New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Delmarva- Black-tailed Godwit, Brown Pelicans, Parasitic Jaeger and a Common Potoo?

          Part One-  Day One-Tuesday, April 23, 2013- Hammonasset BSP, Madison, CT-

                                "Preparation and a Larid anointing"-

     To us birdcarvers/Sculptors/Artists, the last weekend in April means one thing: the World Birdcarving Competition in Ocean City, Maryland. The "World Show" sponsored by the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art is the most prestigious bird carving show in the World. It can be considered the Olympics of Birdcarving!

     After the first of the year, many of us start to get a bit anxious since the show is fast approaching, and we will begin the long days and very late nights and (very early mornings) finishing up our pieces hoping to complete them in time for the show. Often many of these pieces have several years of time invested into them......the remaining days will become quite intense! It seems every year that even with great preparation, we can never finish our pieces in advance; we always work on them right up until the last hours before the show. In fact, many of the artists I know are still working on their pieces in their Motel rooms the night before we have to enter them!

     Monday night, I was burning the candle at both ends putting the final touches on my piece. I really cut it close this year! But honestly, I think we all like doing that! Maybe a little bit of "pressure" brings out the best in us!

     Jen and I will be leaving Wednesday afternoon for Maryland doing a little business Thursday in the Baltimore area. The deadline for entering our sculptures is Friday morning by 9:00 am....the day the Show and Competition begins promptly at 10:00 am. Generally most enter their birds on Thursday since they stay open late Thursday night to accommodate the long lines of artists entering their work. There is also an advantage for entering on Thursday. Those who enter the Masters and World classes are allowed to set up their own pieces (because of the high value and fragile complexities of the sculptures) which gives us the opportunity to secure our desired viewing locations on the tables.

     Since I finished my piece Monday evening, I still had to make a crate to safely secure that very fragile sculpture, and of course to make sure it travels safely. I first thought that I would make a heavy cardboard box-type crate for my piece. I decided to run down to Clinton to the UPS Store and purchase a few heavy duty boxes and plenty of packing materials. With no plan in mind, I started driving down 81 to the store which is approx. fifteen minutes from my house. Of course I was so focused on packing my fragile sculpture, birding never came across my mind.....I never thought to bring my camera which is something I always do. But since I was only going to buy boxes, why would I need my camera? Honestly, since most of the winter Gulls, Alcids, Seabirds and Waterfowl have left, my birding slows down to a crawl anyway. It picks up again when the Shorebirds migrate through in May, but that doesn't last long and neither does my birding interests afterwards (except summer pelagic trips). I made the right choice not to bring my camera.

     After I purchased the boxes and packing materials, I checked my Blackberry and noticed that John Oshlick had sighted an Iceland Gull at the west end of Hammonasset Beach SP earlier in the morning. Since Hammo was only ten minutes from the UPS Store, I can take a run over and see if that Gull was still there. I started up my truck, headed west on Route 1 and was soon driving through the gate. I just rounded the circle to the right and stopped by the Swan Pond, and there it was! It was a stunning (and large) all white 2nd cycle Kumlien's Gull with pure white primaries. It was hanging in the pond with an adult Herring Gull tucked up into the lee of the pond getting out of the very strong east wind! Guess camera!! I have been photo documenting Iceland Gulls this winter, and I would really like to photograph this one as well.

     My house is only fifteen minutes away, I could be back in half an hour...hopefully the Gull will still be here! When I returned thirty-five minutes later, unfortunately however, the Iceland Gull was gone. Maybe it was in the parking lot with the handful of other Gulls. Since the eastern side of the Park was closed today, if it wasn't here, I wouldn't be able to drive to Meigs Point to look for it there.

     There were only a few Herring and Ring-billed Gulls in the parking lot. I suspect the heavy wind may have sent all of the Gulls to a calmer location seeking refuge from the wind. That changed however when I started offering some catfood to the Gulls on the tarred parking lot. More and more Gulls started flying in from all directions probably alerted by the frenzied calls of the feeding Gulls. I looked up just as a small, dark mantled Gull with bright yellow legs flew by trying to negotiate the strong wind and catch up to the rolling catfood pellets that were tumbling across the parking lot. It was a 3rd cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull.-

      The Gull circled the parking lot many times......

