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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Riverside Park Red-necked Grebe- a caution

Everybody who has chased the Barrow's Goldeneye to date seems to have gotten it- which is great news and not at all a sure bet for March Barrow's in this state. The Red-necked Grebe at Riverside Park has been considerably tougher, though many are reporting it. This difficulty in finding the bird was further confounded today by the presence of an impostor Horned Grebe at the south boat launch.

The impostor looks very much like a Red-necked Grebe: but it is a transitional Horned Grebe with an unusually pronounced gray cheek patch and a slight reddish on the neck side, etc. At first myself and several others were convinced it was going to be the Red-necked, but inspection proved its bill lacked yellow, had the pale whitish tip, and was too small/short for Red-necked (no photos, sorry!). This bird was only about 300 yds north of the south boat launch from at least 8AM to 10AM. The real Red-necked was actually seen this morning at the same time at a different location (by Josh Kamp and Randy Vandermolen): at the middle boat launch (closed to car access) nearly 1 mile north of the south boat launch. Here is a map of these locations for clarification:Both Josh and Randy walked from the south lot all the way to the middle launch to see it, and it was tucked up under the far riverbank and not easy to see. At this location the bird is not visible even with scopes from the south lot. This bird has a long, yellow bill and lacks the obvious white coloration seen on the impostor. The best photos of the actual Red-necked I have seen are here .

Anyway, something to be cautious about should you chase the Red-necked!

Barrow's Goldeneye video

Checked on the bird again this morning, and was happy that many out of towners were able to see the bird. I was treated to my best looks of its visit at Canal Park, with low sunlight behind me and the bird only a couple hundred feet away. I was able to capture this neat sequence on video:

Youtube video hyperlink

Friday, March 11, 2011

New Barrow's Goldeneye pics plus map

Well, despite the bird not being present at Riverside Park at dawn this morning, it was refound a short distance to the south around 7:30 by Jon Van DeKopple, at Canal Park just south of Leonard St. on Monroe St. We raced over and were treated to much better looks and photography conditions than yesterday. It is moving around a bit between the Leonard St. and Newberry St. bridges. Here are today's shots:
What a stunner! Here is the location:And for kicks here are the 2 least terrible shots of the Red-necked Grebe, taken seconds before we discovered the Barrow's. Also this bird was seen again this morning around 9:15AM at the south parking lot at Riverside by Randy Vandermolen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

BARROW'S GOLDENEYE!!

While viewing our first ever Kent Co. Red-necked Grebe in rapidly fading light this evening, Curtis Dykstra and I were **blown away** to see a male Barrow's Goldeneye scoot into the same scope view as our grebe!! These birds are at Riverside Park at the south parking lot, located at Knapp and Monroe. This story is an epic one to be sure, but for lack of time at the moment, let me forego the story to address the ID issue which will be on people's minds. The goldeneye is not a hybrid or intergrade with Common, as evidenced by its facial crescent at least twice as tall as it is wide (markedly thin, even compared to some male BAGO I am familiar with in Montana where I lived for 4 years), coming to a sharp point above the eye. The scapulars consisted of half a dozen small, well-spaced spots. The black of the upperparts came down to the water's level at the side of the breast (the 'spur'). Here are the best photographs I could muster given the very poor light and heavy wind:
And here are the best videograbs I could get from my 5 videos I took (video mode way outperformed photo mode in the low light):




And finally, here is the best video clip I could muster. Blogger definitely downgrades the video quality, so I have also uploaded the video to Youtube here.
video

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Ross's Goose" update

Well, it appears this bird is not passing muster. I received the opinions of several experts and about half were of the opinion the the bird's bill base/facial junction would not be good enough to pass a records committee vote. Specifically, they judged that the rearward incursion at the gape (the corner of the "lips") makes the feathering above it to bulge forward into the bill base, such that it appears to have a slight influence of Snow Goose genes. It is possible that the bird is transitioning from a curved bill/facial interface as a juvenile into a flat one as an adult, and that the incursion is a vestige of this changeover, but this is anecdotal and not enough to rule out the hybrid/intergrade explanation. So, it looks like we'll have to wait for the next potential Ross's before we add it to the Kent Co. list. Helluva find regardless, Randy!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Putative Ross's Goose

