Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Semipalmated Sandpiper

I've been staring at these pictures for some time since I took them last Friday at Coburg Peninsula during our trip to Victoria. I've been trying to convince myself that the bird is a Semipalmated Sandpiper and not a Western Sandpiper, but I am not very experienced with Western Sandpipers and have never identified a Semipalimated Sandpiper.
They have been commonly reported on OBOL recently so I have been hoping to see one. Trouble is, they look almost identical to Western Sandpipers. The biggest difference is the bill. Westerns have a longer bill that droops down a little at the tip. Semipalmated's bill is shorter and not as drooped. Semis also have a grayer, less rufous back than Westerns, but with the variations of coloring within each species, they kind of blend together.
It took quite some time before I started getting more confident on the identification. Then I got the idea to try a Yellowlegs identification technique and compared the length of the bill to the length of the head. Sure enough, the bill on this bird is clearly proportionally shorter than its head compared to the bill/head proportion of Western Sandpipers. So, I'm now about 99% sure of the ID.
I found three of these Sandpipers together on the harbor side of Coburg Peninsula. They were on a small mudflat and had enough trust to let me get in close. As a matter fact, the top picture is of one walking right past me as I was kneeling on the beach. All three scooted right past me. I practically screwed myself into the sand as I followed them with my camera. :-)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

European Starling - Juvenile Molt

I'm getting a bit behind on posting. I've still got some images from weeks ago that I want to post. Reviewing all the pictures and post processing can take a lot of time, so sometimes I put up the "easier", "quicker" image to get a post up leaving some of the tougher (sometimes better images) images behind.
Such is the case with tonight's post. I only got a couple pictures of this juvenile European Starling, so it doesn't take long to decide which to post, work it up and upload. It's an interesting picture as the juvenile is beginning to molt into adult basic plumage, evidenced by the mostly brown coloring with the start of black, spotted, adult feathers emerging on its belly. But I have some great pictures of Semipalmated Plovers, Western Sandpipers, Sanderlings and Heermann's Gulls from a couple of weeks ago and some nice pictures of what I think are Semipalmated Sandpipers from this past week that I have been pondering. Sometimes quantity can be overwhelming. :-)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cooper's Hawk - Juvenile

My wife and I made two visits to Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, BC. It's really a beautiful park with a diversity of environments, from harbor coast to grasslands to dense forest to floral gardens to a petting zoo and a cricket field, all very well done.
While there were large numbers of birds, the diversity was low, I suspect due largely to the time of day and year. The most interesting bird was a juvenile Cooper's Hawk that I found near the top of low Willow tree we happened to be standing under. It stuck around just long enough to get a couple of shots.
Other than that, there were large numbers of Mallards, Canada Geese, Rock Pigeons and Crows.
To spice things up and challenge the colorful flowers, they added a couple of Peacocks.
I also saw this odd, dark Mallard. I suspect it is a Mallard x domestic duck hybrid, but I did not see any domestic ducks anywhere in the park or the city.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rock Pigeon

I saw many more Rock Pigeons in non-urban areas in the Victoria area. Even Coburg Peninsula was full of them.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Brown-headed Cowbird - Juvenile

Yesterday evening I got out and did my first serious birding in the Victoria area. Based on web recommendations I decided to drive to Esquimalt Lagoon and Coburg Peninsula. There wasn't a large variety of birds, but there were a lot of birds; predominantly California Bulls, Canada Geese, Brewer's Blackbirds and Mute Swans.
The most interesting bird I found had to be the juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird, or at least I'm pretty sure that is what it is. There was an interesting discussion just last week on this bird as it is one of the birds most often misidentified. One of the reasons is that Brown-headed Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and let them raise the young. Therefore it is unusual to see a juvenile with its parents, making it hard to identify by association. In fact, I did not see any adult Brown-headed Cowbirds, the nearest birds to the juvenile were some Brewer's Blackbirds. See more info on this behavior at Cornell's All About Birds.
Also, see an interesting ID article on BirdFellow.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Red-necked Grebe

Not the best picture I've taken, but it is my first Red-necked Grebe sighting. I saw it floating out in Tillamook Bay from Bayocean Spit on August 13, 2011.

Glaucous-winged Gull - Juvenile

I haven't taken any time to bird yet here in Victoria, BC, but I have taken a few pictures of birds. Based on plumage and beak color and the fact that Glaucous-winged Gulls are by far the predominant Gull here, I assume this is a juvenile Glaucous-winged Gull. It, along with another, were standing on the waters edge along a city walkway.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Willow Warbler

Another bird I saw at BirdLife near La Sauge, Switzerland back in April. I've puzzled over this bird, originally thinking it was a Willow Warbler, then changed my mind to a Wood Warbler since that species is listed on one of the signs I photographed on the grounds. Upon looking at the pictures again and doing more research, I've decided to stick to my original decision. I base this on the paler yellow on the head and throat, browner rather than greenish back coloring and longer tail.
I first saw the bird reasonably close in among some branches along a trail. It then flew off, but I re-found it in a young tree in a relatively clear area. I heard it sing, but I am terrible at remembering bird songs. I find that a bit odd as I am good at remembering music melodies. I plan to eventually purchase a portable digital recording device that I can take into the field. That should help on some of these difficult ID situations.

