Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) colour in Manitoba, Canada

I live in Manitoba, Canada within the range of the subarcticus subspecies of Great Horned Owl. Of the many hundreds I have seen here, where they are common and easy to see, especially in the Prairie Pothole region, the vast majority have a pale colouration. The bird on the right of the photo collage below would be a fairly typical example in my neck of the woods though some are paler than this, some darker, and some have slightly warmer tones, i.e. more warm buff or even a rufous wash to the pale areas of their plumage. Every so often I find a Great Horned that is so warmly coloured (like the one in the photo on the left of this collage) that it makes me wonder if it could be an individual of the nominate subspecies that has dispersed north. I am especially curious when I find such birds in fall at a time of year when dispersal is most likely to occur, especially natal dispersal. Natal dispersal is when young owls gain independence from their parents and vacate the territories and home ranges of their parents in search for a place to call their own. Of course they have a lot in store for them ahead, including surviving the toughest time of their lives, their first winter, before they can claim a territory and find a partner. Natal dispersal (the distance from an owl’s birth place to the site of its first reproductive effort) is sometimes short but can sometimes be hundreds of kilometres. Dispersal during food shortages can sometimes also be distant. Fall/winter is therefore the time when one might chance upon an admixture of subspecies as a product of dispersal. It might even be possible that such far dispersing birds find a mate of a different subspecies (subspecies can by definition interbreed) and to produce “intergrade” offspring but it is extremely difficult to prove that for a species with such a clinal range of colouration as the Great Horned Owl (from the super dark birds of the west coast to some pale northern birds that could almost be mistaken for a Snowy Owl to some of the intensely rufous birds of the wet and warm parts of the range). We have seen some fascinating pairing of light and dark birds in Alberta, for example. The rufous individual Great Horned shown in the left photo of this collage was photographed recently just 175 metres away from the site where the other photo was taken and the markings reveals that this bird is not one of the local nesting pair. My best guess is that this bird is a dispersing individual whose presence will not be tolerated for very long by the resident guardians of our cottontail-rich neighbourhood. With this colouration, it is tempting to speculate that this bird comes from within the range of B. v. virginianus but we will likely never know.      

For a little context, the rufous bird on the left is being mobbed by crows and on alert for that reason. The pale bird on the right was perched near the river but within sight of a well-used public trail and was keeping an eye on the passers-by, including one with a small dog (dogs are often perceived as a threat to the young instead of a potential snack if you are wondering). Both photos are taken at a distance of greater than 50 metres and heavily cropped.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bob-o-lincoln, Goglu, Charlatán, Rice Bird, Reed Bird, Long-toed Rice-eater... A Bobolink is still as sweet!


The beautiful Bobolinks are on their way to South America now on what is an exceptionally long migration for a passerine, particularly for an Icertid (new World blackbirds, orioles, meadowlarks, grackles, etc.). Nonetheless, I decided to share the photo collage below of their summer shenanigans in the beautiful mixed-grass prairie of the Blind Souris Valley, within the Southwest Manitoba Mixed-grass Prairie Important Bird Area. The Bobolink is a quietly inspirational bird and not just because they are so unique (only member of their genus) and males seem to wear their nuptial plumage backwards (pale above, black below), but also because of their delightfully goofy song and display (imagine a bouncing ball over the prairie with an R2D2-like song) as well as because of their many “faces” (transitional plumages) and their phenomenal migration.  

The English name “Bobolink” is onomatopoeia for their song (shortened from “bob-o-lincoln”), as is their rather cute French name “Goglu” (Goglu des prés  = “Goglu” of the meadows), but my favourite name is the Spanish “Charlatán” that fits their charlatan antics as they bobble around both prairie and pampas (in the most endearing way possible of course). They also get called the nickname “rice bird” and their scientific name echoes this: the genus name derives from the Greek δολιχός = long + ὄνυξ = claw and the species epithet derives from Latin oryza = rice + vorare = devour (although it is tempting to think of onyx as the gemstone, describing the bird’s pattern, that is not the original meaning).

