Monday, November 23, 2015

LeConte's Sparrow - Ammodramus leconteii (16Nov2014)

Is there a better North American Sparrow than LeConte's Sparrow? If there is, I don't know it.  I am not sure how to explain the LeConte's Sparrow's superiority other than to say it just looks good.  This particular bird was found at North River Farms in Carteret County, NC and was especially obliging.  This is a species that usually does not show itself well, preferring to run along the ground under heavy grasses.  So although these shots were with my old camera set up and under less than ideal lighting conditions, I am just not sure I will have better opportunities in the future.

Look at that purplish nape!

I looked up who LeConte was and why he got so many good birds named after him, and it looks as though Audubon was just being nice and naming this particular sparrow after a buddy who was really an entomologist.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Limpkin - Aramus guarauno (29Jul2015)

You have about the same odds seeing a Limpkin in North Carolina as you do getting struck by lightning.  However, on the 29th day of July, the unlikely happened.  Of course I had help, the bird was found by someone else the day before.  I have seen Limpkins in Florida and the Bahamas but seeing a bird that is not expected in your state just kicks it up another notch.  Another thing that made this bird even sweeter, I had to haul my kayak up about 4 hours west, then kayak up a river for a couple hours.

When I got to the spot the bird was reported, it was no where to be seen.  I spoke to a local and he said he knew of small creek about a quarter mile up the river that could be good habitat for the Limpkin.  Since I have already spent half a day on the bird, I figured I might as well try. So I paddled up river. A quarter of a mile turned into a mile but I found the creek and eventually spotted the bird.  These kinds of adventures are a major part of why finding birds is so much fun.

Arctic Tern - Sterna paradisaea (16May2015)

Have you ever noticed the contradiction between the common name and latin name for Acrtic Tern?  Maybe some folks consider the arctic paradise, but it seems like a reach.  Maybe the latin name comes from the fact that these birds have perfected the Endless Summer.  For example, the Greenland population spends summer in Greenland and then migrates to the Antarctic for the Southern Hemisphere summer.  And you thought Hudsonian Godwits were the kings of migration.  Arctic Terns have been shown to migrate 56,000 miles in one year!  They are a true pelagic tern, only landing to breed, or maybe just to say hi to a birder in NC as this bird did at North Topsail Beach.

The bird was obviously exhausted but looked pretty healthy and did go back out to forage in the surf while I was there.

Note the slender blood red bill with no black tip.

Also note the short red legs.

Great bird!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Greater White-fronted Goose - Anser albifrons (02May2015)

Colloquially known as the "specklebelly", the Greater White-fronted Goose is good bird in North Carolina.  They are usually seen every year, but are few and far in between.  So when I received a report of a fairly tame specklebelly at Bur-Mil Park in Greensboro, I was on it like  cheap suit.

Of course this was my old camera, so I can only improve my shots of this species although this bird was especially confiding.

I can see the reason for the name.  I don't think domestics have the same belly patterns.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck - Dendrocygna autumnalis (19Jul2015)

I cannot think of a more cartoonish bird than a Black-bellied Whistling-duck.  My first exposure to them was in Houston, TX.  When I started birding I used to have to go to Houston quite a bit for work, and when I saw BBWDs in the city parks, I figured they were domestic birds, much like Mallards and barnyard geese.  I soon learned BBWDs do move around and are totally wild in Houston despite being fond on suburban lawns and parks.

This summer we had a group of 3 BBWDs come to Twin Lakes in Sunset Beach, NC.  I was not satisfied with the looks I had from across the lake so I found the house where the birds were and knocked on the door.  The irony was that these people didn't even really know what the ducks were and did not think they were a big deal.  In fact they were looking at me like I was the anomaly!  My family was in the car waiting to go to the beach and the people in the house were looking at me funny so I managed some quick shots and only one of them came out decent.

 We shall meet again soon my orange billed friend and I will crush you like you deserve to be crushed.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Royal Tern - Thalasseus maximus (13-Apr-2013)

Although there are bigger terns (Caspian for one), the Royal Tern is truly royalty among Sternidae.  Are they named that way because they are large and in charge?  Or is it because in breeding plumage they have a neat cap/crown?  Either way the name fits.  The below photos were taken on the East end of Ocean Isle, NC.  However, they could have been taken anywhere on the coast as these birds are distributed all over the place including the West Coast of Africa.

