Monday, February 21, 2011

Feb 20--South Okanagan Birding

As part of the "Great Backyard Bird Count" I made a sweep through the South Okanagan on Sunday (Feb 20). I started off in Penticton where I picked up the usual 6 species of gulls (no Glaucous visible unfortunately), then walked in behind the yacht club hoping for one of the Hermit Thrushes that my Dad had found the day before. It took a little while but eventually I found both birds!
[Below: Poor shot of the always cryptic HERMIT THRUSH, my 3rd of the winter!]

As I drove south through Penticton I was pleasantly surprised to see the powerful wing-beats of a juvenile PEREGRINE FALCON as it dove on ducks along the Penticton River Channel. [Below: Eventually it landed on a pole where I managed this poor shot through the windshield]

I headed up Shuttleworth Creek east of Okanagan Falls, hoping for some higher elevation birds but this was not to be. I called in a couple of gorgeous male PINE GROSBEAKS [photo below, with my signature poor quality] but soon the roar of snow machines was too much. Their trucks were even blocking the road to Rabbit Lake so I just bailed out.

I picked up most of the ponderosa pine species along the lower reaches of the road, although a NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL was an added bonus. Despite the bright sun, neither Canyon Wrens not Chukar were vocal along the cliffs at Vaseux.

I tried for Eva's thrush along Sawmill Road in Oliver but only managed to find a BEWICK'S WREN (I believe this bird has been around for most of the winter). Blackbird numbers are up at the Southern Plus Feedlot near Oliver-- mainly male RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS and EUROPEAN STARLINGS but also a fwe groups of BREWER'S BLACKBIRDS. In addition tot he 60+ EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES (now a regular sight here), I photographed this apparent RINGED TURTLE-DOVE (any thoughts?).

Obviously paler overall, but in the field it also appeared much slimmer-- did not see the pattern of the undertail.

This BIGHORN ram was also a nice find:

Next it was onto Road 22 where most of the usuals were eventually found including only 1 (but enough to be counted) AMERICAN TREE SPARROW. I scoped Osoyoos Lake from the south end of Black Sage Road and the only bird I could see from that vantage point was a single male RED-BREASTED MERGANSER... heck I'll take it. I ended up finding 6 more further south, as well as a COMMON LOON and several HORNED GREBES that I think have only recently arrived as I haven't seen a grebe (other than Pied-billed) or a loon on Osoyoos Lake since the CBC. In the late afternoon I birded Haynes Point and the Osoyoos Sewage Lagoons-- both were relatively quiet although the sewage lagoons had around 200 Lesser Scaup which is a good count for winter I think.

Last stop of the day was at a "special" creek near Penticton where I managed to find a female WESTERN SCREECH-OWL giving me 80 species for the day. I had plans of going owling for more that night but opted to lie on the couch instead!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Penticton Thayer's Gulls

A few people have requested that a post a few more pics of local Thayer's Gulls. Here are a couple shots from the past 2 days. Note the dark eye (about 95% of Okanagan Thayer's Gulls have dark eyes), primary pattern and colour, and head/bill/body structure and shape.

[Above: Thayer's Gull center with Herring Gulls]

[Above: 2 adult Thayer's Gulls with immature Glaucous-winged Gull]

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Haida Gwaii birding video!

Jess Findlay has just finished up this vid on our '11 Nov trip to HG. Ch-check it out!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pure Western Gull or hybrid?

Note the bright yellow orbital-ring, pale eye, dark wing-tips, and bill colour/shape. Is that enough to call it a WEGU, or does the "dirty" appearance suggest otherwise? I have seen other photos of alleged third-cycle WEGUs with equally brown or darker heads. Would appreciate feedback from coastal birders!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Feb 9--Another odd Gull + Glaucous Gulls

Today when I went down to check the local Penticton gull mix, I was pleased to find a "new" GLAUCOUS GULL (photo below). It sounds like there have recently been at least 4 individuals around lately, all different from the bird Laure found in January-- so 5 all together! Not bad for Penticton or anywhere in the province really... my personal record is 6 at one time (Maude Roxby, Kelowna--Feb 2009 I think). Shows how good the gulling is here in the Central Okanagan!

