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.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Happiness is Two White Spaghetti Noodle Plumes

Arriving in Renews on my way back home from a birding trip down the Southern Shore I was startled to see an egret on the tidal flats near the main road.  My initial reaction without thinking it through was how did the long staying Snowy Egret that I'd seen just an hour ago at Biscay Bay get here to Renews so quick.
The Snowy Egret living at Biscay Bay and Portugal Cove South for the last two weeks was alive and well at Biscay Bay Saturday morning with its ever brightening yellow lores.

I put my binoculars on the bird just as the wind blew out its two long spaghetti noodle white head plumes. THIS WAS A LITTLE EGRET ! ! !  A very pleasant surprise especially since the bird was not there in the morning.

This was the 11th Little Egret for Newfoundland, a semi-regular vagrant with a huge aura of excitement around it.  It stood still for about 30 minutes before suddenly springing into feeding mode. I am guessing it was tired from a hard flight from somewhere (Europe? North America?) in the strong SE to SW winds during the previous 15 hours.  

The egret caught many sticklebacks in the tidal shallows which it had trouble swallowing at first but seemed to get better at it over the next two hours.  Photography of a glaring white bird in the brilliant midday sunlight is the biggest challenge of digital photography, and a challenge I have not mastered if it is even possible to master. The following are some of the better photos after a first run through the hundreds of shots this evening.  Maybe more chances tomorrow in less demanding light.

Little Egret at Renews, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland  on 23 May 2015

Thursday, 14 May 2015

A dull Snowy Egret in Spring

Photo: 14 May 2015, Biscay Bay, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland

A somewhat off the grid looking egret.  The black bill and black legs leave only one obvious answer in most of North America, a Snowy Egret with a few parts missing. Where is the bright yellow lore, the feathery crest and why are the legs less than a shiny ebony?

Another look at the same bird confirming that the classic Snowy Egret bright yellow lores and crest of any kind is not there.

Another picture which thankfully shows the golden slippers characteristic of Snowy Egret but also Little Egret. The lighting is good for revealing the actual colour of the lores: a dull dirty yellow but still no crest.

Here is a Snowy Egret photographed at Virginia Lake. St. John's Newfoundland 24 July 2006. Relief at last. A Snowy Egret looking like we expect them to look after years of looking at them in the book. You don't even need to see the yellow feet with bright yellow lores and shiny black bill and legs like this.

A Little Egret at Little Harbour East, Placentia Bay, NF May 21 2013.  It shows the classic dual white ribbon head plumes and bluish lores.

The photo presented of May 14 2015 bird do not readily fit either the confirmed Snowy Egret or a Little Egret pictured here.  To complicate matters, Little Egrets at the height of breeding season can show yellow lores.  This bird is not in high breeding plumage since it does not exhibit much in the way of head plumes and the bill and legs look a dull uneven dullblack.  Any yellow in the lores of a Little Egret should occur only during the height of the breeding plumage at which time the two  head plume ribbons would be evident.

If you watched the bird long enough rudimentary feathery head plumes blew up in the wind totally supporting the identification as Snowy Egret. But over all an unusual individual Snowy Egret to see during spring in Newfoundland where both Snowy and Little Egret are nearly equally rare in spring.