Thursday, 20 February 2020

Southern Oceans Cruise - The Black-browed Albatrosses

The Southern Ocean cruise on the Coral Princess that I was present for from 25 Jan-6 Feb 2020 covered a lot of territory from The Falkland Islands to San Antonio, Chile.  Being an albatross virgin before the cruise I was happy to come with 8 species of albatrosses during the trip.  The first species was Black-browed Albatross.  This as expected was the most numerous and universally present albatross of the cruise.  This was a good albatross to get to know because it is the most likely species to occur in Atlantic Canada waters. This is the only species confirmed for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador with three photographic records. Being a relatively tame bird that was not shy of the huge cruise ship it often came close providing many photo opportunities.  Nearly all were adults. I noticed far fewer than 1% being dark billed immatures. That is fine since at least two of the Newfoundland and Labrador records were bright billed adults.

Almost patterned like an adult Great Black-backed Gull, the black tail with a bright white rump about equal to the size of the bright white head distinguishes it from any gull, if the size and shape was not immediately obvious. The same clean cut colour pattern also distinguishes it from a sub-adult Northern Gannet.

Even a distant Black-browed Albatross should stand out by size and sharp black and white pattern in Newfoundland waters.

 The Black-browed Albatross dwarfs our shearwaters, fulmars and gulls when close enough to compare directly.  Here and in the following three pictures it is with Sooty Shearwater.

Up close the adult Black-browed Albatross is a smartly feathered bird. 


Immatures are distinguished from adults by the dark gray bill, the dirty gray wash on the back of the neck and a wider black border to the underwings (see also next two pictures).





The Black-browed Albatross is an abundant species.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

The Sandpiper-Plover: Shorebirding in the High Andes.

Starting backwards on reporting on my 16 day trip  Southern Ocean cruise, here are some snaps from the end of the adventure. 

With somewhat vague directions embedded on  Richard Crossley's cell phone we were not exactly sure  where to look for the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover after we left Santiago, Chile. We drove up and up and up into the clear blue dawn sky, on roads sometimes carved into steep mountainsides where avalanche warnings were prevalent. There were lots of interesting birds in the arid scrub. Wish I could find the Guide to Birds of Chile  that Holly Hogan lent me to look them up, as the  memory of some of the birds are getting vague, but most I photographed for identification later. The road eventually ran out and you are forced to look for the hint of a track across vast gravel flats and a meandering river which was just passable with a car.

Yah - it took some time and effort on foot at 12,000+ ft elevation without finding our target. Time was not on our side. We had to give up.  On the drive out of the valley we looked back on where we had just been and realize there was a green patch in the arid landscape that we had not noticed.  That had to be the location. We turned around for one last shot. But there were no sandpiper-plovers in this last green spot either. We were out of time and options. With airports on out minds we turned the car around but saw a van load of birders with their scopes out looking at something in the drainage stream from the hot springs. It was a Wings Inc birding tour. They were on a Diademed Sandpiper-Plover at the very spot we had driven through in the car!! Our limited knowledge of the species told us to expect this bizarre species in the green oasis caused by springs pouring out of the mountain sides. Ah -such are the bonuses of local help.

The habitat. Lush green patches of green are an oasis among the vast gray arid scenes of the Chilean Andes.  This what the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover nests in. 

The first view. At first we though there was just one bird but in fact it was a family group of two adults and two chicks.

The ugly duckling of shorebird chicks, this precious chick ensures the continuation of the species.

Among shorebird clan, the Diademed Sandpiper- Plover is a unique bird.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Hermit Warbler Attempts Wintering in Newfoundland

As outrageous as that sounds, it is fact.  On 7 December Alison Mews and Ethel Dempsey found a Hermit Warbler in St. John's, Newfoundland on the site of the former school for the deaf on Topsail Road. The groves of imported jack pines seemed an ideal pocket of habitat for this western warbler. It was difficult to locate among the pines over the following days but most searchers eventually got their views.  Alison put out a home made suet/peanut butter blog in the pines in the hopes that it would find it. IT WORKED! On the 17 December Hermit Warbler was observed feeding on the suet block along with juncos and Boreal Chickadees. 

The rest is history up to the date of this writing on 7 Jan 2020.  The HEWA is visiting the now several suet  blocks put up for the bird daily.  There is lots of snow. Between Christmas Eve and 7 Jan 100 cm of snow has fallen on St. John's with 69 cm depth of snow currently on the ground. But the temperatures have been relatively mild hovering in the -3C to +1C range.  The Hermit Warbler looks reasonably healthy.  Its plumage is looking less sleek and more ruffled if not a little puffed out.  It sometimes looks wet around the face. Perhaps a combination of the greasy food source and the wet pines.  Will it survive until spring?  It would be a miracle for a species that rarely experiences below freezing temperature or ever sees snow.  It should be in a Central American pine forest in January.

This represents the fourth record of Hermit Warbler for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

  1. Blackhead, Avalon Peninsula, 11-13 November 1989
  2. Mobile, Avalon Peninsula, 11 November to 1 December 2016
  3. Cape Broyle, Avalon Peninsula, 23 October 2017
  4. St. John's, Avalon Peninsula, 7 December 2019 to present 7 January 2020
It should be noted the fall of 2019 saw an unprecedented influx of Townsend's Warblers to the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. There was a staggering total of 18 different individual Townsend's discovered (all photographed).  Most were discovered during November but the earliest was on 23 September. Whether this was related to the occurrence of the Hermit Warbler is not known.

The Hermit Warbler on 7 December -  the day of discovery. A fleeting encounter with a healthy chipper looking warbler. An intensely exciting photo capture moment.  At the time we did not know it was going to become the town pet.

These three pictures above from 21 December after it had found the feeder but before winter had set in. It was still spending considerable time foraging in the pines and only occasionally visiting the suet/peanut butter feeders.

The Boreal Chickadees at first chased the Hermit Warbler off the feeder station but later on accepted its presence  as any other local bird.

Above are four more pics prior to the snow falls of Xmas.

The Hermit Warbler in the pines near the suet feeders after a 23 December snow fall.

The two pictures above taken on the morning of Christmas Day.

The Hermit Warbler wintering in Newfoundland is an ongoing story. At this point we don't know the outcome but very few warblers have ever made it through the winter in St. John's Those that have were a few hardy Pine Warblers, once a Yellow-rumped Warbler and couple of Yellow-breasted Chats. Yellow-throated Warblers have made it to late January and early February a few times.  We will continue to feed it.