Tuesday 20 November 2012

Pink-footed Goose - the only Goose in town

I swear it was pure coincidence that I had a semi-free day away from a prolonged stretch of environmental monitoring of lichen deep in the Hell Woods of the Avalon Peninsula. It coincided with Lisa de Leon finding Newfoundland's 2nd autumn record of Pink-footed Goose in the Goulds on 19 Nov. It was feeding among crows in a short grass agricultural field. Others had looked for it without success on 19 Nov.  I lucked into it right away near noon on 20 Nov.  My car had not come to a complete stop at the top of Cox's Lane when through the open window I heard a goose and soon located it flying high over a field.  It went down out by highway 10.  I drove back to the highway and found it feeding in a field among crows, rock doves and a few ducks.
It fed among a close knit group of crows and a busy flock of Rock Dove. With no other geese to associate with it found a way to blend in with the crows.  It was surprisingly inconspicuous as it fed on something in the field that was also of interest to crows, rock doves, starlings and a few Black Ducks.

From afar the Pink-footed Goose was anything but conspicuous among the crow roaming the same  field.

Using 700 mm of camera power plus cropping and you get to see what the Pink-footed Goose looked like close up.

According to memory this was the 9th Pink-footed Goose known to have occured in Newfoundland but only the second in fall.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Clarenville Ducks

My work location (Long Harbour) combined with heavy rain cancelling the work resulted in me getting some free birding time on the Isthmus of Avalon and Clarenville. It was good to check out these poorly covered areas but there were no surprises this time. Clarenville is definitely too good to be left unbirded. The concentration of ducks in the area of Clarenville, Shoal Harbour and Georges Brook is too important to be ignored. Today I kept a total count. I know the geese were missing and birds like Common Merganser and Common Goldeneye which become numerous later in winter also avoided my view.

Total Counts

Canada Goose - 7
American Black Duck - 330
Mallard - none
Northern Pintail - none
American Wigeon - 1
Greater Scaup - 310
Lesser Scaup - 14
Tufted Duck - 5
Red-breasted Merganser - 25

The lack of Mallards and pintails, both common among the ponds in St. John's, shows a more true picture of the relative abundance of these ducks throughout the island of Newfoundland and pretty much Labrador as well. There were domestic Mallard-like ducks present at one place where people throw bread to the ducks, but nothing I thought was a wild Mallard.
The unmarked bright yellow bill identifies the sex of this American Black Duck as a male.
The mottled dark olive bill means this Black Duck at Shoal Harbour (Clarenville area) a female.

There are three Tufted Ducks among this group of Greater and Lesser Scaup by a  favoured sewer outflow in Clarenville.  The flat topped squared off head and more solidly dark back are distinctive Tufted Duck traits.  The immature Tufted Ducks in fall may or may not show a trace of a tuft on the back of the head.  Can you find the three?


Monday 12 November 2012

The November Empidonax Challenge

Sometimes you almost don't want to see a late empidonax flycatcher. In Newfoundland where only the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is common we lack extensive field experience with the other species. On Monday Paul Linegar and I were birding the Southern Shore when Paul found a empidonax flycatcher at Renews. It was in the most unlikely of places for a vagrant bird - in the black spruce and larch trees backing on the main shorebird beach. We spent nearly two hours trying to get views of the bird in the thick tangled stand of 'trees'. Getting views was tough and a photo seemed an impossibility but I got lucky and managed 15 shots in a matter of five seconds shooting through a myriad of branches with the bird back lit. Pure miracle the bird is in some kind of focus.
We think it is a Least Flycatcher because of the squat little size of the bird, bold eye ring, bold white edges to the tertials, short bill with mostly yellow lower mandible and short primary projection. The back was grayish with a slight greenish tinge. The breast was white-ish with a pale gray 'vest'. It wagged or flipped its tail constantly. It didn't call much but Paul heard it give a few 'whit whit' notes.
Is it possible to know from these photos the bird is not a Dusky Flycatcher? Does anyone reading this blog have an idea on identification?

