Friday, February 28, 2014

MA - first sapsucker - 02/28

Back to Arctic conditions for us this week, so it was particularly nice (and surprising) to find this roadside Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Gill this morning. I haven't seen any sapsuckers locally since late October, not even on the Christmas Bird Counts so I can't help but wonder if this might be an early migrant? Even so, a lone winterer would be easy to overlook and we're still about a month away from the main arrival of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in Gill. Either way, it was great to see.

 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - poor quality shots of fast moving bird, North Cross Road, Gill,
Franklin Co., MA. February 28th, 2014. My first local sapsucker of the year. 

Habitat for Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, North Cross Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. February 28th, 2014. 
You can't really blame it for wanting to be in such a nice place!

Elsewhere, a quick check of the CT River at West Northfield produced no diving ducks at all, quite the contrast from my last visit three days ago which turned up 9 Greater Scaup and lots of Common Goldeneye.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

AZ - an interesting White-fronted Goose - 01/19

Update March 27th, 2014. Essential recent references on Greater White-fronted Goose taxonomy and distribution include this paper from Dr. R.C. Banks published by the Biological Society of Washington in 2011;

and this blog entry from David Sibley last edited in October 2011;

In addition I received a beautifully concise reply from David Irons on March 1st, 2014 after posting the images on the ID Frontiers Listserve. David's complete reply appears here with permission - thanks David!


Aside from being a slightly darker than normal on the neck and breast, this bird is consistent with the first-winter Greater White-fronted Geese that I see along the Pacific Flyway (mostly western Oregon and the Klamath Basin). This population seems to show quite a bit of variation between the darkest to lightest birds, which may be sub-population variation within A. a. sponsa. Tule White-fronteds are noticeably larger, longer-necked, and more uniformly dark on the head and neck than the bulk of the Pacific Flyway birds. Given that you felt your bird looked small and from what I can see of the head and neck coloration, I think that Tule Goose is safely eliminated. Migrant birds in Oregon (away from the Klamath Basin) and Washington that are darker in the face are occasionally reported as Tule Greater White-fronteds, but I have my doubts about most of these reports. As it is, only a small fraction of the Pacific population ever stops anywhere in these states (away from the Klamath Basin). Given that A. a. elgasi represent such a small fraction of all the birds along this flyway, I would expect this form to be quite rare in western Oregon and western Washington. I've looked at a lot of G. White-fronteds in w. Oregon and never seen a bird that I would call a Tule. 

According to the map in Sibley's 2011 blog post on this topic (link below), the Bristol Bay population of A. a. sponsa passes through/over AZ on its way to and from wintering grounds in c. Mexico. Thus, the Bristol Bay population would seem to be the most expected source of your AZ bird.

Most of the Pacific Flyway birds overfly western Oregon during northbound and southbound migrations. They fly very high, coming north through the Klamath Basin, angling across the Cascades in sw. Oregon, crossing the Willamette Valley and then the Coast Range before heading out over the open ocean along the northern Oregon coast. I would put this migration path about halfway between the broad green line ("Western Alaska" population) and the narrow green line ("Bristol Bay" population) on Sibley's map. Single-day counts of 5000-7000 birds (high overhead) have been recorded in the southern and central Willamette Valley on many occasions. The migration windows for northbound birds usually falls 20 April–10 May and the window for southbound birds normally falls 20 Sep–10 Oct, with a decided spike during the last week of September. The number of birds passing during these windows far exceeds the total population of A. a. elgasi, which, according to Sibley's map, most closely follows the path I describe above. If you were to slide the #2 broad green line over just to the right of the #4 teal (A. a. elgasi) line–so that it would connect to the blue area indicating the Klamath Basin–the migratory route over w. Oregon would be perfectly illustrated. 

Dave Irons
Portland, OR"

Greater White-fronted Goose - first-winter, St. David RV Resort, Cochise Co., AZ. January 19th, 2014.
These additional images appear courtesy of Robert Davidson taken on January 19th, 2014 and posted here on March 3rd, 2014. 

