Monday 30 November 2015

Weekend Warbler Haul and By-Catch

The November 28 & 29 weekend is still prime November Warblering in St John's if there has been no periods of cold weather. But a cold front to pass over St. John's with rain just after dawn on Saturday was a threat to warblering.  I was expecting it was going to be a gull watching Saturday morning but thought I'd take a chance before it rained and walked five minutes down Waterford Bridge road to the graveyard and try to see the Blue-headed Vireo found by John Williams and Dave Hawkins early in the week and seen at least once afterward. I'd seen only one later Blue-headed Vireo in Newfoundland.

Blue-headed Vireo was the first bird I saw and one of the few birds present. Nice views of this attractive species. It seemed to be getting insect life to eat. An Orange-crowned Warbler joined it in a rhododendron bush.  The dark sky was threatening but thought maybe I could get in a quick pish at St. Mary's school.  Got lucky with a Northern Parula at the top of the hill. A scarce bird at anytime in eastern Newfoundland there have been only a handful of November sightings. Went to check out the make shift feeder that someone has put up near the old folks home. Suddenly I was looking a THREE Orange-crowned Warblers in one little green bush growing out of a chain link fence. Then a/the Parula flew in and joined them. Then to the right there was a late Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Black-and-white Warbler.  Things were happening so fast I had to be careful not miss anything. No pishing required. There were lots of chickadees, juncos and goldfinches present as well.   I tried to follow the nucleus of the flock. Warblers petered out. The rain started. I had to be satisfied with that even though the stink of mega was thick in the air.

The Blue-headed Vireo in the Waterford Bridge Rd graveyard. 28 Nov 2015

The flashy and flighty little Northern Parula at the top of the trail by St. Mary's School. 28 Nov 2015

One of the most routine warblers during November in St. John's but just try to find one outside the tall Norway maples of the city anywhere else on the Avalon in November. It never happens. 28 Nov 2015

The rest of Saturday was rained out. Went to bed that night planning a full on assault of the Waterford Valley for Sunday. Sometime in the middle of the night there was a change.  Began thinking about the non-warbler megas that could be lurking down the Southern Shore not being seen. Flycatchers, sparrows etc. I ran with that instead. Got to Cape Broyle at dawn on Sunday.  It was eerily dark and very very still. For the first couple or three hours it was magical getting the birds out. They wanted to see you. So many sparrows, juncos by the swarm, Golden-crowned Kinglets were vermin. You could cut the rarity stink with a knife. Finally a sign. Two bright Baltimore orioles with a large junco flock behind the church in Calvert.  And then the most intense yellow ever on a yellow-breasted chat in the wet alders appeared. The beautiful mossy green back and the snow white spectacles framing the surprised bright black eyes. No chat ever looked better but it it a relatively 'common' rarity.
This photo does no justice to the views through binoculars of this Yellow-breasted Chat at Calvert.  29 Nov 2015

By 11 am the sun started breaking through the clouds as the air cooled off even more. The magic feeling for finding birds was over. The birds were still there but harder to dig out. Never did find the mega I was hoping for. A  Grasshopper Sparrow near the end of the day at Cappahayden was at least the first one of the year in the province. The only other warbler was an Orange-crowned Warbler. Meanwhile I had been in texting contact with John Wells who found three new warblers in east St. John's a Yellow-throated, Prairie and Wilson's.  It made me wonder what I would have found if I'd spent the day in the Waterford Valley. I was still happy to have put in the effort down the Southern Shore where for certain there are some extremely rare birds just waiting to be found. Oh why are there five long days between weekends!

It was a big day for finding sparrows with late November high  totals of three Lincoln's and eight Swamp Sparrows. This Lincoln's Sparrow at Cappahayden was watchful of the three bullying Swamp Sparrows it was associating with.

Bird of the day was this Grasshopper Sparrow on Murphys Lane.  Sometimes it pays to be lazy and pish from the car. I doubt this shy bird would have exposed itself if it could have seen all of me. As it was it present only briefly. 29 Nov 2015

Only my second warbler of the day but the 5th Orange-crowned Warbler of the weekend.  It ended a pretty good weekend of birding. 29 Nov 2015 at Renews.

Sunday 22 November 2015

November Warblering - A Lost Passion

Waaaaaaay back in 1983 on November 16th a handful of birders in a euphoric state stood in front of maple tree on Waterford Bridge Road that contained seven species of warblers. There was an 8th species of warbler found in the same yard. Six other species of warbler were seen that day in St. John's.  A ridiculous 14 species warbler were seen on November 16, 1983 in St. John's, Newfoundland. 

Let's see if I can remember the list Townsend's and Pine were both new for the province that day. The other bird in that yard was a Prairie Warbler only the 2nd provincial record. A Hooded Warbler seen but found the week before was a provincial first. There were multiple Wilson's and Cape May Warblers. There were some Black-and-whites, one Common Yellowthroat,  a Yellow or two, Yellow-rumped, 2 Yellow-throateds, probably Palm, Nashville I think, and certainly Orange-crowned.

