Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bulletin #135 – migration #1

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas

Spring migration has been slow so far, but is starting to pick up as we near mid-April and the peak time for large numbers of birds to show up. There have been some birds, but usually only 1 or 2 of each species.

However, while looking for migrants, some other interesting birds have been seen.

The most exciting bird for me was a Sharp-shinned Hawk  (Accipiter striatus) at LaFitte's Cove in Galveston. This is the first time I have ever seen this bird perched. It is a juvenile with the brown back and orange-brown breast streaks.

The difficult ID problem of this bird is with its cousin, the Cooper's Hawk. The adult birds are virtually identical, but at least the juveniles are slightly different in that the Cooper's Hawk has dark brown breast stripes as shown here for comparison.

Here is an unusual bird I photographed at LaFitte's Cove (Galveston) last weekend. It is a quiz bird. What is the species of this bird? I'll give the answer at the end of the bulletin.

One of my friends, who receive these bulletins, called me recently to say that there was a bird sitting on eggs in the parking lot behind a Mexican restaurant near my office. So of course I had to check it out.

You can see the eggs surrounded by bark mulch. The green is a ground cover used here in Houston. Notice how the mottled eggs blend in. There is no nest at all, the eggs are just laid in a depression in the mulch. Anyone have an idea of the species of bird that laid these eggs? Most of us rarely get to see nests and eggs.

Well the bird is one of my favorite and more beautiful shorebirds. Here is the parent doing the broken wing routine to draw the intruder away from the nest. The orange rump and breast stripes are visible.

And here it is on the concrete curb. Obviously, it is a Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus). I find it amazing that she would nest in a parking lot with people coming and going all day when there is a 20 acre field about 30 yards away!

The American Golden-Plover (Pluvialis dominica) is an early migrant through Texas, such that the birds are still in non-breeding plumage. I saw this bird for the first time 2 springs ago. But like all things, once I saw one and realized what it was, I have seen several more the last 2 years including 5 so far this year. It is the typical plump plover shape like the Killdeer above, but has a small thin bill, black cap and white line above the eye. The location was
Yacht Basin Road
on Bolivar, just west of Rollover Pass. That seems to be a good location on the coast to find them.

Here is a female Northern Parula (Parula americana). This small (4.5") warbler is IDed by the yellow throat, gray back with a green patch and yellow lower mandible. The female has incomplete or absent breast bands. Also, the broken white eye-ring differentiates this bird from its cousin the Tropical Parula (no eye-ring at all)

All the birds this day seemed to want to face the camera to make sure I saw their field marks. This Nashville Warbler (Vermivora ruficapilla) has a yellow breast and throat, olive back and gray head. It also has a prominent white eye-ring.

Lastly, this White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus) made sure that I saw the 'whites of his eyes'. Seldom is one close enough in the field to see the white iris of his eye, so you have to use other field marks. He is IDed by the 'yellow spectacles', gray throat and 2 white wing-bars.

Answer to the ID of the quiz bird above.  First we need to figure out which family the bird belongs to. All black songbirds, in North America, are either crows or icterids. It is black with some brownish tones and has a conical bill. The size and bill don't fit for a crow. This looks like an icterid or blackbird. We can rule out meadowlarks and orioles as none of them are all black. It isn't a grackle as the tail is too short. There are no wing patches either white, red or yellowish, so it can't be a Bobolink, Red-winged or Yellow-headed Blackbird. Tricolored Blackbird is a CA bird and never seen here, but it also has the wing patches. Two more,  Brewer's and Rusty Blackbirds can be seen here but they both have white or yellow eyes, so we can rule them out as well. So what we have left are cowbirds. It isn't a Brown-headed Cowbird as the male has a brown head and this is lacking in our bird. So it must be either a Bronzed or Shiny Cowbird. Both are rare visitors here. Everyone knows that the field mark for Bronzed Cowbird is a red eye. Our bird has a brown iris. So when I looked this bird up in the field guide, I noticed that both the juvenile Bronzed Cowbird and the Shiny Cowbird have dark irises. Only the adult Bronzed Cowbird has the red eye. Notice the back of the neck with the ruff of feathers sticking out. This ruff of feathers is a characteristic of the Bronzed Cowbird. The juvenile Bronzed Cowbird is brown, so this bird is a 1st spring Bronzed Cowbird, as he still has a few brown feathers that haven't molted to black, nor does it have the red eye. It was an interesting identification problem for me. I assumed it was a Bronzed Cowbird with the neck ruff of feathers, but the brown eye threw me off at first, when I saw it at home.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald


photos copyright 2011 David McDonald

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