     .....landing occasionally and facing directly into the stiff easterly wind.-

     While I was admiring this handsome Gull, I felt that all too familiar wetness dripping down my left cheek. I reached up to feel what I already suspected and found that not only my left cheek was hit, but the entire left side collar and zipper of my jacket was also hit with a large splatter of a Gull paint! And as I mentioned, it was a generous portion...but not at all uncommon if you spend many hours with Gulls. I proceeded to wipe off my cheek and as much as I could from my jacket.

     The "gift" was quite substantial, so I decided to put my coat in the back of my truck and wash it off later when I got home.

     On the way out of the Park, this young male Harrier flew over my truck heading east over the marsh. I managed a few shots from the side of the road.

     When I got home, I started making the box for my sculpture entry. I had forgotten about my "marked" coat in the back of my truck since I was concentrating on packing my carving for the journey to the Competition in Ocean City, Maryland.

     My Sculpture? I started this piece two years ago and worked on it from time to time. But a year ago, I began working on it more steadily, and the last four months I have been working on it continually. My subject for this years competition is a Common Potoo, and entitled "La Madre de la Luna"-

     Description of my Piece- The Common Potoo (Nyctibius gresius) is a nocturnal bird which lives in tropical Central and South America from Nicaragua to northern Argentina. The Common Potoo is a large cypselomorph bird related to Nightjars and Frogmouths. It is 33 to 38 cm long (13 to 16 inches) and ranges in color variations from mottled gray and brown, pale gray and brown, to varying shades of brown. All plumage color variations are finely patterned and streaked with black, brown, gray, tawny, white and buff camouflaged to look like a log. This is a safety measure to help protect it from predators, but it's "mode of perch" is also a camouflage.

     The "mode of perch" defines the Potoo's method or "open concealment". The Potoo prefers to perch on the end of a broken vertical branch, stump, tree trunk, fence pole, etc. to accomplish it's invisible hide aided by it's cryptic and disruptive coloration. The bird resembles and appears as the broken end of a branch or tree trunk enabling it to hide in plain sight.

     The Potoo has very large yellow to orange eyes with special eyelid adaptation features (see below). The Common Potoo can be located at night by the reflection of light from its eyes as it sits on it's hunting post. or by it's haunting melancholic song- a mournful call of six to eight notes dropping in both pitch and volume.

      It prefers open woodlands, river bottoms and savannah habitats. It avoids arid regions and colder montane regions rarely occurring over 1,900 meters.

  This nocturnal insectivore hunts from a perch like a Shrike or Flycatcher. During the day it perches upright on it's tree stump or branch hide. The Potoo adapts two perching postures: horizontal "resting posture" aand a vertical "cryptic posture". In either posture, the Potoo resembles the broken end of a stump or branch and it is completely invisible. The Potoo holds perfectly still only moving it's head slightly and very slowly for a better view through nearly closed or completely closed eyelids. Although the eyelids are "closed",  Potoos are still able to see through their special adaptations in their eyelids. If disturbed by larger animals and birds such as Howler Monkeys, Sloths, Iguanas, Guans, etc. the Potoo may break it's camouflage position to try and chase them away.

     In some areas of Central and South America the Common Potoo is called "Alma Perdida" or "Lost Soul" a name adaptation from its haunting melancholy song. In Costa Rica, the Potoo is called "Pajaro estaca" or "stake bird" and "Pajaro de palo" or "stick bird". It is also called "La Madre de la Luna" or "Mother of the Moon".....the title of my sculpture.
     Close range observations of Common Potoo (Nictibius griseus) disclose an unusual structure in the upper eyelid. This morphological peculiarity, which consists of two or three notches on the edge of the upper eyelid. These notches result in two or three small openings or fissures when the eyelids appear to be completely closed, but actually allow the bird to see through its “closed” eyelids.
   These small notches are always open. This feature may be related to the mimetic behavior whereby the adult bird places its head in a nearly vertical position, partially closes its eyes, compresses its plumage, and elongates its body. At close range it is easy to see that when the eyes are closed, the pupil dilates and the eye receives light only through the two apertures of the upper eyelid. While in the cryptic position, the bird can see up and down simultaneously thereby enabling it to watch for aerial and ground predators simultaneously.

