Saturday, January 29, 2011

Anna's What? Anna's Hummingbird!

 It was the most unexpected posting on the Discussion Group. An Anna's Hummingbird had been reported at a feeder in Brownsdale since June. The residents were unaware of the significance of this little visitor and did not report it until last Thursday. By Saturday a caravan of birders was on the Trans Canada Highway en route to Brownsdale (178 km) from St. John's.
 The day for my birding partner and I started at 6:00 a.m. There were about 2 inches of slushy snow on the road compounded by heavy rains, much more than was forecast. Inching our way through the trenched slush, the darkness and the clicking windshield wipers, we were resolute in reaching our destination.
 Finally dawn brought better light and the rain eased off in fits and starts. We figured the worst was behind us. Then we ascended the hills toward Brownsdale where the elevation impacted the amount of snow. There was more snow and slush and this proved to be one of the more treacherous stretches of road. Slow and steady we reached Brownsdale where it was dark, dreary and sprinkling.
 The resident keepers of the Anna's Hummingbird were expecting many visitors today and they greeted us at the door. With an invitation to view  the bird from inside the house and an offer of coffee to warm us up, we were poised to watch for the surprising visitor to Newfoundland, an Anna's Hummingbird.

 In about ten minutes in flew this amazing three and one-half inch giant of a bird. It looked healthy, ate with vigor and seemed very well adjusted to the winter. It was real and it was here. The Anna's is a west coast bird found mostly in southern California and Mexico. What in the world is it doing here?

CBC's website posted a video of the busy little hummingbird that is quite spectacular. Modern news these days now opens communications with the public to post their opinions. There were some naysayers that suggested that this bird was brought in or that it hitched a ride on a transport truck, or the like. Another speculated that it was odd for someone to have a hummingbird feeder out for such an
unexpected bird.

Well, I can speak to the mystery of the feeder. It seems that this bird showed up in June and spent the summer feeding on the many garden flowers in the area. Once the hummingbird stayed around for a while, two houses (sisters that live across the road from each other) both put out hummingbird feeders. This little bird has frequented both. Now, I have heard that in an effort to help this Anna's survive the winter, they are alternating feeders to ensure that there is always food

How rare birds reach our shores will always remain a mystery, but I would put my money on it being one of those natural phenomena that leaves us in awe.

There is inspiration to be drawn from the tenacity of a 3.5" bird making the journey and scraping out a survival from nature and nurture to spend the winter in Brownsdale, Newfoundland.
Within 45 minutes of our arrival in Brownsdale, seven other birders arrived filled with amazement and excitement. I can only guess but I imagine many other bird lovers showed up later on Saturday and Sunday. The warmth extended by the host family helps me to understand why this little Anna's Hummingbird has moved in to stay.

Note the last picture: The throat of the Anna's Hummingbird is actually iridescent red and the texture is much like scales. In some light, the throat looks quite dark, but when it turns in a particular direction, the red pops. There are very small red dots on the head suggesting that this is an immature male. My pictures are disappointingly blurred but I guess that is just the rain in its eyes and on my lens.

I should add: This is a record "first" for this bird in this province.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Hint!

Here is a little hint about tomorrow's posting. Birdwatchers in Newfoundland will surely be able to guess because it has been the "talk of the town."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Common Goldeneye

It is always a special event when I see a bird for the first time. This week I have seen three. These Common Goldeneye are among them. Strangely enough, having never seen this bird in over a year, I came across it twice in five days. The first time was in Clarkes Beach where a few were scattered around followed by a flock that flew in.
 It was a harsh, blustery day making it more desirable to view the birds from the car rather than on the beach. Nevertheless, my birding partner and I braved the elements to walk down the shore in the hopes of getting a closer look. The small Common Goldeneye bobbed up and down with the waves and then would disappear altogether as they dove under the water.
 On Tuesday of this week I came across a much larger group of Common Goldeneye at Chamberlains. There were four sizable flocks where the highest number that I counted in a picture was 27. That represents only the numbers sitting on the water while there were obviously some under the water as well. This group seemed peaceful enough when something spooked them and they all took to the air and flew some distance away.
 Luckily, I was able to stay in my car most of the time so I drove up the beach to look at another group. These shots are major crops of very distant pictures. I chose to share this one to show the snow white breast of the Common Goldeneye. When looking out over the water the light reflects off the white and makes the bird look really big.
This last shot shows what I think are female Common Goldeneye. The tip of the bill of the female is typically yellow. The bird on the left of this picture seems to show the yellow but the one on the right does not. Keeping in mind that these shots are magnified many times which creates a blur coupled with the glare of the light off the water, it is possibly yellow but not visible. The white stripe along the wing seems to be a marker that separates the female from the immature male.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Return of the Yellow-legged Gull

