27 August 2015

Tri-willow Tournament

I remember last fall when, at one point, we had two different Wood Warblers here on St. Paul Island.  Besides being the first time that had ever happened in the ABA area... it was just downright weird.  Well, we found ourselves in a similar scenario yesterday when not one... or two... but THREE different WILLOW WARBLERS were found!  For being a Code 5 rarity from Russia/Asia, having three at once is just stupid.  This is how it played out....

My group and I were walking through the celery patch in the Antone area when one of the birders hollered and called me over.  Turns out, they had flushed a Phylloscopus!  We finally tracked it down, studied it a bit, and managed some photos showing that, yes, it was a WILLOW WARBLER:
Looking above, you can see the yellowish cast overall, longish primary projection, a short eyeline that meets over the bill, and the lack of a faint wingbar.  On the following photo you can see the pale feet (Chiffchaff would more-or-less have dark feet):
So that was cool!  Well, things got more bizarre when Alison phoned in that they had found ANOTHER Willow Warbler at Polovina Hill!  Although that bird could possibly be the one present there a couple of days ago, seeing that bird solidified the notion that there were two on the island.

Well, the icing on the cake came a short while later when my group and I found yet another Willow Warbler, this time in the quarry bowl of Lake Hill.  The first photo of it kinda startled me, just looked a bit different than other WILWs I'd seen (OCWA anyone?):
It was an active little critter though; it was constantly sallying for insects and before long, we all got good looks.  Here's another look, this time actually looking like a WILW:
Anyway, I'm fairly certain that this was the first time 3 of these rarities were ever seen on the same day in the ABA area.  Well, fast-forward to this morning; I was keen to get Ashley on one of these since she still needed it.  When Alison relocated the one at Polovina Hill, the chase was on... and thankfully it stayed put for us:
But Willow Warblers weren't the only rare birds to show up.  In fact, Scott had a nice find in Pumphouse Lake, a SOLITARY SANDPIPER!
Although they're common elsewhere in the ABA area, they're hella rare up here.  This represented the 6th record ever for the Pribs.  Interestingly, I think the 3rd WILW we found yesterday also represented the 6th record ever for the Pribs.  :-)

Not rare, but check out this comparison between different ROCK SANDPIPERS yesterday:
But first, some background info.  Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis), an abundant breeder on the Pribilofs, comes in four subspecies:

C. p. tschuktschorum, breeds in western Alaska and Chukchi Peninsula
C. p. ptilocnemis, breeds in the Pribilofs, Hall Island, and St. Matthew Island
C. p. couesi, breeds in the Aleutians and on the Alaskan Peninsula
C. p. quarta, breeds on the Kamchatka Peninsula and Commander and Kuril Islands of Russia

The left bird in the photo is one of our typical ptilocnemis birds that breeds here.  However, the drastically darker bird on the right is one of the other subspecies and these guys are fairly typical here late the season.  I'm guessing most of the dark ROSAs that show up here are probably tschuktschorum; they're the only ones that breed to the north of the Bering Sea islands.

A highlight today included finding this NORTHERN WHEATEAR on the top of Black Diamond Hill.  It was only my 5th of the season and 20th in my life: 
With August coming to a close soon, I wonder what the next fun rarity will be.  Stay tuned!  In the meantime, I don't think I've ever posted pictures of waves on my blog so here's a first:

As usual, feel free to contact me at arcticory@gmail.com.

24 August 2015

100 days

We've been on St. Paul Island for more than 100 days so far this year.  With fewer than 60 left, we have our eyes focused on the last 1-2 months, hoping for a successful fall with lots of goodies.

Speaking of substantial rarities, the WILLOW WARBLER god made a delivery to St. Paul Island yet again:
It started when some clients and I were birding Polovina Hill a few days ago.  We were driving between the cuts when a yellowish Phylloscopus literally plopped down in the road in front of me!  It wasn't the most agreeable bird and although I managed some photos, the bird went missing.  Shortly thereafter, we found it in the lower cut and I managed some more photos before it again went missing:
However, this somewhat slinky Code 5 rarity from Siberia has yet to be relocated despite a lot of effort.  Maybe it'll turn up somewhere else on the island soon?

The Phylloscopus warblers can be very difficult to tell apart.  Although I saw this bird in the light initially (and it had a nice yellowish cast), subsequent photos in the shade made it look much grayer.  Additionally, the wing projection in some photos looks startlingly short.  However, if you look through all of the photos of this bird on my Flickr account, you'll see photos that show a faint yellowish cast to the breast, pale feet, and primary projection that fits perfectly with Willow Warbler.

This is the 4th record for the Pribilofs and all have been within the last 5 years.  In fact, almost exactly one year ago we had the 3rd Prib record of Willow Warbler on Hutch Hill (that day also yielded a Bluethroat and Gray-streaked Flycatcher).  Although the ABA lists it as a Code 5 species, surely it will be downgraded to a Code 4 at some point.

