Wednesday 30 January 2013

The Super Chat

The Yellow-breasted Chat that has been living at a couple of bird feeders on Roche Street in east St. John's has been viewed by more people than any other chat in Newfoundland. More people got this individual for their first Yellow-breasted Chat than other Newfoundland chat.  It has survived a two week period where the temperatures never reached the freezing point.  For a couple of consecutive days the high temperature was only -7C.  It survived nights of -13C.  Eve Roberts and Deanne Peters of Roche Street have been keepers of the chat providing it with a constant food source of suet, peanut butter, seed etc.  Didn't hear if it was seen today but it was looking strong yesterday (29 Jan) when I went to view it. It was only my second sighting out of 8 visits.  It keeps its chat attribute of staying out of sight whenever possible.  Attached are photos from 29 Jan.
The Yellow-breasted Chat sampling a bit of white millet in this feeder.

The chat has protection from hawks and cats behind the lattice around a back deck at both houses where it visits feeders.
At this location all it had to do was partially emerge out of the cover and fill up on a special peanut butter, crushed nuts, ground raisin and suet mixture.
Here it is after it slipped away unnoticed to a bush in backyard five houses up the road.  It may have thought it was difficult to see in the depth of a shrub  Or maybe it was absorbing some sunlight on this day when the high temperature was only -7C.  It shone up like a light bulb in the bright January sun.

I walked up closer as it sat there behind a chain link fence.  In life the brilliant breast is almost orange in the centre.   The Yellow-breasted Chat is pure tropical in appearance. 

In 2011 a chat in St. John's and another on the Burin Peninsula survived until mid February.  We are all pulling for this chat to be the first to get through the entire winter. Then what? It will have to migrate south in spring to find more of its own kind.  Pine Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler are the only two other species of warbler known to have successfully overwintered in the province.  An early April Orange-crowned Warbler in Renews a few years back was thought to have been more likely an over winterer than an early spring overshoot.


An impressive large and fast moving storm system will hit Newfoundland over the next 36 hours.  The far reaching southerly winds will be direct from Florida to Newfoundland for a while on Thursday.  A storm like this in April might bring us egrets and Indigo Buntings.  In mid winter there is not much migrating. HOWEVER!  There are a number of mid winter records of Purple Gallinule in Newfoundland and elsewhere in Atlantic Canada.  There are also records of mid winter influxes of Killdeer.  Something interesting could happen out of this.  Hah - for that matter,  geo-locater carrying Bermuda Petrels have been tracked coming into and leaving Newfoundland waters in late winter at such a high rate of travel they were thought to have been travelling around on tail winds produced in the intense Low pressure areas not near as crazy as the one about to descend on us. Dream on.
One of these Purple Gallinules would look pretty good in your driveway after the warm southerly blast on Thursday.  Call me if it happens!

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Weekend of 26 & 27 Jan 2013 Birding With Euro Gullers

Weekends are paradise for active birders forced to work during the week. This past weekend of 26 & 27 Jan I was birding dawn to dusk (barely 9 hours at this time of year) with visiting Gull Watchers from Europe - Chris Gibbons from Scotland and Peter Adriaens and Jan Baert from Belgium.
Most of Saturday was spent watching gulls at Quidi Vidi Lake.  The recent cold weather forced the gulls to bath and drink in the remaining open water at the two stream entrances to the lake.  There was constant change over of gulls at the Virginia River river mouth.  Much of the day was spent here watching the variety of gulls at the Virginia River mouth.  No rare species of gull were seen but a few hybrid combinations were seen. 

The restricted open water at Quidi Vidi Lake concentrated the bathing gulls. The Great Black-backed Gulls muscled into the prime bathing site where they could stand  up in the shallow water to bath and preen. 
A number of hybrid gulls were sighted. This is suspected to be a hybrid Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull. In life the back colour was about half way between a Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gull. The legs were a milky pinkish /yellow colour with a slight cast of yellow.  Note than P10 is not fully grown. it is very late for an adult large gull to still be growing the outer most primary. 
The pale outer primaries being the colour as the back are strong indications that this is a hybrid Great Black-backed x Glaucous Gull.  This feature is viewable in flight and at rest.  This is the typical look of this regular hybrid combination in 1st winter plumage in St. John's during the winter.

An adult gull is presumed to be a hybrid GBBG x GLGU.  It was a large gull about the size of a large GBBG.  The upper parts colour was just a little darker then a Herring Gull.  The wing tip pattern was similar to an adult GBBG in having a long pure white tip to P10 and a thin subterminal bar on P9.  Typical adult GBBGxGLGU hybrids in eastern Newfoundland look much like a GBBG but with a white wing tip like a GLGU.

For a change of scenery from the city the visitors needed a trip down the Southern Shore on Sunday.