Gull identification is very difficult. Even when I think I know and can recognize a gull, up pops some variation to add to the confusion. Well, this time I am 100% sure! This is a Yellow-legged Gull.
 I have spent quite a bit of time this winter searching for the Yellow-legged Gull. On two previous occasions other birders pointed it out to me. I looked, photographed and returned to my computer to study. Today, with the on-going help of two very knowledgeable birders, I am sure that I found the Yellow-legged Gull all by myself! When I saw it, I thought this one seems so clear cut, how could I have been so confused about this. I was really glad that I got a chance to see it standing because I would have doubted myself forever if I hadn't seen the legs, too.

I had about five minutes with this gull before something flushed the flock and they all flew away. With so many birds in the air, I lost track of this one.

 The Yellow-legged Gull obviously has yellow legs, but so does the Lesser Black-backed Gull. In the Fall the Yellow-legged Gull has some streaks on its head that fade away by December to reveal this snow-white head.
 It was the transitional period that really left me baffled. This Yellow-legged Gull was photographed in late November. It still has some streaking around the eyes and front head. Yet, it seems in this picture that the back of the head is already turning white. It is during this time that distinguishing the Yellow-legged Gull from the Lesser Black-backed Gull is so difficult. I have added a picture of a Lesser Black-backed Gull below for comparison.
The Lesser-Black Backed Gull has a lot of streaking on its full head and down its neck. The color of the back which is darker than a Herring Gull but lighter than a Black-backed Gull is usually the first point of IDing the YLG and the LBBG. The yellow eyes with red orbital rings and yellow legs are standard on both of these gulls and serve to narrow the identification of the gull to two possibilities (here in Newfoundland.) Then to differentiate between the two gulls, the head shape and the streaking seem to be the best and last step in the ID. I'm sure that I will still be challenged by these two birds for some time but I certainly know more now than in November of this year. Small increments will eventually add up to some level of confidence in the future.

Wood Duck (Female)

 It was in September 2010 that I first saw a Wood Duck. As luck would have it, it was a beautiful male. I don't often hear reports of Wood Ducks being around so I really didn't expect to see another one so soon.  However, one was spotted in Kelligrews. Yesterday dawned as a fine weather day and I made a quick decision to go for a drive. I'm glad I did.

The Wood Duck typically breeds across the northern U.S. and southern boarder of Canada and as far northeast as Nova Scotia.  The Wood Duck is supposed to spend winters in Southwest Texas and points south. This kind of information always raises the question about what it is doing here. I will never know why or how but I can certainly enjoy its visit.
 The female colors are much more dull than the male but its features are distinct and interesting. The white patch that surrounds the eye and its small size makes this bird stand out among the American Black Ducks,  the Mallards and the large hybrid ducks that have taken up residency at Kelligrews Pond.
 The female has a crest but it is much smaller than the male and its plumage is a mix of browns and greys and has a pattern of scales on its back. These ducks actually nest in trees. Sometimes I wonder if the duller colors of the females are intended to offer them extra camouflage when sitting on their nests.

There is a slight hint of iridescent blue/green present on the wings of the female, but not nearly the abundant amount of color that adorns the male Wood Duck.
 This particular female Wood Duck seemed comfortable with people. It swam towards me several times as if seeking a hand-out. At one point for no apparent reason, all of the birds in the pond flushed. They did a quick circle around and most returned to the shoreline.
To round out the pair, I have included this image of the male Wood Duck that I photographed in Middle Cove in the Fall. The size and shape of both ducks are quite similar but the colors of the male are remarkable.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

