27 October 2014

Back and buggin'

It's probably no surprise that after being away from home for 5 months, being back in California has been simply amazing.  Although, yes, I'm less likely to stumble into a bird I've never seen before, there is a lot more to enjoying life than that.

For example, I have no complaints about the temps sitting comfortably in the 70s and even low 80s.  This is October?  Ok!  We were seeing snow showers on St. Paul, now I'm around green trees with all their leaves, blooming flowers,  and yeah, palm trees.  Coming with that territory are bugs; I had gone through a bit of a butterfly withdrawal on St. Paul where there are no native species.  Back home, however, and it doesn't take long to find CABBAGE WHITES, ORANGE SULPHURS, and COMMON BUCKEYES.  Here's one of the latter: 
I haven't been out butterflying much but I have bumped into a few other species like this ACMON BLUE:
This is the first fall I've seen GULF FRITILLARIES around in the Central Valley.  Although their numbers are rather unpredictable, maybe I've just missed them in previous falls (for example, I wasn't in California much last fall).  Here's one at Don Nottoli Park:
Another fun group of creatures I've had to go without for a while are dragonflies.  I found this BLUE-EYED DARNER at one of my local patches the other day:
Speaking of my "local patches", or small local parks that I bird fairly regularly, it's been fun to revisit them and see what's changed in the last half year.  However, seeing BUSHTITS, and their acrobatic foraging techniques, is not an uncommon sight at all.  Here's one checking under a leaf, likely hoping for some tasty treat:
The biggest surprise awaiting me at Don Nottoli Park, a local patch of mine, was a lone PINE SISKIN.  This was a new species for the park but it comes in a fall season where many others have been seen locally.  I only managed a blurry picture as it flew off:
As a whole, I was really impressed with the recent visit to DONO.  Maybe for the first time ever, I reached the 50 species mark there (you can see the full list here on eBird).  I also visited Camden Park, another local patch here in Elk Grove (checklist found here).  There, I came up just short of the 50 species mark but check out this duck that was skulking around with two MALLARDS:
I had never seen any domestic duck here in the US that looked so similar to EASTERN SPOT-BILLED DUCK.  Of course, given how rare that species would be even in western Alaska, let alone here in the Lower 48, one might/should assume this has some domestic genes in its dark, dark past.

Even when I'm not out birding, birds here from my apartment remain interesting.  I've had about 30 species in the last couple of days including WHITE-TAILED KITE, SANDHILL CRANES, the local BLACK PHOEBES, multiple species of woodpeckers, BELTED KINGFISHER, and the omni-present/year-round ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRDS.

That's all for now, thanks for checking in.  Drop me a line if you want at arcticory@gmail.com.

23 October 2014

St. Paul wrap up

If you've been wondering, due to my lack of posts, if I've up and vanished from St. Paul... you'd be right.  The three of us guides wrapped up the season and departed St. Paul almost a week ago.

As I continue to get settled in back home in California while getting used to trees, pavement, and traffic, I thought I'd write a short summary post about my time there.  I've gotten a lot of questions lately such as "How many new ABA birds did you see?" and "Did you meet your goals?".  Personally, the number of lifers I managed to see far surpassed my expectations.  I ended my time there with 34 new ABA birds although I didn't really expect more than 15-20 when I started.

As a whole, St. Paul did quite well.  We saw 178 species this year which is the 2nd-highest tally ever.  We ended with 40 Asian vagrant species which was one shy of tying the all-time high count set in 2007.  We found 5 species that had never been seen on the Pribs before (4 of which were American, the other being Common Chiffchaff).

Here's a list of Code 3 (x = 22), Code 4 (x = 14), and Code 5 (x = 3) species that us guides saw on St. Paul Island in 5 months this year:

Taiga Bean-Goose
Tundra Bean-Goose
Common Pochard
Steller's Eider
Lesser Sand-Plover
Common Sandpiper
Gray-tailed Tattler
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Long-toed Stint
Red-necked Stint
Jack Snipe
Common Snipe
Slaty-backed Gull
Common Cuckoo
Oriental Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Swift
Sky Lark
Common House-Martin
Willow Warbler
Common Chiffchaff
Wood Warbler
Dusky Warbler
Gray-streaked Flycatcher
Siberian Rubythroat
Red-flanked Bluetail
Taiga Flycatcher
Eyebrowed Thrush
Dusky Thrush
Siberian Accentor
Gray Wagtail
White Wagtail
Olive-backed Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
Rustic Bunting
Common Rosefinch

It's quite a haul, if you ask me, and I challenge any Lower 48 state to come up with a comparable list for any 5 month period.  Even California.... although California is 3898x bigger than St. Paul Island.

