Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Normally, these birds are easy to ID if you can hear them sing: Least Flycatcher (Che-bek!), Acadian Flycatcher (Pit-sEE!), Alder Flycatcher (Vre-bee!), Willow Flycatcher (Fitz-bew!), and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (j'-biit!). Its a different story, however, when they are silent. But I was determined that I would ID the bird from the photos. So off to hit the books.
Normally, I'd hit the Pyle Guides first, but its more useful if the bird is in hand. So I reached for Kenn Kaufman's Field Guide to Advanced Birding, hoping that he had a chapter on the Empidonax flycatchers. He does! I'll say it right here, put all of the 'field' guides away, this is the one book to have on your shelf. What a great read.
The first thing I noticed about my bird was the wing bars, so that eliminates Eastern Phoebe, which are normally more sooty-looking this time of year w/ darker cap and white throat transitioning to pale yellow belly (and no wing bars). But the lack of a distinct eye-ring is suggestive of Eastern Wood-Pewee, yes?
We can probably eliminate ALL of the western flycatchers: Cordilleran, Gray, Buff-breasted, Pacific-slope, Dusky, and Hammond's based on geography. Of the eastern flycatchers I'll also eliminate Yellow-bellied (based on the overall 'pale-gray' appearance), and Acadian (partly geography, but they tend to be greenish and show longer wing projection and thicker, stouter bill) flycatchers. That leaves the big three for this area: Least, Willow and Alder Flycatchers (the latter two formerly lumped as Traill's Flycatchers).
The eye-ring is less distinctive than I expect, however, but I've seen many photos of Least Flycatchers lacking a distinct eye-ring, so I'm hoping that this bird is not too out of the norm.
As always, I'd love some feedback, and would gratefully accept another lesson in bird ID. I'm pitiful...
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Caleb Putnam provided a very nice reasoning for hedging against calling these birds anything other than Plegadis ibis: I accidentally implied in my description that the lack of red/pink tones in the eye, facial skin, and legs, eliminated White-faced Ibis (WFIB), but want to clarify that this is false and my description was poorly worded. What I should have said was that my ID as GLIB was based first and foremost on the presence of two bluish stripes on the facial skin of all three birds, in the classic adult GLIB pattern (I can find no evidence that WFIB ever shows this, and much evidence that HY GLIB often [but not always] does), and secondarily on the lack of pink/red in the bird's eye, facial skin, and legs. The latter field mark doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a WFIB or hybrid, but it is necessary to establish this before calling any hatching-year bird a GLIB. In other words, if a HY ibis shows red in the eye or facial skin, GLIB is out, and if it lacks it, the discussion continues, but it is not yet clinched as GLIB. The bird must then match the classic face pattern of adult GLIB before one can call it. As for the sticky issue of hybrid Glossy X White-faced Ibises, which are rare but well known, including from this location: the literature on identifying these birds as HYs is scanty, as few (no?) known-identity birds have been tracked from the nest to adulthood. HY WFIB show at most one, non-blue upper facial skin stripe, often pink, and no lower stripe, so pure WFIB are eliminated. It is probably not possible to state with 100% certainty that hybridization can be eliminated, but the lack of any intermediate traits supports the stance for pure GLIB. If these birds showed very diffuse lower stripes, or lacked them completely, I’d be inclined to identify them as *Plegadis* ibises. Instead, the features we have are consistent with the literature for HY GLIB, so I don't see any need to invoke the hybrid possibility. If future studies show that pure WFIB or WFIB X GLIB can show the classic adult GLIB face pattern, I would revoke my ID. Finally, I want to implore others to study these birds, and the literature, and to make their own conclusions (in other words: don’t just eBird these based on someone else’s opinion). I was really glad to see many careful descriptions, a lot of ID hedging, and several eBird checklists with these birds listed as GLIB/WFIB. But regardless of which category you use (Glossy, White-faced, Glossy/White-faced, or Glossy X White-faced), these are all Michigan review species. So, I encourage everyone to submit a written description and/or photos of these birds to the MBRC – don’t assume that others will, as that’s usually not the case! Photographs, especially under the conditions at Mouillee, often don't cut it, and I know from experience that voting members often rely heavily, or even solely, on written descriptions to evaluate certain key field marks. In this case, there appear to be good photos surfacing, but so far apparently only for one or two of the three birds. Anyway, here’s a link to a template for the MBRC’s rare bird report form:
Should this be my last outing before the end of August, I'll just say that Pt. Mouillee SGA has provided some wonderful memories this year! We'll see you again when the weather gets cold...
