Archive for the ‘CT Birding Journal’ Category

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset SP, CT 12/10/2016

December 11, 2016
Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough). Medium-size bill, pale grey breast and washed-out lemon-tinged belly are all good pro-Ash-throated Flycatcher features. Well-defined white edgings to tertials are often mentioned as a feature more typical of Great Crested Flycatcher, but as can be seen here, Ash-throated can show rather contrasting white edgings. Wing formula visible here rules out similar Nutting's Flycatcher (unrecorded in the east).

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough). Click for hi-res image.
Medium-size bill, pale grey breast and washed-out lemon-tinged belly are all good pro-Ash-throated Flycatcher features. Well-defined white edgings to tertials are often mentioned as a feature more typical of Great Crested Flycatcher, but as can be seen here, Ash-throated can show rather contrasting white edgings. Wing formula visible here rules out similar Nutting’s Flycatcher (unrecorded in the east).

After having some new spark plug wires put on my car, I had time before picking Ingrid up at the train station so headed off to Hammo to try for the Ash-throated Fly that had been found last week by people on a local bird walk (but frustratingly put out vaguely as a flycatcher seen briefly with few other details) and had been co-operative in the interim. Withing minutes of arriving, I settled into the lee of the copse by Meig’s Point.

After a short while, the bird appeared and was quite actively foraging along the edge of a copse, chasing and catching insects on the tideline, giving great looks. This was much more satisfying than the bird at Sherwood last year and very photogenic.

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough). Note pallid, washed out underparts.

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough). Note pallid, washed out underparts.

Small bill, underpart color and saturation, outer tail feather pattern were all typical of Ash-throated Flycatcher, the expected early winter myiarchus to be found in the east. Several have been seen in CT, but until the recent Sherwood Island bird that stayed for a while, previous ones were hard to catch up with.

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough). Note pattern and extent of dusky tip bleeding onto inner web. Typically best assessed from below.

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough).
Note pattern and extent of dusky tip bleeding onto inner web. Typically best assessed from below.

The Hammonasset bird was incredibly confiding, performing well for both photogs and birders.

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough).

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough).

A day out with the Circus

October 27, 2016
Juvenile female Northern Harrier, Branford, CT November 2015 (Julian Hough). Note unstreaked underparts and solid boa, often more typical of females than males.

Juvenile female Northern Harrier, Branford, CT November 2015 (Julian Hough). Compared to European Hen Harrier, note unstreaked underparts (particularly vent) and more solid-looking “boa” – features often more typical of females than males in Northern Harrier. (Click for larger image)

It’s late October and the past few days have seen a good blow of NW winds, bringing with them a good bounty of raptors moving through Connecticut. As usual, I have been stuck at work, living vicariously through those counters camped out at Lighthouse Point, New Haven – the state’s premier watchpoint.

Northern Harriers (Circus c. hudsonius) are staple birds at the hawkwatch, charismatic and dashing – a favorite of mine. The NA race hudsonius has become something of a regular vagrant to the UK, with birds becoming annual in the past few years – a surprising turn of events since the first record on the Isles of Scilly in 1982 produced no other records, until a bird that Alex Lees saw on North Ronaldsay in 2008, prompted scrutiny of “Marsh Hawk” characters. After some back and forth and me nagging him incessantly, I believe he was able to have the bird finally accepted. Several others have followed since, including multiples in England and Ireland, some including adult males.

Confusion with “rufous” juvenile Hen Harriers is still a problem from a European context, but with good photos, many seem to fit the classic “Terry’s Chocolate Orange” appearance of juvenile Northern Harrier. Some birds will remain difficult and unidentifiable in a vagrant context –  especially birds like this in Germany!

While split as a separate species by the Europeans, the Americans have yet to adopt this split, although it was proposed in 2015. A paper published by my old friend, Dr. Graham Etherington,  proposes that science supports the recognition of C. cyaneus (Hen Harrier) and C. hudsonius (Northern Harrier) as distinct species.

Hen Harrier is currently unrecorded in the US – except for a wing found on Attu in 1999. However, a bird caught at Cape May would seem to tick all the right boxes as Hen Harrier. I have uploaded the paper here for those interested.

