Friday, October 30, 2009

MBRC Berrien Birds

Last Update: Nov 3, 2009 to include old records reviewed by Jon Wuepper in his article "The Birds of Berrien Co, MI," published in 2001 in Michigan Birds and Natural History.

With the unfortunate loss of the Searchable Database from the Michigan Bird Records Committeee site (I think due to server space issues) I've spent a decent amount of time reading the old MBRC action reports. I started taking notes, focusing mainly on birds from Berrien (such as this black vulture -though last year's report presumably containing this bird isn't up on the web yet). Just for ID fun, note that the young turkey vulture in the lower right hand corner of the pic superficially resembles the blackie if you don't look at the shape or the pattern of head feathering.There's a fair amount of data to be mined and I'm certainly not going to claim that this is exhaustive (some of it was reviewed while switching my schedule to nights with an initial all-nighter). My main goal is to record the date range where the birds occurred (and possibly could occur again, so I didn't bother recording the year), but it would be nice to have recorded the rest of the state data ... maybe next time. I'll probably continue to edit this post to keep it current for the uncountable couple of people who would be interested. And of course this is useless for potential first county records (like the probable Sprague's pipit that kicked off my reading).

If a report somewhere along the way mentioned how many records there'd been for the county that number is included in the parentheses. Clearly there's some inaccuracies in my summary here, but it gives the ballpark idea.

With 8 records I'm clearly overdue for a Western Grebe. Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaeger each have 4 relatively recent records. Lark Sparrow apparently has 7 total, but I only came across 1 in the last 20 or so years covered by the committee, though I could have missed some too. With 10 California Gull records (and counting), Berrien is probably the best place in the state to blunder into this bird.

Ross’s 17 Feb – 5 Mar, 27 Apr, 7-13 Nov
Brant 30 Oct; 10, 14-17, 16 Nov; also twice long staying in New Buffalo mid Nov-early Dec and mid Jan respectively
Eurasian Wigeon 5, 18-23 Apr (considered hypothetical by Wuepper as never subjected to MBRC review)
King Eider 15 Nov-28 Dec
Barrow’s Goldeneye 19 Dec-23 Jan
Pacific Loon (1) 25-27 Apr
Western Grebe (7) 11-12, 30 Oct; 6-12, 21 Nov; 7, 16, 17, 22-28 Dec; 4-5 Jan
Brown Pelican (2) 5-19 Jul, 6 Sep (I should have written down the rejected dates, there’s a lot of brown pelicans rejected from the Lake Michigan shoreline. Strangely, inland birders aren’t seeing cormorants and great blue herons and constantly writing them up as pelicans. One of these two records was rejected and then later had to be accepted when a photo surfaced. In full disclosure I've had a pelican record rejected).
Magnificent Frigatebird/Frigatebird, sp - Sep 26, Sep 30, Oct 2 (The Sep 26 followed Hurricane Ike in 2007 whose large size pushed notable numbers of frigatebirds throughout its path. Both the Sep 30th and the Oct 2nd records occurred in 1988. The Sep 30 record is controversial, and apparently a different bird than the Oct 2. It was submitted by legendary Berrien birder and original MBRC committee member Roy Smith based on the verbal description he was given by the primary observer. It was originally accepted, and then re-reviewed by a later committee over a decade later and summarily rejected. However, given that it followed Hurricane Gilbert, one of the largest hurricanes ever recorded and whose remnants ended up directly in southern Lake Michigan, and which was noted in the Vol 63, No 1 North American Birds Changing Seasons column to also be a “frigatebird storm,” my guess is that it’s legit. In any case it doesn’t change the pattern of the other 2 records.)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 1 Jul
Glossy Ibis 10 May
White-faced Ibis (1) 13-16 May
Plegadis sp 18 May
Black Vulture 8 Apr, 9-12 Apr
Mississippi Kite (2) 11 May
Swallow-tailed Kite (1) 2-16 May
Swainson’s Hawk 5 May, 24 May
King Rail 9 May, 30 May
Ruff 7,21 May [considered hypothetical as above], 9-14 Jul
Black-necked Stilt 6 May – 6 Jun
Black-headed Gull 20 May,
Mew Gull 4-6 Dec, 1 Jan
California Gull 19, 30 Apr; 30 May; 18 Jun; 16 Sep; 1, 11, 15, 25 Nov; 27 Dec
Sabine’s Gull 31 Aug, 2 Nov
Roseate Tern 21 Jun
Arctic Tern 14 May, 6 Jul, 10 Jul, 6 Nov
Least Tern 3-4 Jun, 8 Jul
Sandwich Tern 31 Jul
Pomarine Jaeger (5) 1 Oct, 9 Sept, 23 Nov, 15 Dec
Long-tailed Jaeger (4) 28 Aug; 10, 16-19 Sep, 17 Nov,
Band-tailed Pigeon 24 Dec - 22 Jan
Eurasian Collard Dove 15 May 2005 – 10 Aug 2006
Ani, sp 3-11 Nov
Burrowing Owl 5 Jun (a bird captured in a motel laundry room!!!)
Chuck-will's Widow 16 May – 3 Jul, 7 May – 13 Jul, 2 May – 7 Jul
Selasphorus/Rufous Hummer Aug – Nov, Sep – Nov, 25 Oct – 20 Nov, 20 Oct – 26 Dec, 7 Nov – 19 Dec
Scissor-tailed Fly (1) 15-16 May
Bell’s Vireo 14 May, 18-19 Jul
Bewicks's Wren 30, 31 Mar; 10-11, 20, 22, 24 Apr; 15 Sep
Rock Wren 15 Nov (rejected though 4-3 voted in favor. The details supplied by the MBRC report do seem fairly convincing, my shameless speculation is that the author of the report that year voted in favor)
Mountain Bluebird 22 Oct
Varied Thrush 18 Dec - 10 Feb, 23 Nov - 20 Feb, 11 Nov
Western Tanager (2) 26 May, 6-22 Jan
Lark Sparrow (7) 18, 20, 21-24 Apr; 16 May; 2, 7 Oct
Lark Bunting 13-19 Jan
Brambling 12 Apr (I need to do some research as to why brambling has twice been accepted and all the other European finches are rejected based on origin concerns)
Blue Grosbeak 18 May
Painted Bunting (2) 30 Apr, 19 May

