Tuesday, January 31, 2012

BBNP - Northern Parula winters.

A refreshing morning was spent puttering through Rio Grande Village and somewhat-accurate numbers are below (this is a compilation of three lists). Of note, primarily, was a second-year male Northern Parula. He was first photographed by Brandon Percival as a mere first-year bird on Dec. 30, 2011 and refound and photographed by Steve Collins on Jan. 8, 2012 so it's a rather well documented individual! Between Dec. 30 and Jan. 31 the creature went from hatch-year's subtle beauty to looking boldly dapper.

2 Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
1 Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
1 American Coot Fulica americana
1 White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
2 White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatalis
2 Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
2 Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris
1 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) Colaptes auratus
1 Gray Flycatcher Empidonax wrightii
1 Dusky Flycatcher Empidonax oberholseri
2 Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
2 Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris
1 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) Colaptes auratus
3 Verdin Auriparus flaviceps
1 Brown Creeper Certhia americana
1 Bewick's Wren Thryomanes bewickii
3 Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris
1 Canyon Wren Catherpes mexicanus
2 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea
3 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Polioptila melanura
2 Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
1 Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
1 Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
1 Brown Thrasher Toxostoma rufum
X Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum (heard only.)
3 Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata
1 Northern Parula Setophaga americana
2 Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
1 Rufous-crowned Sparrow Aimophila ruficeps
10 Brewer's Sparrow Spizella breweri
3 Black-throated Sparrow Amphispiza bilineata
1 Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis
1 Lincoln's Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii
5 White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
1 Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
6 Pyrrhuloxia Cardinalis sinuatus
X American Goldfinch Spinus tristis (heard one group only.)

Northern Parula (Setophaga americana), male

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

One among the Ferruginous beings.

1. Of, containing, or similar to iron.
2. Having the color of iron rust; reddish-brown.

Ten miles north of Marathon, on north HWY 385, is part of a plateau grassland we refer to as Prairie Dog Town. There is no historical marker or bronze statue of digging-mammals. There is however a fairly conspicuous turn-out on either side of the highway. You'll see it. Reset your trip odometer here in Marathon/Paradise City and as it nearly hits 10 miles, you're golden.

In summer there are better chances at viewing Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia). We'll meet that in several months.

In the winter this high-elevation grassland plain is generally teaming with longspurs Family Calcariidae. Particularly the Chestnut-collared Longspurs (Calcarius ornatus) and McCown's Longspurs (Rhynchophanes mccownii) species. We've even found, thanks to Heidi, a few Lapland Longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus). Find a Smith's (C. pictus) and I'll buy you a beer. All these are generally experienced as low fly-overs. Though one can find then darting among the mazes within the bunchgrasses; that, difficult on somedays.

One of my favorite North American raptor species calls this area, and similar habitat described, home during the winter months.

Certainly something to give alert to the prairie dogs.

Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis)

One often encounters this magnificent species perched on a fence post, like the individual above has just vacated. However, most of the time they are actually perched on the ground.

Also, look for this large hawk (it does have a 56 inch wingspan, our largest hawk) flying no more than a few feet off the ground.

These are regal (see species name), beautiful birds. A unique bird to observe, very memorable.

They sport rusty "shoulders" and "backs" above and generally dark-rusty leg feathering. Their tail is
usually a mixture of white and pale rust.

As mentioned before you are mostly going to find these birds flying low over the grassland as is the behaviour of this species.

Also, as mentioned, when you find North America's largest hawk species perched; most of the time, it will be on the ground.

Double-check those white plastic bags snagged in the field out there, if there are any. Pretty much snow-white up front, this Ferruginous of Hawks.

Should you see me in the field, you'll come to know why I take a fondness to the ferrugionous folks of the Animal Kingdom.

Caveat: Yesterday, while enjoying the many grassland species of the "Prairie Dog Town" viscinity, a Whimbrel flew by me.

Whimbrel = a fairly common curlew species in Family Scolopacidae. That's right, shorebirds.

Remember the previous day. Nearly constant 30-40 mph winds generally from the WNW. Ask Central and North TX, they were eating our dust.