Also present was this interesting adult gull (photos below)... at first I was thinking dark-eyed Herring Gull but others have suggested it might be a hybrid of some sort (see comments below). Right now I'm liking the Herring Gull x GW possibility.

[Above: pale 1st-cycle Glaucous Gull: Penticton's 5th GLGU of the winter!]

[Above: Close-up of mystery bird; adult GWGU on left, juv. GWGU behind]

[Above: mystery bird beside typical Herring Gulls]

Monday, February 7, 2011

Slaty-backed hybrid???

[Mystery bird (right) with 2nd-cycle Glaucous-winged Gull]

Last August I visited Sandspit (Haida Gwaii) for a couple days and on one morning I noticed this interesting gull. I initially thought it was a Slaty-backed Gull since from a distance it looked a lot darker than nearby Glaucous-winged Gulls and had obvious dark vertical streaking on the hind-neck and dark shadowing around the eye (a Slaty-back character in basic plumage). As I got closer however (I didn't have a scope so I had to sneak across Shingle Bay to get to it), I noticed that the mantle was not as dark as I had first thought-- perhaps as dark as occidentalis Western Gull, but not the obvious "slaty" colour of classic SBGUs. It also seemed on the bulky-side for SB--although slimmer than GWs when facing straight-on.

Check out these photos and let me know what you think. Although this bird might appear to resemble third-cycle Western x GW, the heavy vertical streaking (not well-portrayed in the photos), parallel-edge to the bill, and head-shape, seem to suggest otherwise?? I don't have any decent shots of the bird in flight but I can tell you that it did not have the so-called "String-of-pearls" typical of adult SBGU-- since this is a 3rd-cycle bird however, I'm not sure how reliable that mark would be; also the inner webs of the outer primaries appeared light bluish-brown (WEGU is black). The eyes of this bird were amber/light brown-- SBGU is usually but not always bright yellow. GWGU x SBGU seems like a possibility to me but I have zero experience with SBGU so would appreciate more input...

[Above: Mystery bird with presumed hyb. 3rd-cycle Herring x Glaucous-winged Gull]

[Above: Mystery bird with presumed adult Hyb. Herring x Glaucous-winged Gull]

[Above: Mystery bird with adult Glaucous-winged Gull]

When I visited Sandspit in August I didn't see a single 'obvious' Western x Glaucous-wing hybrid; instead pure Glaucous-wings dominated followed by presumed Glaucous-wing x Herring hybrids. When I returned in November however, Western hybrids were quite common.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Feb 5--Penticton gulls (7.5 species)

This afternoon I was pleased to find that the strong southerlies we've been having seem to have blown in a new mix of gulls. There were over 500 gulls along Okanagan Beach here in Penticton. Most of them were HERRING GULLS, but there were also around 150 RING-BILLED GULLS, 50 GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, and 25 CALIFORNIA GULLS. Most notable were an astonishing 18 THAYER'S GULLS (up from the 2 that have been around most of the winter- which includes a first-cycle bird). The other highlights included:

-2 MEW GULLS (both adults)
-2 Western-like hybrids including an adult that is about as Western as you can get without being pure-- its primaries are jet-black, its mantle dark-gray, and has a relatively large and bright bill. Only a few smudges around the head as well as the dark eye indicate that it's "tainted."

-Also 2 new GLAUCOUS GULLS (a 2nd-cycle and an adult). "New" since they are apparently different individuals than the 1st-cycle bird found by Laure Neish in January.

[Above: Good comparison of Thayer's and Herring Gulls]

[2nd-cycle Glaucous Gull with Herring Gulls]

[2nd-cycle (advanced aspect?) Glaucous Gull]
--at first I thought it might have some Herring Gull genes in it but now I doubt that