Posts Tagged ‘Rhode Island’

19th March – All at Sea from Galilee!

March 22, 2011

A hardy group of CT and Rhode Island birders set sail on a Frances Fleet Charter out of Galilee, Rhode Island on a dedicated pelagic trip. A nice mix of people, superb weather and a decent show of alcids made for a pleasant day on the Ocean, even if we didn’t connect with a Great Skua or anything of that ilk.

I was hoping to photograph some winter alcids and to brush up on my rusty  id. skills, especially since I haven’t seen many alcids in the last decade!  Many of the trains of alcids were distant and it was hard in these real-life field conditions to see any really well. General shape and color rendered most of them Razorbills, but separating out Common Murre from these birds whizzing by was tough.

Capturing a flock of Razorbills like this digitally allows a better assessment of size and structure and plumage marks- all of which are basically tough to assess and compare under pelagic conditions with distant birds. Also note here that the first-winter birds (eg. third from right) have much slimmer bills than the adults. (CLICK IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW)

Did you notice the Common Murre mixed in with the flock  in the first photo?? I didn’t notice it at the time either, only after looking at the photos did it pop-out..just goes to show. Here’s the same flock..can you pick it out? Note the rather flat-back and horizontal profile to the Razorbills. The thick bills and blocky heads lend a front-heavy appearance, while the Common Murre has a longer body with a “hunch-back” and longer feet (difficult to determine on most views in the field).  Unlike Razorbill, they look slightly more pear-shaped with the weight of the body at the rear. The Common Murre is the 4th from the left. Also in the top photo, note the dark “thumbprint” on the axillaries compared with the relatively white-looking armpits of the Razorbills. (CLICK IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW)

Head patterns of winter alcids (from l to r): Thick-billed, Razorbill and Common Murre (Julian Hough). Note bill shape and shape and extent of white behind the eye.

Thankfully, a few close Dovekies played ball and everyone was able to get good looks at these flying tennis balls. A US lifer for yours-truly and a species I had only seen a handful of before in the UK (is two a handful, and if the first was in a box, does it count?)

Munching away on some chocolate-covered pretzels at the stern, I noticed an alcid approaching. Upon lifting my bins, I noticed a complete breast band before it turned and gave away a compact plump-bellied look..not a Razorbill, not a murre…big bill….it’s a….”PUFFIN!!” came the shout from Glenn Williams on the deck above. The bird whirred by at distance, crossed the bow and was gone, gone, gone. A good showing of  Gannets, peppered by small, northward-bound groups of Red-throated Loons were noteworthy but not too exciting.  No Brunnich’s Guillemots could be picked out – a species I had hoped to see on this trip, but being scarce my hopes were not that hight to begin with.

Everyone was a pleasant and it was good to put some faces to names. Keith “trigger-finger” Mueller and his wife Jen were good fun and Keith gave everyone a set of fabulous duck stamp prints he had done for Rhode Island. Finally,  a brutish-looking Iceland Gull greeted us at the dock as we arrived back at Galilee. A nice finale to a great day.

CT Birder Frank Mantlik in action

Top-deck lookouts!



Main highlights:

115 Razorbills,
65 large Alcid Sp.
160 Northern Gannets
1 Black-legged Kittiwake
9 Bonaparte’s Gulls

2 Iceland Gull
27 Common Loon
45 Red-throated Loons
23 White-winged
8 Black
5 Surf Sc oters
1 Long-tailed Duck

Rhode Island Rigmarole

January 30, 2011

Rhode Island bunting, December 2010 (P. L'Etoile)

An “Indigo-type” Bunting was discovered  in early December at Sunset Farms in Narragansett, RI and Paul L’Etoile kindly allowed me to use some images from his collection here:

The initial images seemed to show a bird more in line with Lazuli (whitish upper wingbar, warm buff tones to the throat, lack of obvious streaking and overall pallid color) than Indigo.

However, subsequent photos, and comments from observers in the field stated that the bird was streaked on the breast which favored Indigo.  Clearly the exposure of the photos affected the bird’s appearance to suggest either species, but on first looks, some observers commented the bird looked good for a first-winter Lazuli (winter Indigo’s are rare).
Also, PL commented that, in the field, the flanks looked bluish, which in itself is diagnostic and identifies it not only as an Indigo but thus a male! One problem with this, is that at this time of year, male Indigo’s are much further along in their preformative moult (Peter Pyle, pers. comm). So, it should be exhibiting a much “bluer” plumage than the RI bird, which if you discount the suggestion of blue flanks, is admittedly rather more female-like.

Rhode Island bunting (P. L'Etoile). Probably the most troubling image for the id. as a Lazuli since it seems to show an Indigo-like paler throat and blurry breast streaks.

Rhode Island bunting (P. L’Etoile). Note fluffed-up feathers revealing darker (blue?) feather bases. Breast pattern sows indistinct muted streaks, but are these indicative of either species and do they rule out Lazuli?

Speaking with other observers, I found myself going back and forth on the identity of this bird, especially since some images seem to show a bird with a slighty whiter throat and fine breast-streaking – both features not exactly kosher for a Lazuli.

A perplexing scenario. Unfortunately, the interest seemed to die-off and the debate disappeared into oblivion with no clear resolve. For reference, here are a couple of reference shots of the Connecticut bird that was present at Hammonassett in the winter of 2008. An educational bird in itself.

1st-year male Lazuli Bunting, Hammonasset S.P, 1/20/07 (JulianHough) The throat is buffish,not white as in Indigo Bunting and is concolorous with the head and breast. The bill is also not as obviously two-toned as in many Indigo Buntings, but it’s unknown if this is a consistent difference. The underparts are uniform and lack the blurry streaks shown by f-w Indigo Buntings. The subtle plumage tones of this individual could easily be altered by the light conditions, but when seen well, the upperbreast was strikingly honey colored and characteristic of this species.

Can the RI bird be confidently identified? Not to discount any field observations, but let’s consider (hypothetically) if these “blue” flanks are not exactly blue, but grey bases to the flank feathers then everything else would line up with the bird being a female. So the question if this is a female, what features are useful in separating Indigo and Lazuli??

Pro-Lazuli features:

  • overall pallid-color, lacking warm upperpart tones
  • white median covert wingbar
  • warm tones to the throat in some images
  • no obvious greyish malar and pale throat

Pro-Indigo features:

  • some photos show a paler, more whitish throat
  • muted streaks are visible on the breast

Bunting specimens, courtesy of the Peabody Museum, New Haven (JulianHough) Note the pale throats and diffuse breast streaking on the Indigo Buntings (right) compared with the Lazuli Bunting (left).The Lazuli Bunting shows the characteristic uniform buffy throat and upperbreast identical to the Hammonassett bird.

Is it OK for first-year Lazuli’s to show fine pencil-streaking on the breast? I think a determination if the presence of streaks is an issue, or whether the shape and density is the main issue. A real puzzler, but I’m not convinced that Lazuli can be confidently ruled out based on the photos.

Rhode Island bunting (P. L'Etoile)

The hammo bird- compare to the picture above of the RI bird.

The hammo bird- compare to the picture above of the RI bird.

Thanks to Paul for capturing shots of this bird and for allowing me to post some of them here. Comments welcome!