18 August, 2014

Black Swift

Scientific Name: Cypseloides niger

Range / Habitat: Breeds in high, rocky niches in the Caribbean and at sites near the Pacific coast of  Canada, US and Mexico. Wintering grounds unknown, but they may travel as far as South America. 

Field Notes: Large, all black, swift which may have some white fringes to underparts. 

Personal Notes: Seen in flying over Maligne Gorge in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. We later saw these marked nest sites further up the gorge. 

Franklin's Grouse

Scientific Name: Falcipennis canadensis

Range / Habitat: Year-round in boreal forests and taiga throughout Canada and Alaska.

Field Notes: Medium-sized fowl with heavily barred back and breast. Breeding males nearly black, as above, females lighter brown, as below. Males with white-boardered black throat and red eye combs. Ruffed Grouse larger with a crest and no red eye comb.

Personal Notes: First seen in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. These birds were not shy, often found right on the side of the road, not moving even when we stopped to photograph them. We later found the male on route to Wapta Falls in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Scientific Name: Regulus satrapa

Range / Habitat: Preferred habitat coniferous forest, year-round in the Pacific Northwest and Northeastern US. Summers in Canada into Alaska, winters throughout much of the US.

Field Notes: Very small songbird with grey to olive-green upperparts and buff underparts. Yellow to orange crown patch with black border. White eyebrow and black eye-line. Ruby-crowned Kinglet lacks eyebrow and eye-line.

Personal Notes: Seen in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.

27 June, 2014

Northern Gannet

Scientific Name: Sula bassana

Range / Habitat: Breeds on offshore islands and inaccessible cliffs in large, isolated colonies in the north Atlantic, including Newfoundland, Iceland, the UK, Scandinavia, and Russia. Winters at sea in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, reaching down to 45 degrees latitude.

Field Notes: Large white waterbird with black wing-tips. Long bill and pointed tail. Head with orange-yellow tinges. Plunge-dives for food.

Personal Notes: First seen on Heimay Island in Iceland and (barely) photographed five years later on the Reykjanes Peninsula of Iceland.

25 June, 2014

White-tailed Sea-eagle

Scientific Name: Haliaeetus albicilla

Range / Habitat: Diverse aquatic habitats, both freshwater and marine. Year-round in SW Greenland, W Iceland, N & C Eurasia. Winters S to N Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, Pakistan, N India and SE China.

Field Notes: Large eagle, overall dark brown with yellow bill and legs. In mature adults, tail white, head and neck pale buff. Unmistakable in range.

Personal Notes: Highlight of a "Viking Sushi" tour of Breidafjordur Bay in western Iceland, though the sushi was pretty good, too. Once the bird was sighted, Richard raced to the back of the boat and managed to get this shot (with the characteristic white tail) before we pulled out of range.

24 June, 2014

Red-necked Phalarope

Scientific Name: Phalaropus lobatus

Range / Habitat: Breeds on tundra in the circumpolar Arctic. Winters at sea in a variety of spots near the equator.

Field Notes: Small wader, smallest of the phalaropes. Small, needle-like bill and slender neck. Brown upperparts, with some gold, white breast and chin. Rufous horseshoe-shaped collar.

Personal Notes: A ubiquitous bird in small pools of water in Iceland in the summer, but surprisingly difficult to photograph.

Meadow Pipit

Scientific Name: Anthus pratensis

Range / Habitat: Breeds in a variety of open habitats in northern Europe, including Iceland and Greenland. Resident in western Europe but northern breeding populations migrate further south, as far as northern Africa, to similar open habitats, but also including seashores.

Field Notes: Small pipit with slender bill. Upperparts brown streaked with black, underparts buff, also streaked and sometimes coalescing in breast spot.

Personal Notes: We found this European bird to be somewhat of a cross between an American Pipit and an Eastern Meadowlark in its behaviour.

Purple Sandpiper

Scientific Name: Calidris maritima

Range / Habitat: Breeds on tundra and rocky areas from NE Canada through Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia to NW Siberia. Winters on rocky coasts of E North America and NW Europe.

