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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Yellow-billed Loon (photos) - Sault Ste. Maire power plant

I just received these 2 photos of a Yellow-billed Loon taken by Don Martin. The bird was seen at the Sault Ste. Marie Power Plant on 31 Dec 2009 at 8:40AM. Here is the Mich-listers post detailing the sighting:

"Yellow-billed Loon at the Soo power plant.  We had views at 20 yards.  
When we left at 8:40 it was 75 yards south of the southern property
line where theblue fence ends and construction fence begins. I don't
have the ability to post. Thought you may want to post the
sighting. Don Martin"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wastewater gulling (& Blue-winged Teal in Dec!)

Had a chance to check the wastewater briefly this morning, and was pleased to find my first ever December Blue-winged Teal for Michigan along the center dike, a drake.
Also was treated to six gulls species including Glaucous, Bonaparte's (only 1, a youngster), Herring, Ring-billed (still 350+), Iceland type (not seen well enough to be positive thayeri was ruled out), and Thayer's. The Thayer's was a nice adult seen at close range near the dump, allowing for close study:

Note the black subterminal markings on p5, a sure sign of thayeri in any adult kumlieni/thayeri candidate.
Finally, I also had a strange Ring-billed Gull adult with a black bill with a small yellow tip. Not sure what to make of this.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ancient Murrelet

Well, Tim Baerwald has done it again, with an Ancient Murrelet at the now famous Tiscornia Park. Much to my amazement this bird stuck around long enough to allow me to get it (1.75 hr drive!). Plus, it lingered at least until 2PM when I left. Simply amazing.

In this clip you can hear the bird's call note twice (at 6 sec, and 7 sec) just before I say "called".

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Franklin's Gull at Muskegon Wastewater

Dave Slager called this morning to report a young Franklin's Gull (he suspected it was a first summer/2nd calendar year bird) out in the middle of the east lagoon. I made a quick run for the bird and was eventually treated with some very distant views as it floated with Bonaparte's Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls. I now think the bird is likely a juvenile, based on the suggestion of brownish tones to the mantle and scapular area, a lack of large white primary tips and the lack of any white between the dark primaries and gray/brown wing coverts, and the apparent lack of any molting flight feathers (inc. tail). I am still looking into the possibility of a delayed 1st summer (second calendar year) which had a very incomplete 1st prealternate molt (which occurs Dec-May, and can include none to all of the primaries) and is still yet to begin its 2nd prebasic primary molt, though this option seems like more of a stretch. The obviously darkish centers to the bird's tertials also seem to suggest a young of the year more than a 1st summer.
As far as viewing the bird is concerned, a good place to start is from the north dike of the east lagoon- looking south to east into the middle of the lagoon. Additional views were had from the west end of the dump on the south dike of the east lagoon:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Banded Semipalmated Sandpiper!

Today I found a rarity. Not a rare species, but a rare banded individual shorebird, an adult Semipalmated Sandpiper at the Muskegon Wastewater Complex. The bird was hanging out with a large group of Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and other than its 2 yellow color bands on its left tibiotarsus and aluminum band on its right tibiotarsus, it did not stand out. Here are the best photos of the bird I could manage, given the late afternoon overcast skies and distance.
I anxiously await hearing of this bird's origin, and will report back once I learn it.

Other highlights from today's visit include the following:

-Melanistic Ruddy Duck (1): 1 with 217 normal Ruddy Ducks birds in the east lagoon viewed from the center dike. Presumably the same bird seen on and off for months now. Photo:
-Pectoral Sandpiper- 1 adult, south central infiltration basin. Photo:
-Semipalmated Sandpiper- 15 adults, mostly in south central infiltration basin
-Least Sandpiper- 15 adults, south central infiltration basin and aerator basins
-Lesser Yellowlegs- 15 adults, south central infiltration basin and aerator basins
-Semipalmated Plover- 3 adults, south central infiltration basin
- juvenile Horned Lark- 2 in westmost aerator. Strange plumage, often mistaken for Sprague's Pipit. Photo:

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Non-Avian Post

Over the July 4th weekend, with bird singing behavior beginning to subside and the resulting long hot afternoons, I spent quite a bit of time catching dragonflies at Pine Lake in the northern Manistee National Forest. I am a decided beginner when it comes to these creatures, but it is really fun to not know what I am holding and be forced to figure it out.