The fall assortment of shorebirds continues to improve here on St. Paul Island.  It was several days ago that Ashley and I were birding Rocky Lake when we came upon this lanky dude:
Which one?  Well, the right bird is a SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER, a Code 3 species that we see in large numbers here in the fall.  The more interesting bird in this photo is the left bird, the peep with lanky yellowish legs.  And then it flew:
Besides the low Pec-like "churt" call it gave in flight, you'll notice that the feet extend past the end of the tail, a solid fieldmark for LONG-TOED STINT.  Here's another photo showing that helpful flight fieldmark:
We eventually tracked it down again and managed some solid photos:
Long-toed Stint is another Code 3 rarity from Siberia.  Although it's hard to see how lanky its legs are in that photo, focus on the color... they're yellow.  That alone removes WESA, SESA, LIST, and RNST from the equation.  Secondly, note the white-edged wing coverts.  A Least Sandpiper would show rufous-edged.  Also, the dark brown on the forehead comes down all the way to the bill and joins with the dark eyeline that stretches back to the eye.  Anyway, how fun is that, though?  Ash and I had managed to find 3 of the 4 vagrant stint species this season and all on Rocky Lake!  Now for that pesky Temminck's.  :-)

While on the subject of peeps, here's a better photo of the SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER that continues in Pumphouse Lake:
Note that the bill is rather short and blunt tipped.  Also note the wing coverts that are a) not solid black, and b) not edged in bright rufous.  The strongly-capped appearance favors SESA as well.

There was a day last week when all of a sudden WOOD SANDPIPERS started dropping in.  First, one on Saucer, then two on Saucer, and then Ash and I found this one at Antone Slough:
Strangely, this species is considered only a Code 2 whereas things like Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Ruff, and Red-necked Stint are considered Code 3.  I understand that WOSAs have bred in the ABA area but man, I sure don't think SPTS = WOSA in caliber.

It's getting to be the time of year when we have to sort through juvenile tattlers.  Here's a WANDERING showing the lack of eyeline behind the eye:
Although not a separate species, this is the Siberian race of WHIMBREL that we had flying around Novastoshna a few days ago:
See the white wedge stretching from the tail up the back?  American Whimbrels lack that fieldmark.

Migrant passerine numbers are continuing to build.  We've had new arrivals such as GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS, FOX SPARROWS, and unusually large numbers of SAVANNAH SPARROWS.  The latter has been seen at more than a half a dozen locations already including this one in the cut at Polovina Hill:
Yesterday was the first day of the 2015 season that we've had a North American wood warbler.  Here's a WILSON'S WARBLER that, joined with another WIWA, found the quarry suitable to bop around in:
We still will visit cliffs from time to time although most of the seabirds have finished nesting.  For example, here are some THICK-BILLED MURRES that are looking over their look-alike youngsters:
... and talk about a fluff bomb, check out this young NORTHERN FULMAR on the cliff next to its parent:
The numbers of PACIFIC WRENS are continuing to impress.  In fact, it's possible to see 10-20 in a day!  Here's one in the crab pots:
One of the more unusual sightings lately actually revolved around this dude:
Right, NOT a bird.  This is a RIBBON SEAL and it actually caused quite the stir in town.  These are super rare to ever see on land (they're an "ice seal").  I think it was a lifer for everyone:
Problem is, there is a good chance it wasn't healthy.  It laid there for a day or two and although it disappeared one night after a high tide, I suspect it's probably dead somewhere.

I'll leave you with a panoramic view of the cliff at Ridge Wall.  It was a beautiful evening to lose yourself amongst the calls of seabirds.

19 August 2015

The rarest fall shorb so far

Fall is progressing nicely so far.  Not only are we past the halfway mark for this years guiding season, but with the passing of August 16, we’re now less than 2 months from departure.  But before I get too carried away thinking about all of that, we need to focus on what we hope will be the most exciting two months of birding on St. Paul this year.

That brings me to the subject.  Indeed, we stumbled on the rarest fall shorebird of the season so far.  Keep in mind that we’ve already had loads of RED-NECKED STINTS, some RUFFS, and even a Code 4 LITTLE STINT.  So what’s the rarity?  Well, you aren’t going to like it…

We were scoping Saucer Pond when we saw this peep running around.  Even from a distance, something didn’t click about it.  We got a little closer and I managed to snap some crappy digiscoped pictures.  It shows a peep with… -drum roll-…. webbing between the middle and outer toes on its left foot:
Now, before you suggest that it’s mud or something (which is an actual issue to be cognizant of), you can see the webbing ALSO on its right foot in this photo:
Ok, so what if it has webbing?  Well, that eliminates either Red-necked or Little stint leaving us with Western or Semipalmated sandpiper.  Well, this bird was actually running around with an actual Western Sandpiper and it was clear beyond a doubt that it wasn’t one of those…. leaving us with the ID of Semipalmated Sandpiper.  I told you you weren’t going to like it!

Take a look though, it really does make sense.  The bird was ever-so-slightly smaller than the WESA, it had a much shorter bill, and it had a super dark cap (something that really jumped out compared to the RNSTs we’ve been seeing):
Additionally, it doesn’t look particularly long winged (which would favor a stint) and the wing coverts aren’t solid black as a Little Stint would show; they have dark anchor-shaped coverts instead:
Anyway, so yes, a fall SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER here is rare, as in less than 10 records all time.  So in fact, we just had a fall peep rarer than any of the 4 stints including my nemesis of Temminck’s.  Oh well, you take what you can get.  And then you try to ID what you take!

