I'm not going to lie - I feel like I've been contributing to the stupidity of the world on this blog from time to time. I always complain that television, radio etc just panders to low expectations and does not challenge our intellect in any possible way.
So what do I do? Get lazy and auto-post weak blog entries for weeks on end. Sure, I created the blog to occasionally showcase some of my photography from time to time - who really cares if I've updated my gallery of Herring Gulls? Let's get serious here!!!
BROWN-CHESTED MARTIN -
0915 on Sep 9th. I'm watching birds on my balcony - doing a long-distance lake-scan with my scope. A bird catches my eye, coming roughly towards me from pretty far offshore. Clearly a Swallow/Martin type beast, but I instantly had that "I've looked at a million plus Swallows/Martins over the years, and this one isn't right" feeling.
I always look through birds looking for something "different" - which I can often find. It's an entirely different feeling when you see something that just doesn't compute. With only the first few seconds of observation - my brain may not even fully understand yet why the bird "is not right" - but there is no denying the sensation that you're looking at a creature that defies the information you have stored in your brain.
It was too big and strong to be a swallow, doing a fairly direct flight from out over the lake. The first feature that was painfully obvious was a black "necklace/collar" like feature contrasting strongly with a white belly and a white throat. The rest of the bird was generally unspectacular dark brownish in colouration. I pretty much know exactly what this bird is going to be - a Brown-chested Martin. There's only one problem - that's a ridiculous fckn idea. I mean, fckn ridiculous.
The entire thought process described above was probably contained within my first 5 seconds of observation, of 60-90ish seconds total - on top of the fact that the bird was the furthest from me - and continued to fly at an angle closer and closer. This allowed for a solid minute (at least) of time to STUDY the damn thing. If there's one thing I've learned about seeing a rarity - despite my years and years of learning to ID birds by GISS - is that you will want FIELD MARKS - specific FIELD MARKS of all types to help remind yourself why you didn't just wake up from a dream soon after the bird leaves.
I sort of run through it in my mind - I spend 10-ish seconds trying to notice every possible mark - store it in the "brain vault" - then start the process again. This is what I came up with:
- No obvious signs of molt
- generally dark/brownish above
- obviously larger/stronger than our swallows
- noticeably smaller than what I expect for a Purple Martin - perhaps half way between PUMA and TRES.
- a shallow fork/notch in the tail was noticed clearly.
- clear white throat-area with dusky borders.
- underside of body largely a clear white
- prominent dark/contrasting "necklace"
- underside of wings "looked dark" but hard to note anything specific
- the basal half of the wings (from the wrist(?) to the body) seemed to "stick out" from the body more than I would expect for a swallow, making the "wrist/shoulder (what ever it is) look more prominent
- behaviorally, it seemed to be catching the occasional insect (with a weak twist or turn) but was flying rather direct.
- at one point, (catching a bug? burping? sneezing?) the bird did a "stall" mid flight and held it rather powerfully. I remember specifically thinking "while this bird doesn't look like the Purple Martin's I had around all summer, there is no chance a Swallow could pull off a move like that.
The bird flew in off the Lake (from the NW) - then when it was maybe 200-250 ft offshore, it turned eastwards - which caused it to do a parallel flight from left to right (going east), directly in front of my vantage point (per say). During the entire observation period, it steadily but slowly gained altitude. Perhaps 100-150ft at the start (with a water background) to perhaps 200-250ft up near the end (sky background).
After 60-90 total seconds, it was gone.
--- I stepped away from my scope, and walked inside. Left turn, Left turn, sit down at my desk. WRITE. (Something else I've learned about having something like this happen) - before ANYTHING, I want to write down all of those points I went over 4-5 times while just observing the bird seconds ago. (That is where the above list of points came from - directly from my hand-written notes). I also tested my hand at another gawd-awful sketch - which i really think helps.
Once done writing, I told myself. "This is insane. Do some research, if ANYTHING is wrong, just try and forget it ever happened."
I have never seen a Brown-chested Martin, and there were things in my notes that I had NO IDEA if they were shown by the species or not... Should the throat be that obviously white? Should the species show a shallow notch/fork in the tail? Is the rest of the belly/undertail that clean white underneath? Should the species be smaller than a Purple Martin???
Let's get looking...
Yes, the southern (austral subspecies) has a whiter throat that the others. Hmm...
Yes, the species seems to show a shallow notch/fork in the tail - in fact, it looks the exact same. Little did I know, Tree Swallow seems to show a (roughly) similar tail shape, whereas Bank Swallow and Purple Martin are (generally) a bit more forked. N Rough-winged Swallow does not show that feature at all.
Yes, the belly/undertail is a clean white...
But for the life of me, I couldn't find a measurement for Brown-chested Martin! After maybe 10-15 minutes of looking, I found a "google book" that had the information. Here's the rundown (of the most similar Ontario species) - of their average measurements:
BANS - 13.3cm, 13.5g (Bank Swallow)
TRES - 14.6cm, 20.0g (Tree Swallow)
PUMA - 20.3cm, 56g (Purple Martin)
BCMA - 15.9cm, 36.0g (Brown-chested Martin)
Well ok then... I guess that explains all of my remaining questions (eg,/ why did it look smaller than a Purple Martin?)
