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.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sayonara September

I didn't have a ton of luck last month, from missing easy shorebirds, unsuccessful chases, and only 50% of my pelagic attempts actually getting offshore.  BUT, it's a new month with new possibilities.  Three golden plovers flew by Tiscornia in the am, though their ID didn't jump out at me at first.  I'd spent a couple hours and then was in the process of leaving to change out a shredded tire on the boat trailer and noticed Tim heading up the beach as I finished a check of the sheltered passerine spots.

We were most of the way to Klock when we started catching up to this bird.
It's a juvenile Western Sandpiper, likely the same one he had 2 days ago on a day I couldn't get out.  It's superficially similar to a Semipalmated but has a longer more tapered and drooped bill, some rufous in the scapulars (though semis can have that), as well as dark anchor markings in the lower scapulars.  The so-called anchors are the dark centers to the lower scapulars that bleed out laterally proximal to the pale edge of the feathers.  Juvenile White-rumped can definitely show this much rufous in the scapulars, but would have longer wings and at this distance a pale reddish base to the lower mandible.  Dunlin is another bird commonly confused with Western Sand, it will have an even longer more drooped bill generally, as well as being bigger bodied in comparison with the Sanderlings.  Last year we had an adult Western Sandpiper transitioning to winter plumage, this bird is marked as a juvenile by having small pale edged wing coverts and scaps.
Westerns are longer-legged than Semi's which means they lean forward more when they feed.  Tim noted that they tend to extend their necks forward as well; it was this behavior that led him to suspect Western on the peep he first saw literally a mile away on Klock from Tiscornia on Sunday.
The bird seemed to prefer looking for the brine flies (?) (midges?) that were washed up at wave's edge, though would follow a group of sanderlings as well that would sometimes forage all the way to the grass practically.  It made a pretty close pass when it flew back out to water's edge at one point, a pic I'm fairly proud of.
No time for auto-focus, you have to just slam it into focus manually.  Admittedly I probably got fairly lucky, but you have to get into Cave Swallow form somehow.