Sunday, February 26, 2012

Photo Quiz Solution: 2/22/12

This weeks photo quiz was another relatively difficult bird, especially if you have little or no experience with pelagic birding.  I also did not tell you where this photograph was taken (although for future reference, all photos are going to be of ABA birds unless otherwise noted), and in doing so left a lot of possibilities open.

Let's try to get oriented.  Obviously we are looking at a waterbird, whether it is a gull, loon, or tube-nose may not be immediately obvious.  Still, no north american gull looks this way, and the legs are awfully far back on the body for any Larid.  Similarly, no loons in basic plumage are not generally this brown on top, but I won't get into the structural features that rule them out.

Most people got that this bird was a tube-nose, though, and more specifically a shearwater.  All dark shearwaters are ruled out as this bird is white underneath.  Manx and Audubon's are much blacker on top and white-flanked.

Truthfully, though, there are a few pieces of information here that give away the answer: 1) there is an obvious white bar moving up onto the nape, although the entire nape is not visible; 2) dark flanks; 3) combination white uppertail coverts and dark rump; and 4) dull/darkish legs.  Everyone who got it to tube-nose answered either Cory's or Great.  Cory's Shearwater does not generally have any of these four criteria. The rump is generally a little paler than the body, even though it has white uppertail coverts.  This gives Great Shearwater a white band above the tail, which is less pronounced on Cory's.  Cory's Shearwaters also have bright pink legs, and clean, white flanks, unlike this individual.  This bird is a Great Shearwater.  Here is another crappy, though more discernible, photo of the same bird:

Mark (Mad Dog) Dettling
Dan Lipp
Jane Hosking

Thanks for playing!
By Luke Musher

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Photo Quiz

Photo taken August 2010 by Lukas Musher.
Identify this bird by Saturday 2/25 at 11:59PM.  Email us at  Winners names will be posted along with the solution on Sunday.

Good Luck!

NSWO at the Arroyo

Last night Frenchie came running into the library telling us she was hearing a Northern Saw-whet Owl outside.  Nice! Cory and I needed this for our county list, plus NSWO is the baddest/most adorable owl there ever was.  So we walked towards it (can't say where) and I started whistling for it.  It responded right away, and flew right at my face banking off at the last minute.  We got our spotlight on it as it flew but couldn't locate it while it was perched and calling.

Tonight a friend of ours, Jeff Miller, local birder and major Marin county lister/ebirder stopped by to look for it.  It wasn't calling, but we were able to call it in within about 30 seconds of tooting.  It flew in and I got a couple photos before letting it alone again.  It took a lot of self-control not to just open up a mist net and try capturing it!  
"Pocket-sized and cuddly, you would love to take it home." ~Richard Crossley, The Crossley ID Guide
Got to love those feathered eyelids.  Mr. Snuffleupagus!
I think the resemblance is pretty obvious...

By Luke Musher

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Get your Yellah'...bellied no good Sapsucker off my property...

Luke and I had heard about two different Yellow-bellied Sapsucker reports in Marin County during the past few months or so.  Being so far out of their range, we spent a good amount of time trying to find these birds to add to our California, and Marin County, lists. 

One was reported in Stinson Beach, CA (about 20 minutes from the field station).  We checked out this, supposedly more reliable, location a couple times without any luck.  The bird was reportedly seen in a California Peppertree next to the Sandpiper Motel, but we were unable to locate it in the Peppertree or in the surrounding neighborhood.

The other location was on Overlook Drive in Bolinas, CA (just 5 minutes down the road from Palomarin).  This spot couldn't have been any more convenient for us, as it was on the way to any destination to which we needed to drive.  We visited this spot so many times that I'm sure most of the Overlook Drive residents would recognize us in a line-up, but this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker just wouldn't turn up.

Then, a little over a week ago, French and I were making some birding stops after banding at an offsite.  It was near dark when we passed Overlook Drive on our way home, and I turned down at the last possible second.  I told French that we wouldn't even get out of the car; we'd just roll the windows down and listen.  And sure enough, I spotted some movement in a tree across the street from the address where the YBSA had been reported, and with the near-dark conditions I captured these gems.
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Overlook Drive, Bolinas, CA [photo by Cory Ritter]
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Overlook Drive, Bolinas, CA [photo by Cory Ritter]
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Overlook Drive, Bolinas, CA [photo by Cory Ritter]
Some of you may have missed the bad reference to "Home Alone" in the title here, but I found it fitting since this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was sitting in a tree right next to a "No Trespassing" sign.

A couple of days later, Luke, Dan and I stopped back so I could show them the spot where I had seen the YBSA.  Dan had just picked up some recording equipment recently, which he had with him when we went looking.  He was unable to record any actual bird calls, but he was able to capture this other form of documentation.

