Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Last New Bird of the Year

 After two failed attempts to see the Northern Shoveller this year, I headed back to Neville's Pond one last time.
 When I arrived, there was no shoveller in sight. However, there were some small birds around the edge of the pond that occupied me.
 Then, all of a sudden a snipe blew up out of nowhere and flew towards me. It landed in the area of the stream on the opposite side of the road. I got a good look at it as it landed and was taken by how dark it was. With my camera in the car, I inched my way to get it. Obviously, I was not stealth enough, because the snipe flew into the high reeds.
 While all of that was going on, the handsome, male Northern Shoveller flew in and landed near shore. Mission accomplished! Yet, I keep thinking about the snipe I failed to photograph. Even though I am 99% sure it was a Wilson's, I keep wondering..."What if it was not..."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Two Days of Marveling Over Common Eider

 Drawn to the water's edge at Cape Spear by the sight of two large rafts of Common Eider, I became enthralled by their amazing behaviour. They lifted off several times flying further out to sea.
 Then, as if a creeping monster, they would weave a chain back to shore.
 Some, a little more impatient, would fly ahead of the raft. Then, without notice, they would all disappear under the water and vanish altogether. Just awesome!
 Having a great opportunity to look them over closely as they hung close to shore, I was able to see many variations.
All five field guides I frequently reference show three variations of the male Common Eider and only one plumage for the females.  Well, I saw much more than that! This shot shows a very pale female. It made me look closely wondering if it were a female King Eider, but the shape of the head, the length of the bill and the barring on the back tell me this has to be a Common.
 This image shows two very gray females. Is it possible these two birds are subspecies of the Common Eider? Among the huge flock, I saw four such birds.
 There are two typical immature male Common Eider in this shot. There is another showing remnants of eclipse plumage. I read that it is somewhat common for the first molt to not completely  transition the plumage to 1st winter.
 This shot shows the same bird just below the gull.
This shot of the two pale, female eider better shows the barring across the back and on the underside of these birds. Without a scope, I find the unusual birds with my binoculars and follow up with a photo to zoom in more closely to see the details. For me, this works well as I can review the images at length for study.
 These are three immature male Common Eider. Each one is slightly different from the other. Imagine if a pocket field guide had to show all the variations....
 There was one individual male that seemed caught between immature plumage and adult plumage. I guess it will just have to wait for its spring molt to finish the job.
 The immature male actually has two tones on the face with the darker color being on the lower face and the cap being somewhat lighter, the reverse of its adult plumage.  This difference is better seen in the bright sunlight.
 On the second day of viewing the sun was shining creating a whole new experience for viewing. While the photos are worse, the actual experience of seeing this mass of birds on the sun-lit water was stunning.
 As the birds played in the surf, a pale female stands out in the lower left of this shot.
 For hours these ducks continued to come and go for no apparent reason. However, it was clear they were feeding when near shore.  What goes on under the water when the birds are out of sight? Well, these large ducks typically dive from 3 to 20 meters and feed mainly on crustaceans. I found it interesting, too, to learn they eat their favorite food, mussels, whole and crush the shell with their large gizzard.
 Studying eider is challenged by the constant movement of the birds, the swell of the ocean, the over-powering sunshine, the darkness of cloud cover, the cold, the wind, the distance, and the limitations of optics. Sometimes, it is good to just settle into a sheltered area and enjoy the wondrous spectacle the way nature intended.
Also seen during the two visits: 1 Dovekie, 1 Black Scoter, 1 Northern Pintail, 10 Black Guillemots, 36 Purple Sandpipers, 1 Dark-eyed Junco and 1 small bird with the junco that I never saw well.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Yellow-throated Wabler - Kelly's Brook

 Earlier this week, I stepped out on my deck to enjoy the unusual mid-morning warmth on a December morning. For a fleeting moment, I imagined...Winter departed and Spring arrived. I wish!
 I began to think of warblers and long walks in the woods. While the typical flurry of wood warblers is long gone, there have been a few warblers found around the St. John's area. These include a Pine Warbler, an Orange-crowned Warbler and this beautiful Yellow-throated Warbler.

