Tuesday, October 6, 2015

a total tease

It's that time of year.  The best time of year for finding rarities along southern Lake Michigan.  You've gotten a taste of something a lot of fun (i.e. a Pomarine Jaeger), and you know that more can be found.  And it feels like it's close.  And then this flies through your bin field at 3 Oaks.
 It's a small bird with complex black and white patterning.  One that you've never seen before.  One that you don't even know what it is.
Oh my mind raced for a couple seconds.  Pied Water-tyrant?  Some kind of Asian Swallow?  Unfortunately it quickly became clear that it had the identical size, shape, and flight style to the flock of Tree Swallows foraging over the ponds.  Unlike gulls and waterfowl that seem to act aggressively to birds that stand out to the eye, I didn't see any of the other swallows make passes at it.

I actually got the auto-focus to lock on briefly for this shot.

All the rest are manual focus.

It's fairly (but not perfectly) symmetric in the white patterning.  The head is mostly white, the eye black, and the bill yellow.  I'm not sure quite how a person would technically describe this bird.  It's missing all the blue-green color on the body, but also has the irregular white in the wings.  Albinism is defined as missing melanin.  Leucism, per Wikipedia, is a full or partial loss of multiple types of pigments which I guess is how this bird would be characterized.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pomarine irony

I think I've submitted 3 rare jaegers (2 poms and a longtail) to the MBRC over the last few years and have gone 0 for 3 with either no or very distant pics.  So when I eBirded 2 Parasitics from New Buffalo a few days ago I had to smile when Adam asked me why I'd eliminated Pomarine for one of the birds.

The first bird was a first year that I didn't get great photos of.  It was very windy and the bird looked fairly heavy with its primaries held fairly tightly for the most part and wasn't particularly warm in color.  I actually thought this bird had a very good chance of being a Pomarine.  Eventually it came close enough for the camera to pick up some projecting tail points

Not too much later Andrew picked up another jaeger, this one an adult.  It cut tantalizingly across the harbor and I abandoned the scope for the camera.
I didn't think the dark in the face came down very far and it certainly doesn't have much of a breast band so I chalked it up as a Parasitic without thinking too much about it (more irony after I tried really hard to turn the Parasitic into a Pomarine).  If I'd stayed with it a little longer in the scope I might have noticed the two tone bill.  Oh well.  A not so solid pic of the pale-ish bill base.
The bird kept coming north.  Crops through the camera show a pretty long bill with the suggestion of a thicker gony angle.

As it quarters away another angle at the broad tail projection...

I've never found counting pale primary shafts to be that useful, but if you're so inclined the left image may help.  You do get a sense of the face mask coming lower on the face from this angle than the initial view in the harbor.

Another view of the mask, as well as breast-heavy gestault.

The bird accelerated up to attack a Ring-billed exposing the spread tail as it flared after its target.
I count 10 tail feathers though it's possible some of the outer tail feathers are folded over each other.  There should be 12.  Given that the bird has projecting central rects with the tail folded I think we can trust that the central feathers are included here (and given the gap in the tail on the leftmost image I wonder if it's the bilateral 2nd tail feathers that are missing).  It'd be nice if the RBGU was in the same posture as the jaeger to compare the wingspan better.

One last view of the mask extending onto the malar.
I've been having bigtime computer problems for a week and am using an old one without photoshop.  It will be interesting to see if the two-tone bill comes out more when I can lighten some of the broadside views.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Van Perlo's Birds of South America - Passerines

The latest installment of book reviews for Princeton Press who graciously provided me a review copy...

South American, the Bird Continent.  Who doesn't aspire to eventually go (or return there)?  This book contains every flycatcher, manakin, antwhatever, swallow, tanager, along with tapaculos, tityras, and donacobiuses (though it turns out there's only one donacobius, so I guess we don't need to worry about whatever the plural is).  And lots more.  1900-2000 species are illustrated in a book about the size of an Eastern Peterson (though with 400 birds it's a little thicker) on a little less than 200 plates, with brief info about each species on the facing page.

Let's open it, shall we?  To some random page, how about 314? 

Immediately reality sets in for a book that needs to illustrate nearly 2000 species in a small format.  The artwork is functional (and is better than this reproduction indicates), but the birds are going to be relatively small and there won't be the rich 3 dimensional appearance that's in the modern Peterson or quite as clean as Sibley.  That being said, it's painted by a single artist which allows a person to get their eye in easier to adjust to how that artist interprets the birds.  I've actually seen 2 birds on that plate (#4, the Golden-hooded Tanager, a widely distributed neotropic bird, and #8, Speckled Tanager, a bird I don't have as good a photo of).  Here's Golden-hooded from Costa Rica a few years ago

Though it's probably easier to judge using birds we're all familiar with
I think the shapes are excellent on the Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Buntings, reasonable for the Ovenbird and Golden-wing, though the Blue-wing and Tennessee are a little fat, and the Parula a little long.  That being said, I think they do give an accurate impression of what these birds look like, something that the Garrigues books for Costa Rica and Panama that I've studied a lot the last few years can occasionally leave to be desired.