   When the bird rests with its head in a horizontal position, the notches give a wide-angle view of objects both in front and behind. The plumes behind the eye can be compressed and the eyes apparently made to protrude so the field of vision is about 180”. Upon detecting an observer, the bird does not move its body, but may turn its head a few millimeters to one side or the other to see better.

    Responses of the birds indicate that they can detect moving objects approaching from any direction. Another interesting adaptation is that the two eyelids can open and close independently. When closed, they rotate synchronously over the eye, so the notches can be positioned as desired without moving the head.  The eyes of Nyctibius are also placed posteriorly thereby facilitating viewing from behind.

      The inspiration!- My Common Potoo sculpture was inspired from Jen and my searches for one in Costa Rica. We spent a few days each time we visited Costa Rica searching for this elusive bird. We never found a Potoo BUT.....were close on two occasions. The first time we had chartered a private boat trip down the Rio Saripiqui in Puerto Viejo Saripiqui in the Caribbean lowlands. Our guide Willie mentioned that he knew of a large pilon tree (Hieronyma alchorneoides) along the river about an hour downstream where "Pajaro estaca" roosted during the day.

    As we approached the pilon tree he slowed our boat headway, and floated slowly along the shoreline. We approached the tree and he told us that the bird would be perched halfway up the tree on the left side branches where it's favorite perch was. But the Potoo wasn't there. A family of Howler Monkeys were scattered throughout the tree taking a siesta....they had scared the Potoo off!

    The second time we searched for the bird, was the next morning. We also hired a private guide (Daniel) at La Tirimbina Rainforest Reserve which also followed the Rio Saripiqui upstream from the town of Puerto Viejo Saripiqui. About a mile into the lowland rainforest along the main trail was an old Cacao (Ka-cow) (aka chocolate) grove that had been planted and cultivated privately many years ago. The Rainforest reserve had re-established the the cacao grove to the point of establishing  viable cacao production. This cacao grove was also home to a resident Potoo. It had selected a broken Theobroma cacao tree for its daytime perch. But unfortunately, it wasn't "home" when we got there. Even with our extensive (and cautious) searching from the walking trail, the bird was not found. I stated "cautious" because the location of the Cacao grove was in prime habitat for Terciopelo (Costa Rican name for the Fer-de-Lance)- the most dangerous snake in Central America. It is called "the ultimate pit-viper"! Our guide Daniel assured us that there were "mucho Terciopelo" throughout the area and the grove, and to stay on the trail "por favor"!

     Even though we never found the Potoo, the experience lived and became the inspiration behind "La Madre de la Luna". I carved "Pajaro estaca" in a horizontal "resting posture" perched on the top of a broken Theobroma cacao tree trunk complete with cacao pods. In this competition, everything must be carved and handmade including the habitat. I carved the cacao pods, tree trunk, tree bark, leaves branches and the bird. To compliment the compositional features of the sculpture, I used wood species indigenous to the lowland Caribbean slopes of Costa Rica that we experienced in our quests. In the carved sculpture features I included wood from Theobroma cacao,  Pilon, Breadfuit (Artocarpus altilis), Breadnut (Brosimum alicastrum), Almendro (Dipteryx panamensis), Guayabo (Terminalia oblonga) and Laurel (Cordia alliodora).

     After much contemplation, I decided to scrap the cardboard box idea and modify the cedar crate that I made to fit my Quetzal miniature sculpture which won Best in World in 2005. Here is "La Madre de la Luna" packed and ready to go!

