Monday, December 31, 2012

Additions to my Newfoundland Bird List in 2012

This year has been a great learning year for me. Even though, I saw less new birds, I had a better opportunity to spend time observing and gaining experience, as well as building a greater familiarity with the more common birds of Newfoundland. 
During the year, I added 19 new birds to my Newfoundland Bird List, ending with a yearly list of 187. This was 12 species less than 2011. It seemed birds were more scarce this year. My NL Life list now stands at 234, growing slowly but steadily. All of these sightings occurred because of a combination of luck, and the great reporting and sharing of other birders, and hours put in to make it happen. 
Composing some type of year-end review of my birding experiences extends the period of enjoyment. Each bird pictured here and many others (to be reported later) brings up an array of reflections. As I look at this Yellow-throated Warbler (a "life" bird for me), I can so vividly remember the morning of  August 28th when this bird just appeared. It was a beautifully warm day, and I was just enjoying being out. Little did I think such a great bird would pop out! I was pretty excited.
This Nashville Warbler (first found by Paul Linegar) gave me the royal run-around. I must have made 8 trips in an effort to see my first Nashville before it finally happened.
The Ovenbird was a bird I really wanted to see. It happened on a dreadful morning at Cape Spear when I could hardly stand up in the windy, cold, misty weather that the Ovenbird and I shared. I don't think he wanted to see me as badly as I wanted to see him.
There are several species of sparrows common to our area. I spent a lot of time trying to tell them all apart given the season, maturity and habitats of the birds. All I knew on the morning that I found this Lark Sparrow was that it was quite different from anything I had seen thus far. A quick flip through my guide led me to an accurate identification of this bird. That was an added bonus to being able to see the Lark Sparrow for the first time and independently ID the species.
With a bit of fitness training under my belt this year, I was better able to hike the East Coast Trail beyond Cape Spear. The motivation to strengthen up was pretty strong because this area yielded a lot of interesting birds last year. That was not the case this year, despite my numerous treks up the hill. However, on one morning as I was walking out, I spotted yet another new bird for me, the Lapland Longspur. There is something very special about a new bird just unexpectedly appearing in front of you. It really is all about being in the right place at the right time.
Then, there are those birds that warrant a mad trip out of town. This Ash-throated Flycatcher, very rare to Newfoundland,  turned up in Bonavista. It was a terribly rainy morning, but typically it is the "early bird that gets the worm," so an early-morning drive in the downpour was a must. Fortunately, the flycatcher granted us a great view.
Then, there are the special feeders like Paul and Catherine Barrett's that make it easy to see new birds.  As a result of their diligence to keep the feeders full and willingness to share the special visitors, I was able to see two new "life" birds very easily. These were the Rose-breasted Grosbeak and the White-crowned Sparrow.
There were some other new birds added to my list this year including the Peregrine Falcon, Yellow-headed Blackbird, House Wren (shown above found by Anne Hughes), Gray-cheeked Thrush, Yellow-breasted Chat (shown below), Blue-headed Vireo and Black Scoter.  All told, I saw nineteen new species this year, making for a very exciting year.
Of course, there were the birds I pursued with no success: I went in search (multiple attempts) of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Royal Tern, White-winged Dove, Canada Warbler and the American White Pelican. I was within feet of seeing my first Gray Catbird, but I missed that one, too. That's okay, because I will continue to be out there looking again in 2013 and will certainly aim to see more new birds throughout the year. There are many more birds on the Newfoundland Bird List that I haven't seen. It may be time to take a trip to the West Coast to see what other new birds I can view. In addition, I may need to spend a little more time on the Southern Shore in the year to come.
This Yellow-breasted Chat has to be my most prized picture of the year, because it represents so many hours of "chase." I had a very fleeting look at one in the Fall, but could not get it to come out for a clear look. Every time a chat was reported for the last two years, I would go flying out the door in an effort to find it. So many "dips" made me wonder if I would ever get a good look at this bird. At last, the moment came. It was such a satisfying feeling when I actually saw one reported by Alvan Buckley's in his yard. It not only showed up but stayed long enough for me to look at it and photograph it - a small but wonderful thing.