On a more serious note, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, along with other sapsuckers, play an important role in their community.  They create and maintain sap wells in trees, from which they feed on sap.  Other species, such as the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, use these wells to supplement their diet (Walters et al. 2002).  Also, they excavate nesting cavities, which can be used by other birds (Walters et al. 2002).

By Cory Ritter


Walters, E. L., E. H. Miller, and P. E. Lowther. 2002. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius). In The Birds of North America, No. 662 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds). The Birds of North America, Inc, Philadelphia, PA.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Boating to the Farallones

About two weeks ago Cory and I were invited to go on a food run to bring groceries to PRBO's field station on the Southeast Farallone Island (SEFI).  We spent an entire afternoon buying tons of food for the crew, and on Saturday February 4th we headed out at 7am on a 45ft sailboat to the Farallones.  The conditions could not have been more perfect, so we were told, for getting onto the island.  The swells were small, the wind was light, and the visibility clear as ever.  Yet when we got to the island, the crane lift was having issues, and the landing was "dicey." Although we couldn't get onto the island, much to our resentment, the ride out and back was worthwhile.  I was hoping for lots of pelagic species, but the birding was relatively slow.  Despite this, we saw thousands of Common Murres, a few Rhinoceros Auklets, a distant flyby of 5 unidentified murrelet spuhs (almost certainly Ancient Murrelets), and plenty of gulls, grebes, loons, and cormorants to boot.  We also had a very brief look at a bird that was likely a Northern Fulmar, but I was only on it for about three seconds before I lost it behind the waves forever.  Considering we weren't stopping for birds or chumming, I'd say we did alright.
Common Murre.  Often thought of as a black and white bird, the upperparts (especially the head) are really more of a deep chocoloate-brown.
Many murres are already in breeding plumage on the west coast.  What a treat, even if they are pretty common.
We watched thousands of these birds starting at the head of San Francisco Bay, but most were about 5-10 miles offshore.

When we finally got to SEFI, PRBO and Fish and Wildlife crew came to meet us.  Their boat has to be lowered by a large crane into the water.
Ryan (driving in the back), is a PRBO researcher studying pinnipeds (specifically elephant seals, I think) on the island.
Another look at the crane.
Pelagic Cormorant.  Note the thin bill, straight neck, and white patch behind the wing.

By Luke Musher

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Recent Birding in the North Bay Area

Black-necked Stilt, Las Gallinas Wastewater Treatment Area, Marin county, CA 1/16/2012
It's been hard to find time to get birding in recently.  With all the recent bad weather we've had to make up a lot of banding days.  Most of our birding this week has been restricted to an hour or so in the late afternoon. Thursday, though, Cory and I were able to get a day off and do some birding around the North Bay area in Marin and Sonoma Counties.  Some of our recent highlights include Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (more on this to come), Burrowing Owl (Cory and I have spent a lot of time visiting and revisiting a good spot right by PRBO with no success until Tuesday), Blue-winged Teal (another bird we've been trying for in Marin county with no success until recently), Cattle Egret, Lewis' Woodpecker, Ancient Murrelets (two flyby individuals seen from Bodega head), Lesser Yellowlegs (a hard bird to get this time of year in the North Bay area), Golden Eagle, Nashville Warbler, Yellow Warbler, and Common Poorwill (seen along Mesa Road in Bolinas on the drive back to PRBO one night).
Nashville Warbler, Bodega Bay, CA 2/16/12 [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Orange-crowned Warbler, Bodega Bay, CA 2/16/12 [Photo by Lukas Musher]
This bobcat (so blurry) watched us as we walked back to our car after watching the Burrowing Owl on 2/14/12
Immature Lewis' Woodpecker, Sebastopol, CA 2/16/12 [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Cory's and my Marin county Northern Mockingbird, Las Gallinas WTA, 2/16/12 [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Yellow-rumped Warbler, Las Gallinas WTA, Marin county, CA 2/16/12
Very distant shot of Cory's and my Marin county Common Gallinule, Las Gallinas WTA, Marin county, CA 2/16/12
Say's Phoebe, Las Gallinas WTA, Marin county, CA 2/16/12 [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Turkey Vulture, Las Gallinas WTA, Marin county, CA 2/16/12 [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Adult male Northern Harrier, Las Gallinas WTA, Marin county, CA 2/16/12

By Luke Musher

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Photo Quiz Solution

This one was probably much easier for westerners, and since I didn't say where the photo was taken, a lot of options were left open.  Off the bat, we have a mostly gray bird with clean white undertail coverts and flanks, streaking on the back, olive wash over the nape, black mottling (or is it shadow?) yellow peaking out from the posterior end of the face, and two obvious white wing bars. The only birds that have this combination of obvious wing bars and yellow face are Setophaga warblers.  The lack of vertical streaking on the flanks also eliminates A LOT of possibilities.

