Archive for the ‘Welcome’ Category

Those late summer “Dodgy Dows”

August 6, 2017

Dowitcher, Boulmer, Northumberland, July 2017 (Alan Curry) Present for several days this worn adult (or 2nd cal yr?) showed well on a tidal beach in the UK. Certain aspects of the bird caused locals to consider Short-billed.

My old buddy Alan Curry, from the UK, sent me a pic of this dowitcher that was present in north-east England in mid-July. Long-billeds are vagrants and the more likely suspect, but with a couple of records of Short-billed, any dowitcher must be examined carefully. Assumed to be Long-billed, he had some concerns about the habitat choice (rocky, tidal seashore, rather than inland freshwater), plumage and the obvious fact that this bird has a short bill.

Worn breeding plumage dowitchers are difficult and tricky here in the eastern US. I told him it is not a problem exclusive to the UK. He asked for my opinion on the UK bird to make him sleep a little easier!

Indeed this month a few birds have shown up that people have had trouble with so I figured I’d throw a few comments together to illustrate what I personally look for. The issue is compounded here in the US by the presence of the inland, ‘prairie’ race hendersonii, which migrates along the eastern seaboard in good numbers and is brighter than the Atlantic form griseus, and is slightly larger and more colorful and often hard to separate from Long-billed.

Back to the UK bird? I won’t go into a long treatise of these birds, there are plenty of papers and resources on the web, so this will just be a few things I hone in on. Despite the short bill, I think this is a male Long-billed for the following reasons:

  • First, the underpart color is extensive, reaching underneath the legs. It isn’t as “brick-red” in saturation as many Long-billed’s, but color is variable (especially when represented in photos).
  • The upperparts are quite dark, especially the mantle.
  • A slight neck collar formed by a coalescing of barring/streaks.
  • The internal bars to the scapulars are bright, rufousy colored.
  • The barring at the carpal area is distinctly chevron-shaped, not lozenge/spot-like.
  • The tips to some of the upperparts are white-tipped (similar to tertial  tips of a White-winged Crossbill).

Jizz is hard from this one shot, but it looks like it could well look very rotund/dumpy, but it is hard to judge. Judging bill length, shape and loral angles to me are less important than the features i can see noted above, so find them often misleading or a red-herring. Habitat choice is also misleading since Long-billed can be found in habitat similar to Short-billed (as in this case).

Long-billeds also moult inner primaries earlier than griseus Short-billeds since they are shorter distance migrants, but this bird was fully-winged and any molt clues are likely better off used later in the summer (late August?).

I remember looking hard at dowitchers in Cape May during my years there, trying to separate some hendersonii Short-billed from Long-billed was sometimes a bit of a headache for A UK birder that didn’t grow up seeing them regularly.

Comparison sketch of Long-billed vs Short-billed noting some subtle differences, Cape May, August 1991, Chevron-shaped markings with a paler terminal fringe (if unworn) at the carpal area is the first thing I gauge on difficult birds.

The chance to see Long-billed with both races of Short-billed was key, and even then, some birds can still be tough if not seen well, or heard to call. I still struggle with some individuals.

Ad Long-billed (left) and hendersonii Short-billed (right), Cape May Meadows, August 1991. Note the rotund shape and “greyer-faced” look of the Long-billed. The breast side barring is almost worn off on the Long-billed. The brighter, golden fringes to the upperparts, mantle and tertials are typical of hendersonii.

Flock of Short-billed Dowitchers, Connecticut (Nick Bonomo). This nice shot comprises what appears to be mostly hendersonii (H) and a griseus (G) and one bird that both of us are unsure about (?).

So, just a couple of comments to concentrate and dwell on if you happen to come across a silent, bright dowitcher in July/August.


A Tale of Two Grippers!

May 29, 2017

27th May – Act 1 –  Slam Dunk in Shawangunk!