     What happened to my jacket? Well.....I was ready to clean off the Gull paint so I could pack it for the trip. Jen suggested that I leave "just a little" of the splash on the coat for good luck. She reminded me that this happened twice before while we were having lunch behind the Convention Center during the competition.....once on my arm and the other on my chest by a flying over Laughing Gull. Both times this happened I won! So maybe a little on my jacket couldn't hurt? Who needs a rabbits foot when you can have Gull poop!

     Day Two and Three- Wednesday and Thursday, April 24 and 25- "Heading for Ocean way of Baltimore"-  We left just after noon on Wednesday and managed to skirt the rain storms just north of us heading to the northwest. We arrived in Baltimore just before dark. After checking into the Hampton Inn, dinner at an Asian Bistro, there was time to relax and have a small anxiety attack wondering if I had forgotten anything on my Piece? After the short lived panic attack, we turned in for the evening......but not without a little trouble getting to sleep!

     We got an early start on Thursday and after business in Baltimore, we were heading for Ocean I am getting excited!!

     Leaving the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel-

     Baltimore Harbor-

    Maybe a good omen??

     The Bay Bridge-

      With Jen driving, I was able to do a bit of traveling this case between the guard rails. -

      Quite a few Greater Black-backed Gulls-

     After a few hours drive, we made it to the southern tip of Ocean City at the Route 50 bridge by mid afternoon. Skimmer Island is just offshore and up from the Ocean City inlet above the bridge. A few days ago, a Black-headed Gull was reported here so we pulled into the parking lot of the famous Crab Restaurant "Hoopers" to see if we could find it.-

     I couldn't find the Black-headed Gull but did see a few Oystercatchers, Herring and Black-backed Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants.....

     ......and Forster's Terns.-

     This pair was engaged in pair bonding activities......

     .....including an offering of a small fish-

     Osprey perched on an old duckblind-

      Its always worth a look at the inlet, because you never know what birds might be present. This is one of many Common Loons sporting summer dress-

     The inlet-

     I think of Laughing Gulls as "summer Gulls", and there were plenty present in the parking lot by the inlet. This pair was reaffirming their bond-

     Laughing Gulls were busy coming and going-

       Handsome Gull!-

      Interesting movement of the feathers caused by the wind-

     There was a steady movement of Gannets off shore-

     Jen spotted this adult Black-crowned Night-Heron across the inlet-

     Good study images and close-ups of Laughing Gulls-

     This adult was adorned in all it's breeding finery: scarlet bill and legs and a pink blush to its chest and breast plumage-

       Beautiful Gull!-

      More pair bonding strutting-

     Well, it was time to go to the Hampton Inn and check in, and then go enter my Potoo. Our Hotel was only one block beyond the Convention Center. You can always feel the electricity in town when the Show is on, and this year wasn't any different! When I see this anxiety kicks in, we are here!-

     The Hampton Inn is only a two minute walk to the Convention Center. Our room was on the third floor and we had a great view of Little Assowoman Bay, a small two acre marsh below and a perfect view of the back of the huge Convention Center-

    The little marsh below offered fairly good birding while waiting to go over to the Show. It was visited by Oystercatchers, Greater Yellowlegs, Laughing Gulls, Egrets, Mallards, Canada Geese, Brant and Willets.-

      Clapper Rails were constantly chattering, and Barn Swallows would glide over the grass often-

     Always good flights of northbound Double-crested Cormorants-


    This red-winged Blackbird chose the railing as its territorial perch-

     Jen and I went over to the Show and entered the Potoo. It was great to see everyone again, and the line to enter the birds was substantial. I was able to get my favorite spot on the tables and began the anxiety-ridden task of "unpacking" my piece. This is the time that your nerves really kick in. Besides everyone gathered around watching you unpack your bird, and of course anxious to see what you have, this is the time that extreme concentration is needed to prevent any accidental breakage.

    As the last few screws that secured the birds base into the crate were removed, I slowly removed the bird from its crate....success! I positioned the Potoo on the corner of the tables making sure it was just right! I assembled the small branches and the piece was complete and displayed. I talked with a few friends that were gathered around, and explained my piece which followed their questions.

