Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

 Happy Halloween to all the little goblins who will be racing from house to house this evening. Have great fun and be careful.
Trick or Treat? When I went to Renews about ten days ago, as usual, I was driving very slowly down the road along Renews Beach.  A black bird sitting on a bench on the opposite side of the road caught my attention. "Wow! I found a black bird," I thought.  Could it be the Red-winged Blackbird reported earlier?  I stopped the car and had a quick look with my binos.  I saw the eye only and didn't really look look the bird over for fear that it might fly away and I would miss getting a shot.
I put my binos down and grabbed my camera.  I was shooting away when the home owner came out. "Oh, no," the bird will fly.  It didn't.  The man walked right along side of it, and it didn't fly.  "I better have another look at this bird."  When I put the binos on it, I was so surprised to see it was a Halloween Bird, and I had been tricked. Nevertheless, it was a treat.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dickcissels Stopover

 A day trip to Renews about ten days ago only offered up a very quick glimpse of a Dickcissel. It didn't even stay around long enough for me to take a picture. Time was short, and I couldn't wait for its return.  It was a little disappointing. Well, that disappointment turned to delight when it was reported a Dickcissel had shown up at a feeder downtown.
Within minutes of my arrival, I happened upon lots of House Sparrows and then, there it was - the target bird! This one was very accommodating as it sat out in the open for quite some time. 
I stayed only as long as was appropriate when gawking into someones backyard, leaving quite satisfied that I had a really good look of this vagrant visitor. Each year, several Dickcissels are reported on the Avalon, but not all as handy as this one.
When I got up the next day, I found a post on the discussion group reporting there were now TWO Dickcissels at the feeder.  Well, I had to go see them both.  The weather on the second day was less than inviting with rain and high winds. All viewing was from a bit of a distance; nevertheless in a warm car.
 It was very interesting to observe the behaviour of the Dickcissel. It was the aggressive one on the feeder.  It often fussed at the House Sparrows until it drove them away. The feeding Dickcissels were not nearly as nice as when sitting with the sparrows on the fence.
 I also observed the Dickcissel sinking its head deep into its body as shown in this picture taken on the first day.  I have several shots from both days when the bird was doing this.  I don't know why but found it very interesting behaviour.
On the windy day the Dickcissel would spread its tail feathers to try to hang on to the food.  Despite the conditions, all birds were feeding very well. Note:  The pair have driven off the sparrows on this feeder.  It was good there were two feeders hanging in the yard.
On the third day, both Dickcissels were still present and feeding well. Looking healthy and strong, it is likely they will soon begin their trip to the wintering grounds that range from Mexico and South America. However, if they have any sense, they will wait until Hurricane Sandy passes.

I wonder what, if anything, that mega storm may blow our direction. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Orange-crowned Warbler - 2012

 This uncommon species to Newfoundland has been a difficult bird to find and to identify.  This is my third sighting of the Orange-Crowned Warbler, and I am batting zip when it comes to identifying them.  First, they don't stay around very long.
Second, they are among the confusing warblers, and each bird transitions into its winter plumage at a different rate.  This one is unusually yellow for this time of the year.  I have yet to see the head well enough to actually see the crown for which it is named.
This week, I was downtown standing and watching the visiting Dickcissel among a large flock of House Sparrows.  When the total flock backed off a bit, I decided to pish a bit to see if they might return.  Much to my surprise, in flew this little warbler and perched in a tree just above me.
 For all of the minute it was present, it was blocked by some twigs or just not looking at me.  I did the best I could to get some record shots so that I could find out what it was. Once identified, I returned to my file shots of the OCW and found they really don't look much like this one at all. The guide description describes this bird as being olive-gray above but in winter looking more gray.  It also says there is a faint eye line, no wing bars and faint streaking on the  breast. The eye-line on this bird seems to be broken and not really faint at all.  I couldn't see any breast streaking at all.  More than confusing, this is confounding!
On September 29th, I caught a quick look at this Orange-crowned Warbler in Blackhead.  Again, I had to ask for help to identify it.  Now that I am building a collection of pictures of its backside, which seems to be about all I see of this bird, I am hoping the next time I will be able to know what I am looking at.

