Monday, August 24, 2015

Another Fun Shorebird Challenge! - 21 Aug 2015

Semipalmated Sandpiper
Friday afternoon / early evening brought gorgeous skies and low winds, so I headed out to Pt. Mouillee to check on shorebirds. Parking at Mouillee Creek I made my way along the Middle Causeway toward the Banana Unit and enjoyed a nice leisurely evening of birding.

A pair of Northern Harriers floated lazily over the Long Pond Unit and tussled with each as they crossed paths. Large flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds were flushing from either side of the causeway as I rode, but no Yellow-headed Blackbirds were among them.

I stopped at the SW corner of the Vermet Unit and decided to hike out onto the peninsula to get some pics of the Caspian Terns roosting at its point. Five Snowy Egrets were foraging nearby, and offered only distant pics before they flushed at my approach.

The Caspian Terns were noisy, and circled closely with little regard for my presence.

I continued on to Cell 3 and was surprised to see roosting birds way off in the southeast corner. As I approached I realized that, although the north end of the cell was under water, the south end had mud flats! As I scoped the area I found a Black-bellied Plover, and hundreds of Semipalmated Sandpipers. I rode around to the south end managed to find a few Semipalms near shore, and six Short-billed Dowitchers along the shoreline.

An American Goldfinch was posing nicely just a few feet away, so I took a few digiscoped images of the bird in the early evening sunlight.

A single juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs was nearby, so I followed it awhile before turning my attention to the Semipalmated Sandpipers.

The Semipalmated Sandpipers were scattered all over the south end of Cell 3, taking advantage of the fresh, wet mud from recent dredge-dumping. Most were fresh juveniles with clean, white fringes, streaked foreheads, and a blush for chest markings.

One bird got my attention, however. As it foraged among its peers I noticed that it appeared slightly larger, longer-winged, and longer-billed. Western Sandpiper? White-rumped Sandpiper? Baird's Sandpiper? It was going to take some breaking down. Compare the bird at left with the Semipalm at top.  Bill is longer, and slightly decurved? Wing projection appears long, suggestive of a Western Sandpiper juvenile. However, the back appears scalloped, suggestive of a juvenile Baird's. But the throat doesn't quite show the distinct, buffy necklace one might find from a Baird's juvenile. The supercilium (eye stripe) is pretty bold and suggestive of a White-rumped Sandpipers. So, can one photo give us the answer?

I decided to pose the question to the I Shorebirds Group on Facebook, and as expected, got the complete range of answers from other shorebird aficionados.

Juv Semipalm for comparison

Although I had a few dissenting opinions, my gut feeling was that this is a juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper despite the bill, wings, and supercilium appearing exaggerated. Wing coloration (brown-black on gray) is similar to the other Semipalms. Streaking on head is similar, as well. Throat coloration is not distinct (as in Baird's), and not fine-streaked as one might find in a White-rump.

Luckily, I remembered a response I got last year to a similar bird from Kevin Karlson, author of The Shorebird Guide, and he provided some interesting comments regarding Semipalmated Sandpiper identification. Basically, he mentioned that Semipalms show a wide variation in bill length and wing projection, with females typically having longer bills and wings. They can also appear larger, as in the case of this bird. Kevin was gracious enough to respond to this bird, and offered the following:

This is clearly a case of how a single photo can show a bird in a pose that is in a misleading instead of helpful posture, like the first shot. Glad for the second photo of this juvenile female Semipalmated Sandpiper. Although it may resemble a Baird's or White-rumped due to the long body and wings, some large female Semis can have very long rear bodies and wings, but the wing/tail ratio is spot on for a Semi and definitely not a Baird's (whose wings extend well past the folded tail), and although some White-rumps can have wings that just reach the tail tip (usually males), their plumage as juveniles would be way different that this bird, and the bill shape is wrong for both Baird's and White-rumped. I could go on and on about the differences between this bird and the other three, but it is clearly a Semi, and the space here is limited. Not a Western for so many reasons, both structurally and plumage, but the bill is too blunt tipped, the plumage is wrong for Western (no rust scapular line), and the body structure is too evenly weight distributed for Western, which would show a bigger, blockier head; front heavy and chest/shoulder heavy weight distribution. The dark cap that contrasts with a paler nape is also a juv Semi feature, with Western showing a grayish cap with dark streaks and a mostly grayish nape. Good comments and discussion. Sorry, Baird's juv would have a finely streaked upper breast that is well defined, and a bill that is not as thick at the base and more fine tipped than this bird.

Thanks again, Mr. K!

I continued to scan the east shoreline of Cell 3 but failed to see anything other than Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. I did spot a Bonaparte's Gull in the NE corner of Cell 3, and hoped for a while that it might be a Franklin's, Laughing, or Little Gull (negative on all points).

An American White Pelican was in the south end of Cell 4 and provided a nice photo from the bike.

The rest of the ride would be uneventful until I flushed a Willet in the Long Pond Unit as I rode back to the car.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Nice Weekend at Brownton - 22-23 Aug 2015

With clear skies and temps in the mid-upper 70's it was a great time to sit in the grass with Buffy and Asia and watch the birds. We were not disappointed. That is to say, "I was not disappointed".

The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been active at the feeder. Mom, dad and this year's two young have been visiting the feeder. One juvenile appears to be a male based on a single red gorget feather that has appeared on its cheek. The other (at left) is a suspected female based on lack of gorget feathers.  The two young spend much more time at the feeder and nearby flowers than the adults, who seem to come only late in the evening.