Thursday, October 29, 2009

putative HEGUxGBBG hybrid

After some nice movement earlier this week the last couple days have been relative duds at Tiscornia. Today the only waterbird I saw was a northbound common loon. Harrier and rusty blackbird were the only other birds of even slightest note yesterday and today.

The strange dark-backed gull has been present both days, however. As noted before it has too much dark on the nape to be a greater black-backed. The face looks too triangular to my eyes as well. While Greater Black-backeds don't usually give me quite as great the heavy jawed appearance of a Glaucous Gull, they have more than this bird. In bright sun its legs look yellowish, though in the overcast of yesterday and today they are the more grayish-pinkish which would be more consistent with the offspring of two pink-legged birds.

Here's the bird quartering away showing the heavy gonydeal angle which too my eyes is way too much for Lesser Black-backed (see here for lots of Virginia Beach Lessers):

Here the bird is more distantly yesterday. The size impression from this photo is a little misleading as the bird in question is the farthest away down the beach. You'll have to take my word (or look at Tim's pics) that it is slightly bigger than the Herring Gulls. It does give somewhat of a comparison of the shade of gray between it and the adult Greater more on the left side of the frame. The birds aren't in exactly the same pose, which can lead to artifact, but I think that the picture was fairly true to life in what it portrays in this respect as it was only a shade lighter than the Greater.

Olsen and Larssen gives Greater Black-backed a Kodak shade of 11-13, and graellsii Lesser Black-backed a Kodak shade of 8-10. Interestingly Slaty-backed is 11-12 so this is about the shade that it would probably appear (Slaty-backed is easily ruled out based on lacking a lot of dark marking about the eye, not really being pot-bellied, not having bright pink legs, and obviously the wrong primary pattern). Based on the traditional pitfall of Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull hybrids approaching the mantle color of Yellow-legged Gull and the intermediate results observed in the Chandeleur Kelp x Herring Louisiana hybrid "experiment" (read here for an excellent article suggested by Caleb), this is probably not an F1 hybrid, and most likely some flavor of back-cross given how dark the mantle is. Here's a webpage describing a possible GBBGxHEGU from Massachusetts that eventually became a specimen; it does have a mantle that's paler than our bird (though as noted by the authors some suggestion of pearls in the primaries). Here's a note from the Auk from the 1970's describing a presumed Greater Black-back x Herring shot in the Niagara area; it too had a paler mantle than our bird.