The Bobolink sadly is a species in decline and listed as Threatened in Canada by COSEWIC, though the declines are more severe in the eastern grasslands than in the prairies (long-term decline since 1970 in Manitoba of -1.5% per annum and in Canada of -3.2% per annum based on current Breeding Bird Survey statistics). If you live in the eastern U.S.A, take a look at The Bobolink Project website or in eastern Canada, see this page and/or the COSEWIC report hereY para mis amigos de América del Sur, consulten esta página



Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), Southwest Manitoba Mixed-grass Prairie IBA, Manitoba, Canada, © Christian Artuso


Friday, September 15, 2017

For a Friend

On the afternoon of September 11, 2017, the world lost our friend, birding comrade and free spirit par excellence, Liis Veelma. I would like to celebrate her life with a few shared memories.

I will begin with a photo of Liis. I am especially fond of this photo that Youn-Young took of Liis at one of my Nature Manitoba workshops. I think it captures her intelligence and her ever-inquisitive nature. Born in Estonia in 1940, Liis's early childhood was spent in refugee camps until her family was able to make Canada home. Liis was obviously shaped by those childhood experiences and always maintained a strong interest in all things culturally and linguistically Estonian; however, she also embraced Canada with zeal and birded this country from coast to coast to coast.


For the simple reason that I remember the great joy on Liis's face at the time, I will start the bird photos with these young Burrowing Owls. There were eight wee-uns in total and Liis was over the moon to see them. The decline of this charismatic owl in the Canadian prairies has been dire and there are precious few to be found in Manitoba today. Liis's face was pressed against the window frame of the car as she lapped up the antics of these little angels around their burrow.

There is nothing Liis loved more than a birding trip. Such was her free spirit that she could get in the car on a whim and end up hundreds of miles away. She also concocted some wonderful long-weekend trips, although looking back I still don't quite know how we put all those miles behind us. In April 2005, Liis, Adam and I made a trip to Grasslands National Park for a few prairie target birds, the most sought-after being the Endangered Greater Sage-Grouse. If you know Liis, you will not be surprised to learn that we took turns driving through the night and arrived only an hour or so before dawn, in perfect time to witness the magic of the dance of one of the prairies finest spectacles!

After being woken to the bizarre popping noises and watching the breathtaking display, we kept on birding and soon found Burrowing Owls, Long-billed Curlews, McCown's Longspur and other grassland species. The weekend, however, took a most unexpected turn when Liis and Adam put their heads together later that day. Adam got Liis's attention when he mentioned having heard of a site for Mountain Plover just south of the border. Before I knew what hit me, Adam was at a pay phone getting information from a generous U.S birder and Liis was studying the map. Liis never needed an excuse to just go for a drive, but what better excuse than a Mountain Plover! So, there we were, explaining ourselves to the border guards and then wending our way in Liis's little red car down some salty road that few would call a road. As dusk was fast approaching, we split up to search and by an amazing stroke of luck I found the plover on a patch of bare ground. I still remember the anxious wait as Liis and Adam finally responded to my signals and came sneaking quietly over to enjoy the tremendous sight:

Not to rest on our laurels, in May of the same year, we set out on an even crazier mission - the great Michigan loop! In one long weekend we drove across the upper Michigan Peninsula then south and around Lake Michigan and back to Winnipeg. One again, we drove through the night, this time to be in place for the Kirtland's Warbler tour in the morning. The all-nighter was soon forgotten though when the Kirtland's put on a show.

In addition to the Kirtland's Warbler, we sought and found other species rarely seen in Manitoba such as Prothonotary Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Henslow's Sparrow, Dickcissel, and this magnificent Cerulean Warbler:

2006 was Liis's "Enjoy Manitoba Birds" year.  She had just retired and would try a big year in the province, something few if any birders had really tried before. It was great fun for the whole Manitoba birding community because Liis's determination was contagious. We all tried to help wherever we could and everyone got involved in some little way... it felt like a community big year with Liis at the helm!

It turned out Liis picked the right year because May saw a veritable slough of rarities, including some provincial firsts. Here are a few of the special birds that graced her list (the ones that I have photos of because we saw together), starting with this Prothonotary Warbler in early May at FortWhyte Alive:


This Eurasian Wigeon at Oak Hammock Marsh:

This immature Whooping Crane that over-summered near St. Adolphe to the absolute delight of so many:

Manitoba's first ever Broad-tailed hummingbird, courtesy of the Braden family and their feeders, had Liis reaching for her car keys at the speed of sound:


A little later in May there was a report of a Black-necked Stilt. Liis called me and asked if I wanted to go chase it (them as it turns out). Any chance to bird Whitewater Lake was too good to pass up so off we sped looking for one more for her year list... and we were rewarded!