Bohemian Waxwings have been very scarce this winter because of the lack of berries.  A small influx has be present in eastern Newfoundland in the last week or so.  These were in Ferryland. 
 A day total of six Wilson's Snipe was impressive for late January. These three were in a ditch beside the road in Ferryland. They provided a good study for those checking out the differences between Common vs Wilson's Snipe. 
Chris and Peter spend time looking at the features of borealis Common Eiders present in fair numbers at St. Shotts. 

  A good size herd of 48 caribou were on the St. Shotts road.


Monday 21 January 2013

FIELDFARE in Reidville (near Deer Lake)

Word got out today about a FIELDFARE photographed on 19 Jan 2013 at Reidville in western Newfoundland near Deer Lake.  Gerard & Charlene Butler have seen the bird three times feeding in their apple tree since mid December.  Obviously this is no where near a stake out bird.  There are apparently a good number of other apple and fruiting trees in the overall area.  The home owners are going to bait their trees with sliced apples. We are waiting for the good news. 

It has probably been ten years since there has been a Newfoundland Fieldfare.  It used to be more numerous then Redwing - by far. Now the status of the two species has been reversed.  Way back in Dec 1986/Jan 1987 up to four Fieldfares were seen together among the masses of robin flocks in St. John's. We don't know how many were present during that event. Those were the good old days.  Absence makes the lust grow stronger. Fingers crossed that the habits of this bird will be discovered and we can drive the 7 hours to Reidville.
These killer photographs of a FIELDFARE were taken in Reidville, Newfoundland on 19 Jan 2013 by Gerard and Charlene Butler.    

Let the Gulling Season Begin

The Gull Watching season got off to a slow start this winter for a couple of reasons:  1) the abundance of non-gull rare birds to look for over Christmas and into the New Year kept birders busy and 2) because some of the regular gullers are basically MIA.  Over the last week with a couple of bird tours in town looking for rare birds like Yellow-legged Gull, Quidi Vidi Lake was getting a good going over several times per day. No YLGU or Slaty-backed Gulls were found.  Just as the bird tours leave a crack duo of world class gull aficionados has arrived in town for ten days.  They are Chris Gibbons of Scotland and Peter Adriaens of Belgium. These guys use their holiday time to travel the world with the purpose of seeing gulls. Usually they work independently but this time together.  They are here to photograph gulls. You'll probably see them if you visit Quidi Vidi Lake between now and Feb 5. 
No gulls will go by unnoticed at Quidi Vidi Lake even if sleeping on the wing.
Flight shots of Iceland Gulls will be a main target for the visiting gull watchers.
Hopefully Bald Eagles scavenging the occasional dead gull or just loafing on the lake will not become a hindrance to gulling.  This one on Saturday evening, having frozen young Glaucous Gull for supper during a snow squall, cleared the lake of thousands of gulls with its arrival.
The otters are more of an extra entertainment value than a hazard to gulling at Quidi Vidi Lake but the gulls are certainly wary of its presence. This otter ate three large brown trout within an hour on Sunday at the Virginia River mouth. It left the heads for the gulls.


Saturday 19 January 2013

Day III to Day V of Wings Tour

The tour is over. Everyone went home happy.  The Pink-footed Goose was everyone's first highlight. Second highlights including a) seeing Dovekie swimming under water b) close looks at drake Tufted Ducks, c) lessons in aging Iceland Gulls, d) Red-throated Loons, e) Black-headed Gulls.  Like all January birding visitors they left St, John's happy.
Larry French (Montana), Pieter Poll (Colorado), Larry Cartwright (Virginia), Vicki Sandage (Kentucky) and Jean Wilson (Texas) pointing to their # 1 bird of the trip - the Bowring Park Pink-footed Goose. 

Having swallowed its pride it was forced to join the winter imprisoned waterfowl of St. John's.  The goose has a good chance of getting though the winter.  It has already become a focus of the serious daily duck feeders at Bowring Park.

It is pretty easy to please birders living with a lifelong Iceland Gull void.  That need was easily fixed and then some at the Pier 17 Sewer Outflow.  All these gulls are Icelands. 
2nd winter
1st winter
The  small swarm of bread-eating Iceland Gulls at Quidi Vidi Lake provided live text books for explaining the look of 1st winter, 2nd winter, 3rd winter and winter adults. 
The rarest bird found during the tour was this Wood Duck near Renews on at Southern Shore tirp. Not surprisingly it didn't impress the tour participants that much.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Day II of Wings Tour

The weather on Day II of the Wings tour was so nice again that we had to make the first stop of the day at Cape Spear. Cape Spear is a beautiful place no matter how many hundred times you go there. On a calm day it is magical.   There wasn't a huge amount of action. A few Dovekies among the numerous Black Guillemots on the water. Number of Great Cormorants on the wing. Distant Common Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks.  The swell was lower today allowing the Purple Sandpipers to get close enough to the slimy algae zone to feed for the first time in days.
The flock of Purple Sandpipers flying around the tip of Cape Spear was estimated to be 60 individuals but a count  on computer screen revealed 104!   Gulls and shorebirds in flight are generally underestimated.  If you don't believe it - count 'em.

