Friday, May 31, 2013

American Pipit Confusion

 While at Cape Spear this week I photographed this quite gray pipit.  The second image better shows the amount of buff showing on the supercilium and below the eye.
 This bird also seems to have a slightly shorter beak, as well as a lighter color on the breast and belly. At the time, I thought it looked different.
After seeing this pipit on the southern shore yesterday, my confusion grew. This pipit looks more like the typical American Pipit, much darker breast and belly, darker back, longer beak and smaller supercilium. What accounts for the difference? Is one a male? The other a female? According to the guide, there is no difference between the two. Is one in winter plumage and the other in breeding, even though the photos were taken one day apart?

I began to wonder about the different kinds of pipits. My browsing suggested that the American Pipit is known by many names: The Buff-bellied Pipit, Water Pipit and Rock Pipit. Since these are not separated in my guide, I looked them all up with Google. The outcome? More confusion. So many birds are mislabeled on the Net that it was impossible for me to draw any suitable conclusion. The question still remains: What accounts for the difference between these two birds?

Note: Saw a great Red-winged Blackbird yesterday, but no pictures forthcoming. It flew directly in front of me flashing its brilliant color. There were virtually no shoulders on the road in the area. I had to pull up quite a distance to even get halfway off the road. By that time, there was no finding the bird again.

Monday, May 27, 2013

White-throated Sparrow: Two Morphs

Among the sparrows frequently seen in Newfoundland, the White-throated Sparrow is undoubtedly one of the most striking.

Drive down any wooded road, and it is common to hear the very distinct whistle of this bird. It begins with a single, high-pitched note followed by series of notes. It is like a fanfare played on a flute.

More often than not, the White-throated Sparrow will be perched near the top of a tree some distance from the road singing away. When lucky, it will just appear right in front of you. This plucky little sparrow doesn't seem to be afraid of people, but is rather more likely to follow its own agenda. It may come close; it may not.

When they do come near, it is easy to see there are two different color variations: The tan-striped morph and the white-striped morph.

It is common to see a tan-stripe and white-stripe, plumed birds in the same proximity, because they almost always breed across morphs.

Because I have often seen the two together, I mistakenly thought the duller plumage was that of a female while the brilliant white-striped bird was probably the male. That was wrong. So, I began to wonder how to differentiate the male and female.

From my reading, I garnered that there are slight variations in color between the genders. However, the one field mark most likely born by the male is its brighter yellow fore supercilium.

Studies have shown that the tan-striped, White-throated Sparrow (regardless of gender) tends to be more attentive to the young.

And so, as I see pairs of these birds over the next week or so as they "set up house," I will look more closely to see if, indeed, the pairs are of two different morphs, attempt to identify male and female birds, and later, watch to see which one seems to be carrying out the parental responsibilities.

This species tends to nest on the ground near a stump or low in the tree. It would be interesting to try to see the nest which is a small cup. The female builds the nest over 5 to 6 days. That info may also offer clues to identifying the female.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fish Meal

 When visiting Fair Haven earlier this week, it was a real bonus to come across two Bald Eagles and two Osprey gathering their breakfast. Both species seemed intent on collecting fish.
It was interesting to see the Little Egrets confident in their safety and standing their ground when the eagles were flying all about.

The aim of the Osprey was spot-on as it set up, dove and readily came up with this sculpin.

While these shots were taken from quite a distance, they do show the essence of the experience.

There was so much activity going on in this area that it was hard to leave. The residents, particularly the walkers, must really enjoy this show on a daily basis. What a place!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Burst of Sunshine and Out Pop the Birds

 After two weeks of dreary weather, the sun that broke through yesterday lured me out for several hours to see what changes have occurred with the bird population over the last week. The warmer it got in the day; the more birds began to pop up.
 The excitement of not knowing just what might be around the next corner is palpable. Each little chip or song leads me in a new direction. This lone, male Blackpoll Warbler seemed to be the first to return in Goulds. Seeing each species return is somewhat like seeing them for the first time, except there is a sense that an old friend has come home.
I think this Wilson's Warbler, photographed yesterday, may have been one of the unidentified birds I heard last week. This one was still quite shy and didn't really expose itself very much, but that didn't impede its singing ability.

Also reported for the first time yesterday was the arrival of the Black-throated Green Warbler in St. John's. Not far behind will be the Yellow Warbler, the Magnolia Warbler, the Mourning Warbler, the Tennessee Warbler, the Common Yellowthroat and the Black and White. Beyond that, at least here on the Avalon, any other kind of warbler is capable of generating a happy dance!

The small little Ruby-crowned Kinglet is back in full song. I saw two yesterday in different areas, and the bigness of the song comming from this small little bird dazzles me every time.

Just Monday, I was in a discussion about how seldom we see the Gray Jay in and around St. John's. Then, out of the blue, I saw four yesterday: Three on Blackhead Road and one on Power's Road.

It is always a pleasure to see these naughty jays. They are so social and will often come near looking for handouts and stay around forever if they think there is a chance of getting something to eat.

All of the Spring birds are looking clean, bright and very mate-worthy these days.

Is it any wonder the American Robin is dubbed "Robin Redbreast?" They never look so red as they do at this time of the year. Their numbers are increasing, and they are busy staking out their nesting trees these days.

