Saturday 29 July 2017

Another Common Ringed Plover in July.

It was not too surprising to come across a COMMON RINGED PLOVER on the beach at Biscay Bay, Avalon Peninsula. A distinct pattern has developed over the last decade showing that small numbers of Common Ringed Plover migrate south through Newfoundland. Whether they are headed for European wintering grounds or they stay with the abundant Semipalmated Plovers and winter on this side of the Atlantic is unknown but the latter seems like a sensible thing to adapt to.  There are no confirmed spring records of Common Ringed Plover for the island of Newfoundland even though the species breeds in the eastern Canadian Arctic, Greenland and Iceland. Semipalmated Plover is on the rare side in spring even though a few breed in Newfoundland. Semipalmated Plover a very common southbound migrant in Newfoundland.

Today 29 July 2017 Ken Knowles, John Wells and I found a Common Ringed Plover at Biscay Bay. The highly demarcated black markings on the head are what grabs your attention .  The breast band on this bird meets the requirement width for Ringed Plover but was not as wide as most of the others we've had. The long white supercilium is partially lost in low contrast with pale upper parts bit still good.   Other pro Common Ringed Plovers are, 1) dark orbital ring showing no contrast with dark eye, very clearly seen through scopes, 2) white of forehead curved beneath eye to midway point. 3) cheek patch very black with lower side more flat or parallel to the ground than the more oval shaped cheek patch of Semi Plover, 4) dark lores clearly reach gape line or go slightly below, 5) bill longer than Semi Plovers with black tip covering less than 50% of of bill, 6) wing strip slightly whiter and wider.

It was bigger than the 11 Semipalmated Plovers by a few percentage points. Looked strong, more elongated, less like a windup toy Semi Plover.  This bird ran faster and farther every time it ran. Don't know if this is significant. The colour of the legs and bill base were a brighter somewhat more yellow-orange.  The upper parts were paler by a little. This helped the black head markings look much bolder and vivid than the Semi Plovers. It was easy to pick out by the bold contrasts.

All pictures below taken 29 July 2017 at Biscay Bay, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland.

Note white wrapping half way under the eye, the lack of yellow orbital ring, the crisp black head markings, bill colour proportions and relatively straight side to lower border of black cheek patch.

The Common Ringed Plover is farther away than the Semipalmated Plover but still looks bigger and stronger than the dull, perhaps female Semipalmated Plover.  The Common Ringed Plover has a somewhat Killdeer shape and stance.

The whiter, slightly broader wing strip of the Common Ringed Plover is somewhat apparent in the photo below. The Ringed Plover is in the lead bird being followed by four Semipalmated Plovers and a Sanderling.

The Common Ringed Plover is farthest away on left side of picture. Note the bold contrast of head markings and a well dressed appearance compared to the Semipalmated Plover riffraff.  


Not satisfied with the amount of time able to be spent with the Common Ringed Plover on Saturday, I went back on a wet and rainy Sunday.  Armed with more powerful photographic gear, I was happy to find it still there. With myself and camera gear covered in waterproof material we took a few hundred pictures over about 45 minutes. I guess it was the more relaxed mood of the bird that made the breast band wider today.  Yesterday's pictures show the bird standing more upright long-legged and long-necked. The CRPL was running around in hurry yesterday compared to a more relaxed mood today. All the birds seemed up tight yesterday sometimes flushing without apparent reason. Perhaps there had been a Merlin in the area. Today the birds were more subdued with no flushes.

The pictures below were all taken at Biscay Bay on 30 July 2017. Note that the last five pictures contain at least one Semipalmated Plover. It should be easy to see them.

Two Semipalmated Plovers (above)

Thursday 20 July 2017

I Lost My Jaeger MOJO

On Saturday 15 July 2017 I ran into some jaeger feeding action at St. Vincents Beach on the southern Avalon Peninsula. The capelin and humpback whales were in. Kittiwakes and terns were hunting for capelin near the surf.  I soon realized there were jaegers as well.  Subadult jaegers are typically part of the capelin feeding smorgasbord usually hanging a few hundred meters offshore harassing the birds but today the jaegers were coming in over the beach after kittiwakes and terns carrying fish. Often these jaegers go unidentified because they lack central tails feathers and views are not close enough for plumage details. The 2nd years may have a semblance of adult tail. We identify that bird to species and then compare the size and actions to others that bird to help with our IDs.  Generally most are Pomarines. It usually takes a while to nail down a Parasitic Jaeger. Very uncommonly is there a subadult Long-tailed Jaeger among these capelin birds. Yet subadult Long tails are routine in the offshore zones 200-400 km offshore eastern and southern Newfoundland.  It is practically the default jaeger mid June to early August.