I guess it is natural to struggle with an ID when I have only seen three of these birds in total and each one for a very brief time. Next time I see a dull yellow bird with olive-green or gray above, I am going to go straight to the Orange-crowned Warbler to either nail the ID or to eliminate it.

Let's hope I get to see a lot!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lincoln's Sparrow

Yesterday, a not-so-shy Lincoln's Sparrow came out into full view. In fact, it sat and preened for a while. This is a species that I "twitched" with determination when one was reported on Blackhead Road and another at Kelly's Brook last winter.  The best I was able to do was see it as it flitted past me and darted back into the cover of the brush or trees.  Not this time!
While I didn't take time to study the bird with my binos, I knew it seemed quite different when looking through my camera.  The breast was much "buffier" than a Song Sparrow, and the amount of gray on the face was distinct.  Because this bird doesn't look exactly like the one in Peterson's Guide, I am guessing it may be an immature bird.  There is no indication in the guide that the Lincoln's has a winter "suit."
How did I come across this bird?  Well, I found three juncos who, after a while, flew off.  I decided to follow. They led me to a larger flock of juncos and a few Golden-crowned Kinglets. That was all it took to keep my interest. While watching them, out came a sparrow! A very good sparrow. Then, it was gone.
Not me! I stuck around a while hoping to get another look. My time-in paid off. A sparrow once again appeared on a branch. This one, though, while quite similar had a breast spot.  Could this one be a Song Sparrow? 
Now I was confused and in for the long haul to get more pictures. I hadn't changed the settings on my camera, but of course light can play tricks with colors.  This bird seemed less "buffy." Nevertheless, the face was the same.  It was also suggested to me that sometimes the wind can part the feathers on the breast to expose the skin making it appear there is a breast spot, even a large one.

The Lincoln's Sparrow often does have a breast spot. Now, I am wondering if this is the same bird or if there are two in the area. After all, the Lincoln's is a common breeder in the province, and two could be travelling together. Yet, unless I can see two together, I am hesitant to suggest the presence of more than one.

While, there are so few song birds left in the woods, it seems that almost every little bird I see, notwithstanding the juncos and kinglets, provides an unexpected treat. To quickly write off a bird as a common species may result in missing the uncommon. It is my pictures that actually "save" the moment.  If I had described this bird to some one as: A sparrow, with brown streaking on the front and a breast spot, the natural assumption is that the bird is a Song Sparrow. Move on. By having the pictures, I can study the bird more closely and get help with an ID. For me, this enhances the birding experience.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Brown Creeper Zipped In

Despite being out and about a lot this year, there are a number of common birds that I have yet to see in 2012.  The Brown Creeper was one of those. Last week while pursuing the Clay-colored Sparrow (dip!), I was just standing and visually scouring the trees, shrubs and ground. Then, out of the blue, in flew this Brown Creeper and landed on a nearby light pole.
It was particularly skittish and only stayed about one minute before flying off into a stand of trees.  I moved over to watch and wait.  The creeper is known to work its way up the trunk of a tree in a spiraling manner and then drop again to the bottom of the tree. I was going to be patient and wait for this to happen to try to get some better pictures when the creeper reached a "branchless" section of the tree.
However, I caught sight of another bird flying by that "could" have been the Clay-colored Sparrow. Distracted, I didn't ID the passing bird, and I lost the Brown Creeper when I looked away. I can only liken birding to the Barnum and Bailey Three-ring Circus. There is often so much going on, you are sure to miss something special while already gazing at something extraordinary.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Juvenile Northern Mockingbird

