Tuesday, March 29, 2016

March 2016

Migrants and incidentals from spring migration thus far. 




Not sure if I ID'ed these damsels correctly...








Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sparrow Hawk

When I was a kid, this bird was called a Sparrow Hawk. Somewhere along the line the name was changed to conform to the U.K. English use of the name Kestrel. It is a bit ironic that Americans chose to imitate the English in this regard as the English name itself is just a cheap imitation of the French name, crecerelle, which itself derived from the Latin word for a rattle.

Whatever name it goes by, I dreamed of having one of these beautiful little falcons as a hunting pet when I was a kid. I mainly saw them far from my home, but I recall being thrilled one early spring day when one flew into our yard and appeared to be investigating a hole in our telephone pole as a potential nesting spot. It eventually flew off, never to be seen again, and that was as close to having a Sparrow Hawk for a companion as I ever got.

As a matter of fact, these birds, while common, are a bit aloof. I include these pictures today because this is the first Sparrow Hawk that's ever allowed me to get even reasonably close for a photo. I happened upon this one this morning on my way to Scott, Louisiana, the Boudin Capital of the World, for a Best Stop boudin and boudin ball breakfast. That was especially fortunate as my son (not a birdwatcher, alas) was with me on the way for the treat and got a nice look at this cooperative bird.



By the way, DNA research from the Field Museum indicates that falcons are more closely related to parrots than they are to hawks. Personally, I've always seen the resemblance. I never did get my dream Sparrow Hawk for a pet when I was a kid, but I did have a very falcon-looking budgie--which was apparently the next best thing after all. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Mew Gull, Shreveport 01/10/16

A little over a week ago, Charlie Lyon sent some pictures of a gull he had come upon on Cross Lake in Shreveport. The pictures appeared to be of a Mew Gull, a species that Louisiana birders have been trying to find for decades with no luck. Charlie appeared to have hit the jackpot. 

However, Charlie had only been able to go out once since then and hadn't been able to relocate the bird. 

Yesterday, Charlie and Dave Patton loaded up their boats with a handful of birders (Terry Davis, Rob Dobbs, Ronnie Maum, Mac Myers, Dan O'Malley, Larry Raymond, Phillip Wallace, and me) to try again to relocate it. I decided to go well north of my SWLA comfort zone for my first trip to Shreveport in years, but the early hour and the arctic chill (the Louisiana arctic, anyway) had me wondering why I had wanted to leave my warm bed. The temperature in Shreveport was in the low 30s and the north wind added to the chill, but we spent the day picking our way around the lake from gull flock to gull flock trying to find the Mew Gull among the swarms of Ring-billed and Bonaparte's gulls. The birds responded well to popcorn offerings but the responses were localized; only nearby birds would come in to the food, while birds even a few hundred yards away stayed put. We basically had to play connect-the-dots with gull flocks throughout the day. 

There were also about 20,000 Double-crested Cormorants on the lake, along with hundreds of Ruddy Ducks and Bufflehead, and a few Horned Grebes and Canvasbacks. We also got looks at a wary Western Grebe that Charlie had found at the end of December. But with the day winding down, we'd had no luck with the Mew Gull.

We split up, with one boat going towards a gull roost and the other checking a few more gull groups. At the roost, our boat party found a couple of large flocks on the lake. The birds were harder to scan on the water than in the air, so we offered them some popcorn and started looking for a gull with a darker rump and different tail and wing pattern than the Ring-billed Gulls. After a few minutes, Mac Myers spotted a good candidate and was able to confirm he had the bird and put us on it. Soon the other boat arrived, and the Mew Gull threw itself into the scrum for popcorn, giving us all great looks and photo opportunities. The others probably have better photos than I, but I was pretty happy to get great chances to photograph such a cooperative bird.

It was a great ending to a great day. It had started off bitterly cold on the water, but given the lucky turn of events at the end of the day, we were able to forget the chill. 