     Jen and I walked around the tables for the World Life-size division, where my Potoo was entered. We looked at the amazing birds that I would be competing against. Next to my Potoo on the table was an amazing American Goshawk in flight carved by Toru Iwahashi the six-time Japanese Champion. A beautiful Long-eared Owl by Al Jordan peered from its apple branch perch. On the corner was a stunning Peregrine Falcon in inverted flight by one of the World's most renowned carver of Birds of Prey, master carver Floyd Scholz. In the far corner a breath-taking Great Blue Heron carved by my friend Gary Eigenberger. Not only is Gary one of my favorite carvers, but he is a Three-Time World Champion, and a Master carver who has won more "Masters" awards than ANYONE carving today. Gary is a "Master of Composition and Design"! WOW....what a Heron!!

     Just down the table was a Long-tailed Hermit Hummingbird with a Vine Snake carved by Two-time World Champion Tom Horn. Next to his entry was a dynamic Short-eared Owl by Master Champion Richard Finch. A few entries away was a beautiful pair of Crested Flycatchers by renowned carver Josh Guge. Sitting alongside the Flycatchers was another breathtakingly stunning piece by Twelve-Time World Champion Larry Barth. It was a trio of Cedar Waxwings on a pussywillow branch...another WOW!! These were just a few that I mentioned. There were more, and more would be coming. I looked at Jen and said "This is going to be a tough one"!!

     We left the Convention Center and met friends Pam and Jim Krausman for a quiet and relaxing dinner.(Krausman's Wildlife Carving Studio from in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where I teach carving classes). They had set up their comprehensive booth and were ready for the Show.

     We talked about the upcoming show, and all the anxiety that went with it. The judging for the "World" and "Masters" Divisions would take place tomorrow morning. The winners of the Masters Division will be posted later in the day, but the World Divisions are not announced until the Ceremony on Saturday at 5:00 pm. As usual, the anxiety will carry with us until Saturday late afternoon, and of course will keep on building as the day grows long.

     This year, Jen and I decided to only visit the show for a few hours in the morning (I wanted to watch the judging) and then spend the entire day enjoying the spectacular spring weather and go birding. Time to turn in!!

     Day Four- Friday, April 26- "Competition Begins" and "Seeking the Black-tailed Godwit at Chincoteague Island NWR, Virginia"-  
The morning was gorgeous! After spending two hours at the Show, we drove down to Chincoteague to the Chincoteague Island NWR. In all the years I have been going to the Show (since the early 80's) I had never been to Chincoteague.....finally got here! Last weekend, a Black-tailed Godwit was reported here on the birding alerts. It wasn't reported yesterday, maybe it was still here.

     As soon as we entered the Reserve, the renowned Assateague/Chincoteague Ponies were grazing along the road.   -

     Across the road, a single Tri-colored Heron fished along the edges of the slough-

       And so did a few Forster's Terns-

     Painted Turtles and a few of these larger hybrid Painted/Pond Turtles were sunning themselves along the edge of the slough (thanks for the ID Pam)-

     At the end of the road near the beach was Swan's and Tom's Coves, this is where the Godwit had been seen and reported. The tide was falling but only handfuls of Shorebirds were present. Mostly Dunlin and Long-billed Dowitchers, but plenty of larger Willets and Oystercatchers were mixed in. But no Godwit-

      Way across the Cove was a single Avocet resting on shore with a few Black Ducks-

     A pair of Whimbrel entertained us as they fed in the exposed mudflats-

     We watched the Shorebirds for over an hour hoping that the Godwit would show up, which it never did. But ironically, we ran into a few old friends from CT who were looking for the Godwit as well. We stayed another hour, but still no Godwit. Earlier Jen asked a Park Ranger about the Black-tailed Godwit, and he told her that the Black-tailed Godwit was hanging out with a flock of Marbled Godwits. So all we had to do was locate the Marbled Godwits and hopefully the Black-tailed would be with them. 

