Monday, August 31, 2015

Grasspipers the old-fashioned way

With the high lake levels and subsequent beach loss at Tiscornia, there's been a lot less opportunity for shorebirds there.  Last year I somehow missed Baird's and, not as surprisingly, Buff-breasted Sandpiper as well.  So I left a shorebird-less Tiscornia fairly quickly when word of a Buff-breast came, at the old Black Rail Field.

I've been in Niles less often the last couple months and so haven't passed by this field very much and didn't realize there's some reasonable habitat there.  After scanning over a series of mourning doves, the bird popped into my bins.

It was fairly distant and I spent some time trying to digi-scope it, but heat waves led to limited success.  I think it's an adult based on the width of the buffiness of the scapulars and wing coverts going off Sibley.

The bird took flight with a pectoral once, flashing its white underwings as it landed.

A record pic of the 2 Baird's.
I've had Baird's in this field before (and golden plover in the field on the opposite side of the road), but I think this is the first time I've had Buff-breasted in Royalton Twp.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Turn of the seasons Turnstone

Cool weather makes it feel very fall-like, and there've been a few spurts of migration.  A couple days ago there were a nice push of blue-winged teal along with some various terns and large shorebirds at Tiscornia, though they were generally too far out for decent pics.  There have been some turnstones hanging out in various places, a bird that is fairly sporadic in occurrence year-to-year.  Some years there are barely any, this appears to be a year where they will be more common.

The bold patterns make more sense when it allows this young bird to disappear into a contrasty bed of zebra mussels.

The bird would isolate a mussel (presumably one partially open still with the mussel inside),
 would hammer away somewhat like a slow downy woodpecker though with its bill partially open as it scraped the inside of the shell
 until it extracted its goal

A zoom in of another success

I don't have a lot of decent flight shots of turnstones, it's something that hopefully I can work on this fall

I did a quick search on Ruddy Turnstone on SORA, apparently at times they'll eat eggs if abandoned or at least unattended, there's also a couple (snoozefest of) papers about how flock size is somewhat determined by the interplay of food availability.  Lots of food will attract more birds allowing predator vigilance to be spread over more birds until there's enough competition and squabbles amongst the birds that foraging decreases.  Adults are a lot more aggressive than first year birds (at least among same species flocks), though this one had at least one semi-aggressive action towards a sanderling.  Those two papers are here and here if anyone needs help sleeping.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Varmints. But cute varmints.

The kids' favorite animal of the whole trip to South Dakota were the prairie dogs.  They named this one Grassy.
 Ginger and I suggested Skillet or Pancake.  I didn't point out the flattened one a little ways up the road.

This fat bastage was christened Pipsqueak.
 Apparently sitting on your ass in the sun is tiring.
 My kingdom for a golden eagle right about now.

I'm not sure if these ones got named.

Prairie dogs are apparently a keystone species, they keep mesquite and brushy stuff from taking over the grasslands.  I was hoping to see some of the higher on the foodchain associated species like Burrowing Owl or Black-footed Ferret but no such luck, closest I could come was this (I'm guessing Thirteen-lined) ground-squirrel

Friday, August 14, 2015

Knot bad pics

Except of the knot(s).  Those ones are terrible.

I walked Tiscornia to Jean Klock and back this morning ... and had no shorebirds of any kind.  I had more time than expectations however and so I walked Silver to Lions ... this worked out much better.  I totally missed a Piping Plover hunched down in the dry sand until it flushed quite close.  I staked out some little flooded spots on the beach and hunkered down to see if it would work its way back.  Aided by some beach walkers, it did.


 This bird hatched from a nest that escaped detection since it's unbanded. 

The other shorebirds worked their way past as well.  This adult Sanderling was still in fairly bright plumage

Juvenile Least Sandpipers can be very bright birds.

While I was photographing the Least a large long-winged calidrid whipped past.  The white rump and plain grayish tail gave the bird away as a Red Knot.

 The tip of the feet are darker than the tail is.

Remarkably, two hours later a/the knot flew past in New Buffalo 25 miles to the south.
The lead bird is a Semi Sandpiper and the trail bird a Sanderling.  I tried phone-scoping it with limited success.  It was pretty distant.
This is only the 4th time I've had Red Knot in the county.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Badlands Birds

I did not expect the Badlands to be as birdy as they were.  I'd been hoping to get a decent Mountain Bluebird pic and I heard one singing from a scrubby tree right next to the visitor center.  It was the only tree.  The bird flew down, caught a bug, then teed up about 6 feet away.

We started around the loop and after a few turns came across another tree.  This one had a family of freshly fledged Loggerhead Shrikes.

"Aww, it's so cute," said no grasshopper ever.   Basically every tree had one or two nests in it, the next one had both Western Kingbird and Orchard Oriole.

Lark Sparrows were pretty common.  This one was panting in the shade.

This was the first time I've been in Rock Wren habitat with an SLR.
 You know it's the Badlands when millipedes are a choice morsel.

Fun with the invert function in photoshop...
 Here's the actual pic, another fledgling.

One last look at the scenery

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Custer Mountain Goats

I've only seen Mountain Goats once prior to our last trip out west (on a family trip to Glacier National Park when I was a kid) so I was pretty surprised to see a Mountain Goat bolt across the road in the Needles section of Custer.  It turned out that a baby was right behind it.  They nibbled grass along the road before someone tried to take full-frame pics with their iPhone from a few feet away.  The two scrambled away and settled down well away from the road to wait out the heat of the day. 

 A couple days later we did another hike in that area and came across a couple more momma goats, this time each with 2 kids.

The youngsters demonstrated the famous agility

Apparently the corollary to Pronghorn antelopes actually being closer related to goats, Mountain Goats are technically antelopes though I don't think I read any of the signs in the visitor centers to remember the horn/hoof differences that makes this so.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Waaaaaaay out of season Mergansers

After having scored the Marbled Godwit a couple days ago, yesterday I checked New Buffalo looking for more of the first wave of fall migration.  I wasn't expecting to see two representatives of migration's (cold and) bitter end... (8/3/15 addendum: and was unprepared for an ID issue I'd not run across before as Tim pointed out)

 The larger Common is on the right with a more clearly defined white throat patch, heavier-based bill, and more contrasting head.  Sibley lists Common as about 50% heavier than Red-breasted though a person would probably guess closer to double with these two .  So.  The bird on the right is a lot bigger, but a person doesn't realize when Common Mergs are in the water how much bigger males are than females.  Sibley does note males are bigger than females but doesn't quantify how much.  The male's bill is bigger, but the whole bird is bigger; in retrospect the bills are pretty much identically shaped.  Red-breasted would have feathering extending lower on the bill making the bill base look narrower.  Also, the smaller bird has a fairly well defined white throat patch that doesn't just fade into the face as a real Red-breasted's would.  Which means that the smaller bird is a female Common Merg and the other bird an eclipse plumaged male.

(in tennis-watching mode below...)


The Red-breasted's female's right wing is just trashed, with most of the flight feathers worn down to the feather vanes.  My guess is that the bird got stuck in the ice back in the winter and managed to rip itself free, at the cost of not being able to reach the breeding grounds.

I think the (male) Common is flightless too, though I'm guessing that's just because it's doing normal duck moult.  I can't even speculate on what left it stranded in southern Lake Michigan.

The two stuck together but the (male) Common was somewhat aggressive towards the smaller Red-breast female at times.

Apparently getting bit in the ass by a sawbill hurts.  I'd never seen a merganser jump before.

(8/3/15) one last pic of the female that in retrospect also has a much cleaner delineation between the head and the breast than a Red-breasted would have.
  and a last view of the male...