Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Who needs a last second gift idea?

If so, then the Offshore Sea Life ID Guide may be for you!  Fair warning, Princeton Press sent me a free review copy.  This one deals just with the East Coast.

I was ill-prepared from a sea-sickness standpoint for the pelagic we did this last summer.  I would expect that by the time next spring rolls around I'll have forgotten the depths of misery that I (couldn't quite) stomach and will be willing to re-try it.  Written by Steven Howell and Brian Sullivan, it's more of a handbook, checking in at a mere 64 pages.  The first 10 or so are intros, the next 10-15 pages deal with whales.  Pelagic birds account for pages 26-50.  Here's a sample plate.

Basically it's a cross between Sibley and Crossley, using Sibley's format but with pics.  It wouldn't surprise me if this approach becomes pretty standard in field guides moving forward.

There's another 5 pages on flying fish which I would certainly have appreciated on our pelagic; we saw a good number of flying fish and I would have liked to have known more about them.

Finally the book deals with some of the billfish, rays, and sharks that are possibilities to encounter.

The book is a fun mix of fairly targeted plates dealing with some difficult to identify birds along with more general info about some of the other sealife that could be encountered on a pelagic.  While I was surprised when I received it how short the book is, the small size will definitely increase it's usability in the field.  At $14.95, I think this is a worthwhile investment for a birder planning to return to the Atlantic seas.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The apex predators of Berrien Co

Beware, the Lesser White Shark:

 Don't worry, it's actually just a Bonaparte's Gull

 Which is probably bad advice to give a minnow...

Bald Eagles are the real enemy when trying to sort through the New Buffalo gull flock.
 This one was circling the harbor which led to a nice concentration of gulls ... a mile out on the lake.

New Buffalo has at times had good numbers of gulls and many people have come to look for the California that's been seen sporadically.  I've been hoping to get some decent Thayer's portraits (actually I've been hoping to get some decent Mew portraits), but this Glaucous was one of just a couple I've seen this fall.

And surely no one gets tired of drinking in the beauty of Gull-nasty.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Sibley 1% Herring Gull

This bird was on Silver Beach last week.  It stood out to the naked eye with an apparently slightly darker mantle, and darkish eye.
 As it flew away it showed some narrow strips of black on the primaries.  Boom. Thayers. Done. Right?
 Well, not so fast.  If you look carefully at the spreadwing you'll notice that the outer 2 primaries are pretty solidly black.  (Note the darkish marks in the tail aren't actually pigmentation, just areas where the feathers are worn and the background is showing through).

And if you look a little closer you see that the dark eye is actually light (which some Thayer's can actually have), but this bird has a Herring Gull's head shape and facial expression.
 A look at the underwing, a pretty close match for what Sibley shows that 1% or so of Herrings will have.

Here's a real Thayer's from a few years ago.
The smaller bill, gentler face, and true Venetian blind primaries stand out as pretty different from the bird on Silver.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Michigan's California Gull Capital

Berrien County of course.  The MBRC page is still in the slow process of being re-built.  A quick look at eBird shows 5 Cal Gulls for Berrien and 3 for the rest of the state.  There's probably 20-30 records for the state so clearly they're not all in the eBird database.

There were a lot of gulls on the beach at New Buffalo this afternoon, constantly getting re-shuffled by beachwalkers.  Allen Chartier spotted this bird as I was combing the Ring-billeds for Mew Gull candidates.
 It was fairly distant at first and the dark eye and slightly darker mantle made it initially a Thayer's candidate.  It's bill looked way too long though as evidenced by this crop, and after a bit the bill patterning and leg color came out revealing it as a California.

 It kept its head in its back preening for a frustratingly long time, but eventually spread its wings.
 Extensive black with a fairly sharp cut-off.  It has a large P10 mirror that wraps around to white tip.  The P9 mirror blends with P10 and then it has small white tips to the primaries
 Herring gull is intermediate between California and Thayer's in terms of how the gray extends into the black.

The bird is about 2/3 of the way between Ring-billed and Herring in size.

Another look at the body size comparison between the CAGU and the RBGU as well as between the head shape of the HERG and the CAGU. 

There were a lot of other gulls there, highlighted by 2 young Glaucous Gulls, and 3 different flavors of black-backed if you include Gull-nasty.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Gift Short-eared

Short-eared Owl is one of several (ok probably more like 20 or so) uncommon but regular birds I've missed this year.  I don't think I've ever seen one in Berrien away from the lakefront or a quality winter field.  So I was quite surprised when one flew over the road and landed at the edge of the subdivision along Momany after leaving Tiscornia.

