Saturday 23 May 2015

Happiness is Two White Spaghetti Noodle Plumes

Arriving in Renews on my way back home from a birding trip down the Southern Shore I was startled to see an egret on the tidal flats near the main road.  My initial reaction without thinking it through was how did the long staying Snowy Egret that I'd seen just an hour ago at Biscay Bay get here to Renews so quick.
The Snowy Egret living at Biscay Bay and Portugal Cove South for the last two weeks was alive and well at Biscay Bay Saturday morning with its ever brightening yellow lores.

I put my binoculars on the bird just as the wind blew out its two long spaghetti noodle white head plumes. THIS WAS A LITTLE EGRET ! ! !  A very pleasant surprise especially since the bird was not there in the morning.

This was the 11th Little Egret for Newfoundland, a semi-regular vagrant with a huge aura of excitement around it.  It stood still for about 30 minutes before suddenly springing into feeding mode. I am guessing it was tired from a hard flight from somewhere (Europe? North America?) in the strong SE to SW winds during the previous 15 hours.  

The egret caught many sticklebacks in the tidal shallows which it had trouble swallowing at first but seemed to get better at it over the next two hours.  Photography of a glaring white bird in the brilliant midday sunlight is the biggest challenge of digital photography, and a challenge I have not mastered if it is even possible to master. The following are some of the better photos after a first run through the hundreds of shots this evening.  Maybe more chances tomorrow in less demanding light.

Little Egret at Renews, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland  on 23 May 2015

Thursday 14 May 2015

A dull Snowy Egret in Spring

Photo: 14 May 2015, Biscay Bay, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland

A somewhat off the grid looking egret.  The black bill and black legs leave only one obvious answer in most of North America, a Snowy Egret with a few parts missing. Where is the bright yellow lore, the feathery crest and why are the legs less than a shiny ebony?

Another look at the same bird confirming that the classic Snowy Egret bright yellow lores and crest of any kind is not there.

Another picture which thankfully shows the golden slippers characteristic of Snowy Egret but also Little Egret. The lighting is good for revealing the actual colour of the lores: a dull dirty yellow but still no crest.

Here is a Snowy Egret photographed at Virginia Lake. St. John's Newfoundland 24 July 2006. Relief at last. A Snowy Egret looking like we expect them to look after years of looking at them in the book. You don't even need to see the yellow feet with bright yellow lores and shiny black bill and legs like this.

A Little Egret at Little Harbour East, Placentia Bay, NF May 21 2013.  It shows the classic dual white ribbon head plumes and bluish lores.

The photo presented of May 14 2015 bird do not readily fit either the confirmed Snowy Egret or a Little Egret pictured here.  To complicate matters, Little Egrets at the height of breeding season can show yellow lores.  This bird is not in high breeding plumage since it does not exhibit much in the way of head plumes and the bill and legs look a dull uneven dullblack.  Any yellow in the lores of a Little Egret should occur only during the height of the breeding plumage at which time the two  head plume ribbons would be evident.

If you watched the bird long enough rudimentary feathery head plumes blew up in the wind totally supporting the identification as Snowy Egret. But over all an unusual individual Snowy Egret to see during spring in Newfoundland where both Snowy and Little Egret are nearly equally rare in spring.


Thursday 7 May 2015

GARGANEY GIFT in St. John's, Newfoundland

Sometimes you just feel it in your bones that there is a certain rare bird out there waiting to be seen. As I drove to Lundrigan's Marsh in east St. John's I was thinking about the May 2009 Garganey that turned up at Quidi Vidi Lake then spent the next few days hiding out in Lundrigan's Marsh. That bird showed up during very strong west winds. Yesterday there had been strong west winds.  Garganeys are a European/Asian species.  It is thought the the good many records from the interior of North America in spring are birds that wintered in North America arriving via the Alaska.  It is also possible this long distant migrant could have crossed the Atlantic during migration from Europe to Africa last fall. Maybe... well you can speculate until the cows come home. Garganey like the Ruff has a difficult to explain pattern of occurrence in Newfoundland and North America. Unlike the Icelandic vagrants, the Garganey (and Ruff) does not need NE winds to carry it here. For the record, Garganey is fairly rare in Iceland.

This morning when my scope landed on a silvery gray duck with a broad icy white stripe sweeping back over a mauve coloured head it was as if this Garganey was supposed to be there.  It was the fifth record of Garganey for Newfoundland. All of them being spring drakes between the dates of 30 April and about 20 May. The bird was present all day and viewed by all who went for a look. It was a few hundred metres away from the viewing platform. There was no way to get closer to the bird as the marsh is surrounded by fenced off industrial land.  Photo opts were very poor due to distances and shimmer in the air.

Garganey at Lundrigan's Marsh, St. John's, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland 7 May 2015

Garganey with mixed flock of duck after being flushed out of vegetation by an eagle. Also in picture is one of two suspect hybrid Common x North American Green-winged Teal and a pair of scarce in Newfoundland Northern Shovelers.  

Garganey was strikingly silvery-white when flying with the teal and other ducks.

The Garganey foraged almost continuously and often out of sight among the vegetation.

The Garganey at Quidi Vidi Lake on 15 May 2009 was exceptionally cooperative for a couple of hours after arrival before finding out about Lundrigan's Marsh just over the hill.