Thursday, September 25, 2014

Vireos (or Warblers), Kites (really Ospreys) and Falcons (probably Flamingo) oh my! (24-25Sep2014)

I have been staring at these photos I took yesterday of a vireo (really Pine Warbler) that was loosely associating in a mixed flock with Red-eyed, White-eyed and one Philadelphia but it was kind of off to itself.  At the time I remember thinking this is a very strange looking vireo (probably because its not a Vireo), it has the yellowish or almost peach colored wash throughout underneath closest to a Philly and the eye ring and grayish head of a Blue-headed (must have been an illusion).  It also had two faint wing bars.  The bill had a hooked appearance (at least I thought it did) but much smaller than your typical vireo bills in this area.   I lost it after a couple minutes and tried looking at my view finder but my camera stinks and so I told myself a positive ID would have to wait until I could get the pictures on my computer.

The light was bad, it was early in the morning on an overcast day but I did get great looks with my binoculars.  It was flicking its tail around and actively feeding but at the time I did not really think of this as behavior that would help in the ID.

Now that I have looked through multiple books and pictures online, I think I may have had a Bell's Vireo.  What do you think? (Its really a Pine Warbler - it just tricked me).

This was at Fort Fisher in the big oaks South of the museum mounds.

Pine Warblers are evil.

If it is a Bell's, sorry I did not post sooner, I had a crazy day at work yesterday and then today as well (Don't worry its a stinking Pine Warbler).

This morning I went back to Ft. Fisher and got lots more goodies but again the light was poor so photos were nearly impossible.  If you look closely you will find another horrible photo of a Philadelphia Vireo.

Philadelphia Vireo - yellow underneath, semi circles under and over eye.

Later this evening after work I headed out for a quick bird at Wade Park.

These Mississippi Kites (really Osprey) were circling over my house.  I messed up bad on this ID, they were soaring like kites twirling around and so I didn't even bother scrutinizing but now I see they are Osprey.  The one on the right still looks like a Kite to me, but I guess I need to work on my raptor silouhette ID.

White-eyed Vireo at Wade Park.

Then as I was about to leave, I spotted this beauty circling amongst the hundreds of Chimney Swifts.  At first I thought it was a Mississippi Kite the way it was soaring with no wing beats, but then I saw this was a Falcon!!

Light was very poor but I saw mask with binocs. Very dark underneath but way bigger than a Merlin. It was a Peregrine.  Don't worry I am not "counting" this bird, I have Peregrine already.

Not a bad couple of days barring the "trespassing" incident  with the police at Fort Fisher.  Don't get me started on that.

This is one of the reasons I am doing my big year as a photo big year because I don't trust myself with reliable IDs and value outside comments.  Makes you wonder how many birds other birders post about may be wrong.  Without a photo its hard to tell.

Great times.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sweet Home Carolina (22-23Sep2014)

I knew this was going to happen.  I come home from the mountains and the birding is better down here.

Yesterday after work I went to the spit with Harry.  Harry wanted to try his new image stabilization bins and so we took a trip out knowing it would not be good because the tide was not high yet.  Well not only was the tide not high but it started to rain.  So we started heading back and we noticed a flock of gulls flush from the shoreline and Harry said "why are they flushing, I am not that close" and I immediately saw the cause.  A dark large bird with powerful and fast wingbeats was bearing down on the flock.  We both jumped out of the car to take pictures but it made it way past us before we could get on it.  I got pretty good looks at it as it went right past us.  I am convinced it was one of Harry's nemesis birds - the Pomarine Jaeger.  To me it was a fair bit larger than the Laughing gulls it flushed.  It was a dark morph bird.

Presumed Pomarine Jaeger - dark phase

Then as we were just coming off the beach, I noticed this Merlin sitting on a snag in the rain.  Too bad the light so bad.  He was so close in good light it would have been a really good pic.

Merlin - notice the weak mustache.

Tuesday afternoon after my last teleconference of the day I headed to Fort Fisher knowing that a front was passing through and might turn up some birds.  Again the light was bad but I did find some nice birds.

House Wren - this wren made my heart race at first.  I thought it might be a Sedge Wren.  It did not look like a typical house wren, I think it is a juvenile bird.

Palm Warblers were everywhere.

Palm Warblers are nice because they frequently are low down and give good looks.

Then I ran into a really nice flock of 20 or so warblers in the large Live Oaks by the monument.  I had Blackpoll, Black-throated Blue, Black & White, Parula, Yellow Warbler, Cape May and Blackburnian.  In fact the birding was better in that 30 minutes than it had been the whole time in the mountains. The light was poor and backlit so most of my pictures were worthless.

However, there was one bird I got stuck on.  It looked smaller and behaved differently than the Yellow Warblers.  I know that Wilson's Warblers will flick their tails and this birds was doing it.  The eye was big and the cap was a dark olive and I couldn't see any white edging in tertials.

Wilson's Warbler?

When I got home and looked at the pics, it was the above picture that changed my mind.  I think a Wilson's would have a more dusky tail throughout instead of bright yellow all the way to end like in this picture.  DRAT.

I am going to get there early tomorrow and see if the birds are still around.

