Monday, October 31, 2011

warm Arctic air

South winds bring Arctic Terns, who knew? I spent the morning at Tiscornia; I'd been home about 20 minutes when Tim called that he had an Arctic Tern. It was nice to have the bird at Tiscornia, it never really felt right to only have the bird at Three Oaks.
Unlike the Sabine's I whiffed on chasing earlier in the fall, Tim had the bird at water's edge when I arrived.
The white secondaries showed nicely in the sun.
At rest, the key points to separate it from Commons are the shorter bill, shorter legs, and more extensive dark cap. That being said, it would take a good look to call an Arctic at rest by itself.
You can somewhat compare the leg length at least with the Common in the background.
This is a photo that probably hasn't been taken many times in Michigan, Arctic on the left, Common in the middle, and Forster's on the right.
The trailing edge of the underwing has only a minimal gray trailing edge. About twice as much of the feather is a darker gray in Common Tern.
Another view of those white secondaries and the generous hood...
Twice it gagged up some mucus, I'm not sure if this is a common behaviour in medium terns or not.Check out how the wind is blowing it back, not even touching the ground.
Assuming the MBRC searchable database is up-to-date, this is the 20th state record and the 6th county record. The most recent Michigan record was the Three Oaks bird.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

distant Pomarine shots

and I do mean distant.
This jaeger appeared in front of me at Tiscornia attacking a gull. It gave up its press fairly quickly and flew past us. In the scope it was obviously different from the typical Parasitic's we see. It had a cream-colored head, as well as darkly barred axillaries with white ground color, rather than the warm brown that Parasitic typically exhibits. The flanks were much paler than the axillaries; Parasitic's flanks are usually similarly toned to the axillaries.
I started shooting pics, missing it flare its blunt tail for Tim and had my settings all wrong to boot (the sun had just come out), and by the time I had them adjusted properly, the bird was to the light house.

This is a zoom of the above shot. You can get a sense of the dark bill tip on the zoomed in view. They say in Olsen and Larssen that if you can see the dark tip at over 200m then you likely have a Pomarine. The bird's at about 600 yards here. The double white wing flash on the underside is visible here. Parasitics can sometimes have a suggestion of this, but not generally as prominent as here.
Pomarine is supposed to be more belly heavy than Parasitic. It's hard to say for sure on these pics, and honestly half my shots of Parasitic look belly more than breast heavy. The bird is far enough away that the dark brown on whitish barring gets averaged out to just lighter brown in these images...
I doubt these pics are diagnostic, especially given that it's a lighter bird than most juvenile Pomarines are supposed to be. (Here's likely a similar bird from Brandon Holden's site photographed on Lake Ontario). It's easy to forget that a bird at 60x through the scope in nice light is still pretty far away. This is about the 30th jaeger that Tim's had this fall, and somewhere in low double digits for me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Raptors of Tiscornia

October brings falcons to Tiscornia. Some years first year Peregrines will hang out for a bit, others they pass through. This year they haven't been all that regular, but one cut past the gulls, circled and then came right over the overlook dune as it came in for another pass. Hard to tell how serious it was as it already has a full crop.
The gulls gave it the same respect they would give a jaeger, all taking off, though they settled down into the water once they'd proved they could fly, rather than balling up high in the air for full jaeger defense mode.
Merlins, on the other hand, have been hanging out, with a bird or two seen on nearly every trip. When they cut over the beach after a passerine struggling in off the lake the leading edge of the gull flock lifts off, but just as quickly settle down when they realize it's just a merlin.
A redtail landed on a gazebo roof to consume some small mammalian prey. It didn't take long adn I couldn't quite tell what it had snatched.
Finally a fungi I'd never seen before, something called an Elegant Stinkhorn apparently, growing beside my mailbox.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

an adult Parasitic

Today's pelagic didn't turn up any review list birds, but we did eventually run into a jaeger that Tim spotted on the water. We slowly worked up to it and it made a couple passes around the boat.
The easiest ID feature is the medium length pointed central tail feather; we get probably 5-10x as many juvies as adults at Tiscornia, it almost feels like cheating to get a close adult.
The marbled face, breast, and belly pattern are winter features.
The clean brown underwing marks it as an adult; per the Olsen and Larsson Jaeger book 2- and 3-year-old birds will retain at least some juvie feathers.

Similar to the dark marbling of the underparts, the upperparts shows some white edging.
One more view of the rich underwing.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Phalarope slam

There's a handful of relatively rare birds I've never seen in Michigan, though that I certainly expect to encounter eventually. One of these is Red Phalarope. Tim and I found 2 individuals well off shore earlier this week in the boat.
The birds are first fall birds moulting into winter plumage. This one retains some of the buffy coloring to the throat and face.
There is a difference in the underwing whiteness reported between Red and Red-necked Phalarope with Red being whiter. To me the flight style of the noticeably heavier Red was more distinctive to my eyes at least.
Note that the above bird is moulting its entire tail.
The other individual retained a lot less buffy in the throat and has less black in the cap.

The bird didn't exactly land gracefully. Here it's rolled its body past 90 degrees as it dives for some prospective appearing foam.
It would land by bouncing its breast into the water and skidding to a stop a la the murrelet.
At one point the bird landed amidst some Bonaparte's Gulls and Common Terns that were resting on the water. One of the Terns chased/followed it about for quite a while through the air.
Here's the previous posts from this fall if you want to compare the body and bill shape to Red-necked Phalaropes and Wilson's Phalaropes

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Crushing white-rumped sandpipers

The recent powerful NW wind system washed up some vegetation on the beach and seems to have caught White-rumps in mid-migration. Before this week I'd never seen a White-rumped Sandpiper at Tiscornia; this week there's been two. They were pretty tame. Most of these photos are barely cropped.

Note the primaries that extend well past the tail and the bill which is much finer than a Dunlin's.
It does have a row of gray winter scapulars coming in amidst the rufous and pale-edged juvenile scapulars.

In spring the bit of pinkish-red at the base of the lower mandible can be a fairly unique mark, in this fall juvie it's limited to the basal couple millimeters of the cutting (tomial) edge of the lower mandible.
This bird is an adult which Tim picked out on the beach from the end of the pier (and note that this nice lighting is from the dune side).
It has slightly more of the pinkish base to the lower mandible but you had to look really hard in perfect light to see it.
You can see the very worn wing coverts and primaries which apparently won't be moulted until it arrives in South America or wherever they winter.
This was by far the latest I've seen an adult, but this isn't a bird I've seen many times. It was a year bird and one that I missed entirely last year.