Once a year for the last three years, a Northern Mockingbird has shown up in the St. John's area. Two were in residential areas and our latest visitor, this juvenile bird, appeared at Cape Spear on Sept. 26 and was last seen on Sept. 30.  Typical of all of the Mockingbirds that have come here, they stick around a while.
While I had seen this juvenile on the day it was first found, I was very far for pictures. Quite by luck, Allison Mews and I came upon this one that was a little closer and had better lighting.  We had just trekked through a tangled patch of tuckamore and were pretty weary when we emerged back out on the road. However, had we not made that jaunt, we may not have seen this bird.  Allison quickly sighted a bird sitting on a branch near the water. When we approached, this is what we found.
Unlike the juvenile shown above, the mature Northern Mockingbird has no breast spots, as seen in this winter picture taken two years ago.

Despite that difference, the mockingbird has such a distinct patch on the wing and such a long tail, making identification very easy.
This juvenile, photographed in Arkansas, is much browner because it is quite young. Nevertheless, the patch, tail and stance are so typical of the species.
The adult Arkansas version again looks different, leaner and meaner, than the birds that show up here. Perhaps even a bit faded from the powerful sun and heat. Northern Mockingbirds are commonplace in Arkansas and can sometimes be a bit of a nuisance.  By contrast, we love having the annual visit of strays that happen to show up in Newfoundland.  I have never really had the opportunity to listen to this bird mimicing other species. Yet one more thing to look forward to.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Surprising Appearance of Domestic Geese

By birding standards, I don't travel to the Southern Shore of the province very often.  It takes a rarity or an amazing report of warblers on Bear Cove Point Road or beaches crawling with shorebirds in Renews to lure me there.  Over three years, I guess I have passed through Ferryland more times than I can count.
We have had some high winds recently that have brought in some interesting birds, so about a week ago, Margie M. and I headed South.  You can imagine our surprise when we looked into the marsh at the Y in Ferryland.  There were two geese. Wild Graylag Geese don't frequent this island, but there before us was a Graylag and another smaller, unknown goose.  Was it as young Graylag?  Our imaginations ran as wild as the thought of a non-domestic Graylag Goose appearing out of nowhere.
Having travelled this way before and never seeing these geese fueled the excitement. What was up with these two birds?  Well, having later checked them out with other birders, it seems these geese are typically penned nearby. Oh, too bad.
Then, I became quite curious about the non-graylag goose.  What was it? Yahoo for the Internet! First scan looked much like an African Goose, but it doesn't have the raised node on its nose.  I kept looking and found this is a Domestic Swan Goose. It is a very interesting small goose with the dark stripe down the back of its head. While thoughts of having a great "find" were dashed, it was interesting to learn about this bird.  I guess I can liken this to a gold-find: A sparkle of gold-colored ore can make one wide-eyed, but when it turns out to be fool's gold, one becomes wide-mouthed.
And so, the domestic geese of Ferryland have become yet another learning experience.
Wiser now, but still surprised, I came upon these two geese near the playground in Blackhead. They caused a tire-screeching stop, again. There was another Domestic Graylag and a what?  A giant what?
 I approached these birds and there was no flight. Here was another pair of Domestic Geese on a drive that I do several times a week. I have never seen them before. The Graylag seemed to be protecting the much larger bird.  Sorry about the dark pictures, but I couldn't get behind them to get the sun in my favor.
I began looking for info on this domestic breed. I came across two breeds that resemble this bird, but not exactly.  I guess domestic birds are like that since there is often mixed breeding.  One type of similar goose is the Pomeranian, developed in Germany.  The other is a Twente Landrace which originates in the Netherlands.
This image shows a bit of the blue eye of this bird. Both the Pomeranian and the Twente Landrace have blue eyes. Beyond that, I have not pursued the technical info necessary to differentiate these two breeds. For my purpose, all I know is this is one BIG goose, and there are clearly more domestic geese in the province that I expected.

