Saturday 27 April 2013

One Birder's Trash is Another Birder's Gold

The rarity value placed on a bird's head is all relative.  The Bahama Woodstar in Pennsylvania last week was gargantuan on any rarity scale outside of the Bahamas. A bird common in your neighbourhood, say Black Guillemot, would be an off the rarity scale in the state of Iowa.   This introduction is how I explain to any mainland readers of this blog why Ken Knowles, John Wells and I left St. John's at 4:30 am this morning and drove 2 hours and 50 minutes to Sandy Cove, Eastport Pen to see a White-breasted Nuthatch.
It was the second record for Newfoundland. The first record only two years previous at St. Lawrence, Burin Pen was completely unexpected for a bird with a marginal record of migratory movements.  It is fairly common in the adjacent province of Nova Scotia.  The St. Lawrence bird was at least on a southward facing coast where a vagrant bird blown off the coast of Atlantic Canada or New England States might end up after a long flight over the water with a tail wind.  Sandy Cove is on the Eastport Peninsula facing the northeast. The Eastport Peninsula has a good list of European vagrants from  over the years because it faces the northeast, i.e. Euro Oyc, Common Redshank and several occurrences for Euro Golden Plover.  Word of a White-breasted Nuthatch appearing at a feeder in Sandy Cove on 23 April was almost passed off as too unlikely to be true until a photo arrived.
The rest is history in the making.  Why and when this bird ended up on the east coast of Newfoundland in April is incomprehensible at this time. It does not match any patterns. But there is no doubt the bird was there.  It did some calling which sounded like the calls commonly heard from eastern North America.
Any day you see the unexpected is a good day even if it is a White-breasted Nuthatch.
Newfoundland`s second ever White-breasted Nuthatch was just too rare not to see.

Monday 22 April 2013

Weekend Photos in the Fog

It was pure fog on Saturday when Ken Knowles, John Wells and I did our 425 km round the Southern Avalon Loop trip. This includes side trips to Cape Race, St Shotts, Pt LaHaye etc - the full Loop deal.  We completed the Loop in record time because it was so foggy we could not see.  Photo opportunities were near zero in fog.  A pair of ptarmigan on the Cape Race road posed nicely in the pea soup and would have brought out the camera if it wasn't in the trunk.  Three female  Harlequin Ducks were rather close in Cripple Cove and the camera did come out for those.  Photoshop has away of dispersing fog but can't really fix the low light conditions under a mile of cloud and fog.  The Greenland White-fronted Goose was in place at Biscay Bay and was closer than last time but the fog and drizzle was drifting between us and the goose being driving by a gale of SW wind.  We were heading home up the north side of the Loop when we came to the photo stopper of the day.  It was too close for my telephoto lens so Ken took the picture below with his scenery lens.
What does it mean? Our guesses were 1) someone is having a baby, 2) someone is getting a warm welcome home after six weeks at sea, 3) it is someone's 40th birthday.
Lawn art near the little community of St. Mary's on the southern Avalon Peninsula on April 20, 2013. Forty bras waving in the wind.  What happened here???  Photo by Ken Knowles. 
Three female Harlequin Ducks swimming out of the inner most part of Cripple Cove near Cape Race.  Harlequins are tough to get photos of in Newfoundland because they are generally feeding at exposed rocky points or over shoals where you can not get with a camera. This photo opportunity was challenged by thick fog and low light.  

Thursday 18 April 2013

Greenland White-fronted Goose at Biscay Bay, Newfoundland

At noon April 16, 2013 Cliff Doran found a Greater White-fronted Goose at Biscay Bay (east of Trepassey), Avalon Peninsula.  Early the next morning Ken Knowles, Jared Clarke and I drove the 1 hour, 40 minutes to the to site and found it right away. It was in the fields on the south side of road that are fenced off for a few cows in summer and a vegetable garden - in other words the first fields west of the big bridge.  The bird was very leery of our car as we stopped it on the road still 200+ meters from the bird. Generally it was wary of our car but got more used to us parked on the shoulder of the road as more traffic motored by on the road.  A large truck caused it to flush a short distance. We watched it for two hours from the car as it dug around for green grass in the largely brown field.  It stayed on the far side of the fields meaning photos were long distance and cropped a lot to show here.
The orange cast to the bill is a good sign for the Greenland race of Greater White-fronted Goose. There are other differences from North American races that I haven't researched at this point. The Greenland race is by far the most likely race to occur in Newfoundland & Labrador. There was already a pair at Twillingate for two weeks in early Apri 2013. Greenland White-fronted Goose is not quite annual in the province. A number of the previous records were from hunters in fall. Spring records are much rarer than fall. Nearly all, if not all of the fall birds have been immatures.

The above four pictures are the Biscay Bay, Greenland (Greater) White-fronted Goose on April 17, 2013

The last photo is a flock of adult (white faces) and juvenile (brown faces) Greater White-fronted Goose taken in late Sept 2009 near Red Deer, Alberta.  Note the pinkish bills of the adults. This is the type of Greater White-fronted Goose (A.a. frontalis) that breeds in the Canadian Arctic and is an abundant migrant through central Canada, with small numbers straying east to Ontario during migration.


American Golden Plover - 4th spring record for Newfoundland & Labrador

On April 17, 2013 en route to look for a White-fronted Goose, Ken Knowles, Jared Clarke and I found this American Golden Plover at Portugal Cove South in the roadside pools on the north side of the highway. It was in full winter plumage, with a dark cap and strong pale line through the eye and no hint of golden anywhere on the bird. We knew it wasn't a European Golden Plover, the most likely Golden Plover of spring, in Newfoundland.  Later also saw dark gray under wing coverts.  Wasn't really sure at the time why it couldn't be a Pacific Golden Plover but expected it show some kind of golden in the upper parts.
This was the fourth record of American Golden Plover during spring in Newfoundland & Labrador. All have been in a similar dull plumage and all late April/early May. Previous locations are Pt Amour, Labrador, Renews and Blackhead. According to THE SHOREBIRD GUIDE (O'Brien et al.2006) one year old American Golden Plovers are often in full winter plumage in April but rapidly attain a plumage close to breeding in early May.
Below are three photos taken in the dull light of early morning.  It is not a plumage we know this bird by during fall migration Aug-Oct through the province. All European Golden Plovers seen in spring in Newfoundland have been in breeding plumage.


