Monday, 31 December 2012
Last winter at Spaniard's Bay there were three strange ducks suspected of being hybrid wigeon x something. Those same ducks are there again for this winter, and now are in more adult plumage. There is one male and two females. It appears they are American Wigeon X Mallard hybrids.
What are these ducks? Quick, your gut reaction before they fly away - what is this pair?
A close look at the male.
The female would have be more problematic to ID without the male (not in this picture) it was keeping company with. Note how the tail is dark and not whitish like a Mallard, however the male has a whitish tail adding support to Mallard over Black Duck as being the wigoen's illicit partner.
With time to look at these ducks today (31 Dec) I've come to the conclusion they are hybrid American Wigeon X Mallard. Male on the left, female on the right - probably siblings.
The hybrid next to a normal American Wigeon. Note the differences on bill colour and plumage but the overall similarlity in jizz.
A blurry flight shot (one handed from a moving car!) has plenty of useful information, especially showing the blue speculum like a Mallard or Black Duck.
Other highlights expected on a winter trip to the western side of Conception Bay were the male Barrow's Goldeneye at Spaniard's Bay and the Buffleheads at Chapell's Cove.
The long time male Barrow's Goldeneye was present at Spaniard's Bay but far from shore. This is a 100% crop from a 500mm lens. The male hybrid Barrow's x Common Goldeneye was also present for how many years is it now... 10 years???
The ponds at Chapel Cove in the bottom of Conception Bay have only recently been discovered as a as thee Avalon Peninsula Bufflehead hotspot. This morning there were 11 present on the ponds but by early afternoon only two were persent. There is plenty we don't know about the operations of these birds.
Friday, 28 December 2012
The St. John's Christmas Bird Count happens on Boxing Day as 40+ years of tradition dictates. The day after Boxing Day is winter lister's clean up on mega sales on rare winter birds. I had three birds on my shopping list when I left home just before sunrise. Townsend's Warbler, Northern Mockingbird and Hermit Thrush. First stop was nearly a four (4) minute drive from my house. The province's 16th TOWNSEND'S WARBLER had been found by John Wells and Chris Brown on the lower most Waterford River on the Boxing Day. This was more than just a winter bird, but a bird rare enough one just had to see it.
I heard it chipping at sunrise where it probably came out of night roost but it was an hour after sunrise that I finally locked eyes on this incredible Newfoundland rarity. There were just a few small spruces along the birch lined river banks. This what the Townsend's targeted. It stuck to the densest part of the branches making it difficult to even glimpse and a big challenge to get even a record shot of. The bird is becoming so familiar. It wasn't even a provincial year bird. This was the 11th record for the Waterford Valley since 1983. It has long boggled the mind why a stripe of land 2000 x 300 m in Newfoundland has more records of TOWA then almost every state and province in the eastern half of North America.
Seeing the Townsend's Warbler was challenge enough, getting even just a record photo was even more problematic, but it was accomplished.
Winter bird shopping list, item #2 was a Northern Mockingbird that Alvan Buckley and group found in holly hedge on Roche Street. Knowing how mockingbirds can sit for eternity under cover I didn't have high hopes on seeing this bird in the small amount of effort I was prepared to put into it. It turned out OK. I had only one leg out of the car when it flew up out of the hedge and into the crown of a bare maple. Tick # 2 on the shopping list.
The mockingbird played fair game letting me see it right away instead of having me come back a dozen times for a trying for a glimpse.
The Hermit Thrush also found by the AB team seemed a very unlikely refind. But Alvan said it should be easy to refind. I trusted his instinct. I didn't know there was this lush little wet green spot in the woods on the upper Rennies River. It is definitely a place to be checking every year. The poor bird had a bill malformation which probably explained its exception December appearance in Newfoundland. It did catch a good number of something in the leaf litter.
The Hermit Thrush is a common summer bird in Newfoundland but is rarely seen beyond October. This was a very unexpected find on the St. John\s CBC.
Three out ot three birds on the post Boxing Day sale list was excellent for my Kill Tingley quest. His list was stalled at 106 while my list had soared to an early 112. With my shopping list full, I kept on birding. Went to Burton's Pond to count the Tufted Ducks. There were 5 Lesser Scaups and a very impressive 49 Tufted Ducks in the open hole of water. Got to get back to these birds for photos of the brown birds and the young males.