 At Kelly's Brook, I was lucky to get great views of this colorful little bird. It was working its way through a range of about 50 feet and back again.
 Busily eating, it seemed really, really tame. It came within close range several times while I watched. In fact, it came so close it was impossible to focus my long lens on it.
 While the foliage around Kelly's Brook has dulled, the bright throat of this little warbler lit the place up.
 As has happened in the past, several rare birds may likely just appear at the Brook. It is an unusual habitat for this city area that seems to continue to produce insects well beyond other areas.
As the weather gets colder, the chance of seeing something great continues to increase. Last year, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher frequented the area. A couple of years back, a Kentucky Warbler delighted birders for several weeks. Not to diminish the value of the Yellow-throated Warbler, but there may be some rare bird already scouting out the place.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Bright Light

 Finding a couple of hours yesterday morning, I headed out to try to see the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Pine Warbler and the Eastern Towhee. Well, one out of three is not bad.
 I went to Bowring Park and rushed straight toward the railway bed to look for the Pine Warbler. I was ascending the steps to the trail as I caught sight of movement in a tree. Stopping mid-way up the stairs, I spotted a Brown Creeper. That's not a bird I see often, so I stopped to watch it creep around the tree.
 Then, out of nowhere, in flew a female Downy Woodpecker. Another bird I don't see often, I was already satisfied with my outing.
As the Downy flew off, in flew the Pine Warbler and landed in a tree just feet from me. The sun shone brightly on it, and the Pine Warbler seemed to enjoy the bit of warmth the sun offered up on a very cold morning.
Sometimes, I work so hard to see a bird and never lay eyes on it, but yesterday morning, I stopped in just the right place to enjoy three great birds.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Birds of No Color

Joe Hiscock of Burgeo, Newfoundland recently sent me this video of a white sparrow in his yard. I have looked at the clip several times and can not tell what kind of sparrow it is. With his permission, I post it here in the hopes someone can provide some info about this bird.

 Yesterday, I had a visit from a washed-out (leucistic) American Goldfinch.
 Where there is supposed to be black, it is white. It's overall body is much paler than usual, as well. Underneath, the bird appeared very white.
 In recent months, there have been several reports of birds without normal color pigment. I tried to locate all of the posts on the Discussion Group, but couldn't narrow in on the posts.
From memory, I know Shawn Fitzpatrick reported a leucistic Black-capped Chickadee and Alison Mews had a leucistic junco at her feeder. I seem to remember a seabird also reported at Cape Race and another possible one in Glovertown. Add to this the above sparrow and this goldfinch, there seems to be more of these birds showing up. That begs the question: "Why?"

Friday, November 21, 2014

Post #1000: Gulls of Newfoundland

 Today's post marks a major milestone of being the one thousandth post on this blog since April 2010. Putting that in perspective, that is an average of 22.2 posts per each of the 45 months since this blog originated.
These posts host about 10,000 photos, many words and represent hours and hours of birding, photography, processing photos and more. Perhaps I have said all that can be said by a novice birder learning about birds the Avalon Peninsula over an extended period of time.
 For today, I chose to showcase the gulls of Newfoundland, given our gull season is well underway. Of course, not all gulls shown here were seen during the winter, but many were. (For more info about when some of our rarities were reported, run a query in the "search box" above.)
We have already had several sightings of Yellow-legged Gulls this year. Will this be the year a Slaty-backed Gull returns to Quidi Vidi Lake? I recently saw where one was reported just west of us.
 In the order of appearance, the gulls included in this post are:

Common Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Ivory Gull
Laughing Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
 Little Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Ross's Gull
Slaty-backed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Black-headed Gull
Black-tailed Gull
Bonaparte's Gull.
 I have shots of what was pointed out to me as a Glaucous Gull and will add the shot later. It is the Thayer's Gull, not the Glaucous Gull that is the bird debated. Some say they have never been here and there are those who disagree.
 With so many species of gulls frequenting St. John's, it is no wonder winter-birding tourists also flock to the area of Quidi Vidi to enjoy the show.
 While the nesting sites of Elliston, Cape St. Mary's, and Witless Bay garner a lot of splash on the province's tourism promos, there are still many aspects of birding in this province that remain low profile. Gull birding is one of those.
 However, keen birders educate themselves about what is happening here through the many avenues of informal communications put on by the birders of this province.
 There is an extremely high interest in birds in Newfoundland beyond Canadian borders. Thousands of birders from the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany, China, U.K., Turkey and India have visited my blog since its inception.
 To me, that is remarkable, and I am very happy to have been able to share my NL birding experiences with such a wide audience.