Monthly Archives: January 2014

“The Westbrook Gull” Returns for Year 4…and Remains Unidentified. I think. Maybe.

As you well know by now, I enjoy looking at gulls.  I especially enjoy looking at white-winged gulls in winter here in Maine.  From the seemingly-endless range of variation of first-winter “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gulls to the stately elegance and dominating demeanor of adult Glaucous Gulls, I can’t get enough.  And there’s one particular white-winged gull that I have studied more than all of the others.

For the fourth year in a row, a relatively-small white-winged gull has spent the winter at Riverbank Park in Westbrook.  This has afforded me the opportunity to study the bird’s progression, and to one day, hopefully, identify it!  Yup, after four winters, I am still not certain as to what it is!  And that is both fun and frustrating.

First of all, I have no doubts that the bird is indeed the same individual – despite the lack of a band or any sort of unique marking – due to the bird’s behavior and overall very pale plumage each year.  While other “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gulls occasionally visit the river here, most of the birds just head up to the base of the falls for a bath with the other gulls, and then head back down the river.  Once in a while, another Iceland Gull will spend some time at Riverbank, but they don’t tend to linger long.  The bird’s behavior is also more than suggestive – not only does it sit in the same three spots (including a church steeple that rarely has any other gull) whenever it is near the park, but it is the only white-winged gull that is almost always present and comes down to feed on handouts with the contingent of Ring-billed Gulls.  The chance that a similarly-super-pale bird would do exactly the same things for four years in a row at a place that usually doesn’t have any other white-winged gulls seems rather far-fetched.  It also tends to show up at about the same time – early to mid-January each year.  I think it is safe to assume that this is the same bird.

Therefore, what we now have is a record of the bird over four years of life, showing the plumage progression of each year.  Now, I never recommend using only one photo to describe a given bird (in this case, in a given year), especially with gulls, as gray scale in particular changes so much with lighting (and how badly I butchered the ISO) among other factors ranging from time of the season to how recently the bird ate.  Therefore<a href=”“>, I recommend taking a look at the photo gallery on our store’s Facebook page here.

But for sake of conversation, let me simply include one photo from each of the past three winters.
ICGU1, Riverbank Park, Westbrook, 3-14_edited-1

ICGU, Riverbank Park2, 1-19-12_edited-1

1,3-6-13 copy

And now, it has returned, in full-adult plumage.  Here are a series of photos that I took at Riverbank on Monday (1/27):





In that aforementioned Facebook gallery, I included some of the thought process that I have had about exactly how old this bird is, and what subspecies of Iceland Gull that it might be.   From an identification perspective, now that is in “adult” plumage, the exact age is moot – all adult plumages look the same, with minor differences between winter (especially streaking on the head and neck) and summer (white head and more vivid bare part coloration).  It is safe to say that this bird is “at least” 4 years old, and now it is in the plumage that should allow us to more-safely identify it to subspecies.  In theory.

But before we delve into the Iceland Gull subspecies question, I think it is worth taking a moment to be sure it is in fact, and Iceland Gull.  The case has been made that this bird could be a runt Glaucous Gull (or one of the very small subspecies) or even an Iceland x Glaucous Gull hybrid.

The basis for the argument has revolved around the exceedingly pale plumage, the bird’s rather bulky size and shape, its dominance over even larger Herring Gulls, and especially the length of the wing.  Here, I blew up a photo from Monday of the primaries.  I extensively manipulated it to try and bring out the detail of the edges of each feather – so ignore the color.
DSC_0017_WestbrookICGU-ad4 - manipulated primaries,1-27-14

Iceland Gulls are usually readily identifiable by their longer wings.  Those wings extend well beyond the tail, and usually at least 4 primaries are visible beyond the tail.  Olsen and Larson reference this projection as being “equivalent (to) the bill length or longer.”  It’s not a perfect photo above, but I definitely don’t see four primaries beyond the tail, and the primary projection does not look as long as the bill in any of the photos.  In fact, this “unusually short-winged impression” was consistent in every year that we have seen the bird.  Take a look at the photo gallery over the years – you never see a “long-winged” Iceland Gull with four primaries extending beyond the tail.

