Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sandy Point t-storm

Not much to report bird-wise from Sandy Point in West Haven this afternoon aside from your expected late July migrants. No sign of the American Avocet that was seen a few days ago. Just as I was about to leave, an ominous looking thunderstorm rolled into New Haven.

Bright blue sky to the south...

...darkness to the north!

leading edge

 - NB

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July 8-13 on eastern Long Island

I'm recently back from several days spent on eastern Long Island, New York. During this vacation/visit I birded in bits and pieces with a couple of extended early morning outings. In short, the birding on the eastern LI south shore was fantastic, loaded with shorebirds, terns, and seabirds. I would have loved more time to explore.

My first exposure to seawatching, with Carolyn, was on the evening of the 9th from Georgica Beach in East Hampton. The weather was overcast, hazy offshore, and a light south breeze. Here we had many Cory's Shearwaters plus single Great and Manx, plus two flyby Royal Terns.

On the 11th I spent the entire morning birding further west, starting at the recently hot Cupsogue County Park (Elegant Tern, Red-necked Stint the week before) and working my way back east. At my first visit to Cupsogue I arrived at dead low tide and was able to navigate the channels and flats surprisingly easily. The recent drama and misinformation on the state listserv had made me a bit nervous going in, but it seems that some patience and care is all that's needed to bird the flats safely.

The birding here was quite good, with seven species of tern being the highlight (Least, Black, Roseate, Common, ARCTIC, Forster's, Royal...plus Black Skimmer).

first-summer Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern in flight
Roseate Tern

Fourteen species of shorebird was a modest total, with the best being a single "Western" Willet.

The weather all morning was overcast with on-and-off showers. I had to endure one downpour while on the flats but luckily no severe weather. After a few hours, at mid-tide, I decided to head out before I stranded myself due to high water. Surprisingly I was able to cross at a shallow point without water any higher than my kneecaps. Definitely could have stayed longer! On my hike back to the car one of the Black Terns decided to forage along the shoreline on which I was walking. Lucky for me it was a bird in nice plumage, and the rain had stopped allowing me to pull the camera out of the dry bag. All I was missing was some sun.

Black Tern

I spent the rest of the morning quickly checking spots along Dune Road to the east. Pike's Beach had another "Western" Willet, which actually looked rather similar to the first individual, so could have been the same.

"Western" Willet

Tiana Beach had a MARBLED GODWIT (best shorebird of the day), 2 Royal Tern, and a banded American Oystercatcher (reported it, haven't heard back yet).

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

Marbled Godwit

Lastly, there were two more Royal Terns at Shinnecock Inlet.

Later that evening Carolyn and I again scoped from Georgica Beach under similar conditions as the 9th and had 75 Cory's Shearwater, 3 Manx Shearwater, and a large dark immature jaeger that went down as Parasitic/Pomarine. I would lean Pom on size and structure alone.

It was back to Georgica Beach the next evening (7/12) for more seawatching, this time in a stiff east wind and poorer visibility. A 45-min watch produced 230 Cory's Shearwaters, 4 Manx, and several hundred Herring Gulls and Common Terns...all heading east into the wind. There must be loads of Cory's out there right now.

My final excursion came on the morning of the 13th, where I was met with fog and intermittent showers. My plan was to spend just a few hours in the field, checking Mecox, Sagaponack and Georgica Inlets.

Mecox had a few flats and sandbars on which gulls and terns were roosting. The tern & skimmer flock held single SANDWICH, Royal, and Roseate Terns. At ~6:55am the terns, skimmers, and a few gulls took flight more hastily than usual. Out of the fog over the terns emerged a near adult LONG-TAILED JAEGER, which then passed by me as it headed out to sea. Views through binoculars and scope for approx 15 seconds combined at close range in rather good [muted] lighting conditions. This will be written up for NYSARC if it is a review species, but here is a brief description: gray above, small black cap, slightly contrasting darker flight feathers on upperside, very long pointed central tail feathers, smooth gray belly and vent, completely white breast with not a hint of a breast band, lack of white on underside of primaries, slim belly, narrow wings, very buoyant flight. I did notice at least a few checkered underwing coverts, so not a full adult.

Talk about a nice surprise. Awesome bird. Of course my buddy Doug immediately gave me crap for not having photos, and rightfully so. If the camera was out I would have gotten some shots. But I was very careful with the camera this week (a wet one). I've been paying more attention to moisture and optics lately, especially after recently sending back both my scope and binoculars for internal moisture issues (they're supposed to be waterproof...). That does present a problem, as good birds often appear during inclement weather. Working on a solution...

