Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dec 27 - Greater and Lesser Snow Geese?



A small flock of 6 Snow Geese were present at Seaside Pk on the 27th while I was doing a bit of scouting for the Stratford-Milford CBC. The group consisted of two adults (one blue, one white) and four immatures (all white).

The blue goose was clearly the smallest of the bunch. Reportedly "Blue" Geese are much more common among Lesser Snows than Greaters. I think this blue goose is likely a Lesser Snow Goose, but I haven't really done much research yet on separating the two forms.

It also crossed my mind that this could be a family group, given that two adults and four young birds are present.

Any comments would be welcome.



- Nick

Dec 28 - Stratford-Milford CBC, etc

I covered the Bridgeport shoreline on Sunday's Stratford-Milford CBC, with the main territory being Seaside Park. I always enjoy birding Seaside because of its potential for gulls, waterfowl, and lingering passerines on the back side of the capped landfill. My highlights for the day included a Northern Gannet, continuing Eurasian Wigeon, Lapland Longspur, Bonaparte's Gull, a Gray Catbird (very scarce this winter) and finally my first Fox Sparrow of 2008!


Bonaparte's Gull


Fox Sparrow

- NB

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

first-winter THAYER'S GULL @ Windsor Landfill

Julian Hough, James P. Smith and I spent a few hours this afternoon at the Windsor-Bloomfield Landfill. It turned out to be another successful trip.

At noon I picked out this bird as a candidate for a first-winter Thayer's, and Julian and I worked on it for a little while before losing sight of it. James arrived and we refound the bird around 2pm and continued to watch it until sometime around 3:15, when Julian and I left. James planned on staying a little while longer.

The identification of Thayer's Gull in the east is a controversial one, but I believe this to be a nice example of a first-winter Thayer's. For example, compare this bird to the "typical midwinter individuals" photographed in Howell & Dunn, page 265, images 36.10 and 36.11. As usual I would love to hear comments, either positive or negative.

I did not capture any flight shots, but in flight the bird showed a dark secondary bar, a solid dark tail band with mottling at the bases of the outermost retrices, and the "venetian blind" pattern of the outer primaries.

To view James P. Smith's images, check out his blog.

Here are a selection of images, none of which have been altered other than cropping and labeling.


Masked face, head more rounded than Herring Gull, tertials slightly darker than upperparts, primaries darker than tertials. The dark (but not black) primaries have neat and narrow pale fringes to their tips. The slim (but not tiny) dark bill has a hint of paleness coming into the base of the lower mandible.


From underneath the flight feathers of this bird looked like those of a white-winged gull. Note that the outermost primaries are just as silvery as the rest of the flight feathers...HEGU's outer primaries would be slightly darker from below.


Tertials are dark-centered with marbled tips. In this photo one can also see the brown tail band, which was probably captured much better in Julian and James' flight shots (they also captured the upperwing in flight).


All scapulars are juvenile feathers, which is good for Thayer's as they average a later molt than Iceland.






Thayer's Gull in foreground, Herring Gull directly behind it. A nice comparison of the difference in head/bill structure between the two.




Thayer's Gull facing away, giving another glance at the solid brown tail band. Note the first-winter Iceland Gull in the upper right.


adult Glaucous Gull...a real stunner that put on a bit of a show for us; my first ever adult Glauc (quite a rare age in Connecticut)

Also present on the day were that adult Glaucous and at least 5 "Kumlien's" Iceland Gulls (1+ adult, 4 first-winters).

This is turning out to be quite a winter for gulls at this location. For anyone looking to learn gulls (can be a daunting task), this is a great place to study them.

Merry Christmas!

- Nick

Monday, December 22, 2008

Rough-legged Hawk flight

Before last night's Dovekie report, I had zero intention of birding today given the brutally windy and cold forecast. Instead, I found myself outdoors from dawn to dusk. No Dovekies to be seen today unfortunately, but it was an incredibly rewarding day in the field. Despite the weather I had an outstanding time freezing my ass off.

Today's highlight was an afternoon full of Rough-legged Hawks. I had not yet seen any Roughies in 2008, but that changed today with a total of 5 birds, certainly my highest single-day total in CT!

The Great Meadows Marsh (Stratford) held 3 birds in the early afternoon, two light morphs and a dark morph, hunting between the airport and Long Beach.


dark morph Roughie in Stratford


one of two light RLHA in Stratford

On my way home I stopped at Grassy Hill in Orange with hopes of picking up one for my town list. During last year's local CBC, I had to leave an hour or two early to do stuff around the house...and Lee Schlesinger turned up a dark morph Roughie hunting over Grassy Hill while I was home doing yardwork. I mentioned to him on Saturday that it still hurt a year later to miss that bird in Orange! Well, this afternoon upon pulling up to the very same field, lo and behold a buteo was hovering down the slope...a dark Rough-leg.


dark morph Rough-leg in Orange...so nice

I pulled out the scope and watched this bird as it hunted for several minutes before perching in the trees bordering the field.



While watching it through the scope, the bird was pushed off its perch by another buteo...this one a light Rough-leg! The two flew together for a minute before the dark bird peeled off and left the field to the light bird.