I quickly identified some of the 15 July jaegers as Parasitics by the tiny pointed central tail feather projections eliminating Pomarine. Even on the birds I could not see this feature, the manner in which they chased kittiwakes with capelin was in the Parasitic style = strong powerful flights low over the water to a target followed by a fierce aerial chase full of rapid twists and turns for extended periods of time.  Poms do this but usually call off the chase sooner.  Long-tailed Jaegers, in Newfoundland waters at least, only occasionally chase birds and then somewhat half halfheartedly.  They spend more time playfully chasing one another than other birds. (An exception to this was off NE Greenland where I saw adult LTJAs regularly and purposefully chasing kittiwakes, Ivory Gulls and Arctic Terns.)

Long-tailed Jaeger hardly even entered the equation at St. Vincents Beach. None of the birds were acting like Long-tailed Jaegers.  Everything was either a Parasitic or a Pomarine and then identified as Parasitic by central tail feather. In total I think there were 10 Parasitic Jaegers. Saw up to 8 at one time.  And no Pomarine. The photography opportunities were exceptional so that is what I targeted for the next three hours. The jaegers were mostly resting 300 m offshore between raids on the feeding kittiwakes and terns feeding among the surf.

It seems I photographed only three different individuals. One was a darkish bird. Seemed fine for a Parasitic but I was rather shocked by the photos of the other two.  Features I would look for on 1st summer Long-tailed Jaegers were obvious on these bird.  Features like white primary shafts restricted to outer two primaries, narrow rear and tail, highly checkered dark and white tail coverts and blond heads, frail thin body, possibly small head and bills.  This surprised me. I admit to never looking at the birds with binoculars when close but always through the camera.  The birds were acting so much like Parasitic Jaegers I didn't think Long-tailed Jaeger was a possibility.

I have more research to do yet but after a couples days of thinking about the scene I am hedging toward all the birds being Parasitic with no Long-tailed.  Parasitic Jaeger of all ages is the jaeger I am least familiar with. Lots to learn.

Below are photos of the three birds.  

BIRD # 1

Note how number of pale primary shafts changes with the angle of light but the two outer most were the brightest and often the only two showing up as white in the photographs.

BIRD # 2

Bird # 1 on Left, Bird # 2 on Right

Bird # 2 Left, Bird # 1 on Right

Is there a jaeger watcher out there does not automatically think Long-tailed Jaeger when they see this!?

A different angle to the sun makes more than the two outer primaries look pale.

BIRD # 3

I am sticking with my original identification in the field that these three birds are 1st summer Parasitic Jaegers.  I admit to being surprised by the two pale birds and how closely they fit into my mental image library of Long-tailed Jaeger.  The library shelf for Parasitic Jaeger images is unfortunately sparse. Would be happy to hear opinions from others on these birds.  You may leave a comment at the end of this Blog or email me at brucemactavish1 AT  The bill on the photo above looks long and narrow for a LTJA - doesn't it!?

Monday 10 July 2017

Common Ringed Plover

This afternoon, co-worker Tony Lang and I on work assignment to Marystown, Burin Peninsula found ourselves distracted by shorebirding at nearby (only 30 km beyond Marystown) Frenchmens Cove.  I was pleased to see my first Semipalmated Plovers of the season and plus a good dose of adult Least Sandpipers and the usual Greater Yellowlegs, one Lesser Legs and a semi rare Willet. Across the heat shimmering sand flats I had my eye on a Semi Plover of considerable interest.  For sure all I could see through the distorted air a heavy breast band and I thought I was seeing a long distinct white line on the head behind the eye.  These two features are Step One on the way toward a possible Common Ringed Plover.  

We moved in with  our scopes.  Views were pretty good through the scopes but all photos were somewhat distant and affected by heat distortion over the sand.  The distinct head markings contrasting distinctly from adjacent feathering was in favour of Common Ringed Plover. The dark areas on the head of Semipalmated Plovers tend to blend with adjacent areas of different colour.

The orbital ring colour is an important distinction between the two cousin plovers.  Scope views of eye were microscopic at up to 50X.  There was a dim white-ish colour to the orbital ring on the lower side of the eye but nothing on the upper side of the orbital ring. I think this still sits inside the Common Ringed Plover comfort zone as some adult males in high breeding plumage have a complete narrow yellow orbital ring. Usually the area around the eye looked dark even in the bright light while the yellow orbital of the half dozen Semipalmated Plovers were clearly outlined in yellow.

As you look through these photos processed on a poor laptop in a Marystown hotel, note the details around the head plus the wide breast band. The light created strong contrast and dulled the subtle brown colours of the back.  It should be noted that theRinged Plover was a shade heavier than the other plovers.

24 hours later. Saw the bird again today. A shorter encounter but less harsh light made for nice scope views. Only photos today were some flight shots which show some detail on wing stripe being wider than Semipalmated Plover as it should be.  It looked excellent for Common Ringed Plover today. It felt right. It is solid.   Photos added to the end of this posting..


 Flight shots. July 11, 2017  Common Ringed Plovers have a more extensive white wing stripe than Semipalmated Plover. The lighting and angle of wing makes comparison tricky.  Comparing the size of the area in white on each individual primary feather reveals the larger amount of white on the Common Ringed Plover (in the lead).  The wider white bar on secondaries is at least suggestive in these photos.