Another clue for Iceland vs. Glaucous is the relatively short legs of Iceland: the tibia (upper part) is usually mostly covered by body feathers, while on Glaucous, the tibia is more exposed – at least when the bird is alert.  To me, this bird sometimes looks short-legged, with little exposed tibia, which is in line with Iceland Gull, but other times looks oddly long-legged, in line with Glaucous (see above and additional photos).  This is a fairly subjective (like so many other gull ID characteristics) point, and one that I am not putting much weight in either way.


On the Westbrook bird, the forehead usually appears gently rounded, and the eye looks fairly big on the head – as it should on an Iceland Gull.  However, other photos show a very sloping forehead – this feature changes significantly with posture and “attitude,’ but I must say that I have never seen a Glaucous Gull that appeared truly “round-headed.”

While the bill is not dainty, it is not as formidable as Glaucous usually looks, and it shows little in the way of a gonydeal angle.  Howell and Dunn state that Glaucous’s “bill base often has slightly expanded culmen that creates distinctive shape (especially males), with a depth at the base greater than the depth at the gonydeal expansion.”  I don’t see that on this bird.  In fact, their description for Iceland Gull of “relatively short and slender, parallel edged with a shallow to moderate gonydeal expansion,” seems to match this bird much better, although it’s not the most slender, nor the shortest, bill that I have seen on Iceland Gulls.
HEADDSC_0016_WestbrookICGU-ad6-head shot,1-27-14

The fleshy orbital ring is pink on this bird at the moment.  Howell and Dunn describe Glaucous Gull as having an orange orbital ring, “Kumlien’s” Gull as having it “purplish-pink,” with the nominate Iceland showing a “pink to reddish.”

Of these characteristics, the only thing that suggests that this is not anything other than a pure Iceland Gull of one or the other subspecies is what appears – and has consistently appeared over the years – to be a short wing.  Personally, I have a hard time relying on any one single field mark to rule a species in or out, but I can’t completely ignore how short this wing is.

So assuming for a second that this is indeed an Iceland Gull, it comes down to which subspecies it is: the nominate glaucoides or kumieni.  I’m not going to get into the taxonomic debate here, so I will discuss this based on the current most-widely-used taxonomy that includes two subspecies of Iceland Gull: the nominate glaucoides that breeds in Greenland and winters mostly in Iceland and Northern Europe, while kumlieni breeds on Baffin Island and adjacent areas of northeastern Canada, and winters largely in the Northeastern US and Atlantic Canada.  Birds that seem perfect for glaucoides are regularly seen in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, but in the Northeast US, the conventional wisdom suggests that glaucoides is very rare, and some argue that most if not all birds that appear to be glaucoides are actually just the pale extremes of kumlieni.

The extensively pure white wingtips, very pale gray mantle, and very white appearance as a youngster are all points in favor of glaucoides.  However, most features overlap with kumlieni.  What’s troubling is that the Westbrook bird never appears as small and dainty as a textbook glaucoides; sometimes described as “cuter” with a big eye, more rounded head, and small size than most kumlieni.  This bird is more along the lines of a big kumlieni, which few plumage characteristics at any age have been overly consistent with.

If I saw this bird for the first time this week, I think I would call it a “probable glaucoides” and move on.  But I have spent so much time with this bird over the years (“You are a little obsessed with this bird,” Jeannette just said.) that I prefer to still answer “I don’t know,” that I stubbornly want to keep pondering this bird.  Its appearance in preceding years and those short wings continue to bother me, even though my gut tells me that this is just an Iceland Gull.

Essentially, the problem with this gull for each of the last four years is that it’s never been seen (to my knowledge) side-by-side with another white-winged gull.  We’re therefore left with conjecture, comparing this bird to Herring and Ring-billed Gulls.  What we really need is photos of this bird next to another Iceland-type gull.  A direct comparison would do wonders for figuring this thing out for sure.  Or a DNA test.

