Monday 17 June 2013

500 km From Shore

Might as well be in a homemade raft as a modern day seismic vessel when it comes to internet connection 500 km NE of St. John's, Newfoundland. This posting is tenuous at best.  Day Six of 35 at sea.  Standard fare seabirds so far.  Skuas are the standard highlight of the standard fare on an average day anywhere off eastern Newfoundland in summer.  South Polar is most numerous and the easiest of the two skua species to identify with certainty in the summer months. So far just two but it may be just a little early. Their main target species, the Great Shearwater is out here in numbers so the skuas can't be far behind.  The three commonest species are Great Shearwater, Northern Fulmar and Leach's Storm-Petrel.
A classic looking South Polar Skua showing the solid dark chocolate back and smooth pale neck.

Same SPSK directly over head looking directly down for any lunch option.
South Polar Skuas are more sociable than Great Skuas and never miss a chance to chase one another.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Franklin's Gull at Witless Bay June 8, 2013

Saturday was a nice day to be out but it was a fairly lack luster Avalon Loop trip birdwise until I heard about a Franklin's Gull at Witless Bay being found my Chris Ryan. Witless Bay was right on the way home.  Got to the little tidal cove on the west side of the road across from the Needs convenient store. Nothing there. Got out of the car for a more thorough look and it flew right in over my head and landed on the sand. Amazing, a genuine Franklins Gull. An adult in perfect plumage.  Too good to be true. Franklin's Gulls used to be more regular in Newfoundland, especially in early May. Recently it is seen in the province maybe every second year.

It began rapidly poking its bill in the water. Photos would show it seemed to be getting little crustaceans (gammarids).   Chris Ryan showed up and we watched if for 20 minutes before it flew back over the road.  The tide was rising.  The following are some of the pictures of this beautiful gull.

Short-tailed Swallowtail at St. Shotts lighthouse where there were many on the dandelions. Why are they most numerous at lighthouses?

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Alberta Teal - Cinnamon and Blue-winged (May 2013)

The most exotic duck in Alberta to an easterner is the Cinnamon Teal.  The intense BBQ red colour of the drake is over the top.  Seeing the drakes is mind blowing but looking at the females is mind expanding. The age old challenge of separating female Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal remains.
The female Cinnamon Teal is most confidently identified when guarded by a possessive male.

When you come from Newfoundland where even the Blue-winged Teal is on the rare side, it is difficult not to stare at the stunning male Cinnamon Teal.

The standard field marks (quite a judgemental challenge in a real life situation) listed in the bird guides for separating female Cinnamon from female Blue-winged Teal are richer brown with less distinct pale lore spot, eye line and eye ring and a longer more spatulate bill. This picture shows what species??? Yes - Cinnamon.

Another view of the same female Cinnamon Teal. The long spatulate bill and plain face look a little more obvious in this photo.  A feature I have not read about so may not be a valid field mark is that female Cinnamon Teal usually (always?) show broader pale edges to the wing coverts and individual flank feathers.

A female Blue-winged Teal with its mate at Pakowki Lake.  The dark eye line, contrasting pale lores. and shorter bill are apparent.  Also note the finer, narrower pale edges to the wing coverts and flanks giving a trimmer, neater look to the Blue-winge Teal.

The male Blue-winged Teal is not a bad looking duck in the spring.

Monday 3 June 2013

Weekend of Mini Rarties

The first few days of June has a history of producing excellent rarities on the Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland. For example Black-necked Stilt (St Shotts), Pacific Golden Plover (Cape Race), Brewer's Blackbird (Long Beach) and Violet-green Swallow (St. John's).  Something significant happened this weekend. There was a distinct influx of birds from the southwest that presumably came up on the rather gentle SW winds originating from the mid East Coast of the US. Most notably were swallows - record numbers of Purple Martin (3) and Barn Swallows (dozens).  While there was lots of evidence of an influx of birds from southwest of us there was no big rarity - at least not yet. I am expecting something to be reported from a feeder or a marsh over the next 48 hours that will send us running.
Here is a summary of the numerous mini rarities found over the weekend.
PURPLE MARTIN - one Cape Race followed by three at nearby Long Beach on June 1. There is perhaps an average of 1-2 seen per year in Newfoundland and sightings of more than one at a time are exceptional.
CHIMNEY SWIFT - one at Renews June 2 feeding low over harbour with swallows.  (a handful seen in the province in a typical year)
Barn Swallow - several dozen observed over the weekend including 25! at Renews on the morning of June 2.  The cold weather concentrated swallows desperately looking for flying insects. This one of the largest concentrations of Barn Swallows for the Avalon at least. Barn Swallow is a very regular spring and fall stray to the  Avalon but it does not nest on the Avalon and in fact might not be any more than a sporadic breeder anywhere in the province - usually Codroy Valley.
Eastern Kingbird - one Cape Race road, two Renews.  Regular late spring stray to Newfoundland. Rarely breeds in province, maybe just the one breeding record.
Indigo Bunting - two Cappahayden feeder, one Ferryland feeder. Regular spring and fall vagrant.
All these birds are 'southern flavour birds'. We need that bigger rarity to cap it all off. It is out there somewhere.  Below are some photos of the weekend highlights. Note the poor photo quality as is often case when getting the actual rarity in the spur of the moment.
Purple Martin at Cape Race in the early morning fog.
The three Purple Martins taking a rest from flycatching at Long Beach.  They are probably first year males in this mixed and messy plumage.
Chimney Swift at Renews feeding among a flock of Barn Swallows low over the harbour.  The temperature was about +6C and insects were scarce.
Two Eastern Kingbirds at Renews going pelagic in search insects over the warmer rocks ahead of the rising tide.
One of the Cappahayden Indigo Buntings. You don't really need to see the head to identify this bird!
Not part of the weekend event but a highlight for several groups of birders was finally connecting with the elusive Tundra Swan that has been using the main pond at Portugal Cove South as part of its daily routine for the last week. This is true Newfondland rarity with barely a handful of records.