Spring Class Notes 2010 – Class 1

I thought as the peak of spring migration is just around the corner it is timely to put up notes from a previous spring class.  The most recent relatively complete notes I have is the 2010 spring class, as in 2011 I just listened and used old notes.

4-20-10 Class #1 Spring

Field Trips:

This class will be more of an impressionistic class

Bring the shorebirds molt and voice worksheet to class each time.

Strategies for molt.

Simple basic- start in juvenile, go a year in juvenile, then have one molt annually into a basic plumage.  (like hawks)

Complex basic:  juvenile à formative plumage, the annual molt into basic plumage. (like towhee)

Simple alternate:  juvenile à pre alternate moltà pre basic à …  (like loons?)

Complex Alternate: Juvenileà formativeà pre-alternateà pre basic à pre alternateà …  (like most songbirds)

Pre-basic molt is complete, all feathers.

Pre-alternate molt is incomplete, usually not flight feathers, other feathers vary by species.

Short distance migrants molt on breeding grounds or in staging areas.  Long distance migrants may start molt on breeding grounds, then suspend the molt, and finish on the wintering ground as they cannot both migrate and molt simultaneously.

Birds have a complete molt in the fall

Birds have an incomplete in spring into alternate head, body, all scapulars, and maybe some wing feathers.

Terms used to describe the extent of a molt, usually the pre-alternate molt:

Partial:  head,  in spring into alternate head  body, few covets and some scapulars

Limited:  in spring into alternate head and a few body feathers

These are the common Western WA shorebirds you should know for our upcoming trip.  BBPL, both yellowlegs, dowichers, dunlin, Least SP, Western SP à plan to know these by voice  before the coast trip.

A Shorebird year starting Jan 1:

As early as Jan and as late as June, shorebirds are entering pre-alternate molt.  By the time shorebirds get to WA the adults are usually in full alternate plumage.  Most juveniles stay on wintering grounds, but some young birds may migrate in their basic plumage and others of the same species may have a PA molt into an adult or near adult alternate plumage.

The migration thru WA is in a rush, usually in late April- early May.

Adults usually nest as soon as they get to breeding grounds, usually in mid may to early June.

Failed breeders and some young birds almost immediately head back.

Young birds are in downy plumage for about a month and then go into juvenile plumage.

First after failed breeders back are females in worn plumage, followed by males in worn plumage a week or so later.  Then a week or two later, or sometimes much later, are bright fresh juveniles.  Going on their own,  at 1-2 months of age.

PB molt in some adults can start as a limited molt even on the nest, or on the breeding ground.

Suspend molt of remiges (flight feathers in spring into alternate head) and rectrices (tail feathers) until on or near the breeding ground.

On wintering grounds birds finish their wing and tail molt.  Those who winter in NA may finish their molt at stopovers.

Juveniles start their PB 1 molt somewhere between Sept and Oct and end by Dec.  This is a formative type plumage, incomplete in most species vs. adults having a complete molt into basic plumage.

Impression:  Next week come prepared to concisely discuss whatever bird we are identifying.

As a homework assignment do a walk or go into back yard and bird by ear and without binoculars.  Use GISS not binos.

We will also work on expected location, time of year, habitat, behavior, relative size, etc.

We will look a lot at structure, legs, bill, neck, wing and primary projection, head structure.  Look at feeding behavior, voice.

Last we will look at plumage impression.  White belly dowicher is short billed, long billed don’t have white bellies.

Dunlin grayish with a dark breast, Western SP brownish above with white breast.

Get a copy of the Howell Shorebird guide. Much of Ken’s comments are there and so you can avoid the need to take so many notes.


Remiges and Rectrices:

Primaries numbered 1-10 and molt begins on the innermost primary (1) and moves outward.  Secondaries are numbered outward to inward, and so P1 is beside S1.  Secondary molt begins after primary molt is about half way done.  It moves from outside in.  This results in gaps in the wing feathers.  If you see these gaps it usually means the bird will molt in NA.  Some birds molt at staging grounds (like LBDO)  vs. SBDO does not molt primaries until on the wintering ground.

