Bar-tailed Godwit at Chinc – Twice!

During the month of August, I made the hour and a half drive to Chincoteague NWR, twice. The reason for both trips was to see the MEGA – Bar-tailed Godwit. The first trip took place on August 5th, where I met up with studs like Alex Lamoreaux and Tom Johnson as well as a dude doing a Big Year (you’ve all seen the movie, right?) and several other folks I’ve never met before.

Before I started the drive, Alex texted me that the bird was not refound, yet. I decided to make the drive anyway, just to meet up and bird with friends I only get to see every couple of months. When I rolled into the parking area at the Tom’s Cove Visitor’s Center, I saw Alex and proceeded to shoot the you know what for about fifteen minutes. I then suggested we walk across the road to look in Swan Cove as I saw several large shorebirds in the pool when I drove in. We walked over and started scanning through the birds – “Willet. Dowitcher. Marbled Godwit. Hey, wait, what is that dowitcher-type bird with a bicolored bill? Oh man, that’s it!” We jumped for joy as we drooled at the sight of this European rarity. OK, so maybe we didn’t drool, but I know Alex was close. We watched the bird for over an hour and got exceptional scope looks.

Bar-tailed Godwit (ssp. lapponica) - Virginia

‘European’ Bar-tailed Godwit at Chincoteague NWR, Virginia on 5 August 2013. Digiscoped with an iPhone 4S + Celestron Regal M2 80ED & Phone Skope Adapter. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

The second round ensued on August 24th. After a morning of bird surveys, Ben Zyla and I made the trek down to Chinc. Ben was looking to add the bird to his growing ABA year list. Again, we rolled up to the Tom’s Cove Visitor’s Center and started scanning Swan Cove. A few other birders were there and had already spent several hours searching for the bird. Discouraged and having no luck with the MEGA, Ben did what any sensible birder would do – look through flocks other than the flock of Marbled Godwits we stared at for what seemed like hours. Boom. He found it. The Bar-tailed Godwit was mixed in with a nice, tidy flock of Willets.

‘European’ Bar-tailed Godwit at Chincoteague NWR, Virginia on 24 August 2013. Digiscoped with an iPhone 4S + Celestron Regal M2 80ED & Phone Skope Adapter. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Epic. Ben was stoked, as were the the rest of the bird nerds present. We watched the bird for an hour or so. It took flight several times and flew over to Tom’s Cove, then came right back. Eventually it decided to chill with it’s own kind – Marbled Godwits, and that’s when we hit the road back to Milton.

Bar-tailed Godwit (ssp. lapponica) - Virginia

‘European’ Bar-tailed Godwit and Willet at Chincoteague NWR, Virginia on 24 August 2013. Photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Two for two. I consider that a success. Until next time, bird hard my friends.

THE TUBENOSE THAT LOST ITS WAY…

I would like to introduce Bobby Wilcox, a good friend of mine, who just got started in field ornithology. I had the pleasure of working with him this spring in Blythe, CA and along the lower Colorado River. Recently, Bobby found Arizona’s second state record of Sooty Shearwater. Here’s his story!

Part of what makes me a birder is that I love looking at any bird, all the time.  If one is out there looking and paying close enough attention they are bound to witness beautiful moments perpetrated by the commonest of birds that might otherwise be overlooked.  A proud father House Sparrow feeding his new baby discarded crumbs from your breakfast table.  A mother American Coot tirelessly scouring the bottom of a pond to bring up tasty morsels for her two begging zebra striped fuzz balls.  While these moments are precious and wonderful, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of what keeps me going out there to the same spots day after day is the possibility of stumbling upon a diamond in the rough.  I think every birdwatcher, from casual to maniacal can relate to the thrill of getting an unexpected lifer or encountering a cryptic bird and then feverishly sketching notes and details and putting your Sibley through its paces in search of a positive ID.

