Saturday, November 30, 2013

4th International Burrowing Owl Conference

This juvenile Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) is here to announce the 4th International Burrowing Owl Conference (BUOWC).Photo taken in Manitoba, Canada, where, unlike some other places, this species is endangered.


See also:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Yellow-breasted Bunting: Endangered

I took this photo of Yellow-breasted Bunting in 2002 at Mai Po, Hong Kong. Mai Po is part of one of Hong Kong’s two Important Bird Areas (IBA), viz. Inner Deep Bay and Shenzhen River Catchment (also a RAMSAR wetland).  This is an extremely important site for many migratory species and several highly threatened species, but I never imagined back then that Yellow-breasted Bunting would become one of the most threatened of the species there, as I learnt today when I read this article:

Yellow-breasted Bunting seemed common back then and I recall seeing large flocks. This photo shows one in winter in the reedy habitat they prefer. This is an old slide and the scan quality is poor – sorry! To think of such a common bird having so rapidly descended into the IUCN “Endangered” category and all for a few “snacks” (i.e. human consumption) is extremely concerning – in fact, it reminds me of the story of the Passenger Pigeon and how we wiped out one of the most abundant bird species on earth in just a century or so. Such is our species… 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Calliope Hummingbird in Manitoba

Paula Grieef forwarded a photo by Gerald Machnee (see below) of the late Selkirk hummer to me today and my immediate gut reaction upon opening the jpeg and noticing the small, short-tailed GISS was Calliope Hummingbird. the flank colouration also seemed consistent with this species. Note the size of the bird against the feeder. 

I eventually got the phone number of the home owner and she permitted me to visit. Shortly after we arrived, the hummer appeared and the small size and short-tail were immediately apparent, the features seeming to confirm my tentative identification as Calliope Hummingbird. The following photos exhibit the features. I apologise for the terrible quality of the photos due to the extremely difficult conditions (some were taken through glass as well). Click on any photo to view in larger format.

The first two photos show that the folded wing is slightly longer than the tail:

The short-tailed GISS was apparent even in flight

This photo by Donna Martin show the undertail nicely.  Note how short the fanned tail is, the buffy wash on the base of the outer recs, the short "spade-shaped" central recs (we tried our best to photograph this feature and I apologise that we don't have better shots)

A view of the tail from above showing the extent of the white:

There was buff colouration on the flanks and breast sides, creating the appearance of an indistinct white bar across the vent and also across the chest. This shows in the following shots:

These next photos again show that the wings were longer than the tail, the buffy colouration on breast sides and flanks and the undertail pattern.

The only strike against this being a Calliope that I  can think of is the lack of any elongated gorget streaks but I assume these develop with age and may not show on an immature bird such as this ( I believe immature male). I am now completely confident this is indeed a Calliope Hummingbird. Expert opinions are most welcome, either here or by email to the Manitobirds list-serve.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Another S'wet!

A friend found this Northern Saw-whet Owl in her yard outside of Winnipeg yesterday. I was able to get a few photos of this day roosting bird. The second photo is in the late evening light when the prairie sky was glowing red!
A wonderful surprise on a late fall day!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mammals of the Summer of 2013

While out birding or atlassing in Manitoba, I am often treated to exciting sightings of mammals and other fauna. This is half the fun of being in the wilderness! This post shares just a few of those encounters from this past summer, part of what made the summer so special.

We start with the obligatory Black Bear. I photographed this individual near Nanuk Lodge on Hudson Bay coast east of York Factory as they walked nonchalantly towards me.
In the very same area as that Black Bear was this beautiful young black Timber Wolf. I encountered this animal three times while atlassing in that area. 
Here are two photos of a black Timber Wolf hunting Canada Goose goslings in the same area. I first spotted their ears sticking up in a slight ravine along the coast so I crept ahead and got into position and waited for the wolf to race out. I didn't manage to get photos of the kill; however, once the wolf had captured a gosling they walked right in front of my hiding spot on a beach ridge allowing me these photos.

Who's looking  at you? (this wolf sneaks around to get a look at me)

Moving a little further north, this Arctic Hare put on a fabulous show for the crew and I near the Churchill Northern Studies Centre (just outside of Churchill, Manitoba).

A little further north yet again, I photographed this Arctic Ground Squirrel just north of the Seal River, the southernmost limit of their distribution.

This young Polar Bear was over-enthusiastically trying to pounce on an Arctic Ground Squirrel without success.
Photographing Polar Bears is one of the great thrills of being in northern Manitoba. Here, a mother and cub stroll across the mudflat near the Seal River Heritage Lodge. 
This male wandered through the fireweed as I was surveying - I obviously had to keep a close eye on him as he strolled by!

