Sunday, May 31, 2015

A whole lot of Dicks (31May2015)

North River Farms in the late spring and early summer?  That's where you go to get Dicks.  Dickcissels that is.

This Dick was singing incessantly. At one point there was two Dicks fighting over one bush.

Unfortunately it was too late in the day and we did not see much more than these Dicks.  Sherry and I drove Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle hoping for a fly-by Magnificent Frigatebird but no luck.

This post is short and sweet because I am tired and might just take a nap.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Ammodramus Double-header (28May2015)

The VOA Beargrass site has disappointed me twice before, mostly because of my ineptitude.  This time with the help of some experts (thank you JC and no it's not Jesus Christ) I was able to find my targets.  For those of you that do not know, the Voice of America defunct broadcasting station at Beargrass is now host to one of the only breeding populations of Henslow's Sparrows in North Carolina.  The thing about breeding birds is that during the breeding season they do not skulk in the undergrowth as this species normally does.  Male birds become very bold with the prospect of a little nooky.

Previously I was worried that I would have trouble hearing the Henslow's Sparrow calling because of my poor high frequency hearing.  However, once I made it to the spot I was directed to I heard one loud and clear over the sound of my engine and then for the next thirty minutes I heard several more. Even better than hearing them is seeing them and one of the birds did not disappoint.

Meet Henslow's Sparrow - song is a Tse Lick which is repeated over and over.  This individual let me get very close and was singing the whole time.

Large bill, buffy coloration on breast with streaks and olive coloration over supercilium and back into nape.

Medial crown stripe seen here.

I had a 9am conference call so I began working my way out of the site but kept getting distracted by birds.

Yellow-breasted Chat - this particular individual was singing like crazy.  If you don't like the Chat song, something is wrong with you.

Although I have seen many Chats this year, I have not had any pictures, so I was happy to finally get a few half decent ones.

One of the other members of the group found this roosting Common Nighthawk.

Then the second member of my Ammodramus Double-header appeared.  Grasshopper Sparrow.

Similar in structure to the Henslow's but lighter in color and no streaks on breast.  Also the "jizz" of the bird is different.

For anyone hoping to get access, unfortunately this site is off limits to the public.  However, the really good news is that the State (or County, not sure) has bought the land and will be turning it into a multi-use recreation area but even better I think they plan on maintaining the habitat for the Henslow's by mowing or burning every year.  Probably it will be open for some limited use next year.    If you really want to try for Henslow's, you might have luck by just skulking around the perimeter fence on Cherry Run Rd or Horse Pen Swamp Rd (from memory, might be wrong on exact name).

Now for the Ammodramus group I just need the marsh trifecta (Nelson's, Seaside and Saltmarsh).  How can a man living in Wilmington not have these for the year yet?  Well I just did not make an effort for them until it was too late in the season and they had moved on with the exception of Seaside and I just have not had a good photo opportunity for them yet.   However, I will have no problem with all three in the Fall or early Winter.

Great times.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Retraction of a Retraction - Now I fee like a Booby (16May2015)

At the risk of changing my mind more than a politician, I am retracting my retraction of the previous Brown Booby sighting.  After much scrutiny by several ornithologists, it has been confirmed as a Brown Booby.  There is some discussion on whether it is a full adult or sub-adult but even the initial detractor confirmed Brown Booby after seeing the Jpegs.  Lesson learned, I will take better notes next time I see a potentially rare bird.  I am posting the pics here again although Blogger seems to degrade the image more each time I post it. I have submitted a rare bird report and pictures to the Carolina Bird Club Website.

For me, this is the most definitve of the pics.  The bill is very yellow looking and the delineation of the hood is good.

Another thing I regret, I had some very poor pictures of the bird plunge diving but I deleted them.  Now I see that an angular dive is a diagnostic for Brown Booby.  A gannet dive is more straight up and down.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Goatsuckers Galore (22 & 26 May2015)

Hello birders.  In one of my previous posts I alluded to a Whip that was on a nest.  Well it turns out it was a Chuck, not a Whip. However, very cool to say the least.  The person that told me of the bird had given very vague instructions so it took a couple of hours to find it and when I did finally find it, it was by flushing the poor bird.    I am pleased to report it went right back to the egg when I left.

