Thursday, August 21, 2014

Who wants to go to Costa Rica?

I was a little late getting word about this winter's CR trip out so a lot of people already had made plans ... which means I have a couple spots left on an 8 person trip for Jan 25 - Feb 2. 

So the question you have to ask yourself, would you like to see a quetzal?
 How about half a dozen species of highland hummingbird?
Along with a bunch of other birds endemic to the Chiriquí highlands only found in Eastern Costa Rica or Western Panama?

Would you like to see a bunch of mid-elevation tanagers in and around Tapanti National Park?
There's a lot more than tanagers though, for starters about another 10 hummingbirds ...
... and any number of other fun birds.

Finally we'll visit famous Rancho Naturalista.  There's another 10 hummers here.
 And oropendolos. 
And likely Sunbittern and who knows how much more?
All this for a little over $1500, arranged through Costa Rica Gateway.  If you want to comparison shop, here's a very similar tour through Field Guides that's literally twice as expensive.  For full details send me an email (, each of my last 2 trips there (through CR Gateway) have tallied a little over 300 species with 20-30 species of hummingbird each time.  But don't wait too long, I don't have many spots left!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

August darners

Work schedule's been incredibly dense of late and I've barely gotten out.  Last week I went with the kids to Sarett prairie to see what odes were about.  There've been darners in some of the corners at times during the summer and apparently this is the time of year they're most prominent.

Fairly quickly we found some largish colorful ones, though they evaded the net for a firm ID.  Hazel spotted where one landed after I swung at it and I took a few pics of the out-of-reach ode.

I think that based on the pattern of striping on the sides that it's a Green-striped Darner, though Canada Darner is very similar.  It'd be nice to see one in the hand to be certain.  [See comment below about why it's probably neither of those, but Lance-tipped instead].

Next is a Fawn Darner, an ode that's fairly widely distributed in Michigan but that I'd never encountered before.

It remained on the twig we set it on when we let it go long enough for a few more pics.

Finally Hazel with a meadowhawk.  Both girls think it's high humor to release them from their noses.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

the Medium terns in Late Summer

I walked Tiscornia to Jean Klock yesterday without shorebirds of interest, but there were some quite tame terns in with the gulls.  In the spring the terns are fairly flighty, these ones have clearly become accustomed to people.  Which was good since I was having trouble telling them apart from a distance.

The problem is that you don't really think of them as having different plumage in the fall as the spring, but they change enough to be troublesome.  The Common is on the left above and the Forster's on the right.  When I'm up close, the shorter legs and trimmer build of Common stands out.  At the right angle the darker mantle of Common is helpful, but at a lot of sun angles there's not a ton of difference even with direct comparison.  With direct comparison the redder bill and legs of Common is frequently a shade darker in the field than the orange of Forster's

Here's a Forster's showing another problem with fall ID:
 It's either moulting or has broken off its outer tail feathers meaning that the tail falls short of the end of the wings as Common generally does.  In spring Forster's tail will extend an inch past the primaries.

This bird, a little farther along in moulting (as evidenced by the cap) has the tail at the proper length.
The primaries are also noticeably darker in the fall.  Tern primaries have a fine bloom on the feathers which gives fresh feathers a much whiter look.  With that worn off Forster's primaries become medium cold gray at some angles rather than the brighter white of spring.

It varies though, upon both individuals and the angle.

Moving to Common, they also have darker wings than they exhibit in spring, quite blackish when folded.
 The above group are 3 Commons in front (with the front most bird still having grayish underparts and a full cap with the Common on the right being 1 year old) and a longer-legged rangier Forster's in the back.

The primaries aren't as dark in the spread wing than as when folded, which doesn't make it easier to tell them apart.

Finally the one-year old Common's that are present.
The dark carpal bar (which juvies will also show when they arrive) is a dead giveaway that it's a Common.
The (quite faded) one-year-olds are quite pale in flight.
The other ID difference you may have noticed is that a portion of the Common Terns are banded, I didn't see any banded Forster's.
Speaking of which, I added a comment from one of the plover researchers, one of the Piping Plover juvies is from Ludington and one from Sleeping Bear.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Piping plovers

Rhoda found a pair of Piping Plovers at Tiscornia yesterday.  They were still there in the afternoon when I went by.  In the 8 years I've lived here I've seen them exactly every other year.

I was expecting them to be half or 3/4 of a mile north of Tiscornia since that's the area most free of people when the beach is busy.  Instead they were a hundred yards north of the Tiscornia just standing there resting.  I took a couple pics with the SLR but kicked myself for not lugging the scope out to be able to read the bands.  This one has some blue on both legs.