A large male, previously hidden in tall grasses, stands up to investigate a noise... can you spell "adrenalin rush?"
... well?

Sorry, time's up!

Usually a good rule of thumb is... let sleeping bears lie!

Damn, you smell good! (female and male interacting)

On second thoughts....

That's a little tastes of some of the summer's magic moments!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Seal River IBA

Greeting from the Seal River Estuary Important Bird Area (IBA) (Manitoba, Canada - along Hudson's Bay coast) where I have been conducting shorebird counts at the request of Oceans North for the last few days. I will compile a full post soon; however, here is a short teaser...

One of the notewrothy sightings has been that for the last 2 days Brant (pale-bellied form) have been moving in small flocks along the coast.

Shorebird tallies have been reasonably high. This beautiful Buff-breasted Sandpiper was one of 22 that stopped off in the Seal River Estuary Important Bird Area on their way from the high arctic to southern South America. This species and many others will need a network of high quality sites, such as IBAs, to fuel their migration. Here are three photos of this magnificent shorebird (all are juveniles as seen by the scaly mantle).

Unless you spend time on their breeding grounds, one dones''t often get to see the super streaky plumage of juvenile Dunlin- here is one of my favourite photos of these shorebirds.

Despite their flocking behaviour, shorebirds sometimes display aggression while foraging. These Pectoral sandpipers are squabbling over the rich pickings on the Hudson Bay coastal flat. This photo also reveals the "triple barred" appearance of the underwing that can be a useful feature in identifying Pectoral Sandpipers in flight at a distance.

And here are two photos of a bathing juvenile White-rumped Sandpiper.

Stay tuned for more to come...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Great-tailed Grackle in Manitoba

On May 18th 2013, I was training this year’s atlas crew (Amanda Guercio, Mark Dorriesfield, Janine McManus and Amelia Thornhill) at the beautiful Quesnel  Lake Lodge in Nopiming Provincial Park, thanks to the generous assistance of lodge owners Peter and Carol. Around 5 pm that evening, Amelia spotted a bird that had apparently “blown in” on the strong winds, landing at the tip of the point on which the lodge is located. As Amelia couldn’t identify this bird, she showed it to Mark and then, suspecting something unusual, they came to get me. It became apparent that we were looking at Manitoba’s very first recorded Great-tailed Grackle (if record accepted). I took the following photos to document this exceptional find (click on any photo to view at full-screen):

The first photo shows most of the diagnostic features of the female Great-tailed Grackle: the pale eyebrow, the pale throat and submoustachial stripe and the thin dark lateral throat stripe that separates them, as well as the very pale eye colour. Also note the bill structure and size and the long-legged and long-tailed appearance.

This second photo is a crop to show the facial pattern in detail. This combination of features easily separates this species from the smaller Common Grackle. We also felt that colouration and markings were seen sufficiently well to rule out the extremely similar but even more unlikely Boat-tailed Grackle.

This view from the back also shows the tail shape and the wing and mantle colour in relation to the neck and underparts.

After landing and foraging on the rocks around the point, this “accidental” found lots to eat in the lawn around the lodge including various insects and scraps (as shown here).

We felt this bird also showed a distinctive gait, matching their lanky appearance, that was rather different from Common Grackle (3 photos below).

Although it took a while to get a suitable size comparison, I eventually managed to get this photo of the female Great-tailed Grackle next to an American Robin to document the size of this bird. It is important to note that the female Great-tailed Grackle is much smaller than the male and she is probably only a little larger than a male Common Grackle (which in turn is larger than female Common Grackle).

What an exceptional way to spice up this year’s training! Special thanks to my hard working crew!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Hula Valley, Israel

Due to an unbelievable stroke of luck, I had the good fortune to attend a conference in Israel entitled The Management of Common Cranes at the Hula Valley, Israel:  Past, Present and Future from December 16-18.  The Hula Valley, in northern Israel lies in the northernmost portion of the Great Rift Valley and is (now) an important agricultural area. Here is a view of part of the valley from the surrounding hills.

