Parasitic Jaeger, Cape May Point, 29th Sept 2013

October 10, 2013

While spending time in Cape May with my son, I stopped at the Magnasite Plant in the early evening of the 28th September 2013 to look for Northern Harriers and Merlins that often hunt at dusk in this area. I bumped into Jonathan Wasse and Peter Lansdown, visiting from the UK, and as we were chatting, Jonathan noticed a gull soaring over land and said “That Herring Gull is doing a good job imitating a skua (jaeger)”. Even distorted by the windshield, it didn’t look like a gull and immediately looked interesting and jaeger-like. Jumping out of the car, I snapped a few flight shots as the bird flew over us and drifted away towards Lily Lake. Clearly a juvenile Parasitic from the views we had and quite strange to see it circling over land.

That was the end of that…or so I thought. The following day, I arrived at the hawk watch at Cape May Point, when I was greeted with shouts of “Jaeger on the pond!” Indeed there was! A juvenile jaeger was sitting on the pond close to the platform. From the looks of it, it was the same bird we saw the evening before..and perhaps the same bird that had been seen briefly at the same spot the day before by the CMBO-appointed hawkwatcher Tom Reed.

Juvenile Parasitic Jaeger, Cape May Point, NJ, 9/29/2013 (Julian Hough)

Juvenile Parasitic Jaeger, Cape May Point, NJ, 9/29/2013 (Julian Hough)

The following features were typically pro-Parasitic:
  • Longish-spiky bill , not really stout with a dark-tip that appeared to be a 1/3 or so of the bill
  • Disproportionately small head, with streaky cheeks and a short, steep forehead. The slightly raised crown giving a more triangular-shaped head rather than a domed, rounded head
  • Overall warm cinnamon/nutmeg tones to the plumage, especially the pale upper part feathers and primary tips
  •  Prominent, chevron-shaped primary tips, tinged pale buff-brown, not white.
Identification of juvenile jaegers can be problematical, but the good views of this bird made for an easy identification as an intermediate-type juv. Darker, juvenile Parasitics can be difficult to separate from some dark juvenile Long-taileds. The pale-fringes to the primaries can be shown by both Parasitic and Long-tailed, so they are not diagnostic, but coupled with other features may be used as a supporting character. On some images, the pale fringes to the primaries in Long-tailed tend to be narrower and paler, while those on typical Parasitics, like the Cape May individual, are well-defined and chevron-like.
Overall a great bird to see and photograph!
"Crippling Views" - birders enjoying the unusual occurence of an "on-the-deck" Parasitic (Julian Hough)

“Crippling Views” – birders enjoying the unusual occurence of an “on-the-deck” Parasitic (Julian Hough)

Elegant Terns…are they really occurring in Europe?

September 20, 2013

An ‘orange-billed’ tern currently in Ireland shows characters of Elegant Tern and has again raised the spectre of doubt about whether these are pure vagrant Elegant Terns or….something else.  An assumed returning Elegant Tern was present in a tern colony in France in the 80s and was thought to be the perpetrator of confusing hybrids and coupled with the possibilities of offspring from  known Lessser-crested x Sandwich Terns in Europe, it has caused headaches for adjudication panels throughout Europe, given that Elegant Terns are a rare visitor to the eastern seabord of the US. The fact that the UK has had more claims of Elegant Terns than they should have for this west coast species only adds to the issue of whether such claims are hybrids, especially when these claims involve individuals that actually bear an uncanny resemblance to real Elegant Terns…

Pix of the current Irish bird are here:

https://twitter.com/KerryBirdNews/status/378629525350789120/photo/1

http://www.surfbirds.com/gallery/display.php?gallery=gallery9

I just returned from California where I saw several thousand Elegant Terns, and given the similar time of year thought I would post a few for comparison. I haven’t had time to go through these and do ant research to determine if my ageing is correct, but I am sure someone will correct me, but for now, hope these will be a reference for comparison.

