Saturday 27 October 2012

NE winds and Conception Bay seabirding Day 2

It was the third day of NE winds with periods of rain, drizzle, fog and even sun. Today it was RDF. John Wells and I started at Cape St. Francis hoping to see a concentration of seabird leaving the confines of Conception Bay. We arrived at 8 am and faced thick fog. We could barely see the surf breaking on the rocks. There were however flocks of Dovekies flying over the surf and out around the tip the Cape. Over the next hour and fifteen minutes we waited. The fog started to lift a couple of times only to come back. Vis was up to 300 m for minutes at a time. We saw hundreds Dovekie, about 100 Great and Sooty Shearwaters and plenty of kittiwake, some gannets and murres. Also a loose group seven jaeger, probably all Pomarine, some still had the spoons.

We moved to Kelligrews. No fog but the seabirds were way offshore. Good numbers of shearwaters and some jaegers but too far away to enjoy. We gave up on that and birded around St. John's. Lots of gulls at Bally Hally and Quidi Vidi Lake but still no sign of a Yellow-legged Gull yet this fall. We did however come across the first Common Gull of the season. It was in the gravel parking area near Pier 17.
Not seen in flight but aged as a 2nd winter bird based on the dull bill and legs plus small white tips to primaries, though there appears to be a very large mirror on P10. 
A closer inspection of the photo revealed the bird is BANDED. Hopefully it will stay around long enough to read the band. Previous banded Common Gulls and for that matter Black-headed Gulls in St. John's have been banded in Iceland.
Shortly after dropping JW off at home he phoned saying he'd just seen a NORTHERN LAPWING fly overhead while walking to grocery store.  Searched until dark but no sign.  Perhaps a hint of what is to come from the winds currently blowing westward across the Atlantic.

Friday 26 October 2012

Seven and half ton of Dovekie.

A ton of birds is a lot of individuals.  According to the Sibley Guide a Dovekie weighs 6 oz and I calculated that I saw 7.5 tons of them today. How many did I see? Let me explain....

October 25 on the Avalon Peninsula experienced wicked NW winds and driving rain.  In fact there were 100+ km on shore winds on the entire east coast of the island.  Expecting Conception Bay to be full of seabirds I arranged not to be at work on Friday and arrived at Kelligrews, Conception Bay near sunrise.  I fought driving rain and fog all the way there. But magically it all stopped when I hit Kelligrews. It became immediately obvious there were no Leach's Storm-Petrels. I was expecting many hundreds.  But there were shearwaters out there. Far out there.  With the scope I could see hundreds of Great Shearwaters milling about. There were 50 sitting on the water about 300 m offshore. Suddenly the NW stopped and a patch of blue sky appeared.  This was a signal for the seabirds to move.  Shearwaters got off the water and started flying north.  Reams of kittiwakes flooded out of the inner bay.  Groups of jaegers, mostly adults  closer to winter plumage than breeding plumage, started out as well harrassing kittiwakes along the way.  Then like someone turned on the tap flocks of Dovekies began flying by.  Now I made up my mind to burn the time it would take to get to Cape St. Francis at the lip of of Conception Bay where birds trapped in the bay by overnight winds and poor vis.

One full hour later I was standing behind my scope by the Cape St. Francis lighthouse. Now it was sunny and although there was a brisk North wind, it did not feel like storm conditions. It felt like being in the eye of the storm. There were plenty of birds flying by in a band 700-1000 m off the rocks.  I think the kittiwakes and Dovekie were on migration and concentrated along the shore by the force of the wind.  Using one minute sample counts I estimated 40,000-50,000 Dovekies flew past in the two hour period (09:30-11:30). There were good numbers of kittiwakes and all six species of Newfoundland alcid were present plus a few hundred shearwaters etc but it was the Dovekies that made the day spectacular.

