Thursday, September 30, 2010

Harp Seal

While pursuing birds, I have come across several wonderful animals. Many I have shared through this blog. This is my first time to get an up-close look at a Harp Seal. It was early in the morning when I was walking along the shore in Tilting with a cup of coffee in one hand and my camera in the other. I almost scalded myself with the coffee when I saw this big guy. I had no idea how long it might stay or if I would spook it so, I set my coffee down on the side of the road and began shooting.

As it turned out, he was in no hurry to go anywhere. It stayed all day and lounged on the rock, often dosing off. He was not at all bothered by the on-lookers. I wondered why I was the only one agog over this great creature. I later learned that this particular seal has been basking on this rock off and on all summer. I was surprised that he wasn't named yet.
The Harp Seal thrives in the North Atlantic Ocean where there are approximately 7.5 million of them. With that many around, I wonder why this was my first meeting. I have seen seals in the water but this one gave me a real opportunity to look him over from head to toe. This was a special encounter.

Semipalmated Plover

The Semipalmated Plover is a common sight around the freshwater and sandy beaches leading up to migration. These little birds blend in with their surroundings so well that at first glance, it is difficult to see them. When scanning a beach, it is necessary to watch for movement. Where there is movement, there is likely a shorebird. Note: This photo was taken at Tilting, Fogo Island.

When I first heard the name of this bird, I had no idea what semipalmated meant. After a quick "look up," I began to watch for the webbing. Semipalmated means that there is webbing between some but not all toes of the bird. This small plover was good enough to raise his foot and give me a good view.  Also, notice the little black tip on the end of its toes. I think he has had a manicure.

This one-legged stance is a frequent pose of many shorebirds. When not standing, the Semipalmated Plover is often seen scurrying around looking for food or resting with its beak tucked in under its wing feathers.

On the day that these shots were taken in Flatrock it was quite cool. The rocks on the other hand retained the heat. This probably explains why this little plover is having a rest. I was able to move quite close to all of the birds in this flock without disturbing them. They went on about their routine.

From the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail, the Semipalmated Plover is about 7 inches long. Yet, it looks so tiny next to the big rocks and globs of seaweed. The wingspan of this plover is twice the size of its body ranging from 14 to 16 inches wide.  In flight this plover looks quite large.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wood Duck

 On a tip from the Discussion Group on September 16, I rushed to Jones Pond to see if I could view the adult, male Wood Duck. I arrived and it was one of those days when it was mostly gray with sporadic flashes of sunlight. I hoped to list the bird and see the grand Wood Duck, but I didn't anticipate that I would get any good pictures.

When I arrived, I danced across the rocks in the stream and headed through the wooded trail. I spotted a number of Black Ducks and a Greater Yellow Legs but no Wood Duck.

I kept walking through the dense trail and decided to stop and take pictures of the Yellow Legs. While standing near the edge of the pond, in came a group of swimming Black Ducks. Trailing just behind the Black Ducks....there he was.

The plumage of this bird is so bright and flashy, it hardly looks real. I stared at it for a while and then remembered my camera. I brought some bird seeds and decided to toss a little and see what would happen.

It is common for this bird to be leery of people, but as I tossed the seed, it came closer. I kept it up until I lured him in close to shore, taking pictures all the time.

At just the right moment, when it was close to me, the sun flashed across the sky and lit my subject up. I considered myself very lucky. Not only was I able to see the bird and photograph it, I got a number of shots that filled up at least 75% of the frame of my camera.... with sunlight!

The Wood Duck is not a resident of Newfoundland but they do drop in occasionally.  When in Arkansas this summer, I was hoping to see a Wood Duck there but that didn't happen.

I can't tell you how valuable the Discussion Group is in helping other birders to see the rare birds. Just today on a tip, I hurried over to Forest Pond to try to see an adult, male Hooded Merganser. Success! Pictures will be posted on another day. There were three other birders that arrived after I did, hoping for a glimpse of yet another rare bird.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Fall is officially here and there is so much to do. There are berries to pick, the yard to repair (because of Igor) and the usual winterizing that goes on around the house and yard. Nevertheless, during this busy time, I was very lucky to be able to spend several days on Fogo Island.

My camera is loaded again. In addition to the amazing landscape shots that I gathered from this area, I added six new "postable" quality pictures of birds in the area.

Note: These blueberries were picked in the St. John's area. There is such abundance on this island!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sea bird breeding along the coast of Newfoundland

It is remarkable how I could have lived on this island for over 25 years before I ever saw a whale frolicking offshore or the many bird sanctuaries that cradle main seabird breeding grounds for thousands, thousands of birds.