It baffles me why any owner would allow these kinds of birds to roam free during a very active hunting season.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pied-billed Grebe - Kent's Pond

 At last, the much anticipated visit of a Pied-billed Grebe (not one, but two) came about.   As far as I know, none visited St. John's last year. My records show it was October 23, 2010 when I last spotted one on Kent's Pond.  These migrating birds are really predictable: Either they don't come at all or they come around the same date. When word spread about the arrival of the two grebes yesterday, I first went to Stick Pond because I thought I might get a closer look.  When I arrived there, it was nowhere to be seen. That doesn't mean it wasn't there, because they can sink in the water or blend in with the reeds.
I then headed to Kent's Pond. Again, the bird wasn't immediately visable.  I ran into Allison Mews and Ed Hayden who had just seen it and pointed me in the right direction.  I headed around the pond. Very quickly, I spotted the grebe in the center of the pond where it probably was all the time. That was too far away to get a decent picture.  I watched the direction it was moving and moved with it.
Then, the woods blocked my view and I couldn't see it.  I was going to have to get to the edge of the water. The little trails were not well broken.  All summer long, I wore a band of cobwebs because of taking the "road less travelled." This time, it was eye-poking, face-slapping, stout twigs and small branches causing me grief.  I went into two small trails only to see nothing.
I just had to keep trying.  To say that I am somewhat aggressive when I want to see a bird is a bit of an understatement.  I made my way through the worst trail yet and found the prize.  At first my view was blocked by additional branches and high water plants.  One-by-one, I broke away the little branches and lined my toes up with the water's edge where I hung onto a strong branch to keep from falling in. At last, a clear view.  All of my racket didn't faze the grebe. 
It actually came out into the open and toward me as if to say, "Where is all that noise coming from?" All my effort faded into delight, and there I was face-to-face with a Pied-billed Grebe and getting my best view ever.  There was time to study it with binoculars and to take pictures, the best possible scenario.
Several people, not the usual birding group, came to the pond to see the grebe. Some returned to their cars and offices to get their binoculars.  It seems more people follow the discussion group than I thought. For anyone looking to see this bird, it was hanging around the area with the lily pads on the west end of the pond.  There are a couple of small trails to the water's edge behind the pond-side, wooden structure on the west end. Stay low and good luck!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Red-winged Blackbird

When a bird sighting is posted on the Discussion Group, don't be fooled into thinking it will be a snap to find it. Yet, the information does offer hope and a starting point. After all, a little hunting makes it even more special when I actually find the bird.
Last Thursday, I set out to try to re-locate the Red-winged Blackbird spotted at Mundy Pond. The weather was awful; rain, drizzle and fog with a very high wind.  I bundled up in weather-appropriate gear and fought the elements all the way around Mundy Pond - twice! All I came up with was a small flock of goldfinch, junco and one sparrow. Wet, cold and deflated I headed to my car. Once in, I sat for a moment just to recover from the very uncomfortable walk. Strike out!
On Friday, the rain and fog were replaced by sun, but the wind was still ripping. Nevertheless, I had to try again.  Once again, dressed in layers, I headed straight for Mundy Pond.  I had walked half way around the pond (fighting the wind all the way) when I spotted a small bird dashing into the low bushes near the trail to the island. With its size and light coloring, I thought that looked really interesting - maybe a warbler?
I began to inch my way into the trail to try to find this bird to get a better look. I wasn't having much luck when I caught sight of something flying by, probably a wind-blown leaf.  I looked up and in flew the Red-winged Blackbird.  Without thought, I raised my camera and began shooting.  Got it! I watched as it landed on a tree on the island. Between me and the bird was a very wet trail.  With my boots in the car, I had to settle for distant looks.
The blackbird then took flight again and flew down into the low shrubs on the far side of the island.  For anyone else looking to see this bird, I would recommend to wear boots and check out the island more closely.  I think this may be where it is staying most of the time. Better go soon, because any day now, it will probably leave.