Sunday, November 28, 2010


Northern Lapwing

A mind-boggling find by Phil Rusch in Storrs, CT at the UConn campus. A first state record, and I believe only the fourth New England record (singles from Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island...nothing recent).

With Barnacle Goose. No, this photo was not taken in Ireland.

Apparent basic adult with a tall, wispy crest. At the risk of sounding like a teenage girl, OMFG. CT has hosted some damn good birds over the past few months, particularly WT Kite, Fork-tailed Fly, and now this bird. Incredible.

On top of that, a BARNACLE GOOSE and GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE at the same location completed the Ireland/UK trifecta. A flyby COMMON REDPOLL was another highlight.

- NB

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cave Swallows: conservation, expansion, and vagrancy

Concerning a recent/current die-off of Cave Swallows in New England:

Cave Swallows from the southwestern population pelodoma (the one we see here in autumn) are doing very, very well. The species' IUCN conservation category is "Least Concern," which is the 'best' category possible. The expansion of Cave Swallow breeding range has been explosive in Texas. For some of the statistics, check out this abstract.

There are multiple articles on the range and population expansion over the last few decades. A Google or SORA search will likely get you to some of those online. There may be other theories/reasons for the expansion, but the most prevalent is the species' adaptation to breeding on man-made structures, and the increase in number of those man-made structures.

What we are seeing here is apparently a product of this exploding range and population. This may be an over-simplification, but vagrancy can be a method of, and/or result of, expanding populations. For a great read, check out this article by Dick Veit. He has written more on the subject if you're interested.

Cave Swallows will likely continue to increase in our region as long as their breeding population continues to expand. They show up here during late fall, when they are generally swept up by a warm SW flow that often stretches all the way from south Texas into southern Canada ahead of strong cold fronts.

Some, or even many, of these Cave Swallows may survive their journey through our region, especially those that appear earlier in the fall and can escape before it gets too cold. The general route, as far as I know, is from the Texas area to the Great Lakes via a SW flow. Then, on the heels of a cold front that clears with NW winds, these birds appear along the Atlantic coast. The main reason why the birds are generally seen along the lake-shores and ocean-front, and only rarely in between, is thanks to the concentrating effects of the coastline, whether along large lakes or the ocean itself. Once the birds hit our coastline their general movement is back southward (or, as is the case with the east-west shoreline in Connecticut and Rhode Island, they move west towards NYC).

I'm not really sure what they do from there. Some research into late fall-winter sightings in the southeast and border states would probably shed some light. Perhaps someone has looked into this and can chime in? Do the surviving vagrant birds continue south and eventually reach their wintering grounds south of the border? Or do some return south only to ride the next bout of SW winds back up to the northeast to perish? How many of these birds survive the journey to pass on their genes to offspring, and how many individuals make the same journey each year? We are seeing "survival of the fittest" at its best here.

It would be helpful to age as many of them as possible. Pyle (1997) states that in first-year birds "flight feathers not in molt in Jul-Aug but molting Sep-Mar" while adults "flight feathers in molt Jul-Sep but not in Oct-Mar." Also, there no known field marks to separate first-years from adults once first-years have completed their molt, which is typically between Jan-Mar. So, in November, adults should have completed their flight feather molt (which includes all flight feathers) while immature birds should still have a combination of new and old flight feathers.

Most, if not all, of the good photos I have seen recently have depicted presumed first-year birds that show a variable number of old, brown outer primaries and inner secondaries contrasting with newer, much darker feathers. For examples, see recent photos by Margo G. & Steve G. in MA and by Steve Mirick in NH.

This Cave Swallow story is incredibly fascinating, and we still clearly have much to learn. Despite having seen many of these birds in the northeast over the past handful of years, I'm still amazed each time I see one.

- Nick

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Coastal birding (LBBG, Common Terns, Cave Swallows, etc)

Frank Mantlik and I spent the day battling some very strong west winds along the eastern CT coast this morning. One of our goals, late/rare passerines, was severely inhibited by the wind. Luckily there was a bit of a surprise movement of birds on the water, most of which were heading straight into the stiff wind.

We started at Stonington Pt, where there were whitecaps in the harbor and the parking lot was bathed with sea spray! Here we had 10 COMMON EIDER, about 30 NORTHERN GANNETS, 4 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, a single PURPLE SANDPIPER, and 3 BONAPARTE'S GULLS.

At Enders Island, we had our rarest birds of the day, 3 immature COMMON TERNS that put on a good, long show near the parking lot. This is my personal latest record for Common Tern in CT, by a good few weeks. We also had two lingering adult LAUGHING GULLS, 5 COMMON EIDER, all 3 scoter species, and 4 more BONAPARTE'S GULLS.

At Haley Farm State Park, the only passerine of note was an EASTERN TOWHEE. Great habitat for late migrants though.

In the Eastern Point parking lot were 3 more adult LAUGHING GULLS.

We visited the Waterford Pig Farm, a hit-or-miss gull hotspot. Among the 70 or so common large gulls was a single first-winter LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL.

first cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull

On our way home we decided to stop by East Shore Park in New Haven to check for the CAVE SWALLOWS that had been there all day. We had 3 CAVES hawking insects (there were plenty of them available) over the sewage ponds. Warblers included 2 PINE, 1 "Yellow" PALM, and a handful of Yellow-rumps. Yet another lingering adult LAUGHING GULL was on the mudflats just offshore.