When I left my house in Yuma, Arizona at 6 a.m. the other day my plan was to get in a couple hours of birding, scour the countryside for flooded agricultural fields (notorious shorebird traps in the desert), hit up nearby Mittry Lake and maybe pick up a few terns or early migrant ducks and head home before 10 a.m. so I could get in a jog before the temps topped 100 degrees.  My first stop was a flooded field that had been draining for days leaving mudflats behind.  The shorebirds were abundant and fairly diverse and I was excited to pick up my first Snowy Plovers of the year, figuring this would probably be my ‘best’ bird of the day.  As I was getting ready to head out it started blowing up a gale and I had to retreat to my car lest my optical equipment (including my eyes) get sandblasted.  I thought to myself that this was perhaps an inauspicious omen for my planned morning of birding and briefly considered heading home.  In the end I decided to try Mittry Lake anyway since it was somewhat sheltered by mountains and as I recall, I really didn’t have anything better to do.

Half an hour later I pulled into a favorite spot of mine that looks out on a big open expanse of lake as well as a marshy area with a hidden pond that is sheltered from the main body of the lake.  By this time I can pretty much enter my eBird checklist without even getting out of my car (6 Western/Clark’s Grebes, 50 Coots, 2 Least Bitterns, 2 Green Herons, 1 Snowy Egret, a few Pied-billed Grebes, Loggerhead Shrike, flyover flock of White-faced Ibis, etc., etc.) but I always stop there anyway because there are lots of birds and you just never know what you might see.  So I set up my scope and started tallying up the usual suspects when half a kilometer off in the distance something caught my eye.  When I locked onto it with the naked eye I just saw a fairly large brown bird with long wings fly low over the surface of the water and then come in for a landing on the surface.  My first thought was cormorant but when I zeroed in with the scope it was clearly not a cormorant.  From that distance it appeared to be gull-shaped with a gull-like bill so this is the point from which I began my ID process.  It would be a phenomenal understatement to say that gulls are not my specialty so I decided to use this rather cryptic bird as an opportunity for study since it was the only bird there that I hadn’t seen 100 times already.  I took out my notebook and began to scribble down features: gull-like, dark brown overall, all dark head with a very clean, sleek look, bill somewhat lighter at the base and dark at the tip, throat and breast feathering a bit lighter brown than back, wingtips also darker than back, seen initially flying low over water then landing and floating.  This is what I wrote down as I popped on my scope adapter and iPhone and let the cameras roll.  Once I had some notes down I cracked the Sibley and started sifting through the options.  At this point I was pretty convinced it was a juvenile gull so I’m leafing through the gull section giving closer examination to the ones with potential.  I narrowed it down to Herring Gull, California Gull and Heermann’s Gull but I couldn’t convince myself that any of them quite fit.  A few times I almost decided to pack it in and just send the pictures to my gull-obsessed friend David Vander Pluym but as I was mulling this option over in my head the bird kept floating closer and as I mentioned before, I had nothing better to do, so I kept watching and videoing.  When it approached to within about 150 m I began to get the suspicion that there was more to this ‘gull’ than I had originally surmised.  Upon closer inspection I began to notice a peculiar structure at the base of its upper bill and thought, ‘No, this can’t possibly be a tubenose, can it?’.  I’d never even seen a tubenose before but I was well aware that they are open ocean birds so if I was indeed seeing one on a tiny lake in SW Arizona, this bird was pretty far from home.  I went back to Sibley with a new focus and kept watching the bird, all the while becoming more convinced of its true identity.  Then all of a sudden I was blessed with the moment I’d been waiting for as the bird lifted it’s long narrow wings to reveal a bright silvery white panel on its underwing (sadly my phone had died by this point due to all the previous videoing).  Sooty Shearwater!!

Sooty Shearwater at Mittry Lake, Yuma Co, AZ on 5 August 2013. iPhone photo by Bobby Wilcox.

Or at least I was pretty sure based on my incredibly limited knowledge and the agreement of the field guide with my observations.  Shortly after the fortuitous wing lift, it took off and skimmed the water for a few hundred meters before landing again near the shore.  I hurriedly packed up my gear to drive over and get a closer vantage.  Unfortunately there was a car in front of me on the way over and I think it flushed the bird and by the time I got there the bird was nowhere to be found.  The wind was whistling by this time so he must have just lifted off and caught a breeze back home.

