Thursday, December 29, 2011

GBBG x GLGU and ???

We had a couple interesting gulls this morning at Tiscornia, starting with a presumed adult hybrid between Great black-back and Glaucous. It's not pictured in many books, but is in the Howell and Dunn Gulls book. Basically it's a GBBG but with a white trailing edge to the primaries. For whatever reason I don't have a great close pic of a flying adult GBBG (though 2 posts ago has a marginal one), but suffice it to say it shouldn't have a completely white trailing edge. Tim had this bird back in mid-November (and got vastly better shots then) as well as yesterday. It was the first time I'd seen it.
Also on the beach this morning was this bird.
The size, whitish primaries, and perhaps the bi-colored bill certainly indicate significant Glaucous heritage. I've never seen a Nelson's Gull (GLGU x HEGU) with this white of primaries, though admittedly that's what Sibley shows. (Howell and Dunn jive more with my experience, showing 8 photos of first year presumed GLGU x HEGU and none have white primaries, though one shot of a 2nd cycle does). The fine dark markings in the wing coverts on the perched bird are really reminiscent of a GBBG. The pic of first cycle GLGU x GBBG in Howell and Dunn, however, shows these to be much more extensive (though they make the caveat in most of their discussions of the hybrids that they can all be variable and run through the spectrum of adult appearances).

It flew by the end of the pier a couple times.

This was a very large gull which we thought might support GBBG x GLGU for this bird too, though Brandon Holden has a shot of a really big Nelson's as well. The blotchiness of the underparts is displayed by Glaucous (though usually not this diffusely) in 2nd cycle birds. Given that Nelson's (GLGU x HEGU) is more likely I wonder if this is actually a 2nd cycle Nelson's. It's really frustrating to not be able to solidly age it, but with GLGU starting with a bi-colored bill and skipping the dirty brown bill altogether it's hard to fall back on the bill. Perhaps Tim's shots will show the back a little better to see what feather ages might be there.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


As recently as a few years ago Tim and I considered 270 to be a nearly untouchable number for yearbirds in one county. At that time the record was in the mid 260's and 260 had only been reached a couple times. Well, that year Tim went ahead and reached 270, and has gone over that (actually way over that) in each successive year. Last year I ended at 268. Today we re-found the goshawk he photographed yesterday which in addition to being a county lifer was 270 for the year. It flew past us at Sarett displaying the heavily marked underparts, stovepipe tail, really broad secondaries, thick chest, and flight style really different from Coops. He managed a few shots of it as it disappeared through the trees, I just watched with bins. Unfortunately I don't even have any file photos of actual Goshawks, so will just pull out a few shots of Red-morph Goshawks, which are better known as Coops.

Here's a juvie red-morph gos from Tiscornia from the digiscoping days. Note the minimal eye stripe, lean Cooper's body, straight tail banding (Goshawks have irregularly edged bands), and terminal white tail edge.
Another red-morph from the dunes.
This one has the "hangman hood" which they sometimes exhibit (as described by Pete Dunne in Hawks in Flight). Note how on the Coop the belly streaking is narrow giving it a white-bellied look. The dark splotches on a legit Gos really stand out. This bird has the classic "Flying cross" wing shape of a Coop (though the tail is spread a little taking away from the complete effect).

Monday, December 19, 2011

it's still Count-week

I missed the CBC this year, having asked for the wrong day off 2 1/2 months ago when we had to put in our requests. That being said, from Tim's description of yesterday, I didn't miss much.

In fact, we added a handful birds today than didn't appear yesterday. Unfortunately we were up on the dune preparing to leave when the best flew by, a male Harlequin Duck. It flew past the end of the pier, landed, and was gone by the time we got out to the end.

A young Glaucous Gull did pass by, also a Count-week bird.
We were actually able to chum it in with some bread, the first time that's been successful with a Glaucous Gull
While we were fairly satisfied with the first pass it made by the pier no one was going to argue if it decided to go by a few more times...
Ideally I would have stopped the aperture down a notch when it got into the brightest of the sun, but couldn't really pull off the thumb-focus even if that had occurred to me.

