Butterflies, Birds and that Darn Shrike

Updated 1/26/16–For those of you coming to this post because of the Mendocino Shrike you can scroll down to the end of it for a link to a North American Birds article just recently published. The authors Peter Pyle, Jon Dunn, Nial Moores and Robert Keiffer conclude that the shrike is a Red-backedXTurkestan Shrike hybrid.

Because I just recently photographed an unusual and uncommon butterfly and I'm excited about it, I'm going to start with butterflies today. Screw the update on the shrike. You'll have to go through butterflies to get to it.

Normally my pictures of butterflies are of species that are common (except maybe for the Green Comma). Two Tuesdays ago I was on a coastal birding trip with Chuck Vaughn, President of the Peregrine Audubon Society and Mendocino County Ebird reviewer. The birding sucked but I had told Chuck that I now stopped for butterflies. While we we looking for shorebirds from the bluffs overlooking Virgin Creek Beach a small bluish green butterfly caught my eye.

My first problem was trying to name this butterfly. All of my butterfly books had a different name for it. Kaufman had it as a Coastal Green Hairstreak. Glassberg had it as a Bramble Hairstreak. Shapiro has it as a “Coastal” Bramble Hairstreak.

Art Shapiro in his Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions had this to say about it.

This is one of our worst taxonomic nightmares. Scarcely any two authorities agee on the limits of species, or to what named entity various populations should be assigned, or even on the correct biological entity to which some of the names refer.

I guess some progress has been made in sorting all this out. Sometime back I had gotten an account with Butterflies and Moths of North America in hopes of uploading some of my sightings to their website. I decided to try it for the first time with this Hairstreak. I received a response almost immediately.

This is actually Callophrys viridis since a decision by the ICZN. Callophrys dumetorum now applies to what was called C. perplexa. BAMONA has not adjusted this yet-Ken Davenport. Yours thus becomes an important record.

When the reviewer stated , “Yours thus becomes an important record.” it gave me a warm feeling. ICZN stands for the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. I guess we will call this butterfly a Coastal Green Hairstreak for the time being. You can read about the ICZN's decision in the News of the Lepidopterists' Society's (Yes–I did go there!!!) newsletter.

NatureServe, An Online Encyclopedia of Life states,

Very limited range and scarce and local in most of it. Already extirpated around San Francisco. Almost all habitats subject to disturbance or destruction from development. Loss of host plant through competition from exotics is a threat to some populations. For now believed to be over 20 extant occurrences but with threats, this species could be or become globally imperiled.

You can read about the Green Hairstreak Project in San Francisco that is trying to link up isolated Green Hairstreak populations in the city in an attempt to keep them from going extinct.

Enough about Coastal Green Hairstreaks. Let's give the Edith's Checkerspot some love. It's a striking butterfly and they are now flying. This one was found in the grassy part of the trail to Virgin Creek Beach.

Orange Sulfurs are a common butterfly but you rarely see them with open wings. This is a female found recently north of Lake Cleone.

While trying to get a decent picture of the Orange Sulfur this handsome Brewer's Blackbird walked by eating from the flowers of the nearby ice plant. It's rare for me to get just the perfect light on a blackbird to show off it's iridescence.

Sora are listed as rare in Mendocino County. They are seldom seen. This one was swimming out in the open in a marshy area at Lake Cleone.

This Bonaparte's Gull was found at Virgin Creek. While not rare in Mendocino County you can see that this bird is oiled on it's left flank. Just yesterday on an SOS Survey at Virgin Creek Beach I noticed another black-headed gull flying over me. Based on the underwing pattern it was an extremely rare Franklin's Gull. Sorry–there wasn't time to get a picture as it disappeared to the south.

Finally we come to an update on the shrike as yet not identified. Is it a Brown Shrike, Red-backed Shrike or some form of hybrid?

On April 16th I received a morning call from Alison Cebula of California State Parks asking if I would like to help her with a Snowy Plover Survey in the Manchester State Park area. Alison as you might remember was the person who originally discovered the shrike at Alder Creek. I hustled down to the Van Damme Beach parking lot where she picked me up for the ride down the coast. We surveyed the Brush Creek area first and arrived at Alder Creek around 1:30PM. There were four birders at the overlook two local and two from the San Francisco Bay Area. The shrike was easy to find in the willows where Alison had first found it. I got a few pictures of it. I'm sure that a more assertive photographer could have done better.