Field Notes: Plump, medium-sized shorebird. medium-length bill with yellow base and slight droop at end. Short yellow legs. Grey to brown head, neck and back. Underparts lighter and heavily streaked. No purple in breeding plumage and only a faint sheen in winter.

Personal Notes: A surprise find at Snaefellsjoekull National Park in Iceland.

European Shag

Scientific Name: Phalacrocorax aristotelis

Range / Habitat: Marine bird with strong preference for rocky coasts and islands. Year-round on the Atlantic coast of Europe, including western Iceland, and in the Mediterranean.

Field Notes: Medium-sized cormorant, with short tail, glossy back overall. Eye turquoise, base of gape yellow. Crest in non-breeding plumage.

Personal Notes: Seen initially on the rocky coast of Snaefellsjokull National Park, Iceland. The mom and chick later seen in Breidafjordur Bay, Iceland.


Scientific Name: Alca torda

Range / Habitat: Marine species, breeding on steep mainland cliffs and rock offshore islands in subarctic waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Winters offshore from breeding areas, though often extending further south.

Field Notes: Medium-sized waterbird with black head, neck and back, white undersides. Stout, deep, and round-tipped bill has criss-crossing white lines. Often holds tail up in the air. Throat white in non-breeding plumage. Common Murre and Thick-billed Murre less stocky with longer bill, lacking characteristic marks.

Personal Notes: Part of an exceptional visit to the Latrabjarg cliffs in western Iceland.

Thick-billed Murre

Scientific Name: Uria lomvia

Range / Habitat: Exclusively marine, breeding on coastal cliffs and islands, restricted to Arctic zones with open water. Winters offshore of breeding grounds, where often found at see in large flocks.

Field Notes: Medium-sized waterbird with black head, neck and back. Clean white underparts. Non-breeding adults have white throats. Common Murre without white gape and with streaking on flanks.  Razorbill more stocky, with stouter bill with white ring at the tip.

Personal Notes: Also seen at the Latrabjarg cliffs in Iceland.

Common Murre

Scientific Name: Uria aalge

Range / Habitat: Exclusively marine, breeding along sea coasts on rocky cliffs and offshore islands throughout the subarctics. In winter, generally pelagic in the same waters.

Field Notes: Medium-sized waterbird with black to dark-brown head, neck and back. White underparts with some dark streaking on the flanks. Bridled or ringed morph, restricted to the Atlantic, has white eye-ring and post-ocular stripe. Non-breeding adults have white on face and throat. Thick-billed Murre has a white line on the gape, is blacker on the back, and lacks streaked flanks. Razorbill more stocky, with stouter bill lined in white.

Personal Notes: Seen huddled in large clusters against the wind on the Latrabjarg cliffs in western Iceland.

Glaucous Gull

Scientific Name: Larus hyperboreus

Range / Habitat: Breeds in coastal areas of the circumpolar Arctic. Winters generally in costal areas slightly further south.

Field Notes: Large white gull with light grey mantle. Wingtips white, in contrast to most other grey-maltled gulls its size. Iceland Gull more dainty. Glaucous-winged Gull with grey or dusky wingtips in all plumages.

Personal Notes: Above photo from Isafjordur, Iceland.

Black-tailed Godwit

Scientific Name: Limosa limosa

Range / Habitat: Breeds in wet grassland throughout Europe and parts of Russia. Fully migratory. Winters in sheltered estuaries and inland wetlands in parts of southern Europe, northern Africa, Asia and Australia.

Field Notes: Large, leggy shorebird with long, straight bill, orange at base and dark at tip. Breeding plumage with rufous head, neck and breast, otherwise mottled brown. Tail with with black tip. Winter plumage is uniform grey-brown above and lighter below.

Personal Notes: Striking bird seen in the marshy grasslands throughout Iceland in summer.

