Sunday 25 December 2016

KELP GULL for Christmas in Newfoundland

No one could sleep Christmas Eve knowing there was a Kelp Gull in St. John's after belated news of a Kelp Gull photographed on 23 Dec reached the birding community on Christmas Eve. It was Shawn Fitzpatrick with his fresh eyes for odd gulls that noticed it and luckily snapped it on 23 December.

After going through the Christmas morning family rituals with a calm front but boiling inside I was granted freedom at 08:30. I  texted Lancy Cheng who was waiting to hear for the OK. Picked him up and we went to Quidi Vidi lake. It was blocked with gulls.  Lots of interesting birds at the Rennies River inflow, most of them becoming familiar.  We went down to Virginia River mouth the site of the actual sighting on 23 Dec.  Took shelter from winds behind thick pine trees. Lots to look at. We could see Alvan Buckley up on an excellent perch with shelter by the 'blue building' from wind 150 m away. There was a flush caused by a rather aggressive goshawk. Shortly after the cell phone rang. It was Alvan who said - "I have a candidate for The Bird.".

Lancy and I got there in no time flat. Looked through Alvan's scope locked on the bird. After memorizing Shawn's photos I knew without a doubt this was definitely THE GULL. We watched it from about 200 m for 15 minutes. It was standing then sat down.  Scope replaced by camera on the tripod for terribly long distant photos. And waiting for the next mass flush which are all too frequent at the lake from passing Bald Eagles and now this new bully goshawk, It happened. I was ready but The Gull did not fly into the wind as expected but angled left leaving little opportunity for nice flight shots.

We spent the rest of the morning trying to relocate the bird but no luck. About eight other birder cars appeared shortly thereafter breaking away from Xmas morning duties  It was not relocated. But it will be, Eventually we will nail this bird into the ground with photos and views. It is a keeper. It is a KELP GULL. This is Newfoundland.

Kelp Gull - slight crop with 840 mm lens

Kelp Gull -100% crop

Sturdy bill, long parallel sided, strong gonydeal angle.

Note P10 still a long way from fully grown but showing the only white mirror on the wing.


This is not an obviously different gull among the flock. It is as dark above as the abundant Great Black-backed Gulls. Easily overlooked among them.

This why it is a KELP GULL in no particular order of importance, plus some other features worth noting.

a) The legs are greenish. Not pink, gray or yellowish.  Presumably would be yellower in breeding plumage.
a a) the only white mirror in the outer primaries is the one on P10 not fully grown in this bird. GBBG have such a unchanging P10 P9 pattern with a huge clean white tip to P10 and significant white mirror on P9
b) size is a little smaller than the average Herring Gull.
c) head is pure white. Blocky shape, long, low flat crown. Many GBBGs also with pure white heads in winter. 
d) upper parts every bit as dark or even darker than a GBBG.
e) tertial crescent wider than GBBG and LBBG though not as wide as Slaty-backed Gull.
f) white tips of folded primaries small. Smaller than GBBG and our Herring Gulls in adult plumage.
g) bill stout, rather parallel from face to gonys. Significant gonydeal angle. Base of bill through scope slight greenish yellow.

As it would happen when you are looking for something better, the elusive but always around Yellow-legged Gull present was getting in the way all day. It just sat there saying "take my picture".  

Yellow-legged Gull.  Note  the 'rare' shade of gray somewhere between a Herring Gull and but closer to a Lesser Black-backed Gull. Who knows how this shade of gray will appear on your monitor.  A peculiar feature consistent feature with ALL Yellow-legged Gulls seen in Newfoundland but I can not find in any pictures of Yellow-legged Gull from Europe, even from the Azores is the wide spacing between P8 and P7. Maybe it is only these longer winged birds that can make it all the way between the Azores and Newfoundland.  The legs always seem a bit thick and completely yellow even around the joints.

Time predawn 27 Dec 2016. There were no sightings of Kelp Gull on 26 Dec during a very cold and windy local CBC day.  Paul Jones of  Ottawa sent a photo of a Kelp Gull taken in November 2016 in Chile.  Note the pale green leg colour of this bird is a match for the St. John's bird. Also note 1) the broad white 'skirt', the white tips of folded secondaries, 2) tiny white tips to primaries, 3) white mirror on underside of P10 isolated from a black tip, 4) darkish eye is like St. John's bird as well.

GOOD LUCK OUT THERE. This bird must and will be found again.

