Sunday, December 29, 2013

Snowy shoot I (?)

I haven't had a ton of luck with photographing the Snowy Owl incursion.  Rhoda let me know earlier in the week though that birds were visible in the Scottdale plains.

 Snowy Owls aren't the only raptors there.

I like the snow that the owl kicked off its tussock on this shot

It flew up to a cross beam where I could drive much closer, maybe should have taken a shot of a nice grassy knoll in similar light and photo-shopped in the owl...

Hopefully I'll get some more Snowy shots, they're a fun target no doubt.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mergy Christmas

Deck the county with rarities
Snowy, gyrfalcon, and ferrugies
Buh-buh-buh-buh-buh, buh-buh-buh, bwaah
You'll make the trek to Berrien
Buh-buh-buh, buh-buh-buh, buh-buh-buh-Bwaah
Fail and your list will be carrion
Buh-buh-buh-buh-buuh, buh-buh-buh-BWAAH

Sunday, December 15, 2013

winter Birds of Prey

Today was the Berrien Springs CBC which covers St Joe.  Despite windy (and very bright) overnight conditions we had the best night of owling I've been a part of with double digit owls, mostly screech, but also a Great Horned or two.  It was bright enough that we saw probably a third of them fly in or away, the last of which was just as it was getting light.  This pic is hand held at 1/25th of a second (and then post-processed brighter)

I tried the flash which allowed me to push the shutter all the way up to 1/50th.  This was the first time I've had to try to fix red-eye on a bird.

The Snowy irruption has been well documented.  I've yet to run across a close bird (or really that many birds at all; I've driven the Linco/Scottdale/Totzke section several times and seen none there despite others' success).
This one was at New Buffalo sometime last week.

I think on that same trip we had a Red-shouldered tee up nicely along the edge of some random parking lot.

Finally a young Harrier somewhere in the south county plains

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cold, cold cold cold

I haven't had a chance to get out much of late so 5 degree weather this morning was a bit of a shock.  It made for some interesting lighting effects at the beach with very cold dry air getting pushed over the 35 degree lake by brisk South wind.  There was a decent amount of, well, steam is probably the wrong word, rising off the water muting the morning light.

 A group of goldeneye on top and mergs on the bottom.

This loon is about a quarter mile less distant and maybe gives more an impression of the water vapor.

 Continuing the artistic theme, here's a flicker montage that I shot through the kitchen window earlier last week during snow squall,

As well as a bluebird from Warren Woods a couple weeks ago that I probably shouldn't have montaged (though the branch is too thick for it to be a quality portrait).

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Ross's ... Geese

We were pretty close to chasing the Iowa Ross's Gull yesterday and if it'd been seen on Thursday we would have.  It wasn't so we didn't.  Ah well.  We found Ross's Geese instead.

They were mixed up in the large Canada Goose flock.  Their body size is less than the young Glaucous Gull in the foreground.  There's one white morph Snow Goose as well.  After not a whole lot of time all the gulls on the berm flushed (we didn't see the responsible raptor), and the white geese followed them (the Canadas were unimpressed).

The Snow is obviously the larger upper left bird.  The bird trailing it associated more with it than with the other 5 when they uncertainly circled the ponds (the flock split a few times).  It seems like it might be just a bit bigger than the other birds and when in the water through the scope may have had a bit less vertical a bill base.
The bottom 5 birds had consistently vertical bill bases.  One is a first year bird with some dusky feathering in the lore and face.

This afternoon I made a few central and north county stops with the highlight being 10 White-fronted Geese at the LMC ponds.  I've actually seen White-fronted on fewer occasions than Ross's in the county.

Here's the other 7, they were segregated at the other end of the pond

Finally a mega-crop record shot of 2 Harlequins in the New Buffalo harbor from yesterday.

The White-fronts were 271 for the county for me, my personal best.  Don't be impressed though, that'll be good for at best second (and quite possibly 3rd) place this year!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Another nemesis down

Strong S winds aren't really what one might predict would bring northern owls south, but who's going to argue with results.

Tim had a Snowy Owl land at Tiscornia this morning, the first one I've had at the park, #249 for Tiscornia for me if my spreadsheet is right.

It just sat there for the 15 minutes I managed before church.  I saw all of 7 species in that time, though the 7th was this Thayer's type gull:

Note the venetian blind primaries, and tail and secondaries darker than the rest of the bird.  There are darker individuals though.