A juvenile Baltimore Oriole has been frequenting the feeder, as well. It tries to pry the yellow flowers from the base so as to be able to get at the nectar easier.

An Eastern Phoebe made a 10-second appearance early Saturday morning, and returned mid-afternoon for another 10 seconds. Yard Bird #54. A Willow Flycatcher stopped briefly, as well. Yard Bird #55.

Buffy got a bit too close to the hedge while eating grass, and was scolded by a House Wren for a good 10 minutes.

While lying back on the grass w/ Asia, the hummingbird pair hovered over us, squabbling over rights to the feeder.

Looking up into the sky I watched a small flock of Chimney Swifts attack a soaring Cooper's Hawk while a Black-billed Cuckoo called softly from the trees at the back of the property line.

A small American Toad hopped out and joined the two of us on the grass. I had to quietly place my hand over it to keep Asia from noticing it.

Three more Leopard Frogs were rescued from the basement well and released across the street in the ponds.

Our resident Gray Tree Frog continues to spend the day napping on the porch light. Last evening I went out and watched numerous moths swirling around its head; it got bopped on the head several times by fly-by insects.

Sunday morning brought a juvenile Rufous-sided Towhee to the base of the feeder. I could tell that its molting into an adult male by the bright white wing patches, and the beginnings of black feathers in the throat / belly region. The streaky-brown head and overall roughed-up appearance indicates juvenile. The adult male will have a clean black head with red eyes, while the female will have a clean brown head w/ buffy wing patches and brown throat feathers.

A Woodchuck appeared briefly from the woods behind the house. It scampered back into the woods almost immediately.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Rejuvenation - 17 Aug 2015

An early evening rain shower brought a pair of juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to the yard. I spent a half-hour watching them chase each other through the bushes, then take on the flock of sparrows near the sunflower feeder. No fear...

Despite the low-light conditions I had a ball digiscoping the birds from the shelter of the back window. Even though I had pretty-good luck digiscoping birds while in California, I was a bit disappointed in the overall quality of pics taken there. It took these little beauties to restore my confidence in my digiscoping system.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Chimney Swifts! - 16 Aug 2015

I'd been waiting for them to arrive since Robin and I moved here to Brownton Abbey in early May. I've seen the Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows,  and even Northern Rough-winged Swallows, but until this evening I had not had the pleasure of seeing the "flying cigars".  So, when Asia and I went outside and enjoyed the evening's quiet while lounging in the grass, I looked up and saw a massive flock of Chimney Swifts swirling overhead. At least 100 birds were moving over the trees near West Road and were moving our way.

I ran into the house and grabbed the camera, and for the next hour or so, practiced my skeet shooting with the camera with the hope of capturing a few birds in focus. I made this composite from the almost 300 photos taken. Nikon D7100, Nikon 300 mm / f2.8 VRII, 1.7TCIII and MB-D10 Motor Drive.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Baird's Sandpiper! - 16 Aug 2015

A Baird's Sandpiper was the highlight of a good morning of birding at Pt. Mouillee SGA in n. Monroe Co., MI. Cody Porter and I watched the juvenile forage along the extreme east end of the Long Pond Unit in the vicinity of both juvenile Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. We failed to refind the Western Sandpiper that was found yesterday by Scott Jennex.

Baird's and Least Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Nearby, Cody spotted 5 Yellow-headed Blackbirds and a Sora a few minutes later.

Earlier, I had arrived at Siegler Rd. and found one of the juvenile Snowy Egrets foraging among ~50 Great Egrets at the west end of the Long Pond Unit.

I then ran into Andrew Sturgess and spent some time chatting with him and photographing a Wilson's Snipe along the north end of the unit. He showed pics of several Sora and a Virginia Rail.

After leaving him I headed along the North Causeway to the east end of the Long Pond Unit, and spotted 4 Wilson's Phalarope in the open mudflats visible from the dike. I waded into the brush and was able to get to edge of the mudflat and close enough to digiscope the birds still 40 meters away.

Least and Semipalmated Sandpiper juveniles were closer and made for nice comparison.

A Greater Yellowlegs (juvenile) and Lesser Yellowlegs (adult) also made nice comparison pics.

I would also run into John Parker, who reported seeing the Willet in the Vermet Unit. A Northern Harrier was a nice find on the way back to the car.

Pte. Mouillee SGA, Monroe, Michigan, US Aug 16, 2015 8:30 AM - 10:30 AM Protocol: Traveling 2.0 mile(s) Comments: Cody Porter contributed the Yellow-headed Blackbirds. 32 species
Canada Goose 35
Wood Duck 6
Mallard 15
Blue-winged Teal 20
Green-winged Teal 15
Ruddy Duck 2
Pied-billed Grebe 14
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 45
Snowy Egret 1
Green Heron 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron 2
Northern Harrier 1
Sora 1
Common Gallinule 2 juveniles
Semipalmated Plover 2
Killdeer 12
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Solitary Sandpiper 2
Greater Yellowlegs 23
Lesser Yellowlegs 24
Baird's Sandpiper 2
Least Sandpiper 20
Pectoral Sandpiper 3
Semipalmated Sandpiper 12
Short-billed Dowitcher 2
Wilson's Phalarope 5
Wilson's Snipe 1
Ring-billed Gull 1
Caspian Tern 2
Tree Swallow 12
Bank Swallow 6
Swallow 12
Yellow-headed Blackbird 5 

View this checklist online at

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