Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Big Day!

There is always a special excitement about a scheduled, full day of birding the Southern Shore.  I joined Catherine Barrett before 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, and we were off! It took great discipline to pass by many known-birding "haunts," but we did make it all the way to Cape Broyle before we stopped to get out of the car.  While there were only Greater Yellowlegs about, I stopped for a few moments to enjoy the four little dories, made with such care, reflecting in the still pool.
On to Aquaforte for a short detour down the shoreline.  Much to our surprise a Wilson's Snipe was standing in an area of gravel left exposed by the receding tide, and an Osprey hovered overhead.  Just at the end of the lane on the "landwash" were these two well-kept, red-ochre fishing stores resting on decade's old wooden supports. In a setting as natural as this, the calendar date could easily be 1950, not 2012.

We had made fairly good time, despite our lingering at Renews where we welcomed several species of shorebirds back. By 11:30 a.m. we reached Cape Race road where we headed directly to Daley's Cove.  It was our hope to catch sight of some rare sea birds through the "Barrett Scope." On the way in the road, we were met with Savannah Sparrows everywhere. This one was perched in a cool area having a drink when we drove up.

By now, you may have noticed all of the sunshine in these pictures. It was a glorious day with temps in the low 20s and light, warm winds. It couldn't have been more perfect, except at Daley's Cove where the fog rolled in after about 15 minutes there.
We packed it in and headed for St. Shott's. Catherine checked out the seabirds, and I headed for the field. There was nothing uncommon about the birds in either place, but the setting, the weather, the smell and the amount of "life" that surrounded us filled us up with the "bigness" of the day.

Pitcher Plants, often seen submersed in water, were standing tall like a provincial plant should in dried bog areas.
Wild flowers were abundant, along with all sorts of insect's, sans black flies. Away from the city's white noise and the absence of wind blowing around my ears, I could hear nature as it was meant to be heard. With all my senses on high-alert, I found myself wishing I knew the names of all of the different flowers, dragonflies and butterflies that surrounded us. 

We came across two Monarch, three Painted Lady butterflies and at least two other types of butterflies that I didn't have time to track down for a picture. Oh, by the way, the farmer's crop at the hilltop in St. Shott's is thriving.
 Time was running out quickly, and we had to keep moving. Next stop - Cape Pine Lighthouse. There was a small stretch of Cape Pine Road where the air filled with a naturally sweet aroma that should be bottled. While the Savannah were ever-present, there seemed to be little else in the way of birds on the road. However, just before we reached the lighthouse, two juvenile Horned Lark lifted off and settled back down nearby.  For me, it was my first look at a juvenile. Very interesting.                        The beauty of Cape Pine took my breath away.  I didn't even try to capture it with my camera; it would have been impossible. The gentle "blow" of a Minke Whale broke the silence. The flurry of Savannah's against this backdrop could have been set to music. At one point there were 14 Savannah Sparrows sitting on the row of fence posts, adding to the enchantment of the area.
Time evaporated at Cape Pine Lighthouse. Reluctantly, we headed out. Still awestruck by the impact of the land on us, we were pretty quiet for a change.  Then, a large bird flew in over us. It landed near the road, and we were delighted with having had the added bonus of seeing a new year-bird for both of us - a Whimbrel.
Undaunted by the day's birding, around 5:30 p.m. we headed for St. Vincent's. Remember that Royal Tern we missed twice? Well, we missed it three times. No Royal Tern today.

Time had surely gotten away from us.  It was nearly 7 p.m., and we were getting hungry. Thank goodness for the Trepassey Take-out. (By the way, the fried fish is terrific.) We ate quickly and headed toward the barrens. Thanks to Catherine's quick reaction, we dodged the bullet. This Caribou was standing dead in the middle of the road. It was amazing how it just seemed to blend in to the colors of the road and surroundings.
We thought we had done pretty good with seeing animals, having recorded a seal, a Minke Whale and a Caribou, but nature had more to offer. Again, great spotting, Catherine saw this bull Moose standing in the edge of the woods. Bullwinkle escaped! This moose was as big as the car; no, make that: "As big as a house!"  It was huge!  While I was standing at the edge of the road adjusting my camera waiting to get a full-frontal, I had a thought: What if this moose decided to charge me? I knew I wouldn't stand a chance, so I am left with only this hind view of it peaking at me through the tree.
We were heading home at a safe speed and had to make one more stop before the sun dropped. We ended up right back in Cape Broyle where we had made our first stop of the day. There were still Greater Yellowlegs feeding in the shallow waters, but once again my attention was drawn to our surroundings as dusk began to envelop us.
  I turned around to see the stunning sky.  From the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, "Red sky at night; sailor's delight." Not only did this sky predict a good day ahead, but it was a proper ending to a beautiful day. On top of the sense of rejuvination the day brought, we also saw about 45 species of birds and visited locations we seldom see.
On the last leg of the trip, we spoke of how fast the day went. We had "birded" from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. with another hour's drive ahead of us. The exhilaration of our Big Day of birding lifted all tiredness off our shoulders, and we both agreed if there were still more daylight, we could just keep on birding.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Immature Common Yellowthroat

