Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Gray Heron on the Newfoundland Grand Banks Sept 2018

On 30 September 2018 at about 10 AM a GRAY HERON landed on the vessel I was on located 330 km east of Cape Race, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland. (Note: the EEZ limit is 370 km so the bird was within Canadian waters).  There had been three days of light to moderate east and southeast winds prior to its appearance.  The winds were easterly across the Atlantic from southern Europe to the Grand Banks. Stalled post-tropical depression Leslie located between Newfoundland and the Azores was the cause of the winds.  This was the 4th record of Gray Heron for Newfoundland. The bird stayed on the vessel for eight hours.  It left under the cover of darkness. It appeared quite alert and healthy. It very wary of any sighting of  human on the boat.

The first picture. It was very foggy day. It took a good while before I knew it was a Gray Heron and not a Great Blue Heron.

 I got down on the main deck and looked out between machinery for better views. The first peak at the trademark white thighs.

It was actually the sharp black lines on the neck that started adrenaline rush. I knew it was as Gray Heron then.  The white thighs up to this point were difficult to be sure of through binoculars in the early views.

First look at the white headlights on the front of the wing as the bird caught its balance during a swell.

 The bird got nervous and flushed a few times providing some bonus views.

The white 'headlights' clearly obvious and quite striking compared to the rustiness on of the Great Blue Heron.. 

The legs are shorter on Gray Heron than the Great Blue Heron.  The feet make up about half the leg extension beyond the tail.  There is more leg showing on Great Blue.

There is a little more contrast in the pale gray upper wing coverts and the dark flight feathers compared to Great Blue Heron.

Screaming white thighs leave no doubt of the Gray Heron ID in this picture as it comes in for a landing.

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.