It is time to enjoy the birds now, because in a short time they will begin sitting on eggs and then caring for the young. While all of that is happening, they won't be nearly so free with their time.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TWO Little Egrets

As sure as the nose on your face, the first long weekend of summer, May 2-4, is going to be fouled by wind, rain, cold and even snow (lots and lots of it in Gander.) There are the die hard outdoors people who will spend the entire weekend out camping, fishing and birding, despite the discomfort associated with it.

For me, I stuck close to home most of the time with my fireplace ablaze eating comfort food, until......  Monday morning. Fog drifted around my house and the drizzle was steady. Despite this, I was driven by an urge to go to Fair Haven to try to get a glimpse of the Little Egrets reported in that area. I figured the fog may have prevented them from leaving, as so many travellers to Newfoundland know so well.

Within a half hour of the urge, Margie M. and I were on the high road heading straight for Fair Haven. In less than an hour and a half, we were there, and we were rewarded for our effort.

As we turned into the community, I could see both little egrets feeding not too far from the road. What a sight! These birds are beautiful.

During breeding season, these birds are typically found in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Yet, here they are - two Little Egrets in breeding plumage. The amazing twist to the story is that one of the residents from Fair Haven reported this has happened regularly over the years.

We watched and admired these birds from a distance for quite a while. We also encountered several other city birders who opted to spend the holiday Monday doing the same thing we were doing - admiring these rare visitors to our province.

The community of Fair Haven is nestled around the coastline of a small inlet. It was low tide and prime time in the morning to see several birds busily gathering breakfast.

A slow drive around the estuary uncovered several homes sporting full feeders, and there were birds everywhere - in the yards, in the trees, along the water's edge and in the air. This is one of the most bird-friendly communities I have ever seen. No wonder rare birds drop in for a visit from time to time.

When we finally took our eyes off the egrets and really started to look around, we found two Spotted Sandpipers, heard a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a winnowing Wilson's Snipe, saw Boreal Chickadees, two Osprey and one very hungry Bald Eagle. (Pictures for another post.)

On the 12 km drive back to the highway, we decided to stop and check the roadside for small birds. We were rewarded!

Along the way, we saw about five Fox Sparrows, a Swamp Sparrow, a White-throated Sparrow, a Gray Jay, two Black-capped Chickadees, three Yellow-rumped Warblers and missed identifying a medium-size dark brown bird. Even in the cold weather, the birds were moving.

After a week of bad weather and no birding, this half-day experience was invigorating. We were lucky enough to see the Little Egrets, our goal, and also lots and lots of other bird activity.

Within a week or so, the woods should be full, good weather should return, and the hunt will be on!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Goulds Birding in Mid-May

The variety of birds showing up in Goulds is increasing. This small, farming community plays host to a  number of different species that rarely appear in St. John's proper, making it one of the best places to "bird" during spring migration. Among the earlier birds to return are the swallows. Typically, the Tree Swallows return first (with an average return date of May 7, according to Ken Knowles), followed by the Barn Swallows. One of the best places to see these birds is at the race track.

In the surrounding, swampy area, it is easy to see Song Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows as shown here. While the reeds are thick and high, the song easily gives away its location.

 What a difference a day makes! I was at the track one day, and there was no sign of the Swamp Sparrows; the next day, they were all around me.
Of course, I can't visit the track without thoroughly enjoying the horses working out on the track. Due to financial challenges, it is possible the track my have to close. Being from Arkansas, one of the hot spots for thoroughbred racing, I love the races. It would be a great disappointment and a loss to Goulds and the province, if the track were unable to stay open.

This unique venue offers a great day of entertainment for the whole family. I just hope a solution is found to keep the races running.

Back to birding: From Third Pond, race track area, I typically head to Bidgood's Park where there is sure to be some activity. On this particular day, I saw three hares before I even got out of my car. Their size is much larger than I remembered.

Butterflies are putting in an appearance. I saw four of these Mourning Cloak at the park and further up Power's Road. In addition, I heard two singing birds about 2 kms up the road that I could not identify. I was sure they were not the common birds that have recently shown up such as sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Their identity remains a mystery because I never did get a clear look. One flew away from me, and the only feature I could discern was size - small. However, with the song, I don't think it was a kinglet.  Weather being what it is, I haven't been back over to Power's Road again to continue the hunt.

In the meantime, there was no trouble finding the boisterous Northern Waterthrush. It was singing full-on, looking quite happy to be back in Newfoundland.

On the day last week that I travelled up Power's Road, it was in good condition, but very dusty. That won't be the case now with all of the RDF going on, but the road will be filled with ATVs and May 2-4 campers. By next week, it would be good to check this area again to see what else may have shown up this week.

On my last stop on Power's Road, this juvenile Bald Eagle appeared just over the tree tops and swooped down toward me. What a fright! However, I clearly wasn't what s/he had in mind as it flew right over the road and disappeared into the distance.

On my way out of the road, just when I thought all the action was over, I heard a very loud band of crows. Taking a moment to stop and look, I found them chasing this adult Northern Goshawk!
It wasn't long ago, I saw a Northern Harrier on this road, as well. I think Power's Road should be renamed - Raptor Alley. It is really quite exciting to experience the quick transition of barren, silent woods into an oasis filled with song. 
Not much continunity to this post as I had to start and stop the draft at least ten times.