Sunday, 19 July 2015

Emergency Golden Plover Posting - re CSM Plover

A hasty post after word reach the masses this afternoon about a golden plover in high breeding plumage seen at Cape St. Mary's, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland on 16 July 2015 by a tour group lead by David Trently. A day or two later a Cape St. Mary's guide (Kyran) got the photos below of the bird. These photo surfaced today.

The white line running from neck and along flanks to undertail is a sign of Pacific and European Golden Plover.  The hint of fairly dark undertail coverts and suggestions of dark flecking in the white flanking are indications of Pacific Golden Plover.  There have been no records of European Golden Plover during July in Newfoundland but two for Pacific Golden Plover (July 2007 and July 2011)

Separating PGPL from EUGP is a lot easier when you see them in life and get a feel for the slimmer more American GP like actions of the Pacific GP.  European Golden Plovers are dumpier slightly less dainty birds.  Excellent photos of the Cape St. Mary's bird might show more details of the undertail coverts and flanks. Brown under wing coverts would eliminate EUGP.

I am on a ship and duty calls in ten minutes. Internet is sporadic and slow. I will post some photos of Newfoundland Pacific and European Golden Plovers now and hopefully later tonight add some captions.


(spring 2014 Avalon Peninsula)


Pacific Golden Plover
(July 15, 2007 - Trepassey, Avalon Pen, NF)


Pacific Golden Plover
(June 5, 2010 - Cape Race, Avalon Pen, NF)

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Rare Birds of North America - The Book

When jailed on a seismic vessel on the Grand Banks for the foggy month of July you have a lot of time to read.  This month I’ve been digging into the new book Rare Birds of North America by Howell, Lewington & Russell (Princeton University Press, 2014).  The book is a collection of accounts of North American rarities occurring < 5 times per year since 1950.  The species accounts (262 species covered) list or summarise the North American occurrences depending on the number of records. The records are analyzed for seasonal and spatial patterns with explanations offered for why they exist and what to expect in the future.  Each species account includes a fully detailed section on identification including illustrations by Ian Lewington. The lavish illustrations are beautiful to look at besides being accurate and informative.  All the plumages likely to be encountered in North America are included. 

The 40 page introduction to the book describes current thoughts and brings to light less well known ideas on bird vagrancy to North America.  Clearly written and easy to understand facts and ideas are explained and backed up with visual aids in the form of global maps making it easier to picture how birds might travel from one continent to the next. Even the use of the word vagrancy is discussed.  It is great to have all these ideas, some having been tossed around over the years, all in one place. The book is a definitely a keeper for hard core vagrant hunters but also useful for average intensity birders.  For instance I found the book useful this spring for looking up the North American occurrences of Little Egret and Garganey. It summarizes the records of these relatively regular vagrant species and gives explanations with the best evidence available, on the likely routes of their journey from the other side of the Atlantic to North America and eventually to Newfoundland.  It makes sense out the strong west, not east, winds that immediately preceded the sighting of both birds.

While the book does not deal directly with why we find southern warblers in the Avalon alders in September, you can build your own ideas by reading about drift migrants.  How migrating birds that find themselves over a large body of water and getting low fuel reserves on board may take the most energy efficient route to safety which is flying with the wind. Little did they know how far away Newfoundland was when they made that move! But in nutshell this is why we Avaloners yearn for SW winds during September and October hoping for those strays originating from the eastern US.

Pacific Golden Plover (PGPL) is not covered by the book because it breeds in Alaska.  There are only a handful of records for eastern North America. Newfoundland has three records:

  •      27-28 June & 9-15 July 2007 (Trepassey)
  •       6-8 June 2010 (Cape Race)
  •          30 July-3 August 2011 (Bellevue Beach)

Using theories outlined in this book one can form a picture of how PGPL could have happened in Newfoundland.  There is the mirror-image migration theory. A misorientation where birds leaving breeding grounds in Alaska and intending to fly southwest for a long distance to reach wintering grounds in the western Pacific and Australia actually fly southeastward for an equally long distance. SE is the mirror-image of SW.  The course changed but the programmed distance was similar.  This simplified theory is a plausible explanation for the Trepassey and Bellevue records which occurred during ‘fall’ migration.  But how do we explain the spring PGPL record from Cape Race.  Possibly it was a bird (even the same bird as Trepassey three years earlier!?) that had migrated south on a mirror-image misorientation and ended up wintering in eastern North America and in spring was retracing steps back to Alaskan breeding grounds. 

Considering the huge rarity factor of PGPL in eastern North America it is conceivable that the three Newfoundland records involve just one bird, though the Bellevue bird appeared to be a female and the Trepassey and Cape Race birds looked like males.  The three records fall within a five year period and are all on the Avalon Peninsula.  Time will tell if a pattern of July records materializes. 

There is another example of an Alaska-type shorebird reaching Newfoundland in July and then appearing in the following spring. The Bar-tailed Godwit at Stephenville Crossing in July 2005 had barred underwings coverts marking it as baueri the race breeding in Alaska and Siberia.  The following spring on 5 June a Bar-tailed Godwit appeared at Stephenville Crossing. The underwings were not observed but bird looked the same and considering how rare it is in Newfoundland there was a high probability it was the same bird retracing its mirror-image misorientated fall migration route from the year before. 

