Friday, March 25, 2011

Who birds? Part 3

Whether there is a pattern in personality traits of people who enjoy bird watching or not, one thing is certain: Bird watchers come from all walks of life. It is interesting to observe the styles of bird watching.

 I found this article by Melissa Mayntz
posted at: to be very interesting. She attempts to describe the different types of birders. I have copied it here.

"Types of Birders

By Melissa Mayntz, Guide

There are approximately 10,000 species of birds throughout the world and there are nearly as many different types of birders depending on how each individual defines their hobby. What type of birder are you? The answer may not be as clear as you think – just as many bird species can be challenging to identify, it can also be difficult to determine what type of birder you are, especially when so many birders are really many species of hobbyists.

Bird Watcher

A bird watcher enjoys both backyard birds and whatever species they may see while traveling or visiting parks, but they do not necessarily plan their vacations or activities with the intent of seeing new or unusual birds. They also do not deliberately stock feeders with different items to attract a range of species, nor do they deliberately plan a landscape that is first and foremost suitable to the birds. A bird watcher is familiar with local, common birds but may not be able to easily identify rare or intermittent visitors.

Backyard Birder

A backyard birder enjoys the birds that visit nearby and actively seeks to attract a range of species to the yard through different feeders, birdhouses and a bird-friendly landscape. They can frequently identify both everyday and seasonal species, as well as some of the more unusual guests to their yard. This is the easiest type of birder to be, because birding in the backyard does not necessarily require specialized equipment beyond a general field guide and a basic set of binoculars. While this is the first step for many dedicated birders, it is rarely the last step because seeing new species and observing their behavior can be an exciting, addictive beginning to a lifelong passion.


A true “birder” actively observes and studies different birds in order to see new species and to learn more about their behavior, habitats and personalities. Birders often plan travel to festivals to see more birds and they may take photography or basic ornithology classes to expand their knowledge and enjoyment of the hobby. Birders may also participate in organized competitions and birding marathons to see a wide number of species. Birders can generally identify every species on their life list, though they may consult with numerous field guides for certainty.


A twitcher’s favorite bird is the newest one they’ve seen. These passionate birders actively seek to add more birds to their life list, and they may travel extensively when rare or unusual birds are reported. Keeping a single checklist may not be sufficient – twitchers often keep checklist for particular seasons or locations to keep track of just where they’ve seen the many birds on their life list.

Citizen Scientist

A citizen scientist is a serious birder, often active in multiple bird conservation and education events. These birders participate in annual counts and report their findings to the appropriate organizations, and they also seek to promote conservation of bird species and their essential habitats. A citizen scientist may organize educational or birding events, or they may be volunteers with various aviaries or rehabilitation centers.


An ornithologist is a professional birder with advanced scientific training about not only bird species but also about behavior, anatomy, physiology and bird species history. Being an ornithologist requires years of higher education, and many ornithologists lead extensive research projects to promote bird conservation. Many ornithologists specialize in very rare or endangered bird species rather than focusing on more common birds."

I think there may be one "type" of birder that can be added to this list. How about:

Extreme Birder

This would be a birder who will go to great lengths to get a good look at a bird. This may include tethering oneself to the railing at Cape Spear to keep from blowing away while trying to discern if there is one King Eider among a flock of 3000 Common Eider. You may find the Extreme Birder (better known as a little stunned) edging closer and closer to the water's edge until they sink up to their waist in bog to see if a Gadwall is tucked into the shoreline. It is also possible to find an Extreme Birder tangled up in the twisted Tuckamore on the barrens in hot pursuit of a rare Warbler or gingerly inching across the thin ice to better identify a different gull.  An Extreme Birder can be found in sub-zero temps with 100 kph winds for extended periods of time waiting for a special bird to return to its initial point of sighting. These would be the same birders who drive along the roadways at 5 kph scouring the bushes and treetops looking for an unexpected fowl to appear. Or, you may find an extreme birder's car buried up to the fender in muck and mire as a result of venturing into uncharted terrain in an attempt to get closer to a rare bird without flushing it. How can you identify an extreme birder? Well, for sure, they will have a pair of binoculars hung around their neck and maybe even a huge camera in tow. Their boots may be muddy or pants may be wet, their car may look like it has just competed the Targa race, or their nose may be bright red and finger tips, blue. One thing is for sure their eyes will shine with excitement, their facial expression will be peaceful and accentuated with a very contented smile.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Who birds? Part 2

