On November 7, 2017, young birders Daniel and Jonathan Irons found a Gray Kingbird on their parent’s Big Water Farm in Queen Anne’s Co., MD. These two young men kept daily tabs on the kingbird and filed daily eBird Checklists for all to see. To the delight of many birders, the Gray Kingbird settled into the farm and with the ease of viewing the farm from the road, the bird became a popular attraction.
On November 24, “Black Friday”, when Christmas shoppers are up early to start their shopping “Big Day”, I decided to make the two hour drive to Bennetts Point Landing to try and see the kingbird, it would be a nice addition to my MD state list.
Gray Kingbird is a fairly common breeding bird along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from Georgia south through Florida and Alabama. It is a rare and sporadic breeder north along the Atlantic to North Carolina and west along the Gulf to Louisiana.
It has a well known established vagrancy pattern north of its breeding range with records as far north to Quebec and west to Texas.
Maryland has eight accepted records of Gray Kingbird. This bird, with all the excellent documentation available, will likely become the ninth. This is the second November record. The other records consist of one from May, three from June, one from July, one from September and one from October.
When I arrived at Big Water Farm, I met two other birders who had been searching the area for about an hour without success. They left soon thereafter and I was joined by another birder who had just driven two hours west from Ocean City, MD where he had success in viewing a vagrant Fork-tailed Flycatcher that had been occurring there for the past few days. We each searched different areas of Bennett Point Rd. There were many possible hunting perches for the kingbird to use with several long post and rail fences, livestock enclosures, small trees etc. throughout the farm. I couldn’t find the Gray Kingbird but had a nice time enjoying several Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, American Pipits and a variety of wintering sparrows.
I happened to look back towards my parked car and saw my fellow birder waving his arms and pointing. I correctly assumed that he had found the Gray Kingbird. The bird was initially at some distance perched on a livestock enclosure and then slowly worked its way closer to our position. From several perches, it was successfully hunting insects by dropping down to the ground and making a capture. I watched the bird for about twenty minutes until it flew across and down the road. I could not relocate it. I was hoping the bird would come closer but that didn’t pan out so I was left with a few so-so images.
My lucky image of the bird in flight showing the open tail with the broken center feather would later provide a clue as to this bird’s wanderings. Jonathan and Daniel Irons last reported the Gray Kingbird at Big Water Farm, Queen Anne’s Co., MD on November 26, 2017.
On November 28, 2017, one of Cape May’s ace birders, Mike Lanzone, spotted a bird flying in over the Delaware Bay. It quickly became apparent to him it was a Gray Kingbird. The bird was later located nearby and multiple photos were obtained. Another of Cape May’s outstanding birders, Tom Johnson, noticed that the Cape May bird showed a broken central tail feather. When he compared the Cape May kingbird image to my image of the Maryland bird, it was determined straightaway to be the same bird. It seems in two days, the Gray Kingbird travelled about 65 miles almost due east from Queen Anne’s Co., MD to Cape May Co., NJ.
The wandering Gray Kingbird was not seen again after November 28, 2017.
If you are interested in further information regarding Gray Kingbird vagrancy, check out this article The Vagrancy of Gray Kingbird by George Armistead and Marshall Iliff from Birding V57(2) 2003.