Sooty Shearwater at Mittry Lake, Yuma Co, AZ on 5 August 2013. iPhone photo by Bobby Wilcox.

I puttered around the area for a while but came up dry so headed home to pull some screen shots from my video and get them out to some experts to make sure I wasn’t just making this all up.  It took the aforementioned David Van der Pluym and partner Lauren Harter, two Southwest birding luminaries, about 2 minutes to verify my suspicions and excitedly inform me that they were immediately driving down from Lake Havasu City (3.5 hours away) to try and resight it.  Sadly, the combined efforts of the three of us and local birding superstar Henry Dutwiler and his wife failed to produce the bird but another open ocean bird, the Brown Booby, was found just a few miles north of my initial Shearwater sighting.  It would seem that these birds were probably just enjoying a leisurely soar over the Sea of Cortez, a hundred odd miles south of here, when the wind kicked up and they just happened to be at the wrong altitude and before they knew it they were on a podunk lake in the middle of the desert.  This is a fairly common phenomenon that often occurs during tropical storms and the like but can obviously also happen on really windy days with no storm in sight (see David and Lauren’s blog for more detailed info on this topic – http://phainopeplafables.com/2013/08/07/inland-seabirds/).

So the moral of the story is, when the weather sucks, go birding anyway!  You might just get lucky and find yourself in the right place at the right time.  And to top it all of it turns out this was only the second state record for Sooty Shearwater and the first one was found dead so it’s kind of like the first and a half record.  First tubenose, lifer and second state record all in one bird…not too shabby.

Check out Bobby’s photos on the AZFO Photo Documentation page as well.

Good birding!
Bobby Wilcox

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in southern Delaware!

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in Rehoboth, DE on 18 July 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

A pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks were first reported on July 15 at King’s Creek Country Club in Rehoboth Beach, DE. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are casual vagrants in Delaware with eight previously accepted records.

Image provided by eBird (www.ebird.org) and created 31 July 2013.

Looking at eBird records (pictured above), Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are common vagrants throughout the eastern half of the country. There was a single bird in northern Maryland during the same time the birds in Rehoboth Beach were present. Golfers at the country club said that there were five birds present, but birders only observed two, max. I was fortunate to see only one of those birds. It took me about a dozen tries and a few afternoons/evening of solid birding to find one. I think only three other birders were able to track down this bird.

 

 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks seek refuge in marshes in the southern US, feed on aquatic plants, grains, grass, insects, and mollusks, and nest in tree cavities.

During my visit, I watched the bird from a distance for about five minutes. It was not associating with the flock of Canada Geese directly, but outside of the golf course it most likely was. It spent most of its time feeding during my stay, but also started calling as I was leaving. It was doing a similar call to the recording below:

I was able to obtain a decent digiscoped video from a distance with my iPhone 4S + Celestron Regal M2 80ED & Phone Skope Adapter (Watch on 1080p for best quality).

This bird was gave me 388 for my ABA Year List and 199 for my Delaware Year List. I dipped super hard on it in southeast AZ and all of my searching/recon in southern Delaware paid off. It is a great addition to my Delaware Life List, which is now at 243. Here’s to hoping more vagrants start showing up in Delaware!

Literature Cited:

Andrew Spencer, XC102174. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/102174.

James, J. D., and J. E. Thompson. 2001. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis). In The Birds of North America, No. 578 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Sullivan, B.L., C.L. Wood, M.J. Iliff, R.E. Bonney, D. Fink, and S. Kelling. 2009. eBird: a citizen-based bird observation network in the biological sciences. Biological Conservation 142: 2282-2292.

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/black-bellied_whistling-duck/id

Link to Rufous-necked Wood-Rail Video!

Check out the footage of the MEGA Rufous-necked Wood-Rail from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge over at 10,000 Birds! Cheers to Matt Daw on finding a first for the ABA! Be sure to check out the post on the ABA Blog for details.

Red Phalarope in Williamsport!