At 700 m the Dovekies are dots on the water in the foreground with kittiwakes farther behind in this photograph.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Dovekies are Back in Force

Took advantage of a day off work and drove the Southern Avalon Loop (counter-clockwise). I escaped the rain in St. Mary's Bay and St Shotts but the wind was still very strong. Not a great day to find birds. No vagrants seen.  Of all things, Dovekies saved the day. There were a few flying east past Pt LaHaye in the WNW gale. I checked out Kielly's Cove wharf at Gaskiers thinking these Dovekies and other birds might be hugging the coast on their way out of the bay. Well just a few Dovekies were flying by that shoreline but around the derelict concert wharf were 15 or so Dovekies feeding away madly just like a day in January.  I parked the car on the wharf and pulled out the camera for a good hour of entertainment.

The dark skies and rough water bouncing the birds around like corks meant using at least ISO 1000. Now after reviewing the pictures at home I should have gone higher.  A few OK photos came out of the effort.  It was nice to see them up close again.  They paid no attention to the car parked on the wharf. I could see them flying under water along the floor of the ocean by the wharf.  The air was filled with their chirps.  Yes it felt like winter!
After a period of feeding the Dovekies stayed on the surface just long enough for half a breath before diving again. 

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Sick Black Guillemot

Abnormally tame birds are often injured or sick birds. Fighting their physical problem may compromise smart thinking and natural defenses. This Black Guillemot feeding by a walkway in Kelligrews today is an example of such a sick bird. There was no obvious sign of injury but the disheveled plumage and location are strong indications there is something not right with this bird. Such birds do not make prime photography models but it is difficult to resist taking a few snaps of the usually wary and difficult to photograph Black Guillemot in winter plumage. It was interesting to watch it feeding under water. It was poking its head into rocky crevices apparently looking for fish. It came up with two small, long skinny fish (blennies?) during the 10 minutes that I watched.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Some of the Rarer Ducks Around St. John's

The Wood Duck at Bowring Park was too tame this morning for my 300 mm lens. No matter how you look at a drake Wood Duck it is an amazing piece of work.
Tufted Ducks are present on the usual ponds around St. John's in good numbers already this fall. A count is due to see just how many we have so far. This presumed immature female was already semi-tame hanging around with the Black Ducks attracted to bread at the Mundy Pond dock 23 Oct 2012.
The drake Hooded Merganser was keeping a low profile at the back of Mundy Pond with the teal on 23 Oct 2012.
This is the Northern Shoveler that appeared at the back of Mundy Pond 23 Oct 2012. One glimpse of that profile and you know you got your bird. Otherwise, that body could be passed off as a female Mallard or some uninteresting duck if you were not careful.

Monday 22 October 2012

The Alder type Flycatcher at Renews, found by Anne Hughes and Todd Boland on 20 October 2012. The faint eye ring makes one fantasize about Willow Flycatcher (unrecorded in Newfoundland) but there is no way to be sure unless it sang which isn't going to happen in October.
Townsend's Warbler at Bear Cove, Avalon Peninsula on 20 October 2012

Sunday 21 October 2012

The weekend of October 20-21 2012 was rewarding for those that got out. Saturday morning was rare in being clear and calm. Good weather is half the job of finding rare birds on the Avalon. Saturday morning Ken Knowles and John Wells started at Cape Race, Anne Hughes and Todd Boland started at Renews and I started at south side of Renews and roadside to Bear Cove. Finding rare passerines in October is all about finding flocks of juncos, chickadees and robins. With these bird is often where the rare birds are found. Having a calm, clear and warm morning in October is going to make it easy to find active feeding flocks of common birds and increase the odds of finding a goodie. And so it was.

The Cape Race crew knew something had happened over night for they were finding Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers in the tuck. An immature Pine Warbler was in Ken's Forest just north of the lighthouse. A stray Bohemian Waxwing sat on the wires at Cripple Cove. A couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets were unusual for late October on the Avalon.