After surveying the beach we came back to find the two Bay Area birders off the path and part way down the slope.

Alison asked them to get back on the path. They were unaware of Alison's and California State Park's concerns about endangered species in the area. Apparently they were also unaware of the poison oak.

This was the last day that the shrike was seen. I figured that I was the second to last person to see it. I find it to be the irony of all ironies that Alison was there when it was found and was there when it left. (Maybe!–see note below)

So now the call has gone out from the California Bird Records Committee for any and all documentation on this shrike. Joseph Morlan, the chair of that committee, was at one time certain that the shrike was a Red-backed Shrike. Based on a discussion on Surfbirds.com he's now sure that it's not a Red-backed but what is it?

Thanks for the new image which bears some resemblance to our bird. Expert opinion remains divided with at least two authorities confident that our bird is L. collurio X L. isabellinus while you and others support L. cristatus lucionensis. I now have a copy of Panov's monograph on shrikes which offers several other hybrid combinations which we had not considered including the possibility of L. cristatus X L. isabellinus. None of these taxa have been recorded in North America except nominate L. cristatus; the photos are pretty good; but we remain frustrated that this bird may never be identified to any level of certainty. Thanks again for any additional input you may be able to offer.

Joe Morlan

So birders that traveled many miles might never get a definitive identification for this bird. I don't know what that does for listers. STAY TUNED.

Note: In doing some research on this post I found some indication that a birder from British Columbia submitted some pictures taken on April 22nd which would indicate that the shrike was still in the area later then thought and even might still be there.

UPDATE (10/4/15): The September issue of the Falcon Flyer published by the Peregrine Audubon had a SPRING 2015 BIRDS roundup. It stated,

The spring birding period includes the months of March thru May, a very active time for bird migration and nesting. The highlight this spring was a vagrant hybrid SHRIKE, apparently of Asian origin, and its true lineage has yet to be sorted out. The bird, originally thought to be a Brown Shrike, was found by AC on 3/5 at the mouth of Alder Creek near Manchester. It was seen by literally hundreds of curious birders before it disappeared on 4/22.

Note the use of the terms HYBRID SHRIKE. This statement has some authority because one of authors of the article is Bob Keiffer. Bob Keiffer is working with Peter Pyle, Nial Moores, and Jon Dunn on an article for North American Birds (NAB) trying to determine the lineage of this bird. I know this because they have asked permission to use one of my pictures.

The link to the NAB article can be found here.

Joseph Morlan is now calling this shrike a Red-backed ShrikeXRed-tailed Shrike based on information from Peter Pyle.

If this confirmation holds-up it will certainly be a disappointment for the hundreds of curious birders that came from as far away as Rhode Island to see it. The American Birding Association(ABA) establish the rules for listing.

RULE 2: The bird must have been a member of a species currently listed on the ABA Checklist for lists within the ABA Area, on the AOU Check-list for lists outside the ABA Area and within the AOU Area, or on the Clements Checklist for all other areas.

(vii) hybrids are not countable. Any bird with physical characteristics outside the natural range of variation for the species and clearly suggesting that it is a hybrid should be treated as a hybrid under the ABA Recording Rules. Song in oscine passerines is a learned behavior and should not be used as evidence of hybridization with that group.

With a warming planet caused by putting carbon into the atmosphere that a lot of wasted carbon chasing a bird you can't list.

 

 

 

 

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Maybe I’m Just Too Old!/Birding News

I’ll get to the, Maybe I’m Just Too Old, at the end of this post. First we’ll do the birding news. There have been several interesting birds during the last several SOS Surveys.

A bird I looked for last year but couldn’t find is the Elegant Tern. This year I’ve seen five of them with other birders seeing upwards of twelve at one time. The Elegant Tern moves up the coast after breeding so they bring their still begging young. I’ve read that warmer water brings them north in greater numbers. This picture is a first year bird.

 

A bird rare here in Mendocino County is the American Avocet. According to Ebird it’s even rarer on the coast. Found this bird in the morning fog. After the survey while biking north I looked down on the beach and saw a group of about 15 people in the  area where the Avocet had been. With Summer ending maybe the shorebirds can reclaim the sands.