Chuck-will's-widow - I could have gotten closer but I did not want to disturb the bird.  Please do not ask me where this bird is.  I would prefer not having tons of people disturbing it.  Last thing I would want is to have it abandon the egg.

So since this bird turned out to be a Chuck, I have little hope of getting a picture of a whip without harassing a bunch of birds with spotlights etc... What this means is that I have decided to use audio from my visit to Catfish Lake last weekend to stand in for a Whip picture.  I hope this will be my only audio only find for the year.  Its actually a video but of course it is dark so not much to see. The white spot is the moon or maybe a star, not the Whip's eye.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Hard to Swallow (25May2015)

I woke up early again today (I am on 4-5 hours of sleep for the past 5 days) and headed down to the Battleship to meet up with my new British friends.  We had several targets including King Rail at the Battleship, Worm-eating Warbler at Lee Buck Rd and finally Mississippi Kite wherever we could find it.

The rails we saw at the Battleship all looked a little gray for my liking although I did see one darker one cross the road.  In the end we were not sure if any definitive King Rails had been seen so we move on.

Lee Buck Rd was quiet.  We completely dipped on all targets except we did get them some displaying Wild Turkey.

I was a little worried at this point that I was not being a good guide, so we headed to Northwest where Mississippi Kites are fairly reliable.  My British friends had already spent a good amount of time looking for them so this was kind if their last ditch effort before they had to hit the road.  As we were driving I saw something out of the corner of my eye and swerved to the side of the road.  Mississippi!!!

This is a digiscoped photo using Phil's scope and my iPhone.  The boys were pleased and we parted ways.  I am looking forward to visiting them in the UK at some point so they can show me a few birds.

Great Cormorant from yesterday's survey at Topsail Beach.  Note the blocky head.

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow - Lee Buck Rd.

Cattle Egret - Governor's Rd.

Loggerhead Shrike - Lock and Dam 1.

Eastern Kingbird

On the way home I drove through Blue Banks Rd to try for Swallow-tailed Kite.

This Turkey Vulture had some tail feathers missing and was doing his best to trick me into thinking he was a swallow tail.

After some driving in circles I found a huge kettle if Missisippi Kites.  Maybe 20-30 of them.  I kept trying to get closer to them by driving some back roads and then......

Swallow-tailed Kite with one Mississippi Kite!

The Swallow-tailed Kite was working a field when a Red-tailed Hawk came out and hassled him.

After following them around for 15 minutes I was able to get closer.

Love a Swallow-tail!

At least two were there although maybe there was more.

I hope this is a good sign.  Last year they were very hard to find at all.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Black-heads are not always bad (23May2015)

Hopefully you got my acne reference.  Sam Cooper called today, as soon as I saw his name on my phone I started to pick up my car keys.  Sam has an uncanny ability to find good birds.

This time it was a Black-headed Gull sitting on the beach in the middle of a ramping up Memorial Day frenzy at Wrightsville Beach.  I knew the parking was going to be an issue, so I threw my wife's beach cruiser in the back of my truck and drove down to the playing fields a t WB.  I jumped onto the bike and pedaled faster than most of the cars were moving and made it to Shell Island 20 minutes after the initial phone call.  As expected there was zero parking and a bunch of idiots waiting for spots.  Little did they know that once someone gets a spot on Memorial Day weekend they never leave.  I stashed the bike behind a red cedar and surveyed my options.  The tide was low enough that I could take the short cut into the marsh instead of walking all the way down through the throngs on the beach, so off I went. 

Once out to the end of the spit which sticks out into the channel, I nearly lost it.  There was people everywhere, dogs running around, boats pulling up right and left.  I could only see a few Laughing Gulls.  I called Sam and while I was stammering about not seeing any Black-headed Gull, blammo! 

Looks like a first cycle Black-headed Gull.

He began to feed like a much less eloquent version of a Bonaparte's gull and the Laughing Gulls were harassing him for the small tidbits he was getting.

Black-headed on bottom and Laughing above.

Yes even Europeans have to poop.

The Whimbrels and Willets, not to mention the average beach goers were not impressed.  Probably they were more interested in the weird birder in his underwear wading across channels of water to get close to this gull.

