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

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Merlin's buffet

I spent some time about a week ago watching this merlin at Tiscornia.

He was pretty hungry.  I watched it eat a warbler, and then fly out over the lake before returning with a Golden-crowned Kinglet.  It then caught a Ruby-crowned right along the pier which it devoured as well.

I watched the gulls knock down a few Brown Creepers over the lake; this one made it through though.

This Ring-billed Gull decided since it could catch passerines over the water, that a longspur on the beach (in New Buffalo) was fair game.
It's the only one chasing it for a reason.

Merlins chase each other for no apparent reason.

Their prey, not so much.  This Lincoln's Sparrow stayed tight to the cover.

As did 2 Cape May Warblers, this is the brighter of the two
 Blackpoll is a lot more common in fall than spring.

Lastly a gratuitous moon pic that I never got up while my computer was down.  It's in the aftermath of the eclipse last month.  I missed the actual eclipse due to work, but I took a pic when I got home as there can still be pretty fun skies at 4am.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Columbus Day Gull-nasty

He's Back.  For the severalth consecutive year.  This bird usually appears in September in the north and central part of the county before working its way slowly south and hanging out some in New Buffalo and then mostly northern Indiana by the time winter rolls around.  This bird is frequently claimed as a Chandeleur Gull (a Kelp x Herring population that survived for a decade or so in the Gulf of Mexico on some little islands that were wiped out in a hurricane).  The Louisiana ornithologists who studied the Chandeleur Island birds say it isn't one.

I emailed Al Jaramillo last year about it who thought Great Black-backed x Lesser Black-backed would be more consistent with its appearance, with the obvious caveat that likely it's impossible to prove.

The bird was up close in New Buffalo and that explanation makes a lot of sense.
 The bird has a mantle shade that would seem appropriate for GBBGxLBBG (and darker than the majority of Chandeleur gulls which had the full gamut of mantle color between Kelp black and Herring gray).  The legs are very long.  This bird is always taller than Herring Gulls.  I've never thought the grayish-bland leg coloring (with pink webs) was that inappropriate for crossing a pink-legged bird with a yellow-legged bird.

A close-up of the head.  It has the heavy gony angle of GBBG and the brilliant orange spot of LBBG.  The gape of both Herring and Kelp is yellow, this bird's is definitely not yellow.  GBBG and LBBG have red and red-orange gapes respectively per Sibley.
 The head streaking could probably be explained by either combination.

Another shot of the spreadwing.
I've gone feather-by-feather down the spreadwing in the past.  Here's the link to the Louisiana paper describing the Chandeleur birds, there's a good description of the spreadwings of their birds inside.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

a total tease

It's that time of year.  The best time of year for finding rarities along southern Lake Michigan.  You've gotten a taste of something a lot of fun (i.e. a Pomarine Jaeger), and you know that more can be found.  And it feels like it's close.  And then this flies through your bin field at 3 Oaks.
 It's a small bird with complex black and white patterning.  One that you've never seen before.  One that you don't even know what it is.
Oh my mind raced for a couple seconds.  Pied Water-tyrant?  Some kind of Asian Swallow?  Unfortunately it quickly became clear that it had the identical size, shape, and flight style to the flock of Tree Swallows foraging over the ponds.  Unlike gulls and waterfowl that seem to act aggressively to birds that stand out to the eye, I didn't see any of the other swallows make passes at it.

I actually got the auto-focus to lock on briefly for this shot.

All the rest are manual focus.

It's fairly (but not perfectly) symmetric in the white patterning.  The head is mostly white, the eye black, and the bill yellow.  I'm not sure quite how a person would technically describe this bird.  It's missing all the blue-green color on the body, but also has the irregular white in the wings.  Albinism is defined as missing melanin.  Leucism, per Wikipedia, is a full or partial loss of multiple types of pigments which I guess is how this bird would be characterized.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pomarine irony

I think I've submitted 3 rare jaegers (2 poms and a longtail) to the MBRC over the last few years and have gone 0 for 3 with either no or very distant pics.  So when I eBirded 2 Parasitics from New Buffalo a few days ago I had to smile when Adam asked me why I'd eliminated Pomarine for one of the birds.

The first bird was a first year that I didn't get great photos of.  It was very windy and the bird looked fairly heavy with its primaries held fairly tightly for the most part and wasn't particularly warm in color.  I actually thought this bird had a very good chance of being a Pomarine.  Eventually it came close enough for the camera to pick up some projecting tail points

Not too much later Andrew picked up another jaeger, this one an adult.  It cut tantalizingly across the harbor and I abandoned the scope for the camera.
I didn't think the dark in the face came down very far and it certainly doesn't have much of a breast band so I chalked it up as a Parasitic without thinking too much about it (more irony after I tried really hard to turn the Parasitic into a Pomarine).  If I'd stayed with it a little longer in the scope I might have noticed the two tone bill.  Oh well.  A not so solid pic of the pale-ish bill base.
The bird kept coming north.  Crops through the camera show a pretty long bill with the suggestion of a thicker gony angle.

As it quarters away another angle at the broad tail projection...

I've never found counting pale primary shafts to be that useful, but if you're so inclined the left image may help.  You do get a sense of the face mask coming lower on the face from this angle than the initial view in the harbor.

Another view of the mask, as well as breast-heavy gestault.

The bird accelerated up to attack a Ring-billed exposing the spread tail as it flared after its target.
I count 10 tail feathers though it's possible some of the outer tail feathers are folded over each other.  There should be 12.  Given that the bird has projecting central rects with the tail folded I think we can trust that the central feathers are included here (and given the gap in the tail on the leftmost image I wonder if it's the bilateral 2nd tail feathers that are missing).  It'd be nice if the RBGU was in the same posture as the jaeger to compare the wingspan better.

One last view of the mask extending onto the malar.
I've been having bigtime computer problems for a week and am using an old one without photoshop.  It will be interesting to see if the two-tone bill comes out more when I can lighten some of the broadside views.