Yesterday, I went on about the importance of having a healthy passtime integrated into one's life. Today, I want to give some attention to the idea that individual personality traits can be matched with the factors associated with activities. John Holland developed an interest inventory called the Self-directed Search. This is a low-impact tool that offers many questions relating to the kinds of things that people self-report that they like to do. In addition to this Holland has amassed a list of occupations that were typed by the actual activities involved in the work. His typing matches the reported personalities thus indicating an identified "type" of person would be well-matched with at "type" of work. This is a standard tool used in career counselling. In short, this system classifies jobs into job categories, interest clusters, or work personality. Is it possible that the Holland Model can also help to identify potential leisure activities associated with work personalities?

So what are the types?

Realistic people are usually assertive and competitive, and are interested in activities requiring motor coordination, skill and strength. People with a realistic orientation usually prefer to work a problem through by doing something, rather than talking about it, or sitting and thinking about it. They like concrete approaches to problem solving, rather than abstract theory. They tend to be interested in scientific or mechanical rather than cultural and aesthetic areas. They like to work with THINGS.

Investigative people like to think and observe rather than act, to organize and understand information rather than to persuade. They tend to prefer individual rather than people oriented activities. They like to work with DATA.

Artistic people are usually creative, open, inventive, original, perceptive, sensitive, independent and emotional. . They do not like structure and rules, like tasks involving people or physical skills, and are more likely to express their emotions than others. They like to think, organize and understand artistic and cultural areas. They like to work with IDEAS and THINGS.

Social people seem to satisfy their needs in teaching or helping situations. They are different from R and I Types because they are drawn more to seek close relationships with other people and are less apt to want to be really intellectual or physical. They like to work with PEOPLE.

Enterprising people are good talkers, and use this skill to lead or persuade others. They also value reputation, power, money and status, and will usually go after it. They like to work with PEOPLE and DATA

Conventional people like rules and regulations and emphasize self-control. They like structure and order, and dislike unstructured or unclear work and interpersonal situations. They place value on reputation, power, or status. They like to work with DATA.
Source: Reference: John Holland (1985) Making Vocational Choices (2nd ed.) Odessa, FL.: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.
Upon answering a series of questions the results are tallied to determine the combination of scores in the three highest groups. No one person can be confined to just one type. The types are often referred to by their first letter thus R for Realistic, I for Investigative etc. Once the types of interests are tallied and a three-group profile is generated, then begins the matching process with work.
First thing I did today was look up the Holland Code for an Ornithologist. That code is IRE. (Check the descriptions above.) Yet, not all bird watchers are drawn to the scientific, environmental aspect of bird watching. There are those who like the hunt. It's kind of like, "Where's Waldo?" Others like the simple and pure beauty of the bird and may be attracted to drawing or photographing birds. Others like listing and data collection related to birding. Is there a common thread among the birdwatchers? I think there is, although I can't prove it. I think there is one dimension of bird watching that is missing from all of these groupings. That is the excitement.
When a special bird comes to town and the word gets out, there is something akin to a Flash Mob with a high level of excitement is in the air. Is that the result of being successful in one of these groupings ... maybe Investigative or Realistic?
If you are interested in learning more about this quandary, there are a couple of things to do. First, query Holland Codes and your occupation. Try to determine if your self-perception matches the three-trait code assigned to your work. Then ponder how that might translate into your leisure work of bird watching.
Second, there is a web site ( located here where there is an abbreviated version of this interest inventory. In about five minutes you can complete the survey and it will generate a three-trait code for you... no charge. It is obvious that our interests evolve over time and the interests that led you into a career may not still exist. Note if there is still a match between your interests and your work.
Third, if you are interested in participating in a little survey of our own, I will share the results. Here's what to do:
1) Complete the survey at the site above.
2) Add a comment through the Comment Option above this posting indicating whether you are A) a bird watcher; B) a bird watcher and photographer or C) a photographer and bird watcher. (I selected these groupings because I think that there are even difference between these groups of people.)
3) Beside the identifier listed in Item 2, add your Holland Code, including all three letters.
After about one week, I will compile the submissions (if any) and share the information with you. Maybe you, too, are curious about who birds. Please note: There will be no personal identification involved.
Tomorrow, I will end this three-part post with a look at what types of birders there are as described by Melissa Mayntz.  I found it interesting.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Who birds? Part 1