The hood was gray and although the outline was full it was patchy.  But the bird was significantly smaller than the Laughing gulls and although there was no Bonaparte's for comparison, this bird was obviously bigger.

His right leg was a bit gimp.  But obviously his wings were in fine shape for him to skip across the pond (Atlantic).

Its not every day you see one of these bad boys in NC.


Pelagic Jackpot and some random birds (20-22May2015)

This week I had a mini-vacation planned which included birding my way up to the OBX for two days of pelagic boat tours with Brian P.  I had lofty plans for Wednesday, stopping at the Croatan first thing to try for Whips and then Black-billed Cuckoo.  Next was the VOA Beargrass site for Henslow's and the last stop before the OBX was Mackay NWR for King Rails and Least Bittern.  Unfortunately in terms of my photographic needs Wednesday was a big dip.  I should have known to not spread my day so thin and if I targeted only 2 of the spots I think I would have fared better.  However as you all know by now, I try to never leave any spot completely empty handed.

Croatan - I had Chucks calling at first light but I was easily distracted with some other birds such as calling Swainson's Thrush and then some warblers that I did not make it far enough in to hear the Whips before they let up.  I made some recordings of the Chucks in case I decide to use them towards my big year.  I make my own rules and up until now I have not allowed sound recordings but I am mulling it over.  I actually have word regarding a nesting Whip so depending on how that pans out I may stick with only photographs.  So in the end the above Prairie Warbler was the only pic I left the Croatan with.

At Beargrass VOA (Voice of America), I struck out even worse.  It was too late for Henslow's to be calling and most of the area was totally overgrown.  The good habitat was all off limits inside the property.  That being said I may have a contact for later, more on this to come in a week or so.

This Red-winged Blackbird was singing "should have been here three hours ago, the Henslow's were everywhere."

Beautiful!  Not sure if this was lavender or something else but it was really a sight to see.  Usually its corn or soy as far as the eye can see.  I hope more local farmers diversify.

Tricolored Heron - At Mackay NWR I arrived too late (3pm) and the next ferry to Currituck was 4:30pm so I had only an hour to bird.  I quickly located some calling King Rails but they were not cooperating and stayed hidden.  I may go back later in the summer when the young are stupid and lure their parents out as they did last year.  On my way back to my truck I had a Least Bittern flush.  I don't see them often so I wanted to get a look with my bins before getting a pic and of course by the time I got my camera up I missed my opportunity.  At this point I was really getting down on myself. Sometimes I get stuck in a funk and although I don't believe in luck, I was getting worried that the next two days of pelagic would be a disaster.  It turned out quite the opposite.

Spoiler alert - many of my photos are not very good, but when you only do a couple pelagic a year, you don't have the luxury of being picky.  You really need a good camera lens with a fast autofocus and I do not have one.  My camera's autofocus is effectively defunct so manual focus it is.  My next issue was the lens fogging because I don't have a hood and the lens is exposed to salt spray.  Don't worry my faithful readers, I plan on upgrading soon.

My only Manx Shearwater of the trip/year was a quick fly by right at the beginning on the first day.  Although the picture stinks it is diagnostic.  Short wings, white vent and clear white underneath with dark linings throughout. Of course it helps when Brian P and crew are calling them out.

Leach's Storm Petrel - this photo is junk but shows nicely the bent wing that a Leach's exhibits.  They really do fly like a nighthawk.

A little better photo of a Leach's - long wings, oblong shaped white patch on rump and deeply forked tail.

Wilson's Storm Petrels - what a great bird.  Plentiful birds are easy to take for granted but these hold your attention anyway.  They pitter patter on the surface of the water as if they were in some pelagic ballet.  How can such a dainty looking bird do so well in such an unforgiving environment?

Cory's Shearwater - out of focus but shows the marks nicely - yellow bill, brown coloration and weak rump patch.

Then out of nowhere came the target of many on this trip.....

Trindade Petrel!  When a bird like this shows up the boat instantly turns into a frenzied dash for whatever section of the boat it is seen.  Folks that had been comatose after throwing up for 2 hours all of the sudden spring to life rushing to the railing for a different reason this time.