10/23/2016 Sprague’s Pipit in Connecticut..whoa!!

October 25, 2016
Sprague's Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough)

Sprague’s Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough). Click images for larger versions.

Hey Kids! Get in the car…NOW! We’re going on a twitch.

“Don’t ask what that is or where we are going…you won’t care! Get in the car…we gotta leave…NOW!! Alex, why aren’t your shoes on? Where’s your coat? Please..Come Onnnn!!!!”

Sunday 23rd October had been a great day. Ingrid and Indra had left after a lazy breakfast to do family stuff. Lighthouse had been slow for hawks and I returned to the house with Alex’s pal Benny in tow. While they entertained each other I set about sanding the rear hallways to prep them for some painting. By 2pm, I had gotten everything prepped and happened to check my phone and saw a missed call from Greg Hanisek. A garbled message was all that was left. Calling him back, he answered and deciphered his voicemail for me, “Sprague’s Pipit at Sherwood Island..I am already on RT 8 now.”

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What a mega!

I made a few calls to spread the news and we were off but traversing I-95 on a Sunday afternoon in New York traffic would be like Cannonball Run …grrr!

Sprague’s Pipits are difficult birds to get in the US and, away from the breeding grounds, they are a monster rarity in the east. There’s only a couple of late fall/winter records from Massachusetts (Provincetown and Wachusett) and I don’t believe New York or New Jersey has any records, and until today, it was absent from the CT list.

I made really good time despite folk who can’t drive for @@!! You people (you know who you are), remember that the left lane is for passing, not maintaining synchronized speed with people in the right lane. Executing this simple decision will prevent you from pushing birders in full twitch mode (i.e. me) to the brink of homicide. 🙂

I arrived and parked by the model airplane field and frantically ran over to the small group huddled together in one corner. Breaking the circle, my gaze followed an outstretched arm and finger pointing downwards to small patch of grass. No more than 5ft away, a sandy-colored form broke cover, revealing a staring dark eye and a sparsely-streaked breast that belonged to a full-on Sprague’s Pipit. Holy crap…it was so close! It sensed it was corralled and suddenly flew-up and landed about 30 ft behind us.

Sprague's Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough).

Sprague’s Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough). Very reminiscent to me of Blyth’s Pipit from Asia, a vagrant I have seen a few times in the UK and abroad.

Clearly the bird was tame and confiding. We circled around and with the sun behind us several of us crept closer to the spot where it had landed. We waited…and waited…but nothing appeared.
Edging closer, Frank went ahead and tried to coax the bird out, but the little bugger was like a little furtive mouse, running along the ground like an Old World locustella warbler.

Crippling Views! (Frank Mantlik)

Crippling Views! (Frank Mantlik)

Sprague's Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough). Look at that long hind toe adn equally long hind claw!

Sprague’s Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough)

We finally relocated it further away, and the bird performed beautifully for us in the late afternoon sunlight. What a cracker!! The kids were not as impressed as I was. But who cares!!

It was a lifer for many seasoned birders! This was only the third one I had seen, my previous ones being one in a stubble field in Texas in 2006 and an unsatisfying one in flight calling on my tour to Laguna Atascosa during last year’s Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.

Hands up those that have seen Sprague's Pipit in CT. Frank Gallo has! (Julian Hough)

Hands up if you have seen Sprague’s Pipit in CT. Frank Gallo has! (Julian Hough)

Sprague’s pipits winter in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. In the United States it occurs from southern California (casually), south-central and southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, central and eastern Texas, occasionally found in southern Kansas, southern Oklahoma, very rarely in southern Missouri, Tennessee and northwestern Mississippi south through Arkansas and Louisiana

Found in mixed or short grass prairie throughout the central northern Great Plains of North America. In Canada, Sprague’s pipit breeds in southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, and southwest Manitoba. In the United States, they breed in northeastern and central Montana, western and central North Dakota, northwest South Dakota, and in the Red River Valley of Minnesota.

