Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Britain's Birds - a new book for Newfoundland birders.

A book arrived in the mail yesterday. I was not expecting anything. I opened the package and found an identification guide to British birds. Then I recalled that some months ago I was asked for permission to use a photo of the April 2014 Torbay Ross’s Gull for a British bird book.  I opened the book to Ross’s Gull and indeed saw the image of the Torbay Ross’sI started flipping through the pages one by one.  Every plate was as beautiful as the one before. Within a couple of minutes of gorging on this new book I knew it would be up front on my go-to consulting references for European birds. It is not just another nice bird book to stash away for a rainy day on the dormant books shelf.

IN A NUTSHELL.  This is a photographic guide. Bird images are cropped and grouped on a background mural showing a habitat in which the bird would live. 3,200 images were used in the making of this book. The book covers just Britain and Ireland but includes every species that has occurred up to March 2016. Common and regularly occurring scarce species get a full page of coverage.  The very rare species can be fitted up to six species per page but this often includes the actual individual that was photographed in Britain.

WHAT I LIKE.  The quality is first-rate for the overwhelming majority of the 3,200 bird images. No surprises. No bad lighting.  No faulty reproduction.  No handicaps or negative quality allowances required when interpreting the accuracy of these photos. The images are ready to go and easy to absorb as they are. They are believable.  Each plate is a welcome mat. You want to look. You are eager to see the detail.  And there is a lot to see and learn from these images.  The birds are as close to the living thing as they can be on paper.

USEFULLNESS. This book covers all the European and Eurasian species that have and are likely to occur in Newfoundland. It would work well as a standalone guide on a trip to Britain & Ireland.  The Collins Guide as we call it, also known as the Birds of Europe (Mullarney et al.), would be my first choice for owning a single European bird book.  This new book makes an excellent backup for the Collins Guide. It is nice to have good photos to support excellent illustrations.  The two books make a perfect marriage for European birds.

For birders living in Britain & Ireland there is a lot of useful information on distribution (including detailed breeding maps) and abundances of regular species and the status of rare birds.  It is interesting to know there are <100 records of Killdeer and <10 records of Semipalmated Plover in Britain and Ireland.  The rare ‘golden’ plovers, American and Pacific, get a full page neatly crammed with pertinent information – a quick reference of the well-known key field marks. 

Birds shared by Newfoundland and Britain have useful entries. There is a page of winter and summer plumaged alcids in flight.  There are some valuable reference images of adult and juvenile jaegers.  Juvenile Arctic and Common Terns are pretty well done.  There is valiant attempt to demystify gulls for the timid.  The most common species get two pages showing the different ages in flight and at rest.  In addition there are full pages showing similar species in flight by age class. Did I mention the shearwater plates? Not bad. Not bad at all.

From a Newfoundland birder's point of view this book is a luxury. You can live fine without it.  However, it enhances the information on European vagrants that we get out of the Collins Guide.  The book also does a better than average job on the gulls, terns, jaegers, alcids and other birds that are also common in Newfoundland.  It is <$40 CDN on

The tiny image of the pink-breasted Ross`s Gull is the Torbay bird from 29 April 2014. Now forever immortalised in a book.

Monday, 1 August 2016

black-billed Arctic Tern

On Sunday 31 July 2016 I was checking a group of 8 terns on the rocks on the lower coast, Trepassey when I came across a tern that stopped me dead.  On first glance it appeared to be a Common/Arctic Tern with a jet black bill, a full black cap and dark legs. In the following seconds I recalled an Alaskan form of the Common Tern with a black bill in adult plumage. Gull-billed Tern was easily ruled out by small bill, short legs etc. Roseate Tern was also swiftly ruled out because of the small bill, smaller than adjacent Common Terns.  What was it? Some species of tern from another hemisphere?

After settling down to look more closely at the bird while snapping photos as I began to fixate on the idea that this was a sub adult Arctic Tern based on short legs, small bill and rounded head. There were small flecks of white in the forehead indicating the idea of a subadult. Brownish hints in wing coverts while at rest and more obvious brown markings across wing coverts that were revealed in flight proved its sub-adult age.

The (nearly) complete black cap with a jet black bill was unlike any other Arctic Tern I've seen anywhere. There is not a lot of information out there on subadult Arctic Terns. The 1st summer (12 month old) birds are relatively obvious with their clean white foreheads and black band wrapped around back of head.  A few of these show up around Arctic Tern colonies on the Avalon every summer.  At this point I am not sure what a typical 2nd summer (24 month old) should look like but I think the Trepassey bird was such.

The black-billed Arctic Tern with a normal adult Arctic Tern and in background an adult Common Tern.

Cropped versions of the above photograph.

Flight shots showing brownish washing on lesser, median and greater wing coverts.

Note the dark legs and the uniform jet black legs.

Below are three photos of  a tern believed to be a 2nd summer (24 months) Arctic Tern taken 16 July 2007 at St. Vincents, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland.  The forehead shows much more white than the Trepassey bird.

Arctic Terns 16 July 2007 at St. Vincents beach. Two 1st summer (12 month) birds on the left and the 2nd summer as shown in two above pictures.