Saturday, November 15, 2014

Kane County Rufous Hummingburrrrd (again!) and Surf Scoter

Well, it happened. At long last, a beautiful Summer and a delightfully slow, temperate Fall have given way to Winter. A week that began in the 50s ended in the 20s without much of a transition, and it doesn't look like there's any turning back. And, the birding goes on.

In keeping with its pace thus far this year, Kane County continues to produce fantastic birds. 2014 was a good choice for the handful of Kane birders who have undertaken a Big Year at the county level this year.

A report on the Kane County Audubon page of another Rufous Hummingbird had Scott and me intrigued, so we decided to check it out yesterday. Unlike the September bird, this one cooperated quickly and visited the feeders regularly, giving us ample opportunity to observe it and get pics. I even managed the all important spread tail shot. Also unlike the the bird in September, this one is toughing it out in the face of below freezing temperatures. I was amused that, as our fingers went numb from taking pictures, this tiny little motor with wings seemed to be more comfortable than us.

The extent of orange on this bird narrowed it down to two species: Rufous or Allen's. Rufous is pretty much annual in the state now; Allen's would be outstanding - but if every orange selasphorus gets written off as a Rufous, then we'll miss the Allen's when it actually does show up some day.

But, how do you tell the difference? As it turns out, Rufous and Allen's Hummingbirds are essentially identical in every way - including plumage and voice - and distinguishing the two comes down to the shape of a single feather - R2. There are ten tail feathers, two groups of five. The two central tail feathers are both labeled R1, then moving outward you get R2, R3, etc. In the picture below, R3-5 each have white tips, R2 stands out, and the R1 feathers are overlapping, giving the appearance of one feather.

In an Allen's, R2 has a smooth edge at the end, giving it a nice rounded appearance. In a Rufous, R2 is tapered, or pinched, making it look a little more pointed at the tip. This is most pronounced in adult males, though is discernible still in juvenile males such as this bird (likely a juvenile male due to the lack of green in R2, which a female of any age ought to have). Obviously, these characteristics are pretty much impossible to observe in the field, so without taking a DNA sample and measurements in hand, you have to rely on photos. Fortunately, I was able to get one as it flew off, showing the tapered tip and confirming it as a Rufous. Check out this link for more info on this ID issue.

Cameo appearance from a junco:

Rufous Hummingbird
Kane Co, IL
November 14, 2014

This morning, I made the trip back up to East Dundee to see the bird again so Andrew and I could snag Buddy List bird #274. We were treated to some really nice looks.

Rufous Hummingbird
Kane Co, IL
November 14, 2014

After that we tried for the Kimball St. Harlequin Duck, another need for the Buddy List. We missed it somehow, which is frustrating because Scott saw it later in the day. But, we did have a very nice consolation prize in the form of a county lifer. Andrew suggested we check the north side of the bridge just to see if anything was over there, a great call on his part!

Andrew spotted an odd duck at rest on the western edge of the river. At first we could just see one white spot, but when it became apparent that this jet black duck had a white smudge on the front and back of its head, we started getting excited. Andrew put the scope on it - "Yep, Surf Scoter!" A great bird away from the lakefront, and even more exciting for it to be an adult male. These pics don't do it justice whatsoever. It did make a handsome combo with the nearby Hooded Mergansers.

Surf Scoter
Kimball St. Bridge, Kane Co, IL
November 15, 2014

We were confounded by the fact that this bird probably would have gone undetected had we not taken the little bit of extra effort to check the other side of the bridge. Crazy how birding goes sometimes. Apparently this guy had to fight for its life and fend off some feisty Bald Eagles later in the day; hopefully it's doing alright and will stick around the area for a little while.

How many more does Kane have left in it this year? Only time will tell.