Who are bird watchers? I don't think I ever really gave it any thought until now. Like many, what few thoughts I had on the subject were colored by stereotypical images of bird watchers portrayed through the media. Bird watchers seemed to be somewhat "nerdy" individuals filled with a lot of minute information that didn't seem mainstream.

When I developed an interest in watching birds as a way to integrate walking and the outdoors into my day-to-day life, the last thing that I expected to happen was to meet people.

Then one day last winter when I was standing and watching a mixed flock of small birds feed at Long Pond, a lovely lady and her son approached me and began to talk. They knew a lot more about birds than I did and asked me if I had seen the Red-breasted Nuthatch at the west end of the pond. I found it comforting to meet others who also were interested in birds and who were so willing to share information about birds.

My second encounter with a group of birders took place when I joined a tour to go to the Southern Shore. I listened a lot and found the mixed group of young and more mature to be extremely interesting and knowledgeable. On that trip I learned that bird watching is more than just watching and enjoying these small creatures. I found that the more you know, the more enjoyable the experience.  My stereotypical pre-conception was beginning to break down. There was not one nerd among them.

I have since met numerous birders who live in St. John's as well as around the province and even some who have come from out of province to enjoy the amazing collection of rarities that drop in on Newfoundland. I have found them to be of all ages, very well educated, extremely welcoming to newcomers into the fold and very helpful.

Having spent many years conducting psychological assessments and interpreting results, I began wondering: What are the common traits among all of these people from such diverse backgrounds. I also recognized the great value of integrating a leisure activity of passion into a life that is already seemingly full with work and family. Life can be and is often teeming with "stressors." This really needs to be counter-balanced with an activity that transports the mind into a stress-free zone. I guess this is probably the case with many diversions but never have I experienced such a freeing distraction as bird watching. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature and the anticipation of what is before me or what might appear, I think of nothing else but the moment. Is this the case for all bird watchers?  Is this one of the universal draws for bird watchers across the spectrum or is it just a perk associated with the very healthy activity?

I find it interesting that there seem to be no psychological assessment tools to help people identify leisure activities that will be satisfying and meet the needs of individuals. There is an over-abundance of personality assessment instruments designed to match interest with work. Why is there no tool for measuring interests, ability and achievement to match people with hobbies that will be rewarding, fulfilling and a good "fit" for people.

Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist, developed a theory grounded in the importance of personality, interpersonal conflict and situational variables. His theory suggests that the brain gets filled up with all of the things going on in our lives and that when one aspect of life takes on greater significance at any given time, the brain space allotted to that area of life grows, somewhat squeezing out the space of other things in life. Hence, individual become "pre-occupied" and unable to regain balance.  Lewin also proposed that behaviour is a result of an interaction between the individual and the environment.  With this brief overview of this theory, and if you buy into it, it seems very important that each individual have an "outlet" environment where positive waves are reclaiming their rightful "brain space." I'm sure that many psychologist would scoff at what I am suggesting: Bird watching can serve as a panacea for much of what ails the mind.