Rhinoceros Auklet

My wife and I are vacationing in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada this week. On our way across the Juan De Fuca Strait from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria, I took advantage of the opportunity and took pictures of whatever birds we happened to pass during the trip.
There many Gulls of course; mostly Glaucous-winged and Heermann's. Also, hundreds of Common Murres in both breeding, non-breeding and transitional plumage.
Among all those birds I got a few pictures of a couple of Rhinoceros Auklets. A new life bird for me!
We also got lucky and saw a whale off in the distance.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Brewer's Blackbird - Panting

I remember thinking it wasn't that hot of day when I saw these Brewer's Blackbirds panting along the short of Fernhill Lake at Fernhill Wetlands back on July 31st. But I guess when you don't sweat, you have to release heat somehow.
Wikipedia states; "Birds do not have sweat glands, but they may cool themselves by moving to shade, standing in water, panting, increasing their surface area, fluttering their throat or by using special behaviors like urohidrosis to cool themselves."
Urohidrosis, now that's a big word. Wikipedia defines it as; "Urohidrosis (sometimes spelled "urohydrosis") is the habit in some birds of defecating onto the scaly portions of the legs as a cooling mechanism, using evaporative cooling of the fluids. Several species of storks and New World vultures exhibit this behavior. Birds' droppings consist of feces and urine, which are excreted together through the cloaca. The term is also used to describe the analogous behavior in seals that cool themselves while basking by urinating on their hind flippers."
Yuck! :-)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Spotted Sandpiper

Last year I was confused by Spotted Sandpipers in late Summer, but this year I'm a little wiser and know that Spotted Sandpipers loose their breast spots after breeding season. These pictures were taken at Fernhill Wetlands last Friday evening.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Marbled Godwit

I spent the day last Saturday walking around Bayocean Spit. It was my third trip there and I enjoy it for the long walk, diverse environment and birds. I arrive early and walk the beach first to take advantage of the good morning light. I don't usually see a lot of birds along this stretch, but this time I got some great close looks at a couple of Heermann's Gulls and ran into a very cooperative mix of shorebirds comprised of Semipalmated Plovers, Western Sandpipers and Sanderlings.
Walking the bay side back is usually more exciting with a variety of water fowl, gulls and passeriformes. However this time it was slower, I believe partly because it was high tide and partly because I got there later than normal because of time I spent with the gulls and shorebirds.
But, as happens more often than one would consider coincidence, I got a treat just as I was coming to the end of my hike.
There was a crowd of people ahead on the trail looking down at the water. The land rises up above the water some 20 feet at that point. At first I thought they were looking at a flock of California Gulls on a small mudflat, but as I got closer it turned out that there was a large flock of shorebirds. When I caught up with the group (turned out they were on a field trip sponsored by the Tillamook Audubon Society) they told me that there was a Baird's Sandpiper in among the Western and Least Sandpipers. I started scanning for it when I saw this large shorebird wading in the water off to the side. I quickly focused my camera on it and someone told me it was a Marbled Godwit. A new life bird for me. It was quite a ways away from me, but luckily I had the rented 400mm lens with a 1.7 teleconverter. It zoomed in pretty well. but the images turned out a bit soft. Not bad though considering the distance.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Common Yellowthroat - Masked Juvenile

I was actually able to pish this juvenile Common Yellowthroat and few others out of the tall grass along a service road at Fernhill Wetlands this past Friday evening. I've seen several juvenile Yellowthroats, but this is the first that I have seen that was transitioning into adult male plumage. Its mask is about half grown in.
This juvenile was also with the one above. I wonder if it is a male or female? Best I can tell, both sexes look the same initially.

Monday, August 15, 2011

House Wren - Juvenile

Even during the dog days of summer, there always seems to be something interesting at RNWR.
Just after the first stretch of road on the auto tour after the left turn is a small grove of trees. There's been more activity there this summer than I am used to, so I have been taking my time driving past. In the past I've found Western Tanagers and Black-headed Grosbeaks.