Sprague's Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough)

Sprague’s Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough)

Ageing these is easy. You really can’t! I thought I would be able to age this one on median covert pattern (as is often the case with other pipits, especially Old World ones) but reference to Pyle revealed that there really aren’t any plumage clues to ageing them. Sometimes a Sprague’s pipit is “just” a Sprague’s Pipit…unless it is in CT!

Kudos to young birder Preston Lust for a great find, having the wits and sharpness to work out what it was and be brave enough to put the word out. The bird had gone by morning, so this really was the only chance to twitch it. Amazingly this little field has also hosted Smith’s Longspur and CT’s first (and only) Western Meadowlark!

Going to California….again!

October 3, 2016

Nick and I birded some spots around Madison and Guilford and saw little of note, except for a cool-looking adult hybrid Little Blue x Tricolored Heron in boulder pond at Hammo.

A cool hybrid Little Blue x Tricolored Heron showing well at Hammonassett. One of originally two birds that turned up as juveniles.

Returning home, I checked the local boat ramp looking for gulls, knowing Nick had refound the spring’s California Gull at Sandy Point a few days prior – we assumed it had long gone, but it had obviously been loitering in the area. A collection of gulls sheltering from the NE wind and high tide included a fresh juv Lesser Black-backed, but no sign of any California.

A fresh juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull sheltering from the inclement weather

I had to leave to do some errands, and while driving down the beach about 1/2 mile away, I noticed a lone gull sitting on the beach. “Ello!” I recognized the bird straight away and pulled on to the kerb to find the California Gull resting on the beach. I got out and grabbed a couple of shots, but the bird was rather skittish. It was now scrappy-looking and undergoing its complete molt into 2nd-basic plumage. Surprising to see the bird still around, but great to see it again locally. I checked again the next day but was surprised to relocate it back at the boat ramp where it had been foraging in the spring.

2nd-cycle California Gull, Sandy Point, West Haven.

 

2nd-cycle California Gull, Sandy point, West Haven.

Californication 2016

April 9, 2016
First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT, April 2016 (Julian Hough)

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT, April 2016 (Julian Hough)

After it had gone missing for a week, I bumped into the California Gull still visiting the boatramp. It remained fairly regular giving great views and photo-opps.

I met Brooklyn birding acquaintance Sean Sime and his wife Sarah down there today (9th) to see if I could nail it down for them as they passed through on their way from Rhode Island. It was quiet when I arrived with few gulls – it was not looking good! Alex and I started to throw some bread and within a few minutes Sean picked up the bird flying around. Mark Szantyr arrived at that moment and we all had ridiculous views as usual. (Click for larger images)

_P9A5272

_P9A5202

_P9A5090

_P9A5053

_P9A4674

_P9A5303

California Dreamin’

March 30, 2016
First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). Without direct comparison, some of the structural features are not clearly evident. The small size, intermediate between Ring-billed and Herring Gull, with disproportionately longer wings, short, narrow tail and shorter legs were quite obvious. The glaucous-like bill pattern was similar to other 2nd -cycle Herring Gulls but the darker grey mantle feathers coming in and dark greater covert panel were typical California. In flat light the pale, anemic legs were grey-green toned on the shins, another feature charactersitic of CAGU.

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). Without direct comparison with other gulls, some of the structural features are not clearly evident. The smaller size, intermediate between Ring-billed and Herring Gull, with disproportionately longer wings, short, narrow tail and shorter legs were quite obvious in the field. The glaucous-like bill pattern was similar to other 2nd -cycle Herring Gulls but the darker grey mantle feathers coming in and dark greater covert panel were typical California. In flat light, the pale, anemic legs were grey-green toned on the shins, another feature characteristic of CAGU.

Act #1

Well, as if Eurasian Common Gull and (Short-billed) Mew Gull at Hammo wasn’t enough, Stefan Martin, while looking for both these birds the day after I saw them,  photographed a first-cycle bird on the beach at Meig’s point which he identified as a California Gull!!

A long-awaited state first, this was a bird on several peoples’ radar for a long time – a real birder’s bird! The identification is compounded by the vast array of Herring Gull mimics, which makes picking out a California Gull not for the faint of heart – it is a bird that would be easily overlooked by many birders, so Stefan receives big kudos for this one!