Great times.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fall Warblers and Flycatchers (15-21Sep2014)

This past week I have birded pretty hard and although I have some new birds to share, it has not been what it was cracked up to be in terms of a potential fall out week/weekend.  I had pretty much gone to Fort Fisher every day in the morning Monday through Thursday and although it was better than August, it was still relatively slow.  Maybe 4-5 warbler species and always the same ones: B&W Warbler, Parula, Yellow, Palm and lots of Redstarts.

Black and White Warbler

My friends the Bucks have been present every day on the monument mounds.

I did see multiple Merlins.  This one was at the Aquarium parking area.

These Banana Spiders have been all over the Fort Fisher area.  I have heard they can even get birds in their large webs.

Friday I had a day off and traveled up to the mountains to get in on some of the action up there. I was hoping for a big migration push based on rumors of a front. However, was not showing anything significant and I was skeptical.  Greg accompanied me up and we had a grand old time.  We spent the first afternoon at Jackson Park for a couple hours and then headed to Beaver Lake to try for the reported Wilson's Warbler.

Jackson had loads of warblers including Magnolia, Cape May, Redstarts, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, Blackburnian and Black & White.  However, it was by no means the birding potential that Jackson Park can be from what I have heard.

Magnolia Warbler - these were surprisingly common.

Here is a "Maggie" that was preening and puffing her yellow rump feathers.

Then she took this awkward pose and just sat like that for a while.  Greg thinks she was trying to get rid of mites by sunning with her feathers all spread out.

Other than warblers, Empinodax flycatchers and Pewees were the most common birds. I was having tons of trouble even telling a Pewee from an "empi" let alone identifying between the empis. 

                                                                Empinodax sp. in above picture.

This one looked like an Eastern Wood Pewee.

After a couple hours at Jackson we went to Asheville to check into our hotel and finished the day birding Beaver Lake north of Asheville.  Our target was a WIlson's Warbler that had been seen there for a couple days.

American Goldfinch.

Greg spotted an Empinodax that he did not have trouble in identifying as a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  This is the only empi I was still missing.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - yellowish color throughout, large eye ring, narrow tail and medium primary projection.

Then we spotted a thrush which we thought maybe was a Gray Cheeked, but in looking at these poor photos, I changed my mind to Swainson's Thrush.

If you zoom in you can barely see the buffy eye ring that makes it good for a Swainson's. Don't worry i got better pictures later!

Saturday we got up nice and early and headed to Jackson Park for a full day of birding.  We ran into and loosely birded with other groups including some names it was good to finally put a face to.  Mostly we birded with the Justices (Ryan and Tom).  Some good people.  Thanks for the sodas Tom!

Northern Waterthrush - coloration uniform cream color is good for Northern Waterthrush.  Also stripes on throat were closely packed as opposed to Louisiania. Also, I think the Louisiana WTs are mostly gone by now.

Prairie Warbler - oddly enough this was one of the more rare finds.  On the coast I can't keep these away.

This one looked like it could be a Gray-cheeked too based on dark spots and lack of buffy tones, but once I saw it's buffy eye ring I decided this one too was a Swainson's.

Swainson's Thrush - See the buffy eye ring.

This was a common sight - the black square on the end of a Magnolia's tail made him/her and easy mark.

Cape May Warbler - these were very accommodating, hanging down a little above eye level.

This one was a little drab but some of them had great coloration.

Blackburnian Warbler.

Cape May Warbler.

Cape May  - a more colorful one.

Tennesee Warbler - there were quite a few of these but no where near the numbers that I was expecting.


Cape May Warbler

Tennesee Warbler

Yellow-billed Cuckoo - I really tried to make one into a Black-billed but they all had yellow-bills.

In the afternoon Greg took a nap in the truck and I birded a section of the park that offered some new birds for the day.


Then in a nice flock of vireos I spotted a Philadelphia Vireo!!!  My best bird was also the worst photographed bird.  It was at the very top of a large tree and the photos are heavily cropped.  You have to use a little a little bit of imagination and zoom in but if you look closely you can see the vireo bill and  distinctive semi circles around the eye.  I got really good looks with my 10 power bins and watched it for a good 3 minutes while trying to get Greg on the phone and explain my location.  This bird was quite yellow, which is nice because I would have a hard time with one of the more drab birds.

In the above photo if you zoom in to the center of the frame you can see the vireo eye which in the case of this bird distinguishes it from the other similar sized birds with yellowish belly and vent.

Horrible pictures but I just don't know if I will have another chance at a Philadelphia Vireo this year.

Sunday we tried for an early morning trip to Ridge Junction up near Mount Mitchell.  It looked like it was going be perfect and when we got near Craggy Gardens in the dark there was birds all over the road and flying in the headlights.  probably a nice migratory flock moving through. We pushed on to our final destination but by the time the sun came up there was a strong wind from the West which did not seem to be good and there was little birds to be had.  

We tried the Bald Knob Trail and got a couple Crossbills for Ryan Justice.  They were right where I had them last time on the ground near an old piece of metal roofing.  Probably drinking the water collecting there in the tin. Or maybe even eating the minerals in the metal?

We headed down the Curtis Creek road and then finally finished our adventure birding some more in Jackson Park before heading home.

Altogether a good trip, but I still need to hit a major migration event in Jackson Park.  Something to look forward to.

Great times.