22 July 2014

Attack of the gastropods!

As I write this, a dreary day with frequent misty squalls is passing by outside.  The wind is out of the west but a measly 15 mph isn’t quite the power we hope for (crank it up to 50+, fine by us).

Weather notwithstanding, I did venture out for a bit but the dense fog at Southwest Point instantly indicated that bringing my scope was far too optimistic of me.  Instead I stumbled around the lava field for a while hoping for anything to pop up from the soaked vegetation.  The only thing that popped was an idea into my head; get the heck out of here and head to Pumphouse Lake to scan shorebirds.

As I headed back east, I stopped briefly at Antone Slough to check on the shorebird habitat.  It appears as if the LEAST SANDPIPERS that bred there have now departed the slough.  However, a distinctive call caught my attention through the pitter-patter of the rain, it was a PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER.  Unzipping my coat and pulling out my camera, I only managed a picture of it flying away:
 
This is the third PAGP I’ve had this fall despite July being on the early side for this species.

I was checking Zapadni Ravine when I found this.  Gadzooks, it’s a mollusk!  A terrestrial gastropod!  Ok, fine, call it a slug if you must.  Regardless, it's the first I’ve seen on the island:
 
Sometimes I don’t have to leave my room to see interesting wildlife.  Just out my bedroom window, this ARCTIC FOX was intent on scavenging some spilled Pringles potato chips and rushing them off to its kits.  Nothing like healthy diet of sour cream Pringles to raise a youngster:
 
I’m not sure if any other guides/birders that have worked on St. Paul have tried to do this… but I figured I’d try to snap a picture of as many of the bird species here as I can.  A photo list, if you will.  Who knows, maybe I’ll leave with the record of bird species photographed in a year on St. Paul??  Anyway, what that translates to is a lot of crappy photos.  Case and point, this distant RED-BREASTED MERGANSER on a rainy day:
 
I may as well mention that Pumphouse Lake continues to host many shorebirds.  The LESSER SAND-PLOVER continued at least through today.  There was also a WESTERN SANDPIPER, 20+ PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, and 3 LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS present.  This lake has already produced RED-NECKED STINT, SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER, and RUFF this year... it's not far fetched to predict that this lake will strike again.

Yesterday evening I ventured up to Northeast Point to have a look around.  One of the highlights was finding a flock of 19 KING EIDERS swimming offshore.  After seeing 1-2 almost on a daily basis most of this summer, seeing a flock like this was quite refreshing:
 
Lastly, as I was driving back, I crested a hill and had to swerve at the last second to avoid hitting two ROCK SANDPIPER chicks in the road.  I stopped, hopped out, and ventured back to make sure I missed them.   Thankfully I did.  Cute little guy, eh?  No wonder I’ve worked with shorebirds for so long!

20 July 2014

BABYFACED!

When I worked at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory last fall, I blogged every day.  It was just part of my daily routine.  As you've noticed so far this spring/summer, blogging every day is NOT in the cards.  For example, it's been a whole 4 days since my last update.  Ages, I know.  Try to curb your enthusiasm with this new entry.

I knew the day was coming, I mentioned it on here several times.  The occasion?  I SHAVED.  More importantly, that indicates that I finally got a new ABA bird after a full three week gap.  It came yesterday when we had our first GRAY-TAILED TATTLER of the season.  Although I only initially heard the bird, I birded some on my own last night and managed to relocate it at a different location.  
Why isn't it a Wandering Tattler, the more expected tattler species?  Note the white belly, white undertail, bold supercilium behind the eye, etc.  This species breeds in northeast Siberia and then migrates south to southeast Asia and Australia.  Just like the Red-necked Stint and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, this vagrant can actually be common here on St. Paul Island.  I have a feeling that this was the first of MANY GTTAs.

So now with this expected lifer "out of the way", what will be my next one and how long will my beard have to grow before it happens???  Maybe it'll be a Little Stint?  Or Temminck's Stint?  You see, shorebirds are some of the earliest fall migrants in much of North America.  The same is definitely true here; late-July and August are the peak times for southbound sandpipers, plovers, etc.  This past week provided us with a nice selection of shorebirds, about 18 species worth.  Perhaps most impressive have been the number of adult PECTORAL SANDPIPERS that have been using Pumphouse Lake lately (the number is up to 30-35 already).  However, probably the gaudiest of the recent visitors is this male LESSER SAND-PLOVER that's been present on-and-off at Pumphouse Lake:
This is another species that breeds in Siberia and, like the others, is an uncommon but expected migrant here.