Thankfully the bird remained faithful to the beach and boulder pool area at Meig’s point, showing well and  allowing many people to catch up with it before it disappeared by Wednesday.

Act #2

On my way home from work on 24th March, Nick Bonomo and I were discussing on the phone what other new gulls were lurking in the sound – still to be found. He was out checking the local areas. Sitting in the Yale University Gym, New Haven,  I was just about to work-out when I get a call from him, “I’m at the West Haven Boat Ramp – I have the California Gull here!”

This boat ramp is on the west side of New Haven harbor, close to my home and a spot I check regularly, one I had planned to check in the morning! It is 20 miles west of Hammonasset, so Nick’s re-finding was amazing-even better when it was right next to the house.

Leave gym. Get bins and camera. Arrive at boat ramp. See California Gull sitting nonchalantly on the beach. It is dusk, so light isn’t great but Nick, myself and Tony Amato enjoy great views of this bird. Who’d have thunk!

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). The long, rakish wings are not as evident in this shot, but in flight the longish, spiky bill, relatively narrow tail and Long-tailed Jaeger-like shape to the undercarriage were classic California. The best feature on this image is the nice dark primaries, lacking any pale inner window, dark trailing edge and a second dark bar formed by extensively dark greater coverts, is a must-have for any putative California. The dark tail and heavily barred rump is very Herring Gull-like, but the thin white outerweb to the tail and pale terminal tips are subtle differences from Herring Gull.

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). The long, rakish wings are not as evident in this shot, but in flight the longish, spiky bill, relatively narrow tail and Long-tailed Jaeger-like shape to the undercarriage were classic California. The best features on this image : the nice dark primaries, lacking any pale inner window; dark trailing edge; and a second dark bar formed by extensively dark greater coverts – all ‘must-haves” for any putative California. The dark tail and heavily barred rump is very Herring Gull-like, but the thin white outerweb to the tail and pale terminal tips are subtly different.

Postscript: the most interesting part of all this, is from photographs, it appears that this is the same bird that was seen, and photographed, by a single observer in Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn in January 2016, before being refound across the sound in CT at Hammonasset and then in New Haven in March 2016.

Two Rabbits – One Hat!

March 29, 2016

Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough). Note very narrow bill, nicotine-stained blotchiness extending from crown around in a shawl onto the upperbreast. Very extensive grey tongues P8-7 with broad white subterminal "spots". Broad trailing edge.

Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough). Note very narrow bill, nicotine-stained blotchiness extending from crown around in a shawl onto the upperbreast. Very extensive grey tongues P8-7 with broad white subterminal “spots”. Broad trailing edge very striking! (Click on images for hi-res version)

Sunday March 20th saw me leisurely sipping my fourth cup of java in Park Slope, Brooklyn, contemplating getting Alex and myself together to leave when my phone rang. It was Nick Bonomo, calmly informing me with news that he had found (another) Common Gull in CT, at Hamonassett State Park.

“I know you need it for CT, so wanted to let you know..but..it’s not in view right now”. Appreciative of the personal shout-out about a state Nemesis bird, it kick-started our exit strategy.

We were on the road by 11:30 and had got onto the Brooklyn Bridge when I get another call from NB..”Hey..I am pretty sure there’s two Mew-type Gulls here and the one I just refound in the flock is a !@#### Short-billed!!”.

AAARRGGGHHHHH!!!!

The first documented state record of the west coast race brachyrhyncus, which, if the current treatise on the complex by Adriaens and Gibbins 2016  is anything to go by, may be split in the near future.

Motherfather! Well done Mr. Bonomo – a two-fer!!

It seems that every weekend I am in Brooklyn, someone finds a rare bird in CT. This has necessitated a frantic, white-knuckle, cannonball-type run from the ‘burbs of the Big Apple to the tax-hiked landscape of Connecticut.

Thankfully, I blasted out of Brooklyn and up I-95 into CT not encountering any traffic at all. A mere two hours after leaving Brooklyn, including a quick pit-stop in New Haven, to grab the scope and camera, I Tokyo-drifted into the Meigs Point parking lot at 1:32pm!