A vague pattern is developing. Newfoundland can get long distant migrant Alaskan breeding shorebirds.  Another long distant migrant shorebird nesting in Alaska with a similar migration route to PGPL and baueri Bar-tailed Godwit is Rufous-necked Stint.  There already is a light pattern of July occurrences in the northeastern United States.  In July Rufous-necked Stints are still in breeding colours, not to be confused with Sanderlings retaining breeding orange around the face and breast in July.  A Rufous-necked Stint is a bird to be aware of when shorebirding in July.  July is NOW!

Pacific Golden Plover at Trepassey, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland on 27 June 2007

Pacific Golden Plover at Cape Race, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland on 7 June 2010 sheltering out of lashing wind and rain outside drivers car window. Same bird as Trepassey bird three years earlier???

Bar-tailed Godwit at Stephenville Crossing, western Newfoundland 13 July 2005.  The barred underwings are characteristic of the subspecies baueri which breeds in western Alaska and northern Russia.

Bar-tailed Godwit at Stephenville Crossing on 5 June 2006. Same bird as present the July 2007?? Perhaps retracing its southward migration back to Alaska?

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Odds & Ends 27 June 2015

On Saturday 27 June 2015 visiting Mike Force (BC) and I did the Southern Avalon Loop. It could have easily been a mundane early summer trip but a little luck and taking our time turned it into a nice day of birding. Mike made stars out of common summer trash seeing things like his first breeding plumage Blackpoll Warblers in years and there were other eastern birds so common for us that I can't even remember what they were now.  

The calm overcast and cool weather made for excellent conditions of scanning over the barrens. The high vole population has brought in some nice summer mousers. We saw three Short-eared Owls, one Snowy Owl, a pair of Rough-legged Hawks and three Northern Harriers. Short-eared Owls have begun appearing everywhere starting in June. Where were they in April and May? How did they find out about the voles? No pictures of the owls this time.

I was happy Mike didn't mind taking time to photograph a pair of tame Horned Larks feeding on the side of the Cape Pine road. He was taking pictures too. There was hardly any yellow on their throats. Had they faded since spring? I am not really sure what our breeding Horned Larks should be like but in April the throats are brighter yellow but maybe those were migrates heading farther north.

The male of the pair of Horned Larks sported a nice rack of horns.

There was very little yellow in the face.  Was it yellower in spring when it arrived three months ago?  Did the southern Avalon winds blow the yellow away leaving a wind-blown washed out white face?.


The female had a speckled forecrown and less intense facial markings.

When trying to touch up the sharpening around the head of the female lark I accidentally used the cloning tool. Suddenly I had a second head and in a matter of seconds there was an identical twin female Horned Lark sneaking in the side of the picture.  

This is a bright yellow Horned Lark photographed at Cape St. Mary's in mid April 2014. It was very tame by the parking lot so thought to be one of the tourist-hardened Horned Larks that nest there.


While spending time with the Horned Lark we had one eye in the sky waiting for one of the Rough-legged Hawk pair known to be in the area to turn up. It happened. Didn't take long for it to catch a vole and head off to coast where it likely has a nest of chicks which by the way is the most southerly nest of Rough-legged Hawk in the world. They have nested here before. If you look close you can see the tail and one hind leg of the vole.

The most unusual sighting of the day was this duck.  A small bachelor group of teal at the community of St. Mary's held a Common Teal.  I've seen lone drakes in late May on the Avalon that likely inseminated a local teal but this was the first in June that I am aware of for Newfoundland.  So far hybrid Green-winged X Common Teal are quite rare. I have seen just three over time in Newfoundland but two of those were at Lundrigans Marsh in St. John's during June 2015.  

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

A Late June Glossy Ibis - Odd Date for this Rarity.

June 23 is a late date for a spring overshoot Glossy Ibis in Newfoundland.  But there was one (maybe two) in the St. John's area today. The first sighting of a Glossy Ibis was in the morning at Lundrigans Marsh at the eastern end of St. John's.  Then in late afternoon news surfaced of a Glossy Ibis at the unlikely location of the Ruby Line Duck Pond in The Goulds (<ten minutes as the ibis flies).  We don't know exactly when this bird appeared so can not be sure if there were two Glossy Ibis today or one.  Or if there is a connection with the two Glossy Ibis at Third Pond in the Goulds for one day only on 25 May?

The Goulds bird today was feeding ravenously and was exploring some wet places that seemed marginal for a Glossy Ibis.  It was acting like it was a new bird on the block having just arrived in Newfoundland or the area at least.  Maybe some other southern vagrants will surface in the next day or two that would support the idea of a fresh arrival from the south.  Today we experienced the remnants of named tropical storm Bill. But that was such a low key slow mover it seems unlikely to be the force behind Glossy Ibis in eastern Newfoundland.

The Glossy Ibis at the Ruby Line Duck Pond, Goulds, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland - 23 June 2015.

