Thursday, December 18, 2014

Heavyweight contendahs

Silver Beach this morning had a decent selection of gulls.  I don't find either Glaucous or Great Black-backed to be as attractive as their smaller sister species, but it's fun to get them together in the same frame.

Sibley has Glaucous at just over 3 pounds and the rangier Great Black-backed at about 3 1/2.  The Glaucous probably wasn't used to having to give ground.

The full adult flew right past.

The Black-backed did eventually as well.

There were a total of 4 Great blackbacks present.  This one's subadult bill but near adult wings probably makes this a 3rd winter bird.

The heavy all dark bill and white rump of the first winter bird generally stand out as well.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

the Beetle book

Looking for that last minute gift idea?  (Of course not, it's not December 23rd yet is it?)  But if you were, what better idea than a fine selection from Princeton Books who are willing to provide review copies to blogging shills?

I've really enjoyed the Dragonfly book, I have focused more on Odes the last couple summers than I have birds.  With that in mind, Beetles of Eastern North America.

I had no idea how many of them there are.  There's a mere 115 families known from the region.  The book estimates that 20% of all life forms (including plants) are a beetle of some form.  With that in mind, it covers about 1400 bugs, many of them without a common name.  They state that 1400 represents about 10% of the possibilities.  It's a fairly heavy ~550 page book.

This is the layout, a page of fairly attractive things in the ladybug group
There's a nice intro describing strategies to find and attract beetles, not all of which are intuitive.

There's also a nice key to putting a bug into a general family; I would have appreciated something like this in the dragonfly book where I was essentially just page-whacking, thumbing through the book more or less at random trying to stumble onto the next section.  They also include a ruler on the inside of the front and back cover, the lack of which was also a big critique I had of the dragonfly book.  Somewhat disconcertingly, that ruler goes up to 7 inches (!). 

I'm not sure that birders are the ideal target audience, dragonflies and butterflies are an easier leap.  I think a person as interested in natural history in general may be more likely to embrace this menagerie.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

the SNOW in the CBC

It was nearly a snow-free CBC.  Fifty degree temperatures kept it remarkably pleasant and there wasn't a bit of snow on the ground. 

Which left a Snowy as the only snow for the day.  It eventually looked at us.

We were rapidly determined to be inedible and after that this was the predominant look we got.

Here it's looking at an airplane.

The digi-scoped version.
Based on there being some retained (faded) feathers in the scapulars and (I think) tertials, this bird is over a year old, and based on the amount of markings probably an adult female.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

a snowy Snowy Owl

Rhoda and I had just about the whitest Snowy Owl I've ever seen fly past Tiscornia (along with close to a thousand ducks, mostly mergs).  It landed briefly on the South pier before being flushed by gulls to Silver. 

I drove over and phone-scoped the bird.  With the scope at 60x, the phone at 2x, and some cropping these are probably about 150x

 The talons are huge.  I'd never really seen the feathered legs and feet well before.

The bird was flushed by beachwalkers

Most of the Snowies that come south are first year birds with much heavier markings.  This was an adult, likely a male.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gull-nasty 2014 ... with an answer???

Guess who's back.  Back again.  Guess who's back, guess who's back, guess who's back...

Tall and rangy, triangular headed, nearly Great Black-backed backed, long gray-green legged, Gull-nasty dropped down for a visit at New Buffalo.

It's got at least a partial string of pearls.  P8 is moulting in (along with a bunch of secondaries)

Here's my other close-range spread-wing of the bird (from at least a month earlier in the calendar year)

[addendum:  I emailed Alvaro Jaramillo about the bird, here's his response:
The bird does indeed have an outward look of a Kelp Gull, or at least part Kelp Gull. But it is clearly not a pure Kelp Gull. So I can see why the default is Kelp x Herring. However, the chance of this happening is very, very small. I will break my rule of never offering hybrid options that are unknown or unlikely….however essentially everything about this bird can be explained by a Lesser x Great Black-backed hybrid. I don’t know if that has ever occurred, but it may be equally or even less crazy than a Kelp x Herring in Michigan.

