Townsend’s Solitaire Sighted

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February 23, 2023 by Matt Pelikan

Third Vineyard Record for Townsend’s Solitaire

Vineyard birds enjoyed a blast of wintertime excitement with the discovery, in Correllus State Forest on February 21, 2023, of the island’s third-ever Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi). The bird was found and identified by “Sea” Williams and Bridget Dunnigan, who supplied a report and description to the community science platform eBird. An eBird rare bird report alerted other birders to the sighting, and on February 22, Bob Shriber and Lanny McDowell tracked the bird down near where it had been first found.

Townsend’s Solitaire in flight, Edgartown, Mass., 2/22/23. Photo: Lanny McDowell

A breeding bird of montane habitats in the western United States, Townsend’s Solitaire has a well-established record as a vagrant to the East. The Massachusetts Avian Records Committee has accepted 29 records for the species in the state. One of these, an individual found on October 24, 2007, in Aquinnah by Lanny and Allan Keith, furnished the second generally accepted record for Martha’s Vineyard. Previously, a bird that spent much of the winter of 1981-1982 in West Tisbury established the first record for this species on Martha’s Vineyard. That individual was originally found by Soo Whiting and the late Eleanor Waldron.

Townsend’s Solitaire, Edgartown, Mass., 2/22/23. Photo: Lanny McDowell

As of the creation of this post, we had received no further word of this rarity. But solitaires that are not actively migrating often remain in the same area for quite a while, so there is a decent chance that the bird is still present. A February 22 post by Lanny to the Vineyard Rare Bird Alert Facebook group placed the bird south of the headquarters area in Correllus State Forest, on the east side of Barnes Road; the bird was on the edge of a large, cleared area that contains light pylons for the airport’s VFR landing system. Photos posted on Facebook suggest that it was associating with Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis).

Matt Pelikan is the director of the Martha’s Vineyard Atlas of Life project at BiodiversityWorks. A lifelong birder, he’s a former editor-in-chief of the regional birding journal Bird Observer.