Snow, rain and a brutal North wind accompanied the arrival of swallows in St. John's. Tree Swallows, Barn and Bank Swallows (pictured below) are typical at this time of the year. A flurry of swallows nearly always show up with the worst Spring weather. They swirl over the waters in search of something to eat. This year a few Cliff Swallows accompanied the flash mob.
While much of the activity occurred at Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John's, a small number also gathered at Bidgood Park. It was there I got my best look at a Cliff Swallow. I have never really had an opportunity to stand and study this species. Keep in mind the sun popped out for one day this week, but the unrelenting North wind held steady.
In Newfoundland, it is always a battle between the elements, the arrival of good birds and perseverance. Given our island location, it is almost a given: Bad weather equals good birds.
Now for the best buzz! The most exciting bird arrival in St. John's this week was a Common Swift! This bird is a draw for birders across North America. So far, it has been here for five days. Since the weather today is rain, drizzle and fog with a temp around freezing and the presence of full-on North winds, it is likely the bird will continue at QV Lake.
For anyone who wants to view this bird, go dressed for it: Winter boots, winter coat, hat, gloves and hand warmers.
It is probable that viewers will be standing in one place for a long time tracking the steady movement of this swift. At times it will swoop in close, raising the level of excitement.
For those hoping to photograph this bird, be prepared to have lots of patience. Of the hundreds of shots I took, these are the best. Most were just a blur or a distant silhouette is in dull gray atmosphere.
Having said all that, make no mistake, the pleasure of seeing this bird far outweighs all the hardships. I will probably go down again today just to get another glimpse of this Common Swift.
Amid all the swallow activity at Quidi Vidi Lake, I came across this different gull. It was larger and darker than a Lesser Black-backed Gull. There were other field marks that were different, too.
Luckily, Dave Brown was in the area and came to look at it. He figures it is a 3rd year Lesser Black-backed Gull. Good to have the experts around, because I stared at this bird for a long time. I figured it was a lesser because I couldn't find anything else to match. At this time of the year, it pays to look closely at every oddity around.
After Bruce's report of 10,000 eider at Cape Spear yesterday, I decided to head out to see what remained. When I arrived, I found two large flocks sitting offshore. Soon, they merged. Wow! It is impossible to imagine how many bird were sitting on the water, but when they lifted off the sky darkened. There, indeed, were thousands. In typical eider fashion, they seem to send a scouting party close to shore to check it out. Then more come and more and .....
This trickle of birds moving into the waters below me gave me a chance to really look at them. This was the first King Eider that came close. With Bruce's help, I learned this is a first winter male.
Then, came a first winter Common Eider. There is a big difference between these two species.
At last an adult King Eider moved in.
The numbers picked up, and they were moving in quickly. This was wonderful. I was going to get a real chance to study them.
I crept along the snow mounds and rocks to get into a better position to watch and photograph this group just below the lighthouse.
More King Eider appeared in a variety of variations. The most I counted in this nearby flock was nine males, and it wasn't even a quarter of the flock still sitting offshore.
Can it get any better than this? I should mention this didn't all happen in five minutes. I was there for nearly two hours waiting for this to happen.
In this shot, there are three King Eider, each one in a different plumage. Very interesting!
Then, in flew what I think is a female King Eider. The smaller body size, the beak and the mark over the eye is the basis for my ID.
Then, appeared yet another different plumage. Bruce has advised me this is a hybrid Common/King Eider. He notes this is rare, but does happen.
Another adult male King flew in. This was phenomenal.
Then, this happened. This juvenile Bald Eagle flew over my shoulder and spoiled everything.
The flock was very quick to react. Some flew South and others stayed put.
Soon, they lifted off heading North. The eagle tried for five minutes to get breakfast. Obviously, it still needs to hone its skills. All eider survived. The flock soon settled offshore again. I knew it was going to be a long time before the birds felt safe enough to return inshore to feed.
It wasn't long before a large fishing vessel entered the scene and upset them again. Too cold to wait, I headed to the car shaking my head in amazement. If the weather had been better, I could have stayed all day:)
The bright sunshine this morning hauled me outdoors, despite the early-morning chill in the air. As the sun rose, the day warmed. It turned out to be a beautiful day for walking.
I started the walk at Cape Spear. There were very few birds to be seen, but the conditions made up for that. A few small flocks of Common Eider flew by as well as one Murre. I couldn't tell which kind it was. Guillemot dotted the water and one large flock of Long-tailed Ducks appeared and disappeared under the water. There was a feisty drone circling the area.
Maddox Cove had at least six Red-breasted Mergansers and a smattering of Guillemot and gulls.
Third Pond was interesting. The parking lot had not been cleared and a front-end loader blocked the entrance. I parked there and took a walk-about. The brooks are open on both sides of the pond. Snow is not deep and easy to walk, and the growth is very low. Viewing the area was almost too easy. The only problem was there were no special birds in the area. Plenty of crows dotted the sky, starlings seem to have moved into the horse barns, and the typical ducks skirted around the marsh.
Bidgood Park was perfect for walking. Again, there were few birds. A small flock of junco and several Black Ducks ruled the park.
Fourth Pond is still quite frozen, easily supporting the walkers going from cabins to homes across the pond. The usual domestic geese were present. Cochrane Pond Road produced no birds whatsoever. Blocking the entrance to the gravel road is a h-u-g-e wall of snow. I figure it won't melt until sometime in July!
A quick jaunt into Mundy Pond showed the inner lagoon open. From a distance, I didn't see any birds in the area. Then, it was on to Quidi Vidi Lake.
It was there I saw the prize-of-the-day - the visiting Slaty-backed Gull. It has been several years since I have seen one; and thanks to Frank King and his scope, I saw it very well. Too bad the bird was so far away, and photos don't do it justice. What a great way to end my longest birding outing for quite some time.