Another theorist, Jullian Rotter, developed a theory relating to Locus of Control which in short suggests that people's behaviour can be influenced by factors from within (Internal Locus of Control) or by factors from without (External Locus of Control). While he talks about both motivators, he really suggests that individual who are able to blend both Internal and External motivators into their life are among the healthiest. How does this factor into bird watching? Well, I am suggesting that when the tentacles of external factors begin to take over an excessive amount of  Life Space (Lewin), that bird watching offers a means by which an individual can step away from external influences and seek the balance (and peace of mind) offered by a bird watching foray. These ideas just skim the surface but I believe warrant a whole body of study to determine how to conduct assessments to point people toward positive leisure activities that will have a significant influence on mental and physical health.

Without going too deeply into the topic, I think what I am trying to say is that when young people undergo a battery of career assessment testing, they should also be provided with information that will satisfy their need for a healthy leisure activity to round out their life. In addition I believe that no person should retire without also having their interests assessed to guide them into an activity that will rekindle joy, develop enthusiasm and find an exciting reason to get up each day and go out to take part in those things that make them happy such as bird watching or other activities. Over the years, old interests fade and new ones evolve. I am sure way too many go through life never finding their "bird watching" experience.

I have clearly digressed throughout this harangue but I will tighten my focus on personality traits that seem to match bird watchers. In Part 2 of  "Who birds?" I plan to attempt to match the six personality traits developed by Holland to those of bird watchers. I wonder how that will turn out.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

iBird for iPod - Overview

 In January I downloaded iBird Explorer Pro from iTunes and thought that I would share my experience with this electronic bird guide. Like anything it takes a little getting used to it but I am coming to really enjoy it. The iBird Pro version has detailed information about 920 birds, mostly North America but also contains many of the rare European and Asian birds that have made their way to our shores. So far, I have yet to search for a bird that is not in the database.
As a new birder and photographer I am laden with my binoculars and camera equipment. There is no room left for me to carry a field guide so my practice has been to take pictures and return home to begin the study. With my portable, compact iPod, I am now able to check out a bird while "on the fly."  Apparently, this product has been on the market since 2005 and has been evolving ever since.

There are several features of the program that are very useful. It has multiple means of searching for a bird whether you know the bird or not. It is possible to search by wing shape, flight pattern, tail shape, range, common or uncommon.

Once a bird is identified there is quite a lot of information available about the bird. (Not as good as some of the best field guides, but good nonetheless.) There are illustrations, pictures, range, facts, identity info, bird song, similar birds and the ability (if in a Wi Fi zone) to connect directly to Flickr or Birdpedia for more information.

 The text is written in a user-friendly manner and is very helpful. Another feature that I really like is the ability to enter a note for each bird. In my case I use this feature to input the date and location of a sighting. Over time, this will become a very useful historical record of my bird sightings.

I really haven't begun to explore all of the Apps that are available to enhance the birdwatching experience but I know there are some out there. On the basic iPod there is a Notebook feature that is standard. This tool also complements the daily record keeping
of birding. In this space I can record the area birded, distance travelled, time birded and the sightings for the day. This assists me to keep more accurate records when I return to my computer.

iBird may not be for every one but I am growing quite fond of mine. This program is also available for iPhones and iPads.
Birds pictured here today are the Glaucous Gull, the Ring-billed Gull, the Domestic Duck and the Common Redpoll. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Snipe, Sniper or Sniping

