Friday, December 21, 2012

Bulletin 165 - Maui#1 marsh and shorebirds

Lisa and I spent last week on Maui supposedly attending a wedding. However, the wedding was cancelled, so we had the honeymoon in Hawaii!

There are a number of familiar North American breeding shorebirds, that winter on Maui, so it was fun to see them again. Maui has 2 wetland areas, both of which are wildlife refuges. The commonly occurring birds have local Hawaiian names but some of the rarer birds do not.

The Hawaiian Coot (Fulica alae) is known locally as 'Alae Ke'oke'o. It was recently split as a separate species from the American Coot. It looks identical. It is an endangered species. I had seen the coot on an earlier trip to Maui before the split, so it was not a lifer.

Hawaiian Coot
The local subspecies of Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) is also endangered. Locally it is known as the Ae'o. The population was estimated at 1300 birds in the islands a decade ago. Like the coot above, this might be a potential split in the future.

Black-necked Stilt
The familiar Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is known locally as 'Auku'u.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

The most common shorebird is the Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva). The local name is Kolea. As well as in the wet lands, this bird is found on lawns, golf courses etc all over the islands. In North America, however, it is found only in western Alaska while breeding, and occasionally as a vagrant along the west coast. Here are a couple of photos of the plover. Some golden feathers can still be seen on the back.

Pacific Golden-Plover

Pacific Golden-Plover
The next 4 birds were all firsts for me in Hawaii. The Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) is known as the 'Akekeke. It was fairly common in the pond areas and is IDed by the bright orange legs.

Ruddy Turnstone
Some Sanderlings (Calidris alba) also winter in Hawaii, where they are known as Hunakai.


The last of the common wintering shorebirds I found was the Wandering Tattler (Heteroscelus incanus). Its local name is 'Ulili. This 11" shorebirebird is all gray with a white belly and yellow legs. It is found on the west coast of North America, but seldom in the east. I have only seen it a few times in the past.

Wandering Tattler
The last shorebird is uncommon in Hawaii and does not have a local name. It isn't even illustrated in the Audubon Hawaiian Birds guide. A local survey of birds on Maui had been done a couple of weeks before and found just one of this species, so it was a stroke of luck to see it on a large mud flat among hundreds of other birds. This is the Semi-plamated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus). This bird summers in Alaska and mostly winter in the Americas, but a few must head over the ocean to Hawaii.

Semi-palmated Plover - Maui
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2012 David McDonald

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bulletin 164 - Fall/winter birds

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving last weekend.

The majority of the fall migrants have passed through. However, a number of warbler species do winter over in limited numbers, according to the Checklist of Birds of the Upper Texas Coast.

The common winter resident warblers are Myrtle, Orange-crowned and Pine. So it is always fun to find some other species that are either very late migrants, or birds that have decided to go no further south.

Here is an Ovenbird that I found by the drip at LaFitte's Cove in Galveston on Oct 26th.

And here is a Black-throated Green Warbler from Thanksgiving weekend.

Black-throated Green Warbler
This beautiful female Summer Tanager was also seen on Oct 26. According to the checklist, a few of this species also winter over here.

Summer Tanager - female
That same day also produced my first pair Lark Sparrows at LaFitte's Cove in Galveston. The distinctive facial pattern make this sparrow an easy ID.

Lark Sparrow
The White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus) is a beautiful all white raptor with black shoulder patches. I had been told about a pair of these birds nesting along Stewart Road in Galveston in a dead tree. It was difficult to get any photos of the birds on the nest as they sat very low down in the nest. Last weekend, the 3 babies had fledged. the family group of 5 birds were in the tree and 2 were on the wires beside the road. I stopped my car and took photos out of the car window. Using the car as a blind in this fashion doesn't disturb the birds like getting out of the car would.

Here is one of the adults. It is all white with a gray back and black shoulder patches.

White-tailed Kite - adult
This was the first time that I had seen and photographed the juvenile plumage. They are washed on the head, breast and back with reddish brown.

White-tailed Kite - juvenile
Later I found another juvenile eating lunch on top of a post. The diet of these birds is insects and small rodents. Also notice on these juveniles, that the wing feathers are all edged in white.

White-tailed Kite - juvenile eating rodent
Now, what about that quiz bird form the last bulletin. Here it is again, a Yellow-throated Vireo.

Yellow-throated Vireo
The question was a missing field mark and why. I had a few people makes some guesses, but no one got the answer as to what was missing.

Here is a photo of another vireo.

Warbling Vireo
The field mark that isn't visible is the hook on the upper mandible. The beak is the differenting field mark of vireos from warblers. Warblers have thinner straight beaks. The vireos have thicker beaks and the upper mandible is hooked at the end.