Adult Kelp Gull in Chile November 2016 . Photo by Paul Jones.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Potential MONSTER GULL RARITY at QV Lake yesterday

This is a hurried post. NO sightings of this bird today. News is only becoming known now at noon Saturday  Here are the only pictures. Please look it up on internet or books to see why this has some very key marks indicating KELP GULL !!!

The 1st 3rd and 4th picture are by Shawn Fitzpatrick and 2nd and 5th by Paul Linegar.

Five more pictures of this surely a shoe-in sealed, signed and delivered KELP GULL taken by Shawn Fitzpatrick at noon 23 Dec 2016 at Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland.

Friday 23 December 2016

Fox Sparrow - ***ESPECIAL***

On 17 Dec 2016 Julie Cappleman noticed what she thought at first was an odd junco at the feeder in Portugal Cove South, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland.  When she realized it was heavily streaked on the underside she called Dave Shepherd to the window.  He realized it was a 'western' Fox Sparrow.

Word was spread and people from St. John's drove the 90 minutes to PCS to see this extraordinary Fox Sparrow. Western Fox Sparrows are not something you hear much about in the east. This is perhaps because they do not make the headlines as western Fox Sparrows are not a full species like say Golden-crowned Sparrow or Harris's Sparrow or Spotted Towhee - species that always make the Regional news and beyond when occurring in northeastern North America. 

I got to see the bird on 22 December.  It was an amazing looker. Striking bird compared to the abundant breeding Fox Sparrow of Newfoundland.  With photos secured and back home looking at them on the computer screen the work of trying fit this bird into the proper subspecies slot began.  It was more complicated than I expected. It probably requires more than run of the mill field guides which is all I have on the subject.  Because the bird has a distinct gray under tones to the head and in good light a reddish undertone to the back and spotting on breast, my current vote is for the Slate-coloured Fox Sparrow of the Interior West.  The Sooty Fox Sparrow of the Pacific Coast should lack just about all gray and reddish tones.  However, it was remarkable how the bird could look like a classic Sooty Fox Sparrow in some lights and then in others the reddish and gray tones would appear.
[There has been a unanimous vote for Sooty Fox Sparrow from a number of west coast US birders and others who viewed these photographs]

Below are a sampling of the 22 December 2016 photos from Portugal Cove South, NF.

This last photo is for reference - a standard Newfoundland Fox Sparrow from Trepassey 30 Nov 2014

Friday 9 December 2016

Perfection Blemished - An Injured adult Ivory Gull

At 11:25 a phone call into the office was directed to me.  It was Ken Knowles.  Why was he phoning this number? He usually texts or calls my cell phone? And why was he screaming IVORY GULL at Quidi Vidi Lake. Was I asleep at my desk.?  Not likely since it was before noon. No this must be for real. WHAT!? Adult Ivory Gull at west end of Quidi Vidi Lake right now.  It finally registered.  Ken told me to alert the crowd. My fingers were all over the keyboard. I couldn't for the life of me remember how to post a sighting on nf.birds something I'd done hundreds of times over the years.  I couldn't remember who I should text, who I should phone. All I wanted to do was get down the stairs to my car and get to QV Lake.

It was torturous 15 minute ordeal in traffic to get to the lake. Ken was at the east end of the lake because he said it had flown that way but I decided to the check the west end beach where it was first seen and sure enough there was a white duck-like bird with a blue, orange tipped, bill standing on the beach preening among the pigeons and domestic and wild ducks. I jumped out of the car with camera and binos. Alison Mews was already standing there taking pictures of her lifer. Catherine Barrett and Lancy Cheng drove up. Lifer for them too. OMGs all around  Pictures etc.  Meanwhile I was getting a sick feeling.  Ken has said the bird had some oil on the neck but we could see this was not oil but an injury. Not fresh, no fresh blood but there was skin showing and photos showed there was an actual round hole in the bare skin. Did it go through the skin into the muscle?  Don't know.  Pictures showed a swelling ringing the circular hole. It looked like something healing. Maybe an old infection.  It was also a bit messy below the hole where perhaps it had been scratching.  Ivory Gulls unlike gulls have needle sharp hooked toe nails for holding on to ice.  They could hurt themselves scratching too much with those weapons.  

