A studio for bird study

Tag: migration

First Idaho Record of Red-flanked Bluetail – December 2016

by Bryce W. Robinson

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On 31 December 2016 I made the five hour trip from Boise to Lewiston to see Idaho’s first record of Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus). On arrival, the bird already had a crowd watching it forage along the Russian Olives that bordered the river.

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It was a sunny and relatively warm morning, and the bird was actively foraging. It would appear on the tree edge and making foraging sallies to the ground. It looked like the bird was eating the Russian Olive fruits, but one of my photos show it with an arthropod in its bill as well.

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It made its way foraging between four trees along the river, heading south to the last tree and then returning north. Occasionally it would disappear low in the trees along the rivers edge, and return to foraging within a few minutes.

My favorite aspects of this bird were its subtle hues in the plumage, particularly the blue throughout and the white throat patch. I also enjoyed its behaviors, such as the constant tail dabbing. The bird was extremely cooperative, providing all watching with excellent views. At times when it would come to the ground to forage, it would do so only feet from the birders. I’d say it was behaving about the best anyone could hope for concerning a high profile vagrant.

I spent some time attempting to capture video of the bird perched on a limb, tail dabbing. I mostly was unsuccessful, but did manage the following clip that is poor quality. It’s worth sharing just to show the birds behavior.

 

The Red-flanked Bluetail was a great end to 2016, which was a bummer of a year for so many reasons, but was incredible and profitable regarding birds. Hopefully 2017 will match or exceed. Happy New Year.

2nd ABA Record of Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra) in Oregon

by Bryce W. Robinson

 

I had a great weekend. A few friends and I made the short road trip from Boise to the Oregon coast to see the ABA areas second record of Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra). The Common Scoter breeds across Europe and Asia, and most closely resembles the Black Scoter (Melanitta americana). The first record for this species was surprisingly only last year in Northern California.

We had no trouble finding the bird when we arrived, because there were already many birders on location. We were lucky though, it was high tide and the bird had come up river to preen and feed. I stood on a bridge with the bird nearly directly below me and took photos and video.

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Male Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra). Second ABA record, Lincoln City, Oregon. November 2016.

We birded the area after getting our fill, including sea watching which never disappoints folks from inland. We also bagged another lost bird, a Tropical Kingbird a few miles down the road from the scoter stake-out. Overall it was an excellent trip with good friends.

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Digiscoped photo of a Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) in Lincoln City, Oregon.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata) on the Alaska Peninsula

by Bryce W. Robinson

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The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata) breeds in eastern Siberia and winters in the south Pacific, but a large portion of the juvenile cohort pass through western Alaska on their first fall migration. While I was on the Alaska Peninsula waiting for Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica) in September, I got to see a few late moving juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpipers mixed in with massive Dunlin (Calidris alpina) flocks.

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At high tide each day our group would hide in the elymus grass and watch shorebirds come into the high rack line to roost. On one occasion, I noticed the opportunity to photograph a juvenile sharpie, so crept on my belly towards the roosted flock. Once I was close enough to take quality photos, I raised my camera. At the same time the flock took to the air and my chance seemed ruined. I thought it odd though, because the roosting Dunlin are usually tolerant if you are careful and move slowly. I looked around and saw a Bald Eagle passing overhead, which was certainly the reason for the panic. I cursed a bit and looked around to see when the flock might return to roost. As I scanned around, I noticed a lone bird still roosted in the rack line. It was the sharpie, which hadn’t pushed to the air with the Dunlin flock. It’s an interesting note, and something I’ve observed with the few Rock Sandpipers that were associating with the Dunlin flocks as well. On few occasions, the other species opted to stay put despite the flock erupting into flight.

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I’d love the opportunity to get to know Sharp-tailed Sandpipers better. Like other birds of the region, the juveniles represent one of the excellent species along the migratory route of the west coast of Alaska that make the place so unique and alluring.

Plumage in Transition: Red Phalarope Pre-Basic Molt

by Bryce W. Robinson

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I don’t often post a large amount of photos from one subject, but I think this bird deserves the coverage. I was birding the western Alaskan coastline with my friends Neil and Ellen the other day when we found this male Red Phalarope – Phalaropus fulicarius. Even better, the bird was mid-way through its pre-basic molt, giving it a unique look. This was the first time I’d ever seen this transitional plumage. REPH_1501

The new feathers of the basic plumage are blue-grey. The old feathers of the alternate plumage are gold and black. It’s a striking difference. Also note the orange body feathers of the alternate plumage, and the white feathers of the basic plumage. These birds are so colorful during their breeding periods on the pools of the Arctic tundra, but after this short period ends they molt into a cool plumage reminiscent of their winter haunts, the open ocean and coastlines. These color changes mean something, or better put, they have context. What a satisfying process, to see a bird in a state like this male and recall that the appearance has a story (begs the question, why the difference in appearance between seasons?).

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Although the bird was midway through its molt, it is still identifiable as a male. You can see in the crown that the retained feathers are brown and gold. If it were a female, these retained feathers would be wholly black, and bold. The gold and brown around the face and on the nape also tell its sex.
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This bird was so cooperative that I was able to take my fill of photos. It’s rare to see this species in a plumage such as this, so I’m happy that I was able to capture many different angles and views, truly document the bird, and even put the camera down and simply watch. I feel spoiled with the way the birding has been lately here in western Alaska. Too many great things to see, too may things to shoot with the camera, too many experiences to write about. Just the way life should be.REPH_1505REPH_1504 REPH_1507 REPH_1509