Prairie Falcon is a bird that is never guaranteed in Manitoba so when this one came slicing through the cloud as Jo, Liis and I walked around the cells at Oak Hammock Marsh on a blustery fall day, Liis almost allowed herself a little jig!


Even after her big year, for Liis, there was always the thrill of the chase too and the delight of a new bird. This Curve-billed Thrasher near Big Whiteshell Lake was one of those.

After that there were many other great days birding and simple pleasures like watching a Great Gray Owl capture a meadow vole. Sometimes though, it is not the finest view or even the rarest bird that lodges most firmly in memory. On a winter day with a low "ceiling" (as the bush pilots say), as the fog seemed to crystallise on the trees, a small group of friends took a stroll down a skidoo trail along the edge of the wondrous boreal forest and were greeted by this magnificent Great Gray Owl, at one with his/her snag. A simple silence shared and, most definitely, appreciated!

There were many other discoveries and near-misses too, like the Hooded Warbler we almost found together. We were at Spirit Rock near Grand Beach. I caught a glimpse of a yellow warbler with white in the outer tail. I tried to signal to Liis who was just ahead of me, around a very slight bend in the trail. She turned and asked me if I had seen "that yellow warbler with a smudge over the top of its head"... her phrase just about floored me and we quickly realised, putting our two halves together, that we had just seen a Hooded Warbler, top and tail. We never found the bird again and we decided that the most prudent was to put it down as a near miss. Oddly enough, that image of "half a Hoodie" is more vivid than the many stunning adult males I have since observed in the south. I know that Liis remembered it vividly too because she periodically asked me if maybe we should count it, although she certainly knew that I was too stubborn for that.

I don't wish to dwell on the last 7 months of her life, spent in hospital battling cancer and yet still, always, concocting schemes and adventures in the making. She would delight in detail of future far-flung birding trips to place like Newfoundland, or insane jaunts to Thunder Bay for a Finnish meal then back in time for the symphony. Liis was certainly true to her free spirit at every moment, even as the cancers slowly robbed her of the things she valued most: her freedom and her independence. In preparation for various tests in the hospital, Liis was told to choose an image to focus on. She asked me if I could share a photo of a "first-year female Mourning Warbler just about to embark upon migration". It was such a specific request but, knowing Liis, I could tell there was symbolism brewing in her active imagination. I made an 8"x10" print of the photo below for her. It stayed above her hospital bed for many months thereafter. I believe for Liis that the concept of migration was alive with personal nuance and meaning, perhaps a symbol of her very own journey. 

Though the hospital experience was extremely hard on Liis, she never lost her spark. Even near the very end as her life drifted into the shadowy space between sleep and dream, Liis's personality shone through. I tried to get her attention one last time. I was not even sure if she could hear me then, though Linda and Youn-Young encouraged me to try. Though she only occasionally opened her eyes and moved her arms, her mumbled reply of "What??" when I called her name brought a smile and even a little chuckle. In that moment, her simple reaction seemed to encapsulate the feisty woman she was, the spirited soul she remained.

In tribute and for posterity, here is Liis's "Enjoy Manitoba Birds" year list from 2006:

1. Greater White-fronted Goose
2. Snow Goose
3. Ross's Goose
4. Cackling Goose
5. Canada Goose
6. Trumpeter Swan
7. Tundra Swan
8. Wood Duck
9. Gadwall
10. Eurasian Wigeon
11. American Wigeon
12. American Black Duck
13. Mallard
14. Blue-winged Teal
15. Northern Shoveler
16. Northern Pintail
17. Green-winged Teal
18. Canvasback
19. Redhead
20. Ring-necked Duck
21. Greater Scaup
22. Lesser Scaup
23. Common Eider
24. Harlequin Duck
25. Surf Scoter
26. White-winged Scoter
27. Black Scoter
28. Long-tailed Duck
29. Bufflehead
30. Common Goldeneye
31. Hooded Merganser
32. Common Merganser
33. Red-breasted Merganser
34. Ruddy Duck
35. Gray Partridge
36. Ring-necked Pheasant
37. Ruffed Grouse
38. Spruce Grouse
39. Willow Ptarmigan
40. Sharp-tailed Grouse
41. Wild Turkey
42. Red-throated Loon
43. Pacific Loon
44. Common Loon
45. Pied-billed Grebe
46. Horned Grebe
47. Red-necked Grebe
48. Eared Grebe
49. Western Grebe
50. Clark's Grebe
51. American White Pelican
52. Double-crested Cormorant
53. American Bittern
54. Least Bittern
55. Great Blue Heron
56. Great Egret
57. Snowy Egret
58. Little Blue Heron
59. Tricolored Heron
60. Cattle Egret
61. Black-crowned Night-Heron
62. Yellow-crowned Night Heron
63. Glossy Ibis
64. White-faced Ibis
65. Turkey Vulture
66. Osprey
67. Bald Eagle
68. Northern Harrier
69. Sharp-shinned Hawk
70. Cooper's Hawk
71. Northern Goshawk
72. Broad-winged Hawk
73. Swainson's Hawk
74. Red-tailed Hawk
75. Ferruginous Hawk
76. Rough-legged Hawk
77. Golden Eagle
78. American Kestrel
79. Merlin
80. Gyrfalcon
81. Peregrine Falcon
82. Prairie Falcon
83. Yellow Rail
84. Virginia Rail
85. Sora
86. American Coot
87. Sandhill Crane
88. Whooping Crane
89. Black-bellied Plover
90. American Golden-Plover
91. Semipalmated Plover
92. Piping Plover
93. Killdeer
94. Black-necked Stilt
95. American Avocet
96. Greater Yellowlegs
97. Lesser Yellowlegs
98. Solitary Sandpiper
99. Willet
100. Spotted Sandpiper
101. Upland Sandpiper
102. Whimbrel
103. Hudsonian Godwit
104. Marbled Godwit
105. Ruddy Turnstone
106. Sanderling
107. Semipalmated Sandpiper
108. Least Sandpiper
109. White-rumped Sandpiper
110. Baird's Sandpiper
111. Pectoral Sandpiper
112. Dunlin
113. Stilt Sandpiper
114. Short-billed Dowitcher
115. Long-billed Dowitcher
116. Wilson's Snipe
117. American Woodcock
118. Wilson's Phalarope
119. Red-necked Phalarope
120. Parasitic Jaeger
121. Franklin's Gull
122. Little Gull
123. Bonaparte's Gull
124. Ring-billed Gull
125. California Gull
126. Herring Gull
127. Thayer's Gull
128. Glaucous Gull
129. Great Black-backed Gull
130. Caspian Tern
131. Common Tern
132. Arctic Tern
133. Forster's Tern
134. Black Tern
135. Rock Pigeon
136. Eurasian Collared-Dove
137. Mourning Dove
138. Black-billed Cuckoo
139. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
140. Eastern Screech-Owl
141. Great Horned Owl
142. Snowy Owl
143. Northern Hawk Owl
144. Burrowing Owl
145. Barred Owl
146. Great Gray Owl
147. Long-eared Owl
148. Short-eared Owl
149. Boreal Owl
150. Northern Saw-whet Owl
151. Common Nighthawk
152. Whip-poor-will
153. Chimney Swift
154. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
155. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
156. Belted Kingfisher
157. Red-headed Woodpecker
158. Red-bellied Woodpecker
159. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
160. Downy Woodpecker