The bird had a good side but even here the somewhat disheveled look of the bird was apparent. I was not enjoying this experience. I was glad to see an adult Ivory Gull but was unhappy to see the most beautiful bird in the world in this condition. After 15 minutes it flew west up over the trees and the city and was not seen again this day. Tomorrow is another day.

I can brag like rock star listing off the number of his sexual conquests and say with some accuracy that my life total of Ivory Gulls is about 3,500 individuals. Yes three thousand five hundred. I kept track since the first one in late December 1975 at L'Anse-aux-Meadows, NF.  Most of my Ivory Gulls were at three locations 1) L'Anse-aux-Meadows, NF 2 ) Avalon & Bonavista Peninsula NF and 3) Northeast Greenland. Ivory Gull is not a bird where seeing one is enough. It is quite the opposite. The more you see, the more you need to see them.  For those who have never seen an Ivory Gull you might consider avoiding the chance because once you get a taste, the need to see another is worse than before.  You are addicted.

When I got home this evening I couldn't look at the photos of today's bird but but did take a trip down memory life and indulged in some of the multitudes of Ivory Gull photos in my collection.  I stayed in Newfoundland. Below are some beautiful examples of the worlds greatest bird (after white Gyrs and maybe Ross's Gull).

Ivory Gull (injured) 9 Dec 2016, Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, NF

Ivory Gull 1 Feb 2007, Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, NF.  This bird was present for about two weeks and became everyone's pet and walked up to birders for hand outs of bottled moose, chicken hearts and chopped liver. 

Ivory Gull 3 Feb 2007, Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, NF

Ivory Gull 1 Feb 2007, Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, NF.  At sunrise waiting for its breakfast after a frosty night.

Ivory Gull 21 Feb 2010, Goose Cove, Northern Peninsula, NF.  Does it get better? Seal hunters on the  Northern Peninsula don't consider them gulls. I also think they are something as distinct from gulls as are jaegers and terns.

A 'speckity' immature Ivory Gull 20 Feb 2010, Goose Cove, Northern Peninsula, NF.

Ivory Gull 21 Feb 2010, Goose Cove, Northern Peninsula, NF.

Ivory Gull is not afraid of Glaucous Gulls which it commonly occurs with.

Ivory Gull 20 Feb 2010, Bear Cove, Northern Peninsula. NF

Ivory Gulls 20 Feb 2010, Bear Cove, Northern Peninsula. NF

Ivory Gulls 20 Feb 2010, Bear Cove, Northern Peninsula. NF

Monday 5 December 2016

PACIFIC !?!?! GOLDEN PLOVER - Dec 5, 2016 in Newfoundland

Attached are rushed pictures just to get images of this plover out there for opinion.  It was at Pt. La Haye, St. Mary's Bay, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland found today 5 Dec 2016 by Ken Knowles and myself.  It was refound later in the afternoon 1 km away on the barachios beach and seen by Paul Lineger, Vernon Buckle and Alison Mews.

Photos have been sent to shorebird experts for opinion but surely there can be only one answer - Pacific Golden Plover. More later tonight or tomorrow.

CONFIRMED !!! Highly experienced shorebird enthusiast Killian Mullarney of Ireland was the first to reply with this endorsement.  (8 pm 5 Dec 2016). 
100% Pacific. It simply could not be more perfect...the overall structure and 'character', the short primary-projection involving just three tips, the longest two almost the same length, the yellowness of the crown, sides of head and upperparts, maybe even the proportionately big bill (though this last is very subjective and sometimes dominica can look heavy-billed). Obviously European Golden Plover is a completely different bird when views are this good, but it is nice to see a glimpse of the grey axillaries in one shot!

Friday 2 December 2016

The Frosty Tern - An Appreciation of a Good Looker

I was birding in Cape May County, New Jersey for the last week of October 2016. One of the species I enjoyed coming from a Newfoundland point of view was winter plumage Forster's Terns. The adults had clean frosty white uppers parts and a sharp black eye patch.  The young of the year had shorter tails, dusky markings in upper wing coverts and more fine speckling on the crown but the same black eye patch.  The Forster's Tern in breeding plumage resembles a Common Tern in appearance. In winter it becomes a much different looking bird.  They recall a small gull in appearance and even in some of their manners of feeding over the surf. 

Below are a bunch of Forster's Tern photos from New Jersey that were in danger of lying buried and never seeing the light of day along with myriads of other digital files on the HDs. 

First winter

First winter

First winter

With an adult Bonaparte's Gull