Friday, October 23, 2009

White-cheeked geese Hooray

As threatened, err, I mean, promised, here's some photos of the white-cheeked geese at 3 Oaks from a couple days ago.

There were a group of 6 Cackling Geese in the flock of Canadas. The adults (labeled "a") were larger than the first year birds. Note the vertical foreheads, short (and in some birds) drooping bill.
David Sibley just put a post on his blog discussing aging of geese. First year birds have a duskier demarcation between the black of the neck and the brown of the breast. They also have smaller, more pointed feathers on the back leading to less pronounced barring of the upperparts. Here again are the 2 adults (the rear and trail birds) flanking 2 of the younger birds.

But there were other geese too. The rearmost bird here is a mystery. In the foreground is a blurry 'Giant' Canada. The middle 3 birds are 2 of the young Cacklers with an adult Cackling trailing behind. The rear-most bird shares the vertical forehead of the cacklers but is decidedly larger. It seemed to associated loosely with the cackling geese, more so than with the Canadas.

Here again is the medium sized goose, this time next to 2 of the migrant 'Interior' Canadas. Its the 2nd bird in line and while smaller than the Canadas, isn't dwarfed like it was by the resident 'Giant' Canada in the above pic.
The birds are looking up at something (we probably should have looked up too) and so the profile of the bill is off. This bird conceivably could be a 'Lesser' parvipes Canada Goose, though I don't know that there's a way to prove or disprove that.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It can't be winter yet

Gentle south winds actually made today the warmest day I've been outside in a couple weeks. Despite the shirt-sleeves weather, the birds however, had a definitely late fall feel to them.

This first year glaucous gull was on the beach at New Buffalo.
Based on the relatively short bill it's probably a female.
This was definitely the earliest that I've seen one; more plumage detail was visible than in their usual faded appearance. This one had a blush of pink about the cheeks and throat. I didn't make up my mind whether it was a stain or actual pigment.

This herring gull drew our eyes too.
They're not usually dark and crisp this late in fall, unlike Thayer's or Lesser Black-backed. We wondered if it was a late bird whose parents first breeding attempt failed.
I could continue with the late fall/early winter theme with more white-cheeked geese from Three Oaks today, but I'm going to work up to that slowly and pass for now.

INSTEAD, here's a shot of a bird that's becoming a bigger oddity. There's been a greater black-backed looking thing at Warren Dunes off and on for the last 2-3 years with light yellow legs. It doesn't look quite right, but I've always called it a weird Greater Blackback. Tim, however, recently photographed it at Tiscornia with what appears to be way too much head streaking to be a Greater. We haven't figured out what it is. Various hybrid origins have been proposed but have to account for a bird somewhat bigger than all the herring gulls, with a decidedly black back (most F1 hybrids of Kelp/graelsii x Herring gulls have intermediate backs, though there is one photo in the Howell and Dunn guide of a presumed glaucous x greater black backed with a very black back), yellow legs and an orangish orbital ring (both black-backed and kelp gulls have red orbital rings, herring orangish-yellow). Here's probably the same bird from last year at Tiscornia; I didn't notice the yellow legs at the time. Tim's pics are here. The head streaking as it's acquiring winter plumage is bizarre. Lesser black-backed gull x Herring could explain the legs but not the size or back color. Kelp gull x Herring could definitely explain the back color (especially if an F2 Chandeleur Islands bird) and maybe the leg color, but not the size. Greater black-backed x Herring would be perfect for size but still crosses 2 birds with pink legs.

Here's a lousy pic from 2 cameras ago from Niagara of a Greater Black-backed that stood out to me as having yellower legs than the other 6 that were on the same breakwall.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall chippies

I wish I'd tried to save the doppler image from Wunderground yesterday morning as it seemed to show the reflection pattern that I think is migrating birds north of a front and none south of the front. Anyway, Floral was awash with sparrows yesterday, hordes of juncos and white-crowned, but a lot of chipping and whitethroats as well as smaller numbers of less common species (including half a dozen vespers and one clay-colored).