The clear highlight was my first ever Dragonhunter (long-awaited), which I had in th
e net within 1 second of spotting. What a beast!

The Prince Baskettail was quite common, most individuals appearing much less heavily marked than those in my books (someone please correct me if the ID is wrong).
As often seems to be the case with clubtails, I was unable to arrive at a confident ID with this one. It was dying (cause unknown), and was quite small (about the size of the body length bar for Least Clubtail in "Dragonflies of the North Woods"), but did not seem to match up with any of the species in that book. Does anyone know what this is?
Finally, on a kayaking trip near Cleveland OH (Cuyahoga River) the weekend prior I caught my first ever mosaic darner and was pleased to identify it as a Cyrano Darner. Its flight pattern was more obliging than most others I have seen. The book seen in the background is the fantastic Dragonflies and Damselflies of Northeast Ohio, a must have title for those in our region.

Monday, June 15, 2009

More on the strange "Cerulean"

My to my excitement I received an email from William McHale who decided to follow up my strange Cerulean and was rewarded with the incredible series of photos below. It is very clear now (to my eye) that this is not a hybrid, at least one assessable by phenotype/plumage, but that it is a male Cerulean Warbler with an injury to its left side of its face. The apparent white wing panel I thought I was seeing was actually the white outer flank feathers.

All this still leaves the question "why does this bird sing the way it does?" Allen Chartier suggested to me that an injury to its syrinx, esp. if only to one side of the syrinx, could produce such strange songs (perhaps the facial injury extends to the syrinx?). Another possibility would be that this bird learned the strange song (it is an oscine, afterall) from another bird, but what other species sings like this? I am aware of no species which sings this way.
Copyright William McHale 2009
Copyright William McHale 2009
Copyright William McHale 2009
Copyright William McHale 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What age is this Common Tern?

While surveying Pointe Mouillee State Game Area on Saturday we came across a strange medium-sized Sterna tern which I am still trying to age. I am sure the bird is a Common Tern, but I am not sure how old it is. At a glance it looks much like a basic adult Common Tern, except that the lower breast and belly are gray and the cap is fully black. So I'd just call it an adult except that it has an ALL-BLACK bill, carpal bar, and dark outer primaries much like those of a 1st summer bird still retaining its juvenal outer primaries (though not as dark/worn as most 1st summers). So we appear to have a montage of features not normally shared by any one age class. To me, the bird is likely an advanced 1st summer bird which has developed an all-black crown (most if not all have less than a fully black crown according to Maling and Olsen [Terns of Europe and North America]) and gray underparts. Or could it be a retarded third calendar year?

The possibility of a longipennis Common Tern (the subspecies in the eastern Old World) was considered, a contention seemingly supported by the all-dark bill and dark legs, however this subspecies in adult plumage would not have a dark carpal or dark outer primaries, so it seems unnecessary to invoke this. Thoughts would be appreciated.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mystery warbler

While kayaking the Black River in Port Huron State Game Area today, 13 June 2009, I came across an unfamiliar song which sounded somewhat like (though clearly different from) the latter portion of the song of a Field Sparrow- in other words like a "bouncing ping pong ball" but without the slower lead in typically given by Field Sparrow.

But the song was coming from a largely deciduous riverine forest canopy (with some nearby upland hemlock and white cedar)- not the kind of place you find territorial Field Sparrows! With some effort I was able to get limited viewing of the bird with 8 power binoculars in terrible backlighting as it sang at the very top of the canopy, probably 60 feet high or more. I was able to see that it matched fairly closely the plumage of a male Cerulean Warbler, except that it appeared to have white "panels" on the greater coverts (because of the viewing conditions it is possible that what I interpreted as a greater covert panel was due to fluffed out flank feathers or some other cause), similar to the pattern on an adult male Blackburnian Warbler. It had the necklace of a Cerulean Warbler, heavily streaked flanks, and otherwise fully white underparts, with bluish crown and face and upperparts. The tail was short, appearing to my eye just like that of Ceruleans which I often see in similar conditions. I was unable to assess the presence or absence of streaking on the upperparts.