 

Our SOS Surveys record dead birds on the beach. There has been a slight uptick in dead birds recently. Many are unidentifiable but some are in good shape. I believe that this dead seabird is a headless Scripp’s Murrelet based on the black and white pattern and the bright white underwings. I have only seen a few Scripps’s Murrelets during pelagic trips. Without the head I cannot rule out the Guadalupe Murrelet.

 

I’m expecting the birding at the Little River Airport to start picking up as we get further  into Fall. This picture is a very young Osprey. Note the white scaling on the wings and red eye.

 

Just recently I read about a report titled, Observer aging and long-term avian survey data quality, on the ABA Blog. You can find the write-up at the National Geographic News site. It’s titled, The Perils of Aging: A Problem for Citizen Science?, with a subtitle of, “Errors creep into bird population surveys as volunteers get older, new study says.”

I was mildly amused that I could ride the MTA at the senior rate and I guess I qualify for the Denny’s senior meals but this report bases it’s results on birders over 50. That’s hitting below the belt! 

“Each spring, thousands of binocular-clad volunteers scour natural areas across North America to count birds in the name of science. This gargantuan effort helps scientists take the pulse of bird populations and make important management decisions—but errors creep into the data as volunteers age, according to a new study.

Bird-watchers over 50 weren’t as proficient as younger volunteers—those under 40—at detecting 13 (of 43 examined) songbird species during surveys…”

You can read the full report that was published in the June issue of Ecology and Evolution here.

I guess the upside of this is that I can sleep in and avoid the battles with mosquitoes but I bet I’ll still get the calls to help out with our local surveys.


 

Hawks and the Green Flash-Birding the South Mendocino Coast

One of my favorite places to bird is the South Mendocino Coast. It has several vagrant traps that have produced some great rare birds during the Fall. It is the home of Manchester State Park where the San Andreas Faultline hits the Pacific Ocean for the final time. There’s the Garcia River, Point Arena Lighthouse and the Point Arena Cove (harbor) which is the home of Al (or Alice) the Laysan Albatross, famous for spending the last 20 Winters there. Tundra Swans also Winter in the area, sometimes with Sandhill Cranes. Yes it’s one of my favorite places but the trouble is I can’t get there by bus unless I want to camp for a few days.

Pictured below is looking east on the Garcia River from near the lighthouse.

So how does a “green” birder get to the South Mendocino Coast? He hitchhikes. Every year the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society sponsors an all day raptor field trip to the south coast. I called David Jensen, past president of the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society, to see if he could pick me up at the Van Damme Beach parking lot Saturday morning on his way to Navarro Beach Road, the meeting spot for the trip. Being a nice guy he agreed. 15 people packed (carpooled) into four cars made the trip south. Lot’s of stops on the way down with some pretty impressive scenery.

I was looking for several year birds during the trip. My list included Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Pacific Golden-Plover, Tundra Swan, and a possible Sandhill Crane. On the way down the coast everyone agreed that it was unseasonably hot and dry. Many of the open fields were dry and the coastal ponds were low. 

Our most numerous raptor was the Red-tailed Hawk with well over 40 seen. American Kestrels were numerous but it seemed not as many as past years. We saw many Northern Harriers but I only saw one White-tailed Kite, less than expected. The fields where I’ve alway seen Ferruginous Hawks were empty. We stopped for lunch at the Manchester State Park picnic area on Kinney Road and I was beginning to worry about seeing my target birds. One of the cars had legged behind and when they arrived they reported seeing a Rough-legged Hawk. I had to console myself with a lovely Say’s Phoebe that joined us for lunch. Sorry no picture I was eating. A short time later a Ferruginous Hawk was spotted in a far off tree, add one bird to my year. We chased the FEHA and while we were looking for it in the fields David Jensen spotted it in a tree just feet away and looking down on us.

 

I believe this is our largest Hawk. It’s listed as rare in Mendocino County but is a regular visitor. A short time later a Rough-legged Hawk was observed kiting far out over the fields. Too far out for a picture and I certainly look forward to a better view but add bird number two to my year list. The Rough-legged Hawk was also a Mendocino County bird for me. That’s number 8 for the year. RLHA’s are listed as rare in Mendocino with only one or two per year spotted. We moved over to to Stoneboro Rd. and found another FEHA hunting in a large field. While watching it David Jensen pointed out a Clay-colored Sparrow that popped up on a fence. As I mentioned in an earlier post they are a rare sparrow on the West Coast. Moved on over to Lighthouse Rd. and walked out to the Garcia River overlook. Had a great look at a Peragrine Falcon, our second of the day. We found no swans, cranes, geese (except for Cackling and Canadian), shorebirds (except for one Black-bellied Plover and one Dowitcher near the River mouth) or large groups of ducks.

