Friday 24 January 2014

The Snowy Owl Event - Supporting Proof of Our Worst Fears

Today Rene Pop of Texel, Netherlands sent me interesting information on Snowy Owls that relates directly to the fate of the Snowy Owls that took part in the huge influx on the Avalon Peninsula in late November/early December 2013.

We all wondered about the fate of these owls crowding the southeast corner of the Avalon Peninsula. The weekend of 7- 8 Dec was the peak of the wave as far as we could tell. 300 Snowy Owls were counted that weekend at Cape Pine and Cape Race.  We couldn't get out to these Capes after that time due to road conditions. It was not just food that was concentrating the owls at Cape Race. The barren rocky ground around the area is poor habitat for meadow vole.  Snowy Owls will eat small seabirds and we've seen the evidence found in past years at Cape Race, i.e. Dovekie parts in pellets.  But there was no way there were enough seabirds around Cape Race to support hundreds of Snowy Owls.

What ever happened to this Snowy Owl and numerous associates on the coastal barren along the Cape Race road after 8 Dec 2013?

We suspected the owls were on the run from food exhausted locations in the Arctic.We also suspected that since the birds, nearly all heavily barred (no white adult males noted) were inexperienced juveniles. We suspected Cape Race was a last resort land stop before taking your chances on going further south.  From Cape Race we saw a few owls coming in from the south and landing on the rocks with drooping wings.   Saw a group of three owls venture southward out over the ocean, one turned back, the other two kept on going.  Saw one or two others flying strongly high and southward.  

During that dramatic 300+ Snowy Owl weekend there was word of a number of Snowy Owls on the oil rigs 300 km east of Cape Race and various fishing boats at sea on the Grand Banks and off southern Newfoundland.  It just came to light today that a container ship travelling from NYC to Netherlands during the second week of December 2013 transported some Snowy Owls across the Atlantic.

The story is can be seen on site below and is translating from Dutch to English using Internet methods.  The crux of the story is: 9 Snowy Owls landed on the ship on 9 Dec when 50 miles south of Newfoundland. The ship looped southward toward the Azores to escape the storms.  The Snowy Owls on the boat was down to four birds when 50 miles off the coast of Spain on 12 Dec. Two birds were thought to have flown toward Spain. By 15 Dec as the ship approached the Netherlands the last two Snowy Owls flew off the boat.

The whole Story as translated from Dutch to English via computer is below.

On the web site address provided below there is a powerful picture of six desperate owls sitting together on a containers in the mid Atlantic.

"I'm on 15 november in Antwerp went on board as a passenger on the MSC Monterey, a container ship of 275 metres. The tour went to the East coast of America where we New York. After we had done the various ports to unload and load we left december 7, back towards Europe, Bremerhaven. The weather was already bad and soon throughout the trip we sat in a squall. On 9 december we carry about 50 miles of Newfoundland where we visit got from 9 snowy owls (2 males and 7 females). They appeared exhausted at the containers and then to sit close to each other, somewhat sheltered for the corresponding sea spray. Unfortunately we carry with a speed of 19 miles still further away from their habitat. The following days the weather was slightly better but the owls remained. So every now and then they flew shearing across the water looking for prey and then to land on the ship. Now no more close to each other, but when spread over the bow. 11 december, we come near the Azores and the temp. is 15 degrees plus. Not really a pleasant temperature for these owls and a heavy swell with 20 degrees of heel. You notice that they are impatient and hungry. december 12, we come close to Spain, it was the night, when the ship got rampage. The owls family, Right away 5 more, are still on board and the occasional flying there one or two a while brushed over the waves. The temp. today is 18 degrees and we swing Meanwhile 25 – 30 degrees, not enjoyable. december 14th, we sail along France (approx. 50 miles off the coast) and the family owls is getting smaller, hopefully they have reached the coast or have them chosen for another voorbijvarend ship. december 15th, we sail along Zeeland and the last owls leave the ship. I think the two were. These will certainly pick up the coast. So far my encounter with the snowy owls. "

Sunday 19 January 2014

The Way I Like My Starlings

I prefer my starlings between the legs of a raptor. 

Especially if the raptor is an adult Peregrine Falcon.

Finger licking good right down to the last drumstick. This Peregrine Falcon has returned to a tree on the north side of Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland that it used daily for a couple weeks in February 2012.  It regularly brought starlings to this perch to eat.

"After I wipe my bill clean do you think there is a chance of an after dinner mint?"  The white mark on the left side burn is a unique mark identifying this individual. Sometimes adjacent feathers almost cover it up.  The mark was present last year also.

Some of you may prefer your starlings like this. 

This Peregrine Falcon was enjoyed by many at Quidi Vidi Lake today 19 Jan 2014.  It does not seem to mind people standing under it taking pictures. This is a rare opportunity to enjoy a wild Peregrine Falcon very well and close in Newfoundland.  

Saturday 18 January 2014

Hanging Out Around the Lake

The complete turn around in the weather over the last two weeks has been remarkable. Two weeks ago who would have guessed someone would be canoeing in Quidi Vidi Lake this weekend. Quidi Vidi Lake is opening up at an alarming rate. We need the ice for resting gulls. The ducks are enjoying the spring weather and so are the people. I found myself in that same frame of mind for a couple hours at Quidi Vidi Lake on Saturday. I sat on a bench with the camera set up by the Virginia River mouth waiting for something to happen while enjoying the pleasant weather. The happenings were slow and subtle.