A singing Henslow’s Sparrow, discovered by longtime birding acquaintances Tom Burke and Gail Benson, at Shawangunk grasslands, near Walkill in upstate NY was tantalizingly close to CT’s western border. Henslow’s Sparrow is a scarce breeder in the north east and basically absent in New England. It was also a nemesis, a ‘bogey’ bird for me. Eons ago, I had missed a November bird in CT that Andy Brand had found in nearby Hamden.  A one afternoon wonder, it was nowhere to be found the following morning when we scoured the area. I had always assumed I would find one “kicking the bushes” in late October, but after 20 years of kicking bushes, I was still empty handed. I would simply  have to twitch one!

Saturday dawned at zerodark4thirty .  An hour and half later, in Walkill, I was having SEVERE PTGSD. That stands for Post-traumatic Gyrfalcon Stress Disorder. I had spent two days dipping a Gyrfalcon that spent the winter here in 2015, so driving the same roads did not evoke warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia. “!!@@ you Gyrfalcon”, I muttered under my breath as I passed Blue Chip Farm.

I arrived at the preserve and decided to head out to the less dilapidated blind where the bird had been reported singing. I was surprised that I appeared to be the only person here!

The sound and sight of Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks  and Grasshopper Sparrows pervaded the beautiful dawn morning. I made a right, approaching the blind when I met another birder who was equally clueless about where it was.

“ It’s not down there!”, he said, gesticulating in the opposite direction. Almost immediately, after about 20 ft, a bird sang to our left “tsi-lik”, and then again.

“That’s it! It’s really close!”, I uttered. Could we see the little bugger? Could we hell. Then, finally, up it popped, basically 14 ft off the path, in full view. It found the tallest thistle and sang its tiny heart out. After 20 years, it had been that easy!! Several pixels were burnt.

A singing male Dickcissel a few further yards down the path showed well, but light was not great for pix.

I headed back to the car, intent on birding the Doodletown forest area on the way back to CT, for Cerulean Warbler and other woodland goodies, but news of yesterday’s Lesser Nighthawk in northern New Jersey, had been refound sitting on the same path, prompted me to reconsider my options.

27th May – Act 2 –  Turd in the Grass!

Last night, there had been no info on what was only NJ’s second Lesser Nighthawk. Again, frustrating information given that pictures were posted, but no info on exactly where it was, or what the circumstances had been around the sighting. This time I had directions. It was still early and I could be onsite by 10:30am.

And so I was. Walking past the environmental center building, one birder acknowledged the bird was still there and a few minutes later I arrived at the spot. Again, I was one of only two people there, surprising since this was so close to NYC and other large NJ cities – and this is a mega!

The guy present pointed out to me what amounted to a turd – a turd  mostly obscured by grass!

Rather “shitty” views of what amounts to a turd in the grass!!

The path was blocked by cones to prevent disturbance to the bird, but it was also preventing me from actually being able to see it! It was not the views I was hoping for. I could barely see it, let alone photograph it!!

Better views of the front after the bird shimmied over to the other side of the path.


Lesser Nighthawk. Note rather compact shape, with large head, short, rounded primaries and buff barring on primary bases.

Then suddenly, without warning, the little turd started shuffled on its tiny, swift-like feet and shimmied across the path giving awesome views and allowed a couple of decent photos. It buried itself in the grass on the other side of the path and was then basically out of view! Talk about jammy. What a great little bird!

Lesser Nighthawk. Appeared small and compact in the filed, with rather rounded primaries that fell equal with the tail tip (longer in Common). The cinnamon-buff tones to the face and breast also favored Lesser, as did the obvious buff barring on the bases of the primaries. The lack of a discernible paler, whitish wing patch hints at this being a female, and thus a Lesser.