Our British group came across this Greater White-fronted Goose evidently wintering on a small, tree fringed pond at St.David RV resort, not too far south from Benson, Arizona. The pond hosted both domestic and wild watefowl and the white-front showed no obvious signs of ever being held in captivity. Moreover, the absence of black barring clearly pointed to this bird being in its first-winter though (even by mid-January) it was already showing a nice, broad 'white front' above the bill. Three things stood out;

1) It gave the impression of being small, stocky and dark. The one comparative shot that I've included shows it being slightly larger than a female Mallard which would be in keeping with how it appeared in the field. Unfortunately, no other 'wild' geese were present for a better size comparison. However, the bird was so small that it initially prompted comparisons with Lesser White-fronted Goose among my British companions.

2) The overall cast of the bird was very dark brown, darker than the birds I've encountered in New England which are thought to be, at least in most cases, the Greenland form flavirostris. 

3)  The bill color was neither pink or orange, but rather something in between the two being largely weak pinkish but blending into weak orange towards the base of the maxilla.

Greater White-fronted Goose - first-winter, sub-species uncertain, St. David RV Resort, Cochise Co., AZ. January 19th, 2014.
Is it possible to assign this lone bird to a distinct group or sub-species?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

MA - yard Red-tail 02/26

This Red-tailed Hawk had been lurking around the yard all afternoon perhaps hoping to snatch one of our local Eastern Cottontails. When Matan started playing in the yard the Red-tail flew straight in and seemed genuinely curious in the activity. Naturally, when I approached with the camera it lifted off hitting some weird angles as it tried to gain height in the gusty NW winds. Beautiful bird, wonderfully illuminated from the snow below.

 Red-tailed Hawk - Gill yard, Franklin Co., MA. February 26th, 2014.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MA - more Scaup - 02/25

The numbers of Greater Scaup along the Connecticut River continue to impress. Though not unprecedented by any means, being this far inland I tend think of Greater Scaup as late fall and early spring migrants through 'the valley'. I enjoyed the scaup at Turner's Falls on Sunday (8 on Turner's Falls power canal and 2 at Barton Cove) and this morning I found two more flocks in Northfield; one flock of 9 off Caldwell Road, West Northfield and another flock of 12 off Bennett Meadow. Both flocks were loosely associating with Common Goldeneyes, the flocks of which included a high proportion of males. Despite thorough checking, I failed to dig up a Barrow's Goldeneye at any of my stops which was at least some of my motivation for checking sites along the CT River today.

Elsewhere, passerines of note included 35 roadside Horned Larks at Walnut Grove Dairy Farm in Vernon, VT. My early morning run also produced a fly over Red Crossbill at Derby Hill in Gill, my first this year.

Common Goldeneyes - CT River at Caldwell Road, West Northfield, Franklin Co., MA.
February 25th, 2014. 

Greater Scaup - flock of nine, CT River at Caldwell Road, West Northfield, Franklin Co., MA.
February 25th, 2014. A further flock of 12 were downstream at Bennett Meadow, Northfield. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

MA - Turner's gulls and waterfowl - 02/23

Finally back on home turf after a long spell in the SW. I spent a couple of hours in late afternoon on the Turner's Falls power canal and Barton Cove. Being late February my expectations were not high, but it was nice to find reasonable diversity among gulls and ducks. The gulls came into Barton Cove especially late in the day making it difficult to do anything meaningful with images and, to some extent, identification. But, by the end of the afternoon, I tallied over 600 gulls of six species including 6 Kumlien's (all 1st and 2nd cycle), 1 Glaucous (1st cycle) and 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult).

Regarding waterfowl, the nicest surprise was the presence of Greater Scaups on both the power canal (8) and Barton Cove (2), along with 3 drake Bufflehead, a drake Ring-necked Duck and a Lesser Scaup (all at Barton Cove). Common Mergansers seemed to be plentiful at Barton Cove too.

Kumlien's Gulls - 2nd-cycles, Turner's Falls and Barton Cove, Franklin Co., MA.
February 23rd, 2014.

Glaucous Gull (rear) - 1st-cycle, Barton Cove, Franklin Co., MA.
February 23rd, 2014.

