Thursday, December 23, 2010

Citizens Count Birds Note

This program decided to act up when I uploaded the last entry. It has a problem with HTML and assigned an underline and color change to text following a hyperlink. Please ignore as I can not repair the problem. It also duplicated a picture and text as the bottom. Short of doing the entire post again, I can only ask that you read around the problem.


Citizens Count Birds

 It was on Christmas Day 1900 when Frank Chapman first organized the Christmas Bird Count with 27 volunteers who counted 90 species. Now, 111 years later the Christmas Bird Count has expanded to 60,000 volunteers who last year reported 2319 species. The Christmas Bird Count has become an international citizen-science event.

Records indicate that birdwatchers in Newfoundland have participated in the CBC for a number of years but I couldn't find when this first began.  To learn more about the Christmas Bird Count visit:  This site provides a great look into the history of the event and an overview of how it works.

The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place in February and all can participate from the comfort of your own home. I have placed a hotlink to the information about this event at the bottom of this page. For you convenience, I am adding a link here:

This site reports that people of Newfoundland have participated in this event since 1998. The lists of
birds reported by year are also listed as well as the locations within the province that reported. I participated in this event last year and it is a very easy and fun activity. Upon completion of the event, I was provided with a password to access a great information web site. For more information about Project Feeder Watch, visit this site:

 I have provided a series of pictures here that illustrate just how hard it might be to get an accurate count all of the birds. How can you tell how many Herring Gulls are sitting with how many Iceland Gulls and all of the other species. Huge flocks of seabirds congregate. It takes a good eye to determine how many of each species may be in the group. Among the large numbers of Common Eiders in this raft pictured here, there is one King Eider. A good pair of binoculars is clearly essential as well as a camera that can capture the group for later scrutiny. I am hoping to participate in the Avalon Christmas Bird Count that takes place on Boxing Day. I am sure that I will learn a lot through this experience and be able to contribute in a small way.

Not all birds will be found in large groups. Single small birds such as this Ruby-crowned Kinglet will be flitting through the trees making the count even more difficult and exciting. It will be very interesting to learn how many species will be found by how many citizen bird watchers to compile the final list for the 2010 Christmas Bird Count.

I will provide an update on the outcome following the event.
   It provides an excellent overview of the activity and explains how everyone can participate. Sign up and start counting.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rare Bird Sightings (Newfoundland 2010)

A year ago I wouldn't have had an idea what a rare bird sighting was. I really didn't know that so many beautiful and exotic birds make it to Newfoundland on a wing and a prayer, driven by high winds from Europe, Asia, and all points south of us.  How do you know if it is a rare bird or not? Ask the birders in the community and the answer is sure to come with the documented dates of previous sightings (when and where) and a story about how it unfolded.  In my searches across the WWW, I came across the Avibase - Bird Checklists of the World - and found a checklist that was reportedly last reviewed in August 2009. I can't attest to its accuracy, but it is a handy tool.

Avibase reports that there are 387 species reported in Newfoundland. For sure that is out of date because the list doesn't include the Slaty-backed Gull that was sighted last year and this year. It also provides info on the species introduced to the province, the threatened species as well as rare and accidental species. In 99% of the cases I was able to see the rare species because of the postings on the NL Birds Discussion Group. This has been one of the most effective and most used resources for this province's birdwatchers.

 Each of these birds and each of these pictures has a story. The first shot of the European Golden Plover clearly reminds me of how I got my car stuck so deep in quagmire that I could only see the top half of my tire. It also reminds me of the kindness of Nevin who worked so hard to get me out.  The Cattle Egret in the second shot was viewed in Bay Bulls with several other birders. The Great Egret, first located by Anne Hughes, created a traffic snarl on the Cape Spear Road.
This grand Sandhill Crane showed up in Goulds and attracted numerous spectators. The Northern Lapwing caused many birders to get in their cars and drive to Portugal Cove South just to get a look. I was lucky to find TWO together. The day that the Garganey was reported to be at Mundy Pond, the raw wind and the temperature was a trial to any birder hoping to get a glimpse. The Garganey didn't stay around very long. It is because of the potential for a bird to leave as quickly as it came that I try to brave the conditions and get a good look.

It is funny how some birds will linger and others just pop in for a rest. The Hooded Merganser stayed around four about two weeks and showed very nicely while the Redhead was a "now you see it; now you don't" bird. I was the lucky one that first spotted this bird and documented its visit with a photo.

 Newfoundland may well be the rare gull capital of the world. So many rare species find their way here including the Mew Gull, the Laughing Gull, the Bonaparte's Gull, the Slaty-backed Gull, the Yellow-legged Gull, the very rare Black-tailed Gull (only two documented and one of them is here now), all pictured above.


