For the 7th consecutive spring, White-faced Ibis have been found in Scarborough Marsh. I found the state’s 5th record in 2008 – a single adult bird – and in each of the next three years, a single adult bird was seen. It is more than likely that this was the same adult returning for each of those years, and likely beyond.
Things became a little more muddied in 2012, however, when three different White-faced Ibis (WFIB) were documented (that spring, I wrote an extensive blog summarizing the difference and the previous records. Although that was posted to my old Mainetoday.com blog that has since imploded, if anyone would like a copy of that synthesis, please let me know).
Additionally, some earlier photos of the sub-adult bird can be seen here, although they are not of high quality.
In 2013, at least three individuals were identified once again.
So the question becomes are these birds all related? How many of these individuals have shown up for home many consecutive years? And, are they breeding?
Last year, WFIB were spotted on occasion through the end of the summer, confirming that the birds are not just spring overshoots or drift vagrants. Although the detection of – and ability to study the – ibis becomes much more challenging as the season progresses due to the growing marsh grasses, last year WFIB was a semi-regular sighting in the marsh. Some of my photos from July and August of last year can be seen here.
Juvenile WFIB are impossible to separate in the field from juvenile Glossy Ibis in the late summer and fall (by late winter, the development of the red eye and perhaps even facial skin coloration would at least tip us off to the possible identification). Therefore, if breeding is to be confirmed, it would likely have to be on Stratton Island – where they would likely breed within the large colony of Glossy Ibis (GLIB) – or, by conjecture as a population increases. Figuring out exactly how many birds are seen each year, and their ages, could help us track potential breeding (and perhaps eventual colonization?). It’s also fun – if you like this sort of thing.
Each year, WFIB show up in late April, about the time that the majority of the GLIB arrive, and this year, the birds were first reported on Saturday (4/19). Two to three birds were reported, and over the past week, we have tried to determine exactly how many birds they are, and, if possible, what ages they are.
On Sunday, Jeannette and I were planning on heading to the marsh in the afternoon anyway (to take advantage of the high tide on our rare extra day off), so looking for the WFIB first reported on Saturday added extra incentive. And luck was with us. As soon as we arrived at the marsh, we found a group of about 70 GLIB foraging close to Pine Point Road. We jumped out, and immediately found two White-faced Ibis within the group, along with one other bird of interest (a bird that looked absolutely fine for a pure GLIB, but with distinctly reddish-pink knees, and perhaps a pinkish hue on the rest of the leg. Jeannette, unfortunately, was unable to get photos of this individual).
Although the facial skin, especially right at the base of the bill, has a slight grayish tint, I see no reason to argue that this is anything other than an adult bird (or very near-adult, perhaps).
Note the greatly reduced amount of white around the face, with no white behind the eye. In the field, I called this bird a sub-adult, but on close inspection of the photos, I don’t feel comfortable calling its age – other than it is definitely more than a year old. Although there isn’t much white on the “face,” the pure red eye, pink facial skin, and pinkish legs with brighter red-pink knees are all fine for an adult, in fact, as are the spiffy, glossy tertials. Perhaps a spread-tail shot could help confirm this. It might simply be a dull (facial-marking-wise) adult.
Meanwhile, photos from other folks suggest that a third WFIB, or perhaps a hybrid, is present. If it is, perhaps we will be able to compare these birds to those of last year, and perhaps even conclude that the same three birds are back. Regardless, it will be an interesting exercise, and quite the challenge, as ibis are a real challenge to age. In fact, we might not even know for sure how to age them! Of course, you know me, that doesn’t necessarily stop me from trying.
What intrigues me is that we have not yet documented a hybrid, even after an adult was present for 4-5 years. Since out of range WFIB are well known to hybridize with GLIB (and visa-versa), we often expected to see hybrid kiddies running around (at least by next spring when they would have been noticeable). Perhaps it did not breed, or the young did not survive. And/or perhaps it waited long enough for another WFIB to arrive. Whatever is going on, it will be most interesting to watch, this summer and beyond.
Luke Seitz and I embarked on a semi-serious “Shorebird Big Day” on Wednesday. I say “semi-serious” because we didn’t exactly try too hard to build our list…at least not after our first stop. Instead, we spent more time watching shorebirds, studying, and photographing them. We still, however, tallied 14 species of shorebirds, but instead of heading inland to pick up Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, and Upland Sandpiper, we just splashed in the water and studied dowitchers at Hill’s Beach. It wasn’t a bad way to spend a gorgeous summer day.
