January 2009


The picture below was taken at Cowan Lake State Park, Ohio, on 2 Jan 09.  The bird is clearly a male Northern Shoveler, but the plumage shows some aspects I have never seen in shovelers.  Note the distinctive vermiculations just above the large chestnut flank patch.  I believe these to be the greater coverts, but I am at a loss to place a plumage of this sort in the life cycle of the Northern Shoveler.

The only reference I can find that has a similar plumage is in Waterfowl by Madge and Burn (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1988).  There is a plate that might be a crude representation of this state and a mention in the text of a “subeclipse” plumage.  Pyle’s new Volume 2 to his monumental Identification Guide to North American Birds does not mention eclipse plumages, much less subeclipse plumages.  As I understand it, the eclipse plumage is actually the alternate plumage in ducks.  In any case, I cannot find a reference in Pyle to secondary covs with vermiculations.

I personally have never had the opportunity to handle waterfowl and would appreciate the input of my elders and betters.  How would you age this bird?

Weird shoveler photographed at Cowan Lake State Park, Ohio, 2 Jan 09.  How would you age this bird?

Weird shoveler photographed at Cowan Lake State Park, Ohio, 2 Jan 09. How would you age this bird?

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While we were swanning around Hoover, Rick Asamoto and Shaun Eggleston found a Common Redpoll at the Caesar Creek Visitors Center, which I regard more or less as my home turf.  I went out there this morning to check it out and found it almost immediately (with the help of a nice couple who were already there.)

The bird was coming to the feeder out back.  The people who were there before me had seen it on the feeder, but every time I saw it it was in the company of a flock of goldfinches foraging in the detritus on the ground under the feeder.  The usual drill was that the birds would gather in the trees above the feeder, then descend to the ground and feed for five to ten minutes.  Then the whole flock would suddenly fly away.  In about fifteen minutes the whole process would start again.  I sat through about four cycles of this.

The redpoll was noticeably larger than the goldfinches.  The most obvious field mark was the red cap that gives the species its vernacular name.  The black face, big white wingbar, pinkish-red wash on the breast, and striped flanks completed the identification.
I took up a position on one of the benches outside.  The birds quickly became desensitized to my presence and I was able to shoot a bunch of pictures, the best of which occur below.  For an interactive map of the Caesar Creek area, see the maps page on the header above.
Common Redpoll with American Goldfinches for size comparison.

Common Redpoll with American Goldfinches for size comparison.

Detail showing red poll

Detail showing red poll

Detail showing pinky wash, flank stripes, and wing bar

Detail showing pinky wash, flank stripes, and wing bar

A Black-legged Kittiwake was reported on New Year’s Day at Hoover Dam north of Columbus.  On Saturday, 3 Jan, my son Hugh, a science writer at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, went up to see if we could find it, which eventually we did.  Ned Keller intercepted us in the parking lot and vectored us to the right area.  After checking through three groups of gulls, a nice lad came along and pointed us to it.  In our defense, the bird was sitting on the ice facing away from us, so we didn’t feel too stupid.  Also, we were able to pass along the favor by pointing out the bird to four or five others who arrived later.

After a while, the whole group of gulls got up and flew over to the south side of the dam.  We shifted up to the dam in hopes of getting a closer view.  We failed to find it until someone yelled, “There it goes!” as it saile back over to the north side of the dam and settled again on the ice.  However, it was closer this time and at a better angle to the sun.  I unlimbered my camera, the 400 mm zoom lens and my brand-new-for-Christmas doubler.  Even at 800 mm, though, it was too far away to make a decent picture.  In desperation, I got out my Panasonic point-and-shoot and tried digiscoping, a technique I had given up on a year ago.  But surprisingly, I got a couple of good shots.  I guess the law of averages does indeed work both ways:  you can’t lose ’em all.

Kittiwake in comparison with Ring-billed Gulls

Kittiwake in comparison with Ring-billed Gulls

Detail from previous picture.  The black post-ocular mark, the black "scarf" and the "carpal bar" indicate that this is a first-winter bird.

Detail from previous picture. The black post-ocular mark, the black "scarf" and the "carpal bar" indicate that this is a first-winter bird.

A somewhat more common posture.  Thankfully, the bird moved around a fair amount, giving good looks at all the field marks to those with a bit of patience.

A somewhat more common posture. Thankfully, the bird moved around a fair amount, giving good looks at all the field marks to those with a bit of patience.