Monday 30 May 2016

EUROPEAN : Golden-Plover, Whimbrel, Godwit & Ruff

In a spring with a dire dearth of European shorebird vagrants to Newfoundland there was a pleasant little showing of interesting shorebirds in late May.

Jon Joy found a group of three Black-tailed Godwits at Bonavista on 21 May. All were dull looking birds, perhaps first year birds, maybe adult females? They stayed a few days. Black-tailed Godwit is very rare but is the second most regular Icelandic shorebird after the Golden Plover to occur in the province.  Usually arriving as singles in late April to mid May with most being very brightly coloured birds assumed to be males. Three ties the record for the largest flock so far.

Black-tailed Godwit # 1 at Bonavista 21 May 2016

The other two Black-tailed Godwits at Bonavista on 21 May 2016.

On 22 May Ethel Dempsey birding with Alison Mews and Cape Race flushed a white-rumped Whimbrel from the grass by the lighthouse. The species (!!!it should be a full species!!!) is less than annual in the province and is rarer than Black-tailed Godwit. 

The  European Whimbrel was very alert and wary. Standing on the ground there is somewhat more white in the upper parts creating a light checkered appearance but it is probably not safely separable from the North American Whimbrel until it flies.  22 May 2016.

The bright white back ground to the underwing is striking compared to the dull brown of a North American Whimbrel. 22 May 2016.

The tell all white wedge up the back is always exciting to see in the field. 22 May 2016.

Catherine Barrett got the surprise of her life driving home on 26 May seeing a boldly marked male Ruff in a small wet patch close beside the Back Line Road, Goulds. It stayed less than two hours. It was figidty and never fed. It seemed like it just dropped in out of the storm for a rest before continuing its journey. This was the second male Ruff of the month. The other being in Little Catalina in mid May.  The occurrences of Ruff are unpredictable in Newfoundland. It is just about annual in spring and fall with adult males being in the minority.  

A Ruff in The Goulds 26 May 2016.

A Ruff in The Goulds 26 May 2016.

A Ruff in The Goulds 26 May 2016.

European Golden-plover can occur by the hundreds in spring in Newfoundland with the majority happening 20 April to 10 May. 2016 was not one of those springs with just a single bird in mid April near Lumsden. Therefore it was doubly surprising that a late individual was turned up by Alvan Buckley and Catherine Barrett on 28 May at Biscay Bay, Avalon Peninsula. 

European Golden-Plover 29 May 2016.

European Golden-Plover 29 May 2016.

American Robin and European Golden-Plover 29 May 2016.

Sunday 29 May 2016


Alvan Buckley discovered a CAVE SWALLOW at Quidi Vidi lake, St. John's, Avalon Peninsula Newfoundland today. It was present for at least five hours feeding mainly in the middle of the lake far from shore. Views were distant and photography tough but for a five minute period in early afternoon when it fed with some Tree Swallows over the grass along the shoreline and over the Virginia River mouth parking lot practically flying in between a half dozen people watching. It was almost touchable. Very difficult for cameras to auto focus on the fast moving bird at close range.  Below are some pictures from that five minutes.  

The bird had a dark chestnut rump which is a feature indicating, but not confirming, the West Indies race of Cave Swallow.  Further investigation may follow. This might be the more expected source of a spring vagrant.  Spring records of cave Swallow for eastern North America are few. Nova Scotia has some old records. New Jersey gets them occasionally in spring. Late fall Cave Swallows are much more routine in the northeast and are suspected of originating from Texas and Mexico. The only previous Newfoundland Cave Swallow was from Long Beach, near Cape Race 12-14 Nov 2008 (found by Cliff Doran).

Below is Newfoundland's first Cave Swallow at Long Beach, Cape Race 12-14 Nov 2008. The rump was paler on this bird than today's Cave Swallow.

Thursday 26 May 2016

GRAY HERON May 2016 - Third for Newfoundland.

News of a heron at Bonavista broke when photos appeared on social media on 6 May 2016. The distant photos appeared to show a Gray Heron. The next day Ken Knowles, Alvan Buckley, Paul Linegar and others saw the bird and confirmed the identification as a GRAY HERON.  This was the third record of Gray Heron for Newfoundland. The previous two records being:

1) a bird found moribund at Lears Cove, near Cape St. Mary's on 11 Oct 1996.  The bird died in captivity and was later identified as a Gray Heron. Specimen at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador.
2) a bird at Little Hearts Ease, Bonavista Bay  10 March to 12 June 2013.  The bird had possibly been present since January 2013. It was photographed and viewed by many people.

The Bonavista Gray Heron 6-7 May 2016 vanished without a trace but what is believed to be the same bird based on plumage details and logistics appeared at Comfort Cove, Notre Dame Bay about 170 km to the WNW on 16 May.  News of the bird reached the birding world on 19 May when Kelly Adams posted a photo of the bird on social media.  

On 20 May yours truly drove to Comfort Cove to see the Gray Heron. It was easy to find staying on a rock among a couple hundred loafing Ring-billed and Herring Gulls.  I spent 2.5 hours watching the bird. It was always at least 100 m away.   Heat haze over the cool water created by the unseasonably warm sunny weather (+20C) created difficult conditions for photography. Sharp photos were not possible but the many photos confirm the identity of the bird.

The bird was thought to be a bird sub-adult because of dull markings about the head including lack of plumes and the buffy tinged greater upper wing coverts. The white thighs are the classic mark of Gray Heron. Also important are the white shoulder patch, white alula and white primary coverts. Great Blue Heron is usually rufous in these areas.  The legs being shorter on a Gray Heron extend less beyond the tail when viewed in flight, with the length of foot being similar to the length of exposed leg beyond the tail. On Gray Heron the black stripes of neck contrast more sharply with pale gray neck than on Great Blue Heron with slightly duller black marks contrasting less with a pinkish/brown washed neck.

The following photos of the Gray Heron at Comfort Cove on 20 May 2016 show some of these features.

There is not much remarkable in this photograph that would alert someone this could be a Gray Heron.  The white shoulder patch and perhaps impression pale gray neck and shorter legs are clues.

A stretched wing shows a white alula and greater primary coverts where a Great Blue Heron should be rufous. The buffy greater secondary coverts is a sign of sub-adult age.

Seeing those white thighs is as good as being home free but sub-adult Great Blue Herons can have a very very pale cinnamon wash on thighs which could be interpreted as white with a brief view.  Often herons will not give a satisfactory view of thighs for hours.

White thighs.

White thighs.

White thighs.

White thighs.

White thighs.

White marks on leading edge of wing.

Length of feet similar to length of bare legs, legs longer in proportion to feet in GBHE.  Gray Heron said to have less bulging fold in neck in flight than GBHE.