It was getting dark on the way home so David decided to watch the sunset from a turnout. We were hoping for a green flash as the sun went down and we got one.

A search of Wikipedia states this about “green flashes”, “Green flashes and green rays are optical phenomena that occur shortly after sunset or before sunrise, when a green spot is visible, usually for no more than a second or two, above the sun, or it may resemble a green ray shooting up from the sunset point. Green flashes are a group of phenomena stemming from different causes, and some are more common than others…Green flashes are enhanced by mirage, which increase refraction. A green flash is more likely to be seen in stable, clear air, when more of the light from the setting sun reaches the observer without being scattered. One might expect to see a blue flash, but the blue is preferentially scattered out of the line of sight, and the remaining light ends up looking green.”

It was a great outing and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Total birds seen is 246 with over 2759 carbon producing truck miles saved.

 

NOTE: This last week of birding found me biking up a road to the Lake Mendocino Dam over near Ukiah, walking miles up Ten Mile Beach and hawk watching on the South Coast of Mendocino. I’ve figured that if I had done all that in my truck I would have driven over 221 miles. I drove a total of 18 miles in my truck this last week.

I forgot to add this picture of this rare two headed bird. I’ve never seen a two person lite aircraft.

 

Birding This Week

Thursday’s birding was a walk up Ten Mile Beach. Nothing new was found but I did come upon a Burrowing Owl. Burrowing Owls are listed as rare in Mendocino County although in recent years they are being found more often. Last year there were reports of at least nine wintering birds. Ten Mile Beach supported the bulk of those reports. The Burrowing Owl is a, “California Bird Species of Special Concern” and like the endangered Snowy Plover, California State Parks frowns upon  reporting the locations of these birds to prevent “harassment” from the public.

This particular Burrowing Owl was on the same log as an individual I found last year. The first picture is this year’s bird and the second picture is last year’s. Both just watched me walk by.

I guess it’s possible it’s the same, but older, bird. 

On Friday I did a Fall SOS Survey at Virgin Creek. It was a beautiful sunny day at the beach. Dunlins are coming back now. I guess that makes sense because they were the last to leave going north this Spring. The different in their plumage is striking. The first picture was last Spring and the second is what they look like now.

I also got my best picture yet of a Red-necked Grebe that was feeding close to the rocks at Virgin Creek Beach.

I was wondering what the distortion was around the lower neck and after a little study I determined that it was water bubbles reflecting the feathers in that area.

Found nothing new at the Little River Airport on Saturday so my totals are still 239 bird species with over 2512 carbon producing truck miles saved.

Curlew Sandpiper, 10 Mile Beach, and Gas Usage

I’m creating a pattern. Every time I have to gas up and run errands in town I walk 10 Mile Beach. I went 50 days between fill ups this time. 56 is my record but 50 is still well above average. I got to Ward Ave a little after 8:00AM. On the rocks just to the south I found 2 first year Red Knots. They were actually a little friendly, a trait I find in many first year birds. This was the first time that I’ve found 2 together. All of my sightings of Red Knots have been single birds. I love the pressed aluminum effect of the feathers on their backs.

These 2 birds were with a flock of Surfbirds and a few Black Turnstones. I have not seen many Surfbirds yet this year. Moving north on the beach and just about even with the end of the of the Haul Rd. I came upon a Black Turnstone and a very “bright” shorebird larger then a peep. Moving closer I noticed that it had a downcurved bill much like a Dunlin but I’ve seen many Dunlin and I knew it wasn’t one. I noticed it’s long black legs and that it was only a little smaller than the Black Turnstone and maybe taller.

A closer look at the bird.

After about four pictures the sandpiper joined a flock of shorebirds flying south. I pondered what it was. I checked the Sibley Bird App on my Itouch. As I continued my walk north on the beach I began to think that I had seen a Curlew Sandpiper but I had not seen the diagnostic white rump. A later review of one of the pictures revealed it’s white rump peeking through it’s wings.