Short of that, this is, essentially, only an exercise.  I don’t think anything can be said definitively.  Hopefully, by spring, this bird’s bare part coloration (orbital ring and the bill in particular) will develop a little further, which may shed further light on the birds’ identity.  More importantly, I – and others – will be trying to get more photos of the bird and especially photos of the bird with other Iceland Gulls.  Until then, I will continue to ponder, enjoy, study, and yes, be frustrated by “The Westbrook Gull.”

Now for those who are truly gluttons for punishment, I will be discussing this bird as part of my upcoming Gull Identification Workshop for York County Audubon on February 8th and 9th.  But don’t worry, we’re not going to spend too much time with the unidentifiable…I promise.  Instead, we’ll spend most of our time learning that MOST gulls are actually fairly easy to identify.  I believe the Westbrook Gull is the exciting and challenging exception to the rule.  And once you are comfortable identifying just about every gull just about every time, you’ll be ready to accept and excel such challenges.  I hope you will join me for this workshop.  For more information, and a link to register, visit the Tours, Events, Workshops, and Programs page of our website.

Howell, Steve N.G. and Jon Dunn.  2007.  The Reference Guide to Gulls of the Americas.  Houghton Mifflin Company: New York and Boston.

Olsen, Klaus Malling and Hans Larsson.  2004.  Gulls of North America, Europe, and Asia.  Princeton University Press: Princeton and Oxford.

Trinidad and Tobago!

Ten years ago, Jeannette and I traveled to Trinidad   and Tobago, our first international trip together.  In fact, it was our honeymoon!

We first went to T&T because it offers a wealth of birding opportunities.  English-speaking, with a good infrastructure, reasonable costs, and with a couple of places that really cater to birders, T&T is a rather easy tropical birding destination.  Geologically part of South America, its avifauna is more closely related to “The Bird Continent” than the rest of the West Indies.  While it has representatives of many South American bird families, it has fewer representatives of each, making it a great introduction to the avifauna of the Neotropics.

With so many places to visit on this planet, it’s hard for us to go back to somewhere for the second time, but we had some “unfinished birding business” in T&T. For one, we were on a tight budget, so could not spend enough time at the famous Asa Wright Nature Center on Trinidad.  And, while we were there, we were limited in how many field trips we could take; there were a lot more places and birds for us to see on the island.  On Tobago, we just rented a beachside cottage, which was great, but we went a day without food when we found everything in the village closed for the day and had limited time for birding.

On one of the field trips that we did take while staying at Asa Wright was the legendary trip to CaroniSwamp to see the evening flight of Scarlet Ibis.  Unfortunately, we ended up on the boat with some wahoos were more interested in being obnoxious drunks than enjoying a natural spectacle – definitely needed to do that one again!  And finally, we wanted to see the endemic Trinidad Piping-guan, a bird that takes a very early start and a lot of driving to see (we decided it was too costly too take the trip the last time for one target bird).

Therefore, some years ago, it was decided that we would celebrate our Tenth Anniversary with a return trip.  I have no plans of leading a tour here, so this was pure vacation.  I didn’t even take that many notes.  Even with a relaxed pace – including Tobago afternoons spent on the beach – we tallied 182 species, including 20 lifers for each of us (surpassing our expectations).  And we did take plenty of photos (neither of us owned a good camera ten years ago, so photos – especially of birds – were more than a little lacking, another reason to return).

Instead of my usual detailed trip reporting, I’ll keep up the relaxed nature of our journey by simply sharing a little bit about each day, especially the highlights, and a “Photo of the Day” award.

