Monday, February 27, 2012

a false string of pearls

The gulls are starting to trickle back north. By mid-winter most of the gulls in Lake Michigan have reached the Indiana beaches with a lot of fish kill around their power plants. A few days ago the dark-mantled hybrid had made its way back up to Warren Dunes. I had it at New Buffalo probably 6 or 8 weeks ago before that flock dissipated. We've seen this bird for about 5 years but this was the first time I've seen the full spread-wing after full moult. We had excellent photos of this possible Chandeleur gull (Kelp x Herring) a few years ago in October when it was still moulting primaries.
As you can see the bird has a string of pearls sign on some of the middle primaries, though it isn't as extensive as a Slaty-backed probably ought to be.

The other weird hybrid gull was back at Tiscornia this morning. It's Glaucous x something which might be Great Black-backed. It too was last seen in this pic at New Buffalo from early January.
It was briefly on the beach at Tiscornia this morning. The mantle is coming in darker than it was a month and a half ago. I tried to move down closer for better pics. The birds, however, weren't spending much time at all on the exposed beach with a ripping Westerly wind and it had left the others before I was even halfway down.
Hopefully it'll stick around or return in the fall to see what that mantle does.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

not a junco

Unfortunately also not in Michigan. I think this is my last San Diego post. The birds of the beaches were fun to photograph but I think I enjoyed the passerines more just because most of the birds were much different from what I'm used to. It was a lot harder having to guess at the songs (though a California Thrasher still sounds like a thrasher, a Cassin's Kingbird like a kingbird, an Anna's Hummingbird like a hummingbird and so on).

This Black Phoebe foraged from the breakwall along the beach, maybe a bird I should put on my radar here at home.

Anna's Hummingbirds were everywhere. Their rosy heads made it easy to track down their cicada-like songs. I still don't have my monitor fixed, looking at this pic on my wife's screen makes me think I overdid the processing a smidge...

California Thrasher was a bird I didn't know if I would find. However, given that they were singing and setting up territories they seemed analogous to a Curve-billed rather than Bendire's or Crissal which take a lot more effort in their various areas.

I spent a fair bit of time seeking California Gnatcatcher. I didn't find one. This Orange-crowned warbler is one of the western subspecies and looked a lot heavier-billed (and yellower) than the version that passes through locally.
All of these last few birds actually are photographed at sites that supposedly could have the gnatcatcher. You can tell this is one of the days that I had to leave after an hour or so for conference since it's sunny out. It seemed unusual to see a Say's Phoebe in nice weather after the memorable beachfront bird a few Novembers ago.

One evening with beautiful light I drove out into an area where White-tailed Kites are regularly seen. I didn't see one until the next morning when it was drizzling.
There's actually a second bird just out of the frame in the pic above perched in the tree. This bird was circling around and flew straight over the trail once.
The kites were close to a moist line of trees where of all things a Prairie Warbler was singing. Given the overcast drizzle, limited time, and no gnatcatcher, I made no effort to photograph it backlit moving in the tops of a densely leaved stand of trees. With no photo the locals didn't believe me but if I cared about that I would have taken a photo...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Western gulls are thieving bastards

Western Gulls were just about the most common bird in San Diego.
Here's one at Sea World poking its head into one of the baskets containing fish that the trainers used as reinforcement for the dolphins in one of the shows.
This bird is the one that led to the title.
We were walking in SeaWorld and I had an ice cream bar in my hand. I saw the bird lift off out the corner of my eye but paid it no mind. That is until a second later when it ripped the ice cream right out of my hand and swallowed it STICK AND ALL before the bird even hit the ground with a bunch of others flying in to try to scarf up crumbs.

Heerman's gulls were much better behaved. Hopefully when we get one at Tiscornia it will be one of the gorgeous adults rather than the dirt brown first year birds.

I was hoping to work some more on my California Gull file photos but this was the only bird I saw when it wasn't raining.

