Thursday, May 21, 2015

this time a Franklin's

This would be a reasonable photoquiz if I hadn't given away the answer in the title
Even with its head in its scaps the prominent eye arcs give it away (once you actually see it.  It took me an embarrassingly long time to get on the bird even with knowing there was a hooded bird in the flock)

This bird had the classic half-hood and slender bill of a young Franklin's Gull.

The moult of the primaries was somewhat less classic.
Franklin's is supposed to undergo two complete wing moults each year, unique among gulls.  This bird retains most of its primaries from last fall, though the inner three are pale gray with broad white edging, evidence that it at least started the spring wing moult.

Another (blurry) view of the primaries.  I didn't trust the auto-focus to choose the right gull with the birds constantly crossing in front and behind each other (or it could have bailed on the gulls altogether and chosen the ground) and was manually focusing here.  The secondaries also appear to be entirely dark based first-fall feathers.

It has completely moulted its tail.
First fall Franklin's have a broad black tailband; this bird's tail is fully white.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Birdathon 2016

Rhoda, Andre, and newcomer Chace Scholten and I did the annual Birdathon yesterday.  The night started out quickly with 4 nightbirds in the first 4 spots.  We then had a bigtime lull adding maybe 2 birds of consequence in the 4 hours that followed. 

Daybreak (fortunately dry after a scary looking front passed just to the south in Indiana) found us on the beach where we flushed my first nighthawk of the year off the beach.  A flock of Black-bellied Plovers and SB Dowitchers landed briefly.
It was still pretty dark as evidenced by the very high ISO (and brightened too) photo.

As we left New Buffalo a coal train was crossing the road out of town.  It seemed to be slowing down and eventually the very last car came to stop completely blocking the road.  Arrrrgh.  We turned around and I wasn't very happy about missing a couple spots that can sometimes hold useful birds.  The detour wasn't all bad though; a pair of Brown Thrashers crossed the road.  We stopped to try to make them unanimous and Andre noticed a different mimic singing behind us...
It was the only mockingbird we had all day.

Floral and some of the surrounding trails turned out to be very active.  By the end of the day we'd tallied 31 species of warbler.  A person could get some pretty serious WarblerNeck after a day like this.  Sometimes I cheated on the high backlit birds.  Here's probably the view a person has through bins...
Not sure what it is?  Not sure where even the bird is?  Just take a pic and ZOOM it in ...
and Voila, female Blackpoll Warbler.  New for the day.

There were other birds around too.  I took the required Scarlet Tanager pic given that they usually dominate the end-of-the day compilation tales.

The bird that figured most prominently in the story-telling however, was Black-billed Cuckoo.
Clearly they were moving through.  We saw 2 and heard a third over the course of the day.

Along those lines was Olive-sided Flycatcher.  Here's the first one we saw.

The second one was right next to it.
The third one was in the dune hawkwatching.  There's been a couple years in Berrien I haven't found Olive-sided.

Similar was Yellow-bellied.  Andre thought he heard one earlier in the morning, but it gave the keep-back call that I just don't hear often enough to reliably separate from Least's che-bek.  Another one made it easier by popping up fairly close
Then we saw another one and started worrying that we were mis-calling Acadians somehow in the fog of Big Day lack of sleep.  It made life easier by calling (the more recognizable chu-wee, even better)
We kept seeing them as we walked Floral (and then on another trail too).
I've seen 3 of these birds at Floral before (and usually later in the month), but 5 was pretty funny.

After we left Warren Dunes the day became the somewhat less enjoyable appointment style birding.  Need a Solitary Sandpiper?  Head for the nastiest skankiest pool of pseudo-mud you can find.
Semi-palmated Plover was one of over a dozen yearbirds for me.

We did remarkably well on hawks given that none were flying from the dune overlook.  At one point we were going to turn right when Rhoda and I noticed a raptor flying away to the left.  We turned left too and after a mile tail chase caught up with a young Bald Eagle.  It felt like it was going 35mph with the presumed tail wind. 
This young Broad-winged popped up in Warren Dunes.  Having seen a bunch of young ones in Costa Rica this last winter this bird was less confusing than it would have been 5 years ago for me.

Three Oaks had the most uncommon bird that our (and most) teams encountered.
 It was there at the afternoon check, our morning check netted 2 ducks I'd never had on Birdathon before, Ring-necked and Canvasback.
Ironically there was a drake Canvasback at Brown in the afternoon too.

Here's the final new bird of the day ...
 a Vesper Sparrow in the field across from Love Creek where Tim had found one for the last bird of the day several years ago.

All told, we ended with 155 species (we forgot to check off RB Merganser on the tallysheet we turned in so the reported total was 154), a couple behind our average, but an enjoyable day nevertheless.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

an actual Laughing Gull this time

yeah, it's laughing at me.