Long-tailed Duck

Scientific Name: Clangula hyemalis

Range / Habitat: Breeds in ponds, streams, and other wetlands in the circumpolar Arctic. Winters on open ocean or on large freshwater lakes in northern latitudes.

Field Notes: Medium-sized diving duck. Mostly black-and-white plumage, varying throughout year in a series of complicated moults. Black wings in all plumages. Male has long central tail feathers and often a pink band near tip of black bill.

Personal Notes: Seen on Lake Myvatn in Iceland. Colloquially known as Oldsquaw.

Snow Bunting

Scientific Name: Plectrophenax nivalis

Range / Habitat: Breeds on rocky tundra in circumpolar Arctic. Winters in open weedy and grassy fields and along shores of lakes and oceans in northern latitudes of North America, Europe and Asia.

Field Notes: Small songbird with white head, chest and belly. Back black in males, more brown in females. Can have some brown in the face. Large white patch in wings. Unmistakable in range. 

Personal Notes: A surprise find at Godafoss waterfall in Iceland. We finally saw these birds in Minnesota on a March ride back from Ely to the Puppe's cabin. 

27 May, 2014

Willow Flycatcher

Scientific Name: Empidonax traillii

Range / Habitat: Breeds in wet, marshy areas throughout most of the US, extending further north in the northwest and excluding the southeast. Winters in southern Mexico, Central American, and the northwest portion of South America. 

Field Notes: Drap Empidonax flycatcher, brown-grey above, white below, with faint yellow wash on the sides. Thin, white eyering may be absent. Alder Flycatcher essentially identical but more northern. In areas of overlap, can only be distinguished by voice. Other Empidonax flycatchers have more prominent eyering. 

Personal Notes: Seen in the boggy area of the Minnesota Arboretum. Confirmed by voice. 

25 May, 2014

Dusky Flycatcher

Scientific Name: Empidonax oberholseri

Range / Habitat: Found in open montane forest of American and Canadian West in the summer. Winters in central Mexico. 

Field Notes: Small, dull, Empidonax flycatcher. Grey back, underparts white. Prominent eyering and wing bars. Hammond's Flycatcher and Grey Flycatcher similar. Habitat and song best ways to distinguish among these species, though Hammond's found at higher altitudes and Grey has distinctive downward wag of tail. 

Personal Notes: Seen on Deseret Ranch in Utah

Red Fox-sparrow

Scientific Name: Passerella iliaca

Range / Habitat: Preferred habitat is dense thicket near water. Breeds in Alaska, northern Canada, and the American West. Winters primarily in the southeastern US, though can be found near the border of Mexico and on the Pacific Coast.

Field Notes: Though highly variable, generally rust-brown above with a mix of rust and gray on the head, and heavy brownish splotches on the flanks and the center of the chest. The bill can range from yellowish to dark grey. Song Sparrow with more distinct face markings and streaks on chest. Also, does not forage in leaf litter. Savannah Sparrow with yellow lores and found in open habitat.

Personal Notes: Seen at Deseret Ranch, Utah. Also known as Fox Sparrow.

24 May, 2014

Brewer's Sparrow

Scientific Name: Spizella breweri

Range / Habitat: Preferred habitat is sagebrush. Winters in Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. Winters in the Great Basin.

Field Notes: Medium-sized sparrow with finely streaked grey-brown upper parts, pale eyering, dark moustache stripe and plain, pale grey underparts. Bill is pink with dark tip.

Field Notes: Seen on Deseret Ranch in Utah.

Ferruginous Hawk

Scientific Name: Buteo regalis

Range / Habitat: Found in open country. Summers in the American West extending up to Canada. Winters on in the southern portion of the western US extending down into Mexico.

Field Notes: Large hawk. Has both pale and dark morph. In both forms, tail light grey to white with dark legs. Back rufous in both forms.

Personal Notes: Seen on Deseret Ranch in Utah.

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Scientific Name: Empidonax occidentalis

Range / Habitat: Found in arid forest regions, summers east of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges in the western US and Canada. Winters into Mexico.