Thus began a the phenomena of November Warblering in St. John's. That was over three decades ago. There have have been changes over those three decades.  There seems to be fewer individual November warblers.  Even when allowing for the less pointed effort by November Warblering Booldhounds there definitely seems to be fewer individual warblers happening in November. Part of this could be fewer vagrant warblers to start with. Maybe smaller numbers of warblers during fall migration overall. Maybe fewer of those mysterious November aphids on the abundant Norway maples of St. John's that might entice warblers to linger in the city.  

Modern day birders hardly know the reasoning behind pounding the sidewalks and listening for Black-capped Chickadees between the houses. It isn't fun birding as you know people are in the houses staring out at you on the sidewalk with a finger ready to dial 911. But the rewards can be huge as the die-hards know striving to drive another shot of warbler-rarity into their veins.  But those die-hards are now getting old and losing momentum. Most of the people present at the 1983 Warbler Tree are now sitting on the birding shelf collecting dust or have fallen off the shelf. The newer birders never really understood what it was all about.  The act of November Warblering in St. John's is but a lost art.  

Two of the twisted nails from the 1983 Warbler Tree were out warblering today.  John Wells (The  1983 Warbler Tree discoverer) and moi among the first on the scene in 1983, were out on this exceptionally beautiful sunny November day.  JW found a Pine Warbler and Wilson's Warbler around Long Pond. He birded all the way down the Rennies River and Kelly's Brook without another warbler score.  Yours truly spent four hours in the Waterford Valley in the morning. The only warbler was a Pine Warbler just outside the chain link fence bordering the vast yard containing the 1983 Warbler Tree. I think I could recognize the tops of the famous tree.  Later in the afternoon I added a nice looking Nashville Warbler and an Orange-crowned Warbler to the list in the Waterford Valley graveyard..

You know things are different when the bog standard Black-and-white Warbler which was the bog standard boring warbler to find at all the best warbler hunting areas are now getting hard to find.  It was some sort of relief today that five warblers of four species were found but I fear the bottom has fallen out of the effort.  The passion of November Warblering in St. John's is all but dust the wind.

A dull immature Pine Warbler behind St. Mary's School on Waterford Bridge Road. It was about 5 seconds flight from the famous Warbler Tree of 1983 where the first Pine Warbler for Newfoundland was found by John Wells in 1983. We've learned so much since then.  Pine Warbler is now found annually.  

It is always exciting to pish in a warbler with the chickadees and juncos in November for the odds of it being a true mega rarity are high.  There is always a little disappointment when you identify it as a relatively regular November warbler such as this Orange-crowned even though it is an interesting looking bird

Looks are often quick with photo confirmation never a guarantee.  Thanks to modern day capabilities of digital photography the picture above can be turned into the picture below.

A Nashville Warbler is a medium quality November Warbler because it is a fairly rare breeding species with no stake out locations to find it at any season.  It is one of the more regular November Warblers in St. John's. 

An enlarged crop of the bird on the same branch as below.

Nashville Warbler is an OK warbler to see in November but there are bigger rewards out there RIGHT NOW !!!!! 

Sunday 15 November 2015

Mid Nov Meandering in the Rain

Sunday 15 Nov 2015 was wet and cold but not to waste free time I went car birding around the bay - Conception Bay and Trinity Bay. A few photos happened along the way, nearly all from shelter of car.
What! A female Barrow's Goldeneye so close? Not so quick. The bill is yellow and the forehead steep. But things are not right. The bill is too big and the wrong shape, It lacks the shaggy crest look. Below you can see the bird in more relaxed mode with a typical rounded head of a Common Goldeneye. The bird with it also had a brownish bill unlike the gray bills with yellow tips in winter plumage. Need some research but I wondering if these are first year males. They have rather white necks and breasts. Beware of the yellow bill, go for bill and head shape.  photos from Bay Roberts.


A Sanderling on the beach beside the road at high tide in Spaniard's Bay.

The three hybrid American Wigeon x Mallards are back at Harbour Grace for the 4th? 5th? winter. This is a long distance crop of two of them.  No real need of it since they are tame and will come for bread but I had no bread and it was too wet to get out of the car. You can barely see the yellow leg of the bird on the right.

During a 20 minute break in the rain at Bellevue Beach I got out of the car to get as close as I could to some gulls across a channel and surprised a Red-throated Loon resting in a quiet cove out of the northerly gale.  I was partially conceal behind a rose bush while the loon checked me out with its head held up high to sniff the air.

The targeted highlight of the trip was the 1st winter LITTLE GULL at Bellevue Beach.  Ed Hayden had found it here on 11 Nov.  Little Gull is rare enough in Newfoundland with an average of less than one per year and nearly all them being 1st summer rat heaps June to Aug. A fresh fall 1st winter Little Gull was treat.  I was not going to be able to walk out the beach so was relying on picking it out with the scope across the channel from the town site.  I had misjudged the tides as per usual for Bellevue. While the mud flats were never exposed while I was there, a tide rip developed in the channel and the small gulls were feeding on small fish (sand lance). This included the Little Gull, 10 Bonaparte's and 5 Black-headed Gulls.  Of course they hugged the far shoreline but I got as close as I could by the graveyard and had some nice scope views and managed some record shots in the failing late afternoon light between rain storms.

Little  and Bonaparte's on the the beach with a Black-headed Gull over head.

The black pattern on upper wing is similar to kittiwake.

The Little Gull was feisty and often participated in chasing gulls that had caught a sand lance. Here harassing a Bonaparte's.