Received a call today from Randy Vandermolen (up and coming Kent Co. birder extraordinaire) that he had briefly viewed and photographed a small white goose in with 20 or so Canadas, which landed out of sight. After some deliberation, and based on his description, I decided there was a decent chance the bird was a Ross's candidate. Upon meeting Randy and looking at his photos from his SLR screen, I was convinced the bird was far too small for a Snow Goose. We found the bird around 3PM and snuck up on it, getting these photos:

As with all Ross's Geese, one must consider and eliminate all possibilities of Snow Goose X Ross's Goose hybrids and backcrosses in order to count such a bird. This one is no exception. My analysis is still underway, but currently goes about like this:

Pro Ross's traits:
1) Body size (not as small as some Ross's, but not too big to cause alarm as there is sexual dimorphism in this trait).
2) Blue base to bill, extending from bill base to nares
3) Lack of a grin patch on the tomium of the bill
4) Beak not too long or bulky overall

Indeterminate traits:
1) Verticality of the bill base/facial junction.

To me, this bird's ID hinges upon this latter trait. The classic Snow Goose trait here is a long, regular, sloping curvature to the bill base, especially where it meets the upper mandible. The classic Ross's trait is a perfectly vertical junction. This bird is somewhere in between, but I think it is much closer to the Ross's condition, and probably within the range of variation of that species. Specifically, if you take away the small incursions at the gape and the upper lobe of the bill (perhaps relicts of juvenile bare parts? [this bird is last year's young based on the retained juvenal gray crown and mantle feathers]), the feathering which meets the upper mandible is indeed vertical. So at this point I am leaning that this is a pure Ross's Goose. That said:

There is no universally agreed upon definition for where to draw the line between "pure Ross's Goose" and "slightly introgressed SNGOXROGO", so each records committee member who votes on this species will draw their own line and vote accordingly. (An aside: Michigan no longer reviews this species, which turned regular several years ago.) But in this case, the final answer may differ for different individual birders. I am soliciting the opinions of several experienced observers and will update this blogpost with their opinions once I hear back.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ruffed Grouse!

I know, I know, not a big deal for most of Michigan, but Ruffed Grouse is a declining species along the southern periphery of its range, due mainly to the alteration of the forested landscapes to increasingly fragmented patchworks of suburbian desert. Plus by the time I really got serious about Kent Co. listing last summer, it was already past drumming time so I wrote the species off until 2011.

Regarding the species' decline: consider Berrien Co., where the species is now down to a precarious few individuals which are very difficult to find now. This is what the situation looked like during the first breeding bird atlas during the 1980s, just 25 years ago:This map will include at most one block for the second atlas period, shockingly. Kent Co. is not nearly as far along in the fall to oblivion as this, but reports from staff at Howard Christensen Nature Center in the Rogue River State Game Area, as an example, indicate that they were common each year until about a decade ago when they stopped seeing them on site. However, based on reliable hunter reports that they are still present in the Rogue, I have been snowshoeing in to look for them over the past 2 weeks. (An aside: Why, you ask, don't I wait until April and just listen for them drumming? The answer: impatience and an obsession with increasing the county list ASAP. Plus I need the time in April to find 3 species of terns here!).

Ayway, today was my third foray into the alder/tamarack swamps off 20 Mile Rd to try to locate one of these elusive birds. The first trip, about 10 days ago, yielded fresh tracks, droppings, and even a roost site of a Ruffed Grouse, but no bird (I did see 4 very unexpected White-winged Crossbills, however!). The second trip yielded no sign and no birds. Which led me to today. I hiked in at least 1 mile through dense alder thicket, still mostly snow covered, in search of signs of this species. It really is beautiful habitat:
This habitat consists of Whorled Loosestrife tufts along Spring Creek (in summer this would be nearly impassable even with waders). Although greater than 95% of the ground is still covered with over a foot of snow, the numerous seeps in this area (which apparently feed the headwaters of Spring Creek) have melted out small pockets of the forest floor such as this:In fact it was exactly at this location where I flushed, at the very end of my walk and not far from 20 Mile Rd, my Kent County Ruffed Grouse. I was basically about 6 feet from the bird (unbenounced to me) when it flushed underfoot in an explosion of wingbeats. It had been roosting silently underneath this snow bank:
It happened so fast I couldn't document the bird itself (I did not see it again as it flew long range). However droppings were present where it had apparently been standing for some time:No wonder I couldn't find tracks in the snow anywhere- the bird(s) seem to stick to the seeps! I also found droppings in one location apart from this. The bird appeared to likely be a "red" morph (as opposed to the gray morph), as I thought I was seeing a rufous background color to the tail (its black subterminal band was obvious as it flew) during my brief view. Here is the wingprint left by the bird as it flushed along the snowbank:
A final excitement for the day was finding my first flower of spring, what I assume is a young Skunk Cabbage (please correct me if I am wrong all you botanists out there!):
#226 and counting! Onward and upward!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