This is what the Jean Kloch Royal Tern might have looked like had it been in sunrise light. You know it's good photo light when a bird 5 inches tall casts a 3 foot shadow.

Finally a Black-vented Shearwater that we saw from a whale-watching boat one afternoon. The kids puked until they fell asleep so a good time was had by, well, ok just me.
I have to admit I was only vaguely even aware of this species' existence until the night before the trip when I was prepping for the boatride. I also had Rhinoceros Auklet and Common Murre that afternoon but the pics were brutal at best.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The ducks were tame too

I spent an hour or so one morning before conference started scanning the San Diego River mouth where a Eurasian Wigeon had been seen for a few days about a week earlier. I didn't find it, but again found the birds amazingly tame. Usually dabblers have nothing to do with people approaching them, but with the active bike path they too were quite acclimated to people.

This Brandt's Cormorant was out in the ocean. The blue eye just seemed odd as did the nearly hookless bill.

Finally a shot of a Snowy Egret that was standing in one of the cages at SeaWorld hoping to steal a fish that the keepers would toss to the sea lions or whatever it was that was in this cage.

Monday, February 13, 2012

San Diego de la Godwit

Earlier we returned from San Diego where I had a conference. We ultimately decided to take the kids too.

Many of the birds were incredibly acclimated to people (I guess you would expect that on SoCal beaches). Marbled godwits were just about the most common shorebird on the beach closest to our motel. And since sunrise was at 9:30 eastern time I had no problem getting out there for the best light.
At one point during the week I had a flock of 20 of them, I was trying to get a line of them all posed identically but couldn't quite pull it off.
Eventually a wave bigger than most flushed that flock, but they did circle right past me giving a nice flight shot opportunity.

Surfbirds and Black Turnstones were the only "rockpipers" I encountered.
A cynical small part of me wonders what percentage of Michigan birders could walk out the jetty at Muskegon, see what they expect to see, and go home happy to have seen a Purple Sandpiper if they saw one of these, a dumpy gray sandpiper with colored legs and bill base. Hopefully the proportions would clue a person in.
I'd only seen Black Turnstone once before.

Finally a few more godwit shots, both at midday and one last dawn shot.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Grading Hoaries

I was kind of figuring that with the snow melted that redpolls wouldn't really come into feeders that much this year so I was pretty surprised when the 2nd redpoll that flew into the Sarett feeders the other day was this Hoary. A few years ago there were a couple hundred redpolls using the feeders and while I was able to pull out a Greenland/Greater Redpoll that year I never saw a Hoary. This one was pretty easy, the 2nd whitest female Hoary I've ever seen.
Here's another view of the nasal feathering giving it a stub-billed appearance as well as the well-feathered legs which may be a supporting character for Hoaries. The bird is very frosty and has a lot of white coming in along the sides of the scapulars. It has one line of fairly well- defined flank streaking with a couple other less well-defined streaks as well.
The rump was white.
As was the undertail; this bird had the whitest undertail coverts I've ever seen (though was difficult to capture shooting through the glass at Sarett).
Here's the (presumably adult female) Hoary with a male Common.
For a little while the quite white Hoary was joined by a second Hoary (the bird on the left)
The second bird was in that harder to judge probable first winter plumage. It had somewhat more prominent flank streaking, but still very white in the ground color. It had some warm creamy tones in the face which are also indicative of a first winter bird.
It had one streak in the undertail, I never got a photo of the rump aside from the side view below.

Here's the adult Hoary having a go at the youngster (check out her pantaloons). They seemed to associate with each other when the 2nd bird was present.
Per the Sibley grading system for redpolls, I'd give the whiter bird a 6 for undertail and rump and a 4 or 5 for side streaking for a grade of 16 or 17. The other bird I would give a 5 for undertail streaking, and 4 for flank and a 4 or 5 for a glimpse at the rump for a total of 13 or 14. The caveat is that the grading system was developed more to look at variation than to discriminate species.