Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Common Eider

Early on while exploring Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor, I noticed what looked like a large duck or small goose sitting on a rock just off shore. At this point on the island, the trail was at the top of a sea wall made up of large boulders, so I couldn't get very close (though I did eventually crawl down the rocks a bit). Due to the distance and the fog, it was hard to see the birds features let alone identify it.
One feature that was vaguely apparent was a rather large, pale stripe across its eye brow. The last time I saw duck with a white stripe like that was a Garganey in Switzerland as seen below.
Eventually, another duck just like the first swam in from the fog and slowly made its way towards the rock.
I really didn't know what species I had seen. The next day while at the airport, I browsed through my field guide and through Cornell's All About Birds online guide looking for a duck or goose with an eye brow like these birds, but the only thing that came close was a Garganey. A few things bothered me however; its bill seemed too heavy and its nasal openings too far down its bill. It was also lacking the loose feathers on its back that Garganey have, though I read they loose those in the winter. The other obvious problem is that a Garganey in North America would be a very rare sighting.
On the off chance that I had actually seen a couple of Garganey in Boston I decided to upload a picture to my Flickr account and posted a link to MASSBIRD, Massachusetts' version of OBOL. I also CC'ed it to OBOL. It didn't take long before I got replies letting me know that these are actually Common Eiders which have become fairly common in the harbor.
Those that seemed most certain claimed they are 1st winter males, though some think they are adults in basic plumage. Regardless, there are not very many pictures on the web that I can find that show a Common Eider with such a prominent white eye brow as these birds. However, now that I know what they are, I can see the unusual Eider bill structure that I had wondered about.
New life bird number 3 from Boston!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Great Black-backed Gull

Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants were the dominant birds along the periphery of Spectacle Island. The most numerous were Ring-billed and Herring, but there were also several Great Black-backed Gulls like the ones in the images above. A new life bird for me, though I have to admit to still being a little unsure of its identity. But everything seems to fit.
I discovered, while researching this species, that they are the world's largest gull and, though not overwhelmingly so, they definitely were big. Size, along with a much darker back, made them easy to pick out from the Herring Gulls, even the ones that still retained relatively clear, white heads from the breeding season.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Laughing Gull

I was on the road on business again this past week. My destination was Boston where I spent three days discussing with other manufacturers how we might make the BACnet building automation protocol more friendly to building IT departments. Fun stuff. :-)
Fortunately, I was able to fit in about three hours of birding on Spectacle Island in the Boston Harbor. The local Audubon Society thought it would be my best birding opportunity based on my location within the city and my schedule. The island was pretty cool, but the weather was awful. There was heavy fog and eventually heavy rain, but it didn't stop me from picking up a few new life birds!
While walking a pebbly beach on the south side of the island I found a mixed flock of adult and 1st winter Laughing Gulls as seen above. Most of the adults had transitioned to their winter, basic plumage, though one or two still showed remnants of a fully black head.
I tried to move in closer to get better pictures but the birds were fairly skittish, especially the younger ones.
It wasn't long before only a few adults were left, standing all in a row along the water.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Western Sandpiper

A Western Sandpiper taken at Fernhill Wetlands on Aug 13, 2011.

Monday, September 19, 2011

White-winged Scoter

One of a couple of White-winged Scoters at Newport's South Jetty swam in reasonably close to me while I was down near the water taking pictures of Surfbirds and Black Turnstones. It was mostly back lit, but the pictures didn't turn out too bad. Scoters have the craziest looking bills.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ring-billed Gull

I found a trusting Ring-billed gull along the shore of the bay by the Hatfield Marine Science Center a week ago Saturday. At one point it plucked a small crab out of the water, shook it bit and then gobbled it down.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Great Egret

After climbing around the rocks at Newport's South Jetty last Saturday, I stopped off at the Hatfield Marine Science Center where I saw the Great Egret shown above. Part of the trail was closed because of erosion issues, but it was still worth the stop. Next I decided to check out Beaver Creek State Natural Area. I didn't have time to hike much of it, but I wanted to at least see it since I had heard good things. It's a beautiful park, but I didn't seen many birds. However, on my way back to highway 101 I saw three Great Egrets in a pond along the road, so I pulled over and was able to get a few shots. They were chasing each other around and I was able to catch one as it was about to take flight and then land not far away.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lesser Yellowlegs

One of the great things about my trip to Fern Ridge Reservoir last weekend were all the Yellowlegs that I saw. The viewing platform area off from Royal Avenue had the highest concentrations. If they weren't nearby in a pond, they were flying over head.
The other cool thing was the fact that there were both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs mixed together which provided a great opportunity to compare the two species.
The upper two images are of a couple of Lessers that stuck together for the most part, while the bottom image shows them along with a Greater. You can easily see the difference in size and fact that the Greater's bill slopes up slightly while the Lesser's is relatively straight.
To me, there also seems to be something different about the heads. Greater's seem to have slightly longer necks and their heads seem to have more well defined features. It's subtle, but I can usually see it even when they aren't side by side.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


When I first started walking South Spit at Newport, I saw an assortment of birds swimming in the water around me and a few gulls on the rocks ahead. But it wasn't until I climbed down on one side to get a better view of some Surf Scoters that the action began.
What I hadn't realized is that there were multitudes of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds on the rocks along the waters edge. They either blended in well or were hiding behind rocks, but as I descended down the rock, I flushed several beginning an hour or so of great fun shooting both species of birds at close range.
The images of Surfbirds above are easily the best I've taken. They were a little shyer than the Black Turnstones, but patience and careful movement allowed me to get some close looks. I find that most birds are less apt to fly away if you don't look directly at them as you approach. In fact, looking down or off in another direction seems to make them feel more secure.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Western Sandpiper

