Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lamest review bird ever

I'm not complaining.  I only manage Eurasian Collared-dove about every other year in the county, though I didn't make a ton of effort last year (in fact for the last 3 years since we had a collared-dove hanging out at Tiscornia one spring I've more or less figured I'd get one there or not at all.  It's generally been not at all).  Lacking anything better to do (and with always the chance of a rare raptor in the open plains of south county I drove down to where Tim had a flock last week.

As luck would have it, they were still there.
I tried bouncing from bird to bird with them perched up, but they started flying pretty quick. Here's the next bird in the bunch:
The committee can't complain that the tail feathers are ruffled on this bird (unlike this collared- dove).  Note the outer black extends 2/3 of the way down the outer tail feather and the smoky gray undertail coverts.

Here's the last bird to flush (there were either 7 or 9, I can't remember which).
I'm not sure why I bothered to make a montage of a collared-dove but done is done.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Can't photograph Pi

I'm not sure why I checked my email just before I walked out the door at work at 3:00; it was fortunate that I did since there was news that Tim had found a Varied Thrush at the Whirlpool cherry trees.  I drove straight over (obviously sans the camera).  The next county lifer would make 314 (= Pi) for me.  After about an hour and a half the bird re-appeared in the sleet.  Without the camera it was back to the bad ol days of sketching an unusual bird.  I added a little color on the computer...
The face and cap isn't dark enough, the breast band is too blue, the body is way too bright of blue, and it was just too far with bins to really figure out what the pattern in the wings was that was causing a more chevron'ed appearance.  I forgot to note the bill color.  Somehow the shape is way off, the neck should be thinner and the back shouldn't grow straight into the back of the head.  While I was watching it the bird held the tail above the level of the wing tips, different from the robins.  Here's the unedited sketch:
Security there isn't always consistent.  I've encountered them at night while unsuccessfully owling and received the usual permissive bemusion that a person typically encounters with various security and police forces.  When I was there for the Bohemian Waxwings a few years ago the attitude was more of a barely restrained hostility.  Today the representative talked to the other car of birders and then returned about 20 minutes later after consulting with his supervisor saying it was ok for today as long as people were gone by 5pm.  Who knows.  If all the snow melts it may be academic anyway since the bird probably won't be coming in to the ornamentals if has access to a natural food source.

Hopefully weather will permit some time at Tiscornia in the morning.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

and a Hawk Owl in a Spruce tree

The other reason I wanted to go up to the UP was for a shot at Hawk Owl pics.  I've only seen one, a bird at Soo Junction on the Chippewa/Luce Co line several years ago (probably the last time I went to the UP).  There's apparently about 3 birds at various locations, the 11 Mile bird was there on our second check yesterday morning.
I was surprised by how big it was, though its feathers were fluffed up pretty heavily.  It would occasionally look down at the chatter of the shutters.
Otherwise it mostly just sat there, preened once and turned around once.
We considered waiting for it to do something but the cold won out.

We tried to find our way back into a different section of the burn but were turned back by the 6-10 inches of snow that had fallen since we'd left the day before.  A small group of Pine Grosbeaks was a consolation before we turned back south.
It felt odd seeing real winter; it was in the 40's by the time we returned to "Barely-in" Berrien last night.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Black-backed Woodpeckers

Last weekend Tim had gone into the Duck Lake Burn in the North-central UP and found a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers in a less cut-over section while running out of light one afternoon.  We went back to try to go through a semi-accessible area more thoroughly.  It didn't take long to walk into a male.  Check out his three toes.

There were also good numbers of Downy and Hairy woodpeckers.  The smaller cousins tended to feed higher in the trees.  The heavier bark lower on the tree required more solid emphatic tapping than the more irregular pecks of the downies and less so the hairies.

The heavier pecks could knock off a fair bit of bark pretty quickly.  Here's a montage going clockwise from upper left of one of the males from today.

This was the first time I've seen this species in about 10 years since finding my lifer pair in a fresh burn randomly along a highway in South Dakota's Black Hills.  These were very tame and tended to feed quite methodically, sometimes peering for quite a while at a hole or scaling, presumably waiting for a glimpsed grub to come into view.  Here it managed to impale one.