Field Notes: Small flycatcher with prominent pale yellow, almond-shaped eyering. Two pale yellow wing bars. Upperparts greenish-brown, underparts yellow. Pacific-coast Flycatcher (with which it used to be considered one species, Western Flycatcher) nearly identical, separated by range.

Personal Notes: Seen on the late spring ski slopes of Park City, Utah.

Stilt Sandpiper

Scientific Name: Micropalama himantopus

Range / Habitat: Breeds in sedge tundra near water in subarctic North America. Winters in a variety of water habitats in South America and part of Mexico and Central America.

Field Notes: Medium-sized shorebird, heavily barred in breeding plumage as above. Long, greenish legs, long neck. Long bill, drooped at the tip. Rufous patch to cheek. When seen among other sandpipers, tips tail high in the air.

Personal Notes: A record first at Deseret Ranch in Utah where seen in migration with Bill and Billy Fenimore.

21 May, 2014

Blue-headed Vireo

Scientific Name: Vireo solitarius

Range / Habitat: Breeds through the northeastern US and eastern Canada. Winters on the southeast coast of the US, the Gulf coast of Mexico (excluding the Yucatan), and into Central America. Preferred habitat is forest of various types.

Field Notes: Small to medium passerine, grey upperparts, generally white underneath, with two white wing bars and distinct white spectacles. Yellow wash to sides but throated white. Plumbeous Vireo and Cassin's Vireo similar (all three formerly called Solitary Vireo), but distinguished by range.  Yellow-throated Vireo with yellow throat and head.

Personal Notes: We followed this bird for a long time at Fort Snelling SP in Minnesota, where he was just passing through as a spring migrant, and only barely were able to capture him on film.

Philadelphia Vireo

Scientific Name: Vireo philadelphicus

Range / Habitat: Breeds in deciduous forest throughout central and eastern Canada. Winters in Central America, up through the Yucatan in a wider habitat range. 

Field Notes: Small, plain-winged vireo with white eyestripe and buffy to yellow throat. Warbling Vireo similar but easily distinguished by song. Other vireos have either wing bars or pronounced spectacles. 

Personal Notes: Seen during spring migration in Fort Snelling SP in Minnesota. Verified both visually and by song. 

12 May, 2014

Solitary Sandpiper

Scientific Name: Tringa solitaria

Range / Habitat: Breeds in taiga throughout Canada and Alaska. In migration and winter found along freshwater, more commonly in wooded areas. Winters in southern Mexico, including the Yucatan, Central American, Cuba and other Caribbean islands, and throughout northern South America.

Field Notes: Medium-sized shorebird with proportionate legs and bill. Brown upperparts, densely speckled white. White underparts and white eyering. Similarly sized non-breeding Spotted Sandpiper without speckling on back and with white eyestripe. Lesser Yellowlegs with prominent yellow legs and more mottling on back.

Personal Notes: Seen in migration at Minnesota NWR in May, 2014.

09 May, 2014


Scientific Name: Porzana carolina

Range / Habitat: Preferred habitat shallow wetlands with plenty of emergent vegetation. Winters in Florida, along the Gulf coast, in Mexico and Central America, through to the far northwest of South America. Summers in the northern US and Canada.

Field Notes: Small marshbird, unmistakeable in range with black face, grey neck and chest, and rufous back. That is, if you can see it. Distinctive descending whinny call.

Personal Notes: Seen sneaking along the roadside just outside of Frontenac SP in Minnesota.

Wilson's Warbler

Scientific Name: Wilsonia pusilla

Range / Habitat: Breeds in scrub habitats, particularly willow thickets in Canada, Alaska, and parts of the American West. Full migrant that winters in a variety of habitats in Mexico, including the Yucatan.

Field Notes: Warbler with bright yellow face and underparts. Back is olive, wings and tail olive-grey. Black beady eye and male with small black cap.

Personal Notes: Seen at Hok-Si-La city park in Lake City, MN.