Cave Swallow

Pine Warbler

Laughing Gull

- NB

Friday, November 19, 2010

East Shore Park - OCWA and other warblers

East Shore Park in New Haven, CT continues to produce late-season warblers in 2010 (as in past years). From 0715 to 0835 this morning I had four species: ORANGE-CROWNED, 2 Pine (one bright adult and one very drab), 2 Palm (one Yellow and one Western), and several Yellow-rumps.

Also reported in the park in November have been Nashville, Blackpoll, and Northern Parula. That's 7 warbler species, if I'm not missing any. One of these days a western vagrant will be found there, hopefully sooner than later...

- Nick

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brazil's Pantanal - 22 Oct (Day 10)

On our last day we had time for a few hours of birding before heading to Cuiaba for our flights home. First stop was to the cerrado, followed by a waterfall observation tower. In these final few hours we were still adding new trip birds in the form of Small-billed Tinamou, Blue-winged Macaw, COLLARED CRESCENTCHEST, Rufous-winged Antshrike, Rusty-backed Antwren, the recently-described CHAPADA FLYCATCHER, and White-rumped Tanager.

Collared Crescentchest

Rusty-backed Antwren

White-eared Puffbird

It wouldn't be a trip to the Pantanal without a photo of a Rufous Hornero, a ubiquitous ovenbird we saw every day. One look at the photo will show you where the 'ovenbird' name comes from.

Rufous Hornero

So that concluded our fantastic tour of the Pantanal & vicinity! Our flight left Cuiaba around 1:30pm, bound for Hartford via Sao Paolo and Dallas.

- Nick

Brazil's Pantanal - 21 Oct (Day 9)

We started the day at sunrise in the cerrado habitat that was home to several new species for us. This habitat is dry and scrubby, even reminiscent of Arizona desert birding. Here we picked up Pheasant Cuckoo, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Plain-crested Elaenia, and Grassland Sparrow among others. In a span of a few minutes we had our two coolest hummingbirds of the trip, and two of the best birds overall: SWALLOW-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD and HORNED SUNGEM.


Our afternoon was spent at Giuliano's father's organic farm, picking up a few new species such as Gray-fronted Dove and Magpie Tanager.

Giuliano & his father

nice 'backyard' eh?

Black-fronted Nunbird

Gray Monjita

A pre-dusk stop at one of Giuliano's stake-outs produced a stunning YELLOW-BILLED BLUE FINCH. Some nighttime owling produced incredible looks at TROPICAL SCREECH-OWL. Night at Hotel Penhasco.

- NB

Brazil's Pantanal - 20 Oct (Day 8)

Our goal for the morning was to return to the HARPY EAGLE nest to see if the bird had spent the night. Sure enough, the eagle was sitting on the nest itself, occasionally tearing some meat off the prey we saw it carry in the night before. What an impressive bird.


nest tree after sunrise

Later in the morning we took a walk through a bit of forest that had suffered a large fire a few weeks prior. Despite the apparent extent of the fire, the forest here was birdy. We enjoyed great views of the minute SHORT-TAILED PYGMY-TYRANT and CINNAMON-THROATED HERMITS. The pygmy-tyrant is so tiny that it looks more like an insect during its brief flights.

the fire still smoldering in spots...

...yet one can see some greenery has survived the fire. The vegetation here is very resistant to fire.

After lunch it was back on the road again, this time to our final destination: Chapada dos Guimaraes & vicinity. On the way, in a flooded farm field, we picked up a species we thought we had missed: WHITE-FACED WHISTLING-DUCK.

White-faced Whistling-Duck

We arrived at our next lodge, the Hotel Penhasco, in time for some evening birding in the forest and along the cliffs. What a drastic change in landscape from the perfectly flat Pantanal! We enjoyed a fine show of three swift species at the cliffs: Great Dusky, White-collared, and Biscutate. We had a nice flurry of new passerines including Masked Tityra, Pale-breasted Thrush, Burnished-buff Tanager, Swallow Tanager, and White-bellied Warbler.

Masked Tityra

our driver, Paolo

After dark, we encountered a HOARY FOX on the hotel grounds. Night at Hotel Penhasco.

- NB

Brazil's Pantanal - 19 Oct (Day 7)

An early morning walk around the Pousada Piuval property got us a handful of new trip birds, with RED-LEGGED SERIEMA and HELMETED MANAKIN being the highlights.

Helmeted Manakin

Savanna Hawk

After breakfast we waved goodbye to the Pantanal and headed for our next destination, known for its Harpy Eagle nest. The eagles are not currently nesting, but an 18-month old immature bird is still frequenting the nest site, giving us a decent chance of seeing one. On our drive in we were surprised to have great roadside views of three RED-WINGED TINAMOUS. Around the nest site we had RED-AND-GREEN MACAWS, Dusky-headed Parakeet, Blue-headed Parrot, BLACK-TAILED TROGON, and LETTERED ARACARI. A couple of SPIDER MONKEYS were vocalizing from the distant canopy.

Red-winged Tinamou

Lettered Aracari

Red-and-green Macaws

Plumbeous Kite

Spider Monkey

As dusk approached we began to lose a bit of hope with the eagle. However Giuliano spotted the magnificent bird flying in with prey hanging from its talons. We would return the following morning for better looks at this highly sought-after species.

The nest tree is the large tree in the left of the image

Harpy Eagle!

Night at Currupira das Araras.

- NB