We saw several ages of Great Black-backed Gull. Here's a montage of a neatly-plumaged first year bird that was flying with a 3rd or 4th winter bird.
The solid dark bill of the above bird contrasts with the patterned bill of the next bird, probably a 2nd cycle bird with somewhat more ragged upperparts.
Here's a better shot of the 3rd or 4th cycle bird, nearly adult, but with slightly paler browner mantle than an adult would have, and the ring-bill that a lot of gulls display a year or so before they get full adult appearance.
Finally a montage of a distant adult.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

the power of purple

It's come up once or twice before here that first year sandpipers that have spent their entire life in the Arctic seem to pay people about as much attention as they would a caribou. This Purple Sandpiper was no different. We were walking off the jetty at New Buffalo when this bird flew towards us and landed at our feet.
It would use its feet to brace itself from sliding right into the water. I bet they have proportionately longer feet and toes than a lot of the calidrids that are just running around on sand.

The bird flitted over to the other side of the jetty and the lighting got a lot harder to deal with.
It followed the same game plan though, and just foraged along the edges paying me no attention whatsoever.
In this un-cropped shot (like basically all of these), its walking past on the rock I'm hunkered down on.
In the last shot it's easy to see the difference between the winter scapulars and the un-molted wing coverts that won't be turned over until spring (assuming the bird figures a way out of Lake Michigan).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

the right white birds

Year birds at last; after about a 3 week lull where I couldn't add anything new, yesterday turned things around. Tim found a Snowy Owl at New Buffalo which was good enough to stick around for me.

Here you can see the bird over Hannah's left shoulder on the far breakwall. She enjoyed the "Castle," i.e. the big granite blocks that should help make her more likely to be enthused for future Purple Sandpiper/Harlequin Duck searches.
Iceland Gull is the last "easy" bird that I was still missing and as it happens we had two of them yesterday. First, an adult at New Buffalo
While at rest it conceivably could be blown off as a Herring Gull, in flight the vastly reduced primary coloration is a lot more apparent. I forget what percentage of Iceland gulls have somewhat dark eyes, but certainly the paleness of the primaries is well outside of Thayer's range.
Here's a juvenile that flew past Tiscornia in the morning (and landed briefly on the beach). As compared with the juvenile Thayer's gull, it's paler overall without the darker secondaries.
Finally a hint at what's on the Snowy's menus; a Ring-billed Gull that's reduced to wings and the shoulder/breastbone girdle.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A touch of color

I was so surprised to see a kestrel in nice light the other day that I completely blew a great chance at a decent shot. I still had the camera on heavy overcast settings and even with a lot of post-processing the pic's still not great.
At least it's not a shot of a Snowy garbage bag or a Snowy 5 gallon bucket or a Snowy random-flag-in-a-field like I thought about leading with. The Snowy Owl irruption hasn't hit Berrien despite some intense looking by a number of people.
The all white birds at Tiscornia so far have been Glaucous gulls.
Here's a first cycle bird.
This bird is 2nd (or probably more likely) 3rd cycle given the ring-bill, and some retained cloudy coloring on the underparts:
Finally an adult, which wasn't very interested in the bread we tossed at the flock trying to chum it in.
A black scoter has been hanging out close to the piers at times as well, hopefully I can catch it in nicer light somewhere along the way.