Staying on the theme of shorebirds, yesterday a hike to Tsmanna didn’t yield much of note other than this entirely crazy-looking leucistic RUDDY TURNSTONE:
Have you ever seen a partially leucistic or albino shorebird before?  We were thinking about that question and honestly, I’m not sure I have.

Switching gears, did you know that St. Paul Island is void of rodents?  It’s true, we have no rats, voles, mice, or even lemmings.  However, we do have a small shrew (shrews aren't rodents!).  Either way, sometimes birds fill niches that are open to them.  For example, we have a tiny dark brown species that scurries around the cliffs and rocky areas.  They spend the winter here as well instead of migrating away in the fall and because of all that isolation, they’ve actually evolved into their own distinct and endemic subspecies.  We’re talking, of course, about the PACIFIC WREN.  This year has been kind on the wrens and they've been findable in a multitude of locations, a stark contrast of the situation last year.  And yes, they do scurry around a little bit like rodents.  Here are two patrolling the shadows of the Reef Seal Blind:
When they pop up in nice light though, it IS possible to tell what they are:

Speaking of Reef though (it’s a peninsula that extends south off the island), here’s a panoramic view looking south towards its tip:
Flipping around, here’s a view from the same point looking north towards town:
Signs of fall migration, even for passerines, are starting to show.  Ash and I walked the crab pots (for the first time in who knows how long) and immediately found an early GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH skulking about: 
Thinking back, this was the first time I had seen this species in crab pots (but I can't say it's a surprise).  I would have much rather it had been a Dark-sided or Asian Brown flycatcher but here I go again, complaining.  This is the 2nd GCTH we’ve had on the island this year, the first one was a one-day-wonder I photographed at Hutch Hill back on June 15:
Lastly, another very welcome sign of fall was this NORTHERN WHEATEAR that was along SW Road near the Antone Wall turnoff:  
This is our first wheatear of the fall with presumably many more to come.  In looking at records from last year, I had NOWH on 6 days during the fall season and all within the month of August.

13 August 2015

Nothin' but shorbage

I'm only now realizing this but this post has photos of shorebirds... and photos of nothing else!  I suppose that means it's August, the best month for shorebird migration here on St. Paul Island.  But did you know that 65 species of shorebirds have been seen in the Pribs?  Think about that a second!

The last post highlighted the finding of the LITTLE STINT, a rare Code 4 shorebird.  So, is it still around?  Well, I walked some marshes two days ago and...
Yep, it was still around but this time it was on Rocky Lake.  This change of location isn't surprising considering Rocky Lake and Saucer Pond are quite close to each other and that Rocky probably has the best shorebird habitat on the island.  Anyway, as you can see above, the bird was much closer but pretty backlit (and didn't stick for long).

However, Rocky continued to provide shorbs during that visit.  For starters, there was this sharp DUNLIN (still flagged in eBird here) with its long and curved bill:
On a different shore of Rocky Lake, we bumped into another now-familiar character, a RED-NECKED STINT:
Note the super short and blunt-tipped bill, long wing projection, and bland gray tertials and wing coverts.  About now you must be wondering... yes, I really do love studying these stints!

However, it was about then that we spotted a mondo beast-of-shorebird come in to land... a Code 3 RUFF:
Although rare in most of North America, Ruffs are expected visitors here (they've been annual for a loooong time).  This particular bird was actually our first of the 2015 season so, yay, it was time to update the sidebar on this blog.  But did you know that the first Alaskan record ever for Ruff was a specimen collected here on St. Paul back in 1910?

Moving on, the following day I wasn't able to walk wetlands but I did digiscope this WANDERING TATTLER with my iPhone.  Nothing fancy, just a tattler getting some shuteye out at SW Point:
I had today off and so I walked some wetlands to see what was still around... and guess who was front and center on Rocky Lake still:
The LIST.  What a beaut!  Notice the longish bill, split supercilium, black centers and rufous edging on the tertials/wing coverts, and moderate primary projection.  The following picture shows the rufous edging on the black tertials quite well:
Oh, and LISTs don't have webbing in their toes like Semipalmateds or Westerns.  Check it out:
Compare that with a WESTERN SANDPIPER that was also present today.  See the webbing?  It's small but it's there:
Compared to the Little Stint, see how bland and gray the tertials and wing coverts are?  Some of the scaps have black anchoring but that's about it.  Also notice the primaries don't extend past the tertials as much.

In fact, the WESTERN SANDPIPER was hanging out with these two fools today, both RED-NECKED STINTS:
Notice how the WESA is a bit more leggy than the stints.  Oh, and comparing bill length with a view this close becomes almost laughable; the stints have such short and stubby bills!  What might be tougher is if we get a Semipalmated Sandpiper this fall... but that remains to be seen.  Literally.

Thanks for checking in.  As always, you can reach me here if needed:

arcticory@gmail.com