      Our CT friends decided to leave after two hours of searching, and Jen and I were getting a little discouraged also. We decided to take a ride around the Reserve and check back a bit later and try our luck again. The impoundments were alive with birds including smatterings of Shorebird flocks, but no Marbled Godwits. Egrets and Herons were everywhere, including this beautiful Green Heron that Jen spotted along the road-

     Brown-headed Cowbirds were also plentiful-

    Typical small gathering of Shorebirds: mostly Dunlin and Dowitchers-

      The inner impoundments seemed to be the preferred habitat for Yellowlegs, both Greater.....

     .....and Lesser-

      This Great Egret seemed content to pose for everyone, in fact it seemed to enjoy it!-

      Just as we were leaving one of the impoundments, this pair of Cattle Egrets came walking out of the brush-

     And of course, Willets were everywhere-

     Heading back to the beach and Cove area, large flocks of Shorebirds were flying in from the outer bay. The tide had dropped more and it seemed like prime Shorebird time. Dunlin and Dowitchers-

    Dunlin and a single Dowitcher-

      Mostly Dowitchers-

       Starting to build on the flats-

     A small flock of Whimbrel flew in from over the beach.....

     .....and landed nearby-

     I looked out over the beach in the distance to see a single Brown Pelican heading out to sea-

     More Whimbrel-

     Dunlin everywhere- thousands of them!-

     The Dunlin started building on the sand bars on the other side of the road in Swan Cove- We still hadn't seen any Godwits, and I started thinking we might not. It was now 7:00 pm and I said to Jen, "Let's give it fifteen more minutes and see what happens". That is like a fisherman saying just one more cast! Jen looked over to where the Dunlin had started building and said she thought she spotted a big Shorebird land. I looked over but didn't see anything, but it was worth a try. Jen has great bird spotting skills and she might be right. I walked down the planked walkway to the road and walked across to the other side. I just about set up my scope when as if on cue......

     .......a pair of Marbled Godwit flew in! One landed immediately with the Dunlin, the other flew up a short distance and landed in front of us.

     I was watching the Godwits in front of us, marveling at how gorgeous Marbled Godwits are. I started looking thorough all the other Shorebirds and began panning to my left. I noticed a single large Godwit taking a bath isolated by itself a few yards away from the other birds......

     ......I immediately saw red! There it was!! The Black-tailed Godwit in full breeding plumage was there!-

    The birds were quite a distance out, I knew decent images were an impossibility, so I tried shooting my 400 mm lens through my scope, and of course that didn't work. But this one grainy and blurred shot does highlight the Godwits stunning plumage.-

     Here are a few heavily cropped images-

     Black-tailed Godwit (left)- Willets and Dunlin-

     The Godwit preens and joined by a Laughing Gull-

     While we were watching the Black-tailed, more Marbled Godwits flew in and joined them-

     This Marbled Godwit is a little acrobatic as it lands in the Cove-

     More Marbled Godwits-

     Oh yes, and more Willets. The Willets of course came quite close...I wish the Godwits had done the same!-

     Black-tailed Godwit (left) and Marbled Godwits, Willets and Dunlin-

     Here is the actual distance of the Black-tailed Godwit from the road. The Godwit s still on the left-

      One last shot of the Black-tailed Godwit (center right) behind the Marbled Godwit-

      And more Willets-

    This one landed in a tree near our car-

     The day was nearly over, but it ended magnificently! We stayed just long enough to see that magnificent Black-tailed Godwit! As we left the Refuge, Forster's Terns lined the rail of the bridge-

    This Tern didn't appreciate this young Herring Gull flying over its territory. This Tern chased it all over the area-

     This beautiful Inn is owned and operated by a carving friend and his wife. If you every pan on going to Chincoteague, you must stay here. The Inn is located near the entrance to the Refuge.-

     Birds were plentiful along the entire length of the causeway to and from Chincoteague. There were hundreds and hundreds of Laughing Gulls, Herons, Egrets and Shorebirds including at least a dozen Black-necked Stilts-

     Well tomorrow is the big day! After a long day in the fresh spring air, it was time to turn in....well try to anyway!!

                       Part 1 continues..........Day Five, Saturday, April 27- "The Big Day!"

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