So, based on these views –  a compact, rich buff-toned caprimulgid- it did appear to be a Lesser Nighthawk as advertised, but I went through the features, just to make sure for myself. Antillean and some Common’s can be warm-toned and I needed to rule them out. Antillean in particular is small, like Lesser, and warmer-toned, but they are unrecorded in the east. Thankfully, ‘cos I don’t really have any experience of Antillean in the day outside of Marathon, Florida!! So…quickly moving on from that one…

The issue is that the south-western form of Common Nighthawk, Chordeiles minor henryi,  unlike most of the subspecies of Common, shows buff-spotting on the base of the primaries – like Lesser!

The other main difference is that Lessers show a short first primary (P10), with P9 being the longest primary, but that does vary in both Common and Lesser with some Commons showing equally long P10 and P9.. and some juvenile Commons showing a shorter P10. Clearly on these images, it is impossible to judge primary placement since it would be folded underneath what is the visible longest primary (which is actually P9 in Lesser).

So, is it possible to conclude this is a Lesser and not a henryi Common – equally as likely perhaps?? I am not sure to be honest, but if I go by what I see on the images, they favor Lesser, but something that should be considered here and ruled out on any putative Lesser Nighthawk.

Anytime you get to see a nighthawk in the day is a good day, especially if it is a Lesser (even if it is in NJ!).

BBC August Overnight Pelagic

August 28, 2015
 Title page
This summary is taken from a post written by Jeremiah Trimble and posted to MASSbird:
This weekend 58 lucky birders explored the offshore waters of Massachusetts, south of Nantucket.
main areas
It was an absolutely incredible trip,and that is an understatement. To the say the trip was a success would be an understatement! We found our first ever White-tailed Tropicbirds (andhad two species of tropicbird in one day!), set trip high counts for White-faced Storm-Petrel, Audubon’s Shearwater, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
and Pomarine Jaeger and had such an amazing variety of rarities on top of these including Black-capped Petrel, Bridled Tern and South Polar Skua. In a later email, I will provide a narrative of the two day trip but to summarize, here are the major avian highlights in brief:
2 Black-capped Petrel
202 Audubon’s Shearwater
28 White-faced Storm-Petrel
161 Leach’s Storm-Petrel
23 Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
4 White-tailed Tropicbird (two adults and 2 immatures)
1 Red-billed Tropicbird (an immature bird)
17 Pomarine Jaeger
1 Long-tailed Jaeger
1 South Polar Skua
1 Bridled Tern
2nd Cal-yr Bridled Tern

2nd Cal-yr Bridled Tern


Leach's Petrel

Leach’s Petrel



Imm Red-billed Tropicbird



Imm Red-billed Tropicbird (left) and Imm White-tailed Tropicbird. This composite of two birds seen on this trip shows the important pattern of the greater coverts – blackish on Red-billed Tropicbird and white on White-tailed. Talking with Nick about assessing this in the field is essentially the dark primaries extend only 1/2 way up the leading edge in White-tailed.



White-faced Storm-Petrel


White-faced Storm Petrel

White-faced Storm-Petrel


Adult White-tailed Tropicbird - a world tick and a bogey bird for me finally laid to rest!

Adult White-tailed Tropicbird – a world tick and a bogey bird for me finally laid to rest!


Adult White-tailed Tropicbird - a world tick and a bogey bird for me finally laid to rest!

Adult White-tailed Tropicbird


2nd Cal-yr Pomarine Jaeger (all juv primaries replaced with p10 almost fully grown)

2nd Cal-yr Pomarine Jaeger (all juv primaries replaced with p10 almost fully grown)


3rd Cal-yr Long-tailed Jaeger. A cool bird and my first non-juv/adult plumage. Aged by the largely brown underwing and dark cap. Although the markings on the breast seemed suggestive of a breast band and the tail projections looked spikey, any initial thoughts of Parasitic were dispelled by a combination of features and behavior, notably the short bill, grey-toned upperparts with a darker trailing edge and 2-3 white primary shafts all being pro-Long-tailed. In discussion with Nick, he mentioned the lack of any white primary bases on the underwing which is probably diagnostic (?) in itself at this age for LTJA