Warblers with yellow extending far back on the face include Townsend's, Hermit, Black-throated Green, Golden-cheeked, and Cape May Warblers.  The streaking on the back in many Setophaga warblers (including all five birds above) is often quite dark in adult male birds.  This streaking is relatively light, so I'd lean towards a first winter male bird or a adult female bird.  All of these species other than Hermit have evident streaking on the flanks in most plumages.  These four also all have backs ranging from olive to bright green to solid black (Golden-cheeked).  The light gray-olive back and olive crown really suggests Hermit Warbler.  And that's what it is.

Here is the same bird, from a more identifiable angle.  This bird has no black at all on the throat which concerns me about calling it an adult female.  It's clearly not a typical adult male.  The upper wing-bar (caused by white-tipped/mostly white median coverts) lacks distinct black centers as far as I can tell (may be washed out or covered by the other median coverts), which suggests this is not a first-winter bird.  The brightness of the face is also evidence of an adult bird.  Still, the face seems to be more typical of an adult male than female.  The crown is olive with only a little black mottling, so adult male seems unlikely, but the very large black centers to the uppertail coverts suggest male!  I would lean adult female on this, but I can honestly say I really don't know.  I have only seen one other Hermit Warbler than this, and it had black on the throat, so I can't say for sure if this is really that atypical, but it is certainly an interesting comparison to any field guide.  Any other ideas on age/sex?  Townsend's x Hermit Warbler is a rather common hybrid, but I see nothing intermediate here that suggests that.

Francesca Massarotto
Ryan DiGaudio (Top Bird Biologist)
Jared Feura
Richard Ackley
Tim Schreckengost

~Luke Musher

Monday, February 13, 2012

Photo Quiz

Identify this bird by Wednesday at 3pm EST (12PM Pacific Time).  Email us at with your answers.  The solution and winners names will be posted shortly thereafter.

~The BoomCha Team

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What's your Thayer's-type?

What a headache.  After spending a total of around ten hours this week looking at gulls at Fort Baker near Sausalito, CA this week, I have just about nothing to show for it.  We missed the Iceland Gull seen well early this week by many, and missed Slaty-backed Gull, of which there were as many as three!  Sure we had two different Glaucous Gulls on two different days (one first cycle, one second cycle), but I can't help but feel bitter, like I wasted my time.  Then again, I saw more Thayer's Gull's this week than I ever had in my entire life (roughly x100).  Though these were mostly first cycle birds, there were a lot of adults and in-betweeners as well.
Typical (?) First-cycle Thayer's Gull. Note: Short, relatively thin, straight, solid black bill, gently curved culmen, dome-shaped, dove-like head, though slightly sloped forehead, dark pink legs, dark iris, primaries darker than body and tertials with pale crescents at tips, tertial centers darker than coverts, checkered/barred wing coverts, scapulars mostly pale with dark centers giving a checkered appearance, tail with broad terminal dark band. [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Adult Thayer's Gull. Note: Bill and head structure as above, pale gray mantle, mostly gray primaries.  Very large subterminal mirror (white spot) on P10 (outermost primary) and relatively large mirror on P9 (second most distal primary), black restricted to outer web of primaries.  Streaked head (winter). [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Adult Thayer's Gull.  Head and bill structure as above.  Fairly dark iris, bright pink legs, apical spots (terminal white marks on primaries) relatively even generally becoming larger as you move anteriorly (tail to head) along the folded wing. [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Adult Thayer's Gull.  [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Adult Thayer's Gull.  [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Adult Thayer's Gull.  [Photo by Lukas Musher]
A somewhat dark first cycle Thayer's.  Pale crescents at tips of primaries beginning to wear off.  [Photo by Lukas Musher]
First cycle Thayer's Gull.  Note: Dark secondaries with pale tips, dark outer primaries, pale inner primaries.  Rather checkered-looking median coverts. [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Adult Thayer's Gull.  Note: Bill/head structure as above, small gonydeal bulge (variable, but generally smaller than  herring and other larger-billed gulls), deep pinkish-purple orbital ring, dark yellow-honey iris. [Photo by Lukas Musher]
First cycle Thayer's Gull.  [Photo by Lukas Musher]
First cycle "Kumlin's" Iceland Gull for comparison.  Kumlien's Gull has been treated variously as a hybrid Iceland x Thayer's, and a subspecies of Thayer's or Iceland.  Currently it is categorized as a subspecies of Iceland Gull: Larus glaucoides kumlieni.  [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Kumlien's Gull again. [Photo by Lukas Musher]

By Luke Musher

PAGP and Photo Study of "Bicolored" Red-winged Blackbird

I took these photos today at Shollenberger Park in Petaluma.  Also had a Pacific Golden-Plover.

Pacific Golden-Plover with Black-bellied Plovers, Shollenberger Park, Petaluma, CA. [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Pacific Golden-Plover with Black-bellied Plovers, Shollenberger Park, Petaluma, CA. [Photo by Lukas Musher]