161. Hairy Woodpecker
162. American Three-toed Woodpecker
163. Black-backed Woodpecker
164. Northern Flicker
165. Pileated Woodpecker
166. Olive-sided Flycatcher
167. Western Wood-Pewee
168. Eastern Wood-Pewee
169. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
170. Alder Flycatcher
171. Willow Flycatcher
172. Least Flycatcher
173. Eastern Phoebe
174. Say's Phoebe
175. Great Crested Flycatcher
176. Western Kingbird
177. Eastern Kingbird
178. Loggerhead Shrike
179. Northern Shrike
180. Yellow-throated Vireo
181. Blue-headed Vireo
182. Warbling Vireo
183. Philadelphia Vireo
184. Red-eyed Vireo
185. Gray Jay
186. Blue Jay
187. Black-billed Magpie
188. American Crow
189. Common Raven
190. Horned Lark
191. Purple Martin
192. Tree Swallow
193. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
194. Bank Swallow
195. Cliff Swallow
196. Barn Swallow
197. Black-capped Chickadee
198. Boreal Chickadee
199. Red-breasted Nuthatch
200. White-breasted Nuthatch
201. Brown Creeper
202. Carolina Wren
203. House Wren
204. Winter Wren
205. Sedge Wren
206. Marsh Wren
207. Golden-crowned Kinglet
208. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
209. Eastern Bluebird
210. Mountain Bluebird
211. Townsend's Solitaire
212. Veery
213. Gray-cheeked Thrush
214. Swainson's Thrush
215. Hermit Thrush
216. American Robin
217. Varied Thrush
218. Gray Catbird
219. Northern Mockingbird
220. Brown Thrasher
221. European Starling
222. American Pipit
223. Sprague's Pipit
224. Bohemian Waxwing
225. Cedar Waxwing
226. Golden-winged Warbler
227. Tennessee Warbler
228. Orange-crowned Warbler
229. Nashville Warbler
230. Northern Parula
231. Yellow Warbler
232. Chestnut-sided Warbler
233. Magnolia Warbler
234. Cape May Warbler
235. Yellow-rumped Warbler
236. Black-throated Green Warbler
237. Blackburnian Warbler
238. Pine Warbler
239. Palm Warbler
240. Bay-breasted Warbler
241. Blackpoll Warbler
242. Black-and-white Warbler
243. American Redstart
244. Prothonotary Warbler
245. Ovenbird
246. Northern Waterthrush
247. Connecticut Warbler
248. Mourning Warbler
249. Common Yellowthroat
250. Wilson's Warbler
251. Canada Warbler
252. Scarlet Tanager
253. Eastern Towhee
254. Spotted Towhee
255. American Tree Sparrow
256. Chipping Sparrow
257. Clay-colored Sparrow
258. Vesper Sparrow
259. Lark Sparrow
260. Savannah Sparrow
261. Grasshopper Sparrow
262. Baird's Sparrow
263. Le Conte's Sparrow
264. Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow
265. Fox Sparrow
266. Song Sparrow
267. Lincoln's Sparrow
268. Swamp Sparrow
269. White-throated Sparrow
270. Harris's Sparrow
271. White-crowned Sparrow
272. Dark-eyed Junco
273. Lapland Longspur
274. Smith's Longspur
275. Chestnut-collared Longspur
276. Snow Bunting
277. Northern Cardinal
278. Black-headed Grosbeak
279. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
280. Indigo Bunting
281. Dickcissel
282. Bobolink
283. Red-winged Blackbird
284. Eastern Meadowlark
285. Western Meadowlark
286. Yellow-headed Blackbird
287. Rusty Blackbird
288. Brewer's Blackbird
289. Common Grackle
290. Brown-headed Cowbird
291. Orchard Oriole
292. Baltimore Oriole
293. Pine Grosbeak
294. Purple Finch
295. House Finch
296. Red Crossbill
297. White-winged Crossbill
298. Common Redpoll
299. Hoary Redpoll
300. Pine Siskin
301. American Goldfinch
302. Evening Grosbeak
303. House Sparrow

