Monday, December 17, 2012

Birthday Kittiwake

I haven't gotten out to the beach very much lately so it was fun to see a kittiwake this morning.  I picked the bird up in the bins giving a vague hooded impression with an odd flight style.  The wings are proportionately long and coupled with the paler outer wing and a somewhat whippier wingbeat reminiscent of a medium sized tern the flight was very different from the Ring-billed that it roughly approximates in size impression.
When the bird flew past originally I was atop the dune and it was a quarter mile out.  It headed out past the end of the pier, but then hooked back and settled onto the water.  It was at that point I got to demonstrate to myself just how out of shape I am when I ran down to the car to grab the bread bag and then alternated jogging with triple-timed walking out to the end.  Based on GoogleMaps it's about 600 yards in a straight line over the water from the overlook to the white lighhouse.  That turns into half a mile of actual land to cover.  The bird ultimately ignored the bread but it was at least a lot closer when it did take off to go south.
The bird has the adult "dipped in ink" primary tips, but also some black along the leading edge of the wing retained from the juvenile Kittiwake plumage (with the heavy black M) making it a 2nd winter bird.  It has the adult gray (rather than black) nape.  In the overcast light the outerwing was noticeably brighter than the gray innerwing. 

The overcast made it difficult to get great shots.  To compare the new camera with the old here's the bird from the overlook today over the river.  Not great, but probably ID-able.
Here's an adult Kittwake from a couple years ago at a similar distance (though sunny glare-y) light and probably much more wind distortion, probably not really an apples to apples comparison, but still:
I'm guessing this is probably the last year-bird of the year, though I'm still missing a couple potentially gettable owls depending on motivation levels.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Today was the St Joseph CBC which I've participated in almost every year I've lived here.  Red-throated Loons are still write-up birds even though they're common on southern Lake Michigan.  This one was photographed off-shore.  

I recently switched to the 7D body from the 40D.  I haven't had a ton of opportunity to play with it.  One of its improvements is better low light sensitivity.  This is a 2nd year Glaucous from this morning.  It's hard to do an apples to apples comparison, but trust me that this turned out a lot better than it would have before.
Here's another distant poorly lit bird from the CBC, a light-morph Roughleg that had a masked face and mask.  To the naked eye the face and breast looked a lot darker giving it a somewhat Swainson's like appearance.
You'll have to trust me again that there's a lot more detail on this cropped in shot than otherwise would have been there.
One final offshore photo with the old camera, an oddly pale billed Herring Gull

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Changing the mantle

After entirely too many posts (don't think it'll stop me in the future) on Gull-nasty, the dark-mantled Chandeleur type gull (Kelp x Herring), I have a different dark-mantled hybrid for your viewing pleasure.

This bird was off New Buffalo.  When I first picked it up, seeing a nearly entirely white headed gull with a noticeably darker mantle than the average Herring Gull, but lighter than a typical graelsii Lesser Black-backed I had hopes for a Vega or Yellow-legged Gull.  As we got closer though the mantle seemed a bit dark for either and the bird was globe-headed with a heavy bill even for a Herring Gull.  You can get a sense of the heft of the bill and the jaw compared to the HERG in the foreground:
A flight shot ...
The one pic of GBBG x HERG in Howell and Dunn has a slightly larger mirror on P9, but I'm sure this is still within the range of variation.  It shares the subterminal white spot "pearl" on P7.

It made a couple close passes at our bread.  I kept shooting to try to get the orbital color...
It's orange or red-orange, both black-backs have red orbitals per Sibley, HERG has yellow-orange.

So, to summarize the intermediate characters on this bird, body size and bill larger and heavier than HERG arguing strongly for GBBG, mantle intermediate between HERG and a black-back, orbital intermediate, the feet are pink pretty close to a typical HERG and not like the much paler pink feet of a GBBG.  The intensely pink feet, large size, and minimal head markings are pretty strong arguments against LBBG as the black-backed parent.

While it's always hard to compare shades of gray in a photo, I think that these pics are pretty representative of the relative shades, here's a Lesser Black-back from the same flock at virtually the same time:

Lesser seems to moult later than do the other gulls, this one is a bit asymmetric with an old P10 on one side and a fresh P10 still growing in on the other.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The one day pelagic season

For a number of reasons yesterday was the first time this year we got out on the boat.  I'm guessing that it was the last day this year we got out on the boat.  The big loon flock that stages some years off Lakeside seemed to have moved on, we only saw the winter resident Red-throats.  We were able to chum in good numbers of gulls which would frequently move past inside of comfortable camera range.  There wasn't a ton of diversity of species, but there were a handful of Thayer's class birds over the day.

This juvenile stopped by briefly and landed quite backlit so I only had a handful of shots at it.
The prominent secondary bar and the longish bill probably elminates Iceland fairly easily.

Next is a 3rd winter bird.
A couple of flight views:
I think the tail is too dark to be an Iceland.  In adults Kumlien's Iceland is said not to have subterminal markings on P5 which this bird has.  About 90-95% of my 2nd and 3rd year Herring gulls shots have light eyes, Iceland usually has light eyes so the dark eyes are supportive of Thayers; I don't know how fast Iceland typically gets light eyes though.  P9 has dark along the entire leading edge which in adults is very good evidence for pure Thayer's.  The bill does have some pinkish tones which Olsen and Larsson note in Thayer's; Iceland at this age trends more towards greenish tones to the yellow.
I like this next shot mainly for the way the wings are catching the air; you can get a sense of the curvature that gives them lift.

Finally an adult bird...
Its eye is on the light end of the spectrum for Thayers (Howell and Dunn describe it as dirty yellowish to dark).  It's heavily hooded as in Thayer's.  The wing pattern with a tiny fleck on P5, and a very very narrow black leading edge to P9, and very little subterminal black on P10 is a little borderline.  Howell and Dunn show this pattern for Thayers-Kumlein intergrade in one of their (borrowed) plates, Olsen and Larsson would seem to put this wing pattern more solidly in the Thayer's camp based on their spreadwing plate.

Other pics I've posted ... adult Thayers Gull (also from boat last year), and a Thayer's type.

And coming soon to a blog near you, (drumroll please), a different dark-mantled hybird!!!