I've also been asked a lot whether I'm returning to St. Paul in 2015.  That, I do not know yet.

Numbers aside, I really do feel quite lucky to have had that opportunity.  I want to thank those of you who made it happen, made it more fun than it might have been, and put up with me and these blog posts.

And so with that, I left Antone Lake:
 ... and left the town of St. Paul, visible here from Reef Point:
... hopped on a plane or two:
... saw Mt. Shasta en route:
... and finally, dropped into the Central Valley near Sacramento:
Now to initiate whatever comes next... any ideas?

14 October 2014

A rustic poaching

It's mid-October already and quite honestly, I thought I had seen my last lifer here on St. Paul (after all, I leave in 4 days).

But of course, I was quite happy to be wrong in that.  Scott found a diving duck on Weather Bureau Lake and got the word out... the problem was, we weren't sure if it was a COMMON POCHARD or CANVASBACK.  I mean, how prepared was I in knowing the subtleties of pochards??  

We eventually got good but distant scope views and digiscoped photos which confirmed that it was indeed a COMMON POCHARD, a Code 3 duck from the Old World.   

When zooming way in on the photos, you can see a faint pale band across the top of the bill (which confirms it as pochard).  This was evident every time we got a good, close look at the bill:
You can see the white on the bill again in this photo:
Another detail favoring pochard is the shape of the bill.  Although the bill looks more like a Canvasback than a Redhead, the bill on this duck isn't as evenly-sloped as it is in Canvasback:
The following photo shows the size of the pochard (right) when compared to the GREATER SCAUP (left).  Common Pochard is smaller than Canvasback and we all agreed that this bird didn't look Canvasback-sized:
Seeing the bird in flight really helped cement the ID for me; Canvasback would show a longer and probably thinner neck.  Also, take a look at that bill; so wrong for Canvasback:
Happy times.

Now, fast forward to this evening when Doug and a client found a RUSTIC BUNTING in the Webster celery patch!  Without much convincing, I hopped into a van and ventured up to see if I could flush this thing up by myself.  I hobbled around the celery for quite a while with no luck whatsoever.  It was getting darker and darker.  I had come to grips that I had failed and was literally walking back to the car when my eyes caught movement.  I took a step forward and look at what popped out... the bunting:
This is also "only" a Code 3 vagrant from the Old World but this was a lifer that came up numerous times in conversations with birders here on the island.  I wanted it... badly.  And they knew it.  I'm just lucky that I've been able to spend 5 months here; if you do that, you'll connect with a lot of the rarities found.

