Thursday, February 18, 2010

Vegas baby, Vegas

So that's what normal people do on vacation. Ginger and I returned earlier today from Las Vegas where I had a conference. I saw a couple of mentors that I see about once a year (at this conference). The motels and restaurants were indeed amazing. I played some poker (and ended ahead on the gambling front if you consider poker gambling). That being said after a day or so I wanted a place to go birding.

There wasn't one. There was a big palm plantation sort of thing in the back of our motel ... which required a $10 entry fee since they had dolphins swimming around in pools and I guess some tigers in cages. I passed.

This may be the first and last pic of a pigeon on this blog, a bird perched on one of the Ceasars Palace facades on the strip.

Here's the next 20% of the bird list, a great-tailed grackle atop one of their statues.
The list was rounded out by Mallard, House Sparrow, and Kestrel (which perched atop the motel our first morning there).

It was honestly very strange to travel without the scope or a detailed itinerary of locations to visit targeting various birds. I know Ginger found it very relaxing. Me? I'd rather have gone to the Rio Grande Valley to pick up some of the Mexican rares that are invading this winter.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

3 weeks later...

Between a front-loaded work schedule this month and the general fun of a Michigan February I haven't been getting out that much. Photo standards are falling on a daily basis...

The scaup had re-accumulated between the piers, joined by this Long-tailed Duck.
Per my interpretation of Pyle, this bird appears to be a first cycle female in formative (first winter) plumage aspect, attained by a partial (pre-formative) body moult that runs from November to March. The fresh scapulars contrast the more worn flight feathers. Pyle depicts all non-juvenile males as having much more sharply pointed scapulars than this bird displays. In a first-cycle female these feathers are gray with whitish edges (this bird) whereas in an adult these feathers are brown with buffier edges. The pre-formative moult has also transitioned the sides and facial pattern to an appearance closer to a winter adult female's.

There's a black scoter sleeping in the next frame as well.
The title of the post is a reference to my post from Jan 21 where most of the Greater Scaup males had dusky sides. Now the birds are much whiter, though most still show some degree of duskiness to the sides.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Gray" gulls

Currently there's a thread on ID-Frontiers about Ring-billed's with gray body plumage with some discussion about whether this is staining or if this is natural plumage.

These birds are reported most commonly around Chicago though it was a Georgia bird that started the discussion (here's one with a normal head but gray body from California). I had this bird in June of 2007 (at Tiscornia (in extreme SW Michigan for any visitors)).

When I first put binoculars on it I immediately wondered if I had a Gray Gull, a bird native to South America (I think) which I only knew of, but nothing about its appearance. The scope however revealed a clear Ring-billed (though the orbital ring shows up much more prominently than it does on white birds). I've always thought this was a rare plumage variant. I find it hard to believe that a bird could be so evenly stained (wouldn't floating in water affect staining somewhat?). The bill and legs are somewhat darker than a typical Ring-billed's, I don't know if that's an argument either way. The white tip to newly growing P7 and the mirror on the underside of P10 appear to be normally white. The flight feathers on the Georgia birds also appear to be normal. I'm not sure that I could see a pollutant (even if the bird was dust bathing in coal dust with its wings extended) that would completely miss the wings, especially given that the wings would be the least rinsed off in swimming and bathing. To my eyes the mantle of my bird is essentially the same as that of the normal neighbor which also would seem to argue against artificial staining. But, who knows. The Chicago birds are mainly seen in the summer, same time as mine, so perhaps there is some exposure that leads to this that occurs during that time period.
Here's one from New Buffalo with the opposite...
My notes from the day indicate that there was a symmetric patch on the other side.