Birdwatchers often are weather watchers too. An all day wind event just might blow in a shorebird to a high-desert grassland. Don't bother looking for it at Prairie Dog Town now. I never saw the bird land, though it flew fairly low.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Probable Nutting's Flycatcher - update!

Santa Elena trailhead sightings:
Fri. Jan. 20th: YES (details pending)
Sun. Jan. 16th: pending
Sat. Jan. 15th: NO* (park staff said someone saw the bird, but no details were provided)
Fri. Jan. 14th: NO
Thu. Jan. 12th: AM - NO YES, 9:25 for 5 mins, PM - NO (morning details unclear)
Wed. Jan. 11th: AM - YES details pending, PM - unknown
Tue. Jan. 10th: Not seen between 9:30 am and 5 pm
Mon. Jan. 9th: AM - YES (9-9:30), PM - unknown
Sun. Jan. 8th: unknown
Sat. Jan. 7th: AM - NO, PM - YES (2-3)
Fri. Jan. 6th: AM - YES (?), (absent 11-1) PM - YES (1-2)
Thu. Jan. 5th: YES (12:35-1)
Wed. Jan. 4th: AM - YES (9-?), PM - unknown
Tue. Jan 3rd: unknown
Mon. Jan. 2nd: AM - unknown, PM - 12-1

Edit: due to drought conditions, all precautions should be taken to ensure that no food or trash is left to prevent park wildlife from being attracted to the area.

Until further notice, click here for all previous Nutting's Flycatcher posts!

The bird seems to stick to a clockwise pattern, starting near the trail head, working around the parking lot and traffic island, past the bathrooms and vanishing toward the river. Today's Santa Elena trailhead observation was preceded by a "small Myiarchus" sighting at the canyon overlook - the bird flew down from that site toward the trailhead and was found within minutes. It may be moving around more with the cold weather to get sufficient forage, so folks may want to bring radios and split up with someone at the overlook, someone (or two) at the trailhead and perhaps someone around the Cottonwood Campground. It's present, just not sticking to a set schedule.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bird hazards: weed cloth

"Weed cloth," as it is commonly known, is an unassuming hazard for birds. It was one that we never particularly paid much attention to, as it is generally used in commercial operations - but this merits another look. Our side blog, SeeTrail has fairly extensive information on window collisions, though many of the 'window' posts merely include strong reflections in windows on our travels. Windows are one hazard that pretty much every household in the US have in common. Weed cloth? Far less so.

On a recent jaunt, a meadowlark under a bird feeder was noticed to be acting abnormally - while they do crouch and hold still for camouflage purposes, not flying away when approached is problematic. Getting closer, the bird began thrashing wildly and was noted to be tangled in the fraying edges of weed cloth. There had been mulch over the cloth, but birds beneath the feeder had scratched it all away in pursuit of fallen seeds.

Gentle handling is critical for birds, so the first step was calming the bird - dropping a hat over it caused it to settle down. In the darkness it was not thrashing, risking leg dislocation and further injury. After removing the meadowlark from under the hat, toes were carefully untangled, the frayed cloth was cut free and the bird was inspected for damage. Thankfully it had not been tangled long and there were no cuts or broken bones noted.

It was released immediately, as it was in good shape. Some good outcomes are recorded from birds that end up with wildlife rehabilitators, but most times the best ones are the ones who never needed to go.

*** It should be noted that the fellow in the photographs has extracted many birds from many mist nets and if anyone finds a bird in a similar situation, a box over the bird to calm it is the best first step. Especially if it is an owl, hawk, heron or other bird that could seriously harm a person, call in someone with experience ASAP - like a wildlife rehabilitator (animal control is better for mammals). As is true of most directories, things change, so call multiple people if the first number doesn't answer. Even if they're not nearby, many rehabbers can give you advice based on the situation you describe to them.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Just for fun. Recent, record, memories.

Nutting's Flycatcher (Myiarchus nuttingi)
Santa Elena Canyon, BBNP, TX
2 January 2012

Heidi was busy staying at the ready to record vocalizations; that, far more important than photographs at the time. This allowed me to have fun with the still camera. We have many photos which we are very happy and pleased with.

Heidi was successful in obtaining the first vocal recordings of this individual.

Many thanks to Chrish Benesh, Myiarchus expert, with his spectrograph analysis of the initial recordings and the subsequent.

