Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Butterflies of Newfoundland

 Last year while birding Bear Cove Road in Renews, I was astounded to see the number of Monarch Butterflies. They were dripping from the plants, dancing in pairs and filling the air with color. It was the first time I had witnessed this in Newfoundland. As a result, I became more curious about the Butterflies of Newfoundland.
The MUN Biology department lists 23 species of butterflies regularly found on the island of Newfoundland.  I have only documented nine of these fluttery insects. That leaves quite a few remaining for me to find.

It seems I have something of an investigative personality. When posed with the challenge to find something like a bird or butterfly, I am all over it.

Based on the collection of butterfly pictures I have gathered, we can't expect to see the arrival of these fluttery friends until some time in July. Then we have about three months to study them before they vanish again.

I have added some butterfly-friendly plants to my garden in the hopes of luring some in for a closer, at-home look. I was surprised to learn (just stunned, I guess) that different butterflies like different plants. This link http://butterflywebsite.com/butterflygardening.cfm  offers up a great butterfly-specific list of what to plant to draw in different species.
Of the butterflies listed on the MUN site, it seems that many of the 23 species frequently seen in Newfoundland, only two do not breed here. Those are the Monarch and the Tiger Swallowtail. Apparently, these two butterflies are blown in on the breezes. We certainly have plenty of breezes!

Of all the butterflies I saw last year, the Red Admiral was the most common. They first appeared in July, and I photographed my last one in the first week of September.

 It was at Second Pond around the swampy area and in the trail that I saw the most of this species. They were pretty regular in this area for over two months.
If there are no birds to entertain, watching these little insects can be quite engaging.

The "wings-up" view of this and most butterfly species looks quite different from the full-on, open posture.

This particular species seems to be referred to as a Short-tailed Swallowtail or as a Short-tailed Black Swallowtail. During my reading, I couldn't find anything that differentiated these two references.

Last summer, I bought a copy of The Ultimate Guide to Butterflies & Moths, published by Parragon. I found it to be very helpful.

The Tiger Swallowtail continues to be one of my favorites. While I saw this species frequently in Central Newfoundland, they don't seem to be as prevalent on the Avalon.

The scarcest of the butterflies that I saw last summer was the White Admiral. This is the only one I documented over the summer.

So, having said all of this, the best way for me to enjoy the arrival of the butterflies this year, is to do a little pre-study, starting with the butterfly list provided at MUN - http://www.mun.ca/biology/bpromoters/bgarden_butterflies.php - I shall study the pictures of each of these and set out to be able to identify them in the field. I have now set a personal goal to try to see all 23 frequent butterfly species documented on our island. How hard can that be? Something tells me, it won't be a "snap."

As a result of the helpful information provided by Gene Herzberg, I have added a link to eButterfly.ca under the eBird link on the right side of this page.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Some Just Get Away!

 It is very common for me to get a brief glance of a bird and not be able to identify it or even to get a picture for later scrutiny. It is pretty frustrating when that happens, but it is better to have seen and missed the ID than to not have seen them at all. This warbler was seen on Rennie's River in late October. There was also an Orange-crowned Warbler at the location at that time, but this warbler flew in briefly and off again. There was no hope of getting an ID from this picture. However, Paul Linegar spotted a Nashville Warbler at this location in December. Could this have been that bird? I am left wondering, because I will never know for sure.
 Buried amid the foliage in this shot is another warbler spotted in Tors Cove that flew in and off again in seconds. It is pretty exciting when this happens, as it sets off a great hunt to try to see the bird again. Sometimes I refind it, and sometimes I don't. This one had to remain as one of those that got away in 2012.
Also at Tor's Cove in a frenzy of bird activity, where Margie M. and I saw a female Black-throated Blue Warbler among many others, was this mystery bird with a white breast and a white line on its face. There is no way of identifying this bird from this picture.  Ugh, I hate it when that happens.

Then, there are those that flit in front of my lens when I am aiming at another bird. This is what happened with the small bird in the upper left corner. It just appeared and was gone again.

Once the picture was enlarged, it looked like this may have been a vireo. It is moments like this that make the birding experience rich. The challenge is great and the burst of excitement escalates beyond description. A "what was that bird?" moment causes the heart to pound and the senses to perk up. It is kind of like that slot machine moment when two matching symbols fall into place, but the illusive third one hangs just out of view creating yet another miss.

So many time, I am stuck trying to shoot a bird through an obstacle, i.e. fence, branch, foliage etc. This was the case in this picture. Can you see the bird in the middle of the photo? (click to enlarge shots for a better chance of seeing it.)

The second picture above is an enlargement of the fence image. This bird didn't quite get away. It turned out to be a Blue-headed Vireo, my first. So why shoot through obstacles? Because sometimes, it is a great bird just waiting to be identified.

