Don Freiday, at Freiday Bird Blog, continues to be a great resource for those birders looking for unusual shorebirds this fall. This past week he took on Baird’s Sandpiper, with tips on how to pick this pointy, prairie specialty out on your local mudflat.
By far, most of the Baird’s Sandpipers we see on the Atlantic Coast are juveniles. I don’t even have a photo of an adult Baird’s Sandpiper to show you. Juvenile Baird’s Sandpipers are beautiful birds, usually richly buff with a neat, scaly pattern above created by pale edges to the upperparts feathers. A final tip: Baird’s Sandpipers look the part, in shape and in pattern. If you’re not sure, it’s probably something else. Consider other juvenile peep or Pectoral Sandpiper.
It’s one of the most bizarre names given to any North American bird, a notable distinction in a world of boobies and sapsuckers, and Carrie Laben attempts to get to the bottom of it at 10,000 Birds.
Another commenter asked the obvious, yet seldom-addressed, question: “Man, what do you have to do to an ornithologist to get called “limpkin”?” I didn’t know, so I made the obvious American Woodcock joke and the world kept turning. But the question has continued to haunt me. Finally, I was forced to do actual research.
Cornell Lab’s Merlin app is potentially a game-changer for novice birders, and can change the way we think about learning to bird, as Cara Byington explains at Cool Green Science.
Every week I add a new species to my repertoire. It’s slow going, for sure, but it’s the most progress I’ve ever made as a birder. On some walks in my local park I haven’t even needed to go to Merlin anymore. I know the birds (and their songs) myself now. Robins, Wood Thrushes, mockingbirds, catbirds, and goldfinches can’t hide from me. Even if I can’t see them, their songs and calls are as clear to me now as the voices of close friends.
Often times birders are called upon to not only speak for birds but take physical action to rescue them
, as Sharon McInnes discovered at Birds Canada
I called to Dennis. “Hon! Bring me my camera – and get your heavy garden gloves.” I was pretty sure this was a Cooper’s. It had the white tail rim associated with the Coopers, the medium-sized hawks that squeeze their prey to death with their claws. We’d had visits from them before; I’d once watched one eat a Dark-eyed Junco for lunch. Another day one sat high up in the Big leaf maple tree in our front yard eyeing the avian smorgasbord below. That day I made a bit of a fool of myself, running around the yard, arms flailing, trying to scare all the jays and songbirds back into the bushes. Eventually that hawk flew off, looking disgusted. This one, however, looked panic-stricken. (That could be projection.)
Noah Strycker continues his whirlwind trip around the world. These days he’s in east Africa, racking up some fascinating species.
The Shoebill resembles no other bird on Earth. It stands nearly four feet tall with a massive beak and weird eyes and a cowlick on the back of its head, and always seems to be glowering down with curious disapproval. The Shoebill makes no sound except an occasional bill-snap; it doesn’t blink; it often stands statue-still for long periods of time; it eats lungfish and has been recorded attacking fish more than three feet long; it mostly lives in remote swamps (perhaps most commonly in South Sudan, though nobody seems to be sure); it lays two eggs of which only one ever survives; and it’s not closely related to any other birds.
At the Mic: Steve N.G. Howell
Bodega Bay, an hour or so north of San Francisco, California, is the best place on the West Coast, indeed, in North America, for pelagic birding. Yet not many birding trips go out of there—go figure. Thus, some friends and I charter a 6-pack fishing boat each year and do a few trips, splitting the cost equally and having a leaderless trip, taking photos, shooting the breeze, enjoying the ocean. In recent years we’ve seen Steller’s (Short-tailed) Albatross three times, and even a White-chinned Petrel, along with local rarities like Least Storm-Petrel and Brown Booby, although the latter is becoming almost expected.
Last weekend we did three trips out of Bodega Bay (21-23 August 2015), and perhaps it wasn’t that surprising when we found a Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel with the thousands of storm-petrels that raft up near Cordell Bank. After all, the media is crying “El Niño,” and back in the spring on the nearby Farallon Islands biologists caught and banded 2 Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels (P. Warzybok, pers. comm.). Still, with only about 10 records in North America, it’s a rare bird up here, although it’s common off Mexico, as close as the tip of the Baja California peninsula.
The first “sighting,” on Saturday, wasn’t, if that makes sense. It was a classic “oops, this looks like a Wedge-rumped” as I went through my photos in the evening! The bird was right at the edge of a huge line of birds, barely in the frame; but the preceding image showed a better angle and confirmed the first impression (Figures 1-2, with a Wilson’s to the right, among the Fork-tailed and Ashy storm-petrels, and 3 Wilson’s in the big frame). Well, that rhymes with duck (as in luck, of the not so good kind), was the conclusion of my fellow birders, who this time comprised Kenneth Petersen, Dave Pereksta, Tom Blackman, Bruce Rideout, and Scott Somershoe.
The first sign there was a Wedge-rumped—the bird is at the far left of the full frame image, but cropped it shows just fine.
The preceding image on the camera shows the bird at a different angle, solidifying the gut feeling from the first image. But that was all we got the first day!