Notice in the photo that the upper mandible of the quiz bird doesn't reach to the end of the lower mandible and the hook is not visible.

Why? I think the bird has a beak deformity. Here is a photo of the same bird head on and you can see the upper mandible is bent to the right. The hook is visible here and it almost looks like a crossbill.

Yellow-throated Vireo
I was interested in this phenomenon, as there had been an article in Birding magazine several years ago about beak deformities in Black-capped Chickadees in Alaska. I did a Google search for beak deformities and the only reference was the chickadees. So I guess it is a rare occurrence. I was pleased to get a photo of it. I only noticed it after getting home and looking at the photos on the computer and I knew something was wrong with the beak., Fortunately, I had a number of photos and could ascertain the problem. Thanks to those who took the time to send in their answers.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2012 David McDonald

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bulletin 163 - miscellaneous birds

This edition will have various birds that I saw over the summer, but did not feature previous bulletins.

The Houston area was host to a couple of very uncommon birds this summer.

The first was a Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus) at Sabine Woods. This bird first appeared near the end of spring migration. If accepted, it will be the first North American record for this bird. I didn't have a chance to see it in the spring and as I had seen it many times in the tropics, wasn't particularly interested in driving 120 miles to attempt to locate it. Through May, there were not any further reports and then in early June, it again was mentioned on Texbirds. It apparently was a female and had mated with a Northern Mockingbird and was raising a family in Sabine Woods. So I went to see it. It is IDed by the lack of white wing patches. Notice how dark the wings are as well.

Tropical Mockingbird
The other rare visitor was a female Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) in breeding plumage. This shorebird is native to Eurasia. It will occasionally appear on the east coast or in Alaska. I did not see it on my Alaska trip in 2010 however, so it was a lifer for me. It was found by an astute birder in late May, at Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge in with a group of Hudsonian Godwits. Pretty amazing that a rare bird like this appears 25 miles from home! This was the first Texas record for this species. It is identified as a godwit by the 2 tone straight beak.

Black-tailed Godwit - female
The next 2 photos confirm the species. Here is the solid black tail with white terminal band and white uppertail coverts.

Black-tailed Godwit - female
Most importantly, however, to differentiate the bird from the Hudsonian Godwits was the white underwing. Hudsonians have black underwings.

Black-tailed Godwit - female
IOn the Arizona trip in August, T again saw the Whiskered Screech-Owl (Otus trichopsis). This small 7.25" owl came in to the tape and posed long enough to give me my best photos ever.

Whiskered Screech-Owl
Like many buteo hawks, the Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) comes in various colors from light to dark. They are called color morphs. This is an intermediate morph juvenile bird on a power pole.

Swainson's Hawk - intermediate morph juvenile
One type of photo I have always admired is a hawk with a snake. I have seen a number of these photos over the years, but only once did I actually see a hawk with a snake. That was in my neighbor's yard but several years before I started doing photography. Well I finally hit pay dirt on the AZ trip in August. We stopped to photograph a Swainson's Hawk on a pole. He flew off and I saw him carrying a rather long snake in his talons. Fortunately, he circled around overhead and I was able to get the photos.

Swainson's Hawk with snake
And another.

Swainson's Hawk with snake
On a visit to Galveston in September, I saw this beautiful male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus). The salmon-red color is stunning along with his magnificent tail.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - male
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - male
Now, we have a quiz. I saw this Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons) at LaFitte's Cove in Galveston in early September. What field mark isn't showing in this photo and why? Please email me with your answers. I will publish other photos in the next bulletin along with the correct answer.

Yellow-throated Vireo

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2012 David McDonald

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bulletin 162 - AZ hummers #2

The Magnificent Hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens) is another large (5.25") hummingbird of southeast AZ. It is appropriately named, as the male has a bright green gorget and purple crown. The rest of his body appears dark.

Magnificent Hummingbird - male
We also saw for the first time, a juvenile male. He is just starting to get some of his bright green throat feathers and purple crown feathers.

Magnificent Hummingbird - juvenile male
The Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) is a common hummingbird of the USA southwest. It is very similar to his cousin, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird of eastern North America. The male has a black chin and thin purple gorget below the black. I have always found it difficult to photograph to show off the purple feathers. This time I got lucky.

Black-chinned Hummingbird - male
Here is another hovering while doing his business.

Black-chinned Hummingbird - male
The Costa's Hummingbird (Calypte costae) is a very small (3.5") hummingbird of southern California and Arizona. I photographed a male bird last November in Tucson. This trip I got the female. She is IDed more by her shape. Notice the large round head and short thick neck. Also, the wing tips extend just beyond the tail.

