Sunday, January 25, 2015

Field Day

Spent today helping Daniel Field catch up with a couple species he's been meaning to see in Connecticut...

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Glaucous Gull
 - NB

Friday, January 23, 2015

CAS trip to Pacific Northwest - September 2015

Each year I lead or co-lead one or more overnight tours for Connecticut Audubon Society. I will keep links to these trips in the sidebar to the right. Join us for high quality birding, culture, and great fun! Nonmembers from anywhere in the world are welcome of course!

Olympic Peninsula and the San Juan Islands
September 12-21, 2015

Bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north by the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Peninsula is anchored by the majestic Olympic Mountains. No place in America can match its diversity in terrain and weather in such a compact geographic area. Explore lakes, waterfalls, rivers, mountains, beaches, and rain forest. While the main attraction is Olympic National Park, time will be spent among the San Juan Islands and on Puget Sound, the second largest estuary in the United States. Its numerous glacier-carved channels and branches are fed by freshwater from over 10,000 rivers and streams that flow down from the Olympic and Cascade Mountains to the wetlands, salt marshes, and bays of the Sound. Puget Sound has numerous sea birds, shorebirds, and waterfowl, including Tufted Puffin, Pigeon Guillemot, and Rhinoceros Auklet. Many marine mammals, particularly Orca, often steal the show.

If interested, visit the CAS EcoTravel website for more information.

 - NB

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A few days in Florida

Just back from a few days in Florida with Daniel Field and Frank Mantlik. Our searches for the continuing (but sporadic) Key West Quail-Dove and American Flamingos were largely unsuccessful, but we did enjoy our time in the field. The highlight was a morning kayak down the Snake Bight Channel. Here are a few pics!

American Alligator

Great Blue Heron

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinules and Florida Redbelly Turtle

Double-crested Cormorant

Brown Pelican

"Wurdemann's" Great Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Barred Owl on nest

American Bittern

Tricolored Heron

American White Pelican

American White Pelicans
 - NB

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"COMMON" MEW GULL - Southbury, CT

Work was slow today, which allowed me to get out and do some birding while waiting for the pager to go off. I had wanted to check the Shepaug Dam section of the Housatonic River for gulls for some time now. It had always been on my radar, as I recalled Greg Hanisek and Mark Szantyr having a Thayer's Gull there some fifteen years ago, about the time I started birding as a young teenager. Patrick Comins really brought attention to the place by birding it often last winter, during which he recorded a fantastic "Common" Mew Gull that was seen sporadically for a few days. Due to work, travel, and personal obligations I never did find the time to go there myself, until today.

I arrived mid-morning to find few gulls around. After some waiting they began to trickle into the river itself. The turnover was steady as birds came and went from the main flock along the river. A first cycle "Kumlien's" ICELAND GULL and second cycle LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL appeared side-by-side on the water.

"Kumlien's" Iceland Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull at center, among Ring-billed Gulls and a couple Herring Gulls

Scanning the flock over and over, between bouts of warming up in the car, eventually paid of with an adult MEW GULL of the nominate race, Larus canus canus, often called Common Gull. The bird was seen from various distances in various lighting and weather conditions, from bright overcast to dark with falling snow, from noon to 2pm when the snow really started to come down. The bird was seen roosting on the west bank of the river, roosting in fields at Mitchell Farm, and perching atop the farm buildings. I will include images from several angles and distances.

First look, digiscoped as it was roosting with Ring-billed Gulls on a lawn across the river. Note that the mantle is only slightly darker than the surrounding Ring-bills, though this varies with angle and light.
note very thin gray-green bill with dusky subterminal markings

dark eye, sparse head and nape spotting

strongly contrasting tertial crescent

primary pattern consistent with nominate canus

After comparing images, I am all but certain that this must be the same individual seen here for a few days last winter. It is quite similar to the Mew Gull I had back in 2009, which was also a pretty classic-looking "Common" Mew Gull...yet not terribly similar to this bird from Cape Ann in 2010, which was not firmly IDed to subspecies.

A great start to 2015!

 - Nick

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dec 27 & 28 - MA North Shore (Thayer's Gull ++)

Julian Hough, Greg Hanisek and I spent the better part of last weekend birding the North Shore of Massachusetts. Reports from the area had been surprisingly few in the days preceding our visit, thus our expectations were a bit tempered. Still, there may not be a better winter birding destination in New England, so we were game to try. Besides, I think we were all about sick of seeing Common Loons and Black Ducks around home!! :)

Less than three hours from home on Saturday morning we kicked things off at Marblehead Neck for our one-and-only twitch of the weekend. A TOWNSEND'S WARBLER had been frequenting the neck's sanctuary and adjacent backyards for several days. Well-known to CT birders as the Undisputed "How-the-hell-has-this-species-never-been-seen-in-CT-before" Champion of the World, we could not pass up the opportunity to check out this western vagrant. After a bit of watching and waiting the bird appeared at a backyard suet feeder, giving nice looks for all. Once satisfied, we drew the bird a map to Connecticut in the dirt and left.

