Monday, August 23, 2010

Prelude to a Little Gull?

It's that time of year when Little Gulls can start showing up at Tiscornia though the first decent north winds of the year yesterday failed to produce one (or much else either). There were a couple terns and a few more Bonapartes today. These Bonaparte's are from a few days ago.

As pointed out to me by Phil Chu, some Bonaparte's gulls can have really slender bills
Here it shows off the white wing flash that's visible in flight probably a mile away. It's moulting its inner primaries.
In the juveniles (though some are starting to trend towards first winter) the white patch is effaced by dark markings in the outer primaries.
Though the first year birds are still pretty inexperienced, the left-most bird bounced its landing and is face planting in the water, not really the accepted landing method...

Note the lost outer tail feathers are being replaced in this bird by feathers that are more advanced; 2nd winter Bonaparte's have a lot less black in the tail than juveniles.

and they fly off into the sunset.

8/24 addendum: It was a short prelude. This morning at Tiscornia Tim and I had an adult or near-adult Little Gull fly by. No pics as I was sans camera (though Tim managed a few), hopefully it will stick around.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The shorebirds of Tiscornia

I was back on Tiscornia early this morning and stayed a few hours. No big ticket items, but a group of shorebirds accumulated along a vegetation scum line (which was swept off the beach by one of the city tractors in pretty short order).

The Black-bellied came to me today.
As did an adult Baird's. I'm not sure I've encountered an adult at Tiscornia before.
You can compare its scapulars and wing coverts with a juvenile...
... which can again be compared with a juvenile Semi Sandpiper

The semi-palmations can also be seen on this juvie Semi Plover as well.

I can't really title the post Shorebirds of Tiscornia without include a Sanderling, the prototypical beach sandpiper, here an adult, also moulting to winter plumage.

The Baird's, as is their wont, stood off from the other birds somewhat, so I couldn't better my personal beach record of 4 shorebirds in one frame; this shot has from left to right a SEPL, SAND, BBPL, SESA, and another SAND...
And despite 3 visits to Tiscornia yesterday (few hours in the morning, brief check after getting a tooth drilled, and a family visit in the evening), apparently I missed a Whimbrel's brief stop on Klock. Ah well, what can you do (except keep going back).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Baird's Baird's Baird's

I spent my first morning at Tiscornia today in what felt like forever. It'd been long enough that practically half of the Ring-billeds were showing the starts of winter head marking without me noticing that any had started the process.

I spotted a Black-bellied Plover on Kloch from Tiscornia, a year bird (I need an embarrassing number of the larger shorebirds, this was one, though I think Avocet would have been a little more likely) and started walking, hoping for a pic. It was long gone by the time I arrived, but I did encounter a total of 5 juvenile Baird's Sandpipers in amongst the (adult) Sanderling as I walked north.

This one was the most cooperative.

Here's the more typical view, a long-winged flat-bodied buffy brown-fronted peep with a slightly drooped bill and a scaly back (the eye ring isn't as prominent in this pic).

The Bairds' were feeding on drowned insects washed up at the water's edge, in this case a small moth.

Another view of the scaling as the bird stretches its wings...

... and a Semipalmated Sand for comparison (note you can actually get a sense of the semi-palmation on the trail foot)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Maine potpourri

Well we're back from Maine. Depending on when I'm able to get out this week (time to pay the piper with a dense stretch of shifts) I may have one more Maine post, we'll see.

Here's the only worthwhile image I obtained on the 2nd boat trip, an adult gannet.

This Broad-winged Hawk perched up neatly aside a roadside garden.

What the hell is this?
I was watching a Common Tern off of Pemaquid when a larger tern-like bird with a yellow bill, black alar bars, and a black mark through the eye appeared in the scope field. My first instantaneous impression was that it might be a tropicbird. Usually that instantaneous impression of a rarity is corrected the next instant even before the binoculars are raised. In this case I watched it, and felt it might be a tropicbird. I started firing pics at it. Unfortunately I had the camera on eider and guillemot settings so this bird is quite overexposed and the black markings aren't very visible. I have some shots that show a somewhat forked tail which would rule out a tropicbird, but I can't think of a juvenile tern that would be a size bigger than the Common and have a yellow bill, maybe a weird young Royal north of its main range, but the wing markings seem wrong for it too. The yellow bill was real, not a lighting artifact. [addendum: the wing proportions are also wrong for a tropicbird, as is the flight style, check out a youtube video from Brian Patteson here.] It's definitely a tern but which one?

Gulls on a lobster boat...

A juvenile Spotted Sandpiper...

A semi plover in decent light at sundown...

Finally what's probably an Aphrodite Fritillary based on the eye color (Atlantis looks pretty similar in Kaufmann):

Friday, August 6, 2010

Back to the shotgun school

... though not for this bird, easily identified as a juvenile Common Tern based on the strong black carpal bar and fairly extensive brown tones to the cap and back.

