Thursday, 2 July 2020

Rufous Hummingbird - 4th for Newfoundland

Newfoundland's 4th RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD was present at Renews, Avalon Peninsula for 36 hours 27-29 June 2020.  Clara Dunne saw it around her feeder late on the 27 June.  She suspected it was different than the female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that she had seen at her feeder over the last five years.  It was not until the following morning that she was able to secure some half decent photos.  The photos confirmed her suspicion that it was a different looking hummingbird.  She tentatively identified it as a Rufous Hummingbird. She texted me photographs for confirmation.  The rest is history. 

The bird visited the feeder regularly on the 28 June and up to 9 am on 29 June and then suddenly no more.  A number of people got to see the and photograph the bird.  The June date is early for this rare vagrant in the east.

 The previous records of Rufous Hummingbird for Newfoundland are:

 1) 1985 4-15 August. One adult male at MUN Botanical Park feeding on flowers (photos)
 2) 1988 13-15 August. One adult male visiting flowers at St. Anthony (photos)
 3) 2011 18-20 August.  One adult female at bird feeder, Middle Pond, near Goulds (photos)

In addition there was a female Rufous type hummingbird was observed over several days at in a residential garden in St. John's in early September 1983.  

All except the last picture were taken on 28 June 2020 at Renews. The last picture was taken on 29 June.  The dark triangle in throat indicates adult female.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Codroy Trip 13-16 June - Royal Success

The Codroy Valley at the southwest corner of Newfoundland is our Point Pelee, our High Island  our .... well it is not really like any of those places except that nothing beats it in Newfoundland for lush birding and numerous specialties that are common just across the way in Nova Scotia but have gained a toe hold in Newfoundland here.  It is a different world for the Avalon Peninsula birders that are used to looking eye level at tree top warblers. The Codroy Valley has proper forest and it is saturated with breeding birds.

This year where everyone's spring vacations to a birding destination were cancelled due to C-19, the obvious consolation vacation was the Codroy Valley.  A full 900 km drive one way from St. John's, the travel time makes it a journey.

The majority of birders were present sometime in the period of late May to 12 June.  Being tied up with a car problem  my departure was well delayed. Alison Mews also with a car situation was delayed.  The pain of hearing about the good birding that our friends were having caused Alison's car to be freed up and on short notice we were both streaming down the TCH toward Codroy Valley.

We had four full days 13-16 June. The weather was pretty good every day. Most importantly the winds were near calm each morning making for good dawn choruses. It turned out to be one of the best four day trips ever by anyone over the last 20+ years. We got all the regular Codroy specialties such as 5 Blackburnian Warblers, 9 Bay-breasted Warblers, 3 Cape May Warblers, 8 Northern Parulas, 18 Blue-headed Vireos,1 Philadelphia Vireo, 9 Red-eyed Vireos, 2 Eastern Wood Pewees, 4 Eastern Kingbirds, 2 Sora and 2 Pied-billed Grebes. 

Rarities are actually rarely found on Codroy trips but we had three. The first was the best. A NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW at Loch Lomond on 13 June. This near mythical bird has been reported nearly a handful of times in the province. This includes an individual accidentally caught in a mist net set up for snipe by the Great Legend himself - Dr. Les Tuck sometime in the 1960s and during June in the Codroy Valley.  I held the study skin in my hand. It gave me faith that the species could really occur in NF. It did happen and we photos to prove it.

A singing Scarlet Tanager on Brooms Brook would have been a bigger surprise if an earlier Codroy team hadn't already had one. Ours was quite far away from the first sighting so was likely a different bird. Still a major rarity to hear the species singing in Newfoundland. We get a few in the autumn. No photos. Good sounds recordings.

The biggest surprise of the trip was a singing YELLOW-THROATED VIREO at Red Rocks Road on 15 June. Occurring once every two or three years during fall vagrant hunting season there were no spring records for the province. Alison and I spent two hours with the bird. I never saw it. Alison glimpsed it and got a just barely acceptable record shot. It was well sound recorded. Tried just about everything legal to see the bird. I walked across the brook to get into the thick woods where it was. I was under it singing. In desperation I pished quietly and the bird came down to me calling with its irritated call. It was clearly angry with me. So close I should have been able to touch it. But I could not see it.  The record is documented with recordings of the song and one record shot photo. Sure would have been nice to have seen that bird.

The Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Loch Lomond, Codroy Valley, Newfoundland on 13 June 2020.

The Yellow-throated Vireo 15 June 2020, Red Rocks Road. The only photo.  Taken by Alison Mews. There are good sound recordings.

The male and female Blackburnian warbler - one those Nova Scotia specialties.  

 The male and female Bay-breasted Warbler - another of those Nova Scotia specialties.

Philadelphia Vireo. Always a crowd-pleaser when you can see it. 

The only Northern Parula of eight seen that I managed to get a photo of was this female.

For an Avalon birder where Hermit Thrush is the main thrush, it was a pleasure to endure the abundance of Swainson's Thrush in the Codroy Valley both by sight and by sound.