We began in the morning at high tide by scouring Scarborough Marsh from the Eastern Road Trail. If we were to have a chance at 20 species of shorebirds on the day, we would need to add a rarity or two from the pannes. Unfortunately, high water levels from all of the recent rain minimized habitat, and shorebirds were not as plentiful as we would have preferred. We did, however, see 2 or 3 Stilt Sandpipers, a decent bird in the summer. Other than Greater Yellowlegs, with about 55 individuals, numbers were relatively low: 75 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 40 Short-billed Dowitchers, 25+ Least Sandpipers, 8 Lesser Yellowlegs, 3 Black-bellied Plovers, 2 Semipalmated Plovers, and 1 Willet.
Making up for the low shorebird totals, however, were the high wading bird totals: 85 Snowy Egrets, 60 Great Egrets, 40 Glossy Ibis, 39 Little Blue Herons, and 9 Great Blue Herons. In addition to teasing out one of the continuing White-faced Ibises and spotting the continuing full Tricolored Heron, we also saw BOTH of the presumed Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrids. Yup, there are two of these beasties out there!
However, recently, a second bird has appeared, which is very reminiscent of the first, but has some splotchy areas of white, including mostly white wingtips. I believe I saw this bird on July 18th when I was out with a client and sans camera; I remember commenting (and my field notes confirm) that I didn’t remember so much white in the wing
Meanwhile, it was nice to see that at least one of the White-faced Ibises continue, although at this stage of molt, it was impossible to age. It was also not very close. Here’s Luke’s best shot (mine were not passable at all).
…we attempted to regain our shorebird focus over at Pine Point, as the tide was rolling out. The mudflats had plenty of birds, including a few birds that would be important for a Shorebird Big Day, such as the pair – now, featuring two fledglings! – of American Oystercatchers (the only breeding pair in the state!). We also had four Whimbrel, along with 296 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 124 Semipalmated Plovers, 25 Willets, 25 Short-billed Dowitchers, 19 Black-bellied Plovers, 3 Ruddy Turnstones, and 2 each of Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs.
But with a morning total of a mere 11 species of shorebirds, we elected for a leisurely lunch at Saco Island Deli instead of heading inland to work on our shorebird list – it is really too early in the season for a true Shorebird Big Day, but I am not sure if I have ever hit 20 in July, and since this was a day we both had a chance to get out all day together, we figured it was at least worth considering. Anyway, on the incoming tide, we visited Hill’s Beach, where once again, we elected to forego shorebird listing for shorebird “quality” time, and therefore just spent close to three hours playing in the sand.
…4 Piping Plovers (a pair fledged two young here for the first time in recent memory), and 8 Sanderlings brought our count to 14 species on the day, we became distracted by photographing terns and studying dowitchers. While our goodly count of 155 Semipalmated Plovers were augmented by about 65 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 8 Black-bellied Plovers, 4 Ruddy Turnstones, and 1 Least Sandpiper, it was the 120 or so Short-billed Dowitchers that kept our attention.
We were looking for individuals of the interior subspecies hendersonii, as I did on Sunday with Phil. (See blog and photos here:
https://mebirdingfieldnotes.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/biddeford-in-shorebird-season/). We had what was possibly the same bright bird as Sunday (see above) fly-by, it was the paler birds that had us intrigued.
We thought the combination of a bright orange chest, and a fair amount of orange between the legs and on the undertail coverts, compared with the paler face and lightly, but distinctly spotted flanks and side (especially the side of the breast) of this bird made it look “good.”
But we were pondering how extensive of color a hendersonii “needs” to have, as most of the individuals of the expected Eastern subspecies griseus, also were showing at least a touch of peachy-orange color in the undertail, etc.
Ok, so we really quit on the Big Day attempt by about 10:33 in the morning, but 14 species of shorebirds included Stilt Sandpiper, American Oystercatcher, and two hendersonii Short-billed Dowitcher, along with two Tricolored Heron x Snowy Egret hybrids, White-faced Ibis, Tricolored Heron, a mid-summer marsh Merlin (these birds have simply got to be breeding in coastal Cumberland County!), it was hardly a bad day of birding. In fact, it was actually a spectacular day!