Tuesday 17 February 2015

Purple Sandpipers.... Can we age them?!

Not that I have much experience with it, but it seems to me that aging many species of small shorebird as adult (AHY/ASY) or 1st winter/basic (HY/SY) in the winter months is relatively straightforward. The trick more or less relies on focusing in on the wing coverts - do they have crisp white fringing or not?

But it doesn't seem so easy when looking at Purple Sandpipers (PUSA).

There are a few things to focus on when attempting to age a bird - but they don't seem to be very reliable or easy to apply. I've reviewed my album of PUSAs over and over again in an attempt to sort out how to age them - and come to slightly different conclusions every time. This post will share what I think are examples of 1st winters and adults - correct me if you think I got something wrong!

Here's what to focus on when attempting to age a wintering PUSA as a 1st winter:

- 1st winters (immatures) retain their juvenile pale-fringed wing coverts, this creates a contrast between the dull scapulars and 'crisp' coverts
- 1st winters have tertials that are more strongly fringed in white
- 1st winters have neatly arranged wing coverts (this can be a somewhat subjective remark to make)
- I've also heard that there is more extensive orange on the base of the bill of juveniles, but my books don't mention this

To demonstrate, check out this obvious 1st winter PUSA:
There is an obvious contrast between the wing coverts and scapulars, lots of orange at the base of the bill, the tertials have a broad outer border of white, and the coverts seem neatly arranged.

With these tips as a basis, lets try to put them to practice - starting with the easy ones ;)

Don't miss the quiz photo at the bottom of this post!


The following 12 photos are all 1st winters (immatures). 

Note the relatively dark bill here compared to the other immatures in this set:

Note the limited white border to the visible tertial here:


Now onto the suspected adults. Of all the PUSAs I have photographed only these 4-5 met my criteria. Why is there such a low proportion of adults over-wintering in Newfoundland? Where do the adults go?

Note that although there is a contrast between the covert and scapular feathers, it isn't as pronounced as on the immatures above. And, the pale fringe around the coverts is much more diffuse - in other words, it isn't very "crisp".
Compared to all the immatures above, this one has a darker bill than all but one.
The most prominent tertial has a surprisingly thick white border.
The coverts are disorganized.

Similar findings here. The scapulars seem unusually pale, but the paleness is quite diffuse (not very well defined).
Note: very limited orange to bill, diffuse pale edges to the coverts, and the two inner most tertials have dull outer edges.

Hard to get much detail on this distant bird - but it seems to be the most obvious adult of the lot: 


I'm going to leave this last one as a QUIZ!
Tell me what you think, from top to bottom: are these first non-breeding, or adult non-breeding birds?
Comment below or email me with your thoughts.

Photo taken Jan 2

Saturday 14 February 2015

Had a Couple Drinks - Saw a Couple Things

While walking home from school yesterday during a short blizzard I flushed a medium-sized orange/brown bird. My instincts called it a thrasher with the 1-2 second glimpse, but after 15 minutes of searching for it again and after walking home I thought that it was probably 'just' an oriole.

Long story short, it was re-found this morning and a great bird was added to the life lists of many local birders!

Despite the distance, you can see the large tail here:

On Thursday, while 45cm of snow descended on the Avalon, Ian Jones, Miguel M., and I ignored all warnings and headed straight for Holyrood. We were expecting Ivory Gulls around every corner but didn't find a single one.

This Common Merganser was at the ice edge riding out the wind and snow:

Thorough scans of the gull flocks revealed nothing unexpected:

Tuesday 10 February 2015

A Mid-Winter Storm

Thursday has fierce NE winds in the forecast (not to mention 35 cm of snow), that in combination with the approaching sea ice, causes one to wish for some fun arctic birds!

Marine forecasts are set at 50knots from the Northeast on Thursday morning!

Winds will be moderately far-reaching - this image shows the forecast for Thursday at noon:

Some birds on the radar are: alcids (esp. Dovekie), Black-legged Kittiwake, Ivory Gull, and to a much lesser extent, Ross's Gull.......!

Friday morning might be a better chance for the 2 gems on that list.

Sea ice from today:

This time last year, the sea ice was more or less in the same area: 

Dovekies generally become scarce near-shore at this time of year - but Thursday/Friday might be a different story.

I don't hope for a snow-day very often. But I am this week!

Monday 2 February 2015

A Sign of Good Times to Come

This adult Herring Gull is one of many that now has a nearly full white head in St. John's - it was checking itself out in its reflection, getting ready for the exciting summer times ahead ;)

Spring isn't very far away!
Only 4 months until we'll start seeing the first moths and dragonflies :p