Thursday, 26 May 2016

GRAY HERON May 2016 - Third for Newfoundland.

News of a heron at Bonavista broke when photos appeared on social media on 6 May 2016. The distant photos appeared to show a Gray Heron. The next day Ken Knowles, Alvan Buckley, Paul Linegar and others saw the bird and confirmed the identification as a GRAY HERON.  This was the third record of Gray Heron for Newfoundland. The previous two records being:

1) a bird found moribund at Lears Cove, near Cape St. Mary's on 11 Oct 1996.  The bird died in captivity and was later identified as a Gray Heron. Specimen at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador.
2) a bird at Little Hearts Ease, Bonavista Bay  10 March to 12 June 2013.  The bird had possibly been present since January 2013. It was photographed and viewed by many people.

The Bonavista Gray Heron 6-7 May 2016 vanished without a trace but what is believed to be the same bird based on plumage details and logistics appeared at Comfort Cove, Notre Dame Bay about 170 km to the WNW on 16 May.  News of the bird reached the birding world on 19 May when Kelly Adams posted a photo of the bird on social media.  

On 20 May yours truly drove to Comfort Cove to see the Gray Heron. It was easy to find staying on a rock among a couple hundred loafing Ring-billed and Herring Gulls.  I spent 2.5 hours watching the bird. It was always at least 100 m away.   Heat haze over the cool water created by the unseasonably warm sunny weather (+20C) created difficult conditions for photography. Sharp photos were not possible but the many photos confirm the identity of the bird.

The bird was thought to be a bird sub-adult because of dull markings about the head including lack of plumes and the buffy tinged greater upper wing coverts. The white thighs are the classic mark of Gray Heron. Also important are the white shoulder patch, white alula and white primary coverts. Great Blue Heron is usually rufous in these areas.  The legs being shorter on a Gray Heron extend less beyond the tail when viewed in flight, with the length of foot being similar to the length of exposed leg beyond the tail. On Gray Heron the black stripes of neck contrast more sharply with pale gray neck than on Great Blue Heron with slightly duller black marks contrasting less with a pinkish/brown washed neck.

The following photos of the Gray Heron at Comfort Cove on 20 May 2016 show some of these features.

There is not much remarkable in this photograph that would alert someone this could be a Gray Heron.  The white shoulder patch and perhaps impression pale gray neck and shorter legs are clues.

A stretched wing shows a white alula and greater primary coverts where a Great Blue Heron should be rufous. The buffy greater secondary coverts is a sign of sub-adult age.

Seeing those white thighs is as good as being home free but sub-adult Great Blue Herons can have a very very pale cinnamon wash on thighs which could be interpreted as white with a brief view.  Often herons will not give a satisfactory view of thighs for hours.

White thighs.

White thighs.

White thighs.

White thighs.

White thighs.

White marks on leading edge of wing.

Length of feet similar to length of bare legs, legs longer in proportion to feet in GBHE.  Gray Heron said to have less bulging fold in neck in flight than GBHE.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

April Showers, Blizzards, Fog & NE Gales bring Golden Plovers

April weather on the Avalon Peninsula is not fit for human habitation. Yesterday St. John's experienced eight hours with wind gusts exceeding 100 km/hr and a top gust of 121. Today the winds are lighter but snow is falling with the potential of up to 30 cm on the ground when we wake up tomorrow morning. During April Avalon birders cross their fingers for prolonged NE gales accompanied by RDF (rain, drizzle & fog). There are no guarantees in birding. It is still a long shot, but when the right weather systems are lined up across the Atlantic they can and have delivered displaced Icelandic migrants, to Newfoundland. 

European Golden Plover is the most routine Icelandic Vagrant to reach Newfoundland in spring.  They have arrived as early as 8 April. The peak time period of occurrence is 20 April - 10 May.  The magic date for arrival is 26 April. Flocks have been as high as 4 dozen. Other Icelandic species such as Black-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Pink-footed Goose and Northern Wheatears sometimes accompany the influxes of Golden Plovers. We are still awaiting a Meadow Pipit - an over due North American first.

