Monday 28 December 2015

December 28 - Around the Bay

Daylight is short in late December.  I've had a hankering to know if the November Little Gull was still present at Bellevue Beach. Daylight is so short that low tides were happening under the cover of darkness. I knew it was too much to expect the tide at Bellevue would fall far low enough before darkness for the small gulls and what ever else might be using the Bellevue Beach mudflats to be out. But it as only going to get worse during the week so I took a chance and combined it with some birding at the waterfowl hotspots on the western side of Conception Bay.  It was an OK day with few surprises. Below are some of the highlights that got photographed along the way.

The Avondale Bufflehead flock was 13 strong. Here are most of them. There was another five at Clarke's Beach.

Knowing a Wood Duck overwintered at Brigus the last two years I decided to look for it.  I found it right away with a group of ten Black Ducks.  I was lucky because the little flock of ducks swam into vegetation flooded by an unusually high tide and would have been out of sight with a casual scan from the road.

The drake Barrow's Goldeneye was at Spaniard's Bay but too far out there to photograph. There is always a flock of Euro Wigeons wintering in Spaniard's Bay. Not entirely sure where they feed but at high tide they can sometimes be found at the Spaniard's Bay 'mini park'.They flew in just as I arrived. 12 EUWI and 1 female AMWI.  Is there any dabbling duck more attractive than an adult drake EUWI?

Can you spot the female American Wigeon in this and the above photo. The light was very low in the shade of the stream and the wigeon swam quickly and nervously in and out of the stream mouth where numerous tamed Black Ducks were present. Most of my photos were badly out of focus.

Unlike the wigeons, this hybrid American Wigeon x Mallard, one of three present annually during the winter season at Harbour Grace is bread trained.

I spent nearly two hours at Bellevue Beach town watching the tide fall hoping at least a little feeding frenzy might occur at the outlet. Nope. The mudflats also were not even beginning to be exposed by the time I had to leave so we do not know what might be overwintering at Bellevue Beach this year. I didn't leave completely empty handed.  There were three adult Bonaparte's Gulls and a Black-headed Gull flying about the harbour and occasionally stopping to feed among the seaweed.

This Dunlin was a little bit of a surprise on the rocks at the Graveyard Point. I am surprised more shorebirds do not try to over winter at Bellevue Beach.  

Friday 25 December 2015

Christmas Morning Birding Tradition

At our house it is tradition on Christmas morning.that Bruce checks out the gulls in St. John's harbour and at Quidi Vidi Lake after the presents under the tree are opened and while the turkey cooks. This year it was a little different in that I started with a walk to the graveyard five minutes down the road to check out the meal worm feeder setup that Gerard Hickey has got working.  Amazingly a Blue-headed Vireo has discovered it as well as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Pine Warbler. It was an beautiful morning at +5C with sun and light winds. There were little insects flying around. It took 40 minutes sitting by the feeder before each of the three target birds made their visits but all three birds stayed in the area for a further 30 minutes. An adult Sharp-shinned Hawk made a close pass.

The Blue-headed Vireo in a flower pot, just one of the places where meal worms have been placed.

The vireo is friendly and used to people when they sit still and watch.  This the latest BHVI in Newfoundland and I believe only the third ever in December. It was found in mid November.

I didn't know Ruby-crowned Kinglets would go to a bird feeder. This one goes after the suet mixture as well as the meal worms. They occasionally show up on Christmas Bird Counts in Newfoundland but I don't think there has been one in January.  This bird should make it and maybe much farther into the new year.

Pine Warblers are no strangers to bird feeders and can survive a Newfoundland winter with a good steady supply of nourishment.

Gull watching at Quidi Vidi Lake was spoiled by two Bald Eagles so there were few gulls except for the semi-domesticated gulls standing shamelessly among pigeons waiting for handouts from people feeding the ducks. 

Two American Coots are with the ducks at the Rennies River mouth. This one taking advantage of the bare grass before the next snow fall.

Some of the 70+ Tufted Ducks sitting around wondering what to do now that the lake has been mostly frozen for the previous 48 hours.