Monday, November 21, 2011

the easy Thayer's plumages

Got out on the boat for a half day today. It wasn't quite calm enough to be able to find a lot of loons on the water; we had considerably more success chumming in the gull flocks. One contained an adult Thayer's Gull. It made a number of circles around the boat.
They average neater shorter bills and more head smudging than the Herrings.
The eye in full sun in the photos is flecked smoky gray, though appeared dark in the field.
The bird stood out most as being a white-winged gull on the underside of the wings.
Here's the famous Venetian blind pattern to the upper primaries. Per the books Kumlien's and Kumlien's-Thayers integrades generally do not have a completely black leading edge to P9, and most lack any black on P5. This one has more black on the leading edge of P9 than our Thayer's gull at Tiscornia this winter.
Juvenile/first winter plumaged birds are the other most common age group to see. Here's a first cycle Thayer's with a first cycle Great Black-backed at Tiscornia from a week or so ago.
Note again the small bill, as well as the primaries much paler than a Herring would show.
Again, Thayer's is a whitewing from the underside.
The first cycle bird also shows a Venetian blind pattern to the primaries to some extent.
The darker secondary bar is a good mark to separate Thayers from a dark Kumlien's.
Now the trick will be to try to find a 2nd and 3rd cycle Thayer's.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Black-headed Gull

A Black-headed Gull was a nice surprise at Tiscornia for Tim, Rhoda, Warren Whaley, and myself this morning. Tim and I had more expected Black-headed to appear on one of those days when Bonaparte's are moving in flocks or, better yet, foraging in large numbers along the pier. This morning however, Tim saw one Bonaparte's. I saw one Bonaparte's. And then this bird.
From above the bird has a Bonaparte's wing pattern with a leading white triangle. The black under-primaries, however, are unique.

Here's what the bird looked like as it appeared in my scope flying towards me.
I could pick up some slight reddish at the bill base, and the black ear spot seemed finer than a Bonaparte's would be, but flying head-on I couldn't convince myself of the black primaries. In hindsight, I could have called it out immediately; adult Bonaparte's don't have reddish at the bill base (I'm gonna say I was thinking of Franklin's since they can show a reddish bill base this time of year).

It flew in with a Ring-billed (which briefly harassed it). The only other Black-headed that I've seen was an over-wintering bird along the Chicago lakefront. That bird, also an adult, was hanging out with Ring-billed's, so maybe they're not as tightly associated with Bonaparte's as we thought. They're certainly closer in size than one might expect.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

still alive

I swung by the New Buffalo area a couple days ago. While quickly scanning through the gulls in the howling wind I fairly quickly picked up the hybrid dark-mantled gull that's been kicked around as a Chandeleur Gull, Great Black-back x Herring, or who knows what.
We haven't seen it at Tiscornia this year and thought he might have joined Hughie. He hadn't.
There's always some semi-odd gulls in the New Buffalo flock (though with 300 Herring Gulls, simple probability says that 1% of them will be outliers). This first fall bird (no longer a juvie with first winter back plumage) is a lot more white-headed than the average first year HEGU.
If this bird was on the other side of Lake Michigan I bet a whole bunch of people would be desperately gripping for a Euro Herring Gull, especially if you compare it to a recently arrived juvenile Herring Gull in fresh dark plumage presumably from the high arctic.
From my extensive experience in chucking a gull book in the air and seeing what page it falls open to randomly for ID quality assurance purposes, Euro Herring Gull supposedly has a much whiter rump among other points.
This one looks pretty normal.

Friday, November 4, 2011

an actually red-throated Red-throat

Despite seeing triple digit numbers of Red-throated Loons every year, I'd never had a good look at one in breeding (or near-breeding) plumage. This bird appeared off the pier a few days ago (the same day as the Arctic Tern in fact). A few white feathers are starting to appear in the face, and the bird is moulting all of its primaries (it can't actually fly at present). Pyle states that Red-throated Loon does indeed moult all of its flight feathers prior to its pre-basic moult into winter plumage, usually in staging areas away from the breeding grounds.
This is the more traditional look to Red-throated Loons. This bird was actually calling, it sounded more like a Caspian Tern than a Common Loon.
This Common Loon flew past the pier at close range. I'd never noticed the vent strap before.
A couple White-winged Scotors also made a close pass that day.
Finally a montage of a flyby White-winged Crossbill in Warren Dunes. It was the second day in a row I'd gone up into the dunes hoping for Goshawk or Golden Eagle and gotten a different year bird (Tundra Swan the day before).