We dream on through the inclement spring weather....

A European Golden Plover feeding in a field at Renews, Avalon Peninsula on 3 May 2014.

Saturday, 2 April 2016


All of these pictures were taken while on holidays 17-30 March 2016.  Can you identify the location?

The answer is ARIZONA.  A perfect answer to escape late winter in Newfoundland. Not a single drop of precipitation for two weeks.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Common Teal feeling Spring

On Tuesday March 8 I went for a lunch time walk to Mundy Pond.  The shallow lagoon at the back of pond held some teal as it usually does when there is open water. There were three drake Common Teal and five unidentifiable female Common/Green-winged teal.  The drakes were hyper active calling loudly and running around like sandpipers on the ice and shoreline.  The females were mostly feeding and trying to keep out of the way of the amorous drakes.

The females are considered impossible to separate with certainty but the Green-winged Teal average smaller and darker like the female on the left while the female Common Teal are paler brown with plainer less strongly marked faces like the two swimming with the drakes.

The teal took brief time out from sexual gaming to preen (above) and feed (below).

Above a drake puffs up his chest and (below) lets out a squealing peep sound in hopes of getting the attention of a female. 

The drakes were activity courting the females which sometimes including rapid swimming (above) or running (below) while leaning into the female.

By the end of my lunch break the teal went on break themselves resting from the early rush of spring fever. 

These two big pale faced females were likely Europeans.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Lucky with a Couple Seaducks

The second last day of February found me doing the Avalon Loop in family style = partial birding/partial Sunday drive. Being a cold windy day I had a good excuse not to get out at some of the places you are obligated to get out at when birding The Loop like Pt La Haye and St. Shotts point. It was not the kind of day I expected to have any luck with photography but in the end I got my best photos ever of adult male Common Eider and White-winged Scoter.

Newfoundland Common Eiders are wary. Especially the old adult males. They are the least likely age/sex classification to give a photographer a lucky break and let you take their pictures. All day there were scattered little groups of eiders feeding in close to shore away from the main flocking areas and this included a high proportion of adult males. Driving back from St Shotts point I noted four adult males feeding off the rocks by the road a little closer to shore than normal. The light was good so I decided to try for a picture out the window.  My 1.4x converter was in the trunk so I reached for the 2x converter and attached it to the 600 mm f4.  Every time I use the 2x converter it is an experiment.  Usually there is not enough light or it is too windy or there is some other reason not to even think about using a 2x converter.  1200 mm worth of power attached to the camera sounds like a dream but in reality the 2x more than doubles your headaches trying to get crisp photos. I rarely use it. 

Waited for the eiders to dive before moving in as close as I could get in the car. When the closest eider came up it swam even closer to shore before diving again only to resurface even closer. The camera started firing away. But not for long.  The eider started looking up at something. I couldn't see what it was, maybe it was an eagle, hopefully not a Gyr(!).  The eider and nearby Long-tailed Ducks all went to wing. I was ready with the camera and as the drake eider flew. In a matter of a minute or two the photo session was over.  I was pleasantly surprised with the results. Closer examination on computer later showed the majority of the shots were out of focus due to movement of the duck on the choppy water but the pictures that were sharp were the best adult drake Common Eiders shots that I have taken. Even some flight shots came out. 

A drake Common Eider in relaxed mode at St. Shotts, Newfoundland on 28 Feb 2016.  This is a typical example of drake borealis, the Arctic breeding subspecies which forms the bulk of the wintering population in Newfoundland.  The narrow, pointed rich yellowish frontal lobes are characteristic. The more southern dresseri has thicker frontal lobes with broad rounded ends of a more greenish colour.  

The eider spots danger overhead.  I did not see what it was that flushed this eider and Long-tailed Ducks from the shoreline area

On full alert with neck stretched high just before flushing.