In Renews AH and TB found a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Dickcissel, Indigo Bunting and Red-winged Blackbird. On the other side of Renews I started with the first Northern Shrike of the fall giving an Indigo Bunting a serious chase through the alders. A late imm male American Redstart was among the juncos. I checked a few alder patches along the road toward Bear Cove without finding anything but Golden-crowned Kinglets, chickadees and a few juncos. Walked into the Bear Cove gravel pit. There was a little junco activity. I could hear chickadees but couldn't see them. Pishing was working only so-so on the juncos. Then I saw something yellow in a half dead larch at eye level. For some reason Palm Warbler came to mind, but when I saw black stripes, Prairie Warbler was next in the train of thought. When I got binoculars on it and it popped out into the open and I saw the trade mark blackish cheek on a bright yellow face I realized I was looking at a TOWNSEND'S WARBLER! While we look for these in November in the city, the species was hardly on the radar for late October at Bear Cove. A genuine surprise. I allowed myself a several second view before grabbing the camera. Lost valuable seconds before I realized the AF had been accidentally turned off. The warbler flew into the alders. I could see it through binos but it was too far in the nearly leafless branches for photos. Pishing had no effect. The warbler worked its way into the open feeding on alders on the gravel pit bank. It was a dot in the camera but I cracked off as many shots as I could. It went back into the thicker alders and followed the juncos up over the ridge and out of sight. Quickly I checked the photo results on the back of the camera. The light setting was correct. I could see the bird and it looked in focus. It was captured for the record. Then I realize the ISO setting was 3200! Whoops. I had forgotten to reset it to something more sensible after taking indoor shots two nights earlier. In hindsight it was a lucky mistake for the bird was in the deep shade and even with the crazy high ISO I was getting just 1/250 second for speed.

I followed the route of the bird up the hill. Over on the other side there were a number of chickadees and juncos. Birds were everywhere. Bottom line is - It was never found it again. It might have been one of the birds that flew across the road. AH and TB came by adding to the search effort but no luck during the two hours after the 9 am sighting. More searching in the late afternoon did not turn it up again. It could easily still be in the area. It was looking very frisky and alive. I am sure it will do well finding food in the fir and spruce trees with the chickadees and kinglets.

This was the 14th or 15th (probably 15th) record of Townsend's Warbler for Newfoundland. It was the earliest by 10 days. Most are first discovered in the second week of November. There are about 10 records for the Waterford Valley in St. John's, one in Rennies River St. John's, one in White Hills, St. John's, one for Cape Spear road near the 'blue shack', one for roadside north of Renews and now one for Bear Cove. Where and when will be the next? One thing for sure is there will be more Townsend's Warblers on the Avalon.

Other birds on Saturday. Four Cliff Swallows over Bear Cove. An interesting flycatcher in the form of an empidonax and looking like an Alder Flycatcher was found on the south side of Renews by AH and TB. I also saw and photographed. The eye ring is faint but there is probably no way to separate a silent Alder/Willow Flycatcher in October. Still the latest record of an Alder type Flycatcher for the province.

Friday 12 October 2012

12 Oct 2012 - The  Avalon Weekend Birding Forecast

A fast moving, fairly intense Low pressure moving through eastern Canada and over Newfoundland gave strong West winds over the whole island of Newfoundland today. A second Low sweeping in over night and through Saturday with strong and far reaching SW winds will plow through in 24 hours. On Sunday the cooler winds will be strong from the West.  These three days of strong airflows from the West and Southwest should bring a few interesting birds to Newfoundland. Not expecting any abundances of birds but this kind of set up at this fantastic time of year could produce a Blue Grosbeak/Indigo Bunting wave something like a year ago.  Possibly Cliff Swallows will appear in small flocks along the eastern edge of the Avalon.  It might be a few days or weeks down the road before we discover a major rarity that was in fact brought here by this weekend weather.  It is a good time to get out and be ready for anything.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Two Yellow-headed Blackbirds in a rose bush in front of Gord Hartery's feeder at Portugal Cove South on 10 Oct 2012 is the first double occurrence of this annual western vagrant in Newfoundland.This feeder is famous for attracting Dickcissels in fall and one survived through the winter of 2011/2102.

Tuesday 9 October 2012