Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pine Grosbeaks! - 16 Dec 2010

Day 2 of our U.P. outing started with me driving over to the Sugar Island ferry in Sault Ste. Marie.  It was just after dawn and nothing was quite moving yet.  I then drove south along Riverside Dr. toward the Dunbar Forest area (12 mile Rd.) but made a stop at 9 mile Rd. where I'd seen Sharp-tailed Grouse in the past.

As I approached 9 Mile Rd. a pair of Sharp-tailed Grouse flew across the road and landed in a couple of spruce trees to my right.  However, as I drove up I couldn't find them.  As I scanned the trees w/ the binoculars they suddenly flushed from down low and headed off across the fields.

Continuing south I spotted a Rough-legged Hawk atop one of the telephone poles near 11 Mile Rd.  I stopped the car and carefully pulled the scope from the trunk.  I was about 100 yds. from the bird and scoped it from behind the car.  It was another juvenile bird (heavy black belly band and light eyes).  After a few moments I got ready to approach it on foot, but it decided to fly off across the field to the west.

The Dunbar Forest feeders were active, but again with only Black-capped Chickadees, European Starlings, Blue Jays, Hairy Woodpecker, and Red-breasted Nuthatches.  Last night's 2" of snow were already being cleared from the roads by road crews, so its possible that any other birds in the area may have been flushed.

I continued south toward 16 Mile Rd. but saw nothing else.  Returning north I spotted a Northern Shrike out in the field atop a lone snag.  Though the sun was backlighting it, the bobbing tail helped ID the bird.

Robin and I then headed toward Rudyard for another pass througth the Hantz Rd. / Centerline Rd. loop before lunch.  A pair of Bald Eagles were only highlight of Centerline Rd.  Hantz. Rd. was again quiet.

After lunch in town we headed north toward Whitefish Point to check out the feeders.  By now the clouds had moved in and it was beginning to drizzle.  By the time we had reached Whitefish Point it was dark and lightly snowing.  However, the feeders were active with several visible Pine Grosbeaks and Black-capped Chickadees feeding on the ground. There was no point carrying the D300 and Sigma 400mm combo due to low light, so I opted to concentrate on digiscoping.

I planted myself on the ground near the edge of the building and began to scope and digiscope the Pine Grosbeaks feeding in front of me.  Both (red) males and (green) females were foraging, fighting and feeding.  I counted 2-3 males and 9-10 females in this flock.



Farther out on the snow a redpoll was feeding on thistle seed.  It was awfully pale looking and showed some traits of being a Hoary Redpoll.  I took some digiscoped images for further study, but even now can't confirm.  According to Sibley's the Hoary is much paler than Common Redpolls (this bird was lighter than the surrounding flock of Commons that flew in) so this was a positive.  Hoary's show light/pale streaking along the flanks, which this bird showed, as well.  But they were distinctive and could've been dark enough to confirm this bird as a Common.  The rump appeared white, but the bird never showed enough of it to confirm.  Primary coverts also showed some white/pale coloration, but not enough to confirm (again). 

I even got a shot of the undertail coverts, which apparently show some light streaking in Common and none in Hoary.  This bird showed no visible streaking, but I didn't get enough images to feel confident calling it a Hoary.  So I'll leave it as a possible Hoary at this point.


Returning to the Pine Grosbeaks I spent some time trying to get digiscoped images of them in the trees where lighting was more uniform for proper exposure (the dark birds on the snow-covered ground were difficult to meter).  However, this proved to be problematic on several fronts:  The birds never stayed more than a few seconds in one spot, I had a hard time trying to locate them through the 45X eyepiece, getting the adaptor snapped on and camera inserted in time to photograph them, having to adjust exposure compensation between +0.3 and -1.3 to get the birds exposed against varying backlit backgrounds, and working with really slow shutters (1/20 sec. to 1/60 sec.).


But in the end I managed enough keeper images to be happy.  I was finally able to get some nice, sharp images of these birds that have eluded me for the past 3 winters.

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