16 August 2017

Newly Found Land?

Hardly.  The Dorset culture settled in Newfoundland 4,000 years ago.  Hold on, hold on... I'm getting ahead of myself.

HELLO EVERYONE.... I'm alive.

It seems to be tradition now to start my posts with "Wow, I'm REALLY behind".  In truth, it HAS been a busy guiding season and, yes, I AM really behind in posting to my blog.

I left off last time after guiding in Maine.  Well, I was lucky to return to the northeast, this time to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia (our Field Guides tour page here).

We started around St. John's, the capital of the province, where we snagged a few oddballs like this TUFTED DUCK that oversummered with a tame flock of ducks.  This species is typically found overseas in places like Europe and Asia.  This one was keeping an eye on me though:
We drove out to Cape Spear (the easternmost point in all of the US or Canada) where it was a beautiful sunny day.  Here's our group looking east.  The next land in that direction?  Ireland!
Although we were in Newfoundland in the summer, we still managed to find an ABA Code 3 BLACK-HEADED GULL in St. John's (they're fairly common there in winter though).  At one point it flew right by us...
One of the enjoyable aspects of this tour was being in the breeding range of a variety of warblers.  Although BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER is a fairly widespread species, and one you probably know well, we enjoyed getting to see these quite nicely:
We tallied some nice finches too including PINE GROSBEAK, COMMON REDPOLL, PINE SISKIN, PURPLE FINCH, and some RED CROSSBILLS:
These aren't your average crossbills though... these are the Type 8 birds, L. c. percna, an endangered subspecies that is probably endemic to the island of Newfoundland.  I say "probably" because, although they've never been proven away from Newfoundland, it's thought they might wander to Anticosti Island in nearby Quebec.  Either way, we were happy to see this uncommon finch!

Being in Newfoundland was cool and all but it wasn't until we found ourselves on proper tundra that I felt like we were TRULY up north.  The reason is simple... the tundra was hosting a couple of northern specialties that morning like CARIBOU and this WILLOW PTARMIGAN!
Before this, I had only seen this species of ptarmigan in Alaska!  It put on a great show too, as you can see, flying in right next to us.  This would end up being one of the major highlights of the entire trip.

This tour was a good one for northern terns too.  Here's an ARCTIC TERN that spent several minutes flying alongside our vehicle:
Speaking of northern specialties, it's hard to go wrong with the wheezy-sounding BOREAL CHICKADEE, right?  You can see the brown cap nicely on this bird near Placentia:
I can't imagine a better place in all of North America to see NORTHERN GANNETS than at the Cape St. Mary's colony.  We found ourselves face-to-face with 20,000 of these large seabirds, one of the largest gatherings in the world.  It was truly amazing!
Tucked away from the gannets, this RAZORBILL also was catching some rays at Cape St. Mary's.  It's a sharp-looking alcid, that's for sure:
This tour includes a ferry from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia.  Being on such a big boat, it's uncommon for people to get too woozy.  I was thankful of this especially since I was on the lookout for a tiny, dark seabird.  The LEACH'S STORM-PETREL had been at the top of my "most wanted" list for years and this ferry ride is known to have them.  So imagine my glee when I spotted one of these little dudes cruising along just above the wave tops:
Woo hoo!  As you can see on the sidebar on the right side of this webpage, it's one of only 2 new ABA birds so far for me this year.

Once on land in Nova Scotia, we hit the ground running and saw specialties like GREAT CORMORANT and even some NELSON'S SPARROWS singing from right in front of us.  Our lodge was glorious too... the grounds hosted WINTER WRENS, HERMIT THRUSHES, and even this male BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER!
Nearby, the lush, more southerly-feeling forests hosted a whole new range of birds like BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERS, NORTHERN PARULAS, and EVENING GROSBEAKS.  We even found this BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO singing!
This species is fairly scarce and one you're not likely to bump into too often.  We soaked it up, watching it through our scopes as it sat and sang.  Exceptional!

This MOURNING WARBLER also put on a fantastic show for our participants.  Although usually secretive, this one came out and sang from a perch for several minutes.  Here's a scope view of what we were looking at:
I should mention that we take note of all the mammals we see on tours as well.  Naturally, being up in this part of the world, we were keen to see some MOOSE.  We did just that, tallying 8 or so.  Here's one that's, you know, belly deep in a lake:
Staying in the mammal theme, this GRAY SEAL looked pretty pleased with herself too, getting the rock-top spot!
Of course,  I couldn't limit myself to just birds and mammals either!  Here's a FOUR-SPOTTED SKIMMER, a species of dragonfly, that posed nicely for a bit:
Even the range-restricted SHORT-TAILED SWALLOWTAILS were out in force:
And, ok, you caught me... I'd snap photos of non-living things too once in a while.  For example, here's an iceberg off the east coast of Newfoundland.  I think this was my first East Coast berg!
All in all, it was a fun trip and I'd like to thank the lead guide, Chris Benesh, for his expertise in birding these spots.  As it turns out, I'm slated to join him again for this tour next year.  Interested in joining?  Visit our Field Guides webpage for this tour here.

Cheers!  Stay tuned for more -ahem- catch-up posts....

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

"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!

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