There was a tall stand of Pine Trees in Goulds that for some reason attracted a slew of rare birds in the spring. Among them were the Scarlet Tanager and the Eastern Wood Phoebe.  I missed seeing the Northern Parula that was spotted on the lawn in this yard. This Pink-footed Goose showed up in the Spring in the Gould's Access Road Pond. It stayed for quite a while and really caused a traffic jam, as there was hardly any place to park for viewing.

It was on a seldom-birded stretch of road with a flock of American Goldfinch that I found this White-eyed Vireo. Apparently, this is a very rare photo since they are very secretive birds. This one was clearly feeling very safe.

I was lucky to see some other rare and accidental birds during the year but was unable to get pictures. These included the Sooty Shearwater, the Kentucky Warbler, and the Gadwall. Note: Omitted here is the White-winged Dove that I posted recently. It is still frequenting the yards in Quidi Vidi.

Other birders have traveled frequently and far to see other rare birds throughout the year. Seeing is believing and everyone wants to see for themselves. In the year to come I will expand my search for the rare birds and the regular visitors, and it goes without saying, I will surely learn a lot. I have pictured 18 rare species and mentioned five others. I'm sure that other birders have amassed an even greater collection of pictures than I have shared here. I wonder what 2011 will bring. I will surely be out there looking.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010 - Year in Review

 By January 2010 I was ready to incorporate bird watching into my regular schedule. During the Fall of 2009 I did some hiking, photographing birds along the way. That whet my appetite for birdwatching. I decided to join one of Dave Brown's birding tours to the Southern Shore in December. That trip clinched it - I had found a new and rewarding hobby.

When I first started birdwatching, I could safely say that I could identify a Blue Jay, but I soon learned that a Blue Jay doesn't look the same all year. When this molting jay visited by feeder, I thought I should call the bird doctor. He looked so sick, but I soon learned that jays molt and this is a normal occurrence. I didn't know that. There is so much that I didn't know and still don't, but as I set out to do, I am still learning all along the way.
I thought that I knew the difference between an American Crow (pictured here) and a Raven. Well, as soon as I tried to ID them on the fly, I quickly found out that I really didn't know the different features of each one at all. In addition to a notable size difference, I learned that the tail of the Raven is shaped quite differently (a wedge) from a Crow. It takes me a moment now to glean all of the features, but I think I can safely say that I can identify each of the birds fairly accurately.
I had no idea that there were birds with red on them in this province. Over the year, I have delighted in seeing at least three different ones. The White-winged Crossbill (pictured left) is such an interesting bird and really shows its red well against the snow-covered trees. (I wonder if we will have any snow-covered trees this year.)
I got a real thrill when I found this Scarlet Tanager. It was in its full breeding plumage and was a show-stopper. Although this is not a resident Newfoundlander, the ST does occasionally visit the province and much to my surprise, I got a really good look at it.

Then, there is the Pine Grosbeak. I have seen both male and female of this species all throughout the year. They seem to be larger than they are because of their great coloring and the confidence of their carriage.

 I once thought a sparrow was a sparrow. During this year I have seen a Clay-coloured Sparrow, Fox Sparrows (pictured here) Swamp Sparrows, House Sparrows, Chipping Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow (pictured below), Song Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows.  They are not all the same.
Some are much easier to identify than others. For me to have a chance at accurately identifying sparrows, I have to photograph them and then study the books. Even then, I can't always come up with the ID and have to ask for help. Who knew that identifying birds was so challenging.
Seagulls have also presented some amazing challenging. I never knew there were so many kinds. Newfoundland is considered by many and "the" place to go to see the many species of seagulls. During this year I have seen the Ring-billed Gull (pictured here), Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Iceland Gull, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Glaucaus Gull, Black-headed Gull, and the less common Laughing Gull, Common Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Slaty-backed Gull and the very rare Black-tailed Gull. During the year I missed seeing one of the all-time favorites - the Ivory Gull and the Thayer Gull. I certainly look at the huge flocks of gulls on Quidi Vidi Lake and area in a totally different light.

Raptors have also provided a great deal of entertainment over the year, particularly the Bald Eagles that were daily visitors to Quidi Vidi Lake over the winter. In December of last year, I also witnessed a Bald Eagle snatch an Eider right out of the water on the Southern Shore.
Other raptors appear when you least expect them. This one flew out of nowhere and spooked a flock of European Startling and then very adeptly, it snagged one out of the air and rushed to a yard where it guarded it with its wings from a prying and fussy American Crow. At this time of year the Sharp-shinned Hawk is quite a common sight.