One of my birding hopes for this trip was to get a chance to study various medium terns, especially Arctic and Roseate, birds I'm very unfamiliar with.

Unfortunately, the only birds I've seen from shore have been Commons, here's the juvie with the parent.

My only chance at the other two was the puffin cruise out to Eastern Egg Rock where Common, Arctic, and Roseate breed. I quickly realized I was going to be on my own with regards to the terns when about half the boat was taking advantage of rental binoculars from the tour. The leader showed large posters of the 10 most common or so birds to be expected on the trip, one of them labeled "Tern." They mentioned that there were 3 different species, but they all basically looked the same.

While scanning the island I could see why they took this view, it was basically impossible to try to speciate the birds 200+ yards away from a rolling and pitching boat. I was reduced to the old shoot first-ID later practiced in the 1910's rather than the 2010's in hopes of being able to ID the pictures since they at least would hold still. The overwhelming majority of the birds I saw were Common Terns.
Here's a bird that you can contrast with the spreadwing juvie Common above, that may seem quite familiar to Berrien birders, a juvenile Arctic Tern.
Note the white secondaries from above, the vague gray (rather than blacker trailing edge to the primaries) as well as the impression of more black in the face and a shorter bill than the Common.

Here's a composite of the only adult Arctic that I managed.
Note the minimal black in the primaries, in contrast to the next bird, an adult Common. The Commons this time of year show a fairly contrasting wedge of black for the outer 5 primaries:

Next up is the federally endangered Roseate Tern. These are much paler than the Commons. Their wing patterns are different as well, with only the outer couple primaries dark, giving the impression of a dark line rather than dark wedge. The Roseate is on the left obviously.
You get the sense of a narrower darker bill as well. Virtually all the Roseate's are banded, many of the Commons are as well. (There's a number of projects ongoing out on the nest rocks, some entail interns banding every young bird they can find; Roseate's are limited to a lot fewer colonies so a higher percentage of the young are banded. One of the banded female puffins is an original transplant from Newfoundland and is known to be 31 years old).

Here's a sample shot. If you want to channel your inner Kip Miller you can try to pick out the 3 Roseate's:

Here they are cropped out and magnified:
They're birds lowest on the left, low and right, and farthest right respectively.
I actually took the boat trip again last night hoping to improve the pics; the first day I took was the first cloudy day of the trip. Yesterday the conditions were light rain and dense fog which didn't lift until 5 minutes after we turned back. Needless to say, I didn't improve the pics (or the views - so my lifer Roseate experience is somewhat retro-active).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Not at Tisconia ... yet

Common Eiders are, well, pretty common here. The males are all in non-breeding plumage, but are fairly striking all the same. This is an adult male based on the solidly dark breast.
The first year males are similar, though have white mottling in the breast, and some in the back as well. Note that this bird is utterly lacking primaries as it undergoes pre-basic-, or formative-, or whatever the currently in vogue description is for a first year bird moulting out of juvenile plumage and into winter plumage. (Incidentally this is the 9,999th photo taken with my camera, assuming that the odometer wasn't rolled back by the previous owner...)

I didn't know that the male Common Eiders have bright white shoulders in flight. This isn't shown in Sibley since the flight depiction of the basic plumaged bird has its wings raised. We can only hope that when an eider flies by Tiscornia it's a male since documenting a plain brown duck flying low over the water is going to be difficult.
Here's females in sunlight. All the eiders I saw in flight were low over the water. Even at close range the horn colored bill disappears into the waves. They're stocky short-winged birds who fly from the shoulder with stiff shallow wingbeats.

The females are a lot more variable than the dabblers I'm used to looking at. I'll have to wait until I get access to my Pyle to see if this is age related, or just random...

Finally, something we'll never see at Tiscornia (assuming we don't live to see the next Ice Age), half-grown still semi-downy eidlings.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Not at Tiscornia

I've been in Maine for the last few days on a family trip. I'm still getting a sense of the area and what will make cohesive blogposts so we'll just go ahead and lead off with the coolest of the local birds, Atlantic Puffin.

We took an organized boat trip out to see them last night and were not disappointed. We visited Eastern Egg Rock, the southernmost breeding location for these birds, a mile or so off of Pemaquid Point (the lighthouse on the Maine quarter). The birds were re-introduced here in the late 1980's and now there's about 100 pairs.
This is my lifer puffin perched up on the rocks behind some Black Guillemots. It turned out to be the only one I'd see on land, the rest were all in the water.

The lighting wasn't the best with near sprinkles and 6 foot swells throwing people around when they'd try to stand if they weren't suitably braced, so photography was a challenge. I was shooting at max ISO to let me shoot as fast exposures as I could, but that tends to flatten colors.

This shot gives a sense of the swells as they crashed over the first edge of the island.

There were also 3 different terns breeding on the rock, as well as numerous eiders and Laughing Gulls, but I'm going to leave their descrambling for another post.