Thursday, January 27, 2011

Don't chase gulls

I don't have many rules for birding. In fact I think I only have one. It's fairly simple. Dont. Chase. Gulls. They move around widely. They hunker down for hours on end. They're just not a high-yield chase, if there's such a thing at all. Unless someone calls and says they're looking at the bird, don't do it.

Slaty-backed Gull is pretty high on my want list and one has been showing up off and on in the extreme western Indiana lakefront. It was re-seen yesterday and since I finally had a day off that actually didn't still have work obligations I decided to once again put the rule to the test.

I went.
Yes those are semi-frozen goose turds. An Indiana birder said he'd actually seen it about 10 minutes before I arrived and about 200 yards out, harkening memories of finally being able to chase the Ivory gull in Leamington Ontario a few years and crossing paths with the last birder to see the bird coming off the beach as I walked out. An eagle had put all the birds up and he'd lost the Slaty-back when a bunch of geese flushed in front of him. I'd seen the geese fly from about a quarter mile away on the walk out.

The gulls were resting on the ice about 500-1000 yards away, mostly hunkered down with their heads in their scapulars. Occasionally one would pop its head up. There were about 10 dark-mantled gulls, all that were ID-able were Great Black-backed.
The bird arrowed on the left was a clear GBBG. The arrowed bird on the right had a mantle a shade subtly lighter, was a size smaller and seemed to have more white of the tertial skirt and more prominent white spots to the primary tips. There's a good chance it was the bird. It rarely popped its head up and never stretched its wings. It once suddenly flew without warning along with all the birds around it and was hard to pick out after a wingbeat or two as it wasn't all that dark underneath, which would be consistent with what Sibley points out about Slaty-backed. It had pink legs so it wasn't a Lesser, but still conceivably could have been a small GBBG. At the distance it was impossible to really see the face pattern though I note in photos of this bird it has less of the black around the eye that some have. I had hoped that the predicted snow would coincide with a wind shift that might push the birds in. No such luck, I left when the snow cut visability in half.
The only salvagable moment was when this Kumlien's gull flew by. With my naked eye I thought it was Thayers with the dark eye and decent amount of dark in the wing, but the camera reveals gray not blackish coloration in the primaries with the dark stopping at p6, what Howell and Dunn show to be close to the maximal allowable colaration for a Kumlien's.
Those who think Kumlien's is a hybrid swarm will point out that it's interesting that the bird with the upper limit of pigmentation on the wings would have a Thayer's like dark eye. I forget what the literature says about whether the 10% or so Kumlien's Icelands that have dark eyes also tend towards more coloration in the primaries or not.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Crystalline Commons and a fishy Crow

With my group's additional contract, I've been working more hours this month than I ever have so I haven't been getting out a whole lot.

The bitter cold that's set in had nicely frosted the riverbottom this morning and the backlit iced limbs motivated me to target some of the feeder birds given the nice backgrounds.

With most of the overlooks frozen over I took a drive past Forest Lawn landfill about a week ago. There weren't many gulls, but I was surprised to see a (silent) crow a size smaller than all the other ones in the flock since my assumption is that the Forest Lawn Fish Crows would draw back down the Mississippi like the Illinois ones do (or to the Atlantic coast if somehow they're colonists from western New York)
A closer look, though, showed a bird that wasn't very glossy, though the lighting wasn't good. The bill looked pretty normal too (though there's probably some overlap in the bill).
I held on the bird until it flew..
... which shows p9 to be about the same length as P5 giving it a broad winged look, below is a file montage of an American in flight with the same proportions.
That can be compared with my only spreadwing Fish Crow shot, note the appearance of much pointier wings given that p5 (and probably p6 too) is much shorter in the smaller species:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A bunch of Rex Ryans

Turkeys, that is.
This flock has been in the northern Scottdale area and were getting blown about as they attempted to claw down to the corn stubble with feathers fluffed up for warmth.

I spent a few hours, mainly in the pines at Sarett, but some time below the nature center where this Tree Sparrow perched up.
In the dark overcast I had to shoot at half my normal shutter speed between heartbeats.

A brief bit of sun a few mornings ago at Tiscornia made for some nice light, but the birds were south of the piers and weren't really coming over for decent shots. These goldeneye weren't really at an ideal angle but they were the best I managed.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Thayer's flight shots at last

Since the day I took my first shots with the camera at the end of the pier I've been looking forward to getting flight shots of an adult Thayer's. Tim had seen a Thayer's in the last day or so at Tiscornia and he again picked it up at rest on the South Pier. We walked out the North Pier to try to get some shots. Aided by a loaf of bread, the gulls obliged.
About 20% of Kumlien's Iceland Gulls will have a dark eye, but they shouldn't have as nearly black of wingtips as this bird has. There's a very tiny black mark on P5 which most Thayer's will have (though 20% lack) which Kumlien's generally lacks. From what I can tell in Howell and Dunn and Olsen and Larssen many Thayer's will show just very slightly more black along the leading edge of P9 that connects the black of the tip with the black of the remainder of the feather which this bird just just barely does. I can't tell if P10 is older than the other feathers or if it's maybe just a little more faded since it's the most exposed with the bird at rest.

Just as the bird made its closest approach it checked up and stalled, probably considering a piece of bread. I would have totally over-exposed it if it kept going into the light though anyway.

A female Long-tailed Duck would forage pretty close to the pier at times.

This was the first Surf Scoter I've seen in at least a month if my memory serves, maybe longer. It's certainly the first adult male in a while. I've seen a few adult male White-winged lately, but the Blacks have all been female or first winter male types.
And for the year list, the Western Grebe made another pass by the pier while we were up on the dune, but headed severaly hundred yards out subsequently.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Birding

New Year's birding kicked off with a Coop mantling over some prey item in a neighborhood yard. I made a quick U-turn and its mate flew past as well.

Tiscornia was relatively quiet. This flock of pintail flew south.
The last couple of days have been warm with south winds, a couple years ago a large number of Pintail were observed going back north in such conditions at a similar time of year, these were probably correcting themselves.
This Pine Warbler has been hanging out in the Sarett pines with a group of chickadees for the winter so far.
A few years ago I had one in December which the seasonal compiler for North American Birds apparently found un-convincing. From a year-listing standpoint this was probably the best bird of the day.

This is probably the same Snow Goose we had on the CBC, again in the periphery of a large Canada flock in the Scottdale plains area.

A drake Hooded Merg was displaying for 4 females in the New Buffalo harbor.
It would sometimes chase away male Mallards. With the backlighting you can see how much of the head is feathers.