Lesser Black-backed Gull - adult, Barton Cove, Franklin Co., MA.
February 23rd, 2014.

Lesser Scaup - female, Barton Cove, Franklin Co., MA.
February 23rd, 2014.

Greater Scaup - group of 8, Turner's Falls power canal, Franklin Co., MA.
February 23rd, 2014.

AZ - Western Diamondback Rattlesnake - 02/19

I must admit I wasn't expecting to see any rattlesnakes during our family break to central Arizona in February. But with temperatures being unseasonably high, often topping out above 80 deg F, conditions seemed favorable and indeed, park staff indicated that a few rattlers had already been seen when we visited McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Fountain Hills on Feb 19th. We hiked the Lousely Hill Trail and I constantly reminded Matan to watch where he was putting his feet and hands throughout the hike. It was a snake-free hike until we'd almost reached the parking the lot, then Susannah and Matan suddenly spotted this beauty sprawled across the footpath no more that 40 meters from our car. It was bold but not aggressive and held its ground until we walked around it, shortly after which it slithered into the undergrowth.

 Western Diamondback Rattlesnake  Crotalus atrox - McDowell Mountain Regional Park (near Fountain Hills), Maricopa Co., AZ. 
February 19th, 2014. 

 McDowell Mountain Regional Park (near Fountain Hills), Maricopa Co., AZ. February 19th, 2014.
View from Lousely Hill Trail.

It was green and very spring-like in the park with lots of classic desert birds in full song including Curve-billed and Crissal Thrashers, Cactus Wren, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Costa's Hummingbird and Black-throated Sparrow. 

 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher - male, McDowell Mountain Regional Park (near Fountain Hills), Maricopa Co., AZ. February 19th, 2014. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

AZ - Huachuca Magic - 02/18

Susannah and I had a long day out in the Huachucas, leaving from Fountain Hills at the comfortable hour of 07:00hrs. Just three hours later we were in Sierra Vista about to enter the base at Fort Huachuca. Within minutes (quite literally), we were watching the long staying Sinaloa Wren in Huachuca Canyon. Like my last visit, the bird gave exquisite views at point blank range. Pleased with our success, Susannah insisted on moving onto Hunter Canyon, as a local birder had informed us of a pair of Rufous-capped Warblers there. Hunter Canyon is perhaps one of the less well known canyons in the Huachucas, the entrance of which is only a couple of miles south from the entrance to the much better known Miller Canyon. After a couple of miles drive, and a one mile hike we found ourselves in appropriate habitat for Rufous-capped Warblers and soon located a pair right alongside the narrow track. In between times, a pair or very vocal Northern Pygmy Owls provided a wonderful distraction and remained vocal in the canyon throughout our time there.

View from Hunter Canyon, Cochise Co., AZ. February 18th, 2014.

 Northern Pygmy Owl - Hunter Canyon, Cochise Co., AZ. February 18th, 2014.

 Rufous-capped Warbler - one of a pair, Hunter Canyon, Cochise Co., AZ. February 18th, 2014.

Sinaloa Wren - long staying individual, Huachuca Canyon, Fort Huachuca, Cochise Co., AZ. 
February 18th, 2014.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

TX - more big days 02/04

Our amazing journey through Texas continues, and that's despite some inclement weather that threatened to spoil the show for the last few days. We've now seen most of the Lower Rio Grande specialties plus several continuing rarities just to spice things up a little.

Groove-billed Ani - Santa Ana NWR, TX. February 3rd, 2014.

 Clay-colored Thrush - Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Brownsville, TX. February 4th, 2014.

 Golden-fronted Woodpecker - Santa Ana NWR, TX. February 3rd, 2014.
Hook-billed Kite - Mission Hike and Bike Trail, Mission, TX. February 2nd, 2014. 

 Rose-throated Becard - Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Brownsville, TX. February 4th, 2014.

 Yellow-throated Warbler - Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary, Brownsville, TX. February 4th, 2014.

Great Kiskadee - Santa Ana NWR, TX. February 3rd, 2014.