Not all of the rare shorebirds that find themselves on our beaches and wetlands are Asian-only breeders.  We found a BAIRD'S SANDPIPER the other day which, so far, has stuck faithful to Pumphouse Lake.  This ties the earliest fall arrival of that species here on St. Paul Island.  Here is a photo showing the scaly mantle, long attenuated look (long wings), black legs, etc etc:
We've had a bit of north and west wind lately and so I naturally drifted towards a bit of seawatching.  One particular day, this adult intermediate-morph PARASITIC JAEGER decided to fly directly overhead.  Ok, it's a bit backlit but come on, I seriously don't care:
Just today I went up to Marunich to take a look around.  There are still piles of RUDDY TURNSTONES there, probably between 200-300.  I also saw species like a KING EIDER, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, PACIFIC LOON, and 3 WANDERING TATTLERS.  Oh, and here's a nasty thing that probably is, or has some, SLATY-BACKED GULL in it:
Anyway, to the one reader who reads my posts all the way to the end, this is for you:

16 July 2014

These questions three

It’s mid-July, one of the quietest parts of the summer here on St. Paul Island.  Most of the species have chicks or fully-fledged young by now and that makes for some interesting birding.  For example, a check of Antone Slough yielded young of two shorebird species.  First, however, this adult LEAST SANDPIPER acted as the bridge-keeper near the plank bridge.  I was not afraid. 
 
A little later on, I saw a young LEAST SANDPIPER running about.  I guessed it wasn’t able to fly yet but alas, it jumped up and few away when I continued on my route.  Here's a distant pic of the little guy:
 
LEAST SANDPIPERS aren’t abundant breeders here; they’re fairly uncommon.  However, a much more common breeding shorebird is the RED-NECKED PHALAROPE.  Antone Slough also provided me with a quick glimpse of one of these striking chicks swimming for cover:
 
I ventured up to Marunich, a beach on the north side of the island, to see what shorebirds were feeding on the kelp.  As expected, ROCK SANDPIPERS dominated the scene; hundreds were milling about.  Here’s a view of our local umbrina subspecies:
 
However, this nearby ROCK SANDPIPER caught my attention:
 
It was a touch smaller and much darker overall (compare this to the previous bird).  This is likely from one of the rarer subspecies that DOESN’T breed on St. Paul.

A little farther down the beach I found a RED-NECKED STINT feeding on the kelp (just like I did there on 5 June):
 
This makes it my 5th day so far on St. Paul with a RED-NECKED STINT.  This bird is a touch paler than the stint we had at Pumphouse Lake a couple of days ago and so probably a different bird.

An obvious indicator that shorebird migration is well underway are the RUDDY TURNSTONES which still are piling onto the beaches at Marunich.   I had 100+ there on my last visit.
 
The best shorebird habitat right now continues to be at Pumphouse Lake.  For example, up to 7 PECTORAL SANDPIPERS are present which is pretty notable.  Also, the adult SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER is still present (9th day now).  Yesterday, the LESSER SAND-PLOVER made a quick appearance there as well although it left before some of us arrived.

In case you’re following the facial hair saga, I’m still waiting on my lifer Gray-tailed Tattler but it literally can happen any day now.  I did have two WANDERING TATTLERS today though; one at Southwest Point and another at Antone Lake/Wall.  I wasn’t the only keen pair of eyes at Southwest Point though.  The HARBOR SEALS, which are common there, are pretty distinctive from a distance; big eyes, pale gray coloring, and periscoping-style of looking about:
 
Switching gears, I also spent some time around RED-LEGGED KITTIWAKES today, mainly at Weather Bureau Lake and Tonki Point.  I took this photo to illustrate how the mantle color differs between the two species of kittiwakes; you’ll see the mantle is a touch darker on the bird in front compared to the three behind it:
 
This digiscoped photo also shows the darker mantle of RED-LEGGED KITTIWAKES:
As per the norm, I’ll close with a flower picture.  This particular one is called a Brook Saxifrage.  Peculiar little thing with the red stems and small white flowers... and yet it's still a small wonder I managed to ID it:
 
Anyway, hopefully my next post will have some high-caliber rarity crushage.

