Monday, July 13, 2015

Beach trip: Clatsop County

On Saturday, July 11th, I went down to the beaches in Clatsop County  to look for shorebirds.  I was hoping to stumble across some Asian stints that might have wandered down the wrong coast.

I access the beach in Gearhart at 10th St. and head north.  I wander as far north as I can then usually come back down the beach and head back to Hwy 101 at Sunset Beach.  There were lots of Caspian Terns on the beach. I like the look of their bills and head.  

 Caspian Terns are the one bird that regularly protest dogs on the beach, if one passes by Huck, they usually swing over and give him a "get off my beach" squawk.

It is often mentioned that Least Sandpipers feed by picking up food right in front of their feet, Westerns will reach farther out in front to grab food. A trait useful in id'ing birds at a great distance.  Notice how big the feet are on a Least.  Another point made by many is that Least usually have toes shorter than the bill, Long-toed Stints have toes longer than their bill.  What I do not often hear is this measurement does not include the claw.  The overall length of middle toe and claw is longer in the stint than the Least, but if you are using the toe to compare to bill length, exclude the claw.

My what big, non-webbed feet you have!

Western Sandpipers have tiny little feet. Which I think is one reason why they look like they are reaching so far out in front of their bodies when they feed. They also look a bit front heavy, which I think is compounded by those small feet.

Small semi- webbed feet of a Western.  The stints (Red-necked and Little) have feet that are not webbed. You may need a photo of their foot to prove your case on a Little Stint or Red-necked Stint.

Falling-forward eating style of a Western.

I searched not just for stints, Common Ringed Plover look like Semipalmated Plover.  One difference is the lack of webbing between the middle and outer toes.  I had a tough time getting a photo of the diagnostic webbing on this Semipalmated Plover.   Differences in width of breast band and  slight differences in head pattern that give a more contrasting mask pattern are also clues.  

There has been a discussion of Stint Fever on ID Frontiers lately, mainly about a possible Long-toed in NW California. . The best comment I liked was rather than force a bird into an id, you probably will recognize a rare peep when you see it simply as being different.  Not all agreed, but it is a good point to remember.  Study you local birds and the odd ones will pop out at you.

For the calls of a Common Ringed Plover check these out:

How many species are flying by?

 Looks like Sanderlings have tiny feet as well, big thick legs though.  And note the webbing on the Western.

That afternoon I went back out to the beach, probably just before two other folks who posted about this day revisited the beach as well. A dozen Whimbrel were there. I would really like to know how to setup my camera to take better pictures of birds on a gray day with a bright background, maybe there is no solution.  I just leave it on auto and hope for the best.  I manually focus.  Problem is I have to lighten the photos when I get home, otherwise  the birds are turn out as dark blobs.  The fly-by photo was not lightened and in same lighting, so not sure why.  I guess I should look at the setting the camera picked for that picture!

I went over to the river beach and found this poor raccoon just doing circles in the sand, I hope it was okay.

The enforcer was on duty to be sure we behaved. 

I received a text that a huge number of Heermann's Gulls were in the Hammond Boat Basin.  I went over to check them out, I have been trying to figure out how to age them.

Sibley (in my printing) says they may have a third-year plumage cycle.  Howell says they do have a third cycle.  As they get older seems you are able to see more white crescents around the eye.  Other features include more white on tips of secondaries. I have read Howell's book on their cycles, I can't decide if the is a second-year bird or third-year bird. The bill is not very bright, that might be clue that it is younger?  All Heermann's Gulls get a brown tint to their plumage as they bleach out of gray in the tropical sun.

Heermann's Gulls have a PB molt  from May or so into September/October. I can see some fresh feathers and some old brown ones on many of the birds.  I was thinking this was a third-cycle gull since I can see the tertial and scapular crescents and some white around the eye.  I am not sure what that black and white is down near the tail, A primary growing in or what?  If all these gulls are in their PB molt, they must lose their white heads at the end of the molt. Vast majority of the gulls were adults, I did see a few first or second-year birds out over the ocean.

Thanks for the visit.  Westport Pelagic next weekend with a Newport Pelagic mid-August, should be fun.  I have heard reports of large amounts of feed fish offshore this year. Will see if that is bull or not.

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