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Friday, June 15, 2012

ID of the Whimbrel

I received a message late last night asking if the bill length of yesterday's Whimbrel seen in this shot:

wasn't in fact suggestive of Long-billed Curlew (LBCU). I wasn't sure what to make of this, as the bird repeatedly appeared to have strong lateral crown stripes and to lack buffy tones to the body (esp. the underparts) yesterday. However that suggestion gave me enough pause to put some more thought into the matter. An additional photograph that had me wondering was this one:

which sure seems to show a thin bill tip (not the relatively thick bill I am used to on WHIM). But the issue was just how much uncertainty was injected into this entire discussion by the heat waves and extreme distance that the videos/photos were taken in. Heck, in the second photo above the bird appears to lack head stripes altogether! So, could any of these photographic artefacts be trusted?

I returned early this morning, hoping to see the bird again. This time, I utilized my connections with the airport police to request permission to view from beside the terminal itself, which they obliged me on (thankfully). Also thankfully, the bird was still present, and the early morning coolness prevented heat wave distortion. The bird was much closer to me, and I finally saw it in flight, and the ID is confirmed as Whimbrel beyond any doubt. The bird completely lacks any buffy tones in the spread wings, and has pronounced lateral crown stripes, and just isn't large enough for Long-billed Curlew. These are the best two videos from this morning:

The bird should still be visible from the s. Kraft Ave overlook, however at 8:20AM this morning it flew NE out of sight, and may have returned to the 2nd location in yesterday's blog post. So patience may be required. I also would not recommend trying to view from the terminal without contacting airport police ahead of time- you would be getting a lot of unwanted attention from the many security personnel and suspicious passengers, etc.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kent Co. Whimbrel

This morning via eBird we learned of an exciting discovery within Kent County from yesterday: a rare inland Whimbrel seen by Gus van Vliet at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport at 9:45AM on June 13. This is not a species I expected to see in my lifetime in Kent County, as they just don't often stop inland, and even then it's almost always at mudflats and larger lakes with extensive beaches (which we don't have). So Randy Vandermolen and I immediately gave chase and were very lucky to relocate the bird (thanks to Gus's excellent notes within eBird) just south of the airport terminal shortly after 9AM. We were viewing it from the s. Kraft Ave. overlook north of 52nd St.

Around 11:25AM, however, the bird took flight (per Randy Vandermolen and Albert Rowell) and landed quite a ways to the NE, shown here by this marker. The bird definitely landed in the area, but was not visible once it put down according to Randy. Here is the approximate location it landed: 
Randy said that there was some kind of green vehicle in the vicinity of where it landed, and that when viewing from the s. Kraft Ave. overlook, that the bird was immediately to the east of the several smaller outbuildings just east of the large terminal. In any event, patience may be required if you plan to search for this bird. In terms of where to search for the bird, I suspect the s. Kraft overlook (with scope) is still the best, however one could consider two other options in case the bird is in its northerly stakeout. First is the FedEx building entrance drive off of Thornapple River Dr SE. Park right at Thornapple River Dr and scope from this position looking west. The second position would be from the eastmost point of the Gateway Dr loop (ie. the loop one drives when driving through the airport terminal for arrivals and departures) looking east. Be forewarned, however, that although the airport police are aware of this bird and birders generally, that you will likely be stopped and asked to leave if you're there for more than a couple minutes. Here is a map with both of these optional viewing locations:

Here are my photos from earlier today:
bird is just behind the fence in line with the "P" in airport

bird is on the tarmac front and left

Good luck if you go!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Snowy Plover- turning the page

The past 2 months have been brutal. I have missed more rarities in a row than probably ever before. There was the lifer Ruff which had been seen all day but conveniently disappeared shortly before my arrival well before dusk (the only shorebird on the pond to do so), a county tick Black Tern which disappeared 20 minutes into my 30 minute drive (I have 100s of hours into this one), the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher which disappeared as I began driving to see it (despite 18 straight hours in one place), the Swainson's Hawk which was present at dusk with a strong north wind all night to hold it down (OK, this one was expected), and of course, the 'gimme' Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at the Detroit Zoo heron rookery which failed to show during my visit a while back. I have been frustrated. I have been discouraged.

The silver lining in still being at 362 despite thinking I should have been in the upper 360s, is that none of these species are troublesome over the long term. Most will occur at least annually and it is but a matter of time until I nail them all down. So it was with some trepidation that I left this morning to try for the very rare Snowy Plover found yesterday at Ludington State Park by Chris Lipps and another (anonymous) technician of the MDNR. This, unlike the aforementioned species, is a very rare bird in these parts, the last MI record being from 1994, and one of only 2 for Michigan. Fortunately, the ID was clinched with photos from the beginning, so the only issue was whether or not it would stay the night. It did.
The bird put on quite a show during my visit, repeatedly being oblivious to the close approach of beachcombers, and at one point walking to me for a very close encounter (side note: I did not move, I sat still from a distance of 150 ft., and the bird walked right down the beach in front of me). 

The bird is heavily abraded on its upperparts and wings, and on its primaries as well. These are good signs that the bird is a youngster, hatched last year (ie. a second calendar year). The upperparts have but a few darker brown, fresher, feathers amongst the sea of very pale brown, old, ones. I believe this means the bird had a very limited prealternate molt but have yet to do a literature check.

 Interestingly, the distribution of the dark brown scapulars and mantle feathers (and of the crown feathers) is suspiciously similar to that of the second calendar year Snowy Plover seen at Conneaut, OH and Presque Isle Park, PA about a week ago. See these photos of that individual which has been missing for around a week.

Comments on the similarity (or lack thereof) of the MI and OH birds would be appreciated, as would links to additional photos of either.

Here are the remainder of my best photos:

This is a much anticipated potential 3rd state record if accepted by MBRC. It was seen into the evening at the same site by many others as well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Snowy Plover at Ludington State Park (per Chris Lipps), June 12

This evening I received a phone message then these photographs of a Snowy Plover taken at Ludington State Park by Chris Lipps this morning, June 12, 2012, around 9-10AM. All of these photos are copyrighted to Christopher Lipps.

The bird was immediately south of the Big Sable River mouth, here: 44.029698,-86.507088

Dave Dister reported to me this evening that he had the bird about 300 yards south of the rivermouth as of 7-7:10PM tonight.

Good luck if you chase this potential 3rd state record!