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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