Posted by: 3pomjaeger3 | 13 September 2013

13 September: Eastern Kingbirds, high skies

sunrise-smithpoint-9-13-13-tl-1-screen-lowresAnother red-rubber-ball sunrise, a somewhat rare occurrence here.  Usually the line of clouds created by the Gulf of Mexico overnight break the tower’s eastern horizon.  All photos copyright 13 September 2013 (except where noted) by Tony Leukering.  Click on image(s) to see larger version(s).

Eastern Kingbirds apparently considered today to be an excellent day to move, as I counted 376 of ’em in just nine flocks, the largest of which I counted at 128 birds!  However, nothing else in the way of passerines thought so much of the day, with the current typical migrant passerine species producing counts of just two Blue Grosbeaks, 14 Dickcissels, nine Baltimore Orioles, and…

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher tally:  25

After a few days of no tootling Uppies, I tallied calls of at least five Upland Sandpipers this morning, though saw none of them, so the actual total was probably higher.  A flock of two Solitary Sandpipers (I love THAT oxymoron) went by early, but shorebirds were otherwise relatively poorly represented today, with just six species.  Waterbirds seemed to agree with most passerines:  They stayed put wherever they are.  However, Blue-winged Teal made the species’ first appearance at the tower this fall, with the below flock of nine winging south off to our west.  Two other flocks of dabbling ducks (one of about 20, one of 49) escaped certain ID, though one or both flocks may well have been of Blue-winged Teal.

bwte-smithpoint-9-13-13-tl-1-cropscreen-lowresThe morning’s liftoff was quite nice, but, as in the opening picture of this post, the lack of cloud cover created problems for observers trying to see kites rising off to the east.  In fact, I found a Swallow-tailed Kite out there in the glare, got it in my scope as it started to wing its way west with a flock of Mississippis, took my eye off it for a sec, and completely lost it.  The Mississippi Kite flock wandered over our heads heading west, but the Swallow-tailed got by unseen by visitors.  Dang it!  After the pre-10 am liftoff, the skies got VERY high and I spent the day scanning to find what birds I could.  In fact, for the first time in a few days, I could find no raptors in the 2-3 pm hour.  There was so much energy in the air column that birds did not start coming down into sight range until after 3 pm (they usually start coming down in the 2-3 hour), when I found a couple of Broad-wingeds, a Cooper’s, and five Mississippis.  But, with singles of three species, we managed an eight-raptor-species day.

miki-juv-smithpoint-9-13-13-tl-01-cropscreen-lowresWhy do I continue taking killer pictures of Mississippi Kite from the Smith Point hawkwatch tower?  Because I can!  Because they fly by at such close range, that I just cannot not take pix of them!  If only I could get some adults!

Raptors counted:

  • Osprey – 1
  • Swallow-tailed Kite – 1
  • Mississippi Kite – 54
  • Cooper’s Hawk – 13 (juveniles)
  • White-tailed Hawk – 1 (juvenile)
  • Broad-winged Hawk – 56 (juveniles)
  • Swainson’s Hawk – 2 (light birds, one juv, one unknown age)
  • American Kestrel – 1 (female)
  • Total – 130 (which makes three consecutive three-digit counts in a row; unfortunately, we should be moving into four-digit counts now!)

wtha-juv-smithpoint-9-13-13-tl-02-cropscreen-lowresThis juvenile White-tailed Hawk came in a close second in the BOTD competition, as it came closer to the tower than any other White-taileds this season.  It also provided quite a few looks, as it headed east from the Point, then back west, and then — even closer, as here — decided that going east was the correct direction.

Today’s eBird checklist

Now, for a few various interesting bits.  The first is the large program that NASA is running (DISCOVER AQ), looking to see how they can get satellites to differentiate between pollution at ground level (where we all live) and that at higher altitudes.  While the program as a whole has little direct connection to Smith Point, one aspect has a direct and continuing connection.  A group of folks are out at the Spoonbill resort putting up balloons that elevate pollution detectors (at least, that’s how I understand it) and up to five NASA planes fly large loops over and around Trinity Bay.  There is a subsidiary project that is piggy-backing onto this one, one aimed at using microphones placed in places around the Bay (such as the one in Candy Abshier WMA, where the tower is) that are being used to detect plane traffic with a focus of sound pollution.  The various engineers that monitor the microphones show up most days at the WMA, and I have enjoyed talking with them about their project and the larger, primary project.  I also have enjoyed getting to tell them what some of the various sounds are that they’re picking up, with today’s unexpected sound — for them — being singing cicadas!

P3-smithpoint-9-12-13-tl-1-cropscreen-lowresThis is the main aircraft that we see at the tower that NASA (note the NASA insignia on the tail) is using in their large pollution-detection program around Trinity Bay.  It is a Lockheed (or Lockheed-Martin) P3 Orion, a plane with a long history of use by the US Department of Defense, particularly in submarine detection and warfare.  In fact, it is one of only three planes to see >50 years of service (see here for more details).  Photo copyright 12 September 2013 by Tony Leukering.

brpe-juv-smithpoint-9-13-13-tl-01-cropscreen-lowresBecause all of this blog’s readers have been paying attention, they know what age this Brown Pelican is!

eaki-smithpoint-9-13-13-tl-1-cropscreen-lowresQuick, how many Olive-sided Flycatchers are in this picture?  One of the field characters noted for Olive-sided Flycatcher is a pair of white tufts on the back where the wings attach that individual birds occasionally deign to exhibit.  However, once they do show them, the ID is certain, because no other ABA-area pewees (and Olive-sided Flycatcher is definitely a pewee — you can think of it as Boreal Pewee) shows this mark.  However, to use it, one must be certain that one is looking at a pewee.  I here declare Eastern Kingbird as The Bird of the Dayfor two reasons:  1) the species was the only passerine moving in any numbers — and they moved in big numbers and 2) because the two Eastern Kingbirds showing white tufts in this picture provide yet another warning about single-character field identifications!

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