The rest of the day was spent in bird rich St. John 's.  Spent time at Quidi Vidi Lake. While waiting for a mega gull to show up there were lessons on gull identification and aging. 
A 2nd winter Iceland Gull?  The wing patterns and body plumage back up the 2nd winter theory. There is so much gray in the back and the bill is showing a yellowish tinge, could it be a delayed 3rd winter?  Gulls are rarely perfect examples of the image conjured up in our minds from reading the classic gull guides. 
Ducks were an afternoon theme.  A little hole of open water at Kent's Pond had 24 Tufted Ducks.  I've not seen Tufteds in this tiny hole of water before. The purple sheen on the heads of the adult drakes shone brightly in the sunlight at point blank range.  The HSC pond had the wigeon flock. There were 34 wigeons (25 Eurasian and 9 American) grazing on the grass like cattle in a hay field.  Excellent comparison views of the ages and sexes.  A trip to Kelly's Brook was required for a close look at a Common Teal.  The willow forest seems like an odd place to see teal.  The one drake was there.  There are others elsewhere in town but less predictable to whereabouts.
This Common Teal living in the depth of Kelly's Brook was a crowd pleaser.  Its call sounded like an American Green-winged Teal.

Monday 14 January 2013

The Pink-foot is happy as pig in ....

After the initial scare the day after The Storm and not seeing the Pink-footed Goose at Bowring Park, it was good to know others found it the next day.  Five members of a WINGS tour group were especially happy that it was present  today. It was a new for them all.  We fed the goose mixed bird seed which is eagerly ate among the swarm of ducks.  The goose has manners and is not intimidated by the seething mass of voracious ducks.  It even ate the seed off the backs of Black Ducks.  Amazing how quickly it has become a 'pond duck'.  In the fields of Goulds back in November it was difficult to photograph at a distance from within a car.  The future of the goose for the next 3-4 months looks bright.
The Bowring Park Pink-footed Goose gives birth to a female Eurasian Wigeon at pond side.
The WINGS groups was kept happy with a rare sunny, warm and nearly windless day at Cape Spear.  Fifty Purple Sandpipers were sun bathing on the rocks while waiting for the big seas to level out.  Quidi Vidi Lake  provided plenty of entertainment from out of province birders not used to the abundance of Iceland Gulls.  There were also three Common Gulls plus some Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls for the viewing. An adult male Tufted Duck with a little group of females preening in the shallow waters was a hit.
We scored excellent views of a couple of Dovekies feeding inside a wharf at Flatrock. Lots of photo opts.  Good study of 1st winter and adult Great Cormorant resting on a rock.  It was a good start to the five full days of tour birding.

Sunday 13 January 2013

Storm Deaths

The storm of 11/12 January in eastern Newfoundland was the worst blizzard in recent years. St, John's airport recorded NE wind gusts to 111 km/hr and about 55 cm of snow though they admitted at the airport they were have trouble getting accurate snow fall recordings in that wind.  Winds at Cape Race and Cape Pine topped at 130+ km/hr. 
24 hours after the storm I came across this young Hooded Seal in a parking lot in Quidi Vidi Village.  Great chance for photos of this uncommon animal.  Carefully I stalked it from the car until I realised it was dead.  Must have died in its sleep. No signs of trauma.  A storm waif?

There numerous reports of Dovekies showing up in backyards, driveways, roadways etc on the northeast Avalon Peninsula on the day after the storm. The prolonged powerful winds were too much for many Dovekies.  A surprising number were found dead on Holyrood beach at the very bottom of Conception Bay.  Ian Jones estimate 120+ dead on the beach with hundreds more very tired birds resting in the harbour just after the storm. The birds had no place to go after hitting the bottom of the bay at Holyrood. Some were seen flying inland. More food for the ravens.  I checked out the carnage two  days after the storm. There were still some birds in the bay and dozens of carcasses on the beach. In all my years birding in Newfoundland I've never seen anything like this where the birds died in such numbers.
Dovekies dead on Holyrood beach.  The birds in high tide line of ice and debris on beach may have died in the water and then washed up on the beach.  The birds on the rocks appeared to have crawled on the beach alive but then died from storm related exhaustion.
All was not death and carnage. There were still plenty of healthy looking Dovekies that survived the storm. This bird was diving so vigorously it was hardly up long enough to get its picture.