Thursday 23 March 2017

The St. Vincents Beach Pacific Loon - again.

For the fourth consecutive winter a PACIFIC LOON has overwintered with the Common Loons off the two km long beach that runs from St.Vincents to Peters River on the southern Avalon Peninsula. This bird has given Avalon Peninsula birders the rare opportunity to get to know this species in winter plumage. The species is very rare anywhere in Atlantic Canada with four or five individuals recorded in all time around the island of Newfoundland. 

St. Vincents beach is a wide open southward facing beach with no protection from the open Atlantic Ocean. The seas are often rough.  There is no protection from the wind for birders trying to scan the water with telescopes mounted on tripods. On top of this, the sun is always in the south in the winter which can create horrendous glare conditions.  The loons are rarely within 100 m, usually 200-500+ m, off the shoreline.  On top of that we are usually observing 50-100 m back from the beach edge. The loon may be present every day for 180 days (November to May) but getting one day with light winds, low swell, no sun and probably on a weekend day is a challenge. St. Vincents beach is also a 90 minute drive from St. John's where most of the birders live.  But on 18 March 2017 I ticked off most of the appropriate boxes and had one of my better experiences with the Pacific Loon. There was still a 1.5 m swell which is not bad for St. Vincents.

The following pictures are heavily cropped.  Even with a 840 mm lens the image of the bird was not much more than a big speck of dirt on the lens.  

The Pacific Loon uncropped.

The same image above but highly cropped showing plenty of detail on the beautiful Pacific Loon.  In all these photos note the smooth snaky neck that is distinctly paler behind.  The back is darker than hind neck and in this adult mainly a uniform blackish.  It has an extra long sand lance in its beak that it did swallow after holding it for 20 seconds.

The patented chin strap is very obvious on this individual. Photos of winter Pacific Loons on the internet show many individuals with much less conspicuous to barely discernible chin straps.  At any distance it vanishes from sight on this bird also.   

There is a puffiness to the back of the neck.  Nice thin straight daggerette bill. (daggerette = small dagger).

St. Vincents Beach on a rough day two weeks earlier. Hardly worth the effort to locate the Pacific Loon in such conditions. There are usually 30-70 Common Loons and a single Red-throated Loon present off this beach in winter.

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