A sign of spring or at least the opening up of Quidi Vidi Lake is the appearance of Great Cormorants on the ice. It is only a late winter and early spring phenomena. They sometimes appear on other St. John's ponds but otherwise Great Cormorants are unheard on freshwater in Newfoundland. There were up to eight at one time present but through the comings and goings I figure a dozen or more used the lake while I was present.

This drake Wood Duck was a new arrival at Quidi Vidi Lake late this week. It is still learning the ropes on taking food handouts from people and prefers to hide up river when not doing that. Wonder where is was earlier this winter?

The St. John's winter population of 70+ Tufted Ducks were in a desperate position two weeks ago when the aeration system was turned off at Burton's Pond to conserve power during Blackout 2014.  They are laughing now, finding openings in the ponds around the city where they can feed like normal diving ducks, though they do not hesitate to accept food handouts. Eleven fed in front of me at Q V Lake along with a couple of Greater Scaup.

Finally after two hours of relaxing on the park bench there was a little payback in the form of a Peregrine Falcon. Actually I was hoping to see this bird since the species was missing on my winter list.  It flew directly to the roost tree used by the same bird last winter - a large poplar tree near the bandstand on north side of the lake. It totally tolerates people walking under it without them even knowing it is there.  The strong orange flush on the under parts and the odd little white mark on the left side burn confirms that this is the same bird as last winter.

Sunday 12 January 2014

COMMON SNIPE Confirmed - Ferryland, Newfoundland

The suspicious yellow snipe found yesterday at Ferryland was well seen today 12 Jan 2014, albeit during driving rain.  It was decided it was Common Snipe based on the following...

a) underwing showing bright white axillaries with sharply contrasting relatively thin black bars, and flight shots showing pale underwings with white bars.
b) tertails with wide pale bars creating almost a marbled pattern (pale bars finer in Wilson's Snipe)
c) relatively light barring on flanks
d) the overall yellow colour while probably on the extreme side for Common Snipe is unlike the colder overall colours of the Wilson's Snipe

A few pictures now. A few more later.

Common Snipe

Wilson's Snipe on left, Common Snipe on right.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe on left, Wilson's Snipe on right.

Common Snipe

Saturday 11 January 2014

Hot Snipe

Five photos of a possible Common Snipe from Ferryland, Newfoundland on 11 Jan 2014.  While more effective with comparison shots of Wilson's Snipe these quickies show the over all 'yellow' colour,  broad pale bars on tertials and relatively pale under wings.  Hopefully better photos and more information tomorrow.

Below are photos of the Tors Cove Common Snipe on 18 Feb 2011 being compared with Wilson's Snipe. Photos by Dave Brown. The Wilson's Snipe is the middle photo on the underwing composition and the right bird on the tertial comparison. 

Thursday 9 January 2014

A Sculpin and Two Shags

On 5 January 2014 I was parked on the South Side Road by the mouth of St. John's harbour. I was scanning for a Red-throated Loon that had gone on the missing list since a great west wind two days previous. Great Cormorants are a standard feature during the winter in St. John's harbour. I noticed one nearby was playing with a fish. A large fish.  I got the camera ready for the classic shot of a cormorant throwing its head back and letting a fish slide down its gullet. But the fish was a sculpin.  Cormorants are experts at swallowing sculpins down spines and all but this big? 

The adult Great Cormorant played with the fish for more than ten minutes.

The fish was more than it could handle.

The bright colours help identify the fish as a Four-horned Sculpin.

The fish would not go down side ways, right side up or upside down.

Then without warning an immature Great Cormorant popped upright underneath the adult with the fish. The fish changed hands so quickly it was not until I reviewed the photos that I realized the original cormorant had lost the fish. 
The young cormorant wasted no time getting the thorny fish down.  Did it hurt?

Wednesday 1 January 2014

January 1st 2014 - SLOW START

Usually on January 1st birders are rushing around town to cash in on left over rarities from the previous year to pad the start of the list for the New Year.  Often there are some pretty significant rarities to see. For instance on Jan 1st 2012 there was a Pink-footed Goose and Townsend's Warbler for the ticking.  Jan 1st 2014 had basically nothing important to look for. A Red-throated Loon in St. John's harbour is an odd winter location but the species is easy to tick if you go the right places in October.
I started the year at Cape Spear. There was a very meagre seabird flight with 20 Dovekies and small numbers of Common Eiders. A Northern Shrike along the road was interesting because they have been scarce this year.  After checking the harbour then some places for robins (none) there was nothing left to do but hang out at Quidi Vidi Lake. There were a couple of thousand gulls on the ice. They were all sitting down on their legs because the wind was so cold. There was not much change over.

This immature Northern Shrike was chasing Black-capped Chickadees by the Cape Spear road.

The wind was cold enough that even the Iceland Gulls had to sit down to keep warm.

This photo contains one Lesser Black-backed Gull, six Iceland Gulls and two Herring Gulls. The pale Iceland is pretty good example of the 'glaucoides' race. It has been hanging out at the west end of the lake.

Some adult Glaucous Gulls have nearly no winter head streaking. This one had faint streaking on the forehead between the eyes. Nearly all winter adult Glaucous have a pink base to the bill like this bird. The pink is replaced by yellow for the breeding season.

There were several carcasses of regurgitated Dovekies out on the ice. The larger gulls swallow them whole at sea and later regurgitate the left overs at loafing sites such at Qudi Vidi Lake. Other gulls often pick over the leftovers.

A distant Bald Eagle spooked the flock. This pictures shows a few examples of the wing tip patterns of Newfoundland Herring Gulls.

This Herring Gull is praying for a break, even a short break, from this prolonged cold snap.

There was a Boxing Day Sale on Great Black-backed Gulls at Quidi Vidi Lake today.