This scene is Cape St. Mary's where during the summer and early fall, you can walk right out to the breeding grounds of the Northern Gannet. They are a very sleek and beautifully colored seabird. A Northern Gannet was one of the first birds profiled during the oil disaster in the Gulf this year.
This shot shows how little space a single Gannet needs. Look closely and you will see the many young birds in the group.

The problem with photographing these birds is that there are so many of them that it is very difficult to isolate just one. Nevertheless, I did and will post a profile dedicated to the Northern Gannets.

Just off the tip of Elliston on the Bonavista Peninsula, it is possible to walk straight out to the Puffin breeding grounds. On this day, it was overcast and the wind was gusting to over 100 km per hour. Our group had to lock arms to ensure our safety. It was only by lying down that I could steady my camera enough to get some pictures. Watch for the upcoming Puffin posting.

Off Witless Bay on the Southern Shore of Newfoundland there are three islands where many auk breed their young. This shot was taken on the main Great Island where there were tens of thousands of Common Murre, Thick-billed Murre and Razorbill. More on these birds in their individual posting, coming soon.

On the other side of the Great Island, the Black-legged Kittiwakes cling to the rocks to breed and raise their young. It is a thrilling experience to see all of this healthy nature just swirling about and above you. It makes you forget the city, traffic, and the maddening day-to-day work existence. It just is Nature at its best.

On my visits to these places I have also seen many Great Cormorants, one Northern Fulmar, one Sooty Shearwater, and many Black Guillemots.

Before posting individual bird images, I wanted to show the sheer magnitude of the flocks of birds that make their way the Newfoundland as a safe haven to have their young.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Greater Yellowlegs

Every now and then all elements come together for an unplanned "artsy" picture. This was the case at Jones Pond in Torbay where I found this Greater Yellowlegs. This was the only Yellowlegs that I saw on the pond and it was particularly skittish. It didn't stay around too long.
The Greater Yellowlegs has been the most common shorebird seen around St. John's this summer. They moved in during July and are still present in the ponds. It is very common to find this bird perched on a rock protruding out of the water. (Shot taken at Kenny's Pond)

I have selected a series of pictures to illustrate the common behavior of the Greater Yellowlegs, as well as the color variation. For specific details about this or any bird, please consult a field guide (or two.) Note that the bird in the third picture appears more gray and less brown than the bird in the second picture. These images were taken at different locations in different months. (Shot taken at Kent's Pond.)

This Greater Yellowlegs is searching the shoreline for food. They can feed on their common diet of small fish, mollusks, crustaceans and invertebrates either on the shore or in the water. This bird is working the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake.

This may be an immature Greater Yellowlegs, judging by the brown on its upper parts. Its bill also seems somewhat shorter than the full adult. Making these determinations on my part is only a guess based on the clues provided in resources. A more experienced birder would know right away weather this is a Lesser Yellowlegs or an immature. I still have much to learn about all groups of birds. After all, I only have ten months of experience under my belt.
This is a common pose struck by the GYL as well as other shorebirds. They scour the edge of the water looking for any food that may have washed ashore.

In this image, the GYL has used its long legs to move into deeper water and catch a small fish. I watched this bird for quite a while as it worked very hard to slide the small fish down its throat. It was a very slow process, but I had to shoot will a very fast speed to get a clear image because as he tried to swallow the fish, he shimmied, over and over.

Most often, I get pictures of birds moving away from me, but this Greater Yellowlegs decided to move directly toward me. I imagine he has been around a community pond for quite some time this summer and has developed a tolerance for people. If interested, it is possible to see this bird in most any pond and along the sea shorelines. Because their coloring camouflages them so well, you may have to look very closely when scanning the seashore.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Baltimore Oriole

Yesterday morning, I woke up quite early nursing a cold. When I opened the patio door, I realized what a beautiful day it was - sunny, no wind and temperature climbing.  It was Sunday, bird-walk Sunday. Every second Sunday throughout the summer and fall, volunteer birders serve as guides for novice birders like me for a walking tour through the Botanical Gardens. I couldn't help but think that a nice stroll in the woods would be good for my cold and kick start my day. (Image: Oxen Pond in the Botanical Gardens.)