These gadfly petrels are super fast and usually do not stick around long.  So if you hear the captain call one you better be ready.  Look for the bird that is flying faster than all the rest and has the bowed wings of a gadfly.  I made the embarrassing mistake of calling a Sooty Shearwater a Trindade.  I was not the only one that day who made the same mistake. The coloration is similar but the Shearwater holds its wings straight.  Of course the Trinidade has the shorter bill but that is hard to see when a bird is flying by in seconds.   The patterning of the light coloration is also different.

Trindade Petrel

Chocolatey goodness.

Flying around at the same time was this Parasitic Jaeger.  It was very difficult to see both these birds at the same time.  Luckily I was wearing a pair of adult diapers.  Not really, but it's maybe a good idea for next time.

This bird was very cooperative, showing his telltale prongs.  No confusing this one.

A second Parasitic had even longer prongs.

Cory's Shearwater - large and in charge.

South Polar Skua!!! Life Bird.......  Ever see the Youtube video about Honey Badger?  Well they should make one about Skua.  Skua don't give a S*&%t.  He will scrap with anything. He is big and bad.  Muncher of penguin chicks and other poor creatures.

WHAT??? Am I seeing double?  Two Skuas sitting on the water??  At this point I was tripping.

The powerful Skua rendered me weak in the knees.  These birds hung out with us so long that some people were sitting down and eating sandwiches while they circled.  Its amazing how someone can go from absolutely amazed to completely indifferent.  Maybe the sandwiches were the equivalent of a post coitus cigarette and a good way to bring ones self back to this world.

What can I say....

So even though Skua is badass, the Black-capped Petrels were not scared.  Their superior flying skills allowed them to harass the Skuas like a Mockingbird hassles a Red-tail.

Can you see how I could confuse a Sooty with a Trinidade?  If you can't then you are better birder than I.  I have much to learn with pelagic birds.

A Sooty Shearwater is also chocolate brown but gives the impression of a much more friendly bird.  Does that make sense?  Like a Painted Bunting looks angry a Sooty looks friendly to me.  If I were a pelagic bird I would be a Sooty.  They have a nice blend of the power of a Skua and grace of a Black-capped.

Here is Skua tricking me into thinking he is friendly too.  But I did not let my guard down.

We had Arctic Terns.

Audubon Shearwaters - black vent.

Flip side of the Audubon's.

Now I thought that this picture was in the sequence of where we saw a Band-rumped Storm Petrel, but this bird looks more like a Leach's to me.  Anyone want to weigh in?

Sooty Shearwater - how can you not love this bird.  A torpedo of love.

Wilson's Storm Petrels dancing the day away. Is that a European Storm Petrel photo bombing in the upper right?  Probably just a Wilson's in the distance but it gives it the illusion of being much smaller.  We did not see a European unless you count the three British guys on the boat (there may have been more).

The Fred Astaire of birds.

This Wilson's was hiding it's legs and doing it's best Band-rumped impression.

Pomarine Jaeger - another year bird flying around the boat like it wanted to be crushed.  I am sure someone on the boat crushed it but my lens must have been fogged.  Or maybe it was the salt spray.  Or maybe the constant motion.  Perhaps my camera just sucks.  Most probably a combination of all of the above.

This bad boy was working on some nice spoons (tail projections).

You could eat a bowl of cereal with those spoons.

Day two of the pelagic was a totally different day.  Not nearly as much variety.

Probably just a Black-capped but the dark underwings had me thinking Fea's Petrel when I looked at these photos.  Anyway the photo is junk, but a man can dream.  Anyway, we did have a Fea's later in the day that eluded every one's camera except the Spotter Mike.  When you get a rare bird like that whizzing by you need to get a good look with the bins and take pics later.

Sooty Shearwaters represented throughout the day.

Black-capped Petrels were with us for most of the day.  I remember doing a pelagic with Neil from Big Year fame and he had said the Black-capped was his favorite bird.

Some were showing heavy molt giving them white patches in the wings.

Sooty Shearwaters will sit on the water and dive for chum.

Wilson's Storm Petrel

What a great trip.  I will add up the tally tomorrow, I am tired and have a survey early tomorrow morning.

Live long and prosper.