Saturday, 28 April 2018

Odd Looking Thick-billed Murre - 28 April 2018

Today Ken Knowles and I were checking out the gulls around the crab plant at Aquaforte, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland.  We noticed a murre on the water. It is a little unusual to see a murre deep in the inlet like this in spring. And it was still in winter plumage. A casual look with binoculars showed the white hook curving up behind the eye meaning Common Murre. Not having many pictures of Common Murre in winter plumage I decided to drive the car toward it as I could a way to get fairly close.  The photo session worked out in our favour but it was not a Common Murre.  It had the definite bill shape of a Thick-billed Murre not to mention the white mark on bill.  Interest peaked in securing pictures. I have never seen a TBMU like this.  Below are pictures of the bird.

You can see why this bird at a distance is easy to pass off as a Common Murre in winter plumage because of the white hook sweeping up behind the eye. But the bill is all Thick-billed Murre. Short, slightly decurved upper mandible and white gap mark. The dullness of the gap mark usually means it is a one year old bird.  Besides adults should be in breeding plumage at this time of year. The white lore is wrong for both species of murre. The white coming up behind the eye is like a COMU but that black line is thick and ragged unlike the thin black eye line of the winter COMU. The extent of black below the eye is right for a TBMU. There is no hint this bird has started to change toward a breeding-like plumage which even the sub adults do for summer. The throat and neck still immaculate white as in full winter plumage. It is not all unusual to see both species of murre in full winter plumage deep into spring.  Don't see any reason to think hybrid. The shape of the bird is all TBMU, even the little 'dent' in the forehead characteristic of  TBMU depending on pose is visible insome pictures.

The wide black area up the back of the neck is standard for TBMU. On winter COMU the white almost joins around the back of the neck.


A sampling of winter plumage Thick-billed Murres from the Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland. Note the extensive black on the side of the face on all of these winter TBMUs. The birds with the strongest white gape marks and longer bills are probably adults. The shorter billed birds like the bird photographed today are probably sub-adult.

25 February 2009

24 March 2011

24 March 2011

7 March 2009

24 March 2011

24 March 2011


Two samples of winter Common Murres showing extensive white on face and thin black eye line.

28 February 2009

14 October 2011

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Sluggish Start to Spring 2018

It is a cold start to spring in eastern Newfoundland.  Warm temperatures have been a fleeting few hours usually accompanied by rain and winds that could tear the binoculars off your neck. Overall birds are arriving close to schedule. We did have an exceptional influx of Great Egrets and a few other southern herons after one particular storm on 22 March. Most of these birds were out of reach for Avalon birders unfortunately. Who knows what we missed by not scouring the Burin Peninsula right after the event.  There was a little trickle over to the Avalon to help brighten the early spring mood. So far the weather systems are out of character for the coveted prolonged NE air flow from Iceland that we need for collecting our share of the Golden Plovers and other birds migrating from Europe to Iceland.  But it only takes one well placed storm with enough strength to unload some European flavour on the Newfoundland spring. Think RDF.

Here are some bird photos from the this month on the Avalon Peninsula.

This Great Egret at Biscay Bay on 8 April had already been living for two weeks on the abundant Newfoundland stickleback.

This Great Blue Heron at St. Mary's on 8 April was also catching sticklebacks. On the Avalon Peninsula the Great Blue Heron and Great Egret are of equal rarity status

The St. Vincent's Pacific Loon present for its fifth winter was elusive this year. Loons and alcids were in low numbers all winter at the location.  These snaps on 8 April were long distance crops between wave troughs.  That chin strap is exceedingly obvious on in the photos. The smooth snaky neck paler than the back (middle two photos) is the best thing to look for when trying to find the bird among the distant Common Loons. 

The arrival of the Newfoundland hornless Horned Lark in early April never fails to stir the feelings of spring. This one was part of a group four at Trepassey on 8 April.

Snow Bunting migration was stalled by bad weather in Labrador which resulted in a delivery of small flocks throughout southern Newfoundland.  A flock of 30 feeding on bird seed at the Cape Spear parking lot provided good opportunities to photograph this flighty species. 

This Clay-coloured Sparrow looks a little rattled after a long winter at a Trepassey bird feeder, here on 8 April.  It acted healthy and energetic.  This bird represents Newfoundland birders who are worn and frazzled after a long winter but still have the energy to enjoy what spring is going to bring us. We are ready for the revitalization. 

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Borealis Common Eider in Bold Display

The 18 March 2018 I had an opportunity to take many photos of a flock of 1500 Common Eiders feeding at Cape Spear, Newfoundland. Borealis is the common wintering subspecies of Common Eider wintering in Newfoundland. It was only in recent years that I realized borealis was on the rare side in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the New England States. The more southern subspecies dresseri makes up the eider populations in these parts. The segregation of these two populations over time has resulted in two recognizable forms.  Dresseri nests in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine. Borealis is the Common Eider nesting in the eastern Arctic.  Common Eiders breeding along the coast of Labrador need more careful study. The break, and merging of features is thought to occur mid way along the length of the coast of Labrador. It is possible that Canadian Wildlife Service personal who have banded eiders on nesting islands along the coast of Labrador have insight on the zone of dresseri vs borealis. The reality is we do not really know.

On the Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland large numbers of borealis over winter.  Up to 1% of the adult drakes can be identified as dresseri. There are others that seem to be in betweeners and may represent birds from the merging zone on the Labrador coast. 

This blog posting is intended to show run of the mill borealis eiders, males and females plus some dresseri.

THE DRAKES - Borealis

Borealis Common Eider drakes are relatively easy to differentiate from dresseri. As you look through these photos note 1) the nearly banana-yellow bill, 2) the short and pointed frontal lobe projections of the bill into the forehead 3) the complete lack of any green wash below the black cap.

THE DRAKES - Dresseri

Classic dresseri stick out like sore thumbs among the borealis. There is a serious business going on in that 'nose'.  The frontal lobe broadens out to a rounded dull green intrusion far up into the forehead. Equally distinct for this subspecies when you look a little closer is the green wash along the bottom border of the black cap. Check with the borealis photos and see this area is always white with them.

THE HENS -  Borealis

The separation of female Common Eiders down to subspecies levels is a new world.  All I know is that borealis come in a range of colours from ashy-gray (<2%) to a rich reddish-brown.  I am unaware of what use if any the shape of the frontal lobes of of females will be.  Photo sharing among those from the  Maritimes and Newfoundland could help smooth out the way to the answer .

Note the gray bill and different head shape and the richness of plumage of the classy adult female King Eider in this picture.

Dive ! ! !