The walk started out similarly to the one that I did early in the summer. We saw several common birds including Yellow-rumped Warblers, Blue Jays, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Fox Sparrow, Black Ducks, Common Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Flicker, Swamp Sparrow, Boreal Chickadee, Robins, and a White-throated Sparrow. Our guide answered questions and talked about the different birds. We reached the look-out and were enjoying the view and the many Robins in the area when in flew this Baltimore Oriole. It perched in a tree about 15 to 20 feet from us.
What terrific views. It even had a look at us. All nine of us had our eyes locked on this brightly colored and seemingly tame bird roosting for at least five minutes.

I had seen my first Baltimore Oriole on Bear Cove Road on the Southern Shore only two short weeks ago. The bird was far and the light was behind it. My pictures of the first sighting left a lot to be desired. Now, with the bird cooperating so well and the sun over my shoulder, the pressure was on to get a good shot. I am satisfied with the images that came out of my camera.
Birding is filled with surprises. None of us really expected to see any particularly special birds on this walk, but this little bird fooled us. This bird is not pictured in the Birds of Newfoundland Guide; perhaps because it is not a very common. However, I have heard of several sightings.

Although this is not a full-on face picture of this bird, I included it because it shows the best views of the back, tail and wings. The Baltimore Oriole is a little less than nine inches tall and weighs only 1.2 oz. Yet, when it is sitting atop a tree it seems so full of "bigness." It was where it should be and we were visitors in its neighborhood. It demonstrated its hospitality by welcoming us with its flashes of yellow, brown and black.

This image, though similar to the first one above, is useful as it shows the full yellow splashes on the bottom side of the tail. When the Baltimore Oriole flies, its tail looks similar, albeit smaller, to the tail of a Northern Flicker.

Just as our walk was ending, we happened upon four Ruffed Grouse. There were two on the ground and two in a tree. These birds are very difficult to photograph in the woods because of the shaded areas and the extensive cover provided by the branches and leaves. I was lucky to get a clear shot of this one that lingered on its perch in a tree. (I will also post this image with the other Ruffed Grouse in my photo collection.)

The next Botanical Gardens bird walk is scheduled for October 3 at 8 a.m.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Blog Update

As the summer comes to a close and a new season begins, I have been thinking about how to make my web site better. It is a growing venture and I have a lot of ideas.

Over the last three months, I have travelled all over the Avalon Peninsula, several times. During this time I developed a new "feel" for this province and a true appreciation of its history and its many wonders. I have photographed much of it and many birds along the way.

I still have over 50 species of birds to share. You may have noticed that I have developed a linking page called "Bird Photo Listing." I have created an alphabetical listing of the bird postings. (The page is still under development, but it is coming along nicely.) This page will be useful if you are looking for a specific bird and don't have the time to browse the monthly posting list on the right side of the page.

You may note that I have added a few new gadgets to the site to bring you more bird information. These are for trial only. If you have any suggestions about how you think I can enhance my blog, please submit a comment.

Among the gadgets added are several useful to local birders. The weather is always a key factor in bird watching. For that reason I have linked to the Weather Network. Fog is also a major factor when travelling to the shores for birding. To help with that challenge, I have added a link to the Newfoundland Road Cams that can show the weather conditions across the province. If shorebirds are on your "to do" list, it is helpful to know the tide schedule in the area you plan to bird. You may also notice that I have added a link to Newfoundland Tide information. I hope these little tools will enhance your birding experience. For my international visitors, I have provided the Bablefish Translator to help with any unfamiliar words.

Thank you for visiting my site and please do come back to watch it grow and to make suggestions. I am very happy to learn visitors from all around the world are finding my sight. Welcome!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mississippi Kite

Raptors soar. It is a very distinctive type of flight that catches my eye very quickly. I had spotted a Mississippi Kite on several occasions while in the car in Arkansas but at no time was it suitable to make a quick stop. I was very pleased when I was sitting in the backyard and spotted this Kite soaring in the distance.

It is only due to some good morning sunshine that I was able to get any identifiable pictures. This crop of a shot that actually shows the eye is around 3% of the full image. I was very pleased with the outcome considering the distance both horizontally and vertically.

This image shows clearly a white head and neck that fades into gray and then black markings. The Mississippi Kite is very common in Arkansas and much of the mid to southeastern states in the U.S. Typically, they stay in dense forest. This one ventured into the trees on the edge of a suburb.
If you are new to identifying raptors like me, it is a good idea to carry a camera. Even a poor shot can help in the identification process. This image is almost identical to one of the pictures in a North American field guide that I have. The shape of the wings and tail as well as the under markings provide clues to the birds identity. Peterson's field guides often show the raptor from above, below and sideways. That is a great resource for the new birder.
I watched this Kite until it settled in atop a tree very far away from me. If I hadn't seen it land, I would never have seen it, even with binoculars. It was about 6 blocks away from me. I don't know how the shot came out, but I'm glad that it did.