It was just yesterday that I was saying I haven't seen a Common Yellowthroat yet this year. With that thought in the back of my mind, I headed toward Cape Spear on Blackhead Road. There were no birds zipping around, so I just stopped at a few random places along the road.  I figured if there were alders, there might be warblers.
On my third stop, I spotted a bright yellow "popping" between the leaves that hid the body. It was just the color of yellow I was looking for. Trust me, I took many blurred and partial images before I got these.  The Common Yellowthroat will stay around a while, but it seems to be camera shy.

Complicating matters was this little Wilson's Warbler. Every time I saw yellow, my eye and my camera moved in that direction. The Wilson's was not making things easier.
Compound this with buses, vans and motorcycles whizzing by, each time scaring the bird deeper into the woods
Slowly the Common Yellowthroat would work itself back toward me. Pursuing this bird is really enjoyable. Every time I have seen one, it is the same cat-and-mouse game, but I always seem to come away with some record of the sighting.
 Aside from that, I don't see this bird very often, and this bird's nature to stay around for a long time makes this a challenge worth the effort.

 Now, let me see....oh, I haven't seen a Yellow-crowned Night Heron yet this year.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Magnolia Breeds Here

Thursday was the first day in a long time that I have seen a lot of small birds flying all around the woods. Several different species in one area was enough to keep my feet planted for more than an hour enjoying the show. One-by-one, I would spot and recognize each species...and then, I caught a brief glimpse of this bird. I didn't know what it was. My senses perked up; my brain began to flip through the images in my memory. Methodically, I began eliminating one species after another. What was this? Typical of so many "different" little birds, this one was elusive. It disappeared.
Ugh! What was that? Then, without warning, I caught sight of it again. This time from the rear.  All I could tell was I didn't know what the bird was. In a flash, it was gone again! My eyes darted around the area, but couldn't see it again.
Then, at last, it showed itself. Shadow aside, I knew I had a picture clear enough and complete enough to identify it later.  I watched it for the few seconds it had to give me. It slipped out of sight again, but....
then it popped out in the open to give me a good look. I checked my field guide and quickly realized it was not a rare warbler, but there was no bird to match this one. It was then my memory clicked in of a similar experience in the same area in September of last year. It must be among the confusing warblers. At last, there it was...an immature Magnolia Warbler. This picture even shows the developing dark stripes on the breast.  Once again, I learned something new.  I didn't know these birds would appear in July.
It is really amazing how this dull little gray and yellow bird will evolve into this handsome black and yellow adult. The Magnolia was so named because it was first seen in a Magnolia Tree. It is interesting that the breeding range map for this species does not reach into the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. Yet, this is two years in a row that I have seen a juvenile Magnolia on Blackhead Road.  I spotted an adult sitting on a wire on the same road not too long ago. Clearly, the Magnolia is breeding here.

Immature Barn Swallows

Yesterday while driving up to Cape Spear, I had a visual flashback.  It was on May 12 of this year that I saw two adult Barn Swallows sitting on a wire. I have included this image of an adult female Barn Swallow for reference.
 This time, there were two Barn Swallows flying around as I drove up the road.  Not sure what I saw, I turned around to get a better look. It was then I found the two sitting on the wire, almost exactly where I saw the male and female sitting back in May.

When I first saw the white on the forehead, I was hoping I had found two Cliff Swallows, but closer look damped that hope. These were two immature Barn Swallows.

The emerging tail was the give-away. Yet, it was special to see these two as I have never seen an immature Bank Swallow before. 

The two sat long enough for me to take a few pictures and to look up swallow pictures in my field guide. As this one stretches and readies to lift off, it is easy to see the distinctive white markings on the tail. When spread, these white markings looks like the adult.
While sitting, the shortened-version of the notched tail is also obvious.

Also, when sitting the notched tail looks much shorter than when in flight as seen before. Nevertheless, it still is quite short compared to the adult.
It is interesting as this is my third summer of birding. Up until this year, I was struggling with identifying so many different birds that I really couldn't handle dealing with immature-adult or spring-fall variations.  Now, that I can identify more birds, I find that my depth of learning about each species is deepening. It has been quite enjoyable learning in this way - no pressure. After all,  Rome wasn't built....