Who knows how much it was finding to eat.  It hardly stopped probing deep into the mud and water long enough for a breath.  

It was a bad hair day at times.

Who is the ugly duckling here?

This is a photo of a White-faced Ibis from  southern Alberta in June 2009 where it is a locally common nester. The wide white border around the red lores (not gray) and the pink legs (not gray) and red eye (not dark) tell the story. White-faced Ibis has been expanding eastward in leaps and bounds and is likely to happen in Newfoundland in the near future.  

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Two For the Price of One - Little Gulls at St Shotts

Little Gull is a rare bird in province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Over the last couple of decades there has perhaps been an average of 0.8 individuals per year.  The vast majority of Newfoundland records have been one year old birds in the June to August time period.  The source of the birds must be  Hudson Bay breeders. But why would the sub adults come east in summer? There are no Bonaparte's Gulls or other birds often associated with the occurrences of Little Gulls in Newfoundland. Little Gulls in Newfoundland have pattern not yet related to anything else known about the species in North America.

Today (18 June 2015) Ken Knowles and I stumbled across two first summer Little Gulls at St Shotts. These are the first Little Gulls ever seen at St Shotts. They were resting on rocks in the river at first then began some fly catching over the river running into the cove and later fed with a couple of Arctic Terns on the ocean near shore. We had to leave so do not have a good sense on whether the duo will hang in at St Shotts or move on.

A few pictures of the two birds are here.

One Little Gull standing on a rock where found initially.

The pale bird was more worn looking than the other

The worn pale Little Gull is below and crisper bird above.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Summer 2015

Summer has more or less arrived on the island of Newfoundland. True the wind swept alders along the coast do not have leaves yet but the birds are not waiting.  The birds are heavily into the breeding season.  The last of spring migration was a week ago.

It is time to look ahead into summer. The shearwaters and whales hunting for spawning capelin along the coast is something to look forward to.  Maybe there will be a rare southern tern or rare dark hooded gull harbouring among the common local species. Some of the very rarest and oddest birds hardly on the rarity radar can show up in summer.  

June is nesting month. There are lots of warblers and songbirds in the woods in their best plumages and singing up a storm. In two weeks the song will already be winding down and the songbirds will be looking a little rough around the edges.

It is easy to get complacent and let summer roll by.  Don't let it happen to you!  Below are a few pretty birds from the past weekend.

The Blackpoll Warbler, male above and female below, are one the commonest breeding warblers on the Avalon. They are attractive enough in their way.

The Black-and-white Warbler is also an abundant Avalon nesting warbler. And is the tamest and most curious warbler.

A pair of Pine Grosbeaks feeding on dandelions seeds on the roadside is a regular June sight across the province.  Goldfinches, siskins and juncos also take advantage of this food source. The pink of the males Piner turns a more fiery red in summer

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

South Meets North - SUTA & WIPT same day

I photographed only two species of birds on 10 June 2015.  It was a 'work' trip to Cape Race, Newfoundland.  I really didn't need to bring binoculars, telescope, tripod, big lens and camera to meet with a person from Newfoundland Power to discuss details on a proposed trailer installation for a marine mammal study - but I did.  Rounding the corner at Portugal Cove South I wasn't even looking for the Summer Tanager first discovered ten days earlier when I saw it fly up off  a lawn near the location of original discovery.  I had assumed it was long gone.  Being such a rare calm and sunny morning I decided to take the opportunity to photograph the bird in the early morning light.

The female tanager looked robust and happy fly catching from a lawn, a rock and various power lines and clothes lines. There was not a tree in sight.

The 'work' went well quickly at Cape Race allowing for plenty of free birding time.  Nothing out of the ordinary. Lots of the expected few species in the tuckamore.  On the way back out on the Cape Race road one of those red chickens walked across the road. I stopped and switched the rental SUV into stealth mode.  I crept the vehicle up on the male Willow Ptarmigan.  In no time it accepted me and went about pecking at the ground often stopping to look at me.  We had a grand conversation for 30 minutes. Twice other vehicles drove by on the noisy gravel road and the grouse crouched down low but regained composure soon as they passed.

It was mid day and a very bright sunny day. The power of the sun is still drawing the coldness of winter out of the ground on the coastal barrens in June. The shimmer in the air over the land was intense. It basically makes photography impossible.  That didn't stopped me from pointing the camera at the bird and taking a couple hundreds shots. It was close so I was hoping the shimmer would be minimal between me and the bird.  However, I was not surprised that  99% of the picture completely useless. For brief moments the air seemed to stop shimmering. I couldn't see it but the camera did. A very few shots came out OK. Had it been earlier in the morning before the difference in the air and ground temperature grew, the photo opportunity would have been excellent.

All in all it was an excellent day out of the office....

 This female Summer Tanager first found at Portugal Cove South on 30 May was one of a record five this spring in Newfoundland.  

Despite regular hunting pressure  on Willow Ptarmigan along the Cape Race road in the fall they move back to habitat by the road every spring/summer.  People are thinking numbers are good this year. This male is likely on watch for a female sitting on a clutch of eggs.  The black flies were out in numbers today.