Friday, September 23, 2016

a Falcon's wandering

or peregrination, if you will.  Clearly it's lost.

Do you ever wonder where the birds you see came from?  Certainly we get our share of high arctic birds with shorebirds and jaegers winging south.  Can't you just imagine a Peregrine high on some cliff overlooking the tundra?  Here's an adult Peregrine from Tiscornia last month.

And if you look carefully it's banded... black over red on the left, D83

Another look as it flies off
But from what farflung crag did this bird originate?  Where was its aeyrie sheltered from the sting of polar winds? Uhhh, well, after researching the band, that would be a steel mill in Gary, Indiana.  Oh well.

Not surprisingly there weren't a ton of shorebirds hanging out on the beach that day.  There've been a few since, here a first-fall Greater Yellowlegs, not a super-common species at Tiscornia.

I waited for the sun to rise to illuminate this young Black-bellied Plover a few days ago, it flew just before however.

I think a different bird in full afternoon sun actually turned out better.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

1000 trips to Tiscornia

1000. Give or take a few (with one documented by Satellite imagery).  But 1000 is what my spreadsheet says.  Of course Tim's number is probably at least quadruple that.

It was a pleasant morning, highlighted by a flyby Parasitic Jaeger that I think Josh Kamp picked up.  It was fairly close as far as jaegers go.

 They aren't great portraits, but you can get a sense of the overall warm coloration of the bird (wrong for anything but Parasitic), the tail projection, and the bill length (too long for Long-tailed), among other features.  The next pic shows pale terminal edging to the primaries which Olsen and Larsson state is diagnostic for Parasitic when present.

Jaegers are one of the hallmark birds of Tiscornia, so it felt right to have one this morning.  I've seen the other 2 species but never photographed them definitively enough for the committee.

An immature Great Black-backed Gull has been hanging out for about a week as well, fairly early for them here.
I've photographed 16 species of gulls at Tiscornia, highlighted by singleton Glaucous-winged, Black-headed and Sabine's (a bird I would have predicted I'd have had more frequently), Little Gull and Kittiwake a little over half the years, and Franklins and Laughing most years.  I probably had a Black-tailed once in February several years ago but it was too distant to be certain of.

Sanderling is surely the most common shorebird at Tiscornia, one that's quite rare any distance inland.
I'm missing a few odd ones since there isn't any mudflat.  Solitary Sandpiper has the opposite water preferences from a sanderling; I've never seen one at Tiscornia.  All 3 phalaropes are on the list though.  Upland is another that Tim's had several times and others have had at least once that I still need.

Warblers are moving; there's a few brushy corners that have had good birds over the years.  We had a Chat once in the tangle this Magnolia was in.
I've had 26 warblers at Tiscornia.  Blue-winged is probably the most common one missing.

All told I've had 254 species at Tiscornia.  The commonest one missing?  Probably Hairy Woodpecker; they just don't seem to explore outside the forest the way Pileated will.  I would have predicted I would have had White-fronted Goose (I have it from New Buff harbor), and that an eider or Barrow's Goldeneye would be on the list, but I guess maybe I'll have to go back once or twice more.  Or a thousand times.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The bird was Magnificent, the photos...

not so much.

Tim picked up another Frigatebird (the 3rd for each of us at Tiscornia, involving 4 different birds over the years) at the base of the pier and called those of us on the end to tell us to look back for it.  It was a much tougher spot than I expected, about 600 yards away, backlit, and frequently below the tree line.  Eventually it popped up above the trees.

What to do with not-so-great distant photos? Make a montage of course.  You can get a sense of the alar bars though it's pretty backlit.
I had the presence of mind to thumbwheel it up 2 F-stops to compensate for the backlighting trying to document the pattern of the underparts better.

I would say that the white underparts do not extend significantly onto the underwing, eliminating Lesser.  It would be hard to eliminate Great on these photos, but Tim's from a quarter mile closer has a nice pointed throat/bib; sub-adult Great Frigatebirds have the black of the head cut off where the throat meets the breast rather than extending in a point onto the breast.

My first Frigatebird at Tiscornia followed Hurricane Ike (which came out of the Gulf a couple weeks before), the 2nd (the bird that we watched land on the lighthouse) was not long after an Atlantic hurricane (but was photographed in Kansas before it arrived at Tiscornia); the previous Berrien records had followed Gulf Hurricanes.  This bird follows the tropical storm that flooded Louisiana a couple weeks ago and likely follows the Gulf pattern.

Monday, August 29, 2016

the Buffy peep

After showing pics of Least and Semipalmated Sandpiper the last few posts I graduated up to Baird's Sandpiper this morning on the pier.  I've seen a couple this year but this was the first one that stood more than a few seconds for a pic.

The bird stood out to the naked eye as being buffy and having the scalloped upperparts typical of this species, (the latter especially true in juvies).  A closer look shows the wings extending well past the tail.

I tried a montage of the bird running.
It would be nice if I had greater depth of field; it looks a little off with 2 focal planes in the same image.

Finally an awful photo of the real buff-breasted sandpiper, 3 Buff-breasteds that flew past a few days ago.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sunrise shorebirds

A young Ruddy Turnstone was at the end of the pier this morning just as the first sunrays touched the pier.