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Yellow Warbler - Young and Old

The burst of the sweet sound of the warblers in Spring was all too short. Perhaps it was because the weather was so good, the birds got to the business of breeding which is why they return to Newfoundland.
It seems the male Yellow Warblers return first, followed shortly by the females.  The male  stakes out a territory and is ready to raise a family as soon as the female arrives. Pictured above is the male with the red streaking on the breast, followed by a picture of the female which is not quite so bright and has no breast streaking.
To some degree, the chatter among the Yellow Warblers has picked up again. There seems to be regular communication from the mature to the immature Yellow Warblers who are just now taking wing.
The young Yellow has a lot of gray and white fluffy, downy feathers as seen in these two pictures.  Gradually, the young bird will transition to full yellow as it molts away its baby feathers. It is a delight to watch the young as they awkwardly move about and welcome the meal delivered by the parents, but the "old" seem to be keeping the "young" tucked safely away among the branches and leaves.  It is difficult to get a good look at them.
While engaging in this interesting interaction between the parents and children, up popped this mysterious yellow bird. No settings were changed on my camera, so that couldn't account for the contrast in yellows. Note the white belly on this bird. There seems to be a gray tuft remaining on the head. My best guess is that this bird might be is a "teenager" Yellow Warbler that has already gone through some of its transitioning to reveal a really bright yellow frock. In case I am wrong and this is a really rare bird, please post a comment.

Stopping to watch the most common sights can once again add insight to the bigger picture of the bird, its behaviour and its development.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Slow on the Bird Front

While there has been very little birding news of late, there are still some special treats in the woods. This male Mourning Warbler was one of the delights of my last trip to Bear Cove Pt. Road. There certainly seem to be more of this species around this year.
Also, more plentiful than usual are the Blackpoll Warblers. This little juvenile Blackpoll doesn't seem to be very long out of the nest.
I have seen American Redstarts in five different locations this year. This beats the heck out of the one sighting of this species I had last year. On July 16 on the same gravel road, there were numerous young redstarts learning the ropes. I wonder if it is the warm weather that has impacted the less-than frequent birds to be more present this year.
While standing on the side of the road for fifteen minutes trying to coax a small, rotund, brown bird out of the alders, this Northern Harrier appeared out of nowhere.  This makes about eight or nine Northern Harriers this year; leaps and bounds over my sightings of this raptor in previous years.

The longer I bird, the more I see differences in the abundance and locations of different species.  In the beginning, I thought if I returned to the same site as last year, I would surely find the species I was looking for. Well, naive as that is, sometimes it does work out that way, but most often the location may hold some surprises....or not.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Laughing Gull - 2012

This bird is only the second Laughing Gull I have seen.  The first was at Kenny's Pond in 2010.  My glimpse then was fleeting as I only saw it for about 2 minutes before it flew off.

This is one of two Laughing Gulls reported on the Avalon this weekend. You can't really call that an eruption, I guess.  This species breeds on the Atlantic Coast from Maine southward to Florida and across to Texas.
When I first arrived at Conway Brook where Brendon Kelly first reported this sighting, there was no Laughing Gull in sight. However, my patience paid off this time because within fifteen minutes, in it came drifting on a draft. It was calm and not disturbed by my movement on the shoreline. Maybe it was more than calm, this bird looked beat out!
This shot with a Ring-billed Gull shows just how compact this little gull is.
When it opened its mouth, I'm sure it was just for a yawn. It shook all over.  What a treat to see one of these again. Let's hope it is not another two years before I get another opportunity. Delighted to see this gull, I was laughing all the way home.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Foxglove Flowers and Butterflies

Yet another first for me! Other than in the Botanical Gardens, I had never seen a Foxglove flower.  I think this one is a Common Foxglove, and it was a "stunner."  Growing up and up from among the alders on Bear Cove Point Road, it was beautifully majestic.
This flower only blooms  every two years which makes it even more special. I remembered from the Garden tour that this plant is poisonous, so I didn't touch it. However, it has been used as a medicinal ingredient in natural medicines. Not knowing when I might see one of these again, I really took my time looking and enjoying it.
 Also, on Bear Cove Beach this great little Painted Lady put in an appearance. I am sure I have seen them before, but I didn't know what species it was.  This species is common in Newfoundland.

If there was ever a year to pay attention to the butterflies, this would be it.  Several species rare to this province have been showing up.
Though the backgrounds look similar, this Red Admiral was photographed on Bear Cove Pt. Road.  I saw a couple of Tiger Swallowtails and two other butterflies I couldn't identify (so what's new?), but I wasn't able to get a picture.

As the summer, and a great one it is, presses on, I will take the time to photograph as many butterflies as possible. This is shaping up to be a record butterfly year!