New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

September and October Highlights 4 - "A Few Lingering Fall, and Newly Arriving Winter Shorebirds"

      September 23, Hammonasset Beach SP, Madison- The arrival of winter Shorebirds has been slow. With only a few Shorebirds around, this late shorebird season is frustrating to say the least. But a few Dunlin and Sanderlings had stopped by Meigs Point and I was happy to see them. This Dunlin was standing on the base of the breakwater. >

    It was joined by a few Semi-palmated Sandpipers >

     In the piled Slipper Shells and wrackline debris below the breakwater were handsful of  additional Dunlin, Semi-palmated Sandpiper and Sanderling. >

      (Another one of those "long-billed Semi-palmated Sandpipers) >

      While I was photographing the Shorebirds, they suddenly took off! "What the heck"!!>

      Was there a Merlin or Peregrine nearby? Indeed! It was overhead! That ended the shorebird photography. The Peregrine chased the Shorebirds out into the Sound, and then returned after a minute searching overhead again. >

     This juvenile Semi-palmated was safely tucked in along the shrubs of the marsh by the Nature Center parking lot. >

     September 24, Hammonasset Beach SP- I arrived at the Park a bit early this morning and the gate was closed. I figured since I was early, I would take a walk down the new "Greenway" at the edge of the Park until the park opened in half an hour.  I was about halfway down the path, and I heard that all to familiar guttural croak, I knew a Raven was nearby. This section of the trail runs close to Route 1, I spotted the Raven just as it was landing on the power line pole. >

     It was very confidently (and loudly) announcing its arrival and establishing its territory from the pole. >

     It flew off loudly calling all the way.>

     Hammonasset was very quiet this morning, so I decided to drive down to Stratford to see what Shorebirds were in the lagoon at Stratford Marina. It was low tide, most of the Yellowlegs and Dowitchers were in other areas feeding. But a few were in the muddy lagoon, including a Pectoral Sandpiper. >

     This Short-billed Dowitcher decided to swim across the channel of the lagoon. I always enjoy watching shorebirds swim; makes me want to carve a few in that pose! >

     Two Short-bills. The one in the back is much larger and has an very long bill. >

      You can clearly see the size difference in this image. The larger bird is flanked on each side by smaller ones. >

     The Pectoral spent most of its time higher up the edges near the reeds. >

     It eventually came down and joined the Dowitchers. >

     This Greater Yellowlegs was successful and captured a sandworm. >

     The lagoon was quiet so I left and made a quick stop in Milford at the Charles Wheeler Management Area. I like to stop here often to pay my respects and honor the man that was my greatest carving influence. Charles "Shang" Wheeler was a gifted and generous decoy carver who lived in Stratford and spent his life hunting and fishing on the Housatonic River and Nell's Island. I am so glad that this area was named after him to honor this great man! It was his decoys that I first saw when I was a teenager that eventually shaped my career and life as a bird carver/artist/sculptor. It was one of his Black Duck decoys that touched my creative soul and ignited my creative passions. It is Shang Wheeler that I dedicate my decoy carving to! Here is one of Shang's magnificent Black Duck decoys carved in the 1930's. This sleeping Black Duck decoy is one of my favorites of his!>

   After I had my moment with Shang on the small gravel boat ramp, I looked up as a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was flying by over the tops of the reeds. >

     I left my scope in my truck and noticed a small group of Shorebirds feeding on the muddy edges across the creek. In my binoculars, I spotted at least one White-rumped Sandpiper. I decided to walk back up the ramp to my truck to retrieve my scope for as better look at the Shorebirds. As always I took a few long shots of the birds "just in case"! When I started walking down the ramp with my scope, all the birds suddenly took off....I never got a chance to search through them.  Later when I was home and after downloading the images I found an interesting bird in the group on my computer. >

     In the flock of Least and Semi-palmated, and the one White-rumped was this unusual looking Dunlin (far right). >


        Looking close at this Dunlin revealed a very long silhouette highlighted by extremely long wing extensions which are clearly visible in this image.>

     This cropped image shows the very long primary extensions the best. Under examination, I found that five primary remiges are visible extending beyond the tail, where one or two is normal for a Dunlin. The tertials and a few of the primaries also have white markings or "bleaching" to them. I researched the long primaries on a Dunlin and wasn't able to find anything noting this feature. I also sent the images around to a few shorebird authorities, but didn't receive any definitive reason for this anatomical abnormality. It was suggested that some Dunlin subspecies exhibit a longer primary extension, and others sighted it is "within the normal range". However, in my extensive research, no literature notes either of the two critiques I was given. If anyone has any ideas, I would welcome your thoughts!