The wigeons depend on bare grass for food.  Miracle how they survive the St John's winters. They were happy to see the thin snow cover vanish in the warm spring like air. This drake Eurasian Wigeon needs all the nourishment it can get to grow into a better looking 1st winter plumage.

Wigeons are often a little wary but a group 2 EUWI and 5 AMWI were well tamed today at the west end of the lake. This typical brown-headed female Eurasian Wigeon provided some great views.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Time for a Change of Targets

Hunting autumn vagrants in Newfoundland is not over yet but the focus is switching to early winter vagrant hunting. This includes the  highly exciting European Turdus thrush (Euro Turd) hunting.There is an excellent crop of dogberries awaiting any turdus thrushes that comes our way.

It has been too long since the last Redwing.  For several years in a row its status had been lowered to nothing more than a year bird if you lived on the Avalon Peninsula. It was still an exciting chase looking for a Redwing but we got spoiled with too many successes.  After a three (4?) winter drought we have regained a fresh hunger to see Redwing.  We are coming into a good situation for Redwing = lots and lots of dogberries, and there were some NE winds over the autumn season. So far we are having trouble seeing even American Robins but that is normal. It is often in January when St. John's and the eastern Avalon becomes hot for robins.

Redwing became the Euro Turd of choice in Newfoundland through the 2000s as Fieldfare dropped completely off the map. In the late 1980s and 1990s Fieldfare was the normal Euro Turd to look for and Redwing was the Super Star.  Modern day Newfoundland birders(post 2000) have not seen Fieldfare in Newfoundland but have seen Redwing.  This changing of the Euro Turds in Newfoundland corresponds to the change in status of these birds in Greenland.  Redwings quickly built up a small pocket of breeders in the southwest (?) part of the country exactly the same time the species began regularly showing up in Newfoundland. Meanwhile the tiny breeding population of Greenland Fieldfares diminished. 

We await to see what happens this winter. If it is another Redwing blank then it will be time to find out why. Maybe the Greenland breeding pocket vanished as quickly as it built up.  

Redwing on 23 Jan 2007 near the Fluvarium, St. John's

The same Redwing as above. The species is shy.  
Usually the dogberry crop does not last much beyond mid February as the birds and wind take care of the fruit.  Then the Robin flocks have to leave Newfoundland taking the Redwings with them but in the winter of 2007/2008 there were a few berries available through the winter and a small number of robins and this Redwing got through the season.   (Quidi Vidi Lake, 9 March 2008)

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Odds & Ends early Dec 2015

The first nine days of December have been fairly winterish on the Avalon Peninsula but not extremely cold or wickedly windy.  A record snow fall of 30 cm on 4 Dec was not what anyone was hoping for this early.  With the temperatures hovering around the freezing mark some struggling insectivores are still hanging in.  A Blue-headed Vireo in the Waterford Bridge Road cemetery is the most unusual species currently present. A Black-and-white Warbler and sometimes a Pine Warbler are hanging out with it.

The Blue-headed Vireo manages to survive up to today. This picture taken on 1 Dec 2015.

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet that was also part of the cemetery gang hasn't been seen since for a week.  Here it was on 1 Dec 2015.

There have been three different Wilson's Warblers seen this month on the Avalon Peninsula. This one was on the lower Virginia River just up stream from the Boulevard on 6 Dec 2015.

With the capping of the Pier 17 sewer outlet in St. John's, the Common Gull is going to become a rare gull unless they get a taste for bread like that Ring-billed Gull in the background.  Here at Va River parking lot at QV Lake on 6 Dec 2015.

This 1st winter Great Black-backed Gull has lost the black pigment on its bill. Or maybe it is the thin sheath of 'skin' covering the bills of gulls that is missing.  The rest of the bird looked normal.  Mundy Pond 7 Dec 2015.

The slight variation in the colour of Kumlien's Gull upper parts can be seen here on these daytime loafers at Mundy Pond on 7 Dec 2015.

This motley crew of Harlequin Ducks has been frequently the rocks below the Cape Race lighthouse. here on 5 Dec 2015. A good size flock for the location.