Monday, September 6, 2010

Bulletin #121 – misc summer and fall birds

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
September 6, 2010

Bulletin #121 – misc summer and fall birds

There were only a few birds that I photographed over the summer, as it was just too hot to be out in the field.

However, 2 birds were particularly noteworthy. The first was a Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata). This species is strictly pelagic, occurring over open tropical oceans. They nest on offshore islands in the Gulf of Mexico, and rarely are seen on shore. However, this bird was found among a large breeding colony of Black Skimmers at Rockport Beach, Texas. He was found in early June, but I didn't have a chance to go to Rockport prior to my Alaska trip.

After I got home from Alaska, a hurricane went through that area and he disappeared for a few weeks. Finally, he was relocated and I went to photograph him on July 24th. Subsequently, a pair was found, so maybe they will begin breeding there with the skimmers. That would be a great treat for birders to be able to see this bird in a readily accessible place. It was not a life bird, as I had seen it once before on a pelagic trip in 1993.

This is an attractive black and white tern with white forehead. This pose in grass with some blue wildflowers is an added bonus for a pelagic species.

The other bird was a Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus). My wife and I had gone to Galveston the next day July 25th. As we were driving along the Galveston seawall to watch the ocean, I noticed a large bird swimming just at the base of the seawall. I thought at first it was a pelican, but later realized the bill was wrong, so I pulled over and got out. It was obviously a gannet or booby, but I didn't have binoculars, camera or bird book with me. It climbed out of the water onto the boulders at the base of the seawall and just lay there. It was obviously sick or injured. We went home, and I got my camera and went back to Galveston. He was in the same place and fortunately it was still light enough to take some photos. I climbed down onto the rocks at the base of the seawall and was able to walk right up to him.

It is a second year bird as the head and neck are white, mottled with brown. There was some concern that he might be oiled from the massive BP well explosion, but there is just a smudge of staining on the breast in the first photo. Texas Parks and Wildlife were called and rescued him the next day. I hope he is able to be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. This is only the second Northern Gannet I have seen, and the first in Texas. At 37" in length, this is a huge bird.

Molting birds that are missing feathers can give some unusual appearances. I'm sure that we have all seen some birds with no tail feathers, or just a couple. However, the cardinals in my yard molted all their head feathers simultaneously and thus were crestless. I'm sure this happens every year, but I had not noticed it before. His beak appears to be huge!

Fall migration is underway. I have about a half dozen hummingbirds in my yard now and they will continue until early October. So if inclined and you live along the Texas coast, get your hummingbird feeders up and keep them filled and cleaned. You can have the pleasure of these aerial jewels in your yard.

I went to LaFitte's Cove in Galveston to check for songbird migrants the last couple of weekends. Fall migration gives us the opportunity to see other plumages (juveniles) that we don't find in the spring. Also some birds are already in their winter or basic plumage.

Sibley list 3 plumages for the Canada Warbler (Wilsonia canadensis). This warbler seems to be more common here in fall migration. I saw 3 of them on Saturday - all 3 plumages! This is known as the necklace warbler. It is gray above with some black around the face. There is a distinctive white eye ring. The underparts are bright yellow and there is a necklace of black streaks on the breast.

Here is a male from the spring, as I didn't get a photo of the male Saturday.Notice the black on the face and how dark the necklace streaks are.

The adult female has a little black on the face. The streaks are more gray then black.

The juvenile or 1st year female has no black on the face and just a hint of streaks.

This bird got into the drip and bathed. She was soaked and disheveled. Sometimes making an ID of a wet bird like this can be a challenge, as the breast streaks cannot be seen. However, the plain gray upper and yellow below with the large eye ring should still enable one to make the correct ID. She has some serious preening to do!

The other juvenile warbler was a male American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla). The adult male is distinctive black and orange.

The adult female is gray and yellow.

The bird guides list the juvenile male as similar to the female. This is true, but the yellow at the shoulder is more orange than yellow as shown in this bird yesterday.

By the next spring, the male is starting to show some black feathers on his head, neck and breast, as seen in this bird during spring migration this year. At the end of the 1st summer, the males molt into their adult plumage.

The juvenile male Am. Redstart above also enjoyed a bath in the 90 degree temperature.

The other bird of note this weekend was an Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi). This medium sized (7.5") flycatcher is IDed by the dark streaked 'vest' that he seems to be wearing. His song is distinctive as well and is quoted as "Quick three beers". This is listed as an uncommon bird on the upper Texas coast in spring and fall. As best as I can remember, this is only the second one I have seen here in 20 years of birding.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald
photos copyright 2010 David McDonald

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