Townsend's Warbler

From here we spent the rest of the day on Cape Ann, birding from Gloucester Harbor to Halibut Point. We drove to the end of the Jodrey Fish Pier to find a first cycle GLAUCOUS GULL standing in the lot among a few Herring Gulls.

first cycle Glaucous Gull

Despite this early success, gull numbers here were wayyy down from what I'm used to seeing (though I haven't birded here in a few years)...a theme that would continue for the weekend. Two adult and one first cycle "Kumlien's" Iceland Gulls were the only other white-winged gulls we saw in the harbor.

first cycle "Kumlien's" Iceland Gull

adult "Kumlien's" Iceland Gull

Some seawatching from the Eastern Point Lighthouse was overall quiet, but Julian's spot of a DOVEKIE was unexpected and very satisfying. As far as we knew, there had been hardly any recent reports of alcids other than the expected Razorbills and Black Guillemots.

Next up was Niles Pond, another well-known gull magnet. There were no more than 100 individual gulls on the pond at any one time, but there was a steady turnover. Our first scan revealed nothing but the three common species of gull. The pond was ice-free and held some waterfowl, including Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, and a Double-crested Cormorant.

From the other end of the pond we scanned Brace Cove and found a female BARROW'S GOLDENEYE among the Common Goldeneye. Nice looks at this bird at rest, diving, and in flight. Just as I was about to digiscope photos of the Barrow's, Julian called our attention to an incoming gull. His initial impression was correct - we watched as a juvenile THAYER'S GULL landed on Niles Pond. We followed the bird as it actively bathed in the fresh water, concurrently realizing that there were now a couple Iceland Gulls and a Glaucous Gull on the pond. Where did they come from?? Obviously we had under appreciated the amount of turnover on the pond despite the very low numbers at any given time. After about 10 minutes on the pond the Thayer's Gull took flight and headed back out towards Brace Cove where it landed amidst a roosting gull flock at the north end of the cove. We drove around to that end of the cove but were unable to relocate the bird.

From a distance, note the frosty checkered brown upperparts, the darker-centered tertials, and the very dark brown primaries lightly fringed with white. Structure recalls a lightly-built large gull, though this varies with sex.

One of my few photos that shows the tail, which appeared rather solid brown in the field.

Upperwing pattern can be seen in these next few shots...classicly dark outer webs and pale inner webs to the outer primaries.

One of my few photos that shows the secondary bar.

Again a bit of a look at the brown tail.

Secondaries exposed at rest.

Again note the tertial pattern with most (if not all) having wholly dark centers.

First cycle Thayer's Gulls tend to retain their juvenile scapulars well into the winter, and this bird is no exception.

Silvery underside of the primaries with thin dark tips, which is one of the features we first noticed when Julian called out the bird as it sailed into Niles Pond from the ocean.

Here are two heavily cropped flights shots courtesy of Julian Hough:

first cycle Thayer's Gull in flight, by Julian Hough

Feeling great about our day already, we continued north along the coast to Cathedral Ledge to find several Harlequin Ducks feeding below us.

Harlequin Ducks

A THICK-BILLED MURRE was loafing not too far offshore in excellent light...another bird we were hoping for but weren't really expecting! Razorbills and Black-legged Kittiwakes could be seen further offshore.

Thick-billed Murre

We wrapped things up at Andrew's and Halibut Points, which were considerably less birdy and did not hold much of interest while we were there. Of course the rugged coastal scenery and beautiful October-like weather made up for the lack of birds.

Views from Halibut Point. NOT late December weather!

On our drive from Cape Ann towards Salisbury we stopped for dinner at Spice Thai Kitchen in Ipswich...we highly recommend this place, especially their Drunken Noodle! We ended up finding a cheap, clean room just over the state line at the Hampton Falls Inn in Seabrook, New Hampshire.

Julian's contribution to the housekeeper's tip. I think this took him less than five minutes.

Sunday morning was rather wet and raw. Temperatures were still unseasonably warm, but the rain and breeze made it feel much colder. We started at Salisbury Beach State Reservation and found a rather distant SNOWY OWL in the marsh...the first of many we would see today. Seawatching produced the expected species. The best bird was a second-winter male KING EIDER that was actually quite close to shore inside the river mouth. The rain and low light kept us from even trying to photograph that bird, but Eric Labato posted a photo he took later that morning.

On our way to Plum Island we made a few stops along the Newburyport side of the river. We again noted the lack of gulls. We did not see a single white-winged gull along that entire stretch of river, which is not something I thought was possible! On Plum Island we added more waterfowl to our trip list and enjoyed some raptors including Rough-legged Hawks and Bald Eagles. What we lacked in white gulls we made up for in white owls. We ended up tallying an impressive eight Snowy Owls on Plum Island south of the bridge. From one particular spot five were in view at once. As we were leaving the island around 1pm we found one more, making a whopping 10 for the day. A great way to cap a fantastic weekend of birding.

Snowy Owl, digiscoped

same bird, same distance, DSLR w/ 400mm lens

 - Nick