Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Little Bit of Foreshadowing and more GULLS!

The night before last, I had a very vivid dream of seeing a flock of White-winged Crossbills right at about eye level in some close trees..............

Yesterday, Dan Casey and I went out to the Gullery (landfill) to see if it was our turn to find a Slaty-backed Gull (one had just been seen in Connecticut) We took some back roads out in the open fields looking for my redpolls I need to see in the County for my Big Year. We were talking about spots to find Long-eared Owls in the county, and at that time we turned down a road with a nice ornimental Spruce Tree hedge. We commented maybe in a few years, there will be a Long-eared Owl there. As the meters ticked by the trees were ever taller and denser, with a massive cone crop at the top of all the trees. Dan said this will be a great spot for White-winged Crossbills this winter, and just then he added with surprise "THERE THEY ARE! There is a flock right there." We jump out to see the flock right next to us!!! Beautifull looks at amazing birds. Just like in my dream. Dan got some great digiscoped pictures.

White-winged Crossbill (female)

At the Dump, there was the usual couple hundred Ring-billed Gulls, and about 25-45 Herring Gulls, and a few Califronia Gulls. In the mix, we saw a couple juvenile Thayer's Gulls, and one really classic adult THGU. (see picture) Also present were the two juvenile Glaucous Gull. We also saw this really stangely light young Herring Gull. It is either a really aberrent Am. Herring or a Vega Herring Gull, which means it is from Siberia or Japan. Cool, really Cool... Dan and I got were scanning the flock, and he almost yells "MEW GULL!" That was really unexpected bird, since they aren't really DUMP gulls, more water gulls, like Bonaparte's Gull. That was about it for the birds. Hope the Slaty-backed Gull shows up next weekend.

Possible Vega Gull

Juvenile Thayer's Gull - note primary pattern

Adult Thayer's Gull - Note bill size, head color, dark eye
(All pictures on this post are by Dan Casey)

Feeder Birds

My favoritest chicken out of all of them

I got some camera time yesterday at my feeders in my yard. It was a bit hard, because the lens doesn't have IS or Image Stabilizer.

Here are some of the better pictures...

A distant Red-breasted Nuthatch

A Pygmy Nuthatch

Some more Pygmy Nuttys

A sweet picture as a Mountian Chickadee takes off

Friday, November 28, 2008

Some more Gulling

Ring-billed Gulls

Today I got to try out a friends Nikon D80 digital SLR camera at the landfill. There were far less gulls there today then there was the other day. Only about 200 or so today. I quickly noticed the two juvenile Glaucous Gulls, but it took a few seconds to notice the ADULT Glaucous Gull. This was a really beautiful bird. Almost pure white head. There was only one California Gull, and two juvenile Thayer's Gulls. I think part of the lack of birds was we got to the landfill late today. We arrived about 2:45pm and the prime time is from about 12:00pm to about 2:00pm.

Juvenile Glaucous (center) with Adult (bottum center)

Next we ventured to Foy's Lake to search for some scoters. Is was really beautiful there. The sun and clouds made it quite enjoyable, even though I never did find a scoter. We birded on the bad side when we went to the waters edge (see picture!!!) We had brought my dog, Blackie, along for this whole time, and this was her chance to play around.

Birding on the wild sideBlackie looking like the huntin' dog she always wanted to be

Blackie playing in the water

The really cool part of the day was that I WAS DRIVING for the whole entire time. I have to rack up 50 hours before I can get my full license. So that added about 2 hours. Can't wait!!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gulls 101

Tis' the season of GULLING (to observe and ID gulls)

Late November is the best time to examine your local landfills for odd gulls. Hunting season is coming to an end, and there is a lot of meat scraps from the deer, and other animals at the landfill. Of course, not just any one can have a superb Gullery near them. You need a landfill, and a large body of water, say a reservoir, or a lake, or the ocean.

Now, Gulling isn't for the faint of heart (or nose). Gull ID can be tricky, but once you catch gull fever, it will be all you can think about. You will love to smell the landfill in the cool morning with the high tempereature reaching 20 dergrees.

Lets break down the numerous Gull species to look-a-like groups, and first Ring-billed, California, Mew Gull.

The Ring-billed Gull is the most commen gull in North American. The common parking lot "seagull". Most everyone can ID a Ring-billed, but what about the ones that look like Ringbills.

