Immature Krider’s Hawk (or intergrade?) in Louisiana

2011 February 14
by David J. Ringer

VICKSBURG, MISS. — My February column at 10,000 Birds — What is a raptor? What you “know” is probably wrong! — reminded me to post photos of an interesting Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) I found last month across the river in Louisiana.

Immature Krider's-type Red-tailed Hawk perched

This bird, an immature as its yellow irises show, has a largely white head, faintly marked underparts, and white mottling and hints of rufous in the wing coverts. This is all consistent with Krider’s Hawk (see spectacular photo of a similar bird), which is thought to be a pale northern prairie race of the Red-tailed Hawk, but one that now intergrades extensively with other populations and thus perhaps is gradually losing its identity. This bird is certainly pale but is more heavily marked than some others of which I’ve seen photographs. Whether this means it has mixed ancestry I do not know.

Immature Krider's-type Red-tailed Hawk in flight

The same bird in flight. Note extensive white in inner primaries, reddish tail with thin brown bands and apparently a whitish base, and what seems to be only faint patagial markings (difficult to see in this shot). For excellent information on Krider’s Hawk status and identification, see Jerry Liguori and Brian Sulllivan’s A Study of Krider’s Red-tailed Hawk (PDF) and Krider’s Hawk photos (PDF).

Any additional thoughts on this individual, or on Krider’s Hawks in general?

First Purple Martin of spring and a big flock of Rusty Blackbirds

2011 February 5
by David J. Ringer


Rusty Blackbirds in sycamore

A real treat at home today — the largest flock of Rusty Blackbirds I’ve seen in several years. Hundreds of birds were calling and singing in the trees and then dropped down to the water’s edge to feed and bathe — and up — and down — and up again. And eventually, they all slipped away a few at a time, slowly and quietly, until I realized with a start that none remained. Eerie and a little unsettling, under the circumstances.

I conservatively estimated 500 birds (this image shows only part of the flock) when I submitted my checklist to the Rusty Blackbird Blitz. The blitz runs through Feb. 13, so if you live in Rusty Blackbird territory, get out and search for them, reporting your findings whether you get any blackbirds or not. This effort aims to help researchers understand the catastrophic decline this species has experienced in the last few decades.

Purple Martin in flight

Meanwhile, overhead, this lone male Purple Martin was the first I’ve seen this year. It’s two days earlier than my first sighting last year. February 3rd was the cross-quarter day, midway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. I often think of it as the first day of spring here in the Deep South, for even if the weather is cold (which it is) and snow could still fall (which is forecast), frogs and cardinals have started to sing, and Purple Martins are near. (See this arrival dates map.) Sure enough, this bird showed up two days later.

Overwintering neotrops and other goodies on Grand Isle

2011 January 18
by David J. Ringer

This weekend, I birded Grand Isle, Louisiana, with David Muth, Dan Purrington, and Philip Wallace. The only inhabited barrier island in Louisiana, Grand Isle was hit hard by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, and cleanup crews are still working the beaches, which have been torn up and driven over for months.

This, of course, didn’t bother the neotropical migrants wintering in beautiful live-oak woodlands in the island’s interior. We had seven warbler species and four hummingbird species — not bad for mid-January. Dan had a Chuck-will’s-widow, and David and I had a Wood Thrush and a female-plumaged Painted Bunting. Throw in Golden-crowned Kinglets, Northern Gannets, and a Mountain Bluebird, and you end up with a pretty eclectic list for the day.

Northern Waterthrush, Parkesia noveboracensis

This Northern Waterthrush (Parkesia noveboracensis) skipped the trip to Panama (or Cuba or Colombia) to hang out on Grand Isle instead. Neither the Nashville Warbler nor any of the Wilson’s Warblers posed so nicely for photos.

Winter Wood Thrush records are scarce, but David Muth tells me a Wood Thrush has wintered on Grand Isle for the last three years. Whether it’s the same bird is anyone’s guess. The bird was busy tossing leaves deep in a thicket, which made attempts at photography a bit challenging.