14 July 2014

Bulbous

Come tomorrow, I'll have been on St. Paul Island for 2 months.  That also means that I have only 3 more months.  Hopefully some more exciting birds will be sprinkled throughout.  Speaking of that, I wouldn't mind a shave but I'm waiting on my next ABA lifer before I do that.  :-(

Here on St. Paul we're seeing more fall shorebirds arriving almost on a daily basis.  The beach at Marunich now has 70+ RUDDY TURNSTONES whereas a week ago there were hardly 10 around.  Turnstones are showing up in a lot more places too including Southwest Point, Webster Lake, Salt Lagoon, East Landing, and this one at Pumphouse Lake:
However, ROCK SANDPIPERS are still the omnipresent and abundant shorebird that they've been thus far except now we get to enjoy the youngsters that just hatched this summer.  Note the white and buffy edging to the mantle and scapulars as well as the lack of a black belly patch:
Uncommon at this point in July are PECTORAL SANDPIPERS but I surprisingly had 7 of them at Pumphouse Lake last night.  Here's one I digiscoped with my phone:
I should also mention that one of our other guides, Glen, had a LESSER SAND-PLOVER do a flyby a day or two ago at Weather Bureau Lake.  It was never relocated but hopefully one will settle in somewhere for viewing.

We've also been seeing a few more large gulls around too (finally).  My group and I stopped at East Landing yesterday and found this pale-eyed, dark-mantled gull.  Although the primaries are worn and bleached out, we're fairly certain it's a 3rd-cycle SLATY-BACKED GULL:
All the books describe the tip of the bill of a SBGU as being less "bulbous" when compared to Glaucous-winged or Western Gull.  Here was my chance to compare it with a Glaucous-winged and.... hark, tis less bulbous:
This morning I stumbled on this.... thing... out at Southwest Point.  Given that the wingtips are an obvious shade or two darker than the mantle (but not black), I think it's a good candidate for a GLAUCOUS-WINGED x HERRING GULL hybrid:
I'll close with a wildflower.  I was walking the road along the upper cut at Polovina Hill when I looked down the hillside to see a giant patch of large, yellow flowers.  They didn't strike me as any of the typical ones I've been seeing so I investigated and snapped a photo:
Turns out, these are ROSS' AVENS.  Our plant guide says it is uncommon on the island but easily found in its habitat.  The first location they mention is the east flank of Polovina Hill.  Yep indeed, that's where I was.

12 July 2014

Green nose

A check of the seal blind at Reef Point yielded a few COMMON REDPOLLS.  In fact, it was the second-largest Common Redpoll flock ever recorded here on St. Paul.  Here's one photo showing how a few of the 45 redpolls would perch up on the rocks:
Also present at the seal blind was a young male NORTHERN FUR SEAL that wasn't too intent on leaving the area UNDER our seal blind.  We slowly made our way up into the blind and watched as this guy growled and snarled up through the cracks in the wooden floor.  It lunged at us through the floor but that only got him as far as the green, mossy underside of the blind.  He eventually wandered out but not without some nose color from the moss:
Yes, we often see all three species of breeding auklets in one view.  Here is a PARAKEET AUKLET in the bottom left, a CRESTED AUKLET on the far right, and a LEAST AUKLET with its back to us in the middle:
A walk of Pumphouse Lake, the best shorebird habitat on the island right now, didn't yield any new arrivals.  Instead the local SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, and newly fledged ROCK SANDPIPERS kept me company.  Here's the latter:
Also, the adult SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER continued at Pumphouse Lake for the 5th day in a row.  But with the uncommonly unobscured sun behind me, all my digiscoped photos were too saturated:
I didn't see the RED-NECKED STINT this morning although it continued up through at least yesterday.  It's been missed before though so it may still be around.

Until later, here's to hoping our northwest wind brings something interesting.