My second-to last new bird of the year was this great American Tree Sparrow that I found during the Christmas Bird Count. What a big surprise!
My last new bird for the year turned out to be a rare warbler, the Townsend's Warbler. Since warblers are my favorite group of birds, this was a very special way to end my year.
As exciting as this year has been, my thoughts of the twelve months that lie ahead are even more exciting. There are still twelve more warblers on the NL Checklist that I haven't seen, not to mention so many other birds in other classifications. 
I would like to thank the more than 13,000 unique visitors who have popped into my site this year. It has been a joy to share the experience with so many peopple as well as my birding buddies, and the experts who were so very helpful  with identification,  Dave Brown, Jared Clarke, Bruce Mactavish and Ken Knowles. Thanks to all, and I suspect I will see many birders out tomorrow as we all try to clean up on the present rarities on the first day of 2013.
..."for auld lang syne, take a cup of kindness yet, and surely you'll buy your pint cup, and surely I'll buy mine! for auld lang syne. And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne." and for each new bird!
Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Townsend's Warbler: The Bird of the Hour

 Each year, the Christmas Bird Count is held on Boxing Day (Dec. 26) in St. John's. The day begins with enthusiasm and excitement, in the hope that ole St. Nick has left a prized bird under our tree. One of the best possible locations for such a gift is along the Waterford River. As John Wells and Chris Brown covered their beat in that area, they found what we were all hoping for - a rare bird, in the form of a Townsend's Warbler!
By the next day, word spread and the banks of the Waterford River were filled with birders, going this way and that in the hopes of getting a glimpse of the Townsend's. I was among them, but left before the Townsend's put in its appearance.
In fact, it took me four trips before I hit the jackpot. Yesterday morning, I stole away from my responsibilities and planned to stay for as long as it took. First, I saw a Song Sparrow. That was a good start. Then, the visiting female Red-breasted Merganser came swimming up the river. That was even better as I got my best ever look at that bird.
Then, there was a lull when nothing was happening. However, I was not going to get discouraged. This bird was going to show up. Soon, a Yellow-rumped Warbler put in an appearance. It was getting better.
Once again the woods were still with nothing moving. It was refreshing when a couple of Black-capped Chickadees came flying in, followed by a few juncos. While watching them, my eyes almost popped out of my head. There was the Townsend's Warbler, not ten feet away. It stayed around for about seven minutes, peeping in an out of the evergreen. Not only had I seen this rare bird, I saw it well.  Two hours of patience really paid off. Check Bruce Mactavish's blog linked on the right side of this screen to learn about just how rare the great little bird is in St. John's.

The bird looked healthy and quite active.  The mild weather we are having may be just what this bird needs. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

American Tree Sparrow - St. John's CBC

Yesterday dawned as the best day we have had in quite awhile.  The crazy winds had subsided and the temperature hovered around 1 degree Celsius. It was a perfect morning for a bird count and a good walk to offset the holiday feasts.

I covered quite an area without any real notables, pretty much what I expected. All areas I travelled were relatively "birdy," which certainly held my interest. When I finished checking my assigned areas, I decided to check out a few typically-busy feeders.

The parking area in Caledonia Place was buzzing with birds, as usual. I sat in my car and was attempting to count the House Sparrows that were tucked away in a distant shrub. While looking intently, I was surprised to see a different sparrow pop up on the fence. I knew it was a new one for me, but I didn't get a very good look before it flew into a distant tree. I managed to get out of my car and get the first picture shown above. Pitiful! Nevertheless, I had something to show for what I saw.

 I watched it fly low into a shrub in another backyard. I couldn't seem to relocate it.  When I checked my picture, I really didn't think it was going to provide much help in getting an identification. My best guess was a Chipping Sparrow. I knew the bird was quite rufous and had a white wing bar. That was the best I could do to describe it.
I knew it was time to call in the troops while the bird was still in the area. I made a quick call to Bruce Mactavish, Jared Clarke and Ken Knowles.  I hoped they would be able to relocate and identify it.

Within five minutes they arrived, and in less than five minutes, they re-found the bird. Without hesitation, they identified it as an American Tree Sparrow. Wow! A "Life" bird!
Peering through a tangle of branches, I got my first look at the sparrow. Bruce pointed out the smudge on the breast and the two-toned beak. While I couldn't really see the beak in the field, I was very surprised by how distinct the colors on the beak showed up on the pictures.

Toward the end of my day, this was a great, unexpected surprise. It still constantly amazes me to continue to find birds I haven't seen before.  During the CBC, John Wells and Chris Brown found a Townsend Warbler. That would be a new one for me, too. As soon as day breaks, I am going to head out in the hope of relocating it. "The year ain't over till it's over!"

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy Birding!

Thanks to my birding buddies who contributed to my Christmas bird motif. Merry Christmas to All!

