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Evening Grosbeak Update

by Lanny McDowell on November 7, 2010

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Well, the two grosbeaks came back today, to munch away and give me some through-the-kitchen-window photo ops, so I figured I should update the pix.  Here is a grab bag of grosbeak images:

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That’s it!  Hope you like ‘em and that some grosbeaks come your way soon!


Evening, everybody!

by Lanny McDowell on November 7, 2010


Just now, as I plod through my morning, taking care of email chores, contemplating a digging project outdoors in the boorish weather and hoping for clear birding skies later on, I caught a glimpse of strong black & white at the tail end of a bird at the back side of my biggest feeder, when I went into the kitchen for a coffee update.

My jaw dropped.  Had to be an Evening Grosbeak! I went to my office for the camera.  When I got back, there was a Cardinal at the feeder.  Up in the apple opposite my view was a male grosbeak.  I snatched a couple of shots, then saw the female outlined against the sky, also perched in the apple tree.  A couple more shots.  Then everything took off in a flurry.  Maybe, likely, an accipiter.  Whew!  And Whoopieee!  I hope the alert has worn off.  I’ll go back now and find out.

No big birds back yet.

Terrible photos, through the window glass, no light.   So who’s looking?!


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Past visits of this great species here at my home have been infrequent, to say the least, but I would rather have a view like this one from a couple of years back, in the spring:

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That’s more like it!  Stoked.  Evening Grosbeaks are a big deal on the Vineyard and the arrival is right in line with all the PUFIs and siskins and RB Nuts that we have had this fall.

While I have your attention, I should mention that there has been a hatch year male ruby-throated hummer up in Chilmark, coming to a feeder the last few days.  Things are rockin’, if your eyes are open!


Vineyard Dowitcher ID

by Lanny McDowell on August 2, 2010

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If you want to delve  into the arcane business of confidently recognizing a Long-billed Dowitcher in the midst of short-billeds this time of year, and it’s still early, please go right ahead and let me know when you have a long-billed nailed down.  All the shorebird books take on this subject and, sort of like the fairly recent Gulls book, the more you read, the more confused and uncertain you are likely to become.  Less can be more.  Dump some of the plumage factors and go for structural comparison.  If you are lucky, really lucky, you will have one species beside the other and not a single bird, bill tucked and snoozing.

The reason for bringing this ID quandary (morass) to the fore is that I saw and photographed a dowitcher on July 29th out at the flats inside the opening of Tisbury Great Pond.  Its central tail feathers were rufous toward the tips, where the barring “should” have a white or light buffy color.  Most references do not mention this feature, but Paulson’s Shorebirds of North America does write about the rufous in the tail being an identifier for long-billed.

Well, in this case I do not happen to believe this, because in another shot taken of the same bird, the bill droops a bit in the last third of its length, which feature is mentioned as reliable for picking out a short-billed (versus a straighter bill for long-billed).  Since every set of comparisons for these two species seems to end up in the scrapheap of variability – except for voice, which all the writers embrace as distinctive – the tail feather ground color issue will be at home on the list of “may be a factor, but not reliable taken alone as a single distinguishing mark”.  In my book, anyway.

We all seem to want the elements that will offer us certainty, but like so many other BIG questions, sometimes the more you look, the less you know.  Not really fair, is it?

Check out the tail feather tips and the bill on this West Tisbury dow:

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Dows are Cool! Lan

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There are some simple reasons I can’t stay away from watching and photographing purples this time of year.  Firstly, they are here on the Vineyard and fairly uncommon most other places.  I know where to find them when I want to, usually up scouring the rocks at Squibnocket, because they are location loyal.  That’s about the habitat, which is the habitat that shows up in the bird photos below.  They are not always there, but they are likely to be there on a bright winter’s day.

The other factor that brings me back to find them is that they are relatively tame when feeding or resting, even with Stella at my side.  Stella is very respectful and patient when it’s clear that I am trying to move slowly or I’m waiting for the sandpipers to approach me as they move among the rocks. [click to continue...]