This, once approved by the Texas Bird Record Committee, will be a 1st TX record.

Happy New Year it was.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Gage Gardens, a light dabble

With two neighbors in tow, a leisurely stroll through the Gage Gardens this morning was a relaxing way to spend a holiday... before work and take-home finals, at least!

We moseyed as far as the benches overlooking the pond - sitting and letting the thirsty birds come to us made for very cooperative subjects. One duck was flushed from the pond upon our arrival and looked to be a female Blue-winged teal, but the checklist suggests that Cinnamon would actually be more likely - the bill did seem large but the face seemed pale. So ebird wins this round!

22 species (+2 other taxa) total

1 Blue-winged/Cinnamon Teal Anas discors/cyanoptera (female/winter/backlit and flying)
1 Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
1 Merlin Falco columbarius (poor look as it darted behind trees)
1 Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
1 Wilson's Snipe Gallinago delicata
3 White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
1 Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
1 Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
1 Bewick's Wren Thryomanes bewickii
6 American Robin Turdus migratorius
1 Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
10 Brewer's Sparrow Spizella breweri
1 Vesper Sparrow Pooecetes gramineus
25 Lark Bunting Calamospiza melanocorys
30 White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
1 Pyrrhuloxia Cardinalis sinuatus
8 Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
2 meadowlark sp. Sturnella sp. (flyovers)
1 Yellow-headed Blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus (scruffy looking)
12 Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
10 House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
1 American Goldfinch Spinus tristis
4 House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Friday, January 6, 2012

Gage Gardens Birds, AM 6th January

**Scroll down for Nutting's Flycatcher posts**

Weekly, I survey the Gage Gardens which is just south of the railroad tracks from the Gage Hotel. The Gage is making a specific effort to attract native birds, at the Gardens, for visiting birders.

Last time out I observed 40 species. This time, the species-count was slightly down though no less enjoyable a time.

I've been having a difficult time tracking down and photographing a skulker of a Brown Thrasher. Today, early in the cold morning I found the bird preening high in a tree. This was my best opportunity of the winter.

Brown Thrasher (Taxostoma rufum)

Check out that eye and dark, defined streaks on the sides and flanks.
We've enjoyed a Brown Thrasher in our yard here in town. And the Gage Gardens has been as reliable a spot in north Brewster County for this bird. An uncommon species though certainly present down on the river, it's not often thought of northward out here.

I was particularly interested in locating two sparrow species that are excellent out here. I found the Rare one of the two.

Harris's Sparrow (Zenotrichia querula)

A large sparrow with a narrow normal range, the Harris's Sparrow is listed Rare in the trans-Pecos of Texas. I saw it again this morning, however I had no luck later in the morning. A great bird, uncommon even where it is supposed to spend a winter.

Lark Buntings (Calamospiza melanocorys)

As always Lark Buntings are numerous. By numerous I mean pushing four digits. Large flocks. They love the high-desert grassland.

A nice surprise were three Ring-necked Ducks on the pond at the SE corner of the property.

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)

There were two males and one female.
Then, they decided to head out for the day.

Also flying low in that general half of the back grassland is a raptor formally known as the "Marsh Hawk" and "Duck Hawk". Hmmm.

Northern Harrier, adult male, (Circus cyaneus)

In the winter there are numerous Brewer's Sparrows. Sometimes less than conspicuous, they are a sought after bird for many; particularly for those from the rest of TX. The reside here in far-West Texas, again, in the winter.

Brewer's Sparrows (Spizella breweri)

And finally, our year-round icon in the Chihuahuan Desert, the dapper Black-throated Sparrow.

Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata)

The following list generated by ebird.org.