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Oriole

 It was late afternoon on December 19 when I received a message that a Baltimore Oriole was visiting a number of feeders on Exerter Ave. Unlike many quick trips to see recently-spotted birds, this one was right there when I arrived.
To my knowledge, this is the first oriole spotted in the city since the small flurry of Baltimore Orioles that stayed in Blackhead for a few days in September.  Truth is, I can never really get enough of these birds.
What a treat to see this one at this time of the year! Despite the darkness of the evening, this bird glowed like a Christmas light, brightly shining.  It ate from almost every type of feeder in the yard, including peanuts, nector, suet and seed cakes. I don't think it has a discerning taste at this point, it just wants to eat well before darkness.
I have passed by the area several times since, but have been unable to get a glimpse of this bird in daylight. Hopefully, it will stay around for a while longer for many to enjoy.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bruce the Moose

It must surely be getting close to Christmas.  A quick drive out to Cape Spear yesterday on a beautiful, warm, windless morning enabled me to catch a glimpse of Bruce the Christmas Moose on the move. Bruce and his companion scooted across the road in front of me near the entrance to the community of Blackhead.

They didn't stick around long before they headed up behind the first house on the left. That was understandable since I think Bruce has some new duties around Christmas. Standing in for Rudolph is a pretty big responsibility, and I'm sure he is rushing to the North Pole to be ready just in case Santa calls him into service. "Dash away, dash away, dash away all."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Northern Pintails Mix it Up!

When I think of the Northern Pintail, I envision the handsome brown-headed male with flowing feathers and fall-colored wing bars.

Or, I think of the more plain female of a smaller size. The long neck is less pronounced, and the plumage is very plain compared to the male. I pretty well thought I had the Northern Pintail all mastered.
That was until I caught a glimpse of this one on Wednesday. It is a Northern Pintail, the head, neck and beak tell me so. But what is up with this plumage? I stared at it for quite a while trying to decide if this was a male or female. Thinking this was quite unusual and reaching no conclusion about what I was seeing, I headed back to my car.

On the way, I saw another bird, just like the first. Well, maybe this isn't so unusual. I stopped to study this bird a bit. Immature Northern Pintail are reported to look more like the female. Is this an immature male? An eclipse male? It seems late for an eclipse.  It certainly seems to be the size of a male, but the wing bars more resemble those of a female. The head is turning brown which suggests this is a male. There is no male pintail, but this happens during molting.
I was just standing and thinking when all at once, a typical male pintail approached the mystery pintail. He got right in his (I am leaning toward a male) face, for no reason at all. The wet pintail was just standing there grooming, probably trying to dry up a bit.
The mature male took the first strike. Why? I do know that pintails pick their mates at this time of the year and are among the first to lay their eggs in the spring. Was this associated with mating?
Well, the wet one was not going to take this, he struck back. It looks more like gentle whisperings, but this was no was a full-frontal attack.
The pintail on the right reared back and looked at the other, maybe thinking "you weren't supposed to do that."
Then, the foray continued. Back and forth they went, with the neck being the most common attack zone. Lasting for about a minute, it was the one who started this fight who walked away first.
What provoked this? I have so many questions when I am in the field, and while the Internet has many answers, it rarely provides all the information I am seeking. I couldn't find a single picture of a bird looking like the "wet" one. I am left to wonder if this is a male (immature or eclipse) or if it is an aggressive female.
Now, a very similar situation occured on the very next day. This is clearly a male Green-winged Teal (common,) regularly seen at Kelly's Brook.
Never very far away, is a little female teal. Not so flashy but quite endearing with its dimunitive size.
Then, sitting up on the bank yesterday was this bird. Although its colors don't look the same, that is probably a result of the lighting in the location. The facial markings are the same as the female, though.  This bird looked bigger than the birds in the water, but I explained that away with the possibility that this bird is puffed up to stay warm. Yet, look at the wing bar on this bird. It is quite pominent. I can only guess that its showing so much in this picture is partly due to the bird being fluffed up. I think it is safe to say, this is a female Green-winged Teal. I have said it before, and I will say it again. Field trips typically result in the best learning. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Let's Chat!

These pictures of a Yellow-breasted Chat have been a long-time coming! Suffice it to say, I have put in endless hours trying to re-locate the one I saw briefly a Cuckhold's Cove, the one spotted last year on Empire Avenue, the one located in the fall at Mundy Pond, and more recently, the one located off Elizabeth Drive. Time and time again, I came up empty-handed.

I was particularly hopeful about seeing this one when Alvan Buckley located it yesterday and reported that it had returned to the area regularly all day yesterday. I could hardly wait to get going this morning in the hopes of seeing this great bird.

I was rewarded for all my efforts with about 10 seconds of viewing time. In bird-viewing time, that can be a lot. It was enough for me to fire off a few shots. It happened, and I could hardly believe it. The yellow on this bird is as vibrant as it appears in these pictures. Once it came out into the open, it glowed.
The YB Chat is the largest of the New World Warblers. There is much debate as to whether this bird should be classified as a warbler or not. By nature, it is shy and skulks low in thick shrubs making it often impossible to see. Not on this day. While it did imerge from the thickit, it certainly popped out on a branch and stayed just long enough to make me happy!
This sighting warranted a second post for the day!