The other one had no blue.
 If they were any other species I'd have crawled up to them on my belly, instead I returned to the car to get the scope.  Beachwalkers got them up and moving about though and only the second one stuck around for me to try to phone-scope it
 The left leg has an orange band with a green circle above the knee with a yellow over orange band on bottom.
I'll do some investigating online and see if their origin is deducible.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

old Long-eared Owl nesting record ...

from Midland ... that's about 20 years old.

I grew up in northern Midland Co and towards the end of high school started exploring the woods behind the house.  I really under-birded it, but at the time with no internet and no mentors didn't really have a clue as to what to look for when.  Internet access in college was pretty helpful though. 

In late May of 98 I was cutting through a section of woods which was 2nd growth forest taking over an orchard with some scattered large white and (I think) Scotch pines when I came across a gray shape resting on a branch.  I didn't see it until I was probably 3 feet away.  My initial impression was that it was the stupidest squirrel in the history of the world and I'd just about decided to backhand it right off the branch on general principle when I realized it was feathered.  I backed up pretty quickly and went back inside for the camera, (this is a digital photo of the photo)...
 The camera even at the time was at least 25 years old so the image quality isn't awesome to say the least.

I found the adults the next day, they were a lot more cautious and flew pretty quickly despite the fact that the "lens" I was using was an equally old Swift telescope.

Somewhere in my childhood house there's a photo of a Varied Thrush we had coming into our feeders one winter; I have no idea when/if I'll relocate it though.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cool Clubtails

If June was for skimmers then July is apparently for clubtails.

A couple days ago Rhoda found Dragonhunter in an inlet off Lake Chapin.  We kayaked out yesterday hoping to net one.  There was a nice species diversity there, with Cyrano Darner, River Cruiser, and 3 species of clubtails among others.  The only one we netted yesterday was Black-shouldered Spinyleg.  One landed on my head at one point; they seemed to like to fly out from the trees to land on horizontal surfaces close to the water's surface.
It's fairly large, almost 6cm long with huge hind legs (apparently they prey on large insects up to medium sized dragonflies).  It looks like a kangaroo.

I glimpsed this next one but missed it yesterday.  When I returned today it was back on the same log.  It was so old it actually didn't bother flying the first time I swept the net an inch or 2 over it.  I had to practically hit it with the rim of the net on the 2nd swing.
It's actually somewhat similarly patterned to the larger spinyleg in that the rear areas of the thorax (body) are fairly lightly patterned.  The arrangement of the partial and full stripes makes it a Unicorn Clubtail.  I'm not sure why it's named that way though.

And finally the bad M-Fer that drew Rhoda back the same time it did me today.  Dragonhunter.  She nabbed it out of the air with a well-timed swing.  All these pics are hers.
 It's a freaking monster, by far the biggest ode I've handled.

I'm not sure where a person goes from here, but it was cool.  I have been to the beach about 4 times in the last week, but so far just willets.  I bet there's more odes out there waiting for discovery though.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hard Odes

I'll be curious to see how I compare the difficulty of identifying Odes with some of the harder species of birds in a few years after more experience.  I'm still at the lug-around-a-Peterson-in-spring-migration phase of odes.  My family's gone camping so I spent most of the day looking for dragonflies.

The two red Trameas are really really similar.  Earlier in the year I caught a Red Saddlebags.  My impression in the past has been that Carolina gets more likely later in the season and I'd been ignoring them for a few weeks.  It seems like they've gotten more common again.
 ID points that (I think) are supportive of Carolina are the dark frons (nose), quite small clear patch at the base of the hindwing, and (again I think), how far down the black at the end of the abdomen reaches.  It took a lot of effort to eventually ambush one.

 This is my best pic so far of Comet Darner.  They don't land.  It was hard to get even this pic.  They're not common on this side of the state.
 I think the above pic is good enough for ID purposes, they were really orange at close range.  Common Green Darner females (below) could maybe look similar, but they're brown, not orange

I spent about 3 hours trying to stalk or ambush the Comet and this next creature.
This Golden-winged Skimmer flew just as I started my net swing.  It's probably the best picture of one ever taken in the state of Michigan.

Most meadowhawks are impossible to identify when young.  Variegated is an exception to the rule.

I mostly ignore the damselflies unless they're a tandem pair.  This Amber-winged Spreadwing was large enough to catch my eye though, a lifer for me.

Finally a clubtail that I cannot identify.  It's a teneral (recently emerged) female that's 55mm in length.  Clubtails generally have 4 stripes on the thorax.  On this one they're broad and merge into 2.  It does not (to my interpretation) have a T5 stripe at the very end of the thorax which Ashy Clubtail is supposed to have but otherwise is probably closest to it.
 There's a lot of yellow along the sides of the abdomen, more than any other clubtail I've found.
 The broad blurry bit of yellow across S9 seems fairly unique.  It doesn't have much of a club. 
So ... we'll see what they say when I send it in to U of M at the end of the season.