County listing; new arrivals

For almost a year now I have, for the first time in my birding "career," become interested in county listing. Like with state listing, the game is primarily about longevity, with a lesser role played by money and time, the two primary limiting resources. But in the end, it's primarily a matter of being around for as many chasable rarities as possible, with a smaller amount of self-finding involved. At the county level, finding one's own birds becomes more important because birds which are not state birds are more likely to remain county needs, and finding them by one's self is less of a "needle in the haystack" game.

Anyway, because I am planted in Kent Co for the foreseeable future, and because the of the paucity of local interested birders (hey, maybe I can actually "win" at one of these listing contests!), I decided to start building my list here. At the time I started I had only around 170 species for Kent Co., and was still missing stuff like Northern Pintail and Redhead (ouch). But with one year's effort I have buffeted up to 225 and eliminated the majority of the common species. Here are my newest county additions starting with the most recent:

1
Long-eared Owl


2 White-winged Scoter


3 Long-tailed Duck


4 Golden Eagle


5 Northern Saw-whet Owl


6 Northern Shrike


7 Iceland Gull


8 Glaucous Gull


9 Short-eared Owl


10 Greater Scaup


11 Northern Pintail


12 Lapland Longspur


13 Redhead


14 Stilt Sandpiper


15 Caspian Tern


16 Semipalmated Plover


17 Baird's Sandpiper


18 Long-billed Dowitcher


19 Least Bittern


20 Clay-colored Sparrow


21 Dickcissel


22 Marsh Wren


23 Hooded Warbler


24 Eastern Whip-poor-will


25 Acadian Flycatcher


26 Semipalmated Sandpiper


27 Ring-necked Pheasant


28 Dunlin


29 Pectoral Sandpiper


30 Least Sandpiper


31 Lesser Yellowlegs


32 Wilson's Phalarope


33 Common Moorhen


34 Orchard Oriole



25 of these were found without chasing. For these I searched out available habitat and hit it hard during the right time of year, and got a little lucky (LBDO!). Most of the remainder from this list were found by chasing someone else's bird. Speaking to that, we do have a budding county listing crowd building in this county. I know of at least nine birders who are part of the phone tree now.

Anyway, I have several species in the bullseye for finding in Kent Co. over the next couple months. One of them, Northern Goshawk, not known to be a breeder here, (but possibly nesting somewhere in the deeper woods of Cannonsburg or Rogue River SGAs), could also be scored as a migrant at some place with excellent visibility. One such place, Fisk Knob, was brought to my attention via eBird. It was described as having Kent Co.'s highest elevation, at 1,075 feet, with good visibility of the horizon. I finally made it to this location today while traveling through, and was amazed by the view. Here is the property (a Kent Co. park) from the parking area:
This video give a good idea of the quality of the vantage atop the "knob": video
This location is 3/4 mile south of the Newaygo Co. line, but fortunately the greatest visibility (over 20 miles!) was to the south, where every bird you see is in Kent. So, to the birds. Despite heavy winds and well subfreezing temperatures, the place was VERY birdy. Before I had even exited the car I had this bird in sight:Birds were plentiful throughout the watch, and included 3 MI year birds, 2 of which are here:The final year bird was a lone Killdeer, winging north through the icy wind, silent as could be. I have a feeling I am going to be seeing some neat species up on this hill in the next 2 months!