At the HSC pond I was pleased to see the wigeon flock of 12 was grazing on the lawn by the roadway. I never get tired of looking at mixed flocks of wigeon. The two species compliment each other. This flock was 66% Eurasian. A dog flushed the birds into the pond. Close enough together I was able to get a photo with all birds.
This flock of wigeons (4 AM, 8 EU) swims back to shore after being flushed away from grazing on the lawn in front of the hospital.
When the flock arrives ashore they disturb a Hooded Merg that must have been resting there hidden in the grass. This species is a mild rarity and has not been seen in St. John's for nearly two months. A nice surprise for the winter lister. While watching the merg a call came in saying a Yellow-rumped Warbler was found by Townsend's Warbler hunters. This would be my 9th species of warbler for the month of December. I did drive across town and found it - # 114 for the winter list
Tuesday, 25 December 2012
Christmas tradition says I get a couple hours birding around town before the 1 pm turkey feast. It is the only day of the year when St. John's is a ghost town and empty of cars. Checked on my personal Pied-billed Grebe at the boat basin on the south side of the harbour. It looks perfectly content and should be there for the Boxing Day CBC. Checked the Great Cormorant resting sites in The Narrows, The Battery and Harvey Wharf looking for a winter DC Shag, but none so far. The Pier 17 sewer outflow was thriving with gulls. The light was a little too dark to spend time taking photos plus the security guard was lurking nearby so I didn't tarry. No sign of a Common Gull though I saw one yesterday. There were good numbers of Black-headeds with 120 counted yesterday during the heavy winds.
Gulls and ducks looking for their Christmas turkey at Pier 17 sewer outflow.
On to Quidi Vidi Lake. Noticed the Ruddy Duck was resting by the beach among the domestic and tamed wild ducks. Decided with the lack of people & dogs about this was a good time for a close shot of the RUDU. Got out with the big 500mm in hand. I expected to get very close but first stopped by a tree for support and a couple of test shots on the light. The Ruddy was staring to mid pond. A GBBG screamed. Then 200 pigeons and 200 ducks exploded around me.. Took a frustratingly long time to see what was causing the panic. It was a Peregrine Falcon. Took a couple of snaps against the dull gray-white sky as it passed over and headed toward the harbour scattering pigeons along the way. This is the first winter sighting of a Peregrine at the lake this winter as far as I know. Typically there is one every winter.
With time running low, I went to Kelly's Brook with a suet block to place in the feeder. Didn't have much time to look for the warblers and didn't see much action at all. At least four male Common Teal sleeping among the regular teal.
It was an immature Peregrine Falcon looking for Xmas dinner that created panic among the gulls and ducks at Quidi Vidi Lake
The St. John's CBC is tomorrow. The weather will be excellent, i.e. no rain storm, blizzard or gale.
Monday, 24 December 2012
Since late October there has been a leucistic aythya hanging out with the scaup and Tufted Ducks at the various ponds within the city of St. John's. Identification to species changed like the day of the week. Today I had my first point blank views of the bird while at Burton's Pond and feel it is a Tufted Duck. The head shape now looks right for Tufted Duck being flat topped with a steep forehead and beginnings of a tuff on the back of the head, like that expected on an immature female at this time of year. Circumstantial evidence is that it was sticking with a pure flock of Tufted Ducks (14 today, 31 yesterday).
The leucistic Tufted Duck with female Tufteds. The long crests on the normal coloured birds indicates adult females. The leucistic individual has a small hint of a crest like some other birds present. These are presumed to be immature females.
The steep sloping forehead, relatively flat topped head (changes depending on state of relaxation) and beginnings of tuff are right for an immature female Tufted Duck at this time of year.
The dark coloured nail was a little smaller than the other female Tufted Ducks and actually quite similar to the size of dark nail present on female scaup. It is important to note the bill is overall cleaner and paler than normal female Tufted Duck and scaups. It is possible the pale bill marking corresponds to the pale plumage .
The leucistic duck fit in well with the pure flock of Tufted Ducks.