After Mecox the rest of the morning was somewhat uneventful, but there were birds to see. There was a first-summer Lesser Black-backed Gull at Sagaponack Pond. Just off Georgica Pond, as visibility improved a bit, I recorded 8 Wilson's Storm-Petrels (my only ones of the week) and a single Cory's Shearwater.

Shorebirds were non-existant all morning.

Finally, just before departure on the afternoon of the 13th we took a leisurely stroll on Georgica Beach, with bins only. Still we had a few more Cory's, a young Northern Gannet, and a near adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.

I came away very impressed with the birding out there and was sad to have to return to boring old Connecticut! (Trying to reverse jinx a mega rarity back home...)

 - Nick

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sandy Pt - Lesser Black-backed Gull

This afternoon at Sandy Point in West Haven, CT Carolyn and I did not have much in the way of migrant shorebirds, but we did turn up a first summer LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL that was hanging out on the jetty. It was rather far away...way too far for my 400mm lens alone. In these cases, digiscoping still holds some value for me. Some birds are just too far for my lens, even when I use the 1.4x converter. This is why I still try to carry my trusty old Canon A590 IS in the field whenever I'm scoping.

Slim, long-winged, black bill, gray-and-brown upperparts, and white underparts.

just a hint of an inner primary window

here with immature Herring Gull (left), note structural differences

 - NB

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

July 1st Short-billed Dowitcher subspecies

The southbound shorebird migration has begun in Connecticut, which is always cause for celebration. Yesterday I had a nice half-day of birding a few coastal hotspots, the best of which was Griswold Point in Old Lyme. Among the arrivals from the north was a small flock of six Short-billed Dowitchers.

While normally this would not be at all notable, the subspecific composition of this flock was interesting. Here in southern New England the common subspecies is griseus, but very small numbers of hendersoni can often be picked out among them, especially early in migration when adults are still in good plumage (according to the literature hendersoni averages earlier fall migration than griseus as well). Here in CT, this usually means no more than a few hendersoni per day on your best day (we don't get the flocks of hundreds of SBDO that you see at South Beach or Jamaica Bay).

In yesterday's very instructive flock, four of the birds were straightforward hendersoni, just one was your typical griseus, and one bird left me scratching my head. Each bird is labeled in the photos that follow. My apologies for the mediocre images...if I had tried to get any closer to the birds I would probably still be extracting myself from waist-deep mud.

In this set of images I'm going to focus on the mystery bird, labeled with a question mark in the photos. Not all dowitchers can be safely assigned to subspecies, even adults in breeding plumage. For instance, there are known to be intermediate/intergrade birds from the Hudson Bay region. Birds from west of the Hudson Bay are hendersoni, while birds east of there are griseus. This mystery bird may well fall into that category.

All four hendersoni are variably bright orange below with coloration extending all the way to the vent. Breast sides are more spotted than barred. Face is about the same bright orange color as the underparts. Upperparts are broadly striped/edged with gold.

As compared to the hendersoni, the single griseus is a very dull bird. There's a dingy orange wash only to the face and upper breast. There is heavy barring along breast sides and down flanks. The golden barring and edging to the upperpart feathers are thinner and less striking.

As usual, you can click each thumbnail for a larger version.

In this view, the mystery dow shows extensive yet dull orange below.

A bit more heavily marked on the sides than your typical hendersoni.

Tough to see without zooming in, but the mystery dow shows some orange all the way to the vent.

Here it is cropped all the way up.

Again showing a dingy-looking breast. Finally a decent angle to judge upperpart pattern, which also appears intermediate between the hendersoni to the left and the griseus to the right, as far as the golden 'tiger stripes' go.

Head-on, breast markings perhaps appearing more hendersoni-like after all.

One of those tertials is really well-marked, again hendersoni-like. But not a clear orange face; instead, duller and finely speckled.

I'm fine putting this bird in the "intermediate" category. No need to assign a name since it doesn't seem to fit neatly into either taxon. If I was forced to pick one, I'd go with hendersoni because I think the bird is closer to that end of the spectrum. It definitely stands out from what I consider to be the normal range of variation among the griseus I see here each summer.

As always comments are welcome.

 - Nick