Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wrapping up Texas mystery birds

Probably the biggest mysteries for me are shorebirds, despite all my attempts to learn them. After Mary and I left the SPI Bird and Nature Center, we went a bit further up the island right next to the Convention Center, where there are some hard sandflats where people fly kites, ride those sail-board-wheel thingies (???), and (apparently) drink and toss beer bottles onto the ground. We'd seen a huge flock of shorebirds and gulls and terns there when we were at the nature center, so we thought we'd get a closer look.

Here's an idea of how many birds there were--click for bigger:
I got a little too close and they all wheeled into the sky. That's the nature center in the background. Anyway, they settled back down and I got great shots of TONS of birds in addition to the various terns and gulls I showed you earlier. Here are some more mysteries:
These kinda look like snipe to me -- but there are some different birds in there too. Note the white leading edges of the wings on some of them. The one at the bottom is definitely different from the others, as is the one farthest to the right underneath that larger one. All the rest are, I think, the same kind of bird. Note also the white eyestripe on the many birds.

Some kind of sandpiper?

From left to right, a plover of some sort? a dowitcher (with long bill)? a something laying down? a young Sanderling not yet in full breeding plumage? (the whitish one) I give up.

Ah, now THESE are easy -- Black Skimmers, skimming.

Here's what I think is a Sanderling not yet in his breeding plumage:am I correct?

and here's a close-up of a similar plover to the one above in the group photo:no clue. I know from the bill that it's a plover -- the common one down there is Black-bellied, but shouldn't he have been (a)gone by early March OR (b)in breeding black plumage? Perhaps it's a female?

Any help with these mysteries would be appreciated. I also have a "sound" mystery, but unfortunately I didn't get a recording that came out. When we were at Laguna Atascosa after dark, we heard a "wheep!" sound -- the bird would say "wheep!" and then wait a second or two, then "wheep-ho!" I've listened to nightjars, goatsuckers, owls -- no clue what this bird was. Any suggestions? We never saw anything, but we heard him as dusk fell and into the dark of the night.

This is probably my last Texas post; it all seems so long ago now. I've been working like a dog lately, doing my door-to-door thing despite the almost constant rain and cold -- which can really get a body down. We had two beautiful days, yesterday and Thursday, but today we're back in the low 40s with a steady rain and biting wind.

I've done a little birding here and there, mostly while on my way to work. I passed a farmpond today in which I saw a pair of Buffleheads, a Pied-billed Grebe, and three Wilson's Snipe! That was pretty cool. Mostly, though, I've been working.

I'm also watching my tomato and pepper seedlings grow, waiting for warmer weather to come so I can start hardening them off in preparation for container gardening! I know better than to put anything outside before Memorial Day, so it'll be a while before I get any gardening updates. Right now, I'm working on some self-watering containers (from a book AB got me) and keeping my seedlings warm.


John said...

Here are my ID suggestions.

Photo #2: The one at the bottom is a Willet; the white and black wing markings make that easy. Most of them look like Short-billed Dowitchers – they have that white spot at the leading edge of the wing and pale secondaries. The last one is some kind of peep (Calidris sp.). I notice that both the wingtips and the feet extend past the tail tip, and it has an overall slim appearance. That suggests White-rumped Sandpiper to me, but I'm not sure I'd make the ID based on those characters alone.

Photo #3: Dunlin in winter plumage. These birds are super common. In winter they're sort of the default ID for a bland-looking sandpiper on the East Coast (not sure if that holds true in Texas, too).

Photo #4: (L->R) Black-bellied Plover; Willet (both the one on the ground and the one standing behind it); Sanderling (white); Short-billed Dowitcher (standing/sleeping behind Sanderling); Willet (standing behind sleeping Dowitcher); Short-billed Dowitcher (sleeping); Dunlin (scratching itself); Willet (sleeping); Dunlin (standing/sleeping in water). The ones I'm least certain about in that group are the dowitchers, but everything I can see seems to match.

Photo #6: Yes, it's a Sanderling.

Photo #7: I would say Black-bellied Plover based on the thickness of the bill and indistinct supercilium. According to Sibley, adults can keep their winter plumage as late as April.

Did you consider frogs or salamanders as the source of that nocturnal vocalization?

dguzman said...

John to the rescue! I knew you could help! Man, you're good at shorebirds. I need to figure out a new way to study, or go to the shore more.

Rabbits' Guy said...

I did not know there were so many!!! You go John!!!

John said...

More time watching shorebirds would help a lot. There might be some inland sites in Pennsylvania that get good shorebird diversity if you can't make it to the shore frequently. If you're familiar with common shorebirds like Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, and Short-billed Dowitchers, that can help sort out the less common ones. Some shorebirds, like larger Calidris sandpipers, are as likely to be found in the interior as at the shore.

Besides that, looking at overall patterns, shape, and size can narrow down the choices to a point where you can look at details. Relative size, in particular, really helps with that big group of standing and sleeping shorebirds. Sibley's large guide helps with the flight photo since Sibley depicts all of the birds in flight.

dguzman said...

Rabbits' Guy--and they're all BROWN.

John--thanks for the advice; I really appreciate it. I really like The Shorebird Guide's emphasis on those things that you pointed out, but there's no substitute for being out in the field and really studying each bird. I think I tend to just give up and take photos instead of really learning each bird.

THOMAS said...

Wonderful photos!