I ran down and joined some familiar faces that were overseeing an expansive flock of gulls. The problem was that most were all jibber-jabbering away and not really focused on the prizes at hand. Damn them..I expected to look in one scope and see a brachyrhyncus, and then move on to the next scope and see a canus.

Panicked and fuelled by adrenaline and in full twitch mode, I was ready to commit some GBH at any second, when John Oshlik mercifully said “I’ve got the Short-billed in my scope”.  BOOM…Mew Gull #1!

Note slightly darker mantle, long wings with broad white tertial crescent at rest.Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough).
Note slightly darker mantle, long wings with broad white tertial crescent at rest

The bird showed briefly on the water then quickly took flight, showing a whopping broad trailing edge to the wing and obvious white subterminal “spots” which gave the bird a much different wing pattern than nominate Canus. The bird circled around and alighted on the stone jetty.

Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough).

12891063_10notebook

Within minutes, the bird belonging to the nominate Eurasian race, canus , was found bathing in the water in the lee of the rocks, showing a much cleaner head and a staring, black eye. BOOM…Mew Gull #2!

Holy crap!

With both birds safely under the belt I settled in to take a good look at the canus, noticing the much whiter-headed, dark-eyed look and, in flight, the narrower trailing edge (especially on the inner primaries) and darker areas on P8 lacking extensive grey tongues and with black extending 3/4 up the feather shafts.

_MG_9515 copyCommon Gull, nominate canus, Little Lever, UK, February 2008 (Julian Hough). Note dark subterminal mark to bill, P8 largely dark with no extensive grey “tongue”. Relatively narrow trailing edge, especially on the inner primaries. This individual has a dark, blackish eye in the field.

Growing up in the UK, canus was a North American tick, but a species I was familiar with, but the brachyrhyncus was the main prize. It had been lost for a while in the swirling melee, but thankfully I locked into it as it flew back in to join the plankton-feeding flock in front of us, giving great, prolonged looks. It subsequently took flight, passing reasonably close in front of us giving a decent photo-opp. Excellent stuff.

For a personal account of a great find by Nick, check out his blog here;http://www.shorebirder.com/2016/03/two-gulls-one-flock.html

Franklin’s Fall-out November 2015

November 21, 2015

Having just returned from Texas where Franklin’s Gulls were moving in big numbers, the strong storm bringing strong winds into the north-east seemed conducive to bringing some Franklin’s Gulls. Nick Bonomo and I had mused over this, and with some birds in the mid-west, hopes were high. An east-coast Franklin’s Gull had been a nemesis bird for me ever since I had lived in the US. I had seen two close to my house in the UK, but missed the last two records in CT in 1998 and 1999. It was a bird that I had sought for more than a decade. Then Nick actually went out and did the unthinkable – actually finding a one-day wonder with Frank Gallo http://www.shorebirder.com/2015/11/franklins-gull-in-ct.html

Although gripped into oblivion, this hopeful herald carried with it optimism of more birds.

Keeping close contact with Tom Reed in Cape May, it was obvious on Nov 13 a huge influx of Franklin’s Gulls was happening in the mid-Atlantic region. See here for a more thorough analysis of the event: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/frgu2015/

With only five previous CT records, at least 30+ occurred in two days!

I expected these birds to reorient themselves quickly and with Nick confirming a deliberate westerly movement of the CT birds, tardy birders would likely struggle to find them. Due to work, I couldn’t be out that morning, but checking local gull spots came up blank. Combined with the only lingering flock of ten departing before I could get there, beads of sweat began to form on my brow. As I pulled into Oyster River, a well-known resting flock for gulls (host of CT’s only Ross’s and Kamchatka Gulls), a cursory scan with bins revealed two first-cycle Franklin’s Gull. !!@@###### BOOM!

I drove over and managed a few shots in nice light. I called Nick who was nearby and he came over and we were able to watch these crippling birds for a couple of hours. We babysat them for Dave Tripp who finally arrived after dipping them nearby. He kindly bought the celebratory brews at the local bar – we were able to sit drinking a beer at sunset with the birds visible in the background. Amazing stuff!

1st-winter_oysterriver_3

First-winter Franklin’s Gull

Gulls Gone Wild!