Eastern wood-Pewee is a regular spring overshoot from Nova Scotia without any suggestion of nesting in Newfoundland.

Bobolink used to be far more regular in Newfoundland. Now there are only a few in spring in the Codroy Valley. We don't know if they are still actually nesting anywhere in the province.

The scenic lush Codroy Valley is a Newfoundland birders heaven in late spring.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

May 2020 - Lots of nice birds.

After a long long long hard winter of major snow and a very very very laborious opening to spring, May was like an opening of every birders heart. Those first Yellow-rumped Warblers were Godsends. Every new returnee had its own little pleasure.  It was not a spring for Icelandic vagrants. It is a rare spring when not a single European Golden Plover was seen.  Though a Northern Lapwing at Bonavista in late May was out of pattern for spring weather and for the species' history of occurrence in the province. We figured it was a bird that must have arrived in the fall of 2019 and over wintered somewhere in North America and was on its way back home.  Good luck to that bird.  

This blog is only about the birds that I saw in May. There were other good birds that I would have like to have seen, especially the Little Egret on the Burin Peninsula, just four hours drive one way, but we've had great encounters with that species in recent years. 

In chronological order photo highlights.

Adult Laughing Gull at Tim Horton's on Ropewalk Lane, St John's on 8 May, 2020.

Adult Laughing Gull at St Mary's, St. Mary's Bay on 10 May, 2020.

A Laughing Gull never gets more praise when it is an adult in high breeding plumage landing in a place where birders are recovering from Severe Winter Weather Weariness and Lack of Avian Novelty (SWWWLAN).  The first bird was begging for doughnuts around cars parked out behind a Tim Horton's outlet providing excellent views.  The second bird was waiting for more of my chicken sandwich.  Nice when the gulls come to Newfoundland already trained.

This Northern Wheatear (a 1st spring male?) found on the kelp bed at Bear Cove, Avalon Peninsula on 12 May by Alison Mews was one of about six wheatears reported during May in Newfoundland, On my second visit to the bird I had a lucky 15 minutes when it came to me while I had the beasty lens (840mm) attached to the camera while on tripod and standing over my ankles in a ravine among rotting kelp bed. The angle of the sun was far from ideal but the end result is some of my best wheatear pictures ever and The Photo Session of May 2020 Award.

On 15 May disaster struck. Over night my car parked in front of the house was the victim of a hit and run.  Insurance saved a $$ disaster but there was set back in mobility. I did get a rental car from the insurance but lost a three weekend while waiting for that to happen. And now on 9 June as I type I still don't have the car back which is upsetting early June plans to be part of the birding blitz currently taking place in the Codroy Valley. As you can tell I drive a Corvette - not! --- just a Honda Civic but equipped with Turbo crucial for passing painfully slow cars on winding, hilly Newfoundland roads.

Not so much a rare bird but a beautiful encounter with Red-necked Phalaropes in spring. It happened at Ferryland Head on 17 May.   About 65 equally divided between females and males. They were feeding close to shore. It was a hard shore to get down to the waters' edge. So I sat on a bluff snapping picture with a 400 mm lens while a 840 mm lens was in the trunk of my car 1 km away (DOH!).  I did have my scope and soaked in the fabulous views during my nearly two hour encounter.

A Stilt Sandpiper at a little wet spot on the Back Line, Goulds was a first spring record for the island of Newfoundland 24-25 May. It occurred after a few days of strong far reaching SW and W winds. It is rare enough in the fall being recorded just less than annually. Interestingly there was a small influx of Lesser Yellowlegs at the same time.

This female Ruff took the place of the Stilt Sandpiper at the same little pool of water on the Back Line, Goulds for 26-27 2020. Ruff is a bird I enjoy looking for in the spring at a few attractive looking wet spots suitable for a Ruff.  They never get old whether it is a male or female.

Birders getting bored waiting for a Wood Thrush to sing at Kent's Pond. St John's on 28 May. Such an unusual record being  found at a city park (by Alvan Buckley) and singing.  It was singing sporadically at a cut volume.  I heard and saw it the next morning. This was only about the seventh  record for Newfoundland.

My Favourite Record of May 2020. I was the only person to see this bird on Powles Head Road, Trepassey area on 29 May 2020.  It was unexpected being a first spring record for the province, but the roof blew off the theater when it started to sing!! And it sang and it sang.  

All swallows, but the Tree Swallow, are rare on the Avalon Sensualist. Barn Swallows stray with some volume in May.   Up to 20 were seen at one location during this May. Purple Martins are royalty among the spring swallows. Two were present at the end of may at Bidgoods Park, Goulds. Here is one landing next to a surprised looking Tree Swallow.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

A Reeve on Display - 26 May 2020

No excuses for lack of Blog posts. There have been birds I could have posted about.  Actually the blog had been violated for more six weeks so that is some of the reasoning.  I'll get back into it face first with these pictures of a female Ruff at a pool on Back Line, Goulds, Newfoundland today - 26 May 2020.  We get a couple or more Ruffs per year April-October in Newfoundland.  Even though they look like a common generic shorebird they are unique in their way make them interesting every time.