Other birding during the day turned up a late Blue Grosbeak at Bear Cove.  We concentrated on the Renews to Cappahayden area during the morning and early afternoon.  Lots of junco activity. one Tree Sparrow and a Lincoln's. A movement of White-winged Crossbills plus one Common Redpoll.  No warblers or other vagrants until lucking into the Yellow-throated Warbler near Anne Hughes' house just before dropping PL at home thanks to seeing Mark Maftei standing on the side of the road with binoculars.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Happiness is not a Redstart in November

November is warbler month in St. John's. A lot of rare warblers have been found in the city during the month. The Rennies River and Waterford River - streams/creeks flowing through the city are the two proven areas. Living in the Waterford Valley it is partly my duty to put in an effort to check for warblers. There are fewer warblers these years and fewer people looking so the end result is maybe 1/4 as many finds as we had during the start of St. John's November Warblering some 30 (!) years ago. This morning I started in the lower most Waterford Valley where the river is partially tidal. I walked up the trail nearly to Bowring Park and then back down the other side of the valley. Three hours and 15 minutes of hunting warblers produced just one warbler. The high west winds roaring down the valley reduced the radius in which birds could be heard. However, I encountered some nice feeding flocks of juncos and chickadees where a warbler would have been comfortable.
The immature male American Redstart was by the Waterford Lane Bridge in the backyard of Waterford Manor feeding among a large flock of juncos and a couple of Black-capped Chickadees. While a very attractive bird to see in November there was sadness attached knowing this bird is probably not going to ever leave the Waterford Valley.
This American Redstart puts on a brave face ignoring its inevitable fate if it doesn't change its mind and migrates out of here.
This typical warbler habitat in November, bare branches, dead leaves and a chain link fence.

Brant in Flatrock

Yesterday Lisa de Leon found a Brant at Flatrock. Newfoundland is well east of the narrow route of Brant migration from the Arctic to the US east coast. The western end of Bay of Fundy (Grand Manan Is, NB and Cape Sable Is, NS) are on the edge of the travel corridor. Another population of Brant migrate from the Canadian high Arctic to Ireland. One of these birds banded was shot in Newfoundland a few years back. So it is difficult to know where a Newfoundland Brant comes from.

Today I saw the Brant feeding on a green coloured algae growing on the flat rocks sloping into the sea. There is no guarantee it will survive the hunting season in this area especially if it gets flushed away from the beach which may be too close to houses for people to hunt.
 The Brant was grazing on a green coloured algae growing in the tidal zone.

 Oh-oh, the sea is receding, does this mean a tsumani? .

I hate it when this happens.  Yet twice the Brant took a tumble being caught in a wave.

 That was nothing, lets do it again.
And on the very next wave it did happen again.  There were fairly big seas today. The algae it was feeding on is available only a low tide but was still being immersed by the bigger waves when I was there.

Saturday Cape Race to Trepassey

Saturday's forecast of high west winds was not enough to hold back weekend birders. Ian Jones, John Wells and I started at Cape Race just after dawn. There was good numbers and a nice mix of seabirds feeding on something off Cape Race. There were several hundred Great and Sooty Shearwaters milling about, scores of Razorbills and Common Murres on the water, smaller numbers of Thick-billed Murres, Dovekie and Black Guillemots, kittiwakes and plenty of gannets. Also two minke whales.
Wind made passerine birding difficult. The west side of Trepassey was partially protected from the wind. We spent some time birding the roadside alders. There were plenty of juncos and chickadees and we didn't come up completely empty handed finding a late Red-eyed Vireo and a moderately rare Pine Warbler. The Pine was with juncos by the Welcome to Trepassey sign at west entrance to town.
We tried other alder beds toward Bear Cove without any other unexpected finds.

Red-eyed Vireos are routine in the Avalon alders Sept-Oct.  Any in November are considered late. This one looked a little scruffy and exposed in the naked alders.