IN spring you see nice fresh feathers on the head, scapulars and the bodies.  Fresh feathers have nice well defined patterns, and old feathers have the fringes and patterns on the edges worn off, sometimes serrated or saw tooth edges.  Dark pigments wear tougher, lighter feathers wear faster.

Juveniles have usually white edges on scapulars and coverts.

Old feathers tend to look frayed on the edges and can droop more, not as stiff.   As they droop more they eventually fall out.  Old feathers tend to be more pointed as they wear, more rounded when they are fresh, and as they wear off the white or buff rounded edges they become more pointed.

Good example of feather wear is the Least Sandpiper.   In spring highly patterned with light tipped feathers,  very patterned.  When they come back in the fall they are darker with less patterning on the top.  In August you will see fresh juveniles, and worn adults. Later the juveniles will look more worn, and the adults are going thru PB molt and will look much sharper and fresh.


Species accounts:

Black bellied Plovers:  all year have black axillars, wing stripe, the biggest plover, blocky, on mud flats, on open beaches, roost on upper beach, golf courses.  Upland species also. More west, but also E of Cascades.  3 syllable loud  plaintive   Plee-uu-ee lower in pitch than golden plovers.  Up until PB2 molt you can age juveniles by their worn primaries.  Especially in spring.  Listen for calls in flight.   GISS, chunky, thick necked, heavier bill than golden plovers, note 240 gm vs. 130-140 grams for goldens. Seen spring and fall.

Pacific Golden Plover: lower pitched, emphasis on second syllable, variable pitch  mostly seen in the fall. Buffy, In spring white on flanks, appear to be front heavy, look like they could tip over forward, larger head, rounder body, stand taller, shorter wing projection and longer primary projection of 4 feathers.   Have a molt that does not include the primaries.  So in the springtime look at the primaries, and in first year pacifics have worn primaries all the way until June or July, so very worn.   So if you see a golden plover in spring with worn primaries it is Pacific.   Pacific adults molt the inner primaries on the breeding grounds (Americans do not)   So inner 5 primaries will be fresh in adults in migration in fall.

American Golden-plover:  In spring stripe ends before the flank, more slim, more attenuated, not as plump, longer primary and wing projection.   No wing stripe. Dark tailed.    One tone note, two syllables.   Have a complete fall molt, between Oct- Dec. includes the primaries.   First year Americans have fresh primaries.  In migration American GPs do not molt their primaries until on the breeding grounds.

Mountain Plover:  pale all over, big headed, thick necked, short grass or plowed fields, loose flocks.

Killdeer:   slim, long tailed, small bill.

Snowy Plover:  drrrp toor-eeet  call.  Light plovers with dark legs and dark bills, longer and slimmer than semi-palmated, tend to be front heavy.

Piping Plover:    two tone bill, orange legs.  More attenuated, not front heavy, tiny bill. 

Wilson’s Plover:  light legs, dark above, larger and front heavy, large head and bill, thick bill.  Usually on upper beach.

Semi-palmated Plover:  two syllable note, chu-eep.   Come through very early in the fall, often in July.

Black Oystercatcher:  Bulky, short thick neck, long thick bill

American Oystercatcher:  southern coasts, sandy beaches, two toned, also mud flats.

American Avocet:  Alkali ponds, E WA, rare in migration on W side, larger than black necked stilts. Chunky.  Loud PLEET CALL.  Gather in large groups to molt in migration in fall.

Black-necked Stilt:   slim body, long legs, needle-like bill, alkali ponds, very rare in migration on W side.  Yip-Yip-Yip loud call

Greater Yellowlegs:  higher more strident 3 noted call    Two times the weight of lesser, long upturned bill, look like they have an Adams apple, bulge on front of the neck.  Pick and chase.  Scurry around the pond.  Seen all year round, numerous spring and fall.  Pattern above and stripes on upper neck.

Lesser Yellowlegs:  slim-chested, smooth body contour, straight bill, more methodical scything movements as it walks, usually does not run.  Walks steadily.   Unusual  in spring, either E or W side.  Usually fresh water ponds.  Seen as early as July 1 in fall thru. Sept.  rare after September.