The Mew Gull is a Pacific Coast bird, but often is seen in the interior states. It is smaller then the Ring-billed in build, and bill size. Just looking at is, you can see the real "petite" face, with the small, usually unmarked bill (juveniles thru second winter have dark markings on bill) Their back coloring slightly darker, and they have marginally longer wings. The winter adults have very heavy mottling on the head, and neck. It's softer looking, and more difuse then the marks on the winter adult Ring-billeds. The dark eye is always good to look for. Most Mew Gulls have a dark eye in every age, and plumage cycle.

Adult Mew Gull with Ring-billed Gulls

The California Gull is a little larger then the ringbilled, and has a heavier look. In adults, they have a darker back that can be seen from a distance. Their bill has the black "ring" as the ringbills have, but also a red spot at the lower end of the "ring". The juvenile birds are darker brown all over, as compaired with Ringbills.

California Gull with Herring Gulls

Next group is the Thayer's/Kumlien's, and Herring Gull group.

The Herring Gull is the common "large" light backed gull. It was pale pink legs and a pale eye. It has black wingtips at all ages. It has a relatively large bill, and "heavy" body.

Variation in Herring Gulls (spot the other species!)

Now, Thayer's Gulls can be tricky because of the Iceland/Kumlien's Gull complex. Overall, Thayer's Gulls are smaller billed, and have a more delicate build. Herring is more big, and powerfull. In winter adults, the Thayer's Gull has heavy mottling on the head and neck. Now some Herring Gulls have this, but with size and shape plus other field marks, can easily be told apart. The Thayer's Gull has a dark eye in all ages. The pink legs tend to be a bit brighter, but not a good ID point. In young birds, the Thayer's has milky, dark brown primaries, as apossed to the jet black primaries of the Herring Gull. In flight, the primaries have a two-toned paneling effect, and the Herring gull has a black patch on the wing, which is the primaries.

Adult Thayer's Gull with Herring Gulls (note dark eye, heavey mottling, smallish bill)

First-cycle Thayer's Gull (note wingtip color, and small bill)

Now with the Kumlien's/Iceland comlpex it gets hard. Some Kumlien's Gulls have dark wingtips, which can look like Thayer's Gulls. Then some Kumlien's Gulls can have really white wingtips, which look like Iceland Gulls. This subspecies complex is not fully understood by experts.

More ID tips nest time....

(all photos are by Dan Casey)

The other species is a first-cycle Gaucous Gull. It is the brownish bird (at left) with a pink bill and black tip.

The Hunt for Redpolls

Male Common Redpoll I drew after not finding any.

The Trail Head

Today, my dad and I headed to some areas looking for redpolls for my county Big Year.

First we visited the head of a hiking trail which had many birch trees, which the seeds of such trees are the favorite food of Redpolls. Surprisingly, there were almost no birds what so ever there. Just one Common Raven flew by.

Little waterfall on a creek, and the trailhead

Catkins, the food of the elusive Redpolls

Next we drove down various roads along the Flathead River. There were so many birch trees, I was absolutaly surprised when the only bird we saw a Ring-billed Gull flying upstream.

All in all, it was a bad day for birding, but a beautiful day for enjoying the scenery.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gulls, gulls and more GULLS!

Glaucous Gull (all photos by Dan Casey)

Sunday, the 23rd, Dan Casey and I went to the local Gullery (landfill) to see what we can see.

We arrived and found the gulls in the best viewing area. A large flat area, a short distance from the active dumping area. From a hill, we surveyed the birds with meticulous precision. With out to much trouble we found several young Thayer's Gulls, and a possible adult. The adult bird just didn't "look" right for the both of us. The young Glaucous Gull stuck out quite well. It actually took us awhile to see that there was actually 2 of them right next to each other. We were to busy looking at this funky looking Juvenile bird. After watching it for a while decided it was a Glaucous-winged x Herrring hybrid, or called a "Nelson's Gull".

Justify Full
Pruabable "Nelson's Gull"

