 2020 at 10:59 AM Brian Fitch <fogeggs@...> wrote:

I may be ruining what reputation I have , but I believe we just had an Anhinga soaring south of Ft Scott, quite distant, but showing the classic shape from beneath and then in profile as it broke its circle and flew in the general direction of Land’s End.
It was backlit but appeared to have the Buffy neck of a female.
First spotted by Aaron, but he’s not ready yet to confirm.
Lake Merced may be a good place to look, but the sky might be best.
Brian Fitch

On Mon, May 18, 2020 at 10:35 AM Brian Fitch via <> wrote:
A very strange flight profile just headed sw from ft scottt
Anhinga like soaring
Look up
Brian Fitch

Join to automatically receive all group messages.