Sunday, April 14, 2013

Texas - photo notes to 04/14/13

Birdfinders Texas tour goes extremely well. The days have been long, and full of quality birds. Here's just a few photo-highlights from the last three days;

Crimson-collared Grosbeak - Sabel Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Brownsville, TX. April 13th, 2013.

Cerulean Warbler - male, South Padre Island, TX. April 13th, 2013.

Common Paraque -Estero Llano Grande SP, near Weslaco, April 14th, 2013.
Chuck-wills-widow - Estero Llano Grande SP, near Weslaco, April 14th, 2013.

Prothonotary Warbler - South Padre Island, TX. April 13th, 2013.

Scarlet Tanager - female, South Padre Island, TX. April 13th, 2013.
Northern Bobwhite - male, Bentsen RGV State Park, TX. April 14th, 2013.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Texas - Day One

Thunderstorms, forty-five degrees, a stiff northern wind and rain came as a shocking start to the beginning of our Birdfinders Texas tour. The weather was bad enough for our Whooping Crane boat tour to be postponed until early afternoon. Thankfully everything worked out. By 1pm the wind had dropped and the temperature had already reached the upper sixties.

The morning could only be decsribed as raw. Clear, cold air moved in behind the rain-bearing front which moved SE across Aransas Bay. As a result, migration filled the air for much of the morning as wave upon wave of Franklin's Gulls moved low and fast into the brisk northerlies. A flock of about 25 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers hunkered low down in the salt marshes waiting for the worst of the weather to pass, and then a stream of 300 Mississippi Kites passed low over the oaks in much the same manner as the Franklin's Gulls had done all morning.

Franklin's Gulls - finding refuge with local Laughing Gulls in a parking lot puddle, Fulton Harbor, TX.
Franklin's Gulls - in migration, Fulton,TX.

American Golden Plover - Goose Isalnd SP, TX.

 Migrants overhead - Anhinga and Broad-winged Hawk together over Goose Island SP.TX.

 Mississippi Kites - small part of a stream of 300 birds, Fulton, TX.

Reddish Egrets - pair of white morphs, Aransas Bay, TX.

Swainson's Hawk - light morph, Goose Island, TX.

Whooping Crane and Great Egret - Aransas Bay, TX.

Later, raptor migration became even more evident as Swainson's Hawks (50+) and Broad-winged Hawks (1500+) began passing north in significant numbers over Goose Island State Park. A lucky few in our party also spotted a brief Swallow-tailed Kite passing north over the local gas station, a bird sadly missed by most of the group. Surprisingly few landbird migrants seemed to be involved but odds and ends included six American Golden Plovers at Goose Island and a constant stream of Cliff, Cave, Tree, Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallows that continued for pretty much the whole day.

The afternoon was spent in more relaxed fashion aboard "The Skimmer" with Captain Tommy Moore. Whooping Cranes were the main target and seen well as always. But many others species were seen besides the cranes including White-tailed Hawks, Crested Caracara, Long-billed Curlew, Wilson's and Piping Plovers, Seaside Sparrow and a fantastic array of terns including multiple Gull-billed and Least Terns.

A most interesting first day in Texas, especially after the initial disappointment of being 'weathered out' for the morning boat excursion.

My personal highlight would have to be the fantistic flocks of handsome Franklin's Gulls which seemed to be moving north all day long. We estimated about 1500 birds.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

MA - Gill area notes to 04/09/13

Finally, a spell of warm southerlies and the first genuinely spring-like days of the year. Birds reacted accordingly with a great deal of bird song around Gill including migrant Fox Sparrows at North Cross Road, Giving Tree School on Wood Ave, South Cross Road and in our yard. Our neighbor's property off Mountain Road has had at least three singing Winter Wrens with another bird audible at the southern end of South Cross Road.  The haunting song of Hermit Thrush was heard on Derby Hill on the morning of the 8th when there was also a male Ruffed Grouse present. Two Wood Ducks were also present on a small pond off Mountain Road on the 8th, even though the pond was still mostly frozen over. In our and around our yard, American Woodcocks continue, mostly displaying at dusk.

 American Tree Sparrow - North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 7th, 2013.
Having accidently erased a bunch of nigrideus American Robin images from April 4th, I tracked down a nice feeding flock of about 300 robins on North Cross Road on April 7th. Among them at least one good nigrideus, but unfortunately out of reach for the camera. Also quite a good number of birds apparently showing intermediate characteristics between nigrideu and migratorious, perhaps 5-8 in total. In the same spot, an American Tree Sparrow was in a nearby hedgerow, the first I've seen locally for a while.

American Robin - darkish male, showing some dark feathering on the nape and upper mantle, perhaps intermediate between nigrideus and migratorious
North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 7th, 2013.