I saw this Western Sandpiper at Fernhill Wetlands back on August 13th. I like the curly feathers on its crown I assume as a result of being wet.
I'm still way behind on getting pictures posted. :-(

Monday, September 12, 2011

Brown Pelican - Newport South Jetty

This past Saturday I decided to beat the heat by heading to the coast. It worked out great as the temperature didn't rise above the low 70's, the sky was clear and the wind was low.
The night before I was reading a post by Greg Gillson in which he reviewed some of the better birding areas of the central Oregon coast. One of his recommended sites was Newport's South Jetty. As I had never been there, I made that my destination.
I've been near many Jettys, but I had never gone out very far on one. It can be rather dangerous as a wave can rise up at any time and pull you into the ocean. However, since it was a calm day and the Jetty well above the water, I decided to risk it.
The image above shows a view of the fog horn and light out on the jetty. This picture was taken when I was about half ways out to the point. It was easy going at first as the gaps between the large broken rocks where filled in with gravel making it was almost level, but as you traverse outward the gravel lessens and soon there is only large chunks of what appeared to be broken asphalt sprinkled sparingly in between the gaps. Then, about the time I passed the fog horn, any fill between rocks was next to nil and it literally became a rock climbing exhibition.
As I approached the outer point I decided it wasn't worth going all the way out since, while there were a lot of birds in the water at the entrance between the jettys, they appeared to all be common gulls. Besides, I was starting to get a bit tired climbing in between and over rocks and realized I still had the trip back ahead of me.
The memorial above is a reminder of the ocean's dangers.
And this scuba diver, a reminder of its wonders below.

Anyway, I came to photograph birds and birds I saw. Nothing rare but a nice variety and several good picture taking opportunities.
There were several Brown Pelicans flying overhead throughout the morning, but they always seemed to come from behind me so I would only get pictures of their backs. Then as I neared the end of my trek, I saw one sitting on a rock out along the waters edge in front of me. This is where the rock climbing actually was a benefit. It allowed me to stay reasonably low down between the rocks as I worked my way closer to it, eventually getting the shot at the top of this post.
As I worked my way out towards the Pelican, I'd take a few shots now and then as I often do while approaching a bird. You never know when it's going to decide to move on, be it flushed by me or something else. At one point I caught it spreading its wings and then at the next stop it decided to hop down from its perch to another rock closer to the water. Their large wings are spectacular!
As seen in the image above, I noticed that some of the Pelicans had white bellies rather than the shaggy gray-brown normally seen. With a little research I discovered that these are juveniles. I've seen many more juvenile birds this year than last year. Probably a result of being more aware of what I'm looking at.
In addition to these Pelicans, I got great, close looks of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds along the edges of the rocks, Surf and White-winged Scoters in nearby water along with a Horned Grebe and a Common Loon. I even got to watch a Double-crested Cormorant eat some kind of twisty, curly eel. Tasty! :-)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sandy River Delta

When birding gets slow as it does in Summer, I tend to start taking pictures of insects and flowers. Flowers are best in the Spring and insects are better later in the Summer. Such was the case last Saturday at Sandy River Delta. I didn't see many birds, but insects were thriving and I even saw my first Northern Red-legged Frog. It jumped out in front of me as I was walking a narrow path into a grove of trees. Then it sat there and posed for me for some time.

Monday, September 5, 2011

California Quail

I've seen several California Quail, both before and after I rejuvenated my birding hobby, but I only have a couple of so-so pictures of them. The reason is they are very elusive. I typically see them dashing across the road while I am driving, but I'm usually not in a situation in which I can stop to take a picture and even if I am, they quickly scoot out of site into the grass or brush along the road.
It's also typical to see young Quail scurring with the adults. Such was the case as I approached the parking lot on Rogers Ave at Fern Ridge Reservoir yesterday, only this time one of the adults stuck around long enough for me to pull over my car and snap a few pictures. It was like it was standing watch as it let out odd sounding clucks as it stood out on the road.
I was trying out a 300mm lens and 1.7x teleconverter combination that I had rented for the weekend. The usual 400mm and 600mm were both out, so I thought I'd try this out. My 70mm - 300mm zoom is not capable of accepting a teleconverter so this gave me an equivalent 500mm with a little more sharpness; or that was the theory.
I wasn't quite as impressed as I thought I would be as even though it was a f4.0 (mine is f5.6 at 300mm) the 1.7x teleconverter increased the focal length to f6.7. And since it was an older lens, I lost the advantage of vibration reduction. Luckily there was bright sunlight this weekend so the slowness wasn't as big of a factor, but the images were definitely not as sharp as the results I get with the f2.8 400mm or f4 600mm, even with teleconverters.

Pectoral Sandpiper

I drove down to Fern Ridge yesterday to check out the shore bird action I have been reading about on OBOL. It was a beautiful place and chocked full of birds, but unfortunately the Ruff seems to have gone missing a few days ago and I didn't see the other birds I was hoping for, such as a Red-neck Phalarope, American Avocet or Stilt Sandpiper.
I did however, get some great views of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and California Quail. I also saw a new life bird; a Pectoral Sandpiper. It flew in while I was taking pictures of some Yellowlegs which was great because it helped give me a feel for its size. This wasn't the hardest shorebird I've tried to identified, but it wasn't easy either. The combination of its overall look and size combined with the yellow legs and shorter bill with orangish, yellow base were the major factors influencing my decision.
In addition, I believe it is a juvenile as its breast is paler and more streaked than an adult and its back has more rufous tones.