3rd Cal-yr Long-tailed Jaeger. A cool bird and my first non-juv/adult plumage. Aged by the largely brown underwing and dark cap. Although the markings on the breast seemed suggestive of a breast band and the tail projections looked spikey, any initial thoughts of Parasitic were dispelled by a combination of features and behavior, notably the short bill, grey-toned upperparts with a darker trailing edge and 2-3 white primary shafts all being pro-Long-tailed. While discussing it with Nick Bonomo, he brought attention to the lack of any white primary bases on the underwing as a pro-LTJA feature – in itself possibly diagnostic (?) for this age for LTJA.


Adult Pomarine Jaeger. Broken breast band and clean flanks suggest male. Note inner primary moult taking place; an adult jaeger in late August in primary moult is almost certainly a Pomarine; both Parasitic and Long-tailed are not moulting.



Band-rumped Storm-Petrel


2nd Cal-yr Pomarine Jaeger at sunset


The CT contingent of the trip

The CT contingent of the trip (photo courtesy of Tina Green)

Here are links to two general checklists for each of the two days of the trip which include great images by Jeremiah Trimble.

We would like to first of all thank Ida Giriunas, as always, for her efforts
in organizing and pushing for these trips to happen. She has helped so many birders enjoy the offshore birds of Massachusetts! Thanks!
Also,thanks to Captain Joe Huckemeyer and the crew of the Helen H.
Thanks as well to my fellow tripleaders; Nick Bonomo, Doug Gochfeld, Julian Hough, and Luke Seitz.
Their skills at identifying and spotting birds, communicating to participants and getting everyone on each bird was critical.

Smith’s Longspur, Wilton, CT – Twitch on!

May 2, 2015
Male Smith's Longspur, Wilton, CT

Male Smith’s Longspur, Wilton, CT

TGIF! Friday ended with no real plans for the evening, so I was doing errands at the store, when my phone rang. It was Jake Musser. “Smith’s Longspur reported at Allen’s Meadow! I’m leaving now!”.

Smith’s Longspur was a much-wanted bird in the state – it was essentially a lifer, since the only previous bird I had seen was a skulking b!!@@## of a bird at Jones Beach, NY several years ago. A one observer-photographed-bird, seen by Larry Flynn, in late March several years ago, was not available to the masses and could not be found subsequently by yours truly and others searching in vain the day after.

So, this was the first chaseable bird since the early 70s or so and a state tick for just about everyone alive!

Homeward-bound, via rush hour New Haven traffic, I made a quick pit-stop to pick up the optics and I was on my way.  Although it was overcast, there was plenty of light left. When I arrived it was in view, showing brilliantly, shuffling around a short area of cropped grass and gravel. Occasionally it would flush, giving it’s rippling, liquid-like rattle call.

With a careful, not-too-close approach, I managed to get a few record shots at high ISO. Kudos to Bruce Stevenson for a mega-find and also proactively putting the news out – even when he wasn’t 100% sure of the id. – to allow people to get there tonight!


11th August, Sandy Point, West Haven

August 14, 2012

Alex enjoying being out in the field

A nice evening, wonderful night hanging out with my son and a lot of roosting shorebirds and terns. Nothing unusual, just a lot of cool stuff to keep the retinas working overtime. A pristine juvenile Forster’s Tern and 2 adult Roseate Terns were cool.
Notable were a good number of juvenile shorebirds: Lesser and Greater ‘legs, Least and Semi-palmateds and Short-billed Dow. Not sure, but it seems that juveniles are on the early side this year..perhaps an indicator of a successful breeding season??

Summer Surprise

August 14, 2012

5th August, Sandy Point, West Haven

After last weeks surprise adult BAIRD’S SANDPIPER – only my 2nd adult ever in late summer/fall, numbers of shorebirds continue to rise. A private guided walk yielded the usual suspects but also a nice adult ROSEATE TERN. Difficult to pick out of the hordes head on, but the tell-tale primary pattern was useful – more on that in a later post.