What do you think about Ruffs now even if it is a female?  The Ruff is not closely related to any other species in the shorebird group. As the phalaropes are a distinct group among the shorebirds, I think Ruff deserves to be in its own group.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Another Pacific Eider in Newfoundland - 12 April 2020

The Pacific Eider (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum) is the race of Common Eider breeding in the western Canadian Arctic, Alaska and eastern Russia.  They winter in Alaska and eastern Russia. It's near mythical occurrence in the North Atlantic has change considerable in the last five years or so. It has now become just about annual in winter where eiders are scrutinized on the Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland. There have been one or two highly suspected or confirmed records of Pacific Eider in each of the last five years.  The commonly accepted speculation is that they are making it through the central Arctic island because of less ice during the summer in recent years.  Some are reaching the Atlantic side and coming south to Newfoundland to winter. This could be just the tip of the iceberg as there are many thousands of Common Eiders wintering north of the Avalon Peninsula off the coast of Labrador and even Baffin Island. Who knows what percentage of those might be Pacific Eiders?  I posted much better photos of a Pacific Eider at Cape Spear, Avalon Peninsula, NF in March 2018 blog.

It is still important to document the occurrences of Pacific Eider in the Atlantic. On 12 April 2020 I came across one on the Cape Race road, about 1 km east of Portugal Cove South, Avalon Peninsula.  In the bright early morning sunlight its orange bill stood out like a beacon among a group of ten borealis Common Eiders feeding 150 m off shore or 225 m from the car. For the next hour I tried to get as many pictures as I could to document the record.  It wasn't close and a shimmer in the air over the cold water was increasing as the sun rose higher preventing tact sharp pictures. All these pictures are 100% crops.


The orange bill glows like a neon carrot in the sunlight. Note the curved black cap (straight on borealis, our regular wintering eider). Black border of bill starts out broad at the top and comes to a point. It is more uniformly narrow on borealis. Pacific Eiders show a diffusion of green along the border of the cap. It was hard to see on this bird. It was mostly blown out in the bright sunny whites in the photos, but was there. It could be seen through the scope and appears in some of the following photos. There is also a more pronounced forehead bump.

Compared to borealis, the black of the crown comes down further over the forehead, while the frontal lobes are shorter and even more sharply pointed.

With borealis

 Pacific Eider is a bigger bird than borealis. Note the obvious difference in the shape of the lower edge of the black cap being strongly concave on the Pacific and quite straight on borealis. And that bill colour!

The Black 'V' 

 The famous black V on the underside of chin is typically impossible to see unless the eider rears up and flaps its wings which eiders frequently do during the day.  And as I discovered when mouthing large sea urchins trying break off the spines. It typically went for the big urchins and struggled getting them down. The other eiders were eating smaller urchins and had little trouble downing them shortly after reaching the surface. Very rarely borealis have this black V but the suite of other features will separate an adult drake Pacific Eider when seen well. Yet it is still the finally detail we like to see when confirming a Pacific Eider. ,

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER @ Elliston - 5th for Newfoundland

Diane Collins posted a photograph of an unfamiliar bird she saw in her home town of Elliston, Bonavista Peninsula on the Newfoundland Birding Facebook page. The striking black and white bird with a carrot for a bill immediately caught the attention of knowledgeable birders. It was a EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER. Just the fifth record for Newfoundland. The other four records are listed below.

1) Tors Cove, Avalon Peninsula, 22-25 May 1995,  
2) Eastport, Bonavista Bay, 3 April-2 May 1999,
3) St. John’s, Avalon Peninsula, 5 August 2006
4) Lushes Bight, Notre Dame Bay, 14-23 May 2019

It was just last spring that we all enjoyed a Eurasian Oystercatcher at Lushes Bight.  Details and pictures on this blog posting   

Winds during the week leading up to the discovery of the Elliston bird were right for a European vagrant in being moderate in a direct line from southern England & France area to Newfoundland.  The best winds for European shorebirds migrating from Ireland to Iceland are strong NE. Some of us were already thinking that if anything came out of this it would be a strong flier like an oystercatcher or Gray Heron. We are still waiting for the latter to be reported.

In times of the covid-19 maelstrom a rare bird chase was not an automatic reaction. Some people thought it best to follow the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada and stay home. While others weighed in the realistic side of making human contact on such an adventure and were in the car before dawn the next morning for the 320 km ride from St. John's to Elliston.  I was a first responder.  I won't say who else might have been there but it was strange to all be driving in our own cars. 

The bird was easy to find, though could disappear for periods of time.

The first picture.

An hour later pictures were still less than satisfying. Getting great pictures of rarities is often the result of luck, patience, luck and anticipating what the bird is likely to do next.

Finally things lined up. The lighting was never so perfect on a rarity.

The bird was feeding well. It has no competition for digging around in the tidal rocks for mussels and other odds & ends. It was still being seen today as I type on 8 April.