Thursday, January 30, 2020

A very pale Magnolia Warbler

The Magnolia Warbler is a colorful little bird which breeds in the far northern reaches of North America. In south Florida we see it when on its way to its winter range, which includes the Caribbean islands, far southern Mexico and Central America. A few commonly spend the winter with us. 

Although this warbler nests far north of any Magnolia tree, it was named for the location in which it was first "discovered." American ornithologist Alexander Wilson found this species in magnolias near Fort Adams, Mississippi  The adults are brightly patterned in yellow, black, blue-gray and white. 

I photographed this northbound male in bold breeding colors at Nelson Lake preserve in northeastern Illinois on May 10, 2011:

Magnolia Warbler 2-20110510

Exactly eight years later, on May 10, 2019 I found this adult male in almost the same spot:

Magnolia Warbler 20190510

Also in Illinois, I obtained an underside view of another male back in May, 2014. Note the distinctive and unique undertail pattern with two terminal black spots:

Magnolia Warbler 20140518

This is a fall female (Illinois, September, 2017):

Magnolia Warbler 02-20170925

Most of the fall Magnolia Warblers we see here in Florida are first year birds. Their colors are subdued. These were present at Chapel Trail Preserve near our home during December, 2019--

Magnolia Warbler 01-20191227

Magnolia Warbler 03-20191220

In early January, while leading a nature walk at Chapel Trail I spotted an unusual Magnolia Warbler. It was a very bright yellow female, probably a first year immature bird. Its legs and bill were very pale. Its back was bright yellow without the normal dark streaking, and its head, wings and tail were light tan rather than dark gray. The spots under its tail were brown rather than black. Likewise, its eyes seemed not to be pitch black, but rather were brownish. During the following week I obtained a series of photos to document its plumage:

Magnolia Warbler type 4 albinism 091-20200111

Magnolia Warbler type 4 albinism 08-20200111

Magnolia Warbler type 4 albinism 09-20200111

Although I was willing to describe this bird as having "dilute" plumage or possibly as being "leucistic," experts had a more specific name for its faded appearance. They classified it as exhibiting Type 4 oculo-cutaneous albinism. It lacks a specific black melanin pigment, but does produce other lighter melanin. A "pure" albino (Type 1A) would have no melanin and its plumage would be all white with pink eyes. Such a bird would probably not survive in the wild. This Magnolia Warbler may be relatively easy for a predator to locate and capture. (I enjoyed the thrill of discovery, but this may be more than you ever wanted to know!*) 

Other warblers present at Chapel Trail were a Black-and-White Warbler...

Black-and-White Warbler 02-20200118

Black-and-White Warbler 04-20200118 Orange-crowned Warbler:

Orange-crowned Warbler 01-20200111

...and many Yellow-rumped Warblers:

Yellow-rumped Warbler 20200111

The boardwalk at Chapel Trail Nature Preserve:

Chapel Trail boardwalk 01-20200118

Common Gallinule reflection:

Common Gallinule 20190701

*REF: Melanins are the ubiquitous pigments distributed in nature. They are one of the main pigments responsible for colors in living cells. Birds are among the most diverse animals regarding melanin-based coloration, especially in the plumage, although they also pigment bare parts of the integument. This review is devoted to the main characteristics of bird melanins... (LINK to EVEN MORE THAN YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW)

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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Northern Cardinal

I could easily start an argument by asking which US bird species is the most common, the most beautiful, the most recognizable, the most abundant, or the most popular. Opinions would be influenced by factors such as geography (Lower 48, Eastern, Western, Northern or Southern, highlands or plains), habitat (urban, rural, forest, grasslands, wetlands, coastal), etc.    

There are billions of domestic chickens, but Mourning Doves, American Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds each number in the hundreds of millions and are among the most abundant bird species in the US. The most recognizable to casual observers may include these species as well as many others such as the Bald Eagle, American Goldfinch, the Blue Jay and Northern Cardinal. As to popularity, the cardinal is the State Bird of seven States, followed by the Western Meadowlark in six, the mockingbird in five, and the robin and goldfinch in three each. 

Northern Cardinal adult male...

Northern Cardinal close 20111104

...and female:

Female Northern Cardinal 20091228

The Northern Cardinal is a year-round resident of Eastern and Central North America as well as parts of southern New Mexico and Arizona. Its range extends south into Mexico and Central America and it has been introduced into Hawaii. However, its range has fluctuated over the years. During the first quarter of the 20th Century it nearly disappeared from the Northeastern States, possibly due to severe winter weather. 

Probably aided by the increased popularity of bird feeders, its population expanded northward to become quite common in my home State of New Jersey by the 1940s. It is essentially non-migratory, although I often see small flocks of juvenile birds here in Florida during autumn. They may wander and disperse locally.

