19 August 2014

I'm alive... even if my blog isn't

Just a warning, this post has more than 20 pictures.  Of course, I haven't updated the blog in so long that this is merely an attempt to catch you up with what's been happening the last two weeks.

Believe it or not, we're already more than halfway done with August and that means we're in the thick of shorebird migration.  We're coming into the part of the year where any of the 4 rare stints is possible (and obviously hoped for).  Speaking of stints, we've had some interesting peeps these days.  First came this particular bird which, rare as it is, is actually a juvenile SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (after being called a dull Red-necked Stint earlier):
It took some careful studying though and I'd like to thank the other careful observers who helped with the ID.  This was something like the 4th or 5th record of a juvenile SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER ever for St. Paul Island.

Fast forward ten days and what do I find in the Tonki Point Wetlands?  Boom, yet another.  Orrr..... maybe it's the same one and it just returned 1-2 weeks later?  Both do have gape-notches, after all (there is a LEAST SANDPIPER in the background too in case you didn't notice):
If you go to the other side of the bill-length spectrum and want to see a peep with a mega-schnoz, look no further than the WESTERN SANDPIPER (which is a regular fall migrant here): 
From farther away, the long bill is still pretty evident:
Compare the above photo with this photo... see anything different with this bird?
Indeed, the bill is considerably shorter than it should be on a WESA.  This is a juvenile RED-NECKED STINT.  Here's another view showing the long, drawn-out and pointy back end:
Closer yet with my digiscoping setup, the RED-NECKED STINT still distinctly shows decent primary projection and a warmer wash with smudges on the side of the breast:
There are other shorebirds to keep us busy of course.  One such species is the GRAY-TAILED TATTLER which is a very rare bird most places in the US.  This is an adult bird, as you can see with the barring on the underparts, but you'll notice the pure white belly and undertail which is indicative of GRAY-TAILED:
Ooh, here's another tattler with a white belly, it must be a Gray-tailed.... right?  No.  This is a juvenile tattler and juveniles of both Gray-tailed and Wandering have clean white bellies.  You have to look at other field marks such as the shade of the back color, the pale eyeline and if it extends behind the eye, upperside spotting, darkness of gray shading along the sides of the flanks, and, of course, the very different call notes:
We all know that phalaropes are goofy but, around here, you're reminded of that more often than most places.  For example, you spot a bird feeding along the shoulder of a road, even with no water around, and of course it's a RED PHALAROPE acting like a longspur:
Here's another but this time this particular bird managed to at least find some mud to muck through:
There are still plenty of gulls around these days including the normal BLACK-LEGGED and RED-LEGGED KITTIWAKES.  Here's one of the former, a local bird that just hatched this summer; note the very striking pattern (field guides often refer to this pattern of black as a bold "M" shape):
Besides the kittiwakes, the most numerous gull species is the very large GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL.  We have grown accustomed to sifting through numbers of these hoping for any other gull with black wingtips instead of the white and gray.  For example, here's a different gull and the black wingtips helped give it away:
Problem is, it isn't a super straight-forward identification.  See the dark iris?  An American Herring Gull should have a pale iris.  Ok, what about Vega Herring Gull?  Well, the mantle should be noticeably darker on those.  So is this a hybrid between the two?  The head and bill shape don't strike me as Thayer's Gull.  What gives?  Thoughts?

A gull that usually IS straight-forward to ID is the SLATY-BACKED GULL.  Around here, there are no other normally-occurring dark-mantled gulls.  If you spot a giant gull with a black back, even if it's preening and you can't see the head, you're off and running:
Oh, and yes, there ARE still alcids around but things are changing VERY quickly.  For example, LEAST AUKLETS used to be one of the most abundant species on the island.  They couldn't be missed.  Well, now just 3-4 weeks later, we do NOT see them very often, even missing them for days on end.  I'm actually excited by this a little bit because it's a clear sign that changes are coming and fall isn't far away.  A few weeks ago, though, we found this young LEAST AUKLET that was stranded on the side of the road.  We snatched it up and released it somewhere where it hopefully righted itself and survived.  Of course, I also snapped a picture before we let it go:
However, HORNED PUFFINS are still numerous on the cliffs and here's proof that you can still get awesome puffin photos this late into the season:
Switching gears to songbirds, birding HAS gotten more interesting in the past few weeks.  There is a subspecies of PACIFIC WREN that is only found on the Pribilof Islands.  And even though it's only found on 3 islands in the world, it's not a species we see everyday here on St. Paul Island (thankfully they're more numerous on the other two islands).  However, now that the young have hatched and dispersed off of the cliff faces, we've been seeing them scuttling around in the crabpots near town.  I imagine this is good practice for when we're chasing around a Dusky Warbler or accentor here later in the fall.  Anyway, enough banter, here's the wren:
Just in recent days, we've seen an increase in actual migrants from the American side.  For example, several AMERICAN PIPITS have been seen and up to 5 WILSON'S WARBLERS were found lately.  After looking at the local longspurs and rosy-finches for 3 months, you wouldn't believe how refreshing it was to see this familiar, bright yellow warbler pop up out of the wild celery:
Another species showing up is the NORTHERN WHEATEAR.  Before coming here to the Pribilofs, I had only seen wheatear at two other locations (Icy Cape in NW Alaska and in Texas).  However, I've now seen them daily for the past several days which has been enjoyable getting used to!  Like the above photo, it's amazing how refreshing it is to see a flash of white flying along the road in front of you.  Here's one that perched for a few seconds:
Another interesting passerine turned up yesterday.  Five of them, in fact.  My group and I stumbled onto a family group of COMMON REDPOLLS in some of the crabpots on the island.  The young still looked downy in places and others reported seeing the adult feeding one of the youngsters.  Even though us guides saw no evidence of redpolls breeding here this year, they most-likely did in an unchecked part of the island.  Here's one of the youngsters:
Anyway, hopefully that helps in getting folks back up to speed.  I'm sure my next update will come more quickly than this one did.  Peace.