Here are the best photos (digibinned with Nikon Coolpix p5100 through Leica Trinovid 8X32 binoculars) and video clips (the song is clearly audible twice in both clips).

My feeling on this bird was that it was likely a hybrid Cerulean Warbler X _______, with perhaps Blackburnian Warbler as the other parent. But this is of course highly speculative. I suppose there's an outside chance that this is a normal Cerulean Warbler with a strange song, though if it learned this song I am not sure from whom it learned it, as I know of nothing that sings like this. All opinions appreciated!

For anyone interested in observing this bird it appears to be on territory (and judging by its incessant mid morning singing) is likely unpaired. It is approximately 7 miles west of and 2 miles north of the city of Port Huron. It is found on the west bank of the Black River accessed from Abbottsford Rd just south of its intersection with Imlay City Rd. This will require a 0.4 mile hike through brambly, hilly forest which will be challenging and dangerous for most birders. I would recommend wearing Carhartts and bringing a GPS receiver as well, but be advised that the closed canopy could make satellite reception difficult. If you go, please try to record the bird and get better photos, especially of the wings and upperparts, and please let me know! Here is a GoogleMap showing the exact location of the bird (43.03379N, 82.58364W):

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tim Baerwald does it again- Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow!

Tim Baerwald just called from New Buffalo marsh where his continued searching for Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow has produced its second hit. This time it was a single bird in the New Buffalo marsh shortly after noon. Here is a map showing the approximate location of the encounter, based only on Tim's verbal description to me. The location is accessible only by boat (he put in at Red Arrow Hwy), but you could paddle upstream from New Buffalo beach as well.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fish Crow recording analysis

I have spent hours trying to manipulate my (what I thought were decent) recordings of the Fish Crow, with little success. The versions in the blog post below are ambient captures of the recordings played through my computer- long story... 

Anyway, to begin to look at these recordings more technically, I used RavenLite to produce sonograms of the single caw note this bird gave repeatedly, and to compare with know
n Fish Crow recordings and calls of American Crows as well. Here are the two recordings posted yesterday. First, the single caw note by itself (the caw is the blob directly below the re
d box):
All of the tones here are in the 1.2-1.8 kHz range, with an obvious downlur and 2 overtones. The duration is about 0.127 seconds.

Here is the second recording, in which several American Crows are calling before and after the caw is heard (again the FICR caw is directly below the red box):

Here, all of the tones are in the 1.2-1.9 kHz range, downslurred, and with 2-3 overtones as well. Duration of the call is about 0.115 seconds. In the field, the "caw" note sounded the same each time I heard it, and it was the only sound the bird produced. I heard it in a series of at least 5 calls on one occasion and at least 3 calls in another. The only time I heard a double call I was unable to record it unfortunately.

For comparison, here is a recording from the MaCaulay Library, recorded 25 May 1980 by Thomas H. Davis in New York state (ML AUDIO 26

I selected this recording because it was a single note (not the caw-aw sound) given repeatedly that sounded similar to what I heard, and not some kind of aberrant or context-specific call given singly. Here the sound occurs in the 1.2-1.8 kHz range, also downslurred and with 2-3 overtones and duration about 0.20 seconds. The harmonic above this call is not visible in my recordings, and is likely due to a much better sound quality of the latter recording. 

Finally, here is an American Crow (ML AUDIO 105346) recorded 7 May 1994 in Maryland b
y Geoffrey A. Keller:

Note the very different shape, duration, and especially the modulation of each tonal stripe which is absent in the Fish Crow calls. The range of frequencies here is 1.0-2.3 kHz (or possibly higher depending on which tones you "count"), with duration 0.47 seconds.

Finally, here is a comparison of the first American Crow (left), the Berrien Co. bird (middle), and the New York Fish Crow (right). I'll let you make your own conclusions: