29 June 2017

Some mo' in MO

You know, I've been so preoccupied with photos from tours that I haven't put much time into sharing photos from home.  How about I fix that here and now.

It's kind of an interesting time around here in Missouri, to be honest.  Sure, spring migration IS a distant memory and most of the breeding species are quiet for much of the day.  However, it's in this month, June, that you can start to see the first "fall" migrants (usually shorebirds).  For example, here's a WILLET that Ashley found while we were out birding this morning at Mark Twain Lake (checklist):
We were pretty happy with this sighting; it was our first ever for Missouri (and kind of an overdue need for us).

Speaking of Mark Twain Lake (a reservoir in northeast Missouri), there's been a COMMON MERGANSER there at the dam that never seems to migrate north like he should.  This is the second summer he's been around so I think he's probably permanently injured and can't migrate.  Here's a terrible photo of him perched on a distant shore:
In this part of Missouri, we have tons of PURPLE MARTINS around.  Here's one that posed briefly in downtown Hannibal:
Another common species, the BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, is found in many of the forested habitats around here.  In fact, we have them in the yard.  Here's one in April from one of the better forests near town (checklist):
Although not as common as the above two species, BLUE GROSBEAKS are definitely around the scrubby habitats.  In fact, I heard one singing from the yard a few days ago.  Here's a female from earlier this summer:
We feel fortunate to live in the company of NORTHERN BOBWHITES, a type of quail.  In fact, we sometimes hear them calling from the yard.  Here's one that Ashley photographed:
Of course, one of the bests sounds of summer come from the lonely gulping caws of the YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO during the hot and humid afternoons.  Here's a pic of two of these slinky cuckoos (oddly enough, rather low and in more open habitat than usual... they were probably migrants):
We have done a tiny bit of traveling within Missouri to target some easy state birds.  For example, here's our first WESTERN KINGBIRD; I guess the ones near Columbia are shy and won't show me their faces?  Lame.
The pugnacious EASTERN KINGBIRDS though, they don't mind!
One of the main targets for our wander to the southern reaches of the state was for this bland but rare breeding warbler, the SWAINSON'S WARBLER.  It took some effort but we eventually heard and then saw one:
For reference, this was only the 4th time I had seen this species in my life.

While down there, we took some time to enjoy the many SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS that ended up being abundant:
We even snagged a few other state birds like SWAINSON'S HAWK and this BLACK VULTURE:
Back home in northeast Missouri... we've enjoyed the many HENSLOW'S SPARROWS around.  Here's a screen-capture of all the eBird records this June.  All of the pins you see, 10 different spots, are from Ashley and myself:
Although I haven't worked on photographing these uncommon sparrows lately, we really have enjoyed stopping at good-looking fields and, more often than not, finding them!

Missouri is the first place I've lived where MISSISSIPPI KITES are in the mix of breeding species.  Although we have yet to see one from the yard, they're findable over by the Mississippi River.  Here are a couple of shots of this aerial predator:

Although I was away on tour, that didn't stop Ashley from finding a LEAST BITTERN at Ted Shanks Conservation Area in Pike County.  Thankfully it was still around when I got back and we managed to sneak a look at it:
Better yet, we took notice when a pair of BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS was reported between us and St. Louis.  Wow, that's a quality bird for this part of the Midwest!  We decided to chase them and, lucky for us, we found them right away sleeping up in a tree (as this species often does).  Here's an iPhone photo we took through the scope:
The warbler diversity around northeast Missouri isn't half bad during the summer.  For example, a species we bump into rather often (including on the property) is the PRAIRIE WARBLER:
One of the more uncommon warblers around is the BLUE-WINGED WARBLER; here's one that may have attempted to breed here on the property (I haven't actually heard him in a while):
Thankfully, the YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS are common and vocal as ever.  Here's one in the yard:
It's a close call, deciding which we hear more often from the yard: chats or KENTUCKY WARBLERS.  I think the latter wins; we hear this species every single day even from our bedroom window (actually, I'm listening to one as I type this).  Here's one of the territorial males we have:
Although we have Kentuckys around, we don't ever seem to have nesting OVENBIRDS on the property.  No matter, we can find this streaked warbler in other nearby forests:
One of the highlights of the summer season for me are the thunderstorms.  Why?  Well, take a look!  Here's a photo from the yard one evening!  What a gorgeous sky.
I haven't had the opportunity to spend much time with butterflies these days but did enjoy an encounter with this BANDED HAIRSTREAK here on the property.  A nice-looking butterfly and not one I see often:
Anyway, that's all for now.  My next post will probably be highlighting our Field Guides tour to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  Until then, get outside!

27 June 2017


"Birds of New Guinea: Distribution, Taxonomy, and Systematics" by Bruce M. Beehler and Thane K. Pratt was published in 2016 by Princeton University Press. It's a 668 page hardcover that runs $75.00. You can find it online here.
In some sort of nasty shade of irony, this book review will actually be shorter than my others... even though the amount of material hiding between the covers of this tome surpasses almost any others on my shelf. Why? Well, we'll get to that shortly. Let's start with a brief run down of its physical attributes.

