Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Berrien's high Arctic

Today's theme was definitely cool-tundra-birds-in-breeding-plumage-in-crappy-light. I returned to Buffalo Rd hoping to improve my Smith's pics. Unfortunately the birds were for the most part REALLY far out. One female was quite close but I was always just a step slow secondary to some random wobble from the scope (get the quick release mount for your scope, not the screw).

This Lapland perched up long enough for a single shot though, one of the nicest males I've ever seen.
Flocks of golden plovers are also being seen along nearby Avery Rd. This bird was part of what turned out to be a flock of just over 50 birds when they were flushed by a harrier. Just over half of the birds were well into breeding plumage, though there were still some wearing mostly juvenile feathers. This was the first time I've encountered this plumage (now I really want to see one in the sun).

All right, so lesser black-backed gull isn't really a bird of the arctic, but I was surprised by one at 3 Oaks. This was by far the latest I've had a lesser black-backed. When I first spotted it with bins I wondered if I might find something exciting (e.g. California or slaty-backed).
This bird is late in 2nd cycle plumage given the adult colored back but brown coverts. There are some gray feathers starting to appear in the coverts, by this winter the wings will be fairly solidly gray for 3rd winter.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Smith's freaking longspur

Well, the birds were good enough to stick around...
Given that I could only go early in the morning before work on an overcast and misting/sprinkling morning the photo opps were limited. The above photo was taken at 1/25 of a second on an ISO 400, the slowest exposure I've ever tried for digiscoping.

Poor light aside, the birds were putting on quite the show. Some of the males were singing, which was interesting since they're not even in the Stokes eastern CD's. They were giving plenty of their dry rattling calls as well, with a few Laplands about for comparison. Periodically the birds would take to the air in bounding flight before swooping back in, flashing a lot of black and white in the tail (much more than the Laplands) as they landed. Many of the males were well into breeding plumage. There were also some drabber males and females, but, at least in springtime, we had little trouble differentiating them from Laplands just on color alone. I probably should have spent more time studying and taking notes on the females given that drabber plumages are obviously bigger ID issues, but what can you do. The males were really sharp little birds. Hopefully they'll stick around for some sunny shots...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Catching up, part II

I've been spending a fair amount of time looking in the south parts of the county for Smith's longspurs or upland sandpipers without success. Pectoral sandpipers have been fairly common at the Avery Rd flooding.

I ran across this red-tailed hawk while driving around the St Joe rivermouth looking for a rumoured white pelican. Ironically later in the day I did see an osprey, the raptor one would more likely expect to find sitting in a puddle.

Finally, on the way back from Brown Sanctuary where I also looked for pelicans I spotted 3 vertical white shapes in a small corral with some horses. I turned around expecting them to be domestic geese but figured I'd best make sure they weren't cattle egrets. Obviously the first glance through optics revealed that they were indeed cattle egrets, a bird that's found about every other year in Berrien (though in some years there's multiple sightings, most commonly in May).
However, shortly after I found them they were observed to fly away. I doubt anyone looked for them today given that Smith's longspurs were indeed found in the south county today and basically everyone who looked saw them as far as I could tell. I think I've been to the field they were found in 2-3 times per week for the last 2-3 weeks but what can you do. I suspect though, that Alison's probably been there at least that often during that time. Hopefully they're still there in the morning.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Catching up, part I

Well I've been without a computer for a week so haven't had a chance to update this very often.

I've made 2 attempts to try to photograph yellow-throated warbler before the leaves come out, but haven't accomplished much. The first time I was at Forest Lawn this male wood duck was squealing prominently:
The object of his desires was fairly attentive.

Marsh marigolds are peaking in the wet areas (of which Forest Lawn certainly counts)...
Spring beauties are also coming out, I think I'll need better equipment to really capture the almost waxy quality of the petals.

Here was my first of the year purple martin, perched up on the boxes at 3 Oaks.

Stay tuned for lousy cattle egret pics...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A spring day

I enjoyed the warmest day of the year so far, starting at Tiscornia where long-tailed ducks continued to stream north well out over the lake. One of the red-throated loons had gray along the sides of the neck, starting to attain breeding plumage, however all the others were still solidly white-throated. I spent an hour there before I knew I'd have to press on if I was to cover as much ground as I hoped.

I spent some time poking around the roads into and around Grand Mere trying to find a Coopers nest, though any local birds had probably stopped calling by the time I arrived. Phoebes, fox sparrows, hermit thrushes, RC kinglet, and sapsuckers were all present. This grebe was fairly cooperative on the North lake:
Common loons were present on both lakes. The scaup on middle lake were somewhat worried when a loon landed; the entire flock watched it land with necks outstretched and moved nervously away.