Day 1, 1/11.
After landing at 5:30am, we made our way through customs and immigration, and after a little stressful waiting, retrieved our bags.  We were whisked off to Asa Wright and arrived just in time for breakfast.  After a hearty meal and a short guided orientation walk, we finally took a seat at the veranda, overlooking the lush valley and surrounded bay swarms of hummingbirds, honeycreepers, and tanagers at the Centre’s world famous feeding station.

It was hard to not call a return (after 10 years) to the veranda the highlight of the day, but we’ll give them first award to the great show of Red-bellied Macaws at the Waller airfield – our first lifer of the trip, and only our first stop on the “Night Tour” that culminated with Common Paraques, White-tailed Nightjars, Barn Owls, and a Common Potoo.

Day 2, 1/12:
Getting back late the first night only to have to have a 3:30 am departure the next morning was not our choice, but thanks to Stupid United’s itinerary change, our first couple of days was condensed into one sleep-deprived blur.  When that alarm went off at 3, this did not seem like a good idea, but a few hours later we were rewarded with our #1 target species of the trip.  12 of them, in fact.

On the Birdlife International Critically Endangered list, with a population estimated at only — individuals, the Trinidad Piping-Guan has become much rarer over the last ten years, primarily due to hunting.  It was no guarantee; even with this long, dedicated trip too look for them, so the pre-sunrise silhouette of one bird was actually satisfactory.  Then, the sun came out, at the guans decided to do some tree-top sun bathing.  And here, where they are apparently protected by the locals, they were not as shy and were quite active in trees around us.  Yeah, this was definitely worth the trip.

Day 3, 1/13:
The day began with a trip to the famous Oilbird cave on the property.  “The Devil Birds” were unusually active today, with lots of calling and flying around. The world’s only nocturnal frugivorous bird, this awesome and unique creature is about as easy to see here at Asa Wright as anywhere else, and seeing them is a highlight of any trip to Trinidad.  However, Jeannette left her short lens in the room, and my point-and-shoot performed terribly, so we don’t have a great photo to share.

And speaking of highlights of any visit to Trinidad, our tour today was the evening boat trip into Caroni Swamp for the roosting Scarlet Ibis.  Each night, over 3,000 brilliant Scarlet Ibis, many hundreds of Snowy Egrets and Tricolored Herons, and plenty of Little Blue Herons, Neotropic Cormorants, and Great Egrets come into roost, and boats take tourists of all sorts out to see them.

On our last trip, our Caroni Swamp experience was less than stellar.  We were put on a boat with general tourists from another hotel, who were most definitely not birders.  Two were loud, obnoxious drunks.  The boat operator did not point out other birds, and as truly amazing as the Scarlet Ibis flight was, our experience was a little disappointing.  This time, we were with our two new friends John and Gill from England whom we have been touring with these past two days, and an outstanding, exceptionally bird-knowledgeable boatsman.

The ibis arrive as dusk approaches, and with cloudy skies (somehow, despite all of the rain of the day, we only had to deal with a couple of brief showers while on the boat trip), lighting conditions were a little tough for Jeannette to score top-notch shots of the ibis.  Therefore, today’s Photo of the Day will capture the essences of the Asa Wright birding experience.  Great birds…and rum punch at 6:00pm, no matter where you are!  Also, Jeannette’s smile suggests that we were having a much more enjoyable experience this time.
J-Mo in Caroni

Day 4, 1/14:
Our full-day tour to the Nariva Swamp area produced quite a few new birds for the trip, and even a half-dozen lifers.  An Aplomado Falcon was a treat, as was a really good show of Savannah Hawks.  Roti for lunch, and a night walk including Chevron Tarantulas and land crabs were other highlights of the day.

However, today’s Photo of the Day credit will go my White-necked Jacobin photos on the veranda of Asa Wright.  Jeannette’s excellent Savannah Hawks and a Striped Cuckoo were contenders, but this photo represents the trip a little better.  Taken with my phone and nothing more, it’s hard to beat the proximity of the activity at the veranda.