According to “Rare Birds of California” a book by the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC), Curlew Sandpipers, “breeds across arctic Siberia, casually in Norther Alaska.The species winters widely in the Old World, as far north as the British Isles but mostly along tropical and subtropical coasts from sub-Saharan Africa through southern Asia to Australia.” “Since 1971 records have averaged nearly one per year…” Obviously this is one rare bird.

I continued my walk north finding a Pectoral Sandpiper not too much further and then a pair of Baird’s Sandpipers after that. A pair of Baird’s Sandpipers have been on Ten Mile Beach for over 4 weeks. Further still I came upon a banded Snowy Plover that looked injured. I took some pictures. It was limping badly holding one foot up. I call Becky Bowen of SOS and reported it and continued north. Sometime later at Ten Mile River I realized that I had messages on my phone. Service is spotty out there. I called Becky and she said that there was a team of State Parks people working on the Haul Rd. project and that Adam Hutchins had been sent to find and assess the plover. It might be helpful if I could meet him and point out the location which is what I did. He needed is binoculars from his truck so I plover sat for a while keeping one eye on the plover and one eye looking for Blue-footed Boobies that have been invading the California Coast. Adam assessed the plover and with the help of my pictures determined that one of the bands was partially off and pinching the joint between the foot and leg. He made plans to come back the next day for another look. I told him I would download the pictures of the plover and email them. Before I left I told him about the Curlew Sandpiper and I think he was impressed. 

UPDATE: Good news. I received word from Adam the next day that the band had come off and the Snowy Plover was using the leg normally. 

 

 

 

WESTERN SNOWY PLOVER BREEDING WINDOW SURVEY

This last Thursday I had the opportunity to participate in a Western Snowy Plover breeding window survey. What is a breeding window survey? According to Appendix J of the “Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus) Pacific Coast Population Draft Recovery Plan” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,

  “The primary purpose of the breeding survey is to obtain a minimum estimate of the number of breeding plovers at current, historic, and potential breeding sites over time. An auxiliary purpose is to re-sight banded individuals. The breeding window survey provides information on the regional distribution and abundance of Snowy Plovers. Surveys are conducted during non-migratory periods, over a narrow time frame to minimize the chance of recounting birds moving between sites… The survey window is one week long and specific dates are chosen each year by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), to fall sometime between May 24 and June 7.” 

Alison Cebula and Adam Hutchins of California State Parks picked me up near the Little River Store on the way south to Manchester SP. It was decided that Adam would survey from Alder Creek to Kinney Road and Alison and I would survey from Kinney Road to the Garcia River mouth. After dropping Adam off, Alison had to make one short stop to place a “No Dogs” sign at one of the SP gates. Locals may be seeing these sign springing up at many places along the coast. Dogs are a serious problem on Snowy Plover sites.

Since I was consulted on sign placement and held the sign so that she could load it into the contraption used to drive the sign into the ground and then watched her do it, I guess you could say that I helped.

The weather was sunny but it was cold and windy on the beach. Luckily the survey was mostly conducted walking with the wind. Manchester SP beach is an isolated beach and the few times I’ve been on it I’ve seen few people. You do get great views of the Port Arena Lighthouse.

Alison and I were amazed at the amount of kelp all along the beach. The cause? Probably rough seas and heavy winds.

After a slow start we started seeing some shorebirds. There was a Greater Yellowlegs at Brush Creek. Around 80 Sanderlings with 12 Dunlin mixed in were found along the beach. At the river mouth there was a large group of 21 Whimbrels. There were 2 Brant bathing with a flock of gulls that was broken up by a Peregrine Falcon. There were no Snowy Plovers found. 

We had walked over 5.3 miles on dry and wet sand (a requirement for a Snowy Plover surveyor), collected a large bag of trash on the beach and deconstructed 4 driftwood structures. Not only are these structures illegal on SP property, there are safety concerns because they can fall in and hurt someone. Many of the structures had nails and screws in the wood. They also provide elevated places for raptors and Ravens to observe Snowy Plovers which obviously is something SP’s doesn’t want.

We hooked up with Adam at the Stoneboro Road access and discussed what he had found. His best sighting was a River Otter at Alder Creek. He found no Snowy Plovers. While this was expected, Snowy Plovers have nested here in the past.