Adult/2nd-w Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough)

Adult/2nd-w Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough)

Adult-w Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough). Pure white tail feathers with outers relatively long.

Adult-w Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough). Pure white tail feathers with outers relatively long.

Adult-w Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough). Same bird as above..note long legs for a tern and note splotches of color visible at close range.

Adult-w Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough). Same bird as above..note long legs for a tern and note splotches of color visible at close range.

First-s moulting to 2nd-w (?)  Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough). Inner primaries replaced contrasting with worn outers and retains darker secondary bar.

First-s moulting to 2nd-w (?) Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough). Inner primaries replaced contrasting with worn outers and retains darker secondary bar.

First-s moulting to 2nd-w (?)  Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough). Note bill color and shape and shape of hood.

First-s moulting to 2nd-w (?) Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough). Note bill color and shape and shape of hood.

First-s moulting to 2nd-w (?)  Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough). Dark webs to tail feather hints at a bird moulting to 2nd-w plumage.

First-s moulting to 2nd-w (?) Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough). Dark webs to tail feather hints at a bird moulting to 2nd-w plumage. Pale whitish tips to outer rects noticeable.

Juvenile/first-w Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough). Dark, but fresh primaries, dark tertial centres age this bird. Note long legs and short bill that is assumed to be still growing. Bill color variable in many birds depending on age and sex.

Juvenile/first-w Elegant Tern, Monterey, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough). Dark, but fresh primaries, dark tertial centres age this bird. Note long legs and short bill that is assumed to be still growing. Bill color variable in many birds depending on age and sex.

First-s moulting to Elegant Terns, Moss Landing, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough).

Elegant Terns, Moss Landing, CA, Sept 2013 (Julian Hough).

PLANNED IT, BOOKED IT…DOING IT!

July 3, 2013
Buller's Shearwater

Buller’s Shearwater

CALIFORNIA FALL 2013 – A Plethora of Pelagics – West Coast-style!

Phil Rusch, Nick Bonomo, Simon Harvey and myself are planning an assault on the wilds of north-central California in September, centered around some pelagics out of Monterey and Half Moon Bay.

I have never been out of Half Moon Bay, a place I have visited before but never from a pelagic perspective. We are taking to the seas from here courtesy of an old friend Alvaro Jaramillo, known to many as a well-respected field birder and all-around top-man!

He recently set up his own tour business, Alvaro’s Adventures, http://alvarosadventures.com/ and part of his operation includes running several CA pelagic trips throughout the year that have produced a burgeoning list of seabirds that have included such vagrants as Hawaiian Petrel, Short-tailed Albatross, White-chinned Petrel, Great-winged Petrel and MANY Laysan Albatrosses.

Albatrosses HMB AJ1

Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses – the latter is my nemesis bird!

To book e-mail : alvaro@alvarosadventures.com;  or call 650-504-7779

Check out a pelagic slide show here: http://alvarosadventures.com/2012/09/half-moon-bay-pelagic-slide-show-sept-2-2012/

Scripp's-Murrelete

Scripp’s Murrelet

Pink-foot AJ

Pink-footed Shearwater

Similar birds can be seen out of Monterey, 2 hours to the south, but the proximity (30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic) to San Francisco airport is a huge plus for out-of-towners like us that need to do a pelagic then catch a red-eye back to the east coast.

Death of a Needletail

June 27, 2013

220px-White-throated_Needletail_09a

Back in the mid-80s, in my teens, a group of us were birding in Norfolk, UK on 27th May 1985 when news was phoned into the grapevine of a White-throated Needletail Swift – a huge, Asian swift only recorded a handful of times in the UK – at Fairburn Ings, Yorkshire. Usually only an hours drive away if we had been home, we left a trail of burning rubber as we exited Norfolk on a nail-biting, 4 hour drive to Yorkshire.