But the next day conditions were good and we headed back to the spot, and by late morning we were surrounded by rafts of storm-petrels—looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. We keyed in on white-rumped birds sitting in the flocks (there were 50+ Wilson’s among 5-6000 Ashy and 4-5000 Fork-tailed, along with 50+ Black Storm-Petrels) and, amazingly, a few of us saw a Wedge-rumped briefly and I got better images (Figures 3-7); another of us found a Wedge-rumped days later in his photos, and two others are still looking—the dangers of hundreds, if not thousands of images. Digital is cheaper than film, unless perhaps you figure the cost of your time editing all the images!
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel on Sunday, at rest and in flight. Look how tiny it is compared to Ashy and Fork-tailed, plus the short legs (relative to Wilson’s), big white wedge, and narrow crooked wings with a longer and more distinct arm than Wilson’s. The bird’s very small size point to it being the smaller taxon kelsalli, not nominate tethys from the Galapagos (likely separate species when somebody bothers to look closely…). Tiny size, along with the big white wedge (showing well even on the water), also rule out Townsend’s Storm-Petrel (see Howell 2012, Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America, for more information).
A Wilson’s Storm-Petrel for comparison—no comparison, really, other than having a white rump.
So, there was at least one Wedge-rumped, but there could have been more. It’s fun looking at blizzards of scattering storm-petrels, but it’s also frustrating. Without digital cameras this bird would not have been found at all, let alone refound and better documented the second day. Good luck for anyone who goes looking for it!
For pelagic fans, some photos of other things we saw are included here to round out the post—and hopefully make you want to get on a boat (Figures 8-21). We also saw Blue and Humpback whales, a pod of Baird’s Beaked Whales (one of which spy-hopped, “giving us the beak” before it dived), Guadalupe and Scripps’s murrelets, all 3 jaegers, South Polar Skua, 3 Brown Boobies, the always snappy Buller’s Shearwaters and Sabine’s Gulls, plus Red and Red-necked phalaropes, lots of Black-footed Albatrosses and a personal record high count for this spot of 5 Laysan Albatrosses behind the boat at one time, all juveniles. Back at the breakwater we ran into an amazing slick/swarm guesstimated at 100,000 Sooty Shearwaters, a mind-blowing spectacle! All in all, it didn’t suck being out there.
Spy-hopping Baird’s Beaked Whale—that’s quite a beak!
Obliging Guadalupe Murrelets…
And 10 minutes later, Scripps’s Murrelet!
A small part of the storm-petrel flocks.
Long-beaked Common Dolphins, rarely seen this far north.
“Just another” Brown Booby, a further indicator of warm water.
Laysan Albatrosses—usually one per trip is good.
Laysan and Black-footed albatrosses, and not too rough!
Part of the Sooty Shearwater swarm—a popular target for recreational fishermen to flush, just what the birds need when they are food-stressed and trying to complete molt before heading back to New Zealand!
That’s all folks (for now), a Humpback Whale saying goodbye.
Steve Howell is a senior field leader with WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide and an occasional guest contributor to the ABA blog. Appropriately, his most recent books, co-authored with Brian Sullivan, are identification guides to Offshore Sea Life for the West Coast (published July 2015) and East Coast (due in November 2015, both from Princeton).
It’s getting exciting in the ABA Area this week, as passerine migration ramps up to combine with the shorebirds that have been on their way south for a few weeks now. We’re also starting to get our first reports from western Alaska, on the leading edge of what is predicted to be an exceptional El [read more…]
I was a late bloomer. I’d been birding, and birding hard, for nearly three years before I finally laid eyes on a Blackpoll Warbler. And when I did, the floodgates opened. That very first morning, I got ten of them. The next morning, twice that number.
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Until Sunday, August 9th I had never birded in Juneau before, nor on the Gulf of Alaska. It’s a whole new Alaskan birding world down there, with many species that do not reach Anchorage or anywhere in Alaska that I have birded so far. From August 9-13 I was part of a very good Wilderness [read more…]
Rarity season in western Alaska is here at last, and it’s the Pribilofs that throw down the first gauntlet with a Code 5 Willow Warbler on St. Paul. The bird was found in the vicinity of Polovina Hill on 8/22, but has not been seen since.
Photo by Cory Gregory, Used with permission
This [read more…]
Splits and lumps in the birding world are always full of drama. At the Leica Birding Blog, Steve N.G. Howell calls out the AOU for what he sees as an inconsistent approach, and shows a better way forward.
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A review by Donna Schulman
Searching for Pekpek: Cassowaries and Conservation in the New Guinea Rainforest, by Andrew L. Mack
Cassowary Conservation and Publishing, 2014
235 pages, $19.95—softcover
ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14464
New Guinea looms large in birders’ imaginations. Bowerbirds, dense rain forests, birds of paradise, exotic feather headdresses, the shadow of violence [read more…]
Things are starting to pick up in the last week of August, as one would expect. This week saw a great array of species on both coasts as we head into the most exciting birding months of the year for rarity hunters. ABA Area notables continuing into this week include the Collared Plover (ABA Code [read more…]
A review by David Liebmann
The Thing With Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, by Noah Strycker
Riverhead Books, 2014
288 pages, $16.00—softcover
ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14383P
Some books go so far beyond mere information as to force a reappraisal of what readers think they [read more…]