Sunday, July 31, 2011

RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD in Maine - 23 July


Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus); Seal Island NWR, Maine; 23 Jul 2011

Five CT birders (Bill Asteriades, Patrick Dugan, Frank Gallo, Phil Rusch, Glenn Williams) joined me last weekend on a trip to Maine for the Red-billed Tropicbird that has been summering there for the past seven years. We chartered "Fluke," John Drury's vessel out of Vinalhaven, ME on the afternoon of Saturday, July 23rd.

John is the go-to guy to see the tropicbird, which has spent the past couple summers around Seal Island NWR. Seeing the bird is far from guaranteed, but John knows its habits as well as anybody. His plan for a PM attempt is based on his knowledge that the bird often swings by the island for a mid-afternoon visit.

I had received my Canon 7D that week and went out of my way to rent the Canon 100-400mm IS lens on Friday evening, just in time for the weekend. On this page are my first photos taken with the camera (or any SLR, for that matter), so keep in mind I had little/no idea what I was doing. Frank and Patrick gave me a few tips as we went along. I had fun with it, and got some nice photos thanks to modern technology, but it was readily apparent that this is going to take a while to get good at.

We left the dock at 1pm and headed toward Seal Island, stopping briefly to check out a Great Cormorant colony and a few Harbor Seals on the way. Wilson's Storm-Petrels and Black Guillemots were scattered about. Northern Gannets were fairly common, many of which were obviously heading down the coast to the south/southwest.




Northern Gannets


Black Guillemot


Double-crested Cormorant (left) and Great Cormorant (right)

Upon arrival to Seal Island John spotted two distant jaegers harassing terns. With no tropicbird in sight at the moment, we diverted our route to check them out, both being Parasitics (one light, one dark). On our way back to the island we had a great side-by-side comparison of Razorbill and Common Murre on the water.


Razorbill (left) with two Common Murres


Common Murre

Back at the island, no tropicbird yet. John slowly took us around the island once, showing us its various landmarks including the tropicbird's preferred nighttime roost spot (empty, as expected). We anchored in one of the sheltered coves to wait and hope for a tropicbird appearance.

Arctic and Common Terns zipped back and forth past us, many returning with fish, presumably for hungry chicks. A single adult Black Tern joined the colony briefly. Dozens of Atlantic Puffins surrounded the boat and provided great looks.




















Arctic Terns

Just after 4pm Bill announced that he had spotted the Tropicbird at quite a distance to the east. We all got on it...a flickering white bird with a long, thin white tail (it was wayyy off). The good news was that it was approaching the island. Over the next half-hour the T-bird put on quite a show, even making a few close passes by and eventually over the boat. On a few occasions it strafed the terns roosting on the island itself while calling aggressively! At one point it landed on the water with streaming tail cocked up behind itself.














Red-billed Tropicbird, missing one tail streamer, here about to strafe some terns on the island

This totally exceeded our expectations. As I write this one week later it still brings a huge smile to my face. All of us were thrilled.

The boat ride back to Vinalhaven was full of laughs and smiles. We added another nice bird to the list when 4 Manx Shearwaters passed by heading southeast. Several Bald Eagles were loitering on the small, rocky islets just offshore from Vinalhaven.


Seal Island NWR


Four of the six of us, with John Drury at the helm




Bald Eagle


the harbor, thick with lobster pots


Vinalhaven

After that incredibly successful trip, we enjoyed dinner and celebratory drinks on Vinalhaven, where we would spend the night.

- Nick

Saturday, July 30, 2011

GRAY-HOODED GULL - Coney Island, NY


Gray-hooded Gull (Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus); Coney Island, NY; 30 July 2011

Going to get these up quickly before I head out for food & drink...

This morning five eager (and tired) birders set out to an unlikely location for a twitch...Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY. I packed four more birders into my trusty Accord (Alex Burdo, Roy Harvey, Julian Hough, Dori Sosensky) and we headed out pre-dawn. We arrived on the scene to few birds and birders. Several hours of pacing the long boardwalk turned up nothing until about 5 minutes before we were going to leave when another birder spotted the GRAY-HOODED GULL apparently flying in from the east with a few Laughing Gulls. The bird proceeded to put on a show in the harsh midday light. As Julian put it, the scene was a bit surreal as we were watching and photographing the bird among dozens of sunbathers along a crowded boardwalk with some bass-heavy music blaring right next to us. All this within yards of the Coney Island amusement part and Nathan's famous hot dog stand. Gotta love it, gulling in July (seven species for the morning, actually). Hey, it beats the local landfill's freezing temps and howling winter winds!

Here are some images of the bird, handheld digiscoped with my Canon A590. It would have been a great bird to photo with my new 7D, but I'm still in the lens-testing phase and did not have a lens at my disposal today...so the flight shots leave a lot to be desired.

This was a life tick for me and I have to say I haven't studied the differences between the South American and African subspecies yet, so I'll be doing some homework this week to see if this bird can be assigned to one or the other. Comments welcome, as always.


















Laughing Gull at top, Gray-hooded Gull below




amusement park rides in the background...


















on the yellow post with buildings in background


One of a few cargo ships going to/from the Hudson River this morning. This site is no more than 10 miles from the Hooded Crow that was at Staten Island last month, on the other side of the river mouth.

- Nick