A male suddenly appeared in a dense stand of Phragmites reeds. The light was perfect, but it was difficult to focus on the bird:

Northern Cardinal 02-20200112

Northern Cardinal 04-20200112

Northern Cardinal 05-20200112

Adult Female:

Northern Cardinal female 20191013

This is my favorite photo of a female Northern Cardinal, taken in Okeeheelee Park, Florida:

Female Northern Cardinal 20090225

The juvenile cardinal has a dark bill. This one is recently fledged:

Northern Cardinal juvenile 20190626

Another juvenile:

Northern Cardinal juvenile 20180811

This older juvenile's bill is turning pale pink:

Northern Cardinal 01-20171128

An adult male cardinal shares a small tree with a female Downy Woodpecker:

Northern Cardinal and Downy Woodpecker 20170219

Other "cardinals"--

A Cardinal Airplant, member of the pineapple/bromeliad family, growing on a Live Oak, is quite common in south Florida:

Cardinal Airplant 20110303

Cardinal Flower, Kane County, Illinois: 

Cardinal Flower detail 20150913

Pink sky reflects over the Pine Bank on January 20, 2020...

Pine bank in fog before sunrise 2-20200119

...with a touch of fog:

Pine bank in fog before sunrise 20200119

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

First birds of the decade

Now I can proudly say that I have walked in each of 10 decades! Maybe this has something to do with why I forgot to process my photos taken on January 1, 2020. There were quite a few from our early morning walk. 

My first bird of the year was heard in the dark but not seen, about 40 minutes before sunrise. It was an Eastern Whip-poor-will which had been present for several days and called briefly next to the trail. The first bird we actually saw was a Red-shouldered Hawk,15 minutes before sunrise. It was initially silhouetted against the brightening eastern sky, but then turned sharply and passed by to the west, exhibiting its namesake "shoulders::
Red-shouldered Hawk 15 min before sunrise 02-20200101

Red-shouldered Hawk 15 min before sunrise 03-20200101

Highlights among the morning's sightings were Yellow-rumped Warblers...

Yellow-rumped Warbler 2-20200101

Yellow-rumped Warbler 4-20200101

...and acrobatic Yellow-throated Warblers:

Yellow-throated Warbler 01-20200101

Yellow-throated Warbler 02-20200101

Yellow-throated Warbler 03-20200101

Yellow-throated Warbler 05-20200101

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird visited the waning blossoms on the Firebush (Hamelia patens) hedge...

Ruby-throated Hummingbird 20200101

...while the berries attracted warblers and this sun-dappled Blue-headed Vireo:

Blue-headed Vireo in Hamelia patens 02-20200101

Blue-headed Vireo in Hamelia patens 01-20200101

Only three days earlier, the pair of Egyptian Geese which nested in a dense Cocoplum thicket next to our lake visited with their seven newly hatched goslings:

Egyptian Goose pair with goslings 04-20191229

Egyptian Goose female with goslings 02-20191229

To our surprise, they showed up on our yard again on New Years Day, but this time trailed by an eighth tiny newly-hatched gosling. It could not keep up with its siblings, but the parents waited patiently as it stumbled along behind them. It still had its "egg tooth," indicating it was very young indeed. Had the parents deserted the nest before the last egg was hatched, or was this egg deposited after the birds started incubating the other eggs?

The seven older goslings crowded together, while the lone eighth baby rested outside the group, then tried to join its parents and siblings:

Egyptian Gees seven goslings 03-20200101

Egyptian Gees gosling number 8 02-20200101

Egyptian Gees gosling number 8 01-20200101

On January 2, the local male (Pride) of the pair of Bald Eagles took a break from incubating and was rearranging sticks on their nest. We expected their first egg to hatch on or about January 4:

Bald Eagle male 04-20200102

Bald Eagle male 05-20200102

The female (Jewel) arrived to exchange incubation duties and Pride flew off:

 Bald Eagle male in flight 02-20200102

On January 3, the large male Bobcat stared at me from the edge of the gravel road. Then, rather nonchalantly, he strolled across the track. Note that I forgot to turn off the flash and his eyes reflect my error:

Bobcat large male 05-20200103

Bobcat large male 01-20200103

Bobcat large male 04-20200103

On January 3, a Gray Squirrel munched on Brazilian Pepper berries...

Gray Squirrel eating Brazilian Pepper 20200103

...a Purple Gallinule demonstrated the important construction technique of triangulation (as used in building the Eiffel Tower) by grasping three flimsy stalks of Alligator Flag which supported its weight as it climbed to reach the fruit on top of the stems:

Purple Gallunule 04-20200103

...and a White-tailed Deer doe appeared unexpectedly as I was photographing an egret:

White-taild Doe left blaze on snout 20200103

Also on January 3, a male American Kestrel posed nicely on a sign post:

American Kestrel 04-20200103

On January 5, the same kestrel exhibited unusual behavior by foraging for insects on the ground:

American Kestrel 07-20200105

American Kestrel 05-20200105

On January 10, the full Wolf Moon was setting as we walked into the wetlands. This DSLR image of the Wolf Moon against the dark sky was taken at 6:32 AM. I was tracking a satellite which almost crossed the face of the Moon-- it missed by about 2 diameters:

Full Wolf Moon 01-20200110

These photos were taken with my new iPhone 11 Pro Max. I was amazed at its excellent low-light performance. The first cuts through the pre-twilight moon-lit darkness at 6:28 AM, 42 minutes before sunrise. MaryLou is ahead of me with her flashlight:

Full Wolf Moon iPhone 03-20100110

The iPhone captured this moonbeam-burst 35 minutes before sunrise: 

Full Wolf Moon iPhone 01-20100110

Fifteen minutes before sunrise, the Moon had nearly set into the horizon:

Full Wolf Moon iPhone 04-20100110

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