Many of you have a good grasp on the size of the Sibley. Here's the book side-by-side with it:
Chunky book, yeah? Here it is in terms of thickness (the worn Sib on top):
Yep, thicker than Sib (not that size is a detractor in this case).

You take the sleeve off and its naked self is far less exciting. Go figure:
So why does size not make a difference? Right off the bat when you flip through this book you realize that this book has NOTHING to do with being a field guide. No, this is 100% a reference guide. So breath easy, you won't be hauling this into the field!

Inside the front and back cover... a map greets you:
Flip a couple of pages in and you find yourself face-to-face with the contents. Things are ordered taxonomically:
So you'll see the order Strigiformes starts on page 213. Indented below that are the different families within the order. Pretty simple (assuming you know some of the names!).

Next comes 400 pages of species accounts! You'll find no photos, you'll find no illustrations, you'll find no namby-pamby eye-catching graphs. No, you'll find text. But instead of useless storylines and ongoing drivel, you'll find a well-researched and info-packed collection of data. Ahh... I love it!

Let's take a look at this sample page:
What do you see? It has a brief intro for the Order Bucerotiformes where it mentions how this lineage was split from traditional works based on several papers. Below that is a shaded area where it mentions a bit about the Family Bucerotidae (Hornbills). It shows that there are 53 species in this family and only 1 species in the region (New Guinea). It goes on to give a very brief description of hornbills. For example... "They are large to very large birds with very large bills, often with a casque atop the bill; conspicuous eyelashes; long, broad wings; long to very long tails; and very short legs (Cracraft 2013)."

Below that, it mentions the genus. In this case, genus Rhyticeros. Again, it shows that there are 9 species in this genus worldwide but only 1 species in the region. It continues with a tightly-packed paragraph of references, papers, who named the genus, what year the genus was named, mention of the type specimen, etc. There's a lot of research that goes into that tightly packed section!

Then comes the actual species account for the Blyth's Hornbill Rhyticeros plicatus. It mentions it being "resident" which basically means non-migratory. Next to that it says "monotypic" meaning, in this example, that it's the only species in that genus.

The information continues with what it was named originally and by whom, the date that happened, and where it was published. Next it briefly mentions distribution: "Inhabits lowland and hill forest throughout NG, the four main NW Islands, Yapen I, and the D'Entrecasteaux Arch." It continues for another couple of sentences including mention of any extralimital reports followed by a brief notes section.

So that, essentially, is what is covered in each species account. Here's another sample:
The above page covered a bit regarding a couple of species of cuckooshrikes including the Black-faced Cuckooshrike. The header shows how it's a "visitor and resident" meaning some migrate out of New Guinea during the nonbreeding season, some stay. Then it shows what it was originally called... "Turdus novae" by Gmelin in 1789. This species has 2 subspecies which, as you can see above, the authors delve into thoroughly.

Here's another sample page. At the top is the "Jacky Winter"... a species I just saw last fall in Australia. I'll leave it to you if you wanted to peruse through another species account:
After the 480+ pages of species accounts you come to Part III. First up is a 34-page bibliography followed by a gazetteer. This 72-page tome, created by Jennifer L. Manderville and Williams S. Peckover, is a simple (but hefty!) spreadsheet of locations. For each entry, you'll find its name, lat & long of location, elevation, bird region, and alternative names, researchers, and references:
Therefore, if you're in need of the lat and long of Mount Sigul Mugal in the SE Peninsula region, you'll know where to go. Except I'd avoid that area because it sounds like something from the wrong part of Middle Earth, probably just east of Mordor, over the bypass. Real estate is much more affordable there but unemployment is high (probably due to the high rate of orc-related deaths). Moving on...

So in the end, this book is... just...wow. If you're looking for reference material for the bird species of New Guinea, look no further! New Guinea is no joke either, there have been nearly 800 species of birds recorded there and more than 350 of them are found no where else on earth. This collection of data, the first since Earnst Mayr's checklist was published 1941, is downright impressive. Pick up a copy and see for yourself!

I received a complementary copy from the publisher for review purposes, but the viewpoint expressed in this article is entirely my own.

19 June 2017


Did you know that Field Guides has a tour to Maine???  Yep!  Lucky for me, I recently joined Eric Hynes and we ran this popular tour together.  Being my first Field Guides tour to the area, I was eager to see what the northeast had in store.

We used Portland as our hub and man, it's nice working with a small airport like that!  After we all arrived and got settled in, we set out for a couple of days of birding there in southern Maine.  It was really fun getting species like UPLAND SANDPIPER, BLUE-WINGED WARBLER, and PRAIRIE WARBLER in the plains, not to mention many more coastal species near the Atlantic.  We visited several spots along the coast netting us species like the dainty LEAST TERN:
As is often the case... where there are Least Terns, there are PIPING PLOVERS.  Well, it was true in this case, at least; we had beautiful looks at this pale plover species:
It was along the coast that we found a nice flock of sandpipers swirling around a beach, feeding feverishly on the sand before taking flight again and again.  But what species were involved?  We got to work sorting through things.  Mixed in with the 100+ SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS were a couple of WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS.  Here you can see the latter on the left:
Note the larger size and streaking down the flanks of the White-rumped.