Today, April 9th, provided the warmest day of the year so far. Our yard seemed to be super busy throughout the day, including both kinglets - 3+ Golden-crowned and our first Ruby-crowned of the spring. House Finches continue to feature with an active nest above our mud room window, and at least three males visiting the feeders. The nesting House Finches have utilized an old phoebe nest from last year, whilst the current pair of Eastern Phoebes have already built a new nest having only been present in the yard for about five days. We also had a 'first-of-year' Chipping Sparrow, along with two other singing birds along South Cross Road in Gill. Good numbers of migrant American Robins have also been present around the yard in the last two days along with Eastern Bluebirds, White-throated Sparrows and plenty of Dark-eyed Juncos.

Dark-eyed Junco - Gill yard, Franklin Co., MA. April 8th, 2013.

House Finch - Gill yard, Franklin Co., MA. April 8th, 2013.
Female incubating eggs with the first eggs laid in the last few day of March.

Northern Flicker and American Robin - Gill yard, Franklin Co., MA. April 9th, 2013

'Lead-backed' form of Red-backed Salamander - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. April 7th, 2013.
Found and held by Matan Lerman-Smith aged 5. Thanks to comments on the identification from Josh Rose, Noah Charney and Bob Brooks we can now correct our identification of Matan's Salamander. Initially we thought this may have been a Jefferson Salamander.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet - Gill yard, Franklin Co., MA. April 9th, 2013.
First of the year, along with three Golden-crowned Kinglets. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

MA - a few year firsts 04/05/13

As if to perfectly anticipate warmer temperatures and a forecasted spell of southern winds, Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Tree Swallow all appeared in or around our yard in Gill this morning. All were new for the year. Barton Cove still held some Ring-necked Ducks but much reduced in number, though the pair of American Wigeons was still present. The most significant change was in the swallow department, with 25-30 Tree Swallows hawking low over the water.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Gill yard, Franklin Co., MA. April 5th, 2013.

Ring-billed Gull - first-cycle, Barton Cove, Turner's Falls, Franklin Co., MA. April 5th, 2013.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

MA - nigrideus on the move 04/03/13

This morning I decided to look no further than the rolling fields around Gill. Seemingly each field of rough pasture, and many local yards, have been full of American Robins in the last few days. Among the typical grey-mantled robins (Turdus migratorius migratorius) were several birds of the blackish-mantled form T. m. nigrideus which breeds in the Canadian Atlantic. Despite looking for them in most flocks of Robins that I come across, I think these could be the first that I've seen locally in Gill, or at least the first that I've had the chance to view and digiscope. The birds were part of a larger movement of American Robins today and I made a crude estimate of about 1200 birds in loose flocks along Main Road between Mountain Road (north end) and Munn's Ferry Road. Within the feeding flocks I also found Killdeer, Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird. Eastern Phoebes seem to be pretty widespread already with males singing from the most of the properties along Main Road and North Cross Road in Gill.

*All the images below were taken in Gill, Franklin Co., on April 3rd 2013 and digiscoped using a Panasonic Lumix FZ7 and Swarovski HD scope.

 American Robins - North Cross Road. Typical scene from the first few days of April.
Many fields in Gill currently host such flocks.

Male American Robins - notice the 'sooty', blackish appearance and overall color of the bird above (T.m. nigrideus). This bird shows no contrast between the nape and the rest of the upperparts except for the rump which is contrastingly gray. The bird below (T.m. migratorious) it shows a fairly neat contrast between the black rear crown and gray mantle feathers, the mantle being only slightly darker than the rump. The blacker-mantled birds are distinctive and stand out in a loose feeding flock of robins.

T.m. nigrideus - All three images above refer to the same male on Munn's Ferry Road, April 3rd, 2013.

T.m. migratorious

T.m. nigrideus - (male) right of shot with unidentified female at left and possibly another male nigrideus at the rear.

T.m. nigrideus - head, nape and mantle all relatively uniform blackish.
T.m. nigrideus - same bird as above. Most of the throat is blackish with only a small amount of white below the bill.
Compare with the bird below (T.m.migratorious or intergrade) which has a much more extensive white chin and throat.
T.m. migratorious or intergrade - two images of this male certainly show some blackish centered feathers in the mantle but the overall tone is still quite gray, not anywhere near as dark as the clearest examples of nigrideus. Assumed to be an intergrade between the two forms. Birds like this seem to be at least as frequent as the better examples of nigrideus in the flocks around Gill.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

MA - Ring-necked Ducks 04/02/13

So much for spring! This morning I had my first birding jaunt since returning from Israel on March 26th. Conditions couldn't have been more contrasting. Barton Cove greeted me with a biting eastern wind and horizontal snow showers. I was as cold this morning as on any given day during the winter. The recently arrived local Eastern Phoebes must have been shivering!

I was hoping to find diving ducks in the cove and I wasn't disappointed. A nice raft of (c.85) male and female Ring-necked Ducks were riding the white-caps and facing into the wind. With them, a pair of slighly out-of-place American Wigeons and a couple of Hooded Mergansers. Elsewhere on the cove, an additional dozen or so Hooded Mergansers and plus three or four Common Mergansers.

 Ring-necked Ducks - with American Wigeons (left and right), Barton Cove, Gill, MA. April 2nd, 2013.
Part of a raft of c.85 Ring-necked Ducks at the cove today.