Day 5, 1/15:
There’s no question as to today’s selection.  Ten years ago, Tufted Coquette was our most-wanted bird, so getting a photo was of high priority for Jeannette on this trip.  After a couple of days of chasing the stunning and gaudy male around, Jeannette scored this busy male feeding on their favored verbena flowers.

Day 6, 1/16:
We arrived on Tobago yesterday evening, and this morning we took the boat trip over to Little Tobago Island to view breeding seabirds.  Not unlike our visit to Caroni Swamp ten years ago, this tour was not as memorable for the right reasons as it should have been, so we most definitely wanted to do it again.  This time, a better guide and a very small group produced a much better experience.  One-half of the pair of White-tailed Tropicbirds that nest here made an appearance, as did a Scaly-naped Pigeon – a species that may have only colonized here after Hurricane Ivan smacked Grenada in 2005.

While “the” Red-billed Tropicbird on Seal Island in Maine is simply astounding, so is the view of dozens upon dozens wheeling around the sky, avoiding marauding Magnificent Frigatebirds as they head to and from the island.  Jeannette and I agreed that we tied for Photo of the Day honors today. First is her photo of a Red-billed Tropicbird chick, and second is my iPhone photo of an adult on the nest – far too close for Jeannette’s telephoto.


Day 7, 1/17:
Today was our primary birding day on Tobago, but let’s just say we did not choose our plan well.  We did make it up into the rainforest, and saw some good birds on the Gilpin Trail, including White-tailed Sabrewings and our lifer Yellow-legged Thrushes.  Jeannette also picked up Purple Honeycreeper, but only heard two other targets: Venezuelan Flycatcher and Olivaceous Woodcreeper.  We spent less time in the forest and saw fewer birds that we wanted – and spent more money than we expected doing so – but hey, this was our only “mistake day” of the trip, and so we couldn’t complain too much.

And besides, while having lunch (the local restaurants were a third the price and 10x better than the Inn, as is often the case) in Speyside, a Great Black-Hawk (one of our dips in our forest visit) came diving down from high elevation to take a run at a teed-up White-tipped Dove.  It was then joined by a second bird as they rapidly rose in altitude back up into the hills.

The dark forest precluded much photography, and our walk down the roadside edge was shorter than we expected, so we’ll head back to the grounds of the Blue Waters for the photo of the day: This Trinidad Motmot that was regularly stationed at the start of the short trail on the property.

Day 8, 1/18:
Preparing to depart back to Trinidad in the afternoon, we stayed close to the Inn, including a photo session with the locals that we have been thoroughly enjoying over the past few days here.  Hand-feeding Ruddy Turnstones was only topped by this photo session with Rufous-vented Chacalacas.

Day 9, 1/19:
Arriving after dark last night to our hotel near the airport, we took their shuttle to the mall for dinner (it was either that or take-out from the likes of KFC and Pizza Slut), which was actually rather interesting.  The “largest mall in the English-speaking Caribbean” provided two food courts of eating options…of course, no matter where in the world you are, mall food is pretty much mall food.  However, while waiting for the shuttle to pick us up, we did have a Barn Owl flying around the lights of the parking lot.

We departed for the airport before sunrise, but had a chance to walk outside for a handful of minutes at the airport:  Palm Tanager, Great Kiskadee, Carib Grackle, Tropical Mockingbird, Gray-breasted Martin, and Cattle Egret (and Great Egret from the runway) were our last birds for the trip.  Interestingly, if you include this morning there were only three species that we saw every day of this trip (9 if you exclude this morning): Palm Tanager, the mockingbird, and the grackle.

As anyone who has visited the Caribbean region, Bananaquits are one of the constant features of birding.  On islands such as Trinidad and Tobago, they are everywhere, in every habitat and at every elevation, and at least here, it is considered the most abundant bird on the island.  They are vocal, inquisitive, and full of character.  I absolutely love Richard ffrench’s (the author of the Trinidad   and Tobago field guide) evocative description: “the energetic busy-body.”  While we didn’t have one at the airport in our short walk, we did see it on the other 8 days of the trip, and this bird that sang just off of our porch at the Blue Waters Inn seemed like a fitting final “Photo of the Day.”