Costa's Hummingbird - female
The familiar Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) is a small (3.75") hummingbird of the Pacific northwest. However, a few winter along the Gulf coast and I have been blessed to have had a few birds visiting my feeders the last 3 winters. The adult male is almost completely orange. We saw a single bird, but I wasn't able to get a photo. However, here is a juvenile male.

Rufous Hummingbird - juvenile male
Here is another juvenile male. He appears to have some sort of tumor on his face, as there is a tuft of feathers just above the beak.

Rufous Hummingbird - juvenile male
The female has less rufous and just a couple of red throat spots.

Rufous Hummingbird - female
Lastly we had a hybrid hummingbird. This was explained as a Lucifer x Costa's cross. The Costa's is evident with the purple crown. I am not sure how the Lucifer was delineated. The Lucifer does have a very narrow tail, and maybe this bird had that, but I didn't see it, if that was the case. They called it a Costifer Hummingbird for the parents.

Lucifer x Costas's Hummingbird - hybrid
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2012 David McDonald

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bulletin 161 - Arizona hummers #1

Southeast Arizona in late summer has a possible 13 species of  hummingbirds. These species include all the 10 normal western hummers (Lucifer, Violet-crowned, Broad-billed, Blue-throated, Magnificent,  Allen's, Costa's, Rufous, Calliope, and Broad-tailed). Several Mexican vagrants are possible as well (Plain-capped Starthroat, Berylline and White-eared). Lisa and I spent a few days there is mid August with guide Melody Kehl and searched for them.

We saw all of the western birds except Broad-tailed and Violet-crowned. In addition we saw a Plain-capped Starthroat (lifer for me) but were unable to get any photos. The other two Mexican species were not present this year at all.

The Lucifer Hummingbird (Calothorax lucifer) is a small (3.5") hummer with a curved beak. The male has a long purple gorget. An important ID mark is the very narrow tail. Here are several photos of a male.

Lucifer Hummingbird - male
Lucifer Hummingbird - male
The Broad-billed Hummingbird (Cyanthus latirostris) is a most beautiful bird. The male has a green back, blue throat, dark tail, and red bill tipped with black.

Broad-billed Hummingbird - male
We saw several juvenile males as well whose throats and breasts had some blue feathers molting into full adult plumage. Here are a couple of different birds in various stages of molt. This one lacks much of the blue throat.

Broad-billed Hummingbird - juvenile male
And another with a full throat of color, but incomplete breast feathers.

Broad-billed Hummingbird - juvenile male
The male Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) has a red throat and a red crown. The back is green

Anna's Hummingbird - male
The juvenile males lacked a complete set of red feathers.

Anna's Hummingbird - juvenile male
The Blue-throated Hummingbird (Lampornis clemenciae) is a large (5") hummer of mountain canyons. Both sexes has extensive white coners to their tails as an important field mark. The male has a blue throat and gray breast. The female has a gray throat. The bill is black. Here is a male in profile. The blue is not as dramatic as in the Broad-billed hummer above.

Blue-throated Hummingbird - male
Here is a bird looking at the camera and I was able to catch the iridescence of his gorget. The white in his tail is clearly seen as well.

Blue-throated Hummingbird - male
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2012 David McDonald

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bulletin 160 - AZ birds and wildlife

We found several warblers in Arizona. The first shown here is the Red-faced Warbler (Cardellina rubrifrons). This unique bird has a gray back, white breast, red face and black hood. The sexes are similar.
Red-faced Warbler
The Olive Warbler (Peucedramus taeniatus) was formerly in the same family as the wood warblers, but DNA has shown it to be unique. It has since been put in its own family. This bird is gray with 2 white wing bars. The head is yellow with a black ear patch. This is the female or immature male plumage. The adult male has orange instead of the yellow.
Olive Warbler - female or immature male
We saw several Painted Redstarts (Myioborus pictus). Neither of us were able to get a decent photo. However, what we did see was a nest of this bird. They nest on the ground and we were able to see the babies in the grassy nest.
Painted Redstart - nest with babies

Other wildlife we saw on this trip were several squirrels, pronghorn and several lizards. The Arizona Gray Squirrel (Sciurus arizonensis) is a typical large bushy tailed squirrel.
Arizona Gray Squirrel
The Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) is a large (8-12") lizard seen on the ground or climbing in trees.
Desert Spiny Lizard
Thanks again to our guide Melody Kehl for finding the birds and IDing the other wildlife.

Happy birding and photography,
David McDonald

photos copyright 2012 David McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask to subscribe.