 I recently had the pleasure of joining one of Dave Brown's Southern Shore Bird Tours. As usual it was a productive and learning experience. Among the birds we saw were three snipe. So, I guess we were "snipers" sniping out the very well camouflaged snipe. Sniping is used here in the very positive sense of the word, not attacking someone or their ideas. Did you know that sniping is a word now being used by e-bay relating to sniping an auction. Don't think that is a very positive connotation.
 The first two pictures here show a Wilson's Snipe very near the road around Ferryland. This bird has been seen before and was just sitting and waiting for us. I have to admit I was the last to discern it as it blended in so well with its surroundings and as it hunkered down to stay absolutely still when we arrived. As it became more comfortable with the car's presence, it began to move about.
Later in the day we came upon these two snipe in Renews. While on the Christmas Bird Count in Renews, we flushed a snipe in the same area and once again or a return trip. However, because these birds are so fast, I really didn't see it then.
 Well, on this day these two snipe were feeding in a trench and did become very still for quite some time but relatively quickly, they settled back down into their feeding and preening routine. We watched them closely and noted a clear difference between them. However, it was impossible to accurately identify them without seeing the underside of the wings.
 Is it possible that one is a Wilson's and the other is a Common Snipe? We considered the odds to be quite high because there have been a number of the rare Common Snipe spotted in recent weeks. Yet, without the good look there was no definitive ID. We returned to the spot later in the day in the hopes of getting the crucial look but given the short amount of time we had to dedicate to looking, we were unable to detect the distinct difference.
I have added this last picture of the two snipe found earlier this year in Tor's Cove. The Common Snipe in this location was accurately identified and documented by Dave Brown. Visit his site for the detailed description. It is excellent. When I look at the two pairs of birds (one pair from Tor's Cove and the other from Renews), they look the same. Is it possible that the pair that dissappeared from Tor's Cove moved to Renews?  This is a puzzle for a dedicated sniper to figure out.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Birding from the Car

 I have been feeling somewhat under the weather for the last week, and it has hampered my birding efforts as well as everything else. I have managed to fit some birding in during this time but limited my activity to what was close by and what I could photograph from the car.

I have also dedicated some time to working through my accumulated pictures and have selected a collections of some of the better pictures taken during this time to share today.
 This winter there have been many Northern Flickers. Hardly a day goes by when I don't see one. When I photographed the one above, there were three in a group on a rooftop. This bird is so stunning, and I feel like I have never really captured its beauty. This is one of my better shots of this bird, and I really like the flicker surrounded by the clean snow.
By luck I came across this juvenile Bald Eagle at QV Lake standing atop a power pole. I had about ten minutes tops to see what pictures that I could produce of this huge bird. The Bald Eagle is extremely cognizant of all of its surroundings, and it rotated continuously around this post looking for its prey. It didn't seem bothered at all by the numerous onlookers and photographers.
 I really enjoy watching raptors as they just radiate power and confidence. These eagles at the lake are an annual attraction for photographers and birders alike. They regularly scour the lake looking for any carcass that may be lying on the ice in the lake. Occasionally, as I saw last week, the eagle will chase a seagull. I caught sight of this event last Sunday but by the time I tried to get near them and stop, the event was over. No matter how often the Bald Eagles show up, the walkers will stop, stand and stare until the the bird moves on.
I have been watching for an adult Bald Eagle all winter in the hopes that I might catch a ten minute session with one. So far that hasn't happened and the chances are diminishing as the ice begins to melt out of the lake.
 At one point during the Winter six American Coots were spotted at QV Lake where they wintered. Some seem to have already left the area. As the temp warms up it is likely that they will all move on.
In the meantime they have provided many hours of entertainment because of their unique look and behaviour. They bob as they move through the water, they actually run on the water to lift off into flight, they walk around like chickens on the shoreline and have become much more comfortable with people over the months.
 This is the third year in a row that I am aware of that American Coots have come to stay at the lake. I can't help but wonder if it is the same birds returning or if it is a new crop each year. Only banding would reveal that. One thing for sure, they are hardy and are able to survive some severe blasts of weather. We have had a fair share of that this year.
 There is no doubt that they enjoy the warmth of the sun. With a hint of Spring in the air, I found this Coot resting on the beach where all of the snow has melted and its dark color can soak in all of the warmth of the sun.
 About a week ago I took a drive to Flatrock and area. On my return trip I stopped into Torbay Beach. There I found five Black Guillemot that were clearly molting out of their winter plumage into their breeding plumage. It is very difficult to photograph this bird because it will immediately turn away from people and begin to drift farther and farther offshore. I was lucky to get even this poor shot of one that just wasn't quick enough to escape my lens.
 Even more than the Northern Flicker the Dark-eyed Junco is a constant on every birding outing and in my backyard. Yet, I really don't have any good pictures of this quick little bird. It displays great flashes of white when it flies.
While testing my camera settings on this bird I shot both of these images without much intent of getting a good picture. I was pleasantly surprised when I downloaded the pictures and found two quite clear shots. This certainly motivates me to not overlook those great little birds that are around us all the time. I will work harder to do them justice.