2014 Maine State List Predictions

About this time each year on my blog, I make two lists of predictions for the coming year in Maine birding.  The first is my (somewhat-educated) guesses of the next 25 birds to be added to Maine’s state list.  The second is my predictions of the next 25 birds that I will add to my own personal state list.

But first, let’s recap 2013.  This past year, only one new species was added to the Maine list (although there was a report of a Rock Wren in Washington County this fall; I know little of the details): Eurasian Collared-Dove that appeared at a Falmouth feeder on 5/28.  This was my #1-ranked bird for each of the last two years.  I was hardly going out on a limb with this one, as this bird continues to rapidly colonize North America.  While reports in New England continue to be sparse, we can only foresee these becoming much more regular and eventually colonizing much of Maine.

For 2014, I added Neotropical Cormorant to the list, based on the expanding population in the interior of the continent and increasing vagrancy to distant corners of the continent.  I also replaced Bermuda Petrel with Barolo Shearwater.  Recently split from Little Shearwater, this pelagic waif has been detected near the mouth of the Gulf of Maine.  It seems it’s only a matter of time before a research vessel or even a whale-watch trip (especially following a tropical system) finds one within Maine waters.  I also shuffled around a few species based on increasing populations and/or trends in vagrancy.

So here goes my Top 25 Next Species for Maine list:
1)   California Gull
2)   Ross’s Gull
3)   Graylag Goose
4)   Roseate Spoonbill
5)   Little Stint
6)   Fieldfare
7)   Hammond’s Flycatcher
8)   Black-chinned Hummingbird
9)   Spotted Towhee
10)  Audubon’s Shearwater (on “hypothetical” list)
11)  Neotropic Cormorant
12)  Black-tailed Gull
13)  Anna’s Hummingbird
14)  Redwing
15)  Allen’s Hummingbird
16)  Barolo Shearwater
17)  Long-billed Murrelet
18)  Common Ground-Dove
19)  Western Wood-Pewee (my gut still tells me a bird I found on Monhegan last fall was actually this species, but a good voice recording is going to be necessary to confirm identification).
20)  Spotted Redshank
21)  Yellow-legged Gull
22)  Brown-chested Martin
23)  Bermuda Petrel
24)  Gray Flycatcher
25)  Common Scoter

As for me personally, 2013 was a productive year.  I added eight birds to my state list (with last year’s rankings):
a) Hoary Redpoll (#2), Bowdoinham feeder, 2/4.
b) Northern Lapwing (honorable mention), Range Hill Road, Poland, 5/6.
c) Acadian Flycatcher (#22), FortFoster, 5/21.
d) Mew Gull (#21), Thomaston, 8/8.
e) Black-necked Stilt (honorable mention), Eastern Road, Scarborough Marsh, 6/23.
f) Kentucky Warbler (#12), East Point, Biddeford Pool, 9/9.
g) Bell’s Vireo (#23), Bailey Island, Harpswell, 10/23.
h) Hermit Warbler (honorable mention), Harpswell feeder, 12/12.

Of those, only the Acadian Flycatcher and Bell’s Vireo were “self-found,” which is always the more fulfilling way to add to one’s state list.  I’ll have to do better with this in 2014.  Unfortunately, it brings my self-found list down to 88.7% of my total state list (363).

I also “dipped” on the St. George American White Pelican in September, waiting until it was no longer being seen before going to look for it.  I chased enough in 2013, but I could have chased much more.  In fact, I never made the effort, was away, or just didn’t get lucky enough for some other potential state birds (American Three-toed Woodpecker, the collared-dove, Great Skua, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Bullock’s Oriole all immediately come to mind).