The flight feathers on this bird are duller than are the mantle.  Per Howell's Molt 2010 woodpeckers (including juveniles) moult all their feathers in the fall (though primary coverts are frequently retained) so all these feathers should be fairly fresh.  I'll have to look up in Pyle when I get home whether this bird can be aged.

Here's a female.  The birds were remarkably tame.  Presumably that comes from some combination of living in remote areas where they don't encounter people very often as well as inhabiting burned areas with little cover leading to holding still as a strategy to avoid threats. 
This along with Western Kingbird, Little Blue Heron, and Sabine's Gull are the last regularly occuring birds I still needed for Michigan.  This was probably the easiest of those 4.  It'd be nice to go back tomorrow to look for Three-toed, but it looks like we'll be weathered out.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

First and best grebe of 2013

Of course I reserve the right to change the title should a Clarks lose its direction.

Here's the Western Grebe that's been ringing in the New Year at Tiscornia.  It took me a few days (and Tim's direction) to locate it.
Here's a look at its other side...
Clark's is eliminated by the dull yellow-green bill with fairly extensive dark bleeding in on both mandibles (it would have much more orange tones and is supposed to have a much cleaner dark line at the upper edge of the upper mandible), as well as the black well below the eye and the crown, neck, and back being the same shade of black.
With this, the Solitaire, and the California Gull I've managed 3 birds that can't be counted on for a county year list.  Last year it was mid-May before I had 3 birds this rare.

I'm not sure how many butterfly records there are for Michigan in January, but I saw this guy fluttering on one of my lights in the kitchen earlier this week.
I'm assuming that it hatched from an unseen chrysalis in the Christmas tree or a centerpiece.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Miss California's at the landfill

Tim and I swung through the south county earlier.  We spent some time at the Forest Lawn landfill and were just about to leave when he picked an adult California Gull off the front face.  The bird stayed just long enough for me to get a look through his scope before the entire flock took off.

I blasted blindly at them not knowing if the bird would come back.  Can you pick out the California?

It turns out it's there more or less centered, the upper left corner of the inset points to it.
After a few anxious minutes not expecting to have documented the bird it returned and settled back down on the southern face of the dump
Midday lighting with the bird shot through a chain link fence with the inevitable wind distortion didn't make for great shooting, but the long straight bill with black and red sub-terminal tip, leg color and darker mantle color is there.

Fortunately the birds took off again, though this time more slowly.  Nevertheless, if you think it's easy to follow one essentially identical gull out of at least 500 others through a chain-link fence and a view-finder with birds milling in both directions and clouds of starlings periodically chaffing the target, well feel free to try it.
California Gull has a bit more black in the primaries than does the average HERG or RBGU and a little heavier head streaking which streamed out from behind the eye.  A look at the upperside:

If you decide you want to try your luck, make sure you sign in at the landfill office.  This was the 3rd California Gull I've seen in Berrien; the county accounts for more Cal Gulls than the rest of the state combined.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Slipping into 2013

Between the end of Christmas Vacation and a fairly dense schedule I haven't gotten out a ton yet.  Hopefully this will lighten up later this month.
This Red-shouldered was one of a pair that was perched up in nice light as I went by a few miles from my house earlier this week.  It took off when a garbage truck went by.
I did make a trek down one morning for the Solitaire.  It seems to have noticeably less berries on its cedar than it did 6 weeks ago.

The lighting was brutal early on an overcast morning.

Other than that I've mostly just been watching the feeders and playing around with settings on the camera.  I usually have a White-throated Sparrow or two try to winter in the river bottom.  They usually start coming into the feeder when snow cover develops.

Finally a nuthatch that flew just as I shot.  I'm not sure if the dark P1 and P2 are retained older feathers or if those feathers are typically darker, will just have to keep shooting to try to figure it out...
I've had more redpolls (and cowbirds) than I typically do at the feeders this year, hopefully will have some decent redpoll shots soon.