The two Orange RLHA together: the dark bird over the light one

This second Roughie proceeded to hunt until sunset, when I could no longer feel my hands and decided to head home.










light morph Rough-leg in Orange

My views of these hawks in the evening light were absolutely stunning. If I had a real camera I could have gotten some incredible images. The beauty of this spot is that you can position yourself in the middle of the field and just stand there as the raptors hunt around you. If any photographers out there could use some RLHA photos, this would be the place if either of those birds decide to stick around for a while. I've now recorded 14 species of raptor/vulture from this hillside.


Grassy Hill in Orange, as seen from the end of Skyview Road. The field, now mostly dirt and dirt piles, still has tall grass and weeds at its east end. Walking forward from here, the field slopes downward to Route 34. The view from here to the north is fantastic. Sadly, this field is on its way to being developed.

- Nick

Friday, December 19, 2008

12/19 - Cackling Goose in Orange

Before the snow started this morning I was able to pin down the Cackling Goose that flew out of Lake Wepawaug yesterday afternoon. It was located in a flock of ~100 Canadas in the field opposite Wright's Pond, which is at the intersection of Old Grassy Hill Road and Ridge Road in Orange. Tomorrow is the local CBC...hope it sticks around one more day!

It has a growth (tumor?) on its forehead which distorts the true shape of the bird's head profile, slightly complicating its subspecific identity. Otherwise, this is a pretty good example of a Richardson's Cackling Goose, though a bit on the darker-breasted side. If anyone has any comments on the bird's subspecific identity, please feel free to comment.


Note the frosty gray-brown feather bases on the upperparts, which set off the darker subterminal lines. Seeminglingly blocky head despite the growth. Short, stubby bill. Wide white cheek patch.


Note the partial white neck collar, set off by darker breast.


Just as easily picked-out by upperpart color as by size.


No sign of a black line down the center of the chin on the Cackler (middle bird).

- NB

Thursday, December 18, 2008

12/18 - Common Eider, Cackling Goose, gulls

On my way home from eastern Mass early this morning, I stopped at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford. The front gates were closed so I had to walk in, which turned into a good thing when I pished up two Eastern Towhees across the street from the park entrance. The only bird of note on the water was a female COMMON EIDER, pictured below.




female Common Eider @ Harkness SP

While male eiders are easily told apart, female eiders are a bit more tricky. Compare this Common to the female King Eider from Milford Pt on Thanksgiving.

From the coast I headed inland to the Windsor-Bloomfield Landfill, where Brian Klienman was already gulling when I arrived at 10am. James P. Smith soon joined us. Brian left later in the morning but James and I continued working the gull flocks until 2pm. Highlights here were 3 Glaucous Gulls, 2 "Kumlien's" Iceland Gulls, and 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull (Brian saw a second LBBG).








The 3 first-winter Glaucous Gulls stole the show here, especially this snow-white individual.


first-winter "Kumlien's" Iceland Gull




The above two images are of an immature "Kumlien's" Iceland Gull...is this an advanced first-winter or a retarded second-winter? I'm leaning second-winter despite the dark eye and mostly dark bill, but I really don't know.


adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

Before finally getting home, I checked on a few local ponds and fields in a sorry attempt at scouting for Saturday's CBC. Upon getting out of my car at Lake Wepawaug, several dozen Canada Geese took flight from the water. I heard a higher-pitched call in the flock and quickly picked out a Cackling Goose as it flew low overhead. Also, one of the Canadas in the flock had a yellow neckband with 'GIT' in black letters. I wonder if this is a Greenland bird like the ones seen in Wallingford recently.

- Nick

Friday, December 12, 2008

THAYER'S GULL, Windsor Landfill - Dec 12

UPDATE 12/15: After doing some reading up on adult Thayer's to confirm the ID, and after hearing positive feedback from a handful of birders across the continent, I'll now remove the word 'probable' from the subject line. This appears to be (gasp) a controversy-free Thayer's Gull. Comments very welcome, as usual. [end update]

12/12: I'll be out of town for much of the next 5 days (with only intermittent laptop access) but wanted to post these images of this interesting Thayer's-type bird from the Windsor Landfill today. Found the bird at noon, had it in view for ~2 mins before it flew down towards the Farmington River, ran back to the car to jot down notes and a flight sketch (wingtip looked good for Thayer's from both above and below), then searched for two more hours without success.

Images in no particular order:


Rear bird





Left-center. Mantle color was a tad darker than surrounding HEGUs, but by a very slight amount. Decent general comparison to nearby HEGUs.





Dark iris, but when the light hit it just right I could see that it was a touch paler than the jet-black pupil.







Close-ups of wingtip. Primary tips were black (very HEGU-like).



Nice example of the bird's expression. Note the dark eye, forehead sloping into bill with yellow-green base, and soft/blurry streaking through the head onto the nape and breast. Orbital ring in the field was viewed as deep red-pink.



Pink legs.



No sign of any blackish markings on the bill.





Just for fun, here's a pic of a dark-eyed "Kumlien's" Iceland Gull that was also present:




And a first-winter Glaucous Gull:



- Nick