I returned today hoping to get some portraits. There were a lot fewer birds today; thickets that yesterday held 8 orange-crowned warblers today might have one. I didn't see vesper, Lincoln's, or clay-colored. I concentrated on the chipping sparrows. It doesn't take much grass to hide a sparrow.
They were fairly variable, some were still practically in breeding plumage, though I didn't manage any shots in focus of these. I think my camera exaggerated the rufous-ness of the plumage and the crowns in the more typical winter birds.
They're pretty hard to age in the fall per Pyle as most of the first year birds undergo some pre-basic moult into the winter plumage and approach the appearance of adults.
It's too bad I couldn't get a shot at the clay-colored yesterday or find one today. The bird had much brighter underparts than the chippies with a warm buffy breast and whiter throat and malar ground color, very different from the colder tones of the chippie's medium gray.

White crowned's, on the other hand, are twice as big and half as shy as most sparrows and are fairly easy targets for digi-scoping.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Skunkape Eateries

"Hello, my name is Tim, and I'll be your waiter today at Skunkape Eateries. Our specialty today is puddle-soaked butterbutt sans head, a choice morsel for eperigrinians throughout the southern great lakes. It comes with a side of that's-not-a-jaeger-either and did-it-just-get-more-misty-or-did-my-scope-just-completely-fog-over. Enjoy."

Here's the original captor:
Two peregrines were powering up and down the piers and treelines at Tiscornia this morning, looking for hapless passerines and entertaining the fisherman as they swept past. One captured the yellow-rumped warbler above. It had pulled off the head and a wing and was tucking into a yummy meal of innards when a lighthouse worker walked past it. The youngster hadn't quite worked out the process of flushing with meal intact, tried frantically to fly off while still holding the wire for about 3 wingbeats, and then released both the wire and its prey.
There's a number of "subspecies" of peregrines. Tundrius is the palest and lives in the high arctic. Anatum is intermediate and lives in the central west. Pealei is the darkest and lives on the Pacific coast. There apparently used to be an anatum in the east which died out secondary to DDT and possibly a lack of passenger pigeons per Wheeler's Raptors. The birds introduced into midwestern cities are the mixed offspring of mainly pealei and tundrius but apparently also include some heritage from subspecies in Europe, Australia, and S. America; Wheeler terms these "Eastern" peregrine. He also states there's a population of birds descended from 2 European subspecies established about Lake Superior. Those two subspecies are somewhat analagous to anatum and pealei in terms of appearance. To make things more confusing, Wheeler states that the juveniles of the native tundrius (and anatum) have both lightly-marked blonde forms and more typical birds. This bird is somewhat intermediate; I've seen birds with lighter foreheads and I've seen birds with darker ones. Peregrines are pretty common at Tiscornia in the first 2 weeks of October, I've had them there almost half of all visits from the last few days of September through those first 2 weeks. Lake Erie Hawkwatch reports peak numbers in the first week of October generally. Wheeler indicates that most of the city birds are non-migratory; our birds are probably mostly native tundrius though some may well be the introduced Lake Superior population. Info on the Ann Arbor pair (with a photo of one of their dark faced juvies and a list of prey items collected - mostly meadowlark/dove size this year (also WW crossbill (!) but no yellow rail this year) can be found here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A short break

After going to Tiscornia for most of my birding over the last month and a half or so a trip to Floral was in order.
There were a lot of birds around, mainly WT sparrows and juncos. I was hoping to get something to perch up, a phoebe was the only thing that even partially cooperated. At one point a Coopers flew right past a downy woodpecker which flushed at the last second. I don't think the Coop ever saw it until the downy flew away. I did manage a pine warbler, though couldn't duplicate last year's distant shot of a bird (or two) in a backlit snag. This was definitely a day to score my county lifer clay-colored since there were some groups of chippings moving about, but I ran out of time before having to take one of the girls to a doctor appointment (bloody sawbones).

After lunch I re-checked the beaches hoping that the Franklin's gull from yesterday would turn back up, but no luck. A flock of dabblers did fly by relatively closely, how many can you ID (I count 5, probably 6)?

Here's the same pic numbered:
1. the large size, green head, and pattern make this a drake mallard
2. dark belly and long bill - northern shovelor drake
3. again a long bill and medium size - hen shovelor
4. as with number 2 another drake shovelor
5. larger duck with a very small bright white secondary patch - gadwall drake
6. see number 2
7. small size, short bill, and pale (blue) forewing patch - blue-winged teal
8. another gadwall
9 and 10. again shovelors, based mainly on size in this pic, though the dark belly of 9 is helpful
11. medium size with a white belly contrasting the head/breast/flanks - American Wigeon
12-14. small size, pale forewing patch - more BW teal
15. note that shovelors also have blue forewing patches, though these don't stand out as much as in the BW teal. Female shovelors don't show this however, except for a whitish line at the back edge of the patch - female shovelor
16. Oops. I didn't see this bird when I decided to try to get a photoquiz type photo of the flock. It looks like it's all dark with a white secondary patch. It also appears to be longer (and bulkier) than either the wigeon or the gadwall, which would seem to make it the first white-winged scoter of the fall. (Jon?)