31 species (+1 other taxa) total
3 Ring-necked DuckDelete 2 males : 1 female. At the pond on the SE side.
1 Northern HarrierDelete adult male
1 MerlinDelete
2 KilldeerDelete
1 Wilson's SnipeDelete
4 Eurasian Collared-DoveDelete
20 White-winged DoveDelete
4 Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)Delete
1 Chihuahuan RavenDelete
2 Ruby-crowned KingletDelete
20 American RobinDelete
2 Northern MockingbirdDelete
1 Brown ThrasherDelete
seems to have been at this location most of the winter
X Cedar Waxwingelete heard only
2 Yellow-rumped WarblerDelete
15 Brewer's SparrowDelete
1 Field SparrowDelete
40 Vesper SparrowDelete
The back half, which is native grassland holds many. That number is likely conservative.
2 Black-throated SparrowDelete
650 Lark BuntingDelete
20 Savannah SparrowDelete
10 Lincoln's SparrowDelete
1 Harris's SparrowDelete
No FOXS this particular obs. The HASP was seen early in the survey, not later in the AM. Large, black mask and crown short of the nape, beige face pink bill, white belly. This seemingly one individual was seen at the same location. Photos available then, new photos of this bird available though they aren't as good. The bird scratched around under mottled shade at a feeder location. An excellent bird, the previous encounter with it was a Brewster County record for me and Heidi Trudell.
50 White-crowned SparrowDelete
5 PyrrhuloxiaDelete
20 Red-winged BlackbirdDelete
45 meadowlark sp.Delete
40 Brewer's BlackbirdDelete
12 Great-tailed Gracklelete
3 Brown-headed Cowbird
10 House Finch
8 House Sparrow

Nutting's Flycatcher - the basics

(This post is backdated for convenience!)

In one image, here is why a Nutting's Flycatcher in Texas is so cool: that purple? That's where Nutting's Flycatchers live. That's a pretty long way from any part of Texas!

(Image snagged from NatureServe via birdphotos.com)

...and here's another look at the same range. It's basically very, very lost.

Another challenge in ID: since it's not really supposed to be in the US at all, most North American field guides don't even cover it. Nutting's Flycatcher isn't in either of the "small" Sibley Guides (or even the "big" one!), old Petersons, or very old National Geographic guides. While it is in the two new Nat. Geo. guides... all of the flycatchers in the Myiarchus complex still pretty much look the same and you really want audio recordings to make sure it sounds different than the other flycatchers in the complex.

The visual challenge:

See? No Nutting's Flycatcher (this is from the revamped Peterson Guide)

All of this information means that getting ample documentation to prove that the Santa Elena bird is 'none of the above' is a challenge, especially because so few birders are in such a remote area. Once all of the expected North American Myiarchus flycatchers have been ruled out, building the case for Nutting's is up to photographers, note-scribblers, audio files and experts. Ultimately the identification will have to pass the highest scrutiny that the state has to offer: the Texas Bird Records Committee. If the case for Nutting's Flycatcher isn't strong enough, it will not be accepted for the state list. Thankfully, due to many observers, multiple observations and the amassed pile of documentation submitted by so many thorough observers (including several TBRC members!) this bird is a strong candidate. Had it been seen/heard by one individual and not photographed and never refound, the case would be much more challenging.

This is the beauty of science. Keep your eyes and ears open - and know what to expect in your area, it makes the unusual much easier to pick out!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jan 4th flycatcher audio

Audio via Kelly Bryan, youtube version via Tony Gallucci:

Click here for original audio clips from Jan. 2

Also, this blog now has a tag for Nutting's Flyatcher, since related posts are likely to be bumped off the main blog page due to frequency - so for all NUFL related posts on the blog, see "Nutting's Flycatcher" in the right sidebar under "Labels" or click here.


Analysis of second recording, via Chris Benesh:

Hi All,

At Tony Gallucci's request, here is a spectrogram of Kelly Bryan's recent recordings of the Big Bend Myiarchus flycatcher. To my ear, these calls sound much like those of Nutting's that I hear in Mexico, though finding a close match in recordings was more challenging than I anticipated. That said, there are a couple of examples in a cut of mine from Sonora, Mexico, and a few similar ones from Nathan Pieplow's recording from Sinaloa, Mexico that can be heard on the Xeno Canto website XC3982. The modulation of the Big Bend bird is slightly slower than the two comparative examples, but each individual bird gives such a variable spectrum of calls it's not too surprising that it's not an exact match. I'm convinced the Big Bend bird is a Nutting's based on the photos and vocal evidence. I would not be surprised if some more strident "wheep" calls are heard at some point.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Audio spectrogram and commentary

Audio spectrogram and commentary via Chris Benesh:

Hey Heidi, that would be fine to post. I wrote up my thoughts about the Nutting's and have tried several unsuccessful ways to post it to TEXBIRDS. If you want to use any of it on your blog, that would be fine too.