Sunday, August 24, 2014
We rode on to Cell 3 where we ran into Darlene Friedman, and shortly thereafter, Jeremy and Holly Joswick. Noone had seen the Black-headed Gull since earlier in the day, and so far we weren't seeing it on Pelican Point (recently nicknamed peninsula in the SW corner of Cell 3 that's been hosting up to 80 American White Pelicans this summer). The American Avocet was present, but little else of note. I decided to ride on along the Lake Erie shoreline in case the gull was out on the lake, while Pat, Darlene and the Joswicks headed toward the NW corner to check the gull flock there.
With the Black-headed Gull gradually moving farther away, and sun starting to disappear we packed up and headed back to the cars.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Andrew's photos, which can be seen in the Birding Michigan group on Facebook, showed a gull in flight with outer white wing tips and a red/black slender bill, and grayish cap that wraps around the ears instead of the neck. Possible other gulls could include Laughing Gull and Franklin's Gulls, so I looked them up for reference.
Here's a link to Laughing Gull images in flight. Legs are mostly black, and bright white eye arcs are visible, but most-importantly, the outer primaries are completely black in all stages, so this gull could be eliminated.
Here's a link to Franklin's Gull images in flight. Red/black bill is heavier, but wing primaries are black w/ white-tips, and hood extends down back of head. This one could be eliminated, as well.
Now check out Black-headed Gull images in flight. Outer primaries are white with black tips and match more closely Andrew's bird. Bill is red/black-tipped and slender. Legs are bright red, and distinguish this bird from Bonaparte's Gulls, which have pink legs and black bills.
I sent Adam Byrne a message to ask his opinion, but Andrew had already contacted him and Caleb Putnam. All agree that it was good for Black-headed Gull. Adam was on his way to Pt. Moo to hopefully make this bird #400 for his Michigan State List. He succeeded! Congratulations, Adam!
I headed down there this morning to see if the bird could be relocated. Leaving the house at 6 am I headed for the Roberts Rd. entrance and biked out to Cell 3. The south shoreline was uneventful: the American White Pelicans continue on "Pelican Peninsula" in the SW corner of Cell 3. Seventy birds. The American Avocet was also foraging in the rising waters (dredge pumping continues).
I headed toward the west shoreline and NW corner where the Black-headed Gull was seen last evening. As I set up the scope I noticed peeps on the mudflats at my feet. I thought one was a Baird's Sandpiper so I took a video of it, knowing that it was still too dark to take any digiscoped photos this early in the morning. When I got home and reviewed the video, however, I believe I video-recorded a juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper w/ an extra long bill. Wing projection does not extend past the tail, and smooth buffy chest has a white throat.
|Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull w/ 1st-cycle Herring Gull|
I decided to swing the scope toward the north shoreline to see if any shorebirds were about. I spotted a Willet foraging in the shallows! As I watched it I spotted a single gull along the shoreline, half-way between E and W dikes. Score! Black-headed Gull!
I spent some time taking videos, making sure to document the gray cap, red bill and legs, and tall, slender profile.
I decided to head back to work, as the bird did not seem to be any more accessible from its location. I would later learn that the Yellow-crowned Night Heron was refound in the NW corner of the Humphries Unit. It was nice to see Sean Bachman and Rick Brigham on the way out. Congratulations, Mr. Sturgess for a great find!
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
I met Dr. Larry Haugh (Professor of Statistics, University of Vermont) in the south end of Cell 3, and after exchanging greetings, learned that he was here for the first time. So, as soon as I got him oriented to his surroundings, we spent some time scoping shorebirds on the mudflats and peninsula. Water levels were continuing to rise, and mudflats were disappearing. American White Pelicans continue in good numbers (70+) at the tip of the peninsula, but only a handful of Semipalmated Sandpipers were working the shorelines.
A pair of Red Knots were foraging at the tip of the peninsula!
We did see the American Avocet, several Lesser and Greater Scaup, Green- and Blue-winged Teal among dozens of Mallard, but not a whole lot else of interest. Caspian, Forster's and Common Terns were scattered among dozens of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, while Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets were scattered along the shoreline in the NE corner of the cell. Bank and Tree Swallows were working the tops of the water in both Cell 3 and Humphries Unit.