April 20, 2015

17th-19th April – West Haven, CT (click images for larger view)

_P9A4869

First-cycle Thayer’s Gull, West Haven, CT 19th April

After Nick Bonomo refound the adult Kamchatka Gull at Oyster River on the West Haven, Milford border, (first found in Southport, CT by Mayn Hipp and Mike Warner a week previously), Oyster River had been given a good going over by a few locals, mainly because it was a great loafing spot for gulls and hosted CT’s only Ross’s Gull in the 80s.

The birds are frequently disturbed here by Joe Public and when flushed, frustratingly often fly off into the sound and despite checking the area, the Kamchatka Gull had not been seen since. Nick and I did find a surprisingly late Snowy Owl along the same stretch of coast. Later that night, amazingly enough, Keith Mueller, birding the same spot an hour before Nick refound the Kamchatka, had unwittingly photographed another Mew Gull while taking shots of Bonaparte’s Gulls. The images appear to show the Eurasian race of Mew Gull, known as Common Gull.

On Friday 17th, I had left work early for a Dentist appt. Deciding to head down to Oyster River on spec, I was just leaving New Haven, when Nick called to tell me Keith had relocated the Kamchatka Gull back at Oyster River. Panicking, I set off only to hit rush hour traffic. Halfway there I got a call that the bird was flushed by a clammer and was not on view. AAARRRGGGHHHH!!! Relief came when Keith called back and said he had it out on the flats. A mad sprint later and the bird showed excellent roosting on the flats.

Adult Kamchatka Gull, Oyster River, CT

Adult Kamchatka Gull, Oyster River, CT

I spent Sunday afternoon 19th April birding, but  there was no sign of the Kamchatka Gull or any other gulls for that matter. Taking my usual route back to the house, I stopped at the West Haven boat ramp, as I often do to check out any gulls. There were few birds in evidence but I did spot a first-cycle Iceland Gull on the water.

_P9A4605

_P9A4672After shooting it for some time, I left. As I was reversing back, I caught a glimpse of a bird landing below the dock, but the metal barricade obscured everything but the underside of the wingtip. It looked surprisingly silvery, but didn’t strike me as Iceland. My spidey sense was tingling, so I stopped the car, got my bins and peered over the barrier to find a first-cycle Thayer’s Gull staring back at me. Holy !!!@@$$$$.

_P9A4763

Doing a double-take, I checked off the short primaries with nice silvery fringes, brown, pale-tipped tail and overall bleached, cafe-au-lait plumage. Structurally it was all thayeri with short legs, a slight pot-belly and a disproportionately small, but pear-shaped head. The bill was mostly dark, just beginning to get some flesh-color at the base. Thayer’s retain their juvenile mantle feathers until later in the winter and upperparts seemed to be all worn first generation feathers, again supportive of Thayer’s Gull.

_P9A4882In flight, coffee-coloured (not blackish, or dark brown) tail, secondary bar and outer webs to the outer primaries all screamed..RESULT!!

_P9A4778Nice pale underside to primaries, here the light showing through illuminating the “venetian blind” effect on the primaries.

_P9A4845Note color of primaries and tertial centres being rather uniform and not contrastingly darker as some of the similar, bleached Herring Gulls nearby. What a cracking bird! I’ve always dreamed of finding something like a Mew Gull or a Franklin’s Gull here, but Thayer’s was not really on my radar.

A fantastic few days of birding on my local beaches!

_P9A4254Snowy Owl, Bradley Point, West Haven..a nice consolation for missing the Kamchatka Gull on the first evening.

Yellow-bellied kingbird tail patterns

November 22, 2014
_MG_4853

A self-found Western Kingbird, New Haven, CT October 2010. Nice dark tail and pale grey head identify it quickly as a Western, but note the white tail edges are not visible in this view. (Julian Hough)

Vagrant kingbirds such as Tropical, Couch’s and Cassin’s have all been recorded in the north-east and it is only a matter of time before one of these “Western” kingbirds in Connecticut turns into something a bit more exciting.