2011 Spring Class Notes: Class #1

4-26-11  Spring Class #1  Advanced Birding

Consider getting The Shorebird Guide by Obrien, Crosley, and Karlson.

Next week we will cover molt, the foundation of the class.

51st supplement to the AOU list – 4 new orders were added:

Tropic Birds only, moved to their own order.  Can look this all up on David Sibley’s website

Suliformes:  4 families, Frigates, boobies and gannets and anhingas and cormorants into suliformes and out of pelicaniformes.

Accipitorformes:  Vultures, Osprey, and All of the hawks are the 3 families.

Falconoformes:  remain in their own family.  3 sub families, forrest falcons, caracaras, and falcons.

Herons, bitterns, ibis, spoonbills moved into pellicanoformes with pelicans.

So there are 11 new families in 4 new orders.

Warbers:  6 warblers moved from vermovora to oriophillipses.  A brand new sub-family of warblers.  New genus. Leaves only 3 vermivores.

Pirangas moved into Cardinaline, so the tanagers of N America moved to this new order.  So tanagers more closely related to BH grosbeak

Winter wren split into Winter wren and Pacific Wren

Whip-poor will split into eastern and western.

Black scoter remains Black Scoter and is now split form the one in Europe which is now Common Scoter

Greater Shearwater changed to Great Shearwater.

GISS:   General Impression Size and Shape

Why look at this GISS approach to bird ID rather than just fieldmarks?  Simpler and more enjoyable.

Starting the class with shorebirds in order to be ready for the first fieldtrip to the coast primarily to study and see the spring shorebird migration.

Shorebirds:   87 species worldwide, 42 species annually in WA, 20 accidentals.

Shorebird year:  Start in the first of the calendar year.  Refer to the boxes of strategies of molt in the Howell book.  See the box like table.

In early calander year molt into alternate plumage.  Migrate in about March-April, some in alt plumage prior to leaving non-breeding grounds, and most of the birds we see in migration in incomplete alternate plumage are first or maybe second year birds.  Go to breeding grounds.  Our spring migration ends June 10th in WA.  June 10-20 you cannot tell of birds are moving N or S.  After June 20 most birds are moving south.  Usually females show up here first on the southward migration along with unsuccessful breeders, usually in worn plumage.  Then the males show up, with most of the adults through WA by mid to late August.  Juveniles start showing in late July-early August and are in Juvenile plumage.  Juvenile plumage is fresh and pristine.  Brand new 6 week old feathers.  Can still see juveniles until early November.  Spring migration is urgent, move through quickly.  Fall migration is more protracted.

Juveniles start in about Late Oct-Nov their B1 plumage.

GISS cont:

  1. Relative size is the most important aspect of GISS.  Small like a peep, medium like a dowicher, large like a Whimbrel.  The good thing about shorebirds is you can compare sizes to a known bird.

In a new flock of birds, first look for different sizes of birds.  Then lock onto one bird to identify for a size comparison.  If no other birds, try to compare the bird to an artifact for general size.

  1. Structure is the second most important thing in GISS, like the length of the legs, width and size of the head and bill, is the bird slim, fat, dumpy, attenuated, long neck or short neck, bill is very important, is it long like a curlew or short like a plover, where in between.  Bill color and leg color and bill shape are the most key field marks.
  2. Next is behavior.  How does it feed, visual hunter like a plover or probe like a sandpiper.  Does it pick, probe, or stitch.  Wild movement like a greater YL, or more slow and methodical like a lesser YL.  Flocking behavior helps.  Tight flock or spread out.  Size of the flock can help.  Loud or soft call.  Is it a sentinel or a prober.
  3. Flight behavior, fluttery near the water is Spotted SP, towering flight is Solitary sandpiper.

Least SP takes off at a more acute angle than a Western SP.

  1. General impression of Color patterns – dun colored, brown or black on the least, the gray or brown above and white belly allows them to blend in from above and minimize the shadow effect.  Called counter shading
  2. Finally is voice:  it can help clinch the ID.
  3. Details of the plumage is the last thing, and we’ll cover this in the third class.  It is often needed to confirm the ID.