However, this book isn't really a field guide.  While it does give some concise information about the bird's identification, its habitat and voice, and the book is small, I don't think anyone would carry it in the field given that the overwhelming majority of the birds aren't going to be possible in any given region.  What it is, is an excellent (and at $22 on amazon a very economic) reference book for the armchair birder.  While many of us have a few (or more) field guides to various regions (I think I have 5-6 for Central America and 1 for Equador), this helps give a much broader picture of bird distribution (and species possibilities).  A person can see what overlap occurs between Colombia, Equador, and Peru, or what parts of Brazil would give a reasonable sampling of its birds. 

Want to know how many attilas there are? 
This book will tell you (seven).

Want to stare at (one of 5 1/2 plates) of Antpittas that you're realistically only going to see on paper? No problem.
Bottom line, this book is very worth the price for anyone who would like to consider travel to the birdiest continent in the world.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Distant parasitic

I know, I know, is there any other kind...

A young Parasitic Jaeger sporadically harassed the local gulls and terns yesterday morning at Tiscornia.  It would land on the water disappearing from sight and then re-appear to strafe passing birds.

Here's a gif of it chasing the gull.

It was distant enough that it was hard to get the warm tones to come out in the pics, you'll have to trust me they were there reasonably.  Only parasitic routinely has warm tones.

The wing bases are too wide for Long-tailed in addition.
 I thought  I could get a hint of a decent white patch in the upperwing which is a pretty good mark for young parasitic, though I'm not sure how a person would really discriminate between a solid patch and prominent shaft markings at distance.

You can just get a (vague) sense of protruding tail points in this pic if you imagine hard enough.
It's probably too early to really hope for Pomarine.  If the pier was open a person could have gotten reasonable pics of this bird.  I haven't been able to commit in my mind to walking all the way out South Pier, but I suppose there's a first for everything...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sunset Franklin's Gull

Lisa found a Franklin's Gull in New Buffalo yesterday.  I swung by this evening to see what would be on the beach, the Franklin's was one of the first birds I saw as it turned out.  It was pretty content to hang out at the periphery of the Ring-billed flock.

 The brown wings make it a first fall bird.  As the fall progresses it will get more gray in the back.

 I ended up waiting about an hour for the sun to set to really get warm light.  I was trying different white balance settings, some of which worked better than others.

I really never got a shot of the spreadwing.  It stretched this one time, though the wings extended well out of the frame.
  Occasionally a Ring-billed would peck at it and it would skitter away somewhat.  My shutter speed was too slow to freeze the wings in the low light though.

A shot of Chicago on the horizon.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day Lakewatch

It wasn't exactly labor.   Unless you count it as a labor of love.  It was mostly blue-winged teal though so maybe that's stretching it.

This was a pretty average flock.  It doesn't look that big, though it's actually 50-60 birds.
 20 flocks like that and suddenly you're talking real numbers.  The movement was very heavily dominated by the Blue-wings, this flock was an exception in that it contained a couple shovelers (leading the top line).

A flock of 10 Forster's terns came by close.
 Medium sized terns are a lot easier to identify when they're close enough to see the mask.  It's harder to judge primary color since fall Forster's have a lot more dark in the wing than they do in the spring.

A buff-breasted sandpiper was an ironic addition after the very chaseable one close to the house.
 This is a montage of distant pics.

4 Black-bellied plovers flew past at close range as well, at least 2 still in pretty full breeding plumage.
All in all a very rewarding morning.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Lake Michigan Pelagic

Having sold my old boat last summer I was a lot more interested in the Michigan Audubon Society pelagic run out of St Joseph.  I was hopeful of picking up Red-necked Phalarope for the year with pipe dreams of LT Jaeger or Sabine's Gull. 

Needless to say, neither of the big ticket items happened.  A Great Black-backed Gull appeared under darkening skies.

We started heading south as the rain closed in around us.  The first Black Tern appeared under some interesting lighting.

With yeah, some lightning.  (why does every boat trip I go on have basically this Doppler view?)

We headed south working our way away from the worst of it.
 It was raining pretty hard for a while.

Unfortunately, if the front concentrated any birds they slipped past us.  We saw a few more Black Terns.  I briefly saw a grayish shorebird that could have been a phalarope, but it disappeared in a wave trough before I could get a good look.

Ironically, I did get a year shorebird though.
The Stilt Sandpiper re-appeared at the (newly re-moisturized) Black Rail field.