Long may you run Liis; you will be missed!

Christian (Winnipeg, 2017-09-14)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Interview on Birding with Denis Chamberland of Radio-Canada

Some friends and followers may enjoy this short video, filmed one morning in Assiniboine Park, produced by Radio-Canada, about birds and birding:
http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1053136/christian-artuso-oiseau-ornithologue-etude-canada-fureteur-manitobain?isAutoPlay=1

J'espère que certains amis peuvent profiter de cette courte vidéo, filmée un matin dans le parc Assiniboine, produite par Radio-Canada, sur les oiseaux et la miroise:  
http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1053136/christian-artuso-oiseau-ornithologue-etude-canada-fureteur-manitobain?isAutoPlay=1

Some photos from the morning below /Quelques photos du matin ci-dessous:


Ruby-throated Hummingbird / Colibri à gorge rubis


 

Pileated Woodpecker / Grand Pic


Least FLycatcher / Moucherolle tchébec

Great Crested Flycatcher /  Tyran huppé



Red-eyed Vireo /  Viréo aux yeux rouges



Red-eyed Vireo (HY) /  Viréo aux yeux rouges (juvénile)


American Redstart (male) / Paruline flamboyante (male)

American Redstart (female) / Paruline flamboyante (femellle)

Yellow Warbler /  Paruline jaune






Black-throated Green Warbler (x 2) / Paruline à gorge noire


Cape May Warbler / Paruline tigrée


Blackpoll Warbler / Paruline rayée

Chestnut-sided Warbler / Paruline à flancs marron

Blackburnian Warbler /  Paruline à gorge orangée

Nashville Warbler /  Paruline à joues grises


Bay-breasted Warbler (x 2) / Paruline à poitrine baie (x 2)

American Goldfinch (male) / Chardonneret jaune (male)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Not Magnificent anymore!


The former “Magnificent Hummingbird” complex has now been split into two species, firstly by the IOC and more recently by the AOU, Clements and eBird following suit.

Here is a comparison of the two very similar looking species created by this split. On the left, a male Rivoli's Hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens), from Chiapas, Mexico, and on the right, the Admirable or Talamanca Hummingbird (E. spectabilis), from Costa Rica.  The difference in plumage are tiny but the Admirable or Talamanca Hummingbird is said to have a bluer hue to its gorget and paler underparts according to Handbook of Birds of the World (although it doesn’t really look like the underparts are paler in these photos, that is probably an effect of lighting and note that the gorgets are not at the right angle to see their iridescence). Despite the very minimal plumage differences, we all know appearances can be very deceiving and there is good genetic evidence to support their treatment as separate species (Zamudio-Beltrán and Hernández-Baños 2015).

Those who follow eBird can read more on the split at: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/taxonomy-update-for-2017/ and those who follow the IOC can go to: http://www.worldbirdnames.org/bow/hummingbirds/ to read more. 

Although I will miss the name "Magnificent Hummingbird", "Talamanca" has a nice ring wheras the name "Admirable Hummingbird" seems a little bizarre. For the northern taxon though, I still don't like species names based on people's names.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Piping Plover Update 2017

In 2017 there have been at least two pairs of Piping Plover in the province (i.e. that we know of), one of which fledged at least one young (maybe more young fledged but this was hard to confirm given the difficulty of access). This year’s successful nesting attempt was near the always amazing Whitewater Lake, where two failed attempts occurred in 2012. This pair was first found by Julie Yatsko and Nicole MacPherson. In addition to this pair, a third banded Piping Plover was found by Colin Blyth and Gillian Richards. This bird was banded as an adult on Lake Sakakawea June 2015 near New Town, North Dakota and was observed on the 16th of June, 2017 near Coleharbor, North Dakota ten days before being photographed at Whitewater lake.   The photo below shows one of the unbanded birds believed to be the male of the nesting pair.


As a side note: While at Whitewater Lake, Colin Blyth found a male Cinnamon Teal on June 4th which was seen by me later the same day. Since Colin and Gillian had earlier found a hybrid Cinnamon Teal X Blue-wing Teal nearby, we studied this one as best we could and found no evidence of hybridisation (my photo below). Unfortunately, this bird was not found again in checks the following day nor in the days/weeks that followed.


This year was another great year for observing Clark's Grebe at Whitewater Lake. The Clark's Grebe in the below was paired with a bird that was either a Western Grebe or perhaps a hybrid an they fledged three young.



There is always a rarity or two at Whitewater Lake and this year at least three "obliging" Glossy Ibis were outstanding amongst the hundreds of White-faced Ibis (and the many Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets).


Special thanks to all who reported their sightings and helped monitor our Threatened and Endangered species with such great care and consideration to ensure the birds were not disturbed: Colin Blyth, Ken De Smet, Nicole MacPherson, Ken Porteous, Gillian Richards, Julie Yatsko (and of course Wally Jansen and Jake Peters for their great find and efforts in 2016). If anyone with a canoe or kayak (or canoeing skills) is interested in helping out next year, please get in touch!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

For the love of pipits!