     Oh yes, why did the shorebirds suddenly take off? A Peregrine of course! This happens just about every time I am watching Shorebirds. >

      September 26, Hammonassett Beach SP-  The morning started out with a Great Blue Heron hunting in the marsh. >

     There was a good movement of Kinglets and Warblers this morning. Magnolia Warbler >

     And of course, this magnificent Peregrine! >

    It was a quick run through Hammo. When I got home, a flight of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were bouncing through the trees in my back yard. >

      This one was eating berries>

     September 27, Hammonassett Beach SP> Another quick run through the park this morning. I watched this immature Little Blue Heron fishing in Meigs Pond. >

      Success! >

     And again! >

     One more time! >

    A few more Little Blue Herons in the marsh at the beginning of the Moraine Trail >

      Yellow Warblers>

     The first Red-breasted Merganser I have noted in the Park. This one a moulting drake>

      Part of a flock of Great Egrets >

     The Black Duck numbers are increasing every day! >

     September 27, Bond's Cove, Stratford Marina- I had to run out this morning to West Marine in Branford as I was out of marine epoxy. Since Stratford was just a bit farther west on 95, I might as well go there as I needed to spend just a little more time with Shorebirds. Soon ducks and geese will be migrating
into the state, followed by Alcids on the Cape and Rhode Island, then the winter Gulls!

     A few days ago I spotted this large and very "long-billed" Short-billed Dowitcher in the lagoon. Unfortunately, this bird stayed on the other side of the lagoon that morning so I was never able to see it closely let alone take any study images of it. This morning however, I was in luck. The Dowitcher was on my side of the lagoon; feeding right below me! >

     A momentary distraction as this female Kingfisher flies by. >

     Where did the Dowitcher go? These two Short-billed moved in while I was watching the Kingfisher. >

    There it is! >

     This bird has a really long bill....I can see how it can be mis-identified as a Long-billed Dowitcher.

     Here are a few tips that I rely on for distinguishing the two species: If you examine the plumage, notice that the tail is more heavily marked with broader white barring....just the opposite of a Long-billed which is more heavily marked with broad dark barring. The tertials show an obvious inner web marking, where a Long-billed would only show a slight blended light edge to the tertials. The chest is not uniformly blended gray common on a Long-billed where this bird has a spotted gray chest. The eye is located higher in the orbit on this bird which is a notable identification mark for Short-billed. The eye is more centrally located and lower on the face of a Long-billed. And the bill is uniformly thick on this bird where a Long-bills "bill" is thinner as it approaches the base. >

    In the sunken boat in the lagoon, a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper flies in >

     More study images of the "long-billed" Short-billed Dowitcher. There are three subspecies of Short-billed Dowitchers. Determining these subspecies is not that important to me. What is important to me, is to help you distinguish just the general differences between Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers to possibly make your identification that mush easier and helpful. There is also the female/male Short-billed/Long-billed bill length overlap that will also complicate the species separation! This bird was a good lesson in the possible mis-identification of the two species based on the obvious bill length. To me, they should just be called "Lesser" and Greater" Dowitchers! :^) Seems to work just fine for Yellowlegs and Gulls! :^)

                 October Highlights #1 will continue and will be posted soon. Please check back at a later date. October turned out to be very exciting...especially for migrant Waterfowl. I also have two upcoming Pelagic trips (Nov 9 and 23) and a codfishing trip (no date yet) late in this month that I will be reporting on. My birding will slow down a bit next week as my Mom has to go back in for surgery on the 11th (to address a small problem that occurred with her hip replacement surgery from July). So while she is at home recovering, I will have plenty of time to work on my blog!