Nashville Warbler

Scientific Name: Vermivora ruficapilla

Range / Habitat: Favours second-growth deciduous and mixed forests. Breeds in north-central North America and an isolated portion of the mountainous Pacific Northwest. Full migrant that winters along the coast of California and in central Mexico, excluding the Yucatan.

Field Notes: Yellow throat, breast, and belly with plain olive-green back and wings. Grey head with white eyering. Connecticut Warbler with grey down to breast and primarily found on the ground.

Personal Notes: Seen at Hok-Si-La City Park in Lake City, MN. Alternately know to the Spolts as the Memphis Warbler, Chattanooga Warbler, etc.

Northern Waterthrush

Scientific Name: Seiurus noveboracensis

Range / Habitat: Breeds in thickets near ponds, swamps, and bogs in northeastern US, Canada and Alaska. In winter, uses a variety of wooded habitats, generally near water, often in mangroves from southern Mexico, including the Yucatan, Central America, and into northwestern South America.

Field Notes: Large for a warbler, with a brown back and head. Buffy undersides with dark brown strips. Long buffy eyestripe. Constantly bobs tail.

Personal Notes: Seen at Hok-Si-La Park in Lake City, MN. Richard later found a several specimens outside Wellington, Florida in August -- not supposed to be there at that time of year!

Bay-breasted Warbler

Scientific Name: Dendroica castanea

Range / Habitat: Breeds in boreal evergreen forest throughout Canada, favouring the east. Winters in lowland tropical forest and second growth in Cuba, some Caribbean islands, and northwestern South America.

Field Notes: Small songbird but large warbler. Breeding male with black face and chestnut head and throat. Two broad white wing bars on black wings. Rufous on flanks.

Personal Notes: Seen at Hok-Si-La Park in Lake City, MN.


Scientific Name: Seiurus aurocapilla

Range / Habitat: Breeds in hardwood forests from the mid-Atlantic states up through eastern Canada. Broader habitat range in the winter, when found in Florida, Cuba and other Caribbean islands, central and southern Mexico, including the Yucatan, and Central America.

Field Notes: Terrestrial warbler, olive above, boldly streaked / spotted below. Bold black-and-orange crown stripes and white eye ring. Song a loud, rapid-fire "teacher, teacher, teacher."

Personal Notes: Seen at Hok-Si-La Park in Lake City, MN

Least Flycatcher

Scientific Name: Empidonax minimus

Range / Habitat: Breeds in open woodlands of northern US and most of Canada. Winters along wooded ravines, woodland edge, and brush land on both coasts of Mexico, including the Yucatan.

Field Notes: Small flycatcher with grey to olive back, darker wings with two white wingbars. Underparts white and prominent eyering. Difficult to distinguish among other members of genus with call being the best determining characteristic. That having been said, Least Flycatcher is the smallest and most grey of the Empidonax.

Personal Notes: So small we initially mistook him for a warbler.

08 May, 2014

Barred Owl

Scientific Name: Strix varia

Range / Habitat: Year-round in large, mature, deciduous or mixed forests, often near water in the eastern US, across a swath of Canada and in the Pacific Northwest.

Field Notes: Unmistakable in range. Classic "who cooks for you?" song at night.

Personal Notes: Part of a wonderful "large bird day" at the MN Landscape Arboretum in early May, 2014.

06 May, 2014

Greater Scaup

Scientific Name: Aythya marila

Range / Habitat: Breeds on shallow, small lakes, rivers and pools in tundra and wooded tundra zones at high latitudes throughout the northern hemisphere. Winters mainly on coasts at lower latitudes, though can be found on inland lakes, particularly in central flyway of US.

Field Notes: Quite similar to Lesser Scaup and can overlap in habitat and the much discussed head colour. Overall, smooth head, larger black nail in bill, and white extending further down sides.

Personal Notes: We finally saw both scaups to compare on Albert Lea Lake in southern Minnesota. Only then did we realize the bottom photo (which we had taken at an aviary in Utah) was likely of the Greater Scaup.