After the tractors left the active dumping area, the gulls frenzied at the abundant meat, as hunting season is a month old, and a week left. I watched the frenzy, not looking for rarities at the moment, with aww. It was the coolest site to behold. Almost a thousand of the most rugged, and graceful birds on earth were throwing them selves over eachother for some pieces of week old deer guts. Again, a site to behold... While watching this humboling event, I noticed something odd about a certain adult gull. The real birder inside overtthew the bird'watcher' and said "HOLD ON! That bird was whiteish wingtips. Actually they are the same color as the birds back!" That is when my heart skipped a beat. I knew it was a Glaucous-winged Gull, but fearing embarrassment, I quickly checked my ID, looking at all the fieldmarks. All that was audible was some mummbled "wow...uh... oh my god... wow... oh mY GOD!" Reasuring myself with the self check I shouted "Glaucous-winged!! Adult Glaucous-winged!" Dan Casey quickly returned with "What!? Where?! Adult? really?" I could tell in his voice he was full of excitment, but with a touch of disbelief, as I have been wrong before on snap ID's. But on this, I was 110% sure.
I answered "Right in front, on the garbage. Unless it is some wacky hybrid, it is an adult Glaucous-winged Gull." At that moment, the bird flew. Going to the right. I tried to give directions to Dan, but then the bird turned and went to the left, then out of site behind the garbage. We searched franticly for the missing bird. Like mad men we devoured every glimpse of possible light wingtips. I was to the point of possibly crying. (not really, just was really dissapointed, and needed something to say) After about 20 minutes, we kinda gave up, as all the birds scattered in several directions because of our frantic running, and searching. We retreated to the hill, and searched the flock of gulls that landed at the flat area. A quick, but precise scan came up negative. Some more gulls were filtering in form other directions. As I was admiring the amazing acrobatics of the arriving gulls, I noticed one had light wingtips. "wow, here it is I think" I announced, looking up. Dan knew where to look. "Yup, that's your bird. That's your bird." he said calmly, holding back the little spark of excitment that comes with rare birds, and the pure obsession with birds of all kinds. The gull came in from above, showing off its cleverly colored wingtips to us like a first-time goldmedalist. The lifebird came in and landed with the rest, to try to blend in with the usual residents. Many photos where taken, and there was much rejoicing (inside joke with monty python fans).

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

That gull took my life list to 321, and my Big Year for Flathead County to 213.

One other really sweet bird we saw, was a Light phase Harlan's Hawk. Less then 1% are light phases. That was a really cool looking bird.

Thanks to Dan Casey, who made this trip possible, and that much more memorable.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Frosty morning

This morning was a cold one. 21 degrees on the F scale.

Hopefully going to chase some more gulls, and scoters today. will keep you posted.

In the meanwhile, enjoy these frosty pictures.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Skies of gray, birds of white.

Today, my dad and I ventured out to Bitterroot Lake (hour drive), to clean up his construction job site a little. Saw some cool birds. Had a Bald Eagle fly with in 20 feet above me. No odd birds on the lake. Saw a big whitetail buck though, to bad it was private property. A small group of Red Crossbills alighted on the ground to get there daily amount of clay, from the excavation of the houses foundation several months ago. I got rather close, and got amazing looks. Times like those I wish I had a Canon 40D with 300mm lens. That time will come though.

After loading the trailer, we hauled it to the county landfill, or as I call it, the Larid Sanctuary. There were about a thousand birds there. Mostly adult ringbilled, California, and Herring Gulls. I did find a few juvenile Thayer's Gulls in the mix. But the bird that stole the show was a first-cycle GLAUCOUS GULL. What a beautiful bird. It really stood out in the flying flock against the mountains, or dark gray sky. Very nice. After leaving the Larid Sanctuary (dump) I did not see much of anything else.

Here is a pencil drawing of the Glaucous Gull. The scanner sucks, so took some terrible pictures of it.

Sungrebe and other rare birds

What a find! First for the ABA region, a female Sungrebe showed up in New Mexico. The bird was photographed on the 13th of November, and correctly Identified the 17th then refound the 18th. What a beautiful bird. Beautiful on behalf of its colors, and because of its shear rarity in the ABA area. See photos here.

Also a Lucy's Warbler in Fort McMurray, northern Alberta. The bird stayed from november 8-10. What a wacky spot for a arrid country warbler to be. Makes you wonder how many rare birds are we missing.

My theory is that it depends on several factors.
- Area of appropriate habitat
- Number of birders visiting that area
- Number of birders that know what they are looking at
- Densitiy of birders
- Hourly coverage of the appropriate habitat

So with all that, and more, in a estimantaly equation, we can kind of guess the number of birds we miss. It is all very complicated, but there are some basic rules. The more heavily birded the habitat is, the more rarities are found, and vica versa. So take Monterey Bay pelagic trips. Very active, good habitat, and lots of coverage, and they see some rare birds. More then you would if you visited a dock and scanned the ocean once a week.

To answer the question, this year the ABA has had 3 new birds. I think 10% or less of rare birds are ever found. so that makes about about 30 potential brand new birds for the ABA that were missed. Lets add about 2 to the missed column in honor of Attu Island. After its tours were closed, we miss much more birds.

So, the moral of the story is, get out there and look.