For the last two days a Pied-billed Grebe has been frequently the boat basin on the south side of The Narrows of St. John's harbour. These grebes regularly move to saltwater when forced out of freshwater ponds by ice.This Pied-billed Grebe is taking a break between dives in a sheltered part of St. John's harbour.
Who is eating who? The grebe caught a blenny-like fish that should be idenitiable from the photos.
Sunday, 23 December 2012
The Cape Race CBC went ahead on 22 Dec 2012. There were 12 observers in five groups. The weather was unusually nice with light winds and no percipitation. A good seabird flight developed off Cape Race by about 9 am when suddenly flocks of kittiwakes began flying north. The kittiwakes and GBBGs were probably on a rebound northward flight after five consecutive days of strong north winds prior to count day pushed them farther south then they wanted to be. Among the birds moving north were a late Northern Gannet and the first GREATER SHEARWATER on a Newfoundland CBC. Greater Shearwaters are known to be present on the southern Grand Banks in December and probably some all winter, but I think this is the first shearwater seen from land during December in the province. There were well above average numbers of Greater and Sooty Shearwaters present off Cape Race in mid November. The species total of 69 was a new high total for Cape Race CBC. Record or near record high numbers of species are bold faced.
Red-throated Loon – 4Common Loon – 55
Horned Grebe – 6
Red-necked Grebe – 24
GREATER SHEARWATER – 1
Northern Gannet – 1
Great Cormorant – 5
Double-crested Cormorant – 1
Green-winged Teal – 2
Am Black Duck – 25
Mallard – 1
Ring-necked Duck – 3
Greater Scaup – 102
Common Eider – 2,431
King Eider – 2
Harlequin Duck – 3
Long-tailed Duck – 707
Black Scoter – 4
Surf Scoter – 4
White-winged Scoter – 86
Common Goldeneye – 18
Bufflehead – 7
Common Merganser – 1
Red-breasted Merganser – 49
Bald Eagle – 14
American Kestrel – 1
Merlin – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 1
Purple Sandpiper – 111
Black-headed Gull – 1
Herring Gull – 114
Iceland Gull – 99
Glaucous Gull – 17
Great Black-backed Gull – 479
Black-legged Kittiwake – 2,389
Dovekie – 332
Common Murre – 1
Thick-billed Murre – 23
Razorbill – 14
Black Guillemot – 138
Atlantic Puffin – 2
Mourning Dove – 2
Snowy Owl – 1
Belted Kingfisher – 1
Hairy Woodpecker – 1
Black Backed Woodpecker – 1
Northern Flicker – 2
Gray Jay – 5
Blue Jay – 2
American Crow – 50
Common Raven – 18
Black-capped Chickadee – 7
Boreal Chickadee – 16
Brown Creeper – 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet – 13
American Robin – 9
American Pipits – 30
Northern Shrike – 2
European Starling – 479
Fox Sparrow – 2
Song Sparrow – 2
Swamp Sparrow – 1
Dark-eyed Junco – 190
Snow Bunting – 53
Common Grackle – 1
Pine Grosbeak – 2
Common Redpoll – 40
American Goldfinch – 72
House Sparrow - 42
American Pipits are routine in early winter around Cape Race. Typically it is the flies living in the rotting kelp deposits on the beaches that attracts them, but this one was feeding in a fresh water brook.
American Pipits are routine in early winter around Cape Race. Typically it is the flies living in the rotting kelp deposits on the beaches that attracts them, but this one was feeding in a fresh water brook.
Sunday, 16 December 2012
A somewhat unexpected snow fall over night changed the scene around St. John's from late fall to full on winter. The snow was wet sticking heavily to the trees and then froze on when the temps dipped to -3C. The 70 km/hr NE winds later in the day didn't knock the snow off the limbs.
Thinking about the Kelly's Brook warblers I brought out a block of suet which I hoped the Cape May at least would take advantage of. The other warblers don't have any previous record of eating suet. The brook was a winter wonderland of snow laden branches. One of the willows collapsed across the brook on to the sand bar. Birds were very quiet. It was hard to see the chickadees that were calling faintly within the spruces. The warblers were even more difficult to see. I managed a glimpse of the bright Nashville feeding in the wet grass by the water. Saw the Black-and-white trying to get at the bare underside of the branches and tree trunks. Unlike the other warblers it wasn't into picking insects off the vegetation by the water. It probably doesn't know how. The Cape May was the easiest of the warblers to see. It was picking by the water and in the newly fallen willow looking for bare branches to find food. Pathetic looking at time. If this snow would melt off the branches they will be OK for a while as there are no deep freezes forecasted this week.Whoa! This isn't what I expected when I signed up for the Newfoundland trip.