Monday 8 April 2013

Checking in on the Pink-footed Goose

The Pink-footed Goose has become a permanent fixture at Bowring Park, St. John's after it arrived during Christmas 2012. During the first week of its visit there was some concern that it would not be able to switch from grazing on grass to bird seed handouts.  After a week of digging in the snow for grass it began to accept seed handouts and thankfully the rest is a happy history. It survived the winter. 
This morning (7 April) I went to view the bird for the first time in over a month.  Most Pink-footed Geese arrive on the Greenland breeding grounds in late April and early May I think.  This means our celebrity goose could depart at any time.  I wonder if its wing muscles turned to mush after a winter of hardly flying the length of itself.  It is a long flight north to Greenland from the Avalon.
The Pink-footed Goose eyes me from its favourite loafing location across the pond.

Most of the the Black Ducks have left the cramped winter quarters of Bowring Park. Dozens of Northern Pintail remain. The males were piping loudly and strutting their stuff.   

The Pink-footed Goose was enticed to swim across the pond when I started throwing out handfuls of bird seed.  The ducks got into a feeding frenzy but left after they thought all the seed was gone.  The goose remained and got an extra handful or two of seed.  I managed to back up far enough to get the whole goose in the picture. Is this good bye?


Sunday 7 April 2013

Sunday Photos - Common Gull, R b Merg, Mixed Wigeons

Sunday was bright, very windy and cold.  Birded from the car only.  Went back to Chamberlains, Conception Bay to check on the sewer outflow. No Black-headed Gulls this morning but there was an adult Common Gull. It still had winter head streaking.  It was probably not one of the three that wintered in St. John's based on wing tip pattern.
Common Gulls away from St. John's and Bellevue Beach (Trinity Bay) are relatively few in Newfoundland

A few Red-breasted Mergansers were feeding in the rough water off the beach at Chamberlains.  They were shy about coming into close to shore.

Back in St. John's there were two pairs of wigeon feeding at the pond in front of the Health Sciences Building.  There was a pair of Eurasian Wigeon and mixed pair male American paired with a female Eurasian.  Such pairings are seen every spring yet we never see any hybrids wigeon in St. John's (or was there one once? I didn't see it if there was).  Eurasian outnumber American Wigeon by a small percentage in St. John's.  Generally the wigeons pair up with their own kind. They are partially segregated during the winter, often forming little groups of mostly their own kind and hanging out at different locations during the rough winter season.
A classic looking pair of Eurasian Wigeon that were feeding in association with the following pair.  

The brownish head (on the rich side in this individual) of this female Eurasian Wigeon distinguishes it from the ashy gray head of female American Wigeon (none present).  It showed a strong bond with the male American Wigeon. 

The adult Eurasian Wigeon is a beautiful bird up close.


Saturday 6 April 2013

Breeding Plumage Black-headed Gulls

Adult Black-headed Gulls, locally common on the Avalon Peninsula October to May, take on a whole different appearance in breeding plumage. The white head with the black spots of winter turn into a dark brown head with accented white eye crescents. The crimson bill and legs of winter turn brownish-red, appearing dark in dull light or at a distance.  We don't see them for long in this plumage as most of the adults disappear from the sewer outflows during April and fly back to Iceland. Since they wait until March to acquire the dark head we have only 4-6 weeks to enjoy them in full breeding plumage. Of course there are small breeding colonies in Newfoundland (especially Stephenville Crossing) where breeding plumage birds can be seen during summer. With Pier 17and access to the sewer outflow now closed off to all terrorists and birdwatchers, seeing the adults in breeding plumage is not so simple.  On Saturday there were four adults flying around the Chamberlains, Conception Bay sewer outflow.  I took these snaps there.
Gull Love.

The Odd Couple

Winter can be hard on ducks that try to overwinter in St. John's.  The large numbers of Black Ducks, Mallards and Northern Pintails that are fed on bread and bird seed do OK. Sometimes rare ducks are attracted to the wintering flocks in St. John's. This past winter a Northern Shoveler present since fall decided to stay for the winter. In January a female Gadwall suddenly showed up at Quidi Vidi Lake.  Neither of these ducks went for the bread and bird seed offerings.  The Gadwall sometimes joined the wigeons and grazed on the grass when it was exposed.  The shoveler hung out at various locations along the Virginia River.  During a cold spell both the Gadwall and Shoveler ended up in the sheltered saltwater cove at Quidi Vidi Village.  Two equally desperate ducks found each other.  They fed on the algae growing on the slipway and around the wharves.  Somehow they survived the winter. Through February and March the two were rarely seen apart. As spring approached the female plumaged Shoveler showed signs of moulting into a male plumage. They were an official 'pair' of ducks.
I saw the pair at QV Lake on 5 April. The shoveler is a long way from a good spring plumage presumably because it was malnourished during the winter and couldn't afford the extra energy required to grow frivolous pretty feathers. That should change now as more natural food comes on line. The question is will these birds mate and produce young?  This hybrid combination does happen occasionally in the wild.  Both of them being lost bird maybe they'll just stay around St. John's and nest.

This female Gadwall and male Northern Shoveler are an inseparable pair.  Will they nest around St. John's? What will the young look like?