  So although the Mich bird is likely unidentifiable. As a hypothesis the Lesser x Great hybrid seems equally valid as Kelp x Herring. Since there are a bunch of Herring x GBBG hybrids out there one can study, this bird does seem off from that. Too dark as you say, and too little white on primaries. I would imagine an F2 bird would be darker like this, but would also show more white on primaries. So that option does not explain the look of this bird]
We had Thayer's Gulls at both 3 Oaks and New Buff.
I didn't get particularly close, here the Thayer's is landing on the left side, dark-eyed, fairly heavily hooded; the Venetian blind primaries come through so-so.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

pics not worth an eider

I'm in a long stretch right now where I go to work every single day for one reason or another.  This morning was a 7am meeting in St Joe, then an 8:30am meeting in Berrien Springs.  I drove back and forth in the freezing rain eventually getting home late morning to find that the ice had brought down a large pine branch across the driveway.  Siskins were chattering away while I sawed it to clear the pavement and when I finished I sat down in front of the backyard feeder to see if they'd come in.  A few did.

They're fairly pugnacious, more than holding their own against the bulkier House Finches.

I think we can all imagine the translation between that exchange.  Less competition on the ground.

Of course if I had gone to Tiscornia instead, here's an artist's rendition of what I might have seen:
Here's hoping it comes back...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

fishing for a phalarope

It's been a good fall for Red Phalarope in Berrien.  Prior to this fall the only 2 Red Phalaropes I'd seen here were about 14 miles off the beach.  Tiscornia is the 3rd place they've been in the county this year though. 

Tim found this one this afternoon.  It fed for a bit, disappeared, and then reappeared not long after I got there with the kids in tow.  It was pretty tame.

It fed actively, frequently investigating spawn bags that had fallen off fishing lures.

 Apparently the fishermen put a marshmallow in the spawn bag to get it to float off the bottom.  The  phalarope discovered that the baggie sinks if you shake out the marshmallow.

The pale legs are reminiscent of Wilson's.

The black (instead of gray) tertials (the white-edged black feathers over the primaries) indicate it's a first fall bird.

 Red-necked Phalarope has a considerably thinner bill and is about half the bulk of Red which can be useful if comparison birds are about, or the bird is in a very familiar setting.    Some Reds will have a noticeable pale base to the lower bill, though this one doesn't.  Red-necked should have some back striping/contrast but I don't have any pics of winter Red-necks though to show the difference.  There are a few retained dark juvenile coverts which could lead to some sense of streaking in this bird.

This was the last of the 3 phalaropes for me for Tiscornia, though Wilson's is probably rarer at this location.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Last of the fall color

Haven't gotten out a ton of late, a few random pics from the fall...

The bluebird's in wild grapes, the next yellow-rumped in a vineyard abutting Royalton Twp park...

Earlier in the fall Tim and I were trying to kick up sparrows.  This Cooper's was also interested in a candidate LeConte's, though for entirely different reasons.

It flew down and walked through the grass looking for the sparrow.  None of us found it.
It was close enough you can almost see my reflection in its eye.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Costa's Hummer

After last month's Berylline, the line-up of rare hummingbirds in Michigan continues, this time in the form of a Costa's found a little south of Traverse City.

It would come and go every 10 minutes or so

It tended to keep its fairly short tail closed tightly, I only managed this pic that even shows half of the spread undertail, I never managed a spread uppertail.  The undertail is plain, as it's supposed to be for a young male.  You can see a little bit of the dark patterning coming in along the outer edges.

Gorgets always show up best when the bird is relatively head on...
 Costa's, like Anna's, has iridescent feathers on the forehead as well.

Finally a digiscoped perched shot.  I've finally figured out (after I got home) how to adjust the white balance on the phone, that would have been useful.  I see the latest Sibley has taken out the line drawings of the closed wing, I don't know why that is...