I didn't sign up for these frozen dinners either.
Merry f&*()(&^g Christmas to you too.
Even the teal were sleeping off this winter day...
The Cape Race CBC was scheduled for this day but was postponed due to the weather forecast of rain and wet snow. Saturday turned out to be the nicest day of the month so far. No wind and temp around 0C. Oh well, a good opportunity for checking around town. Cape Spear was calm but a huge swell from some offshore storm was pounding on the rocks and created a heavy mist in the air spoiling the potential ideal viewing conditions. Did see an immature Atlantic Puffin on the water and small flocks of Dovekies were flying north far out. In Blackhead a flock of five adult Red Crossbills looking for seeds in last years white spruce cones was new for my 2012/2013 winter list and was #100. Back in town checked out Pier 17 sewer outflow hoping for the Bonaparte's Gull which actually has not been seen for three weeks. No sign but there was a new Common Gull making three present in town plus 100+ Black-headed Gulls. Drove over the hill to Quidi Vidi Lake where I knew a winter bird was waiting for me - a Ruddy Duck found yesterday by Lisa de Leon. A small group of people with cameras at one corner of the lake was the obvious place to look first. The fresh, healthy looking Ruddy Duck was unusually tame to the delight of the weekend snappers # 101. There were plenty of gulls on the lake in the fields and rooves around the lake. Scoped as many as I could looking for rare shades of gray coming up with only Lesser Black-backed Gulls (about 8, all adults).
The weather was too nice to not hunt for lingering warblers. I parked at Forest Ave area which has been covered only a few times this fall. Conditions were so perfect you could feel a rare warbler around the next corner. There were active feeding flocks of chickadees and juncos but not a warbler until Kelly's Brook. I wondered what warblers were still alive at this micro-oasis.
Saw the Nashville Warbler and Black-and-white Warbler right away. Still trying to get a good picture of the Nashville I stood for a while on the 'sand bar' waiting for it to come to me. I saw a movement in a willow branch dragging in the water collecting dead leaves. It was dingy gray, with a light wing bar, was that streaks on the breast? Whatever it was it was a new bird for Kelly's Brook. Half expecting a Yellow-rumped I was very pleasantly surprised when a CAPE MAY WARBLER popped up. A dull immature female. Only about the 3rd or 4th for December in St. John's, one being just last year at Gene Herzberg's feeder. Cape May is a very scarce, more like rare bird at any time on the Avalon Peninsula. An excellent winter bird #102.
Spent the next 90 minutes at the brook waiting for photo opportunities and making sure I knew all the birds that were present. Meanwhile Lisa de Leon and Clyde Thornhill appeared. Little did I know the bird had already been posted on nf.birds after Mike Parmenter had seen it 3 hours before I did. The Yellow Warbler was missing but the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was present. The three warblers and gnatcatcher were doing well. The temperature must have been that 0.5C above freezing. There were little swarms of 'November gnats'.
Will any more lingering warblers find the amazing Kelly's Brook!
No matter how small, any tidbit of insect food is too valuble to let go in December.
A small but worthwhile snack. How many does it take to keep it and the other warblers and gnatcatcher alive for another day farther into the depth of winter?
Tuesday, 11 December 2012
I eat my lunch at my office desk well before 12 noon so I can use my lunch hour for birding and not eating. There was a blasting rain with a dramatic warm insurgence of near sub-tropical air. The temperature had risen from 0 C to +14.2 C during the period 7 am to 12 noon. What to do with my time. How about drive around to city recreational ball fields and peer out a crack in the window at gulls looking for that missing since last winter, Yellow-legged Gull. After several LBBGs in a couple of half flooded soccer fields, I ended up at the Pier 17 sewer outflow. There were no ships tied up so had no problem being there. Huge wind keeping the gulls airborne over the upwelling. Parked by the wharf edge. Noticed the gulls were whipping by the side of the wharf at close range. Taking photos of gulls in bright light and dull light is an uphill battle. In the very dark wet light I knew the darkness of the grays and brightness of the whites would be exaggerated going off in opposite directions from perfection and creating an impossible situation that even the most expert Photoshop guru could not fix. That didn't stop me. Using my utility lens, the excellent 300mm f4, I cranked off the shots of gulls moving like kites tied to short string in the gale.