Probability is very important.  Look for what is available.

Look at the silhouettes in the Howell book.

Black-bellied plover:  30 mm bill length, 200K in NA 240gm, fat and plump, primaries slightly past the tail, mud flats, beaches and plowed fields.

Am. Golden Plover: most come thru the central states in spring, so very rare in spring, more in fall.  150K in NA.  145gm.  Long wing projection, > ½ inch.  Long wings =Long migration.  Plowed fields, sparse vegetation, golf courses, salt marshes, almost always coastal in WA in spring.  23 mm bill

Pacific Golden Plover: 16K in AK, world wide 125K.  In WA we can see the birds from AK in the fall, mostly juveniles.  130gm.  Legs longer, wings shorter, so shorter wing projection, look bigger chested and “dumpier”   23 mm bill

Snowy Plover:  14 mm bill, all dark bill, dark legs, 16K – 21 K in NA.  In WA very few, maybe 65 individuals in WA last year.  Small, chunky, very light colored, live on the upper dry sand,

Semipalmated Plover: In WA almost every small plover is Semi-palmated. 150K, upland, beaches, fields, mudflats. Loose flocks.

Piping and Wilson’s  plovers, not here.

Killdeer:  common, easy.

Mountain Plover:  one seen in WA this year.  9K in the world

Greater Yellowlegs: 56 mm bill (avg) 100K but in WA we see far more greater YL, seen both fall and spring.  160 gm. Big belly, Adam’s apple, upturned bill, active feeder, can sythe but also run and grab food.  Flooded fields, marshes, tidal creeks, slightly shorter tail.

Lesser Yellowlegs: 36 mm bill.  500K, rare in W WA in spring, in fall in small groups.  80 gm.  More methodical, move through kicking at the surface, marshes, more protected areas, mud flats.  Slightly longer wing projection, goes past the tail a little more.

Solitary sandpiper: 30 mm bill, 25 K in US, 50 gm, compact, short wings, short legs and neck, move slowly on the edge of the water, ponds, creeks, fresh water marshes, spotted above, bob their head (not their tail).  Fly straight up, called towering.  Tend to hold their bill horizontally.

Willet:  62 mm bill, we have western willet, only in Tokeland and WIllipa bay, as with other larger sandpipers it often takes longer to mature, and some oversummer in their first year.  210 gm

Wandering Tattler:  33 mm slightly drooping pointed bill, attenuated, 110 gm, same wt as a dowicher.  Found on rocks, only seen in migration.  Plain wing, plain tail. 10K in world.  Horozontal stance, teeters head only, walks quickly, loose flocks.  Picks and probes.  The largest rock sandpiper.   Pointed bill.  Usually don’t flock with other rock birds.  When disturbed fly by themselves.  Tend not to fly by in a flock.  Very loud call.

Spotted Sandpiper:  40 gm, 150K, short legs an bill, shallow fluttery flight, bob their tail, horizontal stance with bobbing, in the south they are polyandrous, can lay up to four broods, in the south the female with lay the eggs, abandon them and leave them to the male.

Whimbrel:  Long bill, decurved, 87 mm bill, 390 gm, striped head, walk slowly, mud flats, grassy areas.

Long-billed Curlew:  480 gm, 160 mm bill, walk steadily picking and probing.

Hudsonian Godwits:  300 gm most in middle of the country, rare in fall, not in spring, 82 mm bill, 50K,

Marbled Godwits: increasing in WA, 1500-2000 in outer coast of WA, most in WA may be immature birds and many oversummer, 102 mm bill, molt very quickly and early, 140-200K, 370gm.  Abreviated eye stripe.

Bar-tailed godwit:  120K breed in AK.  340 gm, medium sized, supercillim increases behind the eye.  Fly non-stop from AK to Oceana, 6000 miles non-stop.

Ruddy Turnstone:  23 mm bill 235-267K, more common in WA in spring, less in fall.  110 gm. More of a generalist, will be seen on cobble beaches and other substrates

Black Turnstone:  60K, 120 gm, more exclusively on rocks.

