Saturday, July 4, 2015

Bulletin #226 - Best of 10 Years #5 - Shorebirds and Seabirds

Shorebirds include sandpipers, plovers etc and are favorites of many birders. Many of them are long distance migrants from the Canadian arctic and Alaska to South America. Here are my favorites form the first 10 years of photography.

The Wandering Tattler is an 11" Pacific coast sandpiper that breeds along streams in Alaska and winters on rocky coasts from California to Mexico. I took this photo in Monterey, California and I just like the composition of the rock, intense blue water behind and the birds yellow legs.

Wandering Tattler
Next is the female Red Phalarope. Phalaropes are sandpipers that swim. The Red Phalarope is pelagic  in that it can be found on the surface of the ocean far offshore. It can be found along both coasts but is rare and occasionally occurs inland. I haven't seen it in Texas. Phalaropes are also unusual in that the female is the more brightly colored of the pair. On a trip to Monterey in the spring, a storm blew a number of birds onto the coast and I found this bird in a pond at the famous Pebble Beach golf club. 

Red Phalarope - female breeding

Third next is the 8"  Buff-breasted Sandpiper. This bird summers in the Canadian arctic and migrates through the central states to South America. It prefers short grassy fields and can be found on sod farms but seldom on the coast. In fact, this is the only one I have ever seen, and it was in Carmel, California where they are a reportable vagrant. I found it myself which is always exciting to be the first to find and report a rarity. He is in the kelp washed up on the beach.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

The Ruff is a Eurasian sandpiper that occasionally shows up along both coasts and a few can be found in Alaska in the summer. The male is unusual in that he has a ruff of feathers on his neck that he uses in displaying. I have seen females occasionally in Texas, but this is the only breeding male I have seen and he was in Barrow Alaska.

Ruff - male breeding
The last sandpiper is the 10" Wilson's Snipe. This is a long-billed shorebird of muddy fields. They are difficult to see on the ground and usually only seen when flushed and flying away. I found this bird in a roadside ditch in Galveston one afternoon when I didn't have my camera as I was at a meeting. I went back the next day with camera and he was there again. I parked my car and go this close-up from 15 feet away through the window.

Wilson's Snipe
Plovers are another family of plump shorebirds closely related to sandpipers. The common one that most people are familiar with is the Killdeer. 

The  9" Mountain Plover is probably the most difficult of the North American plovers to find. It breeds on the plains of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado and winters in central Mexico, although a few are seen in south Texas. It is extremely rare to find on the upper Texas coast. I did find one in Galveston in 1995 and another was not found for 13 years. However, last winter, this one spent several weeks on Bolivar flats and many birders got to see it. I had looked for this bird in California, and south Texas several times to try and photograph it without success.

Mountain Plover

Lapwings are tall plovers, often boldly patterned. Unfortunately for us in North America, there are none. Every other continent has a several resident species. This 14" Southern Lapwing was photographed in Panama.

Southern Lapwing
The Northern Fulmar is an 18" pelagic seabird member of the shearwater family of birds. These birds have a peculiar tube nose. They are found offshore on both oceans. I found this one however in Monterey Harbor, where on the water, he looks like a gull. But the tube on his beak shows that he isn't a gull.

Northern Fulmar
Finding a rare bird by yourself and reporting it and having other birders go to look at it (and confirming it) is still exciting for me even after 25 years of birding. Such was the case of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper above and that Mountain Plover in Galveston in 1995. Well the next 2 birds also fall into that category.

The 37" Northern Gannet is a member of the gannet and booby family of large seabirds. This bird breeds on offshore islands of Atlantic Canada and winters along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, usually well offshore. I had seen it once before in Florida. In late July of 2010, I was driving along the seawall in Galveston and saw a large bird swimming close to the rocks. At first I thought it was a pelican, but as I got closer, obviously the color was wrong. I stopped and got out to see what it was. I realized it was a gannet that shouldn't even be here at this time of year. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera, but went home and returned with camera. By the time I got back, he had climbed out onto the rocks at the base of the seawall. I climbed down the stairs and went over the rocks to take his photo. I posted it on Texbirds and several others saw him and Wildlife Rescue was called and took him. Unfortunately, one can never find out from the rescue service what was wrong and what happened to the bird.

Northern Gannet
One morning during spring migration in 2008, I crossed over the Bolivar ferry early and stopped at Bolivar flats. I saw this unusual looking 'gull' on the beach. I took some photos and several more as he flew off. I knew it wasn't any gull I was familiar with. I got to High Island and asked the volunteers there to look at it. It was a Pomeraine Jaeger, not a gull. They are closely related to gulls, but now are a separate family. They are oceanic birds that come ashore only to nest, so seeing one on the beach is a reportable rarity.

Pomeraine Jaeger
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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