Many thanks and congratulations to Charlie on this first state record, and another big thank you to Dave for driving his truck and his boat all day. 






The color of the legs and feet was interesting. 
Fighting for position against a Ring-billed Gull. 
Compare the pale rump and distinct tail band of the young Ring-billed on the left with the  broadly dark tail and mottled rump of the Mew on its right. 
The fine-billed Mew among a group of bigger-billed Ring-billeds. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Lapland Longspurs, Kaplan area, 3 Jan 2016

This afternoon, David Muth, Dan Purrington, and I went out to Sham's Road north of Kaplan to look for some Lapland Longspurs I had seen there on New Year's Day. The birds had been in a set of big muddy fields where stubble had been plowed under. When we got there today, the fields seemed empty except for some Killdeer, but after a few minutes we spotted a small group of sparrow sized birds circling the field in undulating flight. We picked them up in flight and saw they were the longspurs, and when they landed, we realized there were hundreds of the birds in the back of the fields. Soon the birds were up and flying, and some of the birds splintered off the main flock and landed near us. They moved like an army over the bare ground, foraging quickly and manically. One circled overhead, then landed right in front of us.



We ended up getting great looks, and though our highest count was about 250 birds, we're sure pretty sure not all of the birds were in the air at the same time. Usually these handsomely marked tundra nesters spend the winters on the prairies of the Midwest, reaching us in big numbers only when the weather there is too harsh or snowy for these birds to find food. Clearly, this has been a mild winter here--what brought so many down? 



Saturday, January 2, 2016

Speck YTT, 12/26/2015

While scanning goose flocks on the day after Christmas, I came across two neck-banded geese, a Ross's with a blue collar with white letters or designs, and a Greater White-fronted Goose (a "Speck") with a red collar and white letters. The Ross's was short and feeding, so I got only a quick look at its neck before it lowered its head and got lost in the crowd. However, the speck was a lot more cooperative, and I could read a vertical Y with two horizontals Ts.



I entered the collar info in to the USGS BBL site and later received the certificate below. 


In other words, this goose seems to have made the following journey:


3600 miles/5800km. Pretty amazing stuff. We celebrate many rarities that travel far shorter distances to reach us, and sometimes fail to give our wintering geese the wonder they deserve for being such long distance marvels. A tip of the hat, YTT.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Big Year 2015

The old year closes tonight, and with it closes another chapter of Big Year birding.

This year, Charlie Lyon is leading the pack of contenders in an attempt to regain the lead he held for a decade. When Charlie competed against Mark Swan in the early 2000s, ground rules were followed to maintain a level playing field. The rules were based on the honor system because birders don’t have the wherewithal to document every species they see. Beyond the expected species, however, rarities that were claimed by competitors had to be documented and accepted by the Louisiana Bird Records Committee to see that they were accurately identified.  Obviously, included species had to be on the state checklist so that listers didn't pad their lists by claiming emus and Muscovies. Such ground rules are standard fare for Big Years to prevent confusion and disputes.

When Jay Huner was trying to set the Big Year record a few years ago, it became apparent that the number to beat was a matter of debate and that there was no checklist available to verify the number. That issue still hasn't been resolved.  Some of the birds in the claimed total of 356 aren't on the state list, and not all of the included rarities were accepted by the records committee. The obvious conclusion is that the current record is less than the originally reported 356.       

This year the same issue is in play and has to be dealt with because Charlie has registered a competitive figure—356 species.  However, Charlie’s total of 356 for this year as calculated by eBird is also artificially high because it includes at least two of the same non-checklist species (Canada Goose and Monk Parakeet) that the leading list contains. Charlie’s list also contains several rarities that need to be accepted by the records committee in order to remain countable.  Charlie understands that this process comes with the territory. 


The trick now will be to compare lists and see what counts and what doesn't.  

Competitors, feel free to submit your lists and comments. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: The blur that was.


In no particular order, images from a year I barely remember. But it was fun.