There are lots of options for birds to add to my own list in the coming year(s), so narrowing it down to 25 and ranking them is really just a guessing game.  Of course previous records and trends are taken into account.
1) Slaty-backed Gull
2) American Three-toed Woodpecker
3) Great Skua
4) Eurasian Collared-Dove
5) Gyrfalcon
6) Graylag Goose
7) Say’s Phoebe
8) American White Pelican
9) Western Grebe
10)  Boreal Owl
11)  Fork-tailed Flycatcher
12)  Tundra Swan
13)  Yellow Rail
14)  Ivory Gull
15)  Franklin’s Gull
16)  Sabine’s Gull
17)  Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
18)  California Gull
19)  Calliope Hummingbird
20)  Ross’s Gull
21)  Roseate Spoonbill
22)  Sage Thrasher
23)  Hammond’s Flycatcher
24)  Yellow-headed Blackbird
25)  Loggerhead Shrike

So there ya have it.  Now, let’s go birding and see what 2014 will bring!

Tuesday Twitching in Bath

Jeannette and I went in pursuit of three “good” birds in Bath on Tuesday.  We don’t “twitch” (chase a rarity) very often, and when we do, we always expect the worst.  Therefore we were shocked when not only did we get all three birds that we sought, but they all came quickly, were all photographed, and all were seen – at least at first – from the comfortable confines of our car.

In fact, one of the reasons we chose this particular endeavor this day was to avoid spending too much time out in the -20 wind chills.  Good birds, and a little warmth, made for a very good day.

First up was the Bath landfill, where a Golden Eagle has been present now for a couple of weeks.  Other than one quick late-afternoon visit in which we didn’t see the Golden, I hadn’t gotten around to visit it.  Jeannette didn’t have photos of a Golden in her library, so this seemed like a good opportunity.  And within a mere ten minutes of our arrival, the Golden – a 1-year old (first-cycle) bird – appeared from the north and circled over the landfill, harassing some Bald Eagles and causing consternation among the gulls.

We spent about a half-hour with the Golden, positioning ourselves for the best photos.  Unfortunately, when it was closest, thick clouds blocked the sun, making for backlit photos.  I think Jeannette did pretty well, however.
IMG_1608_edited-2  IMG_1553_edited-2
This photo is also an excellent comparison of the different size and shape of Common Raven (left) and American Crow (right), as both birds engaged in mobbing the Golden!

And we took some time to study the various ages classes of Bald Eagles, such as this 4th-cycle bird.

After a chilly – and not overly birdy, as expected in the woods right now – hike with Sasha down the Whiskeag Creek Trail, we pulled up to Telephone Pole #24 on Whiskeag Creek Road, where an immature Red-headed Woodpecker has been caching seed and suet.  Seconds later, the bird arrived.


We watched it for a while, flying east to a feeding station out of sight and returning with various foodstuffs to save for later.  Perhaps most interesting was the 3/4-piece of a saltine cracker that the bird jammed into a linear crack on another pole.  Not sure how well this cache will hold up to the next rain, however.

Last, and certainly not least, was a real oddity – a leucistic Black-capped Chickadee that is coming to a feeder easily visible from the road only a short distance away.  First reported by some as a Boreal Chickadee due to its brownish crown and bib, this bird is clearly a Black-capped Chickadee that is lacking melanin and other pigments.  It’s not a pure albino (lacking all pigment), but the sandy-buff body color is classic of leucistic birds – it certainly doesn’t have the gray back and peachy flanks of a Boreal Chickadee.  Also, it is the same shape and size as the Black-caps that it associates with.  Here’s a perfect example of the foible of identifying birds based on a single field mark!

The relatively dark brown cap and bib is fascinating, as it shows that the bird definitely has some melanin.   Of all of the birds that we were looking for today, this was actually the birds that I wanted to see and photograph the most!  And I was pretty excited with the shots that Jeannette scored once again.

So while I most certainly prefer bird-finding over bird-chasing, a good chase now and again is never a bad thing.  Plus, it was cold out.  Really cold.  And we saw three great birds and still made it to the matinee of The Hobbit.  I’d call that a successful day!