This evening it has been easy to delete 95% of the photos without a second thought. The autofocus was not doing well catching the rapidly moving birds in the dull light. Among the 750+ Iceland Gulls and 75 Black-headed Gulls attracted to the 'bubble' were two Common Gulls. Both were adults and both were known to be around for a few weeks. The age of one bird I was unsure of until seeing it in flight for the first time today. It was indeed an adult and not a 2nd winter. Its bill is just like a 2nd winters' in being dull green with a fairly broad band and hardly brighter tip. From previous views on other days I knew the legs were also dull, dirty green like a 2nd winter, I also knew the bird was banded with a metal band on the left leg. As it happens a 2nd winter Common Gull was banded by CWS in St. John's last winter in St. John's. Was this the same bird returning? Well there is nothing to indicate otherwise until we read the band. The possibility of knowing the age of this bird adds an interesting insight into the plumage of this bird. The legs and bill are identical to a 2nd winter bird but the wings tip pattern is very adult-like. Well almost, inspection of photos shows a dark centre to one feather in the alula on both wings. It was visible on several photos. This probably confirms this is actually at 3rd winter Common Gull [nothing is firm in the world of gulls]. Normally this age is probably indistinguishable from an adult. This individual was perhaps slowed down in its development after spending last winter in St. John's where nutritional needs were probably marginal.The dark spot in the alula visible on both wings along with the dull bill and dull green legs (viewed previously) support the idea this is probably a 3rd winter Common Gull.
Another view of the same Common Gull circling against the growing St. John's skyline.
The other Common Gull. This being a classic adult and still not yet in classic winter plumage. The bill and legs are still on the bright side of yellow.
Other Pier 17 lunch time entertainers.
Sunday, 9 December 2012
It turned out to be a good weekend for winter listing. On the Saturday Ken Knowles and I did the Avalon Loop counter clockwise. The simple aim was Ruddy Turnstone at Pt LaHaye - the only place we know they overwinter annually in the province. It was a clear very windy day. But before thhe wind got up we pished in a MARSH WREN in the marsh at St. Mary's. This is a big winter list bird. There are only a dozen or so records for the province and only one other in December. The rest of the day was lackluster and a battle against the wind and bright light. But other new winter list birds were a nice adult drake King Eider at Pt La Haye, Common Grackle at St. Vincent's, Wilson's Snipe at Cappahayden and Northern Shrike at Renews. The quarenteed winter tick Ruddy Turnstone didn't pan out - maybe later in the season.
Sunday dawned beautifully calm. It was the calm before an afternoon rain event. It was my chance to check for warblers in the historically rarity rich Waterford Valley, which is right outside my front door. Walked for 3.5 hours in the valley. Had plenty of bird action but the only warbler was a Common Yellowthroat. This is a surprisingly rare December bird compared to other warblers like Black and white, Yellow, Yellow-throated etc which are much much more numerous. It was in the same place where John Wells had found it three weeks earlier.
The blackish ear coverts make this an immature male Common Yellowthroat on the banks of the Waterford River in St. John's.
In the afternoon rain while doing the rounds about town John Wells phoned wondering if I'd seen the post by David Smith about rediscovery of the PINK-FOOTED GOOSE on Cox's Lane in the Goulds!! I had just been there looking around for the goose I assumed was gone having not been seen since 20 Nov! I pulled a u-turn and headed back to the Goulds. While on Old Bay Bulls road I stopped to see what was sending a massive flock of starling into a frantic gyrating swirl. I still needed goshawk for the winter list. The bird I saw come out of the swarming starling flock was big enough but the neck was a little long - it was the goose! There is only one goose in town. It circled over at large field, glided on set wings and chose a spot not 50 m from me already parked on the side of road. I was a bit surprised but how bright the upper wing coverts were so looked at the bill just to make sure it wasn't a Gray Lag! The candy pink and black bill confirmed it was a familiar friend.
