Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bonaparte's Shearwater ... and 300.

I spent a little bit of time at Tiscornia this morning where the highlight was a juvenile Bonaparte's Gull. It's been a week since I've been to the beach and today was the first day for me with juvie Bonaparte's (and Herrings too for that matter).

The bird was quite tame and waited a good 30 seconds longer than all the other gulls to flush before the Terror of Tiscornia, otherwise known as a poodle that's frequently walked down the beach, wandered too close.
Presumably due to inexperience it's actually clipping/shearing the (essentially calm) water with the outer two primaries.

Later, in the evening I received a phone call about a Yellow-headed Blackbird at a private location.
The bird couldn't have even taken an hour to re-appear amongst a cowbird and RWBB flock. Based on Sibley this would probably be a 2nd year male given the small white pocket handkerchief (primary coverts). It's not as straightforward in Pyle where a person might be able to make a case for several age groups. Perhaps better photos will resolve the issue, digi-scoping in this case would have been better. Whatever its age, it's my 300th bird for Berrien Co.

Monday, July 26, 2010

High May for butterflies

I had my first day off in a while so it was nice to spend some time with my girls. I knew it was unlikely I'd be able to get up early to go birding so we went for a family walk on the Sarett Prairie to see what butterflies were about.

This Tiger Swallowtail is actually from the in-laws' garden from last week.

This male and female Spicebush Swallowtail appeared to be doing some sort of courtship, the male would flutter his wings essentially in sync with the female. The female didn't fly away but I didn't see a copulation (assuming that's a butterfly reproductive strategy).

The SLR actually allowed flight shots of butterflies, something I never once even considered digi-scoping.

An American Copper perched up, its almond shaped eyes giving it a fair bit of personality, quite unlike the appearance of the Baltimore Checkerspot last year that honestly somewhat grossed me out.

Finally what I assume is an Eastern Tailed Blue from last week. Hazel actually managed to slap her net down on top of one in the path much to her pleasure. It fluttered for a few seconds then dropped back down in the grass and flew quickly away upon removal of the net.

Other ones present today included mulberrywing, some sort of dark skipper I couldn't get a shot of, as well as the usual sulfur and cabbage butterflies.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Long-billed Curlew

For the second month in a row, I was awakened with news of a first state record, this time a Long-billed Curlew not far over the county line in Van Buren.

The bird was indeed cooperative, staying relatively close given that it has acres of airfield to roam about in, though wasn't close enough for the 300mm lens to accomplish much. I had to revert to digiscoping at 60x to get anything workable, with my wife's camera since my old A620 wore out earlier this spring and I haven't gotten around to replacing it. I'm definitely out of practice.
The bird's proportions are off a bit, with a coved-in area at the base of the neck and upper breast. At first I thought I was seeing the crop bulging (as it was actively feeding), but soon realized that it was the breastbone bulging out, a conclusion that others had also come to.

Here's another shot of the breast bone.

Here's one from California in August of last year for comparison.

Time will tell if this is a sick bird that is falling behind calorically, or if it just needs to refuel for the rest of migration. My understanding is that Eskimo and Bristle-thighed Curlew would/do lose about half their body weight in trans-oceanic flights, but I doubt that's the typical pattern for Long-billed. It was certainly actively feeding so hopefully it will fly past Tiscornia in a week or so.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Just a little late

Last week one of the times I checked the beach after work there were 2 sanderlings heading south in full red-necked stint style breeding plumage. I've been hoping to get a photo of a real bright one, but it looks like I'll probably be a little late this year. About midday today there was one that still retained some of the breeding plumage, but it was already losing color in the face.
Interestingly, like the Willet last week, this bird's wing coverts are heavily worn and abraded basic feathers from last winter; the scapulars appear to be breeding feathers, I don't see any gray ones peeking through yet.

The gulls today were pretty easy,
Just this hulking Greater Black-backed in with the usual motley crew.

Tomorrow may have the only hint of N out the wind that we could see in a week, we'll see if any hints of movement are in evidence.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Always double-tap

I walked out onto the lawn to see if there were any leps on the butterflybush when I started hearing a juvenile bird begging. I saw some activity beneath a spruce and worked my way around it. A Chipping Sparrow was foraging in the verdant desertland that is my excuse for a lawn.
It flew over to the protected cool of the spruce where its "offspring" awaited.

I didn't think the calls I were hearing were those of a small sparrow and sure enough, a hulking flying target was sullenly waiting in the cool.

It re-doubled its begging when it heard the Chipping Sparrows calls...

The plump parasite was soon rewarded. Sibley lists an average cowbird weight of 44 grams and the sparrow at 12. Couple that with juveniles being fed up to build up fat reserves for their initial inefficient foraging and I'll bet the weight ratio is closer to 5:1.

I don't think it was a zombie cowbird but can you afford to take the chance?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wings over Tiscornia

A few flight shots from the last few days...

Here's the closest I've come yet to that great Willet flight shot. Unfortunately I cut off a wingtip...

