Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bulletin #19 - Upper TX coast #1

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
Nov 8, 2007

Bulletin #19 – Upper Texas Coast – Fall 2007 – part 1

Hello friends,

Fall migration along the upper Texas coast is another exciting time as there are several species of birds that are more numerous than during spring migration. Also, many birds are in non-breeding plumage which can make for difficult identification problems.

I obtained a number of new species photos along with several improved photos of other species. The most memorable however, was Nov 4th when I got a life bird. It has been a long time since I had a lifer in my home territory and this one was only 15 miles from the house!

So, I’ll start with the lifer. Franklin’s Gull (Larus pipixican) is a smallish black-headed gull that breeds in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well as the extreme northern plains states. It winters in Central America. I had heard of occasional sightings along the upper Texas coast. I assumed that it would be indistinguishable from the common Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla). However, this year on Texbirds, a photographer posted many pictures of Franklin’s Gull from Galveston, Texas City etc and showed the differences from the Laughing Gull. The first chance I had to look for them was 3 days ago and bingo – success, even though they hadn’t been reported for 2 weeks.

The main differences are smaller size 14.5” vs 16.5” for the Laughing Gull. Because it is smaller, the legs are thinner and the bird sits closer to the ground. Of course relative size is tough if there is only one bird type present. The main feature is the more prominent black hood on the Franklin’s Gull that extends below the level of the eye onto the neck.

So here is a 1st winter Franklin’s Gull with still a considerable black hood in November. It also has white wing tips.

By contrast, here is the 1st winter Laughing Gull. Notice there is no white on the wing tips at all. There is also a lot of grey on the breast


The adult Franklin’s Gull has more residual black hood and larger white spots on the wing tips than the laughing Gull.

So OK how did I know this was a Franklin’s Gull? Here is the whole photo with both birds side by side. Notice how much smaller the Franklin’s on the left is and how thin are its legs! Also, notice how much further down the neck, the hood extends.

After I took the gull photos I drove along the shore and found a cooperative Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe). Notice there is no eye-ring and no wing bars.

The next bird is a Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus). Notice the hooked beak. This common bird is often confused with Northern Mockingbirds as their coloration is similar.

The Nashville Warbler (Vermivora ruficapilla) is seen more commonly during the fall migration. The male has a gray hood but with a yellow throat, and eye-ring.

The Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) is a common winter resident of the Texas coast. This bird at Anahuac NWR allowed me to approach him to within 15’, the closest that my camera and 500mm lens can focus. The field marks are pink bill, streaked breast and bit of yellow above the eye.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy Birding,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2007 David McDonald

Notice – photos with name preceded with an asterisk (*) were updated for this blog and the text was edited accordingly

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