26 April, 2014

Lincoln's Sparrow

Scientific Name: Melospiza lincolnii

Range / Habitat: Winters in scrubby areas of southwestern US and Mexico, excluding the Yucatan. Breeds in boggy areas of Canada, Alaska, and part of the American West.

Field Notes: Small drab bird with face marking similar to Song Sparrow. Habitat differentiates as does buffy malar stripe and fine, distinct streaks on a buffy chest. Swamp Sparrow with more rufous crown and back, complete grey collar, minimal streaking on grey breast.

Personal Notes: Great picture by Richard at Fontenelle Forest in Omaha, NE.

Marbled Godwit

Scientific Name: Limosa fedoa

Range / Habitat: Breeds in the northern prairies of the US and Canada and winters along the coasts of the US and Mexico.

Field Notes: A large shorebird with a long, upturned bill. Unmistakable in summer range.

Personal Notes:  Several seen (and heard calling) in the Ft. Pierre National Grasslands of South Dakota.

14 April, 2014

Painted Bunting

Scientific Name: Passerina ciris

Range / Habitat: Wooded areas in otherwise open habitat. Winters in southern Mexico, including Yucatan, Central America, some Caribbean islands, and the southern tip of Florida. Summers in northern Mexico, Texarkana, and the southeastern coast of United States.

Field Notes: Typical bunting size, shape and bill. Males are unmistakable in range with blue head and neck, rufous chest and belly, yellow and green on the back. Females, as above, are distinctly green to the back and head, yellow to the breast, pale eye ring. Other female buntings are clearly grey or brown in colour.

Personal Notes: A new species for us in El Rey ruins of Cancun, Mexico.

Blue Grosbeak

Scientific Name: Passerina caerulea

Range / Habitat: Found in forest edge, costal scrub, second growth and similar. Winters in southern Mexico, including Yucatan, down through Central American, and many Caribbean islands. Summers in northern Mexico and southern US.

Field Notes: Large, bright blue passerine with an enormous slate-colored bill and chestnut wing bars. Indigo Bunting much smaller overall and smaller bill.

Personal Notes: We captured the essential parts for identification in this photo from El Rey ruins in Cancun, Mexico.

Lesser Greenlet

Scientific Name: Hylophilus decurtatus

Range / Habitat: Year-round in humid forest of southern Mexico, including Yucatan, Central American and just barely into northwestern South America.

Field Notes: Small passerine, with pale yellow underparts, olive wings and back, grey head. Compared to similarly-sized passerines, large head with stubby tail. As with all greenlets, sexes are similar.

Personal Notes: We had previously seen, but not photographed, this bird in Costa Rica. We came across it again in Cancun, Mexico where Richard persevered in both the photo and the identification.

03 March, 2014


Scientific Name: Aramus guarauna

Range / Habitat: Year-round resident in swamp / marsh areas of Florida, the Caribbean, southern Mexico, Central America, and most of South America.

Field Notes: Large wader, overall brown with large white spots to back, neck and head, giving speckled appearance. Long, thick, slightly decurved yellow bill.

Personal Notes: Highlight of our trip to Disney World, found on an abandoned island in Bay Lake, which used to be the Disney Zoo, in the pouring rain.

03 February, 2014

Canyon Wren

Scientific Name: Catherpes mexicanus

Range / Habitat: Year-round in arid canyonlands of western North America and Mexico.

Field Notes: Medium-sized wren with rufous back, tail and belly but white throat. Long decurved bill and no eyestripe. Song a series of cascading notes.

Personal Notes: We had been searching for this bird a long time before finding him in Joshua Tree National Park.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Scientific Name: Picoides scalaris

Range / Habitat: Year-round in arid, desert areas of southwestern US and northern Mexico where it forages and nests in cacti.

Field Notes: Small black and white woodpecker with barring complete across its back and spotting on chest. Males with red crown. Downy Woodpecker with smaller bill length relative to head, white stripe down back and clear underparts.

Personal Notes: Seen in Joshua Tree National Park.