The male Pine Warbler is the fourth individual of the fall on the Avalon Peninsula.  This is about par for one season.  The brilliant yellow is clouded out by numerous twigs between the end of the camera lens and the warbler.  

Friday 9 November 2012

Perfect Day for November Warblering

Calm and misty with +16 C on 9 November in St. John's is magical warbler hunting weather. Had the day off work. Spent four hours in east St. John's checking out the proven good areas for November warblers (lower Rennies River, Winter Ave, Kelly's Brook and Forest Ave). I found just one warbler - a Yellow Warbler with chickadees at the lower end of Rennies Mill Road. A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher partly made up for the paucity of warblers. It started out at Kelly's Brook which is still a jungle of green leafy willows. Lisa de Leon appeared and we followed the gnatcatcher for maybe 45 minutes all the way over to Pringle Place. And I followed it back to Rennies Mill Road. Perhaps it went back to Kelly's Brook. The gnatcatcher was with 3 Black-capped Chickadees when first found. But the time I left it, it was with a flock of ten chickadees. Following the flock as it cruised through the private properties was like follow a fish net for warblers. Any warblers in the area would be inclined to join in with the feeding flock. Except for the Yellow Warbler present for just ten minutes no other warblers appeared. However, Paul Linegar also on the lower Rennies by the 'Big Willow' had three warbler species - Nashville, Wilson's and Orange-crowned. I went through this are twice without detecting a warbler. There are still lots of leaves on the shrubbery. Just goes to show how easy it is to miss birds in yards where you cannot go. What else is out there? Well there was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak also.
Let this be the start of the snowball as people go look for the gnatcatcher and these warblers. Other birds are there to be found. The riches of the Waterford Valley remain untapped.
A quick trip to Pier 17.  Not many Iceland Gull crowding out the sewer outflow making feeding conditions good for the Black-headed Gulls. There were about 80 around the outflow this afternoon. No Bonaparte's or Common Gulls.  One juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull.
The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was far more routine as a vagrant to the Avalon in the 1980s & 1990s. Now it is easily missed on the year list of even the most active vagrant hunters.  It is no stranger to November in St. John's.  They do well feeding on tiny insects and aphids even in cold weather up to early December.  It will probably hang out with the chickadees for a few weeks yet.

It has been a good autumn for Rose-breasted Grosbeak on the Avalon Peninsula. They regularly occur in November but usually leave before December 1st.  This one was feeding on the berries of what looked like Deadly Nightshade. 

Black-headed Gulls were numerous at the Pier 17 sewer outflow.  About 80 were actively feeding around the outflow this afternoon. Later the sheer volume of Iceland Gulls will make it more difficult for the Black-heads to access the `food`.

A crisp looking juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull sneaked in among the Iceland Gulls for a few morsels of `food`. 

Thursday 8 November 2012

Weekend Birding Outlook

My weekend will be a four day event, Fri-Mon. Planning to bird St. John's a lot, the Southern Shore and Cape Race to St. Shotts. There is an excellent looking weather system giving us strong East winds at the moment (Thurs a.m.). This very large Low will move over and past us tonight and temperatures will soar to an extraordinary +15C with strong South winds on Friday. Later in the day the winds go strong SW and by Saturday to strong West.
This is the kind of weather system that should bring Newfoundland some southern birds. Cattle Egrets are prone to late fall displacements during such storms. The best time for Cattle Egret in Newfoundland is late October to mid November. Another key bird that could get caught up in this system is Cave Swallow. November is the month for this species in northeastern North America. There have been a number of Cave Swallows reported recently from the coast of New Jersey north to NYC and maybe farther north. Good numbers also reported in Ontario so there are many of them present with reach of this storm. The only Newfoundland record was 13-15 November 2008 at Long Beach near Cape Race. We are due for more. Hard to beat Long Beach for location especially because of the abundance of flies over the kelp. Trepassey Beach would be another excellent location for a hungry swallow in November.
Who knows when the Townsend's Warblers that we see every year or so during November actually arrive. Most were found during the middle two weeks of November. This storm might be the right kind to help another one of these to St. John's. Any Yellow-throated Warblers are more or less expected in November. This seems like the perfect storm for bringing them to us if they do indeed arrive in November.
Speaking of November warblers in St. John's! We haven't been looking much so far. Time to start!! Good birds are out there gleaning aphids etc off the now bare branches of the Norway maples. Watch your chickadees and juncos. It can be hard boring work pounding the sidewalks and peering into private backyards but the rewards can be high. There ARE good birds out there waiting to be seen by us. Go find them. During the next four days I will being doing my part of sidewalk birding.
This is an exciting time of year.