I have a few more pictures yet to post and then I will have to drive out of town to look for new birds. There is a bit of a lull in birding now which I understand it typical during March. Soon the Spring birds including the Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Savanna and Swamp Sparrows will return. There are other sparrows that often visit this province but I have not seen them. That will be a goal for my Spring birding.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Consolation Prize - a Mink

There are still problems with the alignment feature of this blog so please forgive the placement.

On the weekend I tried my best to find a new bird, something that I have not seen before. That just didn't happen. On Saturday I took a long drive through Bauline, Pouch Cove, Flatrock, Marine Drive, Logy Bay and home again. Nothing new! In fact there were surprisingly few birds along the way....except at Flatrock. There I saw huge rafts of Common Eider (from quite a distance). I have never seen so many. Something spooked them and they lifted off by the hundreds. When I scanned the point with my binoculars, I saw two distant figures with cameras in hand. A recent posting on NL Birds describes what happened as the photographers surprised the birds and got a surprise themselves. Check the discussion group for a link to a picture of the lift-off.

On my way through Torbay I stopped in at Torbay Beach. There I saw several Black Guillemot in their transitional plumage. There were at least five on the water at one point. While there, a flock of seven Eurasian Wigeons flew in and settled to feed in the area of the sewage outflow. Suddenly, I saw something quite large displacing the water. I watched intently for a while as all of the birds lifted off and there I saw a very large Harp Seal working the shallow waters. After about five minutes it dissappeared and didn't resurface again while I watched.

Yesterday, the weather was beautiful and our scheduled birding trip for today had to be cancelled due to the snowfall warning (happening now). Being more restless than usual I got in the car and drove to Renews. I was sure that I would see the Red Knot (a new bird for me). It had been seen in the same area by several people, and I thought I would be next. No! The two of them were nowhere to be seen and even the Black-bellied Plover that is usually ever-present was not there. I checked all areas of the shoreline but turned up nothing. I had to give up. I drove in through the community of Renews in the hopes of seeing several small birds that would make me feel better about making the long drive. What did I see?  Two European Starlings! That's all.
I headed back toward St. John's with some time to spare so I took a detour down into all harbours along the way. In one I found a large adult Bald Eagle sitting on a low rock surrounded by Crows, but my car startled them all and the lift off happened before I could get too close. The one consistent bird around many of the smaller inlets was a Kingfisher in every pool. During the day I saw four. I did check Tor's Cove but there was no sign of either snipe there. I don't know where all of the birds go on a beautiful day but it would be nice if they would match their behaviour with the great birding weather days.
I would have to say that the highlight of my day was seeing this lone Mink near Fermuese. It darted up to cross the road in front of me. I knew I only had moments to try to record the event so it was a sudden burst of scrambling to stop the car, get the window down, grab my camera and capture only a couple of shots of the hind view. This is the first Mink that I have seen in a long time so I came home somewhat satisfied that I had a good consolation prize for my hours of birding effort.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dragonflies and Butterflies

While my photo supply of new birds is dwindling, I hope to correct that early next week. Nevertheless, my hard drive is laden with pictures accumulated during my many bird watching expeditions. Today, I decided to feature a few of the insects seen last summer.

You see, it is impossible to walk by the simple sights of nature without wanting to capture them and view them over the months. Just when it feels like the 10' mounds of snow in my front yard will never dissolve, I find these pictures a great reminder that the cycle will prevail ... it always does.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge summed it up so nicely in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner when he wrote:   

"He Prayeth best, who loveth best; All things great and small; For the dear God who loveth us; He made and loveth all."