The last bird that got away without identification was this great little yellow bird (last picture in the series) seen in late January. I was shooting from my car into the backyard on Exeter Ave. I could see enough to rule out American Goldfinch and Baltimore Oriole, but I could not see enough to get an ID. After taking this shot and other similar blurry, obscured images of this bird, I got out of the car. End of story! The bird flew off. I am left wondering, yet once again.

I will have to be very quick on the trigger this year to limit the little birds that evade documentation.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Newfoundland Birding Hub

In February, this blog marked its third anniversary. What started out as a "journaling" exercise for me to record my birding and gardening experiences has evolved in a way I never expected.  When I set up this site, I didn't tell anyone because of my own insecurities and lack of knowledge about both birding and gardening. I thought that by documenting the journey, I would learn something. I told only two people about some pictures I had posted, and word soon leaked into the birding community.

I could only imagine people must I have thought I was more than a little crazy to think I could regularly post images and musings about either birding or gardening (topics I knew nothing about) without making glaring mistakes and maybe stepping on a few toes. I have made a few errors, quite a few, but I have tried to maintain a sense of truth about the journey and not assume to know things that I clearly don't know. Somehow, traffic to my site steadily picked up. Visitors from St. John's, the province and around the world drop by my site on a regular basis.

Through the realization that I really have very little to offer in terms of instruction, I decided to add links to this site that would be helpful resources to any reader dropping in. Initially, I added basic tools such as links to the Tide Chart (useful when watching for shorebirds or sea birds,); I added links to Road Cams to make it easier for visitors to check the actual road conditions when planning a road trip; and a link to the Weather Channel was added to aid in planning ahead.

As more and more visitors dropped by to check out the site, I added links to the Google Discussion Group: NL Birds (a site where Newfoundland bird sightings are regularly posted); BirdingPals Newfoundland (where visitors could connect with knowledgeable local birders willing to take them out to local hotspots,) and the local birding shop: The Birdhouse and Binocular Shop. An unexpected increase in activity on the site began to really pick up in January 2011. This prompted me to add a Page View Counter to the Home Page. Then Google offered a stat tracking gadget to the backside of the site, so I switched to it, losing the number from the earlier counter. Yet, the change was good because it provides me with a lot of useful information, particularly what people are looking for when they enter the site, and which posts are viewed most frequently. Search topics are also recorded for the site, which has sometimes driven posting topics.

Numbers continued to grow. How did this happen? As a result, I wanted more information about how much interest there is out there for birding in Newfoundland. In December 2011, I joined the Fat Birder Top 1000 (actually 1272 birding sites - not just blogs.) Within fifteen months of joining, my site began moving up the chain. It currently sits at #244 out of 1272 sites. To my amazement, that is in the top 19% of all birding sites registered with Fat Birder. How did that happen? At about the same time, I signed up for Cluster Maps to get a better picture of the origin of the visitors to the site. Over the next fifteen months, Cluster Maps registered over 18,500 unique visitors from all over the world. By clicking on the map, anyone can view where all the unique visitors to the site originate. On February 2, 2012, I decided to join the Nature Blog network. Nature Blog hosts a total of 2423 nature-based blogs; my blog sits at #272 of all of the nature blogs. Narrowing further, Nature Blog lists 511 Bird Blogs. My site sits at #56 (within one year, this blog climbed into the top 11%.) To me, that is absolutely astounding! All three of these stat-recording sites, conduct counts based on unique computer IPs, while the number of Page Views reported at the bottom of my site show just that - how many pages have been accessed. That number now sits at over 70,000, with some lost when I was transitioning counters. All of these tools and the information they provide have really been instrumental in the modifications I have made to this site.

The significant traffic to my site has added to the responsibility I feel about sharing accurate information and resources. Since my birding knowledge is one on a scale of ten, the onus is on me to ensure that I provide links to sites of those experts in our birding community. More and more, Newfoundland birding blogs and photostream sites are showcasing some amazing photos of Newfoundland birds and are growing in quantity and quality. We now have access to birding records through BirdtheRock, expert exposes on the phenomenal birding events around our province, and information about conservation efforts, as well as many novice birders and photographers sharing their experiences. By visiting my site, all of these other blogs and links can be accessed from one location. As soon as I learn of a new blog or photo site, I provide a link. My vision has changed from just sharing my experiences to providing a central location where local or potential visiting birders can access as much as information as possible about where to bird and what to expect to find.

Within the last year, I joined eBird and more and more Newfoundland birders are doing the same. This tool provides a list of all birds reported through that site. These reports provide a map to bird sightings as well as a composite of common and rare birds reported by others in the area. The growing popularity of this tool among birders in this province has the potential to generate a long-lasting public record of sightings in the province.