Definitely not a lifer but still a quality bird for the island, Scott found this RUSTY BLACKBIRD at Antone Slough yesterday.  It's the 11th Pribilof record:
Other recent arrivals included this SNOWY OWL.  We had several this spring but this was the first we've had this fall:
Another new arrival was this RED-THROATED LOON.  It's a horrible picture but hey, for my photo list, I don't mind:
This morning I was scoping offshore at Tonki Point when a bird mixed in with HARLEQUIN DUCKS caught my attention.  Spot anything in the flock that doesn't belong?
It's a STELLER'S EIDER, my first for the fall.  Some of you might know that I was lucky to work with this species up in Barrow back in 2005.  In fact, the Steller's I've seen this year have been my first since that summer.  Here it is again showing the bold white markings in the wing:
Shifting towards gulls (those of you who want can look away for a bit), the MEW GULL that has been hanging around was even more agreeable the other day:
Because there are several subspecies possible, we've been pretty cautious in calling this one or the other.... until recently.  We fully believe it's an "American" Mew Gull, the most expected one I'd argue:
When scoping through gull flocks here, I tend to focus on primary color initially.  That worked in this instance when this HERRING GULL popped out:
Then there is this nasty thing.  Maybe it's a hybrid or maybe it's just a pale 2nd-cycle GLAUCOUS-WINGED but I really don't think it's a GLAUCOUS despite the bill...
... especially when considering that this gull next to it looks fine for a 2nd-cycle GLAUCOUS-WINGED:
Picking out an adult SLATY-BACKED GULL is a ton easier, I'd wager:
Had I mentioned the shift in the weather?  Yeeeaaaah, we don't have temps in the 50s anymore.  In fact, snow has reared its ugly head!  I woke up the other morning to this:
... and later on that day, it did this:
... and when a RED PHALAROPE flies into a snow squall, it looks like this:
Speaking of RED PHALAROPES though... we have plenty around here:
... and when they're feeding in the surf, they often have to make sure waves don't break ON them.  So they all flush at the last second and land again in the calmer water:
Here are some closer still:
When watching flocks of these interacting, you'll notice they don't always get along.  Here's one that's feeling a bit aggressive:
Sometimes, when it comes to fruition, they face off head to head:
... and then they grab each other on the bill:
... and keep holding it until one gives up and flies off:
Anyway, I'll end the post with a photo of three different RED PHALAROPES.  Enjoy:

09 October 2014

Bunting hunting result!

First, it's STILL windy.  How windy?  Really windy.  We've had days on end with 40+ mph winds out of the east/northeast.  Even now, it's howling outside, coating everything out there with a lovely layer of dirt/sand.  Scoping bodies of water is not feasible.  Even opening your door can be a challenge sometimes.  You know it's windy when you go to empty the lint trap in the dryer and the lint magically ejects itself in your face.  Yeeeah.  The waves, however, are spectacular:
Speaking of waves, a client and I enjoyed watching the HARLEQUIN DUCKS handling the rough water.  This little duck, and the fact that it's perfectly comfortable combating seas like this, is amazing:
But yeah, it's pretty startling to realize that I fly off the island a week from tomorrow!  It's been a great fall though; I think we're at 129 species which ties the previous high-count for a fall season.

Anyway, remember in the previous post when I heard about a newly-arrived MCKAY'S BUNTING?  Well, I finished that post and ventured towards SW Point to try my luck.  As I was pulling up to the first lava field, lightning struck in the form of a little white bird that flushed up in front of me!  I had somehow managed to relocate the bird, my lifer MCKAY'S BUNTING.  Here it is on the left with a SNOW BUNTING on the right:
Check out the limited black in the tail compared to the SNOW BUNTING.  Here's another shot showing the tail:
... and the limited black in the wing is spot-on for McKay's:
On the ground, the white on the mantle/wings was incredibly obvious:
Best we can tell, this is a male, maybe even an adult male:
So yes, I shaved.  I'm quite happy to have bumped into this species; I will not be making any flights to Nome during some future winter!  Also, it's an ABA breeder and as I've mentioned before, I'd like to "take care" of those.

American waterfowl continue to stick here (for obvious reasons, they probably won't be migrating anytime soon).  For instance, the GADWALL is still on Antone Lake:
We've also seen an increase of American gulls too.  For example, there were at least two "American" HERRING GULLS on Salt Lagoon yesterday.  Notice the pale eye:
However, the best American gull was a MEW GULL on Weather Bureau Lake!  It's not a great photo but it works:
This Mew Gull, our first this year, is a full 2 months beyond the previous late date for the island.  Was it shuttled here by the insane east winds?  Likely.

Some gulls aren't unexpected, like this GLAUCOUS GULL mixed in with GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS.  If you don't know what to look for, pay attention to the wing tips; look for one with pure white tips and also a pale eye:
One benefit to the howling wind is that many of the RED PHALAROPES opt for "dry land" instead of the roiling Bering Sea.  They come ashore en masse and inundate all the bodies of water (and roads).  Here is my best RED PHALAROPE picture of the year, a juvenile transitioning to its gray winter plumage:
I'll end with a horrible set of nice photos.  Redpolls.  Some definitely look fine for Common but many of them show intermediate fieldmarks.  Enjoy: