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Blog Birding #292

Monday, October 10, 2016 6:22
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Storm-petrels are among the most numerous birds on earth, but their habitat preferences put them out of reach of most birders. So it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to appreciate them the way Jared Clarke of Bird the Rock was able to recently.

For a place that boasts the world’s largest colonies of Leach’s Storm-Petrels, it is surprising how rarely most Newfoundland birders get to enjoy them. More than 3 million pairs (yes – pairs!) are estimated to breed on Baccalieu Island at the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula and 600,000+ pairs in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve alone! However, Leach’s Storm-Petrels spend the daylight hours far out to sea, feeding on plankton and small fish. Storm-petrels themselves are perfect meals for larger predatory birds like gulls, so they prefer the extra safety that comes with staying far away from land. Only at night, under the cover of darkness, do these robin-sized seabirds come back to their island abode and sneak into the safety of their underground burrows.

Most birders in the east know Chestnut-sided Warbler as one of the more commonly encountered wood-warblers of spring and fall, but that wasn’t always the case. At Audubon, Kenn Kaufman explains why Chestnut–sided Warbler was the nemesis of none other than John James Audubon.

As a teenager, I once bragged to a friend that I had seen more Chestnut-sided Warblers than John James Audubon ever did.

It was true, too. But it wasn’t much of a boast: JJA’s lifetime tally was five, all seen one morning in May 1808 in eastern Pennsylvania. That was it. In another three decades of actively seeking birds all over eastern North America, he never encountered the Chestnut-sided Warbler again. He did wonder about it, though. “Where this species goes to breed I am unable to say,” he wrote. “I ransacked the borders of Lake Ontario, and those of Lakes Erie and Michigan, without meeting with it.”

Continuing his series of posts full of useful information for the California birder, Steve Tucker of Bourbon, Bastards, & Birds, breaks down some of the more difficult ID challenges for western birders.

Most birds? Not that easy. Not that easy to find, not that easy to see well, not that easy to identify. I thought I would take the time today to run down some of the hardest families of birds in the western Lower 48…people like lists, after all, particularly birders. There is some overlap here with other parts of the country, but there are distinct differences…for example, the east coast has more terns and thrushes, but less storm-petrels and hummingbirds.

Nelson’s Gull is one of the most well-known gull hybrid combinations in North America, but it has a fascinating story and was formerly considered a species in its own right. Amar Ayyash at Anything Larus explores the gory details.

Jonathan Dwight was among the first to suspect nelsoni may be a hybrid form, noting that it showed intermediate characteristics between Glaucous and Herring Gull. The fact that “no two of them are marked alike” was Dwight’s primary concern. He also pointed out that very few specimens are available and no known breeding colonies existed, inferring Nelson’s must be an intermediate form that sporadically occurs as a result of hybridization. Incidentally, in his monograph, Dwight also casts doubt on Kumlien’s Gull being a valid species (Dwight 1925).

Fall is in full flight, and Don Freiday at Freiday Bird Blog explores the season’s angels.

Angels. That’s what meteorologists and defense workers called these then-strange signals showing up on radar at night when it was clear there was no precipitation involved. It was a real national security problem during an era when aerial attacks on the U.S. had happened (Pearl Harbor) and could happen again.

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