On Saturday May 11, while I was running along the Lycoming Creek in Williamsport I noticed a small bird in the middle of the creek. Curious I ran closer and the bird took off, heading up the creek. I noticed that it looked very shorebird-like so I began to get very excited. Soon enough the bird floated back down the creek and the distinct foraging behavior gave it away, I was looking at a phalarope. However, I didn’t have binoculars or a camera so I began the fastest half mile I’ve ever ran back to my house to grab the gear.

Sure enough the bird was still present. I put the binoculars up to my eyes and realized I was looking at a Red Phalarope. This was only the second Red Phalarope I have ever seen so I took my time looking at the bird and then eventually got closer for some pictures. Unfortunately the pictures didn’t come out great and the low light didn’t help but here is the best one.

Red Phalarope along Lycoming Creek in Williamsport, PA on 11 May 2013. Photo by Nate Fronk.

Western Tanager Chase

I’m not sure what’s going on with western birds showing up in Upstate New York lately, but after my successful Western Grebe chase and after Drew Weber’s successful Black-throated Gray Warbler chase, I figured 2013 was done producing birds from the other half of the country. You can imagine my surprise when this past Tuesday, a 1st year male Western Tanager was reported in the little town of Irving, NY, about 40 minutes south of Buffalo. Checking the eBird records, there haven’t been many Western Tanagers in upstate or western New York in the past 10 years. This was a really good bird for us.

ebird range map of Western Tanager in NY past 10 years

Naturally, I went after this guy this morning. Reports on the bird had it coming into a suet feeder about every 15 to 45 minutes, and all visitors got great looks at this guy on Wednesday and said it was extremely cooperative. No one waited more than an hour for the bird. I got to the private residence at 9:50. It was last seen at 9:30. This should be a piece of cake . . . Flash forward 4 hours later, and I still hadn’t seen any sign of the tanager. I had groups of birders come and go in my span of being there, and my morale was at an all time low. I was pretty much calling it quits at 2 o’clock when lo and behold, Western Tanager shows up for 20 seconds and then bolts under duress from some Common Grackles. It was a major relief to finally get this bird, and it did return about 10 minutes later for an extended look. Unfortunately, the tanager was not as cooperative as previously reported for photos, but I managed to get a decent enough documentation shot. All in all, an excellent bird and an even better bird for New York. I should add that the owner of the property, Pauline, was extremely cooperative and friendly with the hordes of birders coming to her house. Many thanks.

Western Tanager – Irving, NY 4/25/13

Neotropic Cormorants at the Blythe Fish Ponds

This morning, the Tobins (Michelle and Jennifer), Bobby Wilcox, and I had two Neotropic Cormorants at the Blythe Fish Ponds in Blythe, CA. Who would’ve guessed the Blythe Fish Ponds would be in Blythe, CA? Anyway. Neotropic Cormorant is a review species in California. There was one individual present 1 March 2013 that David Vander Pluym and Lauren Harter of Phainopepla Fables found. Based on David’s photo here, I think these two birds are new. Both birds seen today were not missing or molting primary feathers like the one in David’s photos. Here are the photos of today’s birds. If you’re interested in looking for these birds or birding the fish ponds in general check out this Google Map I created: http://goo.gl/maps/bq5dy

Neotropic Cormorants - California

Neotropic Cormorant - California

Neotropic Cormorant - California

Neotropic Cormorant - California

Neotropic Cormorant - California

Neotropic Cormorants - California

Blythe Fish Ponds, Riverside, US-CA

Apr 18, 2013 7:55 AM – 8:34 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.4 mile(s)
Comments: Submitted from BirdLog NA for iOS, version 1.5.2
24 species

Cinnamon Teal  1
Redhead  6
Ruddy Duck  3
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Neotropic Cormorant  2
Great Blue Heron  10
Great Egret  9
Snowy Egret  4
White-faced Ibis  190
Turkey Vulture  6
Osprey  1
Common Gallinule  1
Black-necked Stilt  3
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Least Sandpiper  3
Long-billed Dowitcher  9
Rock Pigeon  2
Burrowing Owl  1
Cliff Swallow  25
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  15
Common Yellowthroat  1
Yellow-headed Blackbird  30
Great-tailed Grackle  15

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S13788527

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (http://ebird.org)