After a splendid season of surveying Sprague’s Pipits in Manitoba’s grasslands, I am feeling rather pipit-inspired and have decided to share a series of photos of different species from around the globe. Pipits are not as boldly patterned as their relatives the wagtails but the pack in a lot of mystique and offer a wonderful birding challenged to find and identify.

Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii), Manitoba, Canada:
One of the highlights of so much surveying in cattle pastures this year was getting some exceptional opportunities to SEE Sprague’s Pipit. I emphasise the word “see” because 9 times out of 10 one hears Sprague’s Pipit but cannot spot the speck in the sky. These grassland birds make their haunting song carry further by singing high in the air over the grasslands. This year though, having spent so much time in grasslands such as cattle pastures for #MBSARPAL (http://www.mbbeef.ca/sarpal/) and on  community pastures, I saw no less than six of them on the ground (more than I have seen on the ground in 15 years of birding in Manitoba). Here is one that shows the bird well (including the white outer rectrices) stitched together with a habitat shot that shows a pipit walking through some beautiful mixed-grass prairie. . 



Buff-bellied Pipit, a.k.a American Pipit (Anthus rubescens), Manitoba, Canada and Wyoming, U.S.A.:
The other pipit we regularly see in North America is known in North America as “American Pipit” but this species also breeds in much of Siberia and northernmost China and winters in Asia as well so most of the world prefers to call the species Buff-bellied Pipit. Different populations breed in Arctic, Subarctic or alpine tundra and can look rather different (some more pink in breeding plumage and some more buff). The first collage shows a bird in the subarctic tundra of northern Manitoba, Canada and a close-up of a bird foraging in the inter-tidal zone of Hudson Bay. The second collage shows a bird in rocky alpine habitat in Wyoming and then a juvenile on a boulder slope.



Yellowish Pipit (Anthus lutescens), Salta Argentina:
The Yellowish Pipit is one of the more widespread and smaller of the South American pipits. This species is found in grasslands and other relatively open habitat types from the dry zone of southern South America to the tropical wet savannas, even as far north as Panama. 


Hellmayr’s Pipit (Anthus hellmayri), Tucumán, Argentina:
The subtly beautiful Hellmay’s Pipit is an enigmatic grassland pipit, found most commonly in the drier grasslands of the Puna (as high as 3700 m ASL) but also in pastures in some contexts. Some populations are resident and some are migratory and there is the possibility that some subspecies may in fact be cryptic species. This composite shows the bird up close on a rock and in the typical Puna habitat it calls home. It reminds me a lot of our Sprague’s Pipit but perhaps with a more speckled face.


Rosy Pipit (Anthus roseatus), Sichuan, China:
There are a few pipits that have soft pink or red in their plumage and the Rosy Pipit is one of my absolute favourites. This collage shows a bird in breeding plumage in the high mountains of Sichuan, China. This species is an altitudinal migrant, breeding in the alpine meadows and grassy slopes of the Himalayas and eastern Asia, even at the snow line, and wintering in the mid elevations plains.


Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni), South Korea and China:
The Olive-backed Pipit is one of the more common and widespread Asian pipits. This species breeds in a diverse mixture of habitat types especially where the taiga meets the tundra and where the montane forest meets the alpine zone, and, at least in the breeding season, seems to spend more time perched in shrubs and trees than many other pipits. You can even find them walking on the forest floor or fallen conifer needles at times. Like the Rosy Pipit, the alpine populations migrate down slope in winter and some go as far south as Borneo. This collage shows a few habitat types and plumages (a bird perched on a shrub in breeding plumage, a bird on a lawn in spring and a bird on the forest floor in autumn). 


Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris), Rajasthan, India:
The Tawny Pipit is mostly a Western Palearctic breeding species that winters in sub-Saharan Africa (Sahel) and parts of the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. The large and fairly plain (i.e. unstreaked) pipit is easier to identify than many other pipits. It is found mostly in dry habitats as shown here in western India on the wintering grounds. Although it can be found in grassland you will also find this species in sand, gravel, semi-desert and shrubland.


Plain-backed Pipit (Anthus leucophrys), Cameroon:
The Plain-backed Pipit is one of the African resident pipit species (i.e. does not migrate) and a striking bird with its rich tawny underparts. This species is found in savanna and grassland with scattered shrubs and trees as shown here (photo from Cameroon).

 
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