I'm not sure what to make of the gray feather towards the back of the lowermost row of scapulars.  Most shorebirds turn gray in the winter, if this was a dunlin you'd just say there it's one feather down on its way to winter plumage; turnstones don't turn gray though.

There were some peeps on the pier last week, though that day dawned cloudy.
This is a juvie Least Sandpiper
ID points are the neatly tapering slightly drooped bill, warm foxy tones in the upperparts, and white bracing in the scapulars.  Oh, and the pale legs.  When in doubt cheat and just check the legs.

Like this bird.  Pale legs.
Palish.  Whoops.  Better not cheat.  That bird is a very young Semipalmated Sandpiper whose legs aren't as dark as they'll be in a couple more weeks.  Note how its bill doesn't taper as much as the Least's (this bird's bill is on the short side for a Semi btw, again a very young bird).  It has much less intensity of color in the upperparts.

Here's another Semi from that same flock (whose feet at least are also still pretty pale)

Same bird closer.  This one has a little more color in the scapulars than the first bird did, but nowhere near what the Least has.
You can see the semi-palmation of the toes.  (Western Sandpiper has it too).

I had hoped to get close enough to this group to get a good tight shot of the variation of several birds' scapulars, but they woke up and started feeding before I could manage it.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

An adult (!) Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was found at Muskegon a few days ago, the first bird I've chased in Michigan in a couple years, probably since the Berylline and Costa's Hummers, and my first chase since the Ivory Gull this winter.  And just like with the Ivory Gull, the first thing I saw was Phil Chu.  Phil was clearly good luck, both times the bird appeared within minutes.  My first look was my closest look, it moved back quickly while getting others on it, but even if I'd gotten shots off initially it was probably too dark to matter.  Eventually the sprinkles cleared enough that I was down to the distance as the major hindrance to pics.

Here's the bird in the middle with 2 pecs back in front of the weeds
The pics are a little too distant to show all the fine points.  The Sharp-tailed seemed to have a slightly thinner blacker straighter bill and a little bit smaller a head.

In some lighting the pale eyebrow stood out.  The cap was the darkest part of the head, a brown ground color with some rufous and dark highlights.  With good looks through the scope it did have a thin eyering though a lot of birds have a suggestion of an eyering.  The facial marks coalesced somewhat more densely in the ear coverts to give a line through the eye as well.

You can get a sense in the next pic of how the breast coloration grades smoothly into flank chevrons.  The bird's back bracing seemed a little narrower to me than the pecs with the lateral ones buffier than the pecs.  The bird had redpoll like streaking to the undertail coverts, something I haven't noticed before in American shorebirds.
Legs were gray-green a little duller than the pecs.
With a tattler in the Sleeping Bear area a couple weeks ago, this bird now in Muskegon, surely the next step in the pattern is a decent rarity in Berrien, yes???

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


I've been fortunate to have seen a lot more hummingbirds over the last 5 years than I would have predicted.  Some are very common, some less so.  Generally though, if you go to the right elevation, the hummer you're looking for will be there if you put some time in at the feeder or floral landscaping.  There's some exceptions, mostly some of the hermits that don't visit feeders, but the Sicklebill (and I suppose the Lancebill too) take this to another level.  You not only need to be at the right elevation, but you have to be at the right flower.  They're just not easy to find.  On our very first trip our guide Steven heard a couple as they zipped past making their rounds from one isolated heliconia at just the right stage of past-its-prime to another.  No one came close to seeing one that trip though.

On my last full day I left the family to relax at Hotel Bog and drove to Braulio Carillo National Park.  It was a big contrast from some of the much more touristy waterfall locations that feel more like themeparks.  Where La Paz had concrete sculpted fencing crafted to look like a boutique wooden fence, Braulio had naked cliff edges.  It was really green though and it's large enough that the possibility for uncommon forest birds exists.  I found a few tanager flocks, mostly Emerald and Carmiol's but didn't have a ton of luck initially.  After a few hours of circling the trails occasionally playing a Lattice-tailed Trogon tape I was phone in hand when a curve-billed fairly long-tailed hummingbird flew up to some heliconia next to the trail and disappeared.  It was really dark and with the phone in one hand I couldn't pick up the bird one handed.  I started jamming stuff into my pocket to scan better and then another hiker, the first I'd seen all morning, appeared.  The bird suddenly flew off and I realized it had been perched on the flower the whole time.  SHOOT.  That's what sicklebills do.  I settled in hoping it would come back.  15 minutes passed.  Then another 10.  Another hiker appeared, and this time they flushed the bird from its hidden perch to one I could see.  Sure enough, a sicklebill.

 This was probably the most memorable bird of the trip for me.  Its call actually was fairly distinctive, somewhat of a cross between a Red-breasted Nuthatch and a Rubythroat.

There were a few other interior forest birds about, this is a Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher.

Stripe-throated Wrens were very common and it took me a while to get a handle on their highly variable vocalizations.  They're very much of the typical stay-in-the-tropical-gloom flavor of wren.

Braulio Carillo was a fun place to visit; I would be very curious to see how much turnover there is in the birds one you visited repeatedly.