Continuing the theme of sub-par pics of above-average birds, here's the Harlequin Duck that was found earlier in the week in New Buffalo.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sabine's at last

Sabine's Gull is a bird I've been anticipating for a long time.  I definitely didn't expect it would take nearly a decade over here to see one though.  Their peak time is about 3rd or 4th week of September based on what Indiana gets so they had pretty much passed off the radar for the year.  This morning with decent winds I was mainly just hoping for a Kittiwake or a Harlequin Duck.  Imagine my surprise when this juvenile flew into my binocular view...

Never having seen one before I was surprised by just how great the contrast was between the black leading edge and the white trailing edge, kind of an inverse Bonaparte's pattern.

I've made over 700 visits to Tiscornia, this was my 16th species of gull here.  Eighteen or nineteen have been seen here.  You can just make the bird out about 5-600 yards from the overlook flying right, towards the lighthouse.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Closer to a Gos

Credit to Warren Whaley on this bird.  I nearly became the sacrificial birder when need for sleep wore out over my hopes for new birds after a few hours at Tiscornia.  Warren, Tim, Mike Mahler and I were up on the dune talking when Warren pointed to a hawk coasting by already on top of us as I was waiting for a break in the conversation to leave.  My naked eye impression based on large size, broad wings, and heavily marked underparts was of a Rough-legged.  Then my eyes focused on an immature accipiter and I automatically said "Coop."  At least 2 of the other 3 said after raising their bins, "Gos."  I honestly thought they were joking and didn't bring the camera to bear until it was well past.  If I'd looked closer I'd probably have seen the strong eyestripe, pale upperwing coverts, amidst any number of other things, but on no sleep I failed that test (not the first time that's happened).  Oh well.
The secondaries are very broad yet the wingtips are pointed.  The tail is broad.  You can get a vague sense of the checkering of the upperwing on the 2nd to left image, a sense of the pale upperwing coverts (sort of similar to what Redtails and sometimes red-shoulders show) on the 2nd from the right.  I think this is only the 6th Gos I've ever seen and the 2nd closest.  I think I have a little better feel for the bird now though.
I tried a few spots to the south trying to intercept it again but didn't find it.

Rhoda and I later walked the breakwall at New Buffalo looking for Purple Sandpiper.  We didn't see any but a couple times medium-sized calidrid sandpipers did flush, the much more common Dunlin.  Two at the very end were fairly cooperative.

This bird was noticeably larger than the other, I'm presuming adult vs first winter (but I suppose it could be a sex difference as well)
The other was slightly shorter billed, noticeably lighter in weight and with less retained rufous in the scapulars
I actually should get out again tomorrow (2 days in a row!), having scored 2 yearbirds (the other being Tundra Swan ironically at 2 different locations), perhaps I can build on the momentum.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the Crossley Hawk Guide

The initial Crossley ID guide promised a new approach to bird identification.  It was a cool book, but I think the new Crossley Raptors book comes closer to this.  It builds on the format that the main guide does though the more limited scope allows it much more freedom.  There are 160 pages of plates which will appear familiar in format to those who have viewed the initial book.  With only 34 species to cover though, each gets at minimum 2 full pages.

Following the initial 2 pages, most species then have plates dedicated to aging and plates that compare similar species.  These are presented as unknowns with the images numbered with the answers in the back.  I think that is the biggest innovation of this book.  It functions more as a workbook than a Field Guide allowing for much more active learning than simply passive review of pics.  I took a couple of the quizzes, I was right on the species of 2 of the accipiter plates about 90% of the time (I didn't try to age them).  I'm not sure what to make of this, I have more difficulty ID'ing some of my own pics of accipiters in flight.  I think this implies that Crossley hasn't just slapped in any photo that's sharp no matter the pose, rather I suspect he's chosen birds in poses that are fairly typical of the mental image of what these birds look like in flight.

The crispness of the photos are excellent.  I estimate there are about 1000 images in this book, the overwhelming majority of which are original.  I compared a couple of the common species accounts with the original Crossley East and didn't note any duplicates.  With rarer species there are some more prominent duplicate images (one of the Gyrfalcons, a Caracara, the main Hook-billed Kite, one of the Bald Eagles).  There are a couple situations where an image from the same series of shutter exposures of the same individual are used (at least one of the Goshawks and one of the Golden Eagle).  That being said, there was much less replication of images than I had expected there to be.

The last 90 pages of the book are text descriptions at about the level of the Howell and Dunn Gulls book.  They're not as technical as the Olsen and Larsson Gulls of North America, Europe, and Asia book or the Wheeler Raptors book.  Each account begins with few paragraphs vaguely channeling a Pete Dunne essay that introduce the species, some are told first person from the bird's perspective, some are told in the 3rd person about the bird, and some are from the birder's perspective.  Personally I would have kept the voice more constant but it's a minor point.  There is an excellent prose description of the bird's flight style.  I don't know that any book is going to be able to approach the venerable Dunne Sibley and Sutton Hawks in Flight in that regard, but these are very readable.

