Sunday, August 1, 2010

Late Atlas Rarities +++

The end of July may not seem like the best time to be atlassing but it can produce some great results! My good friend Jo Swartz and I just completed a short visit to southwestern Manitoba to tie up some loose ends and try to find a new atlas record or two. Here is the first bonus of the weekend - a gorgeous male Lazuli Bunting - quite a rarity in Manitoba. This bird has been on territory since the end of May and was first noted by proud property owners. I was hoping to find a nest and to secure the first documented breeding in the province but, alas, we had to be content to watch the male for several hours and did not find a female this time. Nonetheless, he is quite a bird!

Of course, we knew that the Lazuli Bunting was around - we just had to find him but we had no idea there was also a Northern Mockingbird in the area (another rare bird in Manitoba although not nearly as rare as Lazuli Bunting). As we drive down the highway, I spotted a large, long-tailed mimid on someone's front lawn as we were travelling at high speed. Since the only expected mimids in Manitoba are Gray Catbird and Brown Thrasher, I called it as a Brown Thrasher based on shape (the bird was in shadow as I caught them out of the corner of my eye). Wanting to be sure of the record, we decided to turn around for a better look. Well, as it turned out, this bird was in fact a Northern Mockingbird, and the generous home owners did not object to us sticking around to look for evidence of a nest. Sure enough, we found the bird carrying nesting material (photo below) and a possible nest but no proof of breeding. A real bonus nonetheless!

At Whitewater Lake we looked for breeding evidence of some of the rare egrets and White-faced Ibis that have frequented the site in the last few years as water levels have risen. We indeed saw White-faced Ibis, Great Egret, Cattle Egret and this Snowy Egret but, alas, did not find any juvenile birds that might have confirmed breeding. Can anyone lend me an airboat?

One thing that can be done while atlassing in the late season is to revist areas to try to obtain higher breeding evidence codes. This weekend I was able to increase some of the "possible breeding"codes I had ("S" for singing bird, or "H for bird in suitable "breeding habitat in the breeding season) to higher codes (probable or confirmed breeding). For example, the Grasshopper Sparrow was still singing in his old spot, allowing me to use the code T (bird on territory).

And the same goes for this handsome Black-billed Cuckoo, such a striking image in this wispy Peachleaf Willow (took this photo with my crew on July 13th and heard him in the very same yard on July 30th)...

Now, not all birds have finished breeding at the end of July. I found this Vesper Sparrow nest with four eggs in the grasslands and hastily snapped this record photo before leaving as quickly as possible.

Other birds are a little more advanced but still with young in the nest. While we were waiting for the Northern Mockingbird I heard the song of an Orchard Oriole in the distance. I went a little closer and saw this male fly in towards us with food in his beak that was obviously not for his own consumption... guess, that is what you get for singing with your mouthful!!

Alerted to the possibility of a pair with young, it didn't take us long to spot the female and she led us right to her well-hidden nest in a Shubert Chokecherry. She has just fed the young, who were audible but not visible in the nest, a grasshopper.

Other birds have young out of the nest - it was an agitated parent Upland Sandpiper that alerted me to the presence of four downy young (juveniles) in the grass...

Some young birds have been outside the nest a little longer and have more developed feathers (immatures). This Gray Catbird looks almost like an adult, although if you look closely you can still see the down feather and note how the markings are not fully developed. The "Atlas question" in this situation is always "Is this youngster capable of sustained flight?" If the answer is yes, you can't count it as breeding evidence because you don't know where breeding occured. In this case, the youngster was begging and follwing their parents so I felt it was good enough evidence of local breeding. Won't be long before this one will be fending for themself though!

I am finding atlassing is really opening my eyes to observing behaviour - a great way to improve one's skill!


  1. I recently tweeted and stumbled upon your post christian artuso birds, wildlife. Really your post is very informative and its help to everyone.

    Wildlife Photography

  2. That Lazuli Bunting is a gorgeous bird.It sounds like Whitewater lake and the surrounding area is a place we need to visit,and soon.

  3. Love your blog and the wildlife in Canada, which are different from Hong Kong where I live. I will definitely come back for more!


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