American Coot 2011

 The American Coot is such an interesting and different bird. I watch as walkers around Quidi Vidi Lake stop, look and laugh at this unusual visitor. When on land they are awkward with chicken-like feet and they bob as they walk.  On water they are more graceful but not swans by any means. They lurch their heads forward as they swim and they can move pretty fast when they think there is some free food coming their way.
 When taking off, they run across the water (similar to the Grebe that I saw this summer) to gain the speed to take to the air.
In the Fall there were reports that there was an American Coot at Kent's Pond, then Kenny's Pond, then Long Pond and finally Mundy Pond. Was this the same bird just moving around these nearby ponds or were there two. One birder walked between Kent's and Kenny's and found a coot in both. It was generally thought that there were at least two American Coots in our waters.
The American Coot winters north but Newfoundland is quite a bit north of its wintering range. Nevertheless, an American Coot spent last winter here and this year ..... well, there are not two but SIX. One birder saw six together at Quidi Vidi Lake just after the smaller ponds froze over. This fleet of American Coots is delightful to watch as they dive, lumber and walk on water.

Monday, January 24, 2011


A lot of the time in bird photography, you take what you get. This is the case with these pictures of a very striking male Bufflehead. These pictures were taken on Saturday at Clarke's Beach while sitting in my car.
These images are about a 10% crop of the original photos and I was only able to take about ten shots before it lifted off its rock and flew away. There was no time to experiment with different settings in the hope of getting a good shot.
 Like many diving ducks, they tend to flock together. There were a number of Common Goldeneye also at the Beach but this one tended to stay to himself. It is common for the Bufflehead to winter in the waters of the southwestern region of Newfoundland.
 The Bufflehead is the smallest of all the diving ducks but looks larger because of the large amount of white on it and its very large head for which it is named. This is the first male Bufflehead that I have seen, and I was really surprised by the size and color of its bright pink feet. It was my good fortune to see it on a rock where the feet were exposed.
 In March 2010 this female Bufflehead showed up at Long Pond, Pippy Park but like its male counterpart, it didn't come close to shore either. It would be really nice to see both  male and female together.
It has recently been reported that a female Bufflehead has returned to Long Pond this year. I must get down there to see it, but not today. The wind is really crazy out there. As much as I dislike the wind, I can't help but wonder if it will blow in some more rarities for our enjoyment.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Black-tailed Gull - January 2011

The much adored Black-tailed Gull has now been in St. John's for over a month and seems to have settled in very well. He is as tame as many of the regular visitors to Quidi Vidi Lake and can maneuver his way to get to the front of the line when food is being delivered by those who frequently visit and feed the birds.
 By now this bird has been the subject of dozens of photographers and has surely posed for thousands of pictures. I am among those and must have taken six to eight hundred shots of him myself.
 So, with so many pictures of this bird floating around, I decided to put together an odd collection of our Black-tailed Gull going through his morning routine. I spent about 30 minutes with him on Thursday morning and followed his every move.
 He started his day with a series of grooming activities interspersed with some type of calisthenics.
 He preened and preened, leaving no spot unchecked.

He, then, twisted in every direction to stretch out his body, much like yoga. Bird yoga, that must be what it was.
 Every now and then he would stop and look around, but this time he wore a small, downy feather stuck to his beak.
 Once he shook that loose, he went into his stretching again, each time seeming to work a different set of muscles.
This became quite a show, and he was not at all bothered by me or my clicking camera. In fact, he walked directly to me on several occasions.
I thought he must surely be done with preening and stretching when he seemed to be checking out his image in the mirror.
He did seem to be a little more relaxed and then someone showed up with bread. He must like bread a lot because in a flash he lifted off and flew toward the source.
 When it turned out to be a limited supply, he quickly flew back to his comfort zone on the North side of the West end of the lake.
 It was a real treat to see the bold black band on his tail as he flew across the waters and returned to land near me again.
Although far from being the technically best shot, I do favor this shot because of the majesty of the frame when he landed. Every feather was perfectly balanced and well groomed, too, as he came in for a gentle landing.
 He wasn't back long before he began preening yet again. I should add that on none of these pictures have I enhanced the red tip on his beak. It really is as red as that. When the sun hits it, it almost sparkles.
Once again, food arrived. This time delivered by a woman and her two children. The Black-tailed Gull geared up to lift off again in the hope that breakfast was finally delivered.

This experience with this Asian traveller was so much different than the first time that I saw him. He seemed glued to a stile at the St. John's harbour, afraid of everything that moved. It looks like he is happy with his new home. I wonder if he will stay and become a permanent fixture here or if one day, he will just lift off and be gone for good.