The bird had been forced down by an advancing storm, which had cleared before we got there and to our dismay, the bird was never seen again! To make matters worse, it later transpired that an old friend of mine known to many, Mr. Steve Dudley, had been volunteering there at the time and was one of the lucky few to see it!

Although I have seen them in Australia and China, It remained one of my most sought after birds that I wanted to see in the UK but never have. Now living in the states, I had to live vicariously through birders when news broke this week of one of these stunning birds hurtling around cliffs on Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

This startling news propelled birders north and some great photos by Josh Jones can be seen here: http://blog.birdguides.com/2013/06/white-throated-needletail.html

Unfortunately, today sad news dominated the headlines of the birding world, when this bird, capable of speeds up to 112 kph, and being watched by a group of birders, collided with a wind-turbine and died..a truly sad end to an amazing species. See here for pictures: http://londonbirder-birdman.blogspot.co.uk/

Several birders were able to make it to the far north in time to be amazed at how close and well this bird showed before its untimely demise.

RIP!

Least and Long-toed Sandpipers in spring

June 1, 2013
Adult Least Sandpiper, Sandy Pt., New Haven, CT, May 2013.

Adult/ 2nd cal-yr Least Sandpiper, Sandy Pt., New Haven, CT, May 2013.

I’ve never seen a Long-toed Stint in the US or in the UK during my frenetic birding in my twentysomethings. I have come somewhat close though.

I started my twitching career in 1983, a few months after a confiding juvenile Long-toed Stint turned up in the UK in September 1982…a first for Britain at the time, but since demoted to the second after a review of a spring bird in Cornwall in the 1970s that was id. as a Least, but belatedly accepted as a Long-toed, making that the first record. It has remained a blocker ever since. I arrived in Salinas, California in the fall of 1988 with Geoff Kingery and David Sibley and a juv. Long-toed that had been present at Salinas had unfortunately departed prior to our arrival.

I do look hard for Long-toed Stints, it is a bird I fantasize about finding in the east, but with no records east of the Mississippi, it is a rather needle-in-a-haystack venture. I do look at Least Sandpipers though and this one caught my eye – not that it stood out as anything but a Least – but it showed a pale brown base to the bill vaguely reminiscent of Long-toed and also a vague split supercilium. Leasts typically show an all dark bill and I don’t remember seeing many that I checked, showing this pale spot. Anyway, just thought I’d post these shots of this nice individual.

Least Sandpiper, Sandy Point, New Haven, CT, May 2013. Typical adult Least Sandpiper, except this has a noticeable paler brown area at base of bill - a feature often associated with Long-toed Stint.

Adult/ 2nd cal-yr Least Sandpiper, Sandy Point, New Haven, CT, May 2013. Typical adult Least Sandpiper, except this has a noticeable paler brown area at base of bill – a feature often associated with Long-toed Stint.

Here’s a scan of my notebook from a visit to China from a decade ago when we saw a few alternate-plumaged Long-toeds - typically “leggy” birds with broad, rusty-fringed tertials, short bill and a structure that was more Pectoral Sandpiper-like. It will be a sharp birder that picks out a mid-Atlantic Long-toed.

Sketch of Long-toed Stint, China, May 1994

Sketch of Long-toed Stint, China, May 1994

Connecticut Booby Prize!!!

May 24, 2013

An amazing story of an unexpected State first! Check out Nick Bonomo’s account of this amazing bird at: http://www.shorebirder.com/2013/05/brown-booby-norwalk-ct.html

An amazed Larry Flynn and a freeloading Brown Booby!

An amazed Larry Flynn and a freeloading Brown Booby!

Urban Birding-Nikon Style

April 18, 2013

Dusted off my Nikon Monarchs and my scope and planned to take Alex and his friends, Christian and Kevin on an urban guerilla birding outing to bag Bald Eagle and Peregrine within New Haven city limits.