The other criticism I have of the book is that it includes only the regularly occurring species.  While I know the line has to be drawn somewhere (there's little reason to include some of the relatively random single North American Red-footed Falcon or Collared (?) Forest-falcon records), but I would have included semi-regular birds like the 2 rare sea eagles or Hobby Falcon.  Having been lucky enough to recently see the Lesser Sand-plover I was grateful that this species (as well as Greater) was included in the Obrien Crossley and Karlson Shorebird guide (which incidentally is the only other book on my shelf that presents a good number of birds as unknowns).

I would recommend this book.  I don't know that I would use it as a field guide, there's not a lot of easy direct comparisons species to species, but it will help a person get a better feel for the birds so that if studied, you will need it a book in the field a lot less.

I think I'm going to start buying lottery tickets, it'd be a ton of fun to create the neo-tropical counterparts to these books.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Indiana Lesser Sand-plover

Well this was a bird I never expected to see.  While Lesser Sand-plover (previously known as Mongolian Plover) is somewhat regular in some of the Alaskan island vagrant traps I think there's maybe one inland North American record.  And since I found I kind of like birding in the tropics this last winter I don't know if I'll ever make it to Gambell or Attu or wherever.  But, somehow, one fell out one breakwall short of Michigan. 

These are cropped fairly tightly
It was a much bulkier bird than I expected.  Based on Sibley plates of the bill I was expecting a Wilson's-like bird, but the long legs and bulky body made it seem somewhat intermediate between Wilson's and a Golden Plover.  Sibley points out the brown nape; all of our small, variously breast-banded plovers have white that extends back there.

In the drizzly light rain the ISO was pushed pretty high.  You can just make out a hint of a buffy breast band.  The white feathers in front of the primaries aren't wing feathers, rather flank feathers that are loose (and shown on both sides).  I have no idea if they have looser feathers than most shorebirds (like Ruff) or not.

There is also a bird known as Greater Sand-plover, a resident more of the Middle East and central Asia (rather than Siberian Asia) which per O'Brien et al would have even longer legs and a longer bill.  It fed and preened pretty actively while we watched it.
The pale feather edgings of the scapulars and wing coverts make it a juvenile.  It must have spent most of its life flying to get to Indiana.  Now if it could just come a few miles farther...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Blue-headed Pygmy-tyrant

I've been spending a lot more time in the woods than I did in September and the passerine photo-ops have increased correspondingly.

This Blue-headed Vireo was posed in a manner suggestive in silhouette of the neo-tropical pygmy-tyrants

A Yellow-throated Vireo today at Floral felt fairly late.

Most of the birds in the trees at this point though are Yellow-rumps. 
They're pounding the abundant poison ivy berries.

Sparrows are peaking on average as well.  The best one I've seen this fall is Clay-colored; we actually had 2 at Tiscornia that day.
Note the white throat and malar that separates it from Chipping.  You can also get a sense of the gray nape as well.

Swamps are a lot more common though.
As are White-crowns

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Avocet eruption

It's actually been a very good year for avocets along the shoreline despite the fact that I've never gone this late in the year without seeing one (in fact these are my latest ever).  Tim called me a couple days ago a couple hours after I'd left Tiscornia that a flock of winter-plumaged Avocets had landed on Silver. 

I walked down to the water's edge.  I scanned north.  I scanned south.  How hard is it to see a flock of 26 large shorebirds patterned like zebras?  I'm not sure why I scanned out over the water, I think it was more out of habit than that I expected to see them there, but see them there I did.
 I can't recall ever using the term "raft of avocets," but there's a first for everything.

A passing boat actually pulled a U-turn to take a closer look, apparently it's captain thought they were pretty unique too.  They flushed, launching basically like teal.  I'm not sure how much lift they needed from leg action, I think most of the flock more or less just jumped up into the air.

They'd barely accelerated into powered aerodynamic flight before coasting back to the shoreline.

The flock was fairly entertaining to watch as they would get washed in by the low-breaking "waves."  I'd have liked a lot more time to belly up to them but had to get to work.  Here's a few crops...

and one last closer crop that's still semi-decent
Avocets are easily one of the more skittish shorebirds, there's a good chance I wouldn't have gotten a lot closer no matter how low and slow I'd gone anyway.