Surprise was an adult and juvenile Least Sand – my earliest juvenile ever! The tern colony is looking really healthy and good numbers of Common Terns abounded.

Southbound Semis…despite a thorough grilling no Red-necked or Little Stint could be found. Mid-July-early August is the best time for these Eurasian vagrants to show up in the north-east.

Interview on BirdCalls radio

April 17, 2012

Here is the archive of the Sunday, April 8, 2012, BirdCallsRadio show with yours truly as the special guest.

There’s discussion on wildlife photography and art, as well as birdwatching tips, the CT Avian Records Committee, and coming to America from England and birding in Cape May, N.J.

Click here for the archive BCR 4-8 julian hough

April 8 Bird Calls Radio

April 7, 2012

I will be the next guest on BirdCallsRadio on April 8, 2012. It will air on Sunday from 1 to 2 p.m EST on 1490am WGCH & WORLDWIDE internet Streaming
Check out:

Hope you will listen in!

From the Archives..on this day in 1984!

March 23, 2012

While birding is at a slow-ebb, I thought I’d post a page out of my journal from this day back in 1984 when i was a rabid twitcher at the naive age of 16.

Sociable Plover, London, March 1984 (Julian Hough, age 16)
(click for larger image)

This crippling Sociable Plover (or Sociable lapwing as it is often called) was present on the London/Kent, UK  border. In those pre-mobile, pre-internet days, word of such megas was spread by the telephone grapevine. This bird had been present the week before, unbeknownst to us, as we drove past it on the way back from seeing another top-class vagrant at the time, a confiding female Little Crake in Sussex. So, the following week we had to drive the 4 1/2 hours back down but had superb views of this bird as it foraged in a small grassy area. Still a rare bird, I have seen a few more in the UK, but always a classy vagrant.

NY Oriole-a solution

December 16, 2011

I’m not that familiar with fall Bullock’s as vagrants in the east (the only one I have seen is an adult male in Goshen, CT in the 90s) but I think this is a first-winter female Baltimore. Worn brownish flight feathers and pointed, worn tail feathers age it as a first-year and the predominantly yellowish-orange tones and clean, unmarked mantle imply it’s a female. Female Baltimore’s can be really variable, but the coloration is strong on the breast and has an orange tinge – good for Baltimore and bad for Bullock’s. The mantle is brown-toned, the ground color of Bullock’s being more grey (often washed with olive), so again good for Baltimore. Also, the undertail coverts, while variable, are bright orange-yellow, another feature, while not diagnostic, is supportive for Baltimore.

HY (First-winter) female Baltimore Oriole, Central Park, NY, Dec. 2011 (David Speiser)

The upper, median wingbar is clean white and seems to lack the pointed dark centres typical of HY Bullock’s (even allowing for the scaps covering the upper wingbar, I think you’d see the pointed centres poking out from underneath). The feathering in front of the eye is slightly ruffled, but I don’t think there is a dark loral line, the kind I’d want to see on a putative Bullock’s. Also, the crown is fairly uniform without a subtler, paler supercilium. In Bullock’s the malar and sides of the earcoverts are often the brightest yellow (rather than the breast) superficially reminiscent of a fall Cape May Warbler.

HY (First-winter) female Baltimore Oriole, Central Park, NY, Dec. 2011 (David Speiser).The areas of the head, upper breast and vent are predominantly orange-toned, which is good for Baltimore,not clearer yellow as in Bullock's. The head pattern, lacking dark lores and a paler, contrasting supercilium are also pro-Baltimore features.

To compare, here’s a link to a similar-plumaged Bullock’s in New Brunswick, that has the appropriate credentials. Thanks to Louis Bevier for comments and bringing this link to my attention and to David for allowing me to use his great shots!