Royal Terns are experts at synchronized roosting. 

They are also loud as heck and even a half deaf birder can hear them.

In breeding plumage they are about as handsome as any other tern out there.  We have quite a few nesting sites in NC. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

White-rumped Sandpiper - Calidris fuscicollis (08Jun2013)

This little bird like quite a few other shorebirds, travels all the way from the Arctic down to the southern shores of South America and back each year.  We in North Carolina are only able to see it during migration so you best be on your game when it comes.  It is only slightly larger than the three regularly occurring "peeps" so you need to queue in on the slight differences.  The bill with orange at its base and flecking on its flanks are good field marks, but if you really want to be sure then catch it in flight.  The photo below is from my first starter camera, but I love the capture none the less.  This particular bird was on the North end of South Pond on the Outerbanks.  Until next time my little feathered friend.

Update: here are some other shots taken in 2016.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

King Rail - Rallus Elegans (02Aug2014)

The King Rail is a species that is very difficult to find and photograph well.  In fact, in the 2 years I have done the Photographic Big Year thing, I have only successfully photographed them once at Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge on the North Carolina / Virginia border.  The below photo is from 2014.  In 2015 I tried and failed, but that being said I did not stay long because I was running late for a ferry.

Some folks say the rails at the Battleship in Wilmington are Kings, but I have only met Clappers or "Clings" there.  Clings are Clapper and King Hybrids.  In the gulf states region there are many more Kings but the problem there is that Clappers are generally more colorful so the ID problems are even worse.  There is nothing worse than a hybrid.  It is the lister's nightmare.

This particular bird looks pissed.  I believe it was momma bird and was trying to divert my attention from the little black downy babies.  That is another topic altogether, baby Kings and Clappers frequently get misidentified as Black Rails.  So be careful when you see a little black rail scurrying by, if it is late summer chances are it is a baby rail.
Rails in general are not doing very well and the range and numbers of the King Rail is no exception.  I wonder how much of that is due to hybridization versus habitat loss versus climate change (gasp....Jamie believes in climate change?  Hell yes I do).
I hope to go back to Mackay someday soon so I can properly crush some Kings.  Until then this pic will suffice.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Yellow-Nosed Albatross - Thalassarche chlororhynchos (22Feb2014)

I figured I would start my new Blog with my best bird so far.  Back in February 2014, I celebrated my 38th birthday with a pelagic trip out of Hatteras on the Outerbanks of North Carolina.  This Yellow-nosed Albatross was the best gift I could ask for.
The Yellow-nosed Albatross belongs to the Genus Thalassarche which has a common name of Mollymawk.  Mollymawk comes from the Dutch mallemok which means mal - foolish and mok - gull.  This is consistent with the nick name of Goony Bird which probably comes from the awkward way this genus appears on land.


This particular bird was a ball of laughs and lived up to his Dutch name.  As soon as he showed up, the whole boat was instantly in a good mood, laughing and slapping each other on our backs.  There are some scientists that believe there is two species of Yellow-nosed Albatross, one called the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross and one called the Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross.  Most likely this is an Atlantic bird although Albatrosses can fly pretty much anywhere and routinely do.

To get an idea of size, those are immature Great Black-backed Gulls on either side.  Great Black-backed Gulls are the largest gull species in the world.

The Atlantic species/sub-species nest on Gough Island and some other near by islands in the middle of the Atlantic roughly half way between Cape Town South Africa and Argentina.

Albatrosses on the whole not doing very well due to Long-lining practices.  Some old estimates put this species to only 50k pairs world wide.

In order to take off, Albatrosses need to get a running start.

This sighting was only the 4th record in North Carolina, so I counted myself lucky.  Usually good pelagic birds fly by quickly but this bird stuck around following the boat and interacting with the other birds around.  I could not believe that we actually left this bird behind to go back in.  I could have stayed until dark.

I can't wait to meet some of the other Goony Birds.