First stop though was my street where I had found a roosting Yellow-crowned Night Heron – one of a nesting pair, initially spotted by my neighbors, and perhaps the only known breeding pair in New Haven.

P1000748 (1024x768)

P1000750 (768x1024)

Yellow-crowned Night Heron….check!

P1000752 (768x1024)

Next stop was on the edge of the Quinnipiac Marshes where some Bald Eagles had been roosting during the winter. Although I had missed them on previous visits, this time we were in luck!

P1000755 (1024x768)

Bald Eagle…check!

Next it was off to the local Peregrines on East Rock. Alex had become enthralled with Peregrine after watching the “Wild Kratts” show on PBS Kids.

_MG_2246

 Peregrine…well and duly checked!

P1000764 (1024x768)

The birds put on a great show and the kids were thrilled, especially when the male passed by Alex and I doing about 85mph in a stoop..phenomenal!

erock_fempr copy

The female..a huge bird, originally reared in NJ

osprey_grin Last year this unsuspecting Osprey passed close-by..too close I guess and she flew out grabbed it and hung it upside down!

Days Gone By…April 1986

March 31, 2013

So, this past couple of months I’ve managed to dip two Gyrfalcon’s..a grey-morph bird in Hadley, Massachusetts that I spent a day looking for, and a third calendar year bird on the barrier beaches of Long Island. The Long Island bird was a little more reliable, but often views were distant. While the former bird became a tad bit easier when Marshall Iliff discovered a favored roosting site, it still only showed at dawn and dusk, arriving and leaving the roost site. Occasionally it seemed to use the back side of it’s chosen cliff, so some evenings the bird wasn’t even seen arriving at the roost.  Needless to say, I put in my time to see this cool killer from the north.

The previous bird I had seen, was over a decade earlier, a stunning dark adult that hung out on the Design Centre in Boston, showing incredibly well!
For video, see here: http://youtu.be/1kM7zYKqdc0

It was at this time of year that I remembered my first Gyr at the ripe old age of eighteen! – a stunning white Greenland bird in Devon, on the south coast of the UK in April 1986. Although regularly recorded on the northern isles, a mainland Gyr was a holy grail…and a white one to boot was a birder’s dream come true and this particular bird was well revered. It stayed for ten days and was seen to kill and eat, Pigeons, Jackdaws, guillemots and even a BUDGERIGAR during its stay (Evans 94).

Check out this photo for a cool aerial shot of the quarries where it hung out (the ones on the right):

http://www.photographers-resource.co.uk/A_heritage/Lighthouses/LG2_EW/Berry_Head_%20Lighthouse.htm

Here’s my 18-year old notes and drawing of that spectacular bird that was the most well-twitched individual in Britain. According to the history books it was a second-cal bird, not an adult as noted in my book. What did I know?!

gyr

23rd February – Possible Slaty-backed Gull (?), Hartford County, CT

February 23, 2013

A small band of CT birders visited the Windsor landfill to look for a couple of potentially “good” gulls. Although gull numbers were low, there was a nice 2nd-cycle Kumlien’s Gull and the putative Slaty-backed “thingy” amongst them. Found initially by local birder Mark Szantyr, it had attracted attention during the week. Although Nick and I looked at it, we seemed suitably not bowled over since it seemed duller and more Herring Gull-like in certain lights and poses. However, there were definitely some good Slaty-backed traits, but the identification issue is clouded by the unfamiliarity with this taxon, especially in this plumage. When reviewing the images later, Nick and I became a little more convinced about it looking more Slaty-backed-like than initially thought. In some pictures, there seems to be a hint of a “string of pearls” on the inner primaries and are those rear scapulars good for Slaty-backed?. Comments welcome either way. All photos by moi…