When the flock took flight, it was fun trying to sort them out on the go.  Here's a photo showing the two species side-by-side:
The WHITE-RUMPED is the bottom bird; note the white that wraps around the entire rump.  Compare that to the SEMIPALMATEDS above it which show the dark streak through the rump.

Anyway, we eventually headed for more forested regions in the Portland area.  Below is a singing GRAY CATBIRD, a member of the Mimidae family (along with thrashers and mockingbirds):
The sunset capping our first full day of birding was especially nice:
We then headed north and spent some time birding on Mount Desert Island (where Acadia National Park is).  Here's a panorama from the scenic Southwest Harbor area:
Of course, the highlight for many was the boat trip out of Bar Harbor to see seabirds, whales, etc.  The whale-watching company took the boat out to the island of Petit Manan which is part of the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge.  The small island, seen below, has a lighthouse, a small crew of bird researchers, and a whole lot of birds:
The main target here was, of course, the ATLANTIC PUFFIN.  Here's one flying by the boat:
Besides the nesting puffins, there was a selection of ARCTIC TERNS, COMMON TERNS, and RAZORBILLS.  Here's the latter, a chunky black-and-white alcid:
After quite a bit of looking, yes, our trip found whales!  Two HUMPBACK WHALES gave us quite the show.  In fact, it was a known female with her calf (photos can help ID the animal down to the specific individual).  Here's a shot with both in view: note the small dorsal fins:
As was typical for our time along the coast, we saw lots of COMMON EIDERS as well.  Eiders are very hardy, northern sea ducks.  Here's a male in flight with the distinctive black belly:
I'm not sure everyone got on them (meaning... got their binoculars focused on them), but there were some NORTHERN FULMARS out at sea as well.  Here's one in flight:
The fulmar is related to shearwaters and albatrosses in that they have the distinctive tubed nose.  No, you can't really see that from this distance!

We chanced into a couple of NORTHERN GANNETS on the wing during our boat ride as well.  The distinctive black-and-white patterning was evident even from a distance:
We also saw a number of loons winging it as well.  Here's a RED-THROATED LOON with its short legs and small bill:
While we were motoring back into shore, I snapped a picture of the distinctive lighthouse on Egg Rock (originally built more than 130 years ago):
And just before reaching the dock this BLACK GUILLEMOT popped up.  Note the striking black-and-white plumage with bright red legs:
Our tour eventually headed inland to bird different parts of Maine including the more northerly bogs. These northern bogs were really cool too, full of YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHERS, MAGNOLIA WARBLERS, a few skeeters, and some really nice photo opportunities:
Some of these "sprucey" areas hosted boreal specialties like GRAY JAY and BOREAL CHICKADEE.  Here's the latter that we were able to coax into view:
Not widespread but still a target, we tracked down just a few PALM WARBLERS on territory:
The vistas, like this one in Rangeley, albeit cloudy, were still nice:
The more deciduous areas hosted warbs like BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER:
This PILEATED WOODPECKER was impressive as ever as it flew over.  Sometimes it's easy to forget that we have crow-sized woodpeckers!
Although it's the "Maine" tour, we do actually dip into a different state for a night:  New Hampshire.  The reason is simple; we visit the high slopes of Mount Washington hoping for the uncommon and local BICKNELL'S THRUSH.  Although the weather was very dicy this year (they were reporting snow, sleet, rain, and wind topping 40 mph)... we braved the elements and ventured up one evening after all the other visitors had left.  Although the wind was howling, we found a sheltered spot to give it a try.  Much to our delight, a BICKNELL'S THRUSH zoomed in!  We couldn't believe our luck... what a relief considering the weather!  Our group was all thumbs-up:
However, making things even more goofy... we would end up finding ANOTHER Bicknell's Thrush farther up the mountain.  This time, the bird even came out and foraged low along the shoulder of the road!  Crazy.
Anyway, after the high wore off we realized that by this point the tour was wrapping up.  We found our way back into Maine and thankfully a few of our remaining targets fell into place nicely.  Among others, we snagged WILLOW FLYCATCHER, WILSON'S SNIPE, and this YELLOW-THROATED VIREO:
Although this species breeds in my yard in Missouri... they're fairly local in Maine and so we were happy to add it to the triplist.

After it was all said and done, it was a successful trip with a great bunch of folks.  We nearly reached 180 species for the trip which is nothing to sneeze at!  I'll leave you with a photo of our group, probably a bit sad to be leaving the wonderful birds of Maine:
As always, you can find more info about our tours on the Field Guides website.  As for Maine, it's already on the schedule for 2019!  Click here for more info.