Saturday, June 30, 2012

NC pelagics, photo highlights - Skuas & Jaegers

Over our three days at sea we recorded a South Polar Skua and all 3 jaeger species. Below are select images of the SP Skua, a Long-tailed Jaeger, and a few Poms.

South Polar Skua, a rather dark individual

Long-tailed Jaeger - a near adult bird, the only signs of immaturity, as far as I can tell, are a couple of underwing coverts and a single undertail covert. Third-summer?

Pomarine Jaeger (presumed third-summer)

Pomarine Jaeger (second summer)

Pomarine Jaeger (presumed second summer)

 - NB

"Fall" migration begins

Just a couple days after the first official day of summer arrived, the season's first southbound shorebirds were reported in the area. While CT has seen just a trickle of a few birds, shorebird hotspots in the northeast are already seeing decent numbers (for the time of year) of southbound birds. It can be difficult or impossible to determine if certain individual birds are true migrants or just summering, but when we're talking about a re-appearance of Lesser Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers, and Least Sandpipers, we have our answer.

The current numbers and diversity at our latitude seems higher to me than is typical for late June. While it's exciting to kick off the summer shorebirding a bit early, this is possibly a sign that there was more failed breeding in the arctic than in a typical year. There are good breeding seasons and there are poor ones. And a poor breeding season in part of the arctic does not mean that is the case everywhere. But it makes you wonder. We'll see what the first-hand accounts from researchers say (I have yet so see any such reports myself, but they may be out there already).

Anyway, enjoy the summer 2012 shorebirding. I'll be away from July 21-29, prime time for adult shorb viewing, but plan on getting out locally when I'm in town. I'm not sure whether or not it is because of my relative lack of local birding over the past several months, but I have an especially strong itch to spend many hours scouring those shorebird and tern flocks this summer.

 - NB

Thursday, June 14, 2012

More boobies?

Last summer several eastern US states enjoyed Brown Boobies thanks to a northward incursion of the species. Two particular individuals, one at Cape Cod, MA and another at Cape May, NY remained for weeks and were seen by hundreds from shore.

We may in for a repeat performance this year. Over the past week or so, Brown Boobies have been seen in South Carolina, North Carolina, and even New Brunswick. We'll see how this develops, but all east coast birders should be on the lookout for this species, which is most often seen perched on channel markers or buoys.

 - NB

Friday, June 8, 2012

NC pelagics, photo highlights - Tubenoses

Cory's Shearwater   Calonectris diomedea borealis

"Scopoli's" [Cory's] Shearwater   Calonectris diomedea diomedea

Compared to borealis, Scopoli's appears smaller-headed and slimmer-billed with narrower wings. However, the go-to field mark is the underwing pattern. Specifically, on Scopoli's, the white on the wing linings bleeds well into the underside of the primaries. Note this pattern in the Scopoli's shown above, as well as the subtle structural differences. In borealis, the dark primaries contrast rather strongly with the white wing linings. The above bird is a nice example of Scopoli's [Cory's] Shearwater, currently treated as a subspecies of Cory's by the AOU but may be destined for full species status in the near future. Borealis can show some bleeding of white onto the primary bases but the extent of variation is still, as far as I can tell from my sources, being worked out. This was the only Scopoli's Shearwater identified with certainty on our three boat trips.

Audubon's Shearwater   Puffinus lherminieri

Black-capped Petrel Pterodroma hasitata

Over the past few years Steve Howell, Brian Patteson, and others have been documenting the variation in the Black-capped Petrels of the Gulf Stream. They vary most notably in the extent of black on their faces/caps, currently being categorized into "white-faced," "dark-faced," and "intermediate" birds. The white-faced and dark-faced birds appear to differ slightly in seasonal distribution, molt timing and may in fact represent different breeding populations. Could there be a cryptic species in there? Perhaps. If I have some time I may devote a blog post to the variation in BCPE that we noted on our trips - and we certainly had a diverse sampling. I've only posted my best few photos above, but I have many shots of white, dark, and intermediate birds.

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma castro

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel is one of the reasons I was so glad to get down to Hatteras for these trips since so much has come to light regarding this species complex over the past few years. Still, more questions remain than answers. You may have noticed that the last bird is not in wing molt while the others quite obviously are. More on this in a future post, which will contain more photos and analysis of BRSP.

Leach's Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa

We had a nice handful of cooperative Leach's through the weekend, contrasting well with the Band-rumps. By far the best way to pick out a different storm-petrel from the Wilson's in the slick is to simply observe flight style naked-eye. The other species will just "pop" when they appear once you've gotten down the Wilson's flight style.

 - Nick

Summer plans

Well I'm back from a busy and incredibly fun month of birding trips (FL, AK, NC). This was the first time I tried blogging from the road and found it easy and fun. Apologies for the lack of photos from AK and Hatteras - decided against bringing my laptop so I was relegated to blogging from my smartphone. Photos from all three trips are on their way, probably in reverse chronological order. I should get some seabird photos up very soon.

The rest of my summer sounds much less exciting, but far more relaxing. I have a decent amount of time off from work this summer, thanks to a sweet schedule and previous banking of vacation time. My only real trip will be a week in the Yellowstone NP area in July. Otherwise, I will be taking a couple short road trips. Birding will not be my main focus but I'm looking forward to some western birds in July and the BBC August overnight pelagic. In the meantime I'll be doing local birding & boating here and there. I could use a good rarity chase, so if something really great shows up within driving distance, I will make the journey if the schedule allows.

So stay tuned for photo highlights of recent trips, plus the occasional local birding post.

Hey, less than a month til the southbound shorebird migration begins...

 - Nick