Digiscoped favorites                                                                                         gallery 3
by Don Roberson
all bird photos digiscoped in the wild
all shots with an Olympus Camedia 560, 3.2 megapixel,
cheap automatic camera, though a Leica Trinovid scope
More DUCKS and SPARROWS . . .
Red-breasted Mergansers in Monterey harbor, 19 Nov 2004
I like the composition of this digiscoped image; it is entirely accidental. The two mergansers just happened to come up from dives in this particular arrangement. I had, however, worked quite a bit to get to this point with the sun behind me in the late afternoon, and the ducks less concerned about my presence than they had been initially.
     I had a great deal of trouble in trying to age and sex these mergansers and almost any other non-adult-male Red-breasted Merganser that I encounter in late fall or early winter. It is becoming more and more clear to me that birds we birders call "female" mergansers in fall and winter are not always females. It now seems probable to me that about the mergansers I've labeled as "females" over the year, and especially vagrants, have likely been first-year males.
    After studying this photo, I felt that the front bird was a first-fall male because (a) there is some blackish feathers appearing around the sides of the breast, (b) there are some blackish patches appearing on the back, and (c) the white patches visible in the wing coverts are widely distributed. I felt that the bird in back was likely a first-cycle female because (a) it had none of the above features that suggested male and (b) it had pale lores that suggested a first-cycle bird. I wrote Peter Pyle to ask his opinion, and here is his reply:
"Mergansers are harder since most of the reliable criteria are in the wings, not visible in the images. I agree with you that the two birds in the first image are both HYs. The front bird is a typical male at this time and the back bird is a female, with newer formative feathers on the back being gray  instead of dusky or blackish. I found that the pale lores mentioned by  Sibley and others for HYs (and shown by both birds) is a fairly reliable age criterion, although there was some overlap."
Altogether a very instructive photo for me personally, and not a bad shot either . . . .
 
Savannah Sparrow at Pt. Pinos, Monterey Co., 21 Sep 2004
Mostly I digiscope to get close images of birds that show fine details. This shot was an exception I could tell through the scope that this image was better at creating a mood than at showing characters of the sparrow. This is a wide-eyed migrant just arrived off the sea, over which it had presumably been flying during the night, and now landing in the first patch of vegetation it can find on the mainland. There were actually lots of similarly just-arrived Savannahs about in the early morning, and I like the combo of background, the weedy stalks, and the sparrow. Not long after taking this shot, I found Monterey County's first Yellow-bellied Flycatcher nearby . . .
Lincoln's Sparrow at Big Sur R. mouth, 25 Sep 2004
Here is the more typical digiscoped photo: an attempt to get a good close image on which we can see details of specific feathers. This is a full-frame shot. In retrospect, this is not a very good photo because of lighting problems (overexposed background) but I like the picture anyway because it is just so darn difficult to get any photo of this shy sparrow "in the wild" (I have some nice ones from my home feeder, but that's different).
     Yet, despite the fact we can see the fine details of the greater coverts and tertials and scapulars, I'm not able to age this individual with any confidence. Pyle's Identification Guide (1997) relies heavily on the presence or absence of contrast (molt limits) between the greater primary coverts and the greater secondary coverts, and the shape of certain rectrices in the tail. We can't see those tail feathers well. As to the greater coverts, we see the greater secondary coverts very nicely but the greater primary coverts are essentially hidden. I think I see only one of them, and it does seem to have the whitish-buff tip that is shown on all the greater secondary coverts. But I am not sure of this and lack the in-hand banding experience to have anything more than 'book-learning.' If I am right, it is a hatch-year bird but Pyle notes that many intermediates occur and thus ageing Lincoln's Sparrow in the fall is problematic.
    As to subspecies, we know from specimens that Sierran birds are not typically recorded in Monterey County (no specimens; see Monterey Birds, 2d ed.) so we presume this is a migrant from Alaska or Canada, thus gracilis or nominate lincolnii (both recorded many times in MTY). Pyle (1997) says that gracilis is small, grayish-brown with a buff tinge, and has broad blackish streaking above, while lincolnii is medium in size, browner above with a reddish tinge, and has narrow, blackish streaking above. This one does seem buff buffy and broadly streaked with blackish above; I would guess gracilis (from coast s.e. Alaska to s.w. B.C.) but we'd need a tray of specimens to compare to be surer.
Surf Scoter in Monterey harbor, 24 Dec 2004
I am becoming addicted to digiscoping around Monterey harbor when the weather is good. The sea surface, when calm, produces wonderful reflections when the lighting is right. Here is just one example: it's a first-cycle male (I think, although perhaps it's an adult coming out of eclipse? I need more information). It does have a pale eye and bright red legs (visible under the water). It is not a perfect shot because the wings are in better focus than the face, but I rather like the 'puffin-like' bill reflection.
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Page created 25 Dec 2004