Most of us stop and look at butterflies as they flutter their bold and colorful wings in a never-ending attempt to find just the right flowers. Watching butterflies is just as engaging as bird watching for some - the varieties are many and the colors are stunning.

There are even those who are taken with watching and studying dragonflies. Is it any wonder? Look at the faces of each of these different species. They are so unique, individual and interesting that the faces of dragonflies could be integrated into cartoons, science fiction or video games.

I never really looked at the face of a dragonfly until I photographed one. They move about quickly and their face is quite small compared to the rest of the body. It is very easy to focus on the long wings or tail and miss the character of their faces.  In this photo array look closely at the third picture of the blue/green dragonfly sitting on the rocks.  It just seems that he should have a pet name. I will never miss the opportunity to photograph and study the face of all dragonflies that cross my path this summer.

Note: The tools on the posting page of this blog were not working right today. At first the pictures wouldn't upload and then the text wouldn't align properly with the pictures. Hopefully, this problem will be worked out soon.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Around the Coastline

 It is hard to imagine that it has been almost two weeks since I took these pictures. Time flies and so did Winter. The Newfoundland Winter Bird Count has ended and the Spring Bird Count has begun. My total species sighted for Winter 2010-2011 was 85. That is low compared to the real birders on this island. In fact, one weekend birding expedition reported 63 species for just two days! I don't know how my total stacks up with last year because I really wasn't keeping good records at that time.
There are many indicators that Spring is just around the corner. Small birds are starting to sing, ducks and pigeons are beginning to dance and prance. Some say that seals appearing on the shoreline is yet another sign of Spring. On my recent drive around the Northern Avalon, I photographed these two seals. Any drive around this province is filled with natural excitement.  This little guy was resting on a dock in Holyrood. We stopped to have a look and he began to play a game of  "cat and mouse" with us. He would take a good look and then quickly flip back as if to pretend he
was asleep. He did this several times and was quite engaging.

It was in Cupids where we saw this big guy. He had travelled quite a distance up the beach to have his rest. Like the small one, he studied us and didn't seem at all frightened. These animals are huge. This fact is not so obvious until one is totally exposed.

It is my understanding that both of these are Harp Seals and are pretty rare on the Avalon. It is a special treat to see them. On Saturday, March 13, I saw one very large Harp Seal fishing the waters near Torbay Beach. It certainly scattered all of the birds also feeding close to shore.
If seals lying on the beach, birds singing in the trees and the groundhog not seeing his shadow are truly signs of Spring, then it can't be far away. Noteworthy:  We had sunshine for four days this week! This is the first time since last September when all of the rain washed out Fall. Let's hope for sunny, warm months ahead filled with lots of birds.

As this is Sunday, the day of rest, get off that couch and go for a drive. There is so much to see, just don't look at the price at the gas pumps as it might stifle your day.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Common Redpoll

 The Common Redpoll is common to Newfoundland and yet, for me, it has been elusive. I frequently see postings that the Common Redpoll is around, but it took me over a year to actually see one. I saw not one but six of these great little birds yesterday.
When I first spotted the red showing through some branches, I first thought it was a male Purple Finch. How nice, I thought. Then it popped out of the cover, and I realized that this was the elusive Common Redpoll. There is always a since of great discovery and satisfaction associated with seeing a new bird for the first time.
 True to its known pattern it was fraternizing with Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches. It seems that this bird is somewhat "flighty." Keeping this in mind coupled with the fact that it was on someones private property, I stayed in my car on the road and got the best pictures I could under the circumstances. It was interesting to watch the Common Redpoll jockey with the Pine Siskins for a place at the trough. There were squabbles but in the end, all got their turn.
A great place to view these birds in motion is on the bird cam hosted by the By 'd Bay Cabins website, located in Port Blantford. The Common Redpoll seem to be more numerous there now but are also moving into the city. Out with the Bohemian Waxwings and in with the Common Redpoll! Never a dull moment.