Yesterday I checked Tiscornia after work and noticed a Laughing type gull on Silver Beach.  I drove over (after waiting for a train to pass.  Nothing like a stopped train on the tracks between a birder and a good bird).  I didn't have my camera with me so these are phone-scoped.
 

The bird has a full hood, very little white tips to the primary, a nice long bill (and long primary extension) and limited eye arcs.  It would have been nice to get flight shots for comparison with last week's bird, but oh well.

Here's last week's bird again.
The hood doesn't go down the nape as far but is fully black in the face.  Most subadult Laughing and Franklin's Gulls will have some white in the face.  This has a fully black face so I reflexively aged it as an adult, noted extensive black in the wingtips and called it a Laughing. [5/14 addendum - having discussed this bird with 3 other people I trust that's as far as you have to go.  It's and adult and therefore this amount of black means Laughing Gull]

In retrospect the P6 with an extensive white tip (which I had noted and decided was just an aberrant feature given that the rest of the primaries were laughing type without the white patterning) is a fresher feather than the rest of the primaries (and those primaries have less black than a legit Laughing gull would have.) [5/14 addendum, see above.  Also the black on the underside of the wing is more extensive than a Franklin's would have]

Here's a first summer Franklin's Gull from mid-May a few years ago
This one has vastly less black in the face and a much more adult wing pattern with white between the gray of the wing and black of the wingtips.  The one from last week has an adult head and much more juvenile wing pattern.

Here's a line of Laughing Gulls from 6 weeks ago in Florida.
I guess I should have worked harder to get FL flight shots.

This is a Laughing Gull for Tiscornia from a few years ago, it has a ton of black in the wings but based on the FL shot is probably also a sub-adult and has more black in the wings than an adult laughing gull would have.

time to go find some warblers.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Rainy day shorebirds

A couple days ago rain pretty much socked in much of southern Michigan just as south winds had started to kick in for a few days.  I walked from Tiscornia to Jean Klock (in the rain) hoping to find shorebirds that had decided to wait out the rain.  There were none.

So I was a little surprised when Rhoda found 20 Willets sitting in the New Buffalo Harbor. 

 They were a mix of winter and breeding feathers.

Proof of 20 (probably a county spring high count).

We continued on to Buffalo Rd and were pleasantly surprised by a large flock of Golden Plovers


It was the closest that I've been to breeding plumage birds though steady rain made photography somewhat limited.

A couple other shorebird pics from today, a nice comparison of the 2 yellowlegs at Three Oaks (though chain link fences limit photography even more than rain).

And a couple White-rumped Sandpipers.
Through the scope the tertials that extended past the tail and the reddish base to the lower mandible were easy to see.  The birds were pretty distant for the camera though.

Monday, May 4, 2015

a Florida bird ... in Michigan!

I've been waiting for migration to finally catch up with the blog.  It's been slow going.  I had hoped to transition back to the county last week, but better late than never I suppose.

With a much higher lake level than years past and the aftereffects of storms last fall, there's not much beach left at Tiscornia, forcing a person to make the irritating choice between standing on the crest of the dune where flyby passerines are a lot easier to see or standing much lower where a person can see the beach.  I chose the beach for the limited time I had this morning and was rewarded by having a Laughing Gull fly in and land in front of me.

This is a phone-scoped shot.

I'd seen the dark primaries as it flew in, but the more I stared at it the more I started doubting myself and wondering if it could be a Franklin's.  The innermost visible primary has a pretty good sized white tip and Tim pointed out that the hood leaves more of the nape white than a lot of Laughings will show.  I've seen Laughing's with longer bills as well.

A pierwalker resolved any doubts though as the bird took flight.


The primary pattern is solidly laughing; Franklin's Gull would have much less black in the primaries and an extra layer of white proximal to the black on the wing feathers.

It circled once and landed.  The second time it flew I never saw it again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gulf coast Peeps

I'm always surprised by how common Western Sandpiper is in Florida when it's a decidedly uncommon bird in Michigan.

 I suppose I could have titled this post The Early Sandpiper Gets the Worm...

The Westerns were kind enough to be most of the way to breeding plumage, complete with the arrow chevrons going down their flanks.


Here's a different individual.
 They honestly were smaller billed than I remembered them.  I'm not sure if that's a regional difference or if the bills grow over the course of the summer season, or if the birds we've had in Berrien happened to be longer billed because as I look back both the Tiscornia Western Sandpipers of Oct 2013 and of Sept 2012 had longer bills.

This one was still in winter plumage.
I can't tell if it's just the angle making the bill look less tapered and drooped or if this is actually a semi-palmated.
 
Leasts on the other hand certainly had thin tapered bills.

 
I think my memory of Western Sandpiper gets influenced by the much heavier curved bills of Dunlins as well.
Most of the dunlins weren't even this far along in their moult and I didn't take a ton of pics of them.