I have included links to Surfbirds and the ABA where a number of our rarities are posted. I also include links of Big Year birders who I meet around the Avalon so that I might track their progress.  There is also a link provided to report banded bird sightings. Further, there is a link to the Bydbay live bird cam in Port Blandford, where at this time of the year it is likely to see Common Redpoll.

Since the number of unique visitors from Newfoundland has increased (joined NL Blogroll), I have added a new item to my site today. In the upper right hand, I have provided a quick pic and e-mail address to report rare birds around the province. Let's hope that gadget gets used a lot.

Interesting to note:  The top ten posts most often viewed on the site are not the rare birds, but rather more familiar birds and some local history and general interest postings. That clearly suggests that there is a good mix of birders and others who want to know more about the province visiting this site.

It is clear, there is wide interest in the birds of Newfoundland. It is now my hope to provide a single-entry point to "what's happening" with birding in the province, a place where it is easy to access all of the birding activity. Well, all of these evolutionary changes would never have happened if so many people had not led the way through participation in this site. Thank you to all, and if there are links that should be added to enhance access to information about birding in this province, please let me know.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ten Species of Sparrows - 2012

 It won't be long until sparrow season is in high gear, and I want to be prepared. After three years of birding, I have to admit, sometimes I look at a sparrow,and I am still stumped. This is especially true if the bird flies by quickly and then is gone.
Nevertheless, there are some sparrows that are pretty easy to identify even with a brief look. The Fox Sparrow is one of these. With its bright rusty head and back, breast streaking, and its lovely song, it is hard to miss.

During 2012, I saw ten different species of sparrows. Some were new ones and of course, there were the year-round regulars like House Sparrows and some Song Sparrows that tend to winter here. On any given winter day it was possible to see a sparrow. 

In addition to the House Sparrows, Song Sparrows, there were also reports of wintering Fox Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, a Lincoln's and an American Tree Sparrow.

Even though I had never seen a Lark Sparrow before 2012, it was one of the easiest sparrows to identify. My first glimpse of it, I knew it was different, and a quick flip through the guide led me straight to an ID. I like it when that happens which I must admit is not very often.

Then, there was the Lincoln's. I found one on Cape Spear road and, while I thought, it was a Lincoln's, I flip-flopped between a Lincoln's and a Swamp Sparrow. There is an image of a very similar looking immature Swamp Sparrow provided below to illustrate just how confusing it can be to identify s sparrow when there is such a mix of immatures among them all.

The mature Savannah Sparrows, like most mature sparrows in breeding plumage, were to identify. 

Then came all of the immatures boasting different colors and more streaking.

These four images of the Savannah show a lot of variation. I have to be on my toes if I am going to learn to identify these quickly.

Having stared down Song Sparrows all winter, I think I will be very confident identifying them this summer. 

 Then again, only time will tell.
If they are hiding behind a branch like this bird is, how will I know? Is this a Swamp or a Lincoln's? Swamp, I think.

What is this immature sparrow with a lot of black? My guess is a very young Savannah. My ID is based on its location (Cape Spear) and the mature birds in the area.

Now, as distinct as this Swamp Sparrow is, how could I not be able to pick them out at any time? Well, they don't all look like this one!

 On some the reddish cap is not always so red, but rather rusty.
There are times when the cap is so red, it almost looks like a Chipping Sparrow. I haven't seen one of them in Newfoundland yet, but I keep looking.

Then there are times when the Swamp Sparrow looks more deep brown than reddish.

Then there are those immatures filled with streaking on their breast.

This one looks a lot like a Lincoln's with the rusty color on the breast. There are so many variations, it is mind-boggling.

When I first saw this American Tree Sparrows, once again the Chipping Sparrow came to mind. Although, when I got a good look at it, I could see the very distinct markings including the yellow lower beak. I think having the opportunity to see this species frequently over the winter, I will be ready to call a quick ID if I ever see one again. Because I hadn't seen one before, it never came to my mind there may be one around.

Then, there was the great White-crowned Sparrow that showed up at the Barrett's in Goulds. This one was not only easy to identify, but it provided a real thrill since it was a first for me.

The White-throated Sparrow in breeding plumage is a breeze to identify. Its very clear whistle makes it easy to follow.

Then, of course not all White-throated Sparrows are mature. This young one being fed by its parent shows how much less pronounced its markings are.

Seeing one alone can cause me to hesitate a moment before making a call on which sparrow it is.

 This one looks so different with its very brown colors, but the yellow lore is developing and the white throat patch is also quite obvious.
Yet again, here is another with some slight variation. As I review all of these pictures, I am sure I will continue to be baffled by some of the sparrows I expect to see over the next couple of months. However, I won't be embarrassed by that, because clearly there are many deviations from the norm. There is, however, no doubt that it gets a little easier each year.