Surfbird:  190 gm, (vs 110 gm for tattler)  plump, short plover like 24 mm bill, 10” long, second largest by length, 70-100K in world.

Rock Sandpiper:  small, 70gm.  Slightly decurved and to a point. Seenin migration and in early winter.  Very few in spring.  Later arriver in fall.  100-200K,  but one of the three species is not migratory, we have the tuscurim subspecies here.  Many stay to the N of us.

Discussion of bill length:  small bill < length of the head, medium bill = length fo the head, Long bill > length of the head.

Black Oystercatcher:  11K  need rocky substrate.

Black Necked Stilt:  E WA breeder.

Americal Avocet:  450K females have a longer and more curved bill.  Sentinals.

Upland Sandpipers:  possibly extirpated.

Red Knot:  36 mm bill, 400K in NA, but most in the eastern NA, 135 gm, plump, short legs, horizontal stance, sandy beaches and mud flats, very gregarious, rare in fall, more in spring, come through in numbers quickly, medium bill,

Sanderling: 26 mm bill, run in and out of the surf, 300K,

Semipalmated sandpiper: more in the fall, tubular stubby bill, 3.5M, 25 grams, 6 ¼ inches, slightly plumper looking, not as front heavy, walk steadily picking, aggressive toward other birds, 18 mm bill

Western Sandpiper:  long droopy bill, 25mm bill, 26 grams, droopy bill, roosting birds more upright, large flocks, likes mudflats  3.5-4M

Least sandpiper:  19 mm bill, 600K, 21 grams, smallest sandpiper in the world, crouches when feeding, picks more, walks steadily picking, higher on the sand or mud flats, small flocks, more loose flocks, more erratic flight on takeoff, steeper angle, short bill and crouching, so feed near their feet.

Baird’s sandpiper:  300K, mid Americas, seen juveniles in the fall,  38 grams, steep forehead, 23 mm fine tipped bill, very long wings often crossed, often seen in dry areas,

White-rumped sandpiper: on E coast, rare here.

Pectoral Sandpiper:  rare in spring, 30 mm bill, 73 grams, 8 ¾ inches, slightly decurved medium bill, small head, longer neck and head.  Primaries to the tail tip, salicornia, assoc. with buff breasted, upland areas.

Buff Breasted SP: fall bird,

Upland Sandpiper:  tail longer than the wings,

Sharp-tailed sandpiper:  again fall, 26 mm droopy bill, 8 ½ “, two tone bill, red cap, buffy chest

Dunlin:  38 mm bill, longer than the head, 1 ¼ M , 60 grams, sanderling sized, dun colored in winter, rapidly picks and probes, winters in good numbers, all large flocks in winter are dunlin primarily.

Stilt Sandpiper:  40 mm bill, droopy thick bill, 50-200K, rare in spring, more in fall, smaller than dowichers, walks steadily with bill down probing in the water, often belly deep, submerges head.  These birds walk as they probe steadily.

Buff-breasted sandpiper: 20 mm, 64 gm, less than annual in the fall.  Squarish small head, upright stance, pigeon like gate.

Ruff:  Ruffs and Reeves, Ruff size of GR YL, reeve size of LEYL.  Ruff 150 gm, short droopy bill, hunches when feeding, wanders continuously, rare in spring.

Short-billed dowichers:  60 mm, (vs 67mm in LB)  females longer bills, 320K, 110 gm, flatter backed in relaxed feeding pose, thicker at the base, subtle kink at the base, spotted at the side of the neck, large groups on salt water are mostly SB,  S=Short billed, salt water, spotted)

Long-billed dowicher:  Small groups on fresh water,

Wilson’s phalarope:  1.5M  60 gm, 9 ¼ inches, long needle like bill, mostly inland, rare on coast,

Red-necked phalarope:  35 grams, 7 ¾ “, compact, slim neck, inland, coastal and pelagic, striped back is key,

Red Phalarope: 1M in NA, 5M worldwide.  55 gm, 8 ½ inches, pelagic, on land after strong storm, heavy plover like bill.