The moult state of the bird is interesting.
The "freshest" feathers are the checkered breeding plumage that are somewhat faded. The gray feathers in the wing coverts are heavily worn and are leftover basic feathers. A person might guess is that this bird is a subadult that didn't breed this year (explaining both the early appearance at Tiscornia and the plumage), though Pyle says that the pre-alternate moult is only a partial moult at all ages so fully mature birds will show some retained winter plumage in the summer. I think based on the shape of the primary tips (broad and not pointed in the pic with the wing fully flared), Pyle would make this an After Second Year (adult) bird.
Today I was practicing swallow flight shots since there wasn't much happening (aside from a semi sandpiper that didn't allow much of an approach).
You don't want to be learning on the fly with the Cave Swallow we have scheduled for November 6th this fall. I obtained the most workable images in manual mode with the the F stop as high as I could get it (giving the most depth of field).

Finally is a B-52 that was one of three that overflew us on Monday. I noticed jumbo type jets flying in formation which seemed unusual to say the least. The planes were so high that their gray color really blended in with the blue sky.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The rattiness makes it fun

I have to warn you. If you're a birder who would be just as happy leaving them all as "seagulls" even in December when the gulls are freshly plumaged then it's time to navigate your browser back from whence you arrived.

If you're a birder who's trying to fight the summer doldrums by taking on whatever ID challenge may be offered, then I give you (drumroll please) a ratty summer gull.

I first noticed this bird about a week and a half ago when it flushed in front of me as I was walking the water's edge with one of the girls. When it flew, the wings seemed really dark and I thought it might be a Lesser Black-backed Gull, but when it landed it looked a lot like the other Herring gulls. Lacking scope or camera, I proceeded down the beach to make sure that a distant group of Willets contained only Willets.

Tim and I saw the bird again a couple days ago but couldn't get all that excited about it (especially given that he's already nicely photographed a clear 2nd calendar year Lesser Black-backed a few weeks ago). Yesterday though, I said I didn't care what I saw, I just wanted to get some bloggable photos, I'd even take that Lesser Black-backed/Herring thing. As luck would have it, Tim said it was right down there on the beach. Lacking anything else to do, we walked down.
The long primaries, tertial pattern, and dark bill definitely gives it a Lesser Black-backed gestault. When I looked at it closely in the field I thought the gony angle was too heavy for it to be Lesser Black-backed. I've made this mistake before, of focusing too much on a single field mark, but that didn't stop me for doing it again. I concluded it was a weird Herring Gull and stopped studying it. Only when I studied the pics did I also note the the leaner body size and head proportions, the leg color, and a few other features.
Note in this picture that the long-winged look is doubly accentuated by moult since our bird on the left essentially lacks a tail while the Herring Gull in front of it lacks its outer 2 primaries.

The time had come for flight shots so Tim walked slowly into the flock and several of the birds picked up, hooked past me, and re-settled 30 yards away on the beach. The freeze frame makes the ID much easier. While we debated whether slaty colored feathers were coming into the mantle with the bird at rest, we can see a nice row of grearter coverts showing the typical slaty color of a Lesser Black-backed, as well as along the leading edge of the wing. Howell and Dunn also point out that correspondingly aged Herring Gulls have contrastingly paler inner primaries, as exhibited by both the lead and trail birds in this photo. Note that on all of these birds the inner primaries are fresh 2nd cycle feathers. Our bird's secondaries and outer primaries are retained first cycle feathers.

The next photo shows the underwing and the yellower leg color. Olsen and Larsson call attention to the darker underwings of Lesser Black-backed's of this age. Comparing it to the Herring Gulls above, I would say that applies in comparison to the trail bird, but not as markedly to the lead bird.

Just in case there's other readers who shared my misconception of Lesser Black-backed not showing much of a gony angle, here's a montage of some of the heavier-billed Lessers that I have in my collection of photos. The upper right bird is from Berrien, the rest were all shot in Virginia Beach.
Jon posted a note a few weeks ago saying that it's been a decade since Lesser Black-backed has been found summering in Berrien; assuming that a bird seen in New Buffalo was different from either of the Tiscornia birds, there's been at least 3 this year.

Friday, July 2, 2010

What are these?

Some mysteries today.

Here's the parrotlet that's been passing through Tiscornia for about a week according to Tim. It announced its presence with a series of chittering overgrown-barn swallow like notes. We believe it's a Pacific Parrotlet based on the wash of bluish that extends back from the eye across the nape. I don't, however, have a specific parrot book; my Neo-tropic resources are guides to Mexico, Panama, and Equador (not that I've been to any of those places).

Next are some damselflies that I've noticed flying around my driveway for the last few days. I've never looked at damselflies before. Based on some web resources showing the Dragon/Damselfly Michigan checklist and a Flickr dragonfly group, I've made some guesses. I'm virtually certain they're in the genus Argia (dancers), but past that the ice gets thin.

This was the only blue-eyed one in the yard. I think this is a male Blue-fronted Dancer (A. apicalis). Some of the photos labeled as Blue-tipped Dancer (A. tibialis) on the Flickr site are similar though.

I think this is a Powdered Dancer (A. moesta), one of the bluer ones in the yard. Most were a duller teal in color:

Which I would assume would make this a female Powdered Dancer (A. moesta), patterned similarly, but more dully. This is the other common form along my driveway.

This last one lacked any teal tones at all. The Flikr site seemed to imply that there's 2 color phases of Powdered Dancer, maybe this is the brown one:

I'm still doing some research on the Royal Tern, I'll hopefully have some more thoughts up in the next few days.