House Finch

In July, I had one chance to photograph a pair of House Finches. They flew in quite a distance from me and sat on a wire for about five minutes. At the time, I wasn't sure what they were but I knew that I hadn't seen them before. Click! Click!

When I got home, I downloaded over 900 photos. (That is after already deleting the worst shots off my camera.) It has taken me a long time to sort, group, identify and process the images. The House Finch is one bird that I was able to identify by using my resources. (There were 13 birds that I couldn't identify. I sent them to a local birder who is working on them now.)

It is too bad that the distance and settings limit a good view of this pretty bird. The House Finch falls into the same family of birds as the Pine Grosbeak. As luck would have it, I found a pair of Pine Grosbeaks yesterday while walking Cochrane Pond Road. I will likely upload those new shots in about ten days.

The House Finch is a common bird, coast to coast across the U.S. However, it is possible it may find its way here some time. This morning, I read a report that a Turkey Vulture had been spotted on the West Coast of the island. I never know what to expect but the unexpected.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Common Grackle - Pt. 2

Learning to identify birds is a huge challenge. I never imagined that there were so many different birds and so many different seasonal changes. I decided to illustrate this point with pictures of a Common Grackle. (Some refer to this bird as the Purple Grackle.) This image was shot in Arkansas in early July and shows a head of more purple than blue. Its back has a purple and bronze color which separates this bird from the Brewer's Blackbird. They can look very similar but the Brewer's is supposed to have a darker and more shiny coat on its back parts.

The beak of the Common Grackle is also bigger, longer and sharper than the Brewer's Blackbird. If I ever find one, I will post the pictures side by side.

This picture of the Common Grackle was taken in May at Forest Pond in Goulds. The fresh Spring colors are vibrant and blue/green, not purple; yet, this is a Common Grackle. There is a strong similarity in the color of the wings and tail between both birds pictured here.

Now, to complicate things even more, this is a Common Grackle photographed on the Southern Shore of Newfoundland in April. Is it any wonder that I struggle with identification? The same bird never looks the same!

I am continuing to collect images of the same birds so that I can more closely study the changes that the birds undergo through the seasons. There is breeding plumage, winter plumage, summer plumage, fall plumage, and molting all complicated by the gender and the age of the bird. I wonder if I will ever get it all? or even part?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

American Redstart

On the morning of August 18, I was having my morning coffee and sizing up the bird activity in my yard, as usual. I spotted a Black-capped Chickadee, and I was pleased. The BCC is an occasional visitor to my feeder and always welcome. Then I spotted a pair splashy reddish, rusty colored sparrow. Oh, this was a good morning, two Fox Sparrows had come to visit. This was a first. I continued to scan the nearby trees and my feeder and there was a Yellow Warbler - a triple basehit. My yard was alive. Then, I saw flashes of yellow on a tail. I am used to seeing flashes of white on the tail from the many Juncos that frequent the feeder but this was a definite yellow.
I pressed my binoculars so tight to my eyes that my eye sockets were hurting. It was definite this was not a Junco. I traded off my binoculars for my camera and started to shoot. I wasn't quite sure what it was but I was shooting fast and furiourly, anyway.

I watched as it flitted around the tree and I reacted with quick clicks of the shutter everytime it came into the open, even a little bit. I surmised from the beak that it must be a warbler of some sort. It was busy catching flies for breakfast.
At last it came out of the trees and gave me some close views and close scrutinity, as this picture indicates. More than ten minutes had elapsed and they were still comfortable in the yard. Needless to say, so was I. (The American Redstart is known to be tame.)

One of my guests gave me the opportunity to have a good look at the the bright yellow, fanned tail, as if to say ", get a good picture." Thanks to my trusty camera, I was able to review the field guides and my images, and I came to the conclusion that I had one adult female and two immature American Redstarts come to call and stay for about 30 minutes.  They all were cooperative in stepping out into the open for pictures.

This image is most likely the adult female. She was the one who caught most of the flies, but I didn't see her feeding either of the others.  I don't know how it was that this common resident of Newfoundland found its way to my yard, but I am surely glad that it did. They have not returned but I continue to watch for them and other special visitors to brighten up my yard and my day.