Here's the front as it came in. Cut off in the foreground could possibly be the University of Tiscornia winter campus, stay tuned...

Monday, October 5, 2009


We've all been there. You see a bird briefly, can't get a solid confirmatory view (much less a photograph), and end up with a big one that got away. Tim and I were walking the grass at Tiscornia and walked up on a sandy pale passerine walking away from us with a fairly upright posture, a contrastingly patterned back, and (what seemed to be) a plain face. It was 15 feet from me and probably less than 10 from Tim and disappeared into the grass in seconds. We had a rope with us (with which we'd been dragging other sections of grass), extended it across the grass island in the parking lot and walked to the end ... nothing. No Sprague's pipit flushed or walked into view, nor anything else, either. Though both of use believed Sprague's pipit is exactly what it was. Oh well.

Tim picked up a road-killed Barred Owl from near his house which is probably in decent enough condition to end up in the Andrews collection.

The pattern of the primary coverts is (per Pyle) supposedly helpful in aging them. We came to the conclusion that this was probably an adult, though the difference didn't seem to be as great as in the book's figure.

Here's the bill. The facial feathering projects so far forward in owls that you don't see much of the bill.

On slightly less macabre topics, this is a Variagated Fritillary. Per Kaufman, the dark bracketed paler spot on the leading edge of the forewing a little less than halfway out is a pretty good mark for this species.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Judging a wine by its cover

The first cold front of the fall passed through this week with much anticipation, a day of SW gales followed by strong NW winds. Tuesday found Tim and I struggling from the traditional lakewatch spot. Scopes weren't very helpful for scanning way out in the driving blustery mist so we moved down to a more sheltered spot closer to the pier. "It'll be easier to see the phalarope that lands at the base of the pier," Tim said half-jokingly. Well, I don't think 15 minutes passed before my county-lifer red-necked phalarope landed in front of us, spent about 45 seconds in the pounding surf and then kept heading south. A good day, but not the epic jaeger-fest that we hoped for. Surprisingly our Indiana counterparts with their geographic advantage as the very base of the lake also struck out. Photograpy of the phalarope was clearly impossible, here's a few birds from this fall that haven't made it onto other posts:

One of the young greater black-backeds that's been hanging out. I was confused on the age at the time since it seems like these same birds have been around for over a year but it has a virtually all dark bill. Review of Howell and Dunn shows that greater black-backeds don't get the bi-colored bill so typical of 2nd cycle herrings; this bird is a typical 2nd cycle great black-backed.

I've been able to visit the lake more frequently after dropping Hazel off to pre-school in the mornings. Semi-palmated sandpipers were pretty common in mid-September (young ones at least). There is some variability in the bare parts colors, the first bird has brighter legs and eyering than the second bird. (Just for the sake of the exercise, per Karlson, common ringed plover also has a duller eyering, however the face mask is of more even width so more dark in the lores and more narrow through the cheek than a semi plover).

Finally, the title of the blog. Back when Ginger and I were dating and in the BC (before children) days, we might enjoy an occasional glass of wine. There are many foofoo books about how to become a proper wine connoisseur; I chose vintages with a bird on the label.
Alas, the collection made way on the shelf for a binder with Hazel's rapidly amassing pre-school works of art. I told Ginger I was finally ready to part with it, I think the bottles were smashing in the trash can before I finished the sentence. Personally I'm surprised they survived the move. I never did figure out if the hummingbird was white-eared or Xantus's, either way an interesting choice for a California grower. White-eared was my ABA bird #500. The Traverse City cherry wine very appropriately displays a robin. The central bottle is something called Smoking Loon. The cork was lettered "woo-aah-ah-ah, woo-ah, cough cough, woo-ah, woo-ah-ah," or something to that effect. If ever I host a birder's potluck (which was done semi-regularly by various people back in the Washtenaw days), you'll know what to expect from the drinks table...