Friday, March 28, 2008

Bulletin #32 - Monterey CA winter birds #4

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
March 28, 2008

Bulletin #32 – winter birds Monterey California #4

Hello friends,

Correction on Bulletin #31….

Last week, I mis-identified the Pacific Golden Plover. It is actually a juvenile Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola). This bird is also known as the Grey Plover in Eurasia. Thanks to Rick Fournier, my ever vigilant, expert guide in Monterey for pointing out the differences.

Hey Dave -

The photograph of the Pacific Golden Plover appears to be a Black-bellied Plover, for a number of reasons. The primary projection is not beyond the tail but extends to the tip of the tail. The bill is far too heavy for PGPL , the barring on the tail appears to be black on white, not black on a buffy or golden stripe, and there is a clear absence of any gold spangling on the bird. Even in winter plumage this feature pops. It appears to be a juvenile BBPL. If you have some more photographs I'd like to look at them.

Good birding -

Gulls were a major target for me on this trip as the Austin Texas Audubon society was putting on a gull identification workshop and they needed some additional photos.

My guide, Rick Fournier, is an expert on all birds. He pointed out the confusing species to me as well as helped with other gulls pictures I took after my day with him.

Gulls may be the most confusing bird family to identify. They are certainly right up there with the sparrows. However, I think gulls can be worse as they come in so many plumage variations. For example, most gulls don’t mature for 3 – 4 years, and each year is often a different plumage. The common Herring Gull may have as many as 6 different appearances – juvenile, 1st winter, 2nd year, 3rd year, adult breeding and adult non-breeding. In addition, there is much hybridization between species, with the offspring having various degrees of intermediate plumage of the parents.

The parts to look at include the size, eye color, bill and leg color, and wing color. Also, there may be brown streaking on the head, neck and breast.

The 19” Heermann’s Gull (Larus heermanni) is the easiest gull in California to identify, as it is the darkest. Here are the adult in breeding plumage and non-breeding plumage. It has black legs and red bill – distinctive. click ‘next’ once

Here are the 1st winter, 1st summer and 2nd winter plumage. These look very much like the pictures in Sibley and are fairly easy to sort out. Notice the bill color is different in all 3 plumages. click ‘next’ twice

The small 16” Mew Gull (Larus canus) has dark eye, yellow legs and a small yellow unmarked bill. The wings are pale gray. It also has large white spots on the wings. This is the non-breeding adult plumage with the brown streaking on head and neck. click ‘next’ once

Here is the 1st winter plumage Mew Gull – completely different appearance, but note the small bill.

The larger 23” Thayer’s Gull is a resident of the Canadian arctic. It winters along the Pacific coast, but sporadically along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts as well. This was a life bird for me. The non-breeding adult has a smallish yellow-green bill with red spot, pink legs, dark eye, and pale gray wings with dark primaries. Here are a couple of photos of the same bird. click ‘next’ once

I have only 1 other plumage of the Thayer’s Gull – a second winter bird.

Tired of gulls? So, it is time for a change of scenery.

The Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) occurs all across North America. The birds in Florida are very pale and the birds get progressively redder as we go west. My guide told me that there is speculation that this species may be split, with the redder birds being called ‘Red-breasted Hawk’. When he told me that, I had to take a photo of the California version of the bird. So, if the split occurs, I will have photos already of both ‘species’.

The first photo is the California adult, and the second photo is the Florida version of the adult. It is much paler on the breast and head. click ‘next’ once

There is a large (14.5”) species of wild pigeon in the west, the Band-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata). This bird normally occurs at higher elevations, but I have seen it in Carmel in the tops of tall pine trees. One day, as we were sitting on the balcony of our room, a pair of them landed on some wires several streets away. I raced to get my camera, but the tripod was in the car in the parking garage. I propped the big lens across the back of a patio chair and got a couple of photos before they flew off.

This pigeon is unique in North America in having yellow legs and bill. The rest of this family has pink legs and bills. Superficially, he looks like a Rock Pigeon, but he has a white collar on the back of his neck and a white terminal band on the tail.

Lastly, the Brown Creeper (Certhia americana). This is the only New World member of this family. He is a small brown bird with curved beak that climbs upwards on a tree trunk. He probes for insect in the bark crevices. He lands near the bottom of a tree and ascends. He uses his stiff tail as a prop similar to a woodpecker. Here are a couple of photos of 2 different birds. click ‘next’ once

The last bird is an interesting one. I have never seen the Hermit Warbler (Dendroica occidentalis). It is a western species, and I have looked for it numerous times. It occurs at elevation. There is a 1000’ peak just outside Monterey that is home to this bird. Also, in winter in Monterey, there is a closely related species with very similar coloration, the Townsend’s Warbler.

I went to the location to try once again for the Hermit Warbler. I finally found a mixed flock of chickadees, kinglets etc feeding in the pines and suddenly saw a flash of yellow suggesting a warbler. I got my camera on it and started taking photos. As I was looking at the bird through the lens, it looked like a female Townsend’s Warbler. That was my impression back in the motel room reviewing the pictures on the camera LCD screen.

When I got back home and started processing the photos, I then thought that it might just be my long sought Hermit Warbler (female). I sent the photos to my Monterey guide Rick Fournier, and he said that it actually is a hybrid Townsend’s x Hermit female. I will post all 4 photos and his explanation for those birders who are interested. It is a listed hybrid in both National Geographic and Sibley field guides. He has never seen this bird before! There are several eastern warbler hybrids – Brewster’s and Lawrence’s warbler that are both hybrids between Blue-winged and Golden-winged warblers. I have not seen either of these.

So I didn’t get my lifer Hermit Warbler, but I got any interesting bird that is probably much less common. Can I count it as ½ a bird for my life list?? LOL

Here are 2 of the 4 photos. I’ll post all 4 on the web site for your perusal. Below the photos is Rick Fournier’s explanation of why this is a hybrid. click ‘next’ 3 times

Discussion re: Hybrid Hermit x Townsend’s

Great photograph! Upon close inspection, I believe this to be a female Townsend's X Hermit hybrid, for a couple of reasons. Your photos clearly show extensive streaking along the flanks, a couple of photos show some faint yellow developing below the throat, the head pattern superficially resembles a Townsend's and the upperparts are pretty heavily streaked.

Check a Hermit and you'll notice that the flanks are plain, no yellow below the throat and lite streaking on the back. The facial pattern is dusky around the auriculars but not as dominate as this bird.

Thanks for sharing.

Rick Fournier
Monterey Birding Adventures

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2008 David McDonald

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