Cars make for good blinds; I don't think I've ever been this close to a perched Short-eared before.
The car can only hide so much though, those amber eyes are clearly seeking one's very soul.

But the owl couldn't hide from the crows, which it tracked pretty actively.

And pretty rapidly flew off, escorted closely by them. (Unfortunately those pics are super blurred as I was shooting pretty slow shutter speeds in the low light.  I was pretty lucky to get this next pic panning along with the bird).
The owl is pretty heavily marked making it a female.  Here's old flight pics of a Short-eared Owl, one of my favorite pics.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Fall color

It's one of the best times of year for finding a decent rarity locally ... but it hasn't happened yet.  Aside from a very distant Eared Grebe a couple days ago, the diversity has been fairly sparse.  But, as long as you're taking pics of common birds they might as well have fun backgrounds.

I think this is the 4th photo of Downy Woodpecker that I've taken.

Bluebirds are starting to accumulate into little winter flocks.

Winter Wren is another bird that I've never had a lot of luck with photo-wise.  These are the best I've managed, but aren't much better than OK.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Clay-colored vs Chipping Sparrow

I had a Clay-colored Sparrow at Tiscornia about a week ago.
 The very pale ground color of the face sets off the markings around the ear patch and contrast nicely with the pale gray collar.
 Clay-colored has a stronger mark along the base of the auricular (ear patch) along the edge of the malar than Chipping.
 There was a young Chipping Sparrow in the same group. 
 The Chipping has a darker ground color to the face without the paler supercilium and midline crown stripe of the Clay-colored.  You can see it really lacks the streak between the auricular and the malar as well.

I can't seem to write about passerines at Tiscornia without a merlin pic.
This was one of the nicer flight shots I've had of one at close range.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

a pseudo Black-chinned excuse for ISO 8000

A female ruby-throat type hummingbird appeared in southern Berrien this week.  Given that ruby-throats are pretty much done migrating (I don't think I've had one at my feeder in at least a few, perhaps several, weeks), the possibility of a lost Black-chinned was raised.  It was dark and rainy and I was pushing the ISO up much higher than I ever really have before; the pics turned out fairly well all things considering.

So, who's been giving legitimate actual study to the Ruby-throats at their feeder?  I know I ... (hmm, awkward pause) ...  definitely have not.  Sibley says that ruby-throat has much more contrast to the face, his illustration has the ear blending more with the throat in Black-chinned.  I think the above pics are representative of the bill length.

Here's a comparison female Black-chinned from Arizona showing its blended face and longer bill.
A character that I guess I should study more is the color of the forehead and cap.  Pyle says that Black-chinned lacks green tones; its cap is brownish or gray.  Honestly I don't see a lot of green here so clearly I should look at more young hummingbirds next fall.

One of my pics early on seemed to suggest a purplish gorget feather which would be very strong support for Black-chinned.
I tried really hard to get an unequivocal shot of a purple feather there.  This was as close as I could come and it would seem that it's more likely an artifact of some feathers out of place.

I don't honestly own a specialty hummingbird guide.  Allen Chartier said that a young Black-chinned should have buff edged primary coverts which this bird clearly does not (apologies if I over-simplified, if so blame me, not him)

A view of the only shot I lucked into of the spreadtail.

If a person knows what they're doing the shape of the outermost primary likely cinches this as a Ruby-throat.  Unfortunately I have far more frozen wings of Costa Rican Hummingbirds than I do of the one in my backyard...

Thursday, October 22, 2015

semi-late Avocets

I think this is the latest I've ever had avocets at Tiscornia.  I see some eBird records from Berrien from early November, so not unheard of.

They spent about an hour at Tiscornia, mostly resting on the shore, sometimes looping north.
 The bird with the more curved bill on the left is a female; the male's bill is a little straighter.  The male looks to be a first year bird with more brown faded wing coverts.  I didn't notice it has much less of an eye ring initially, I assume this is also age-related.

It's been a really good year for Franklin's Gulls.  I've missed this bird in the county on at least one year.
 This is probably the 4th time I've had one this year.  The pics are not great since I had the ISO pushed way up to improve depth of field when hoping to flush passerines from the grass and I forgot to change them back.

Finally a more a pic more appropriate for Halloween, a Snow Bunting.
If this herald of winter doesn't frighten you, I don't know what will