_MG_7494 _MG_7464 _MG_7458 _MG_7440 _MG_7404 _MG_7402 _MG_7499 _MG_7487 _MG_7453 _MG_7446 _MG_7417 _MG_7451

Peter Adriaens, a Belgian birder whose opinion I respect on identification matters, especially gulls commented as follows:
My impression was and still is that this bird’s plumage looks very similar to 1c Slaty-backed indeed, and it may well be one. 
     The simple pattern of tertials and wing coverts looks good, the latter also being very pale. White edges to the tertials, all the way to the greater coverts.
The pattern of the primaries seems ok: pale tongues outwards to P9, and the inner primaries have fairly dull bases and whitish distal area.
    In many birds, the bases are a bit darker brown (almost matching the colour of the outer primaries),
and the contrast with the whitish distal area more pronounced, but it is certainly still within variation. 
The uppertail coverts lack the strongly barred pattern of smithsonianus, and look good for Slaty-backed. 
Bill looks a bit stouter than in average smithsonianus.
 
However, there are a few issues that need to be addressed:
- The tail shows rather striking dark barring on the outer webs of the outermost tail feathers, right up to the very base.
This is odd for 1c Slaty-backed; they usually have an all-dark tail. Some birds have pale bases to outer tail feathers, but these are usually only poorly marked
or even completely unmarked. In fact, the only bird I could find among my photos that closely matched this kind of tail pattern is one that showed mixed characters
of both Slaty-backed and Vega Gull… I have (temporarily) uploaded some images of Slaty-backed Gulls with some degree of dense dark barring on outer tail feathers here:
http://users.telenet.be/peteradriaens/slaty/
As you can see, they approach the pattern seen in the Connecticut bird, but the latter is more extreme still, and a step further toward the tail pattern commonly seen in smithsonianus.
- Pattern of wingcoverts: Especially in late winter, 1c Slaty-backed Gulls often have (very) pale greater coverts that contrast with darker and more strongly pattern median and lesser coverts.
In the Connecticut bird, it is the lesser coverts that are palest, even paler than the greater coverts. I could find no birds matching this ‘reverse’ pattern among my pictures.
- Shape: Many Slaty-backed Gulls show typically big, “inflated” body with angular, goose-like vent and short wing projection. Some are slimmer and more elongated though, as you can see in the link to my webspace. So, on the one hand, I think the body shape of the Connecticut bird is within variation, but on the other hand it could have been more convincingly different from American HG.
- Leg colour: The vast majority of 1c Slaty-backed Gulls show bright pink legs, often with dark shins. The leg colour of the Connecticut bird seems a bit paler, and not too different from AHGU (?)
Furthermore, the undertail coverts of the Connecticut bird look rather extensively barred. They are usually more liberally spotted in 1c Slaty-backed, but there are birds with more of a barred pattern (inviting confusion with AHGU).
 
All in all, I feel the Connecticut bird may be a variant Slaty-backed Gull; it certainly looks so similar that it would be worrying if it is something else entirely!
However, it does not look entirely typical, and I am unable to exclude something like a Slaty-backed x Vega Gull hybrid, or perhaps even a very unusual smithsonianus with certainty.
There may also be Glaucous-winged x AHGU hybrids to worry about, reinforcing the importance of the tail and wing covert pattern.”
 
Hopefully this is helpful in some way…

Peter

Several other experienced birders have weighed in but overall, such a beast out of context, with anomalous plumage for both SBGU and AMHEGU, seems destined for the “in limbo” bin.  An interesting bird that, if nothing else, has been a primer for what to look for on putative first-cycle SBGUs.

 

Hornemanni Hoary Redpoll, Suffolk, UK, December 2012

January 14, 2013

A highly obliging bird that showed down to feet..see here for a birder perspective. Can you play spot the redpoll?:

http://www.birdforum.net/attachment.php?attachmentid=418819&d=1355180301

Other instructive photos of this bird can be seen here:

http://uk400clubrarebirdalert.blogspot.com/2012/12/todays-beauty.html

Still never seen one of these buggers!

Enjoy!


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