I made my first trip to Floral. By 11 it had warmed up considerably and bird activity had definitely slacked off. More kinglets, as well as towhees and YR warblers, and a winter wren appeared sporadically. The warm temperature had butterflies up and moving around. Morning cloaks and eastern commas were fairly prominent. There was also an unidentified small blue one and some cabbage butterflies. The comma looks like it's on the same kind of bush that attracted pipevine swallowtails and the duskywings in Arizona 6 weeks ago.

The flowers in Warren Dunes (at least down on the floor where the trail is) were about 2 weeks behind the ones on my SE facing backyard hill. The Dutchman's breetches were barely even budding. This patch of hepatica was about the nicest I've ever found.
There were also some small trilliums about to open. Given that my large-flowered trilliums are barely up, I have hope that these may turn out to be snow trilliums, a species I've never found before (now if I can just get back there...)

A pair of bluebirds was foraging in the trees in the parking lot.

I spent the remainder of my time searching the wet spots and fields down in the south county for shorebirds, ducks, blackbirds, and longspurs. I again struck out utterly with longspurs (and found far fewer shorebirds and ducks than have been reported), but did find this blackbird:
I'm not sure which species this is. Obviously it was not a red-winged, besides the lack of red-wings, it's much glossier than the redwings are. I was particularly confused by the dark brown eye. Males of either rusty or Brewer's should have white eyes. While female Brewer's have dark eyes, this bird was in glossy male plumage. I think it's probably an aberrant rusty since it's not quite as glossy as my memory of Brewer's from the last 2 Mays. Brewer's has always been somewhat of a mystery to me in migration; I never found one in Washtenaw, the only ones I've seen in Berrien have been in May. Chartier and Ziarno's Michigan ABA guide show mid-April as the peak for Brewer's in the southern LP. Just for the sake of argument, shiny cowbird apparently would typically have a dark eye though the bird's proportions were those of a blackbird rather than a cowbird.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

moulting goldfinches

The goldfinches have really started coming into the spring plumage over the last 2 weeks.
This one still has a fair amount of winter coloring to it.

Most of mine look more like this bird, mostly yellow but still with a fair amount of patchy gray. The forehead is the last part of the black cap to come in.

This one is pretty close to full breeding plumage, most of mine aren't quite this far along.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

more on my HOGR

My grebe is still hanging out on the same little pond that it's been on the last few days about a mile from my house. I assume that's because of the ongoing cold and strong NW flow of the winds (though YR warblers passed through the backyard today that I hadn't seen previously this year). I wondered briefly if maybe they stop over somewhere along their migration to complete moult, but given that the plumage of the bird looks pretty identical over the last 4 days that seems unlikely (though I've not seen the bird's flight feathers).
I spent most of my time out this afternoon glassing fields for longspurs but didn't even come up with Laplands much less a Smith's...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Post #100 ...

... will be sadly lacking in birds.

It's hard to belive I've written a hundred of these posts. I've used up all of 2% of my space on blogspot, so I'm hopefully good to go for the next 50 years!

The weather was not very cooperative this morning. I spent a little bit of time at Tiscornia facing into 25mph winds coming off the lake which wasn't very productive. A few small groups of RB mergansers and long-tailed ducks flew by, along with a couple common and a red-throated loon. I tried to work on my collection of herring gull images (many are in confusingly faded plumage) but the wind made it impossible. After glassing various empty fields not finding the windblown Smith's longspur that surely must be out there I noticed this little bird snorkeling in a retention pond as I buzzed by at 50mph.
The photo's terrible, but I'm pretty sure it's the only horned grebe that's ever been photographed in Royalton Twp. I'll have to ask Jon if he's ever had one in the township at all...

In the afternoon the sun came out briefly and I spent some time with the Dutchman's breeches backlit, but at least relatively sheltered from the wind.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sweet screech pics ...

... would unfortunately be an April Fool's tease. I spotted a gray phase screech owl sunning itself in the box I have in the backyard from the kitchen window. Unfortunately it dropped back in as soon as I walked out the back door so no pics.

The Dutchman's breetches,however, are just starting to come out...

As is the bloodroot...
I looked for hepatica, which is always past its peak by the time I find it, without success.

It was somewhat windy out, but the river bottom was fairly sheltered and more active than I would have expected for late afternoon. Hermit thrush, golden-crowned kinglet, brown creeper, rufous-sided towhees, and phoebes were all present.

Fox sparrows continue to be fairly common in a couple of thickets, but don't come out very far even when singing. This one was doing their typical heel-kick feeding.