The valley once contained the large Lake Hula but this was drained in the 1950s, which created a myriad of problems (as so often happens when we interfere). This area lies on a major flyway and is an important stopover for many thousands of birds so the draining of the lake had wide-reaching consequences for the birds as well as the soil and local human inhabitants (one of the problems when the peat soil was drained was spontaneous fires). In the 1990s, the Jewish National Fund (the very same organization that had drained the lake) recreated a wetland in the Agamon Hula Park, now a major tourist attraction and once again home to thousands of migrating birds, although much smaller than the original lake.  This photo shows the Agamon Hula wetland today (the white birds flying in the back are Pied Avocets)

This area was formerly a stopover site from Common Cranes (also known as Eurasian Cranes) migrating between their breeding grounds in northern Eurasia and wintering grounds in Africa. Recently, however, thanks to the wetland restoration work and increasing crane populations elsewhere, the Agamon Hula wetland has become an overwintering site for 30,000 Common Cranes. The cranes have become a major tourist attraction and visitors can enjoy the spectacle of such a large flock from very close quarters in mobile blinds. Here are a few photos of a small portion of the valley’s star flock:

(and here trying to get a little artistically blurry)

 And here are a few close-ups of these magnificent birds, a very special treat provided by this unique site!

Note the immature bird in the middle of the following photo...

A portrait of this magnificent animal!

There are many other waterbirds to enjoy watching in the Agamon Hula wetlands, including: Eurasian Spoonbill

Great White Pelican (mostly a passage migrant but a few may overwinter)

Little Egret

Grey Heron

The Pygmy Cormorant has a rather restricted range and this is a great area to see this species (two photos below)

There are also lots of shorebirds (waders) to watch here including the Spur-winged Lapwing (first photo), a species who has probably expanded their range into this area from Africa; Common Snipe (second photo) and Marsh Sandpiper (photo) shown below…

This is a fantastic area for raptor watching too. Here are just a few of the many raptor species that can be observed: Eurasian Marsh Harrier

Greater Spotted Eagle

Long-legged Buzzard coming in for a landing showing their beautiful tail

A most unexpected treat was watching this White-tailed Eagle diving on an Imperial Eagle.

And Black-winged Kite (you might be surprised by this species if you look at range maps but they now breeding in this area)

Other interesting birds to watch around the wetlands include some small brown skulkers such as Moustached Warbler,

Three magnificent kingfishers, including one each of the three major kingfisher groups in the world: representing the small Alcedinid kingfishers, we have the Common Kingfisher (photo below) - Alcenid are the very small colourful kingfishers such as the genera Alcedo and Ceyx)...  

Representing the Halcyonid kingfishers (large and mostly colourful kingfishers (though some are more cryptically patterned) in genera such as Halcyon, Todiramphus, Lacedo, etc.and including the so-called forest kingfishers and the kookaburras of Australasia)  we have the exquisite and much larger White-throated Kingfisher

And representing the Cerylid kingfishers (who vary in size from very large to quite small and mostly softer and less electrically coloured than other kingfisher groups; generally clad in green, blue and black with whitish or reddish underparts and some with a crested appearance... and, by the way, the only group of kingfishers found in the Americas) we have the Pied Kingfisher (unfortunately I did not manage to photograph on this trip so I am cheating by using this photo from Cameroon)

In the general area, I was treated to several sightings of one of the Old World robins that I am extremely fond of – the Bluethroat (this is a first winter male,; notice for example the bluish malar)

Another beautiful Old World robin is the Black Redstart (Old World redstars are related to Old World robins and not at all related to the birds called redstarts in North America, the latter being wood-warblers)

 More open grassy areas and fields hold species such as Crested Lark,

and White Wagtail (and many other species)

Of course, visitors from abroad will be interested in tracking down some of the Middle Eastern regional specialties In treed areas, such as in the kibbutz where we stayed, I tracked down this male Syrian Woodpecker (close relative of Great Spotted Woodpecker)

The regional endemic White-spectacled Bulbul was easy to observe

As was the beautiful Palestine Sunbird. Here are two photos of a male, showing their feeding behaviour and the iridescence that transforms this otherwise black-looking bird into a blast of colour!

Sardinian Warbler is resident in this area and was relatively common.

As is Graceful Prinia

 The Rose-ringed Parakeet population probably originates from introduced birds.

It was not a good time of year for owling but I managed to find this Tawny Owl in the kibbutz where we stayed, which put a big smile on my face…

Even though, this was not a birding trip per se, as a testimony to the area’s biodiversity, I managed to observe 119 species of birds in just five and a half winter days. There were some great wildlife sightings too including Golden Jackal and this East European Hedgehog.

But arguably best of all was watching a Jungle Cat stalk and capture a Common Crane. We were not allowed to use flash from the mobile blind so I hade to crank up the ISO and do my best!

Best of all, however, was the opportunity to discuss further partnerships and opportunities to share knowledge!
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