It was a dark wet December afternoon light in low cloud. It is rarely ideal conditions for the photography of a rare bird. The goose was acting very wary holding neck high looking for the slightest excuse to fly. There was a fairly steady stream of cars traveling past me. It didn't seem to notice me in the car with a window open. I clicked off lots of pictures trying various setting to combat the dark light. ISO 1000 was the order of the day. The goose grazed on the green grass. It walked over to four crows digging about in the field. For a goose it is a fast walker. Sometimes it sat on its belly while grazing or just sat still resting. It was always looked around. It was during a rest period it decided to move to an adjacent plowed field off Pearltown Road. I drove around to get closer. It was not easy to see against the brown dirt of the field. Again it walked over to where a few crows were feeding. Then it decided to fly again. I wasn't ready with the camera when it flew for it came right at me and went over the car. Looked great in binos but would have been better capture digitally. It flew far and seemed to go down in some fields some ways back. I couldn't relocate it.
That was the end of the story for the day but not likely the end for this bird. Will it ever leave? When real winter sets in will it show up at QV Lake and be forced to beg for food handouts with the rest of the ducks. It is such a beautiful goose to have with us. It is very agile and fast on the wing. It even walks fast. Look forward to getting to know this bird intimately.Here is the Pink-footed Goose surrounded by some of the only friends it will find in a one goose town.
The Pink-footed Goose showing off its left foot.
As I turned to go home a small raptor shot across a field and landed on a post – female Merlin. Maybe this was the cause of the starling panics. New for the winter list – one I often miss.
A large brown female Merln shot through a cabbage field full of juncos then landed on this post. Merlin is an easy to miss winter list bird.
The Winter List Score as of 9 Dec 2012
BM (97), Tingley (93)
Thursday, 6 December 2012
Feeder stake outs can be long and boring but sometimes you get lucky. Such was the case when I drove just south of St. John's to Middle Pond to look for a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks breed in tiny numbers in the SW corner of Newfoundland. They are regular in tiny numbers as a fall vagrant to the east coast of Newfoundland. During the fall of 2012 above average numbers of RBGR showed up on the Avalon with half of them being reported at feeders, including some in November. While they frequently appear at feeders in November they very rarely linger into December.
I arrived at the house of the feeder, parked my car with a view of the feeder, opened the window and there it was sitting quietly in a bush behind a shed. It was just after sun rise and there was fog in the air. It was basically still dark.
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak at day break. The pink splash on breast makes in an immature male.
The Rose-breated Grosbeak at the feeder. The pink wash on the breast makes it an easy separation from Black-headed Grosbeak. Without the pink, the warm buffy breast and flanks might suggest Black-headed Grosbeak but the streaking is probably too coarse for any BHGR.
This is one the province's two records of Black-headed Grosbeak. It was photographed in St. John's on 4 Nov 2008. Note the very fine/faint streaking on flanks which easily confirmed this birds' indentity.
Tuesday, 4 December 2012
There isn't much light before work and none after. With the resurfacing of the Flatrock Brant and a Pine Warbler showing up nearby at Ken Knowles' feeder in Middle Cove it was a totally feasible thing to do on the way to work. The Brant was a piece of cake at dawn feeding on the marine algae. Ken's Pine Warbler however was busy elsewhere as were his Pine Grosbeaks that had been daily for the last number of weeks. One out of three is bad, but anything new on work day is pay dirt.
The Pine Warbler showed up several times later during the morning. Ken lured me back to his house with a promise of lunch while waiting/watching the warbler. I got the excellent lunch made by wife Kathy but didn't tick Pine Warbler, however Pine Grosbeak fell. And later added another species I forgot to tick during the madness of so many news one on the first day. So my total was 86 species by the end of the day.
Meanwhile Tingley and his mad dawgs birded all day in bird rich Albert County, NB. By darkness he had reached 85 species. The race is tight.
An even longer drive before work in the works for tomorrow. Another feeder stake out. Feeder stake outs are the worst form of birding but anything to Kill Tingley!!!
(BM 86) (Tingley 85)
The Flatrock Brant at dawn in overcast light and a long distant crop. How long can it survive here?