Then the reality set in... It's gone... It did not behave in any manner to suggest it would be seen again or return... and it was a gawd-damn Brown-chested Martin. What the heck am I supposed to do with this nervous energy ?????
When you see a bird like a Black Swift at Point Pelee in May - you run around like an insane person yelling at everyone who even remotely looks like a birder within 700m of any direction. It's sort of an outlet. I was alone in my condo!!!
I really had to do some sort of an outlet that didn't involve typing or texting (I couldn't text, fingers weren't working properly)... I called my Mom, (Hi Mom!) My Dad, and Ken-tucky - who talked some sense in me and got me working on an ontbirds post.
For the rest of the morning, things were a bit of a blur. I thought I was working fairly quickly on an ontbirds post, when Ken texted me back asking where it was. Apparently 60-ish minutes had passed without me really noticing.
In fact, over the next 4-5 hours I canceled my plans for the day and things sort of passed in a blur.... I had a habit of walking onto my balcony - looking through my scope for 10-15 seconds, then going back inside. What on earth would be out there to see after a bird like that?
The answer came at about 2:15pm when I spotted the first condo POMARINE JAEGER...
Although at 2:16pm I had a Parasitic.. Maybe I made a mistake?
2:18pm - Yes, that's a Parasitic Jaeger.
2:19pm - HEY, the Parasitic just flew up and chased the Pomarine! I'm not crazy after all.
2:22pm - two Parasitic Jaegers
2:24pm - juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger! dayumn!
2:25pm - the Long-tailed just chased 3 Red-necked Phalaropes up off the water - and keeps chasing them!
If there is anything that can awaken you from a Brown-chested Martin "shock-coma" - it's Jaegers... Smiling like an idiot, I opened a celebratory brew and started watching seriously for the rest of the afternoon. The final haul:
11 White-winged Scoters
2 Horned Grebes
1 Black-bellied Plover
3 Red-necked Phalaropes
2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls
2 Great BB Gulls
7 Common Terns
4 Pomarine Jaegers (including a very pale bird)
8 Parasitic Jaegers (est minimum number - probably more)
2 Long-tailed Jaegers (including an ADULT around 3:30pm)
- oh and a Brown-chested Martin rounded out the highlights for the day...
Let's talk WEATHER -
There is a HUGE warm front pushing through our area tomorrow. They're calling for 44 degrees (with humidity) round here for cryin out loud! That is RARE BIRD WEATHER...
It has been good for days!!! I was actually just starting a post on this stuff when I saw the Martin...
We keep getting rapidly moving fronts of warm and cold!!! Rares!!! RARES!!!
More north winds Friday!! RARES!!!
Let's talk about that old quiz -
Most people agreed, this bird was a Least Flycatcher...
About 50% of people guessed BARROW's Goldeneye correctly for this one
I've never actually been confident on an ID with this bird - but most answered Lesser Scaup. Do you agree?
Most people went with Carolina Chickadee for this one - which is great because it's a never-before-seen image of the bird Dave Bell and I found at Pelee this May...
No one has guessed this photo correctly yet! Leave a comment! And don't be shy - these pictures were never meant to be identified!
Incomplete previous days of the condo-watch game... I meant to "flesh this out" but I don't think I'll get to it... A rough idea of what I've seen recently (prior to the nutty stuff of today)
Sep 3 - Worked on the balcony. Didn't "scan" as much - leading to the highlights being close to my building.
- 2 Great Black-backed Gull (1 adult, 1 juv)
- Several groups of Cliff and Barn Swallows
- 20+ flyby Common Loons
- 12 Mallards
- 3 Greater Scaup
- several groups of Canada Geese
- also had the "tantalizing all white pigeon crossing the lake" at mid day. Looks strange seeing a fast and all white bird, low to the water, waaay offshore.
Also had some raptors:
1 Kestrel, 1 Coopers, 2 Turkey Vultures, 1 Osprey... Pics below are from my balcony. The vulture is full frame!
Sep 5 - Parasitic Jaeger - super distant - in the morning. Didn't watch much.
Patch birding! - Frances Woods, did a quick walk through: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S15097910
Mid-day lakewatching -
- 2 American Wigeon (FoF)
- 11 Common Terns
Late day lakewatching -
- 2 ADULT Sabine's Gulls!!!
- 4 Parasitic Jaegers!!!
Sep 8 - morning
Lots of ducks/geese (wigeon, pintail, green-winged teal etc) - regular gulls, loons etc
9 Bonaparte's Gulls
2 Parasitic Jaegers (including a nice close adult)
1 adult Bald Eagle
1 juv Peregrine Falcon
4th individual recently. This one was unbanded...
Sooner or later, I'm going to have to go back to work...