While Western Kingbird is the expected species, Cassin’s has been recorded in Massachusetts in 2010 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bonxie88/6686022777/in/photostream/)
and recently as last week in Brooklyn, although this was a one-observer sighting and couldn’t be refound.
Pictures clearly solidify the identity (https://www.flickr.com/photos/123166253@N05/sets/72157646979944483/); the second record for NYS after one at Montauk in October 2007 ( http://citybirder.blogspot.com/2014/11/new-brooklyn-rarity.html)

The Mass bird was mis-identified as a Western by virtue of its tail pattern, which was blackish and showed prominently white outer webs to the tail feathers, a key id feature of Western. That Cassin’s can show this too means that any yellow-bellied kingbird with a blackish tail and white outer edges may not necessarily be a Western.

A reported Western Kingbird in Bridgeport, without any details of other potential species being systematically ruled out, set off the spidey senses.  Questioning several observers, it seems the bird was distant but the ”white tail edges were apparent” The only pictures we saw seemed somewhat ambiguous – indeed the darkness of the head and tail pattern in one image suggested better photos need to be obtained to rule out Cassin’s. Further images revealed the bird to be a Western, as reported, but it spotlighted some tail features that needed to be expounded upon should observers be faced with a fall, yellow-bellied kingbird.

P1010617

Tropical (left two birds) and Western (right two birds). Yale Museum (Julian Hough). Note tail and wing color.

P1010616

Note the greenish band across the breast in the two Tropicals (left) compared with the more extensive grey breast of the Westerns. The Tropicals also show a cleaner white throat. Also, note the pale edge to the tail feather of the rightmost tropical, but compare with the more broader, whiter outer web of the Westerns. From below, the dark charcoal-gray underside to the tail is darker than the pale gray of the Tropicals.

So, just because it has pale outer tail feathers it doesn’t automatically make it a Western (see the Mass individual). So what should you key into when you chance upon a distant yellow-bellied kingbird?

Tropical Kingbird, Panama, February (Julian Hough). Note the long, notched tail, not darker than the wings and long, hooked bill.

Tropical Kingbird, Panama, February (Julian Hough). Note the long, notched tail, not darker than the wings and long, stout bill. Note the obvious pale edges to the tail – easily could be mistaken for those shown by Western?

Western Kingbird, New Haven (same as title photo). Note broad white edge to the tail which is blackish and clearly darker than the wingtips (Julian Hough)

Western Kingbird, New Haven, CT (same as title photo). Note broad white edge to the tail which is blackish and clearly darker than the wingtips (Julian Hough)

  • Bill size and shape and tail seem to be the two main features to concentrate on.  Calls are also invaluable in separating kingbirds, so recording and/or a clear description of the call is important in identifying and documenting the record from a historical point of view.
  • Any yellow-bellied kingbird with a blackish tail that is darker than the wings, is either a Western or a Cassin’s.
  • Both Western and Cassin’s show whitish tail sides, but Cassin’s often lacks this and has pale tips to the tail forming a pale terminal band. They are typically more obvious and include the entire outer vane of the outer tail feather in Western. Sometimes in the field this may not be obvious, so continued observation of an individual may be required to determine the presence and amount of white in the tail.
  • Any kingbird that has a paler brownish tail, that is concolorous with the wings is likely a Tropical or Couch’s. Note that some Tropicals can show paler edges to the outer tail feathers, but this is narrower and less well-defined that Western. Tropicals in particular seem to show a disproportionately long and notched tail.
  • Tropical and Couch’s both show a long, broad and hooked bill tip, larger than either Western or Cassin’s but sometimes, bill size and shape can be hard to determine on lone individuals.
  • Cassin’s and Western have a smaller bill, but compared to Western, Cassin’s have a short, but deep-based bill, often with a curved culmen that gives the bill a stouter, more conical-appearance.

So, a distant kingbird that has an obvious blackish-tail, darker than the wingtips, should get you into the Cassin’s/Western camp and a bird that has a tail concolorous with the wingtips should get you thinking about Tropical/Couch’s.

Separating them from here requires more observation about plumage and how dark the grey areas are on the head, underpart color and tail pattern. This post isn’t meant for covering that in detail, but I found a similar and more in-depth look at this problem by Kevin McGowan here at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/crows/kingbirdsX.htm