Monday, September 15, 2014

but it's pretty Euro-trash

Tim found a pair of European Goldfinches at Tiscornia yesterday.  They were still there this morning as luck would have it, feeding (perhaps not surprisingly) in the equally alien spotted knapweed.  With as much European flora that's established it's perhaps surprising these birds aren't more common.

My only shot with both birds easily IDable

It was really dark, flight shots don't work that well at slow shutter speeds, but you can get a sense of the wing flash.

They had a very bubbling flight call when they were moving around, unique even to my ears.

It was actually a pretty fun morning.  There were large numbers of BW teal flying (north) way offshore with a few of the other dabblers.  An avocet flew by though it was just too far and high to get pics of.  A Semi plover was more cooperative.

The shorebirds (mostly sanderlings) were moving around a lot at least partially on account of a young peregrine

It was flightier than the merlins are when they perch on the iron-work.

There were a couple of very distant jaegers as well as a Black Tern that came in far closer than they usually do

Finally a nice group of warblers in the corner once I could no long stay awake sitting on the end, highlighted by a Golden-winged.
I've certainly taken better shots of Golden-winged, but never at Tiscornia.  A Blackpoll was more cooperative

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Virginia Beach Odes

Part of the reason I got out so little in August was that a lot of my days off were concentrated in a week where we drove out to Virginia to visit Ginger's brother and family and then mine and family on the way back.  Each time we go there I try for Seaside Sparrow.  I found a Cottonmouth at Back Bay NWR, but no sparrows.  There were dragonflies though.

This is Needham's Skimmer.  It felt very similar to Golden-winged Skimmer in terms of shape and wing coloration.
I had actually netted one to take a closer look at it when a fully armed conservation officer told me I was harassing the wildlife.  I pointed out to him that I'd squished 3 deerflies too.

This is Four-spotted Pennant ...
 ... and this one Seaside Dragonlet.

The other lifer Ode for me on the trip was Bar-winged Skimmer, which was actually pretty common in Brent's backyard.  It's very similar to Slaty Skimmer, though a touch larger and just as hard to catch.  This is male and female.

Here's Hazel and cousin Ellie (who netted a few Amberwings)

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.