Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jan 8 - good January birds

Doug Gochfeld and I birded some southern CT location on Sunday morning from 0730 to 1230. We started off in Wallingford searching for geese around MacKenzie Reservoir. We had the continuing adult Greenland GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE and two "Richardson's" CACKLING GEESE. Other waterfowl on the res included a pair of LESSER SCAUP.

Greater White-fronted Goose

From there we moved toward the coast in search of lingering or rare passerines. Our first stop was at Ora Ave/Proto Dr in East Haven. The place was birdy but nothing too unusual around. Highlights included both kinglets, Gray Catbird, and Savannah Sparrow.

We finished at East Shore Park in New Haven, locally famous for lingering warblers and swallows. Sure enough we found the following lingerers: 3 (!) NASHVILLE WARBLERS, 4 Yellow-rumped Warblers, a "Western" Palm Warbler, and a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT. On our walk back from the western border of the park, a NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW flew in and began to feed over the sewage plant. This is the second latest record of this species in CT. Four birds lingered into mid-Jan at the same location in 2008.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Yellow-breasted Chat

Nashville Warbler (one of three)

Overall quite a few nice January birds.

- NB

Jan 7 - interesting Herring Gull at the landfill

On Saturday afternoon a group of us visited the Windsor-Bloomfield Landfill. We had three really nice-looking "Kumlien's" Iceland Gulls (first cycle, second cycle, adult), but I found the gull photo'd below the most interesting of the day.

It's a first cycle "Herring" Gull. But it shows some features more in line with Old World taxa (perhaps European Herring Gull) than with your typical smithsonianus American Herring Gull.

The bird stuck out among the American HERGs of various ages by its frosty upperparts with thinly barred first-winter scapulars and checkered greater coverts. A closer look revealed pointy blackish primaries and a mostly black bill, and a blackish tail band of unknown width. Tertials were strongly notched laterally and had broad white tips distally. Undertail coverts barred dark and white, with white bars averaging wider than the dark ones.

In flight, we see an obvious pale inner primary window. The inner primaries are strikingly patterned: dark distal anchors with whitish subterminal spots on either side of the dark feather shaft. Secondary bar is blackish and contrasts sharply with pale wing coverts. The only decent view we have of the tail is from underneath, which appears to show the presence of a tail band set of by paler/marbled bases to the outer rectrices.

Unfortunately, we're missing the crucial uppertail shots to assess thickness of tail band and pattern on uppertail coverts.

There are certainly some things at odds with typical European Herring Gull. These include rather uniformly colored underparts and presence of some dark coloration on the inner webs of the innermost primaries.

Yep, another unidentified first cycle gull. Interesting though. I wonder where this bird was hatched. Maybe someday we'll be able to put a name to these things. For now, we file them away into a growing folder, to be opened at a later date when I feel like giving myself another headache.

As always, comments are very welcome.

- Nick

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Book Review: "The Birds of New Jersey: Status and Distribution"

[Disclosure: A free copy of this book was provided by Princeton University Press for unbiased review.]
Status and distribution. Those two words probably excite me more than I should admit. If you don’t feel the same way, you might wonder why I would be eager to review this book. I don’t live in New Jersey. I rarely bird in New Jersey. And let’s face it, New Jersey simply leaves a lot to be desired. Just ask former NY Governor Paterson.

But if you are like me (you poor, poor bastard), you live for this stuff.

“The Birds of New Jersey: Status and Distribution” (paperback, 308 pages) by William J. Boyle, Jr. is a comprehensive look at the documented S&D of New Jersey’s avifauna. This type of book has been done before for many states – every state really should have a work like this at its disposal.

The book starts with an introduction, proceeds to the annotated species list, and concludes with a few appendices.

The intro is straightforward and to-the-point. We are given a summary of NJ’s geography with accompanying map, a brief history on previous bird S&D works dedicated to NJ, and a description of the purpose and responsibilities of the New Jersey Bird Records Committee (NJBRC). Then we have a few pages of what amounts to “how to use this book,” which is rather self-explanatory. The section ends with a brief discussion on New Jersey’s pelagic boundaries and explanation that these lines are far from “official.”

The meat and potatoes of the book is the Annotated List of Species, which is in taxonomic order and devotes a paragraph to each species. The text provides detail about that particular species’ - you guessed it – status and distribution in New Jersey. EVERY SINGLE species ever documented in New Jersey’s rich ornithological history is treated here. For regularly occurring species Boyle touches on preferred habitat, arrival and departure times, as well as peak migration periods and unseasonal sightings. If there is a particular population trend, it is noted. Identifiable subspecies are also treated. For rarities, exact dates and locations are given, and a significant number of color photographs are provided. For instance, the first species treated, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, includes a great shot of 4 birds from Cape May in May of 2009.

Of note, pages 139-152 (smack in the middle of the book, among the species accounts) are entirely devoted to glossy color photos with informative captions.

I particularly enjoy the rarity photos. I just think it’s cool to open the book and see a photo of the only Buller’s Shearwater ever documented in the North Atlantic. That's just one example of many.

Appendix A lists and provides information on seven species of “Exotics and Species of Uncertain Provenance or Status.”
Appendix B, entitled “Not Accepted Species,” are birds cited in other sources as being reported in the state but have not been accepted by the NJBRC.
Appendix C is the NJBRC’s Review List.
Appendix D, written by Kevin Karlson, provides identification information for five photos. Treated here are Ross’s vs. Snow Goose, Common and King Eiders, Pacific Golden-Plover, Lesser Nighthawk, and Archilochus hummingbirds. In these paragraphs, Karlson uses photos from the species accounts to illustrate the differences between similar species. Not only is it a nice little bonus to learn some ID tips here, but it also goes to show how important photo documentation has become when trying to positively identify a rarity.

Overall this is a very well-done status and distribution guide. Not just for NJ residents, this would make a worthwhile purchase for any serious eastern US birder, particularly those who reside on records committees.

- Nick