Mountain Bluebird, Sialia currucoides

This lovely, out-of-place Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) was first identified on the Grand Isle Christmas Bird Count last month, though apparently it had been present for some time but overlooked. It’s actually just north of Grand Isle on the “mainland,” or what’s left of it.

Mountain Bluebird

Watching the bird as it moved from wires to road signs to fences, I was struck by how unlike an Eastern Bluebird it looks. It’s very long-winged with a tiny head, a long, straight bill, and different posture. In flight, the long, pointed wings are striking too. The constant challenge in birding is to pick up on structural clues like these — even at highway speeds. Um, safely.

Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, in flight

The magnificent — and if we’re being honest, rather dorky — Brown Pelican became a symbol of the oil disaster last year. Thankfully, we saw hundreds of apparently healthy individuals on Sunday. We don’t yet know to what extent the oil has affected their population, or may in the future, but here’s hoping they continue to do well.

White Ibis, Eudocimus albus

Couldn’t resist pointing the camera at this adult White Ibis (Eudocimus albus). I love this species’ sky blue eyes.

Sandhill Cranes and swarms of geese at Yazoo NWR

2011 January 2
by David J. Ringer

VICKSBURG, MISS. — I stopped by Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge on my way through Mississippi today and was excited to find Sandhill Cranes and at least 25,000 geese. Here are a few shots. I’d like to go back soon when I have a little more time to work the flocks and habitat.

Sandhill Cranes

The throaty trill of Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) sent me scrambling out of the car. I looked up and saw this flock of 20 circling high.

Snow Geese through trees

Snow Geese (Anser (Chen) caerulescens) were everywhere — thousands and thousands.

Snow Goose carrying corn cob

I didn’t see this until I looked through my photos, but one Snow Goose was carrying a corn cob around! I guess this bird knows how to party.

Ross's Goose in flight

I saw a few Ross’s Geese (Anser (Chen) rossii) in flight; this shot isn’t great but shows the bird’s key features clearly.

Snow Goose in flight

Compare this Snow Goose to the Ross’s pictured above. The Snow shows a bigger bill with a black patch, a bulkier head, and a more prominent neck.

Snow Geese and Ross's Geese flying together

Can you pick out the Ross’s Geese here? (There are two.)

Snow Geese

How about here? :-)

Greater White-fronted Geese

I also saw a couple hundred Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons).

Greater White-fronted Goose

Here’s a beautiful adult “specklebelly” showing off in the last few rays of sun.

Snow Geese at sunset

Two Roseate Spoonbills on Vicksburg CBC!

2010 December 19

VICKSBURG, MISS. — Yesterday during the Vicksburg Christmas Bird Count, I spotted an ibis-like bird at a distance, backlit by sunlight glittering off water in a borrow pit. We’d seen a few White Ibises — themselves a good find — already. But then I saw its bill and started yelling. Spoonbill!


And not just one — two! The birds flew up and circled a couple of times, showing off their brilliant pink plumage before settling back down just yards from the busy, noisy Interstate 20 bridge over the Mississippi River batture in Louisiana. Both pale immatures with downy white heads, they actually showed very little pink while standing still.

Roseate Spoonbill is a new species for the Vicksburg count, and in fact, the species has been recorded only one other time (two years ago) on any CBC circle centered in Mississippi ever! This eBird map of LA-MS spoonbill sightings December-February shows that away from the delatic marshes and rice country of southern Louisiana, spoonbills turn up only occasionally along the Red or Mississippi River floodplains.

It was a very exciting find, and in a bizarre coincidence, came only moments after I made a goofy offhand joke about the possibility. We also had two other new birds for the count: Peregrine Falcon (which Bruce had predicted — we might be oracles) and about a hundred dowitchers, which attracted the attention of the aforementioned falcon but all lived to tell about it.

There’s no doubt about it — the mighty Mississippi River produces good birds. Last year, we had swarms of pelicans and ibises and a count-week Laughing Gull along the river on the Vicksburg count, and a few days later found five Black-bellied Plovers on a sandbar in the river on the Eagle Lake count, which I’m doing again in a couple of days. Can’t wait!