The last picture is this series is likely a female Common Redpoll because it has no color on its breast but the dark streaking indicates that it is a Common and not the rare Hoary Redpoll. I will keep a close eye on flocks of Redpolls to see if the rare variety just might be tagging along.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

SS Sposa -Conception Harbour, Newfoundland - Updated Oct. '13

While birdwatching  is really my passion, I always get a thrill when I come upon a treasure from the past, totally unexpectedly.  This was certainly the case with the SS Sposa rising above the water line in Bacon Cove, Newfoundland.

Last week a birding friend and I were scouring the Avalon North. We took a side trip to Kitchuses, a first for me. I trustingly put my faith in her knowledge of the area and drove on as per her directions. We climbed uphill and rounded a bend and there in Conception Harbour sat this great old
whaling vessel.

Automatically, my foot hit the brake and I pulled into the first available driveway. Only half off the road in a tricky location, I quickly took a couple of shots. In less than two minutes the conditions went from somewhat bright to a wall of fine snow falling between me and the target. Due to the precarious parking spot, I didn't have time to wait out the minor squall. I took in a deep breath and wondered about the story associated with this old ship.

I have since learned that the SS Sposa was one of a fleet of five whaling vessels, that formed the last of the largest whaling flotillas to hunt the waters off Newfoundland. Two other whalers (SS Southern Chief and SS Southern Foam)  rest in the waters off Bacon Cove. When the whaling industry died, so did the need for these ships.  These ships were owned by Captain J. Borgen and initially were destined to be dismantled for scrap metal. Three of the five ships were brought into this harbour. It was then decided to sink the vessels in deeper water. Two were hauled offshore and, indeed, sunk. While the SS Sposa was awaiting its turn, a storm hit the area and sank it in its place. It has been a part of the landscape ever since. It is proffered that this happened around 1964. Some residents love the wreckage for its historical significance of a time when whaling was very much a part of Newfoundland culture (although not this particular community) and others think it is an eyesore and should be removed.

While I saw no extraordinary birds on this drive, I did delve into a history of this province that I know very little about. There are tour groups in Newfoundland who provide diving tours to many of the shipwrecks that fill the waters around the coastlines of Newfoundland, including this one.  There is even a Geo caching event that takes place around these sunken ships.

This island in the North Atlantic is forever a treasure trove for birdwatchers, historians, divers, archaeologists, geologists, scientists, photographers, campers and people who just want to step out of time and embrace the beauty and intrigue of yesteryear.

Source of Information: Scratching The Surface: The Story of the Conception Harbour Ship Wrecks and the Last Whaler By Dennis Flynn  (This is a great article and can be "googled.")

Note:  Please see the comment attached by a relative of the Captain of the ship.

Link to my new post on this topic:

There was some underwater research completed in the summer of 2013 that seems to change everything. VOCM reported the following story on their web site on October 21, 2013.

"A decades-old shipwreck mystery in Conception Harbour has officially been solved. For years, books, magazines, and newspaper accounts of the whaling wrecks have attributed contradictory names to the vessels. But now, the Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland and Labrador say they can set the record straight. Neil Burgess says through the 1960s, five whaling ships frequented Conception Harbour. Two he says were towed away, and three sunk at the wharf. The confusion surrounded which ones were which. Burgess says through underwater measurements and design details, they were able to make the match.

He says most people are probably familiar with the one ship on the beach in Conception Harbour, for years referred to incorrectly as the S.S Sposa. It has now been identified as the Charcot. Two other ships in about five feet of water behind the Charcot have been identified as the S.S Southern Foam and the S.S Sukha.

The vessels are about 120-130 feet long and which, for the most part, have been stripped of all their monetary worth. The study of the shipwrecks this summer was part of a larger project of the town to develop adventure tourism facilities. Burgess says for divers the wrecks are easy to get to because they are in shallow water close to a roadway. He says the vessels are in remarkably good shape given their age. For example, the masts are still intact, and the cabins can still be seen."

This article begs the question: Where were the other two towed and was one of them the S.S. Sposa?