Sunday, October 9, 2016

Nelson's Sparrow at Plumb Beach - 9th October

After last week's failure I headed down to Plumb Beach to try and find Nelson's Sparrow. The weather was pretty horrible, but I prevailed, and, close to the outlet of the stream I started to find some sparrows. The birds were pretty flighty, and not inclined to sit at the top of the grass stems for very long, but I did find 5 birds, two of which sat still long enough to confirm that yes, they were Nelson's Sparrow.

Compared to the Saltmarsh from last week this bird has a smaller bill, less brightly coloured malar stripe and more smudged flank streaking.
The white belly is also more clearly defined, and the background colour of the breast and flanks is less white, and more buffy. The streaks on this individual are much less smudged than I expected from the Atlantic race, so I assume this bird is from one of the inland races. Identifying to subspecies is very tricky in this species however.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Saltmarsh Sparrows on Randall's Island - 3rd Oct

On Saturday a report on ebird mentioned Nelson's Sparrows at a small saltmarsh at the north end of Randall's Island. Having Monday off I headed there instead of to work. I very quickly located the marsh, and the first birds I saw were three Saltmarsh-type sparrows. I got excellent views over the next half an hour, but I couldn't convince myself that I was looking at any 'pure' Nelson's One individual seemed to have a palar malar stripe, but the breast streaking of all three birds was quite clear, not at all smudged in the way I would expect.

Bird no.1, Saltmarsh Sparrow. Classic features, malar stripe more brightly orange than breast, strong bill, clearly dark streaked flanks
Possibly bird no 2. (could be no 1 again, they moved around and it was hard to be sure which was which). Similarly well-marked individual to no.1, and also a Saltmarsh Sparrow.
Bird no.3. A much paler malar stripe was the only feature that resembled Nelson's, everything else here say Saltmarsh. A high proportion of Nelson's Sparrows show indications of hybridisation with Saltmarsh, and I think this bird might fall into that category, hybrid Saltmarsh x Nelson's Sparrow.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Jamaica Bay, East Pond - 18th September

My first birding day for a while, so I headed to Jamaica Bay to see if any waders were still about.

First bird up was a Caspian Tern, a bird that has eluded me in New York for a surprisingly long time. A pair of Merlin spent the morning hunting over The Raunt, so nothing hung around for long, but a pair of juvenile Dunlin were very nice. Also present were several Greater Yellowlegs, some Short-billed Dowitchers, Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers.

These two juvenile Dunlin are moulting into winter plumage, but have not yet acquired a black belly

Caspian Tern

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Brooklyn Pelagic - 29th Aug

The last hurrah for the summer holiday was a pelagic trip out of Brooklyn with See Life Paulagics. We apparently got out about 120 miles or so to the continental shelf. The weather was fantastically calm, with low winds and minimal waves, great for avoiding seasickness, not so great for finding seabirds. Overall numbers were quite low, with the exception of a few rafts of mainly Cory's Shearwater on the way back. Diversity was pretty good though, with crippling views of White-faced Storm Petrel being the highlight. Other birds were: Band-rumped, Wilson's and Leach's Storm Petrels, Great, Audubon and Cory's Shearwaters (both diomedae and borealis), Black-capped Petrel and American Black Tern.

Cetaceans were well represented with great views of pods of Spotted Dolphin and Striped Dolphin, along with hundreds of (Short-finned) Pilot Whales.

A large Hammerhead Shark came close, as well as at least 3 Loggerhead Turtles, 2 Oceanic Sunfish and several Portuguese Men-of-war.

White-faced Storm Petrel.

Two ssp. breed in the North/ Central Atlantic, Pelagodroma marina eadesi (Cape Verde I.), and P. m. hypoleuca (Canary and Selvagen Islands). They breed at different times of year.
P. m . eadesi : Nov - May
P. m. hypoleuca : Mar - Sep

The fresh plumage and thin white trailing edge to the wing indicate this is a juvenile, probably P. m. eadesi,  hatched on Cape Verde early this year.

