Sunday, August 23, 2015

Piping Plover at Hornsby Bend

Another excursion in search of a Texas rare bird alert. This time to Hornsby Bend waste water treatment plant looking for a Piping Plover.  There were three rare birds on tap today, the plover, an Egyptian Goose, and a Short-billed Dowitcher. This was also an excuse to try iPhone digiscoping through a spotting scope. I easily spotted the Egyptian Goose on the path between the two northern ponds. It seemed pretty unconcerned by my presence. There is no native population in NA but apparently, there is a healthy feral population in Houston. I don't know where this one came from.

Egyptian Goose - Canon 7Dii, EF 100-400 f/5.6 L
I then went the west side of pond 1W where there was a sizable goup of shorebirds and, eventually, a sizable group of birders. I had come last week and seen mostly Starlings, Killdeer, and swallows. The Killdeer were still present but in much more reasonable numbers.

Though the swallows were mostly gone, there was much more variety in shorebirds. The full list of my identifications is on eBird but several more species were noted by others. I readily picked out a group of Wilson's Phalarope in winter plumage and some scattered Lesser Yellowlegs.

There were also some Black Tern, another new species for me. The rest was a bewildering assortment of sandpipers. My shorebird skills are poor so I had to get pointers from fellow birders. The Piping Plover was foraging in the far distance beyond where I could make out field marks with binoculars. This species is listed as endangered and threatened. The Great Lakes population is endangered and the Northern Great Plains and Atlantic Coast populations are threatened. Both populations winter on the Gulf Coast. There is some question as to whether this individual is injured as it was reported in the same spot over several days and did not flush along with other birds.

Piping Plover - Vortex Viper / iPhone 6+
One of the expert birders who helped me find the plover described it as a "bleached out" Semipalmated Plover. I love that explanation and it seems very apt as shown below is its richly toned cousin:

Semipalmated Plover - Vortex Viper / iPhone 6+
The Pectoral Sandpiper was another new species on the list for me, shown here with a much smaller Least Sandpiper. Note the very sharp transition in patterning on the breast and the yellow green legs.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper
The new Vortex Viper scope, though a lower-end scope, worked well for visual observation. On the other hand, my attempts at digiscoping with an iPhone were challenging. Getting the right separation and alignment between the eyepiece and the phone was tricky, even with the Phone Skope adapter I was using. Seeing the iPhone screen well enough to obtain good focus was hard. Leaving the phone in auto focus mode did not work as it kept hunting for focus. There is no comparison between the optical quality of this spotting scope and the Canon lens. There is very noticeable chromatic aberration in the image, though only really noticeable in zoomed images such as in the neck band of the plover above. Danielle keeps reminding me ... these pictures are for identification, not art.

Slide show from Aug 23

Update - Returned on Aug 29, different mix Phalaropes are mostly gone. Some Black-necked Stilts are passing through

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