Just Bird

Cattle Egrets are regular late fall vagrants to the Avalon Peninsula. This one was at Bay Bulls on 30 Oct 2010
Cave Swallow is a distinct possibility after large Low pressure areas move through in November.  This is the province's only Cave Swallow to date at Long Beach, Cape Race.  It was enjoyed by everyone during its three day stay 13-15 Nov 2008. It was found by everyone's favourite Lighthouse Keeper, Cliff Doran.

Saturday 3 November 2012

Ash-throated Flycatcher bagged.

Ash-throated Flycatcher was a long time coming to my line of sight after birding nearly four decades in Atlantic Canada. Thanks to Jon Joy for noticing Newfoundland's second ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER in his garden in Bonavista. Actually it was first glimpsed on 29 Oct but was thought to be a Western Kingbird. It was glimpsed once or twice more until finally Jon had a good look at it and secured photos of it sitting on the fence of his back deck on 31 Oct. Photos reached the outside world where it was confirmed as an Ash-throated Flycatcher. The news spread like wildfire among the Newfoundland birding community. The next day (1 Nov) Ken Knowles, John Wells and Paul Linegar drove up to Bonavista. They found it and secured some excellent photographs. A rare commitment at work prevented me from going until Friday.
 Anne Hughes, Chris Brown and I drove the 3 1/4 hours to Bonavista in the rain on 2 Nov. We arrived at Jon's house just ahead of the line of rain. It was very windy but so warm. There is always a sinking feeling when you arrive at the location of a rare bird and don't see it right away. The wind and dark damp sky was not ideal for finding a passerine in an open area. We stalked the area carefully peering into dense ornamental shrubs thinking it might be seeking refuge from the weather. The circle of searching grew wider as hopes of finding this bird dimmed. I headed toward a large abandoned cinder block building looking for a place to relieve my bladder. The north side was out of the wind and view from Bonavista residents. I was standing waist high in the alders enjoying the release when I glimpsed a bird fly into the alders 15 m in front of me. I moved forward and a yellow breasted bird with a reddish tail popped up flying a few meters before landing on the top of dead stick. IT WAS THE BIRD. Instant relief [again]. I tried to maneuver for a full view but the bird flew up. It shot past my ear and headed toward Jon's house 120 m away. The rest is history.
We had the bird for 30 minutes, though it was in sight for less than half of that time. It fed in Jon's and the neighbour's yard. It was very active and spirited. It would sit on a perch for a short period then zip off to a new perch. It was often in the open and acting more like a kingbird than I expected from a Myiarchus flycatcher. Every time it moved we had to relocate it. It was seen picking objects (insects?) off a fence and ate one small caterpillar.  Photo opportunities were brief and not close.  The binocular views were good.
The pale ashy-gray throat and breast blending into the faded yellow lower breast and belly is the first thing eastern birders want to see when separating the Ash-throated and Great Crested Flycatcher.
The Ash-throated Flycatcher flew to ground in this raspberry patch and found food items.
Here the flycatcher has a small caterpillar that it bashed several times on the fence before swallowing.

Sometimes it perched in a tree looking around at the foliage like a vireo would do.
Jon and Brenda found it amusing to see us creeping around their property looking for the Ash-throated Flycatcher.