Moult timings of flight feathers are also different.
P. m. eadesi : Jul - Sep
P. m. hypoleuca : Oct - Feb.

This bird is clearly in the middle of a heavy moult, indicating it is almost certainly P. m. eadesi. This ties in with all previous records of this species off the coast of the US. Interesting to imagine this tiny bird hopping to New York all the way from the coast of Africa!
Both birds gave prolonged, close views. It was fascinating to watch the extraordinary bouncing behaviour where much of the forward momentum of the bird was generated with the feet...

...and a couple of times it just ran across the surface of the water. The yellow webbing between the toes is visible here, about the only feature it shares with Wilson's Storm-Petrel!
Black-capped Petrel. Quite a few seen today, at least 16 separate sightings.

Cory's (Scopoli's) Shearwater.
Great Shearwater

 A young Spotted Dolphin, which don't develop spots until they are older. They apparently form bachelor groups until they're old enough to mate.
Striped Dolphin. These were the most acrobatic species we encountered, leaping high out of the water and generally being very dolphiny...

For a couple of hours on the way back we seemed to be constantly in the presence of Pilot Whales (probably Short-finned). They were in pods of up to 15 or so, but the total number we saw must have been in the hundreds
They were very inquisitive, and came very close to the boat. A few also porpoised to have a proper look at us.
One of several varieties of flying fish we disturbed
File Fish sp.
Hammerhead Shark, quite large and very close...
Portuguese Man-of-war.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Cerro Blanco - 10 to 11 Aug

The last site on my trip was Cerro Blanco, just south of Guayaquil. A reasonable taxi ride from the centre of the city, I was on site at about 7:00 am each day. A lot of the same birds from other sites, with some very nice additions. Best new birds were Crane Hawk, White-tailed Jay, Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, Grey-cheeked Parakeet, Plain Antvireo, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Crimson-breasted Finch, Olivaceous Woodcreeper.

A further kilometre down the road was the mangroves at Puerto Hondo. An hour spent here was quite productive. The highlight of the site are the Rufous-necked Wood-Rails in the mangroves, one of which showed well. Also present were Roseate Spoonbill, Little Blue Heron, Green Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher.

Crane Hawk
Yellow-olive Flatbill
Crimson-breasted Finch
White-tailed Jay
Grey-cheeked Parakeet
Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner. Brilliant name, brilliant bird!
Plain Antvireo
Grey-and-Gold Warbler
Possibly Pamphobeteus petersi. Peruvian Backfire

Green Iguana, Iguana iguana. Can be very common, best seen at the Iguana park in Guayaquil!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ayampe - 5 to 7 Aug

Ayampe is an excellent village to go birding from, situated at the mouth of a river, the Rio Ayampe. The river mouth is beset by sand flies, but with perseverance and a lot of bug spray then the birding is good. One of the mysteries I'd been pondering was my inability to find the small charadrius plovers that ought to be here, I'd targeted the river mouth as a possible site to rectify this omission. Hey presto, as soon as I got to the mud I had both Collared Plover and Wilson's Plover vying for attention, with Semipalmated Plover for comparison.

Other birds on and around the river itself included Cocoi Heron, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Green Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Masked Water-Tyrant.

Upriver the habitat became wetter with some nice patches of forest. I didn't really spend enough time here, but the best birds were; Grey-lined Hawk, Baron's Hermit, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Ecuadorian Piculet, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Snowy-throated Kingbird, One-coloured Becard, Ecuadorian Thrush, Masked Yellowthroat, Grey-and-Gold Warbler, Guira Tanager, Saffron Siskin.

At two locations, on the beach and on a rocky stream in the forest, I encountered a sandpiper species that really has to be Baird's Sandpiper. The habitat was 'wrong' at both locations, but from a size basis alone the only options are Baird's and White-rumped, and they didn't have white rumps.

Collared Plover
Wilson's Plover
Possible Baird's Sandpiper
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Masked Water-Tyrant
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Cocoi Heron
Variable Seedeater
Guayaquil Woodpecker
Yellow-tailed Oriole
White-edged Oriole

Ecuadorian Piculet
Ecuadorian Ground-Dove