Tuesday, 4 September 2018

The Little Egret Two Months Later

The Spaniard's Bay Little Egret was big news on 1 July even though non-birders had been iphone snapping it for at least two weeks. It was a classic breeding plumage Little Egret. The 11th record for Newfoundland.  The bird hung around for the summer. It took a week long vacation across  Conception Bay to Kelligrews but returned to Spaniard's Bay where the feeding was just too good to leave. I visited Spaniard's Bay on 1st September to look for shorebirds and hoped to see if the Little Egret was still around. Surprisingly it was easy to find by the main bridge in Spaniard's Bay. 

It was in a place where I could drive my car behind a building and point the camera out through the car window between the weed stalks. The weed stalks hide most of me and broke up the image of the car. The bird was probably already used to vehicles since it was feeding next to a busy road. We became intimate over the next hour and a half. Not sure that it ever seriously acknowledged my presence but I felt blessed to watch it from point blank range.

The following pictures shows the bird in various poses.  The two spaghetti plumes on the back of the head have been moulted away as expected in late summer. See my July 2018 blog posting of the bird in high breeding plumage.  

The following is the series of photos I selected from the multitudes.

For those that don't know a Snowy Egret, the Little Egret is a slightly bigger species with a somewhat heavier neck and longer bill. The classic field mark of colour of the lores being yellow on the Snowy Egret and bluish on Little Egret are evident o all of the following pictures. The dark yellow marks at base of lores is wholly typical of Little Egret and does not indicate anything to do with a Snowy Egret.


Monday, 27 August 2018

Common Ringed Plover Makes the August Scene

Just when it looked like we might miss Common Ringed Plover this month for the first August in a few years, a beautiful example of the species appeared out of nowhere at Renews on 26 August.  Even before the car rolled to a complete stop I had my eye on this one. The high contrasting dark marks around the head and the white supercilium looked right. A quick glance through binoculars solidified my initial impressions.  Here is the very first picture.

First picture of the Common Ringed Plover

Even at this range the strong clear cut black head markings and long white line over the black ear patch spelled Common Ringed Plover.  The thick black breast band helped too.  For the next 45 minutes I got lucky photographing this bird from the car on a hot day (26 C with high humidity) with limited heat shimmer next to a road busy with Sunday drivers, occasional dump truck and walkers. Below are selection of the closer shots. Any farther away and the heat shimmer started to have serious effect.

Pretty good view of the lack of webbing between middle and outer toe.


Alarm mode as a noisy truck passed on the road. 

There seems to be a lack of webbing between the middle and outer toes which is right for CRPL.

The three pictures below are of a fairly boldly marked Semipalmated Plover photographed the week before (19 August 2018) on the Burin Peninsula. After saturating your brain with all the above images of a Common Ringed Plover (CRPL) note how different a Semipalmated Plover (SEPL) appears. It is a combination of features that cause the affect. SEPL have a much more subdued white supercilum (line over eye) most of the time. Female SEPL can have extensive white superciliums but they are also less well marked around the head so the classic neatly stamped out, high contrast head markings of a CRPL are lacking. On SEPL the black cheek patch (auriculars) tends to dip down then comes to met the bill almost pinched off.  On CRPL the lower edge of the cheek patch is straighter and the black area where it meets the bill is wider therefore creating and more even width black mask over all. The orbital ring (fleshy ring around eye) is usually black on CRPL but can be yellow during high breeding condition.  On SEPL it is usually obviously yellow but can be extremely difficult to see in the field even close up. The white across forehead comes to a point and points in under the eye on CRPL but on SEPL the white is blocked off more squarely against the black in front of the eye. The breast band on a SEPL can look wide and of course varies depending on posture but usually narrows considerably more in the middle and never really matches the very wide breast band of a classic CRPL.  The CRPLs that Newfoundland receives are paler on the back and have a yellower tinge to their bright orange legs compared to SEPL.  Just more cosmetics that make a Common Ringed Plover a really distinct bird when you know your  Semipalmated Plover. There are other fine details that you can find in the field guides or in Dave Brown's most recent blog posting http://birdingnewfoundland.blogspot.com/2018/08/common-ringed-plover-in-north-american.html#!/ .    

Using webbing or lack of in the toes is treading on dangerous grounds when separating these two plovers.  This is a classic SEPL toe webbing showing webbing between the middle and outer toe and no webbing between middle and inner toe..  But the same bird could seeming hide the webbing if its toes were perhaps more relaxed. I have photos showing such magic on other SEPLs somewhere in my collection.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Greenland Dunlin in Newfoundland - 18 &19 August 2018

On 18 August 2018 Ken Knowles, John Wells and I were birding at L'Anse au Loup, Burin Peninsula, Newfoundland. This excellent location is birded less than annually because it is off the beaten track of Newfoundland birders.  We were surprised to see a breeding plumage Dunlin among the mixed flock of several hundred shorebirds.  A Dunlin in breeding plumage is a rarity in southern Canada during August.  Adults of the race breeding in the eastern Arctic (C.a. hudsonia) moult from breeding plumage to winter plumage while on the breeding grounds before migratin south in September and October.  We noted the surprisingly dull upper parts of the bird and the bill being on the short end of the spectrum for the hudsonia Dunlin that we see during fall migration.  It was the next morning before we had better views and secured some photos.

We suspected this was a Greenland Dunlin based mainly on the dark upper side that was so different from hudsonia. The scapulars and mantle feathers had large blackish centers. The only touches of orange colour were the lower scapulars. The race of Dunlin breeding in Britain, Iceland and s.e. Greenland is schinzii.  Farther north along the eastern Greenland coast the Dunlin get smaller, slimmer and have a shorter bill are called arctica.  There is much overlap between schinzii and arctica with only some at the extremes at the ends of the scale being safely assigned. Schinzii/arctica unlike hudsonia migrate south while in breeding plumage. They moult into winter plumage on their western African wintering grounds.

The pictures tell the story. In these picture note the dark back, black centered feathering in the scapulars and mantle, the lack of warm colours, the heavily marked head and upper chest.  The bill is on the short end of the for hudsonia. These photos are all from 19 August, 2018, L'Anse au Loup, Burin Peninsula. NF.

Size is not much bigger than these two White-rumped Sandpipers.

Below are photographs of schinzii and probable arctica from Tacumshin, Ireland on 21 August 2018 taken by Killian Mullarney. Note the similarity to the Newfoundland bird particularly the blackish backs.

The middle bird being smaller, slimmer with a short bill is a good candidate for arctica.

Unfortunately I could not rustle up photos of adult hudsonia in August in time for this blog.  Opportunities to photograph adult Dunlin during that month are not readily available since one would have to be on their Arctic breeding grounds. Adult hudsonia should show signs of moulting by 19 August. This bird showed worn edges to wing coverts and scapulars but no new 'winter' plumage feathers.

Previous records of Greenland Dunlin in North America? There are excellent photos of spring schinzii from Cape Spear, Newfoundland on 3 May 2014 taken by Peter Shelton during a major influx of Icelandic shorebirds (https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S18213552).  There are apparently good records from Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland and Bermuda (fide  M. O'Brien).  There are occasional sightings of adult Dunlin during August in eastern Canada.  These should be documented with photos.