The flying drake borealis Common Eider.


The under appreciated adult drake White-winged Scoter is shy like adult Common Eiders. This one had an injured right wing which explains the unusual closeness to shore in Biscay Bay and the large amount of white showing in the wing while at rest. The finer details of the bill colouring are difficult to see at the usual range at which we view White-winged Scoters.  The shape of the white eye mark, curved like the Detroit Redwings emblem, is used by Europeans when looking for White-winged Scoters among the very similar Velvet Scoter of Europe.  


A female Common Eider beats some of the legs off a small crab before swallowing. Adult female Common Eiders usually have white wing bars and are often a bright orange-brown colour but range all the way to grayish-brown.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Yellow-legged Gull - St. John's, Newfoundland, 21 February 2016

On 18 February 2016 Lancy Cheng found an adult Yellow-legged Gull at Quidi Vidi Lake St. John's.  This was a bit of a surprise since the gulls at the lake were being checked regularly and there had been no Yellow-legged Gull since the one present from late August to late November 2015.  Naturally the birders were out trying to see this bird and it was seen briefly on each following day including yesterday Sunday 21 Feb when it plopped down on the water to bath in front of about ten birders standing around chatting. This was a good chance for the cameras though the glare was a bit tricky and the bird was very actively bathing, almost continuously, before flying out on to the ice into obscurity among other loafing gulls to preen.

Attached are photos taken during the bathing on 21 February 2016 at Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland.

The bright and smart look to a Newfoundland Yellow-legged Gull impresses observers.  There is something about a satiny texture to the white head and a smartness to the unique shade of gray upper parts along with the brightly coloured bill that give the Newfoundland Yellow-legged Gull (thought to be of Azores Island origin) a smart-dressed-gull look in breeding plumage.

The legs including joints and soles of the feet are deep yellow. 

The full hand of the black wing tip is revealed as it lands on the ice.

On the ice preening with the other gulls. The upper parts colour is closer to Lesser Black-backed Gull then Herring Gull. In size it is between an average Lesser Black-backed Gull and Newfoundland Herring Gull.  

The dark mark on outer web of P4 found on75% of Azorean YLGUs. There is a dark almost continuous line on leading edge of mirror on P10. 

Almost 100% consistent with Newfoundland Yellow-legged Gulls is the wider spacing between the white tips of  P7 and P8 as displayed on the folded wing.  Not sure what this means as it doesn't show up in photos of Azorean YLGUs or other races of Yellow-legged Gull.  

Lesser Black-backed Gull vs Azorean Yellow-legged Gull 

It is difficult to put a finger on all the differences between LBBG and Azorean YLGU but it is not usually a debate when you see them in the field especially in breeding plumage or after finished moulting primaries in November. The upper parts colour is a little paler shade of gray than the pale end graesllsii.  One feature difficult to explain but is significant in the field is the facial expression of the bird.  LBBGs have a meek and mild look and the YLGUs have a slightly meaner, colder expression yet while not being significantly larger.  The YLGU seems to have a relatively shorter thicker bill with a more sudden steeply curving culmen.  The red gony spot is large and bright red often washing over in to the adjacent parts of the upper mandible. The YLGU may also have a stronger gap mark running back from the bill.  There is something about the placement of the eye on head, It appears more forward perhaps an impression given by the steeper forehead YLGU (most obvious when in relaxed mode).  

I will not go into all the differences in LBBG vs YLGU but below are comparisons shots trying to show head details.The first two photos are an adult LBBG in full breeding plumage taken on 31 May 2009 in St. John's.  Then two head shots of the YLGU.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, 31 May 2009 St. John's, Newfoundland
Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, 31 May 2009 St. John's, Newfoundland

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, 21 Feb 2016, St. John's, Newfoundland
Adult Yellow-legged Gull, 21 Feb 2016, St. John's, Newfoundland

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, 21 Feb 2016, St. John's, Newfoundland