This time I found a juvenile House Wren. I heard it first, then noticed the tall grass moving at the source of it's staccato chirp. Then, after following what I think was an adult House Wren work its way up a tree and out of sight, I looked up at a branch not far from my car window and there sat the juvenile.
It was quite content, occasionally chirping, usually single notes, but occasionally stringing a few together.
Then it grew quite and its eyes began to droop...
...until they closed tight.
But it wasn't long before they opened again and before I knew it, it flew off into the tree that I had seen the adult, eventually moving on out of sight.
Always something interesting at Ridgefield. Too bad it's such a long drive.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Greater Yellowlegs

After my last visit to Fernhill Wetlands, I realized that an evening visit would provide great light for the shore birds that frequent the mud flat on the Barney Reservoir Project. Remember that on most visits it's cloudy, especially this year.
I decided it was going to be a rental weekend, and I was able to reserve a 400mm f2.8 and a 1.7x teleconverter. I took it out to Fernhill Friday evening and my hunch was right, the sun was was providing perfect front light on the shorebirds.
At first there were mostly Western Sandpipers and a few Least Sandpipers. Then a few Spotted Sandpipers showed up. I took a lot of pictures and will post some in the next couple of days.
I finally got tired of kneeling on the ground (note to self: get knee pads) so I took a break and wandered the service roads a bit.
I decided to make one more pass by the mud flats before going home. When I arrived, the sun was low in the sky and had just crossed behind a small cloud, so the front light was lost. Just my luck, but now was when a Great Yellowlegs had decided to show up.
I crept down close and got what I had hoped would be great pictures, even with the low light. After all, I had a fast lens. Only trouble was, I forgot I had set my camera to aperture priority while the sun was bright to get a little more depth of field. All that speed was lost and most of the pictures of the Greater Yellowlegs were blurred.
Luckily, in the image above, the bird held still enough and I held the camera still enough that I got one pretty good shot.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mallard - Summer Molt?

My wife and I walked the perimeter of TRNWR this past Sunday afternoon. It was a beautiful day, but other than a huge flock of Bushtits and a Cooper's Hawk, things were pretty slow. On the home stretch along the south canal, we came upon five Mallards. I believe they were all adult females as we had passed both a female with ducklings and a group juveniles further back.
They exhibited both interesting behavior and characteristics. Quite often one would start to flap its wings very fast, slapping the water and raising quite a raucous as seen above.
At other times they would completely dive under water for short periods instead of dabbling like a typical Mallard. I didn't get a picture of one diving, but you can see the splash aftermath of one that had just dove on the right side of the image above.
Then I noticed something else interesting, most of these birds were missing most of their primary and secondary feathers on their wings. As you can see above, the rump of this bird is not covered with its wing's primary feathers as you would typically see them.
I started taking pictures of any of the ducks that flapped it's wings in hopes of getting some good views of the condition of their feathers. The one above is missing most all of its wing feathers.
The duck above is also missing a lot of feathers, but you can see that some growing in.
Finally, there is this one. Its wings appear to be fairly filled out.
So why are there what appear to be adult Mallards without wing feathers? I had already read that many water fowl molt after breeding and for a while can be flightless. After doing a bit more research, I found that male Mallards molt shortly after breeding and take on plumage similar to a female called the eclipse phase. Females will molt a bit later after its ducklings have fledged. I believe this is the case with these birds.
I could not find any pictures on the web similar to these, so I suppose these could be juveniles that haven't fully feathered out, but since they seem to have adult plumage other than on their wings, I suspect that these are adults going through their summer molt.
I welcome comments that either agree or disagree. And don't forget to say why!

Friday, August 5, 2011

House Finch - Juvenile

I believe this is a juvenile House Finch. The beak and coloring looks right for a female or juvenile House Finch and the corner of the beak looks a little gummy. I found this bird at Fernhill Wetlands last Sunday near Dabbler's Marsh in the same area that I saw several other juveniles.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lazuli Bunting - Juvenile

It had been almost a year since I had seen a Lazuli Bunting. Then, on Saturday at the Sandy River Delta, I saw several. I didn't get real close looks, but I did find a family in the same Blackberry bushes where I found the Willow Flycatchers.
The male, in the top image, tended to fly from patch to patch, but always returned. I believe the birds in the lower image is of a juvenile on the left and an adult female on the right. I base this on a couple of different observations. While it is difficult to make out, as the image is not the greatest, the bird on the left appears to have a yellowish, gummy corner on its beak. The right bird seems to lack this feature. Also, if you compare their tails you will see a fair amount of wear on the right bird, while the bird on the left appears clean. A juvenile shouldn't have any wear at this time of the year.

Willow Flycatcher - Juvenile

I made my first visit to the Sandy River Delta area this past Saturday. As with all new areas, I spent some time just learning the place. It was interesting as I was expecting a sunny day and it started out that way when I left home from Wilsonville, but as I started traveling east on I-84, it started getting cloudy and gloomy and stayed that way the whole time I was there.
As with most places now, there were a fair number of juveniles. I found a couple of juvenile Willow Flycatchers (along with juvenile Common Yellowthroats and Lazuli Buntings) in an active Blackberry patch. I have to thank members of the Portland Area Birds with their help in identifying the flycatcher as I don't see a lot of flycatchers for some reason and of course the Empidonax genus can be a challenge as they are very similar in appearance. Lack of eye ring, habit (they nest in bushes like Blackberries), and a browner coloration rather than greenish were reasons given for choosing a Willow Flycatcher.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Greater Yellowlegs

A couple of Greater Yellowlegs at Fernhill Wetlands enjoying the emerging mud flats yesterday afternoon.