Yesterday, John Arvin alerted me to the fact that a possible Nutting's Flycatcher had been seen in Big Bend and sent me a link to some photos. I also listened to Heidi Trudell's video grabs that contains a few vocalizations of the Big Bend bird. I am fortunate enough to see Nutting's Flycatcher on a pretty regular basis (as well as some of its congeners too), and believe that both the photos and the audio support the identification of Nutting's. While the fidelity of the recordings is poor, it does document one of the characteristic sounds of Nutting's, a two-noted stutter call. I'm used to hearing the call when birds are slightly more vocal and excited than the bird in the video, but it matches quite well with a comparative example from a Nutting's I recorded in Oaxaca.

Steve Glover is right to express caution over trying to identify Myiarchus by sight/photos alone. Nutting's and Ash-throated are indeed very similar. And photos can be particularly deceptive at times. Voice is clearest means of identification. Mouth lining color is often tricky to see and frequently equivocal or mis-interpreted. A really bright orange color would be diagnostic, but pinky-orange, not so much. Structure is pretty good. Nutting's is a smaller bird, sometimes looking more round-headed (depending on mood) and overall more delicate than Ash-throated. It tends to be more brightly colored, with lots of browns on the head, and lacking gray feathering on the forehead and less around the nape, compared with Ash-throateds. It is also shorter-billed than an Ash-throated. These features can be seen in the published photos. The edgings on the secondaries and primaries are more blended than on non juvenile Ash-throateds. That is, once an Ash-throated has undergone a preformative molt, the rusty edged primaries contrast pretty sharply with the more whitish edges secondaries. There is less contrast in Nutting's, with the outer secondaries being more buff-dull rufous colored, thus contrasting less with the primaries. This pattern can be seen on the Big Bend bird. I suspect what confused some birders viewing the Monterey, California bird mentioned by Steve was the retention of a few rusty-edged juvenile secondaries (typically present on birds in formative plumage), which diminished the apparent contrast between primaries and secondaries. The Big Bend bird shows a classic Nutting's tail pattern too. A similar pattern is only rarely shown by Ash-throated, and in such instances, there is still usually greater contrast between the brown and rufous bits (i.e. Nutting's has a more blended tail pattern blurring the boundaries between brown and rufous).

I guess it is worth mentioning that the above applies to the inquietus subspecies of Nutting's since southern populations are somewhat different either in plumage or voice.

Good birding,


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

probable Nutting's Flycatcher video

**Scroll down two posts for AUDIO alluded to by TX-Birds and NARBA**

Often, it can be difficult to get a sense of shape and size in a still image. This bird is a small and (dare I say?) dainty Myiarchus species. I will rarely use these adjectives, particularly the latter, to describe an Ash-throated Flycatcher that so many of us are familiar with.

Again, the hour spent with the bird on 2 Jan. 2011 was a joy; fun to observe and momentarily live alongside.

In the end, here is a little charisma which it certainly has.

**Well, uploading the file destroyed the clarity at full-screen.** The direct file we have is clear.

Monday, January 2, 2012

probable Nutting's Flycatcher pics

**Scroll down one post for AUDIO**

Probable Nutting's Flycatcher

Here's some craptacular audio - we were competing with a generator and a kid learning to whistle. Taken at the trail head parking lot at Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park - observed from about noon until 1 pm with only 3 separate vocalizations heard during that time. Pics to follow. The video clips below are for audio purposes only!

Part 1: faint, two call notes (of 3 - we missed the first note of each vocalization) in the first few seconds. Clearer than the next batch....

Part 2: VERY faint, a few light notes in the first few seconds. Crank up the volume!

*EDIT* Some just received TX-Birds back story from the party that found this bird. Click Here.

Sorry to fling out a hasty post, will flesh it out when possible. Audio taken with point-and-shoot options, thus you can't even find the bird in the videos!

*EDIT* A link to the archive of Matt's post to TX-Birds list-serv. This was posted when we arrived home that same day. Click Here.