Birdwatching has brought me a great deal of pleasure this year as I watched and learned about the many avian species that share our space.  In Newfoundland my 2010 bird list has reached 148 to date. Different species of visitors in my backyard this year tallied of 28. I never would have dreamed this could happen. I continue to try to make my yard bird-friendly and hope to top this list next year. When in Arkansas, I saw another 27 species that I had not seen in this province. By birdwatching standards this is not a great list but by my standard as a starting birder, I am delighted. Among the species on my Newfoundland list are several rarities that I have listed this year. My next post will be dedicated to the rarities that I saw and the mention of some I missed.

It has been a wonderful year and I am really looking forward to learning as much next year as I did this year. As a bonus spin-off of this activity, I have walked many of the Grand Concourse trails on a regular basis amassing over 150 kilometers of activity. This is likely matched by hiking areas that are not tracked on the Concourse website. I am adapting to the high winds and cold temperatures. It it funny how those discomforts just fade away once I spot a bird.

Note:  Since I began this little blog in April, I have had over 3000 visitors from over 20 countries around the world. Thank you for sharing your time and interest in birds with me.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Kelly's Brook

Kelly's Brook, accessible off Carpasian Road, offers a small, protected, and abundant respite for many birds. This is one of those places that seems to attract vagrant birds (warblers) during the winter. There is a good mix of deciduous and coniferous trees and plenty of insects to go around.

Last year a Yellow-rumped Warbler took up winter residency at this location. This year, there is a Yellow Warbler (winter plumage pictured left) and a Wilson's Warbler residing there. I found this Yellow Warbler in a yard at the parking lot of the baseball field, near Kelly's Brook. It soon flew back to the brook. I was watching two yellow warblers that were located a different ends of the brook. I'm sure one of those was the Wilson's Warbler, but I didn't get pictures.

It was on December 7 when we experienced a particularly balmy day of about 11 degrees C. Insects were everywhere and so were birds. In addition to the warblers, the Green-winged Teal and the Eurasian Teal that are usually found in this spot, a Belted Kingfisher was feeding.

 The Belted Kingfisher is a particularly loud bird. It would fly in chattering and fly off chattering. This went on most of the morning, but it is very difficult to get close to them. I was really enjoying all of the activity at the brook when in flew this Sharp-shinned Hawk and disrupted all of it.  The little birds took off and hid away in the trees.

This hawk didn't stay very long but had a long-lasting effect on the activity at the brook. It took the little birds i.e. Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees, Boreal Chickadees, warblers and Golden-crowned Kinglets a long time to venture out of their hiding places.

Sharp-shinned Hawks seem to be everywhere these days. I have seen four within the last two weeks. They get hungry, too, I guess.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Black Guillemot

 The Black Guillemot is a member of the alcid family of birds and is a frequent sight just off the beaches of Newfoundland. I photographed this one in its summer plumage in Flatrock early summer. 

 There are two interesting and frustrating observations that I have made when seeing several of these birds off shore. First, they are typically alone so they are quick to observe anyone watching them and second, they have all been too far from shore to get a great look.  They do feed inshore in the more shallow water but waste no time moving to safer, distant waters when they see people.

 I included this blurry image of the BG riding a wave because it offers a glimpse of the red feet. I have never seen this bird out of the water
 It is hard to say but this may be the same brid in winter plumage. I found this lone Black Guillemot in its winter plumage, once again, at Flatrock. It is disappointing that I couldn't get a better image because this winter bird shows very nicely. I find it very interesting to see how different many birds look as they transform with the seasons.
As far as Black Guillemots go, this one was closer to shore than any other that I have seen. I was able to remain in my car while taking these pictures. As soon as I got out to try to get better shots, it dived under water and came up much farther out to sea. It is the same behaviour I have frequently observed with the Common Loon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Long-tailed Duck - 2010

It was at this time last year that I saw my first Long-tailed Ducks. I think it may have even been in the same look-out on the Irish Loop. When I checked last year's posting, it was clear that these pictures were better than those so I decided to upload and share the slightly improved batch of pictures.
The series of pictures that I selected really tell the story of sea bird watching. First, typically with binoculars, I spot something in the water and stop the car.  From the car window, if possible, I watch and get a few pictures. These five LT Ducks were having a grand time riding the waves fairly close to shore. 
 I watched and took pictures as usual. Then at some point, like they have a special people-sensor, they seem to notice that something is not right. They begin to look around.
 Within moments, they have spotted me and playtime is over. At this point I realize that if I am going to get any more pictures that I need to hop out of the car and get as close as possible because they are surely going to move off-shore.
Predictably, they reunite in their small group and head off. They don't rush, but they effectively put distance between them and me. This is also very common with other sea birds such as the Loon, the Black Guillemot and the Common Eider. They just slowly drift against the tide to "higher ground."

I was happy to get a better look at this group and it was not until I was home with my guide book that I identified them. This group does not show the long tail.