Thursday 26 July 2018

Skipping Work for Birding

It is not like skipping work for birds has never been done before.  Trying to space out my precious allotted holidays was an overnight decision. There were 2 Sabine's Gulls and three species of jaeger to see and photograph at Pt La Haye, St. Mary's Bay. We found the activity there late Saturday when time had run out for the day.  Went back on Sunday but torrential rains and fog made birding impossible. Monday was a work day and there was a forecast of fog. Tuesday's weather forecast hinted at a break in the fog though it was difficult to be sure from the wording of the forecast.  Overnight the possibility of no fog and a chance for some excellent seabirding won out. I was on the road by 05:30 for the 1 hr & 20 minute drive to Pt La Haye. The weather was near perfect with no fog, nearly no wind and high overcast. The birds were good but not as near perfect as I would have like.

There were jaegers to see with the scope from Pt. La Haye fa-aar out to sea. They were dillydallying about but identification could only be guessed at. On the beach there were a fair number of kittiwakes, terns and gulls.  The two Sabine's Gulls were present !  They were in the freshwater on the inside of the beach with the flock of bathing kittiwakes  The scope looks at the two different looking 1st summer birds were good.  They flew out to sea.  I followed one. It caught a capelin on the surface of the water. It had trouble choking the fish down. It flew back into the fresh water with the fish's tail still protruding from beak. This was my best photo opt but still very far.  Better than nothing. Just watching the bird was exciting. for July.  

A duo of 1st summer jaegers started harassing the birds in the pond.  They were very aggressive and persistent in their harassment.  I was thinking Parasitic because of their aerobatic activities but photos later revealed they were both Long-tailed Jaegers.  Jaegers rarely read the Rules of Jaegerdom that we follow.    There was a 1st summer Laughing Gull among the beach gulls.

On to St. Vincents Beach. From the lookout at the west end of the beach the place looked vacant at first. Then half way along the beach I saw the mass of white Northern Gannets and dark Sooty Shearwater. They were right in next to the beach.  It took some time to reach the spot by car then walk along the loose gravel beach. By then the feeding swarm was somewhat dispersed but still good. The gannets would find out where the capelin were present along the beach and start a diving frenzy . The shearwaters would see the actions and swarm in to get their share of the booty.  There were many many thousands of shearwaters stretching from the beach off to the horizon. Only 5% were Great Shearwaters. No jaegers and no rare terns.

On to St. Shotts. The water was very active with shearwaters feeding right into the rocks. Thousands to look through. Nothing different as is usually the case. Spectacular all the same.

Trepassey. Nice flock of 38 Common and 2 Arctic Terns on Rare Tern Rock, but no Roseate.  Not many terns on the rocks at the nesting island.

Portugal Cove South beach. Good capelin feeding action. Kittiwakes and gannets. A 1st summer Laughing Gull - repeat individual from ten days earlier.

The End.  Was it worth using up a valuable vacation day for? Yes.  It was good to get out there and check the places when there was no fog. Good to see the swarms of feeding shearwaters, great to see the two rare Sabine's but did poor on the photos. Jaeger action could have been closer as well.  It was a good 12 hours birding.  Infinitely better than 8 hours in an office. There are just two more days until the weekend for another dose of capelin birding action.  These are the good ole days of summer birding.  

 A 1st summer (one year old) Sabine's Gull loafing with kittiwakes in fresh water behind main beach at Pt La Haye. 24 July 2018

The Sabine's flying with a kittiwake of the same age.

This is how far away the Sabine's was when it came back into land with a just caught capelin.  The two pictures below are blow ups of the bird flying back into land. Note the tail of a capelin protruding from mouth.

 This 1st summer jaeger identified from the photos as a Long-tailed with outside help.  The strongly barred upper tail coverts, sharply spotted and barred underside of wing and body, over all cold brown colours, just two white primary shafts were among the reason making this a Long-tailed.  Feature easier to see in a photograph then in life! 

 Northern Gannets get out of the water after a mass dive on a capelin school at St. Vincents beach..

 Shearwaters flying just off the beach chasing the gannets diving on the capelin schools.

Some of the scenery we have to put up with at St. Vincents Beach when you can see that far with no fog.

A second summer Northern Gannet makes the plunge for a capelin meal.

 This Common Tern flock at Trepassey's Rare Tern Rock shows a 2nd summer Common Tern with the white forehead and dark shoulder patch.

Thursday 19 July 2018

Roseate Tern in July

Roseate Tern is somewhat of a legend in Newfoundland. It is a bird some of us are always on the outlook for when looking at the ubiquitous Common and Arctic Terns of summer around the coast.  It potentially could be breeding in Newfoundland undetected on the south coast or southwest coast of NF or even Burin Peninsula.  Small number nest on the Magdelan Islands, Quebec which is roughly the same latitude a southern Newfoundland. It used to nest and I believe is still occurring on Sable Island - the most eastern part of Nova Scotia.  It is easily overlooked for those not aware and looking.

The only records we have of Roseate Tern are:
1) Trepassey, Avalon Peninsula on 11 June 2006. Found by Mike Parmenter and seen by many and well photographed.
2) Renews, Avalon Peninsula 7 July 2008. Reported by Tom Hince and his tour group. There were no photos and no more details on identification other than a few obvious details typical for Roseate Tern including black bill.
3) Bear Cove near Cappahayden, Avalon Peninsula 9 July 2018 photographed by Dave Hawkins and John Williams.  It was not found the following day but what is believed to be the same individual was found by visiting Pennsylvania birder at Trepassey on 17 July because it had bands on both legs and a completely black bill like the Bear Cove bird 8 days earlier.

JULY 18 2018

A small army of birders descended on Trepassey to look for the Roseate Tern. It was found after a frustrating time in the dense fog.  It was frequenting the tern colony in the inner part of Trepassey bay off Daniels Point. It was not among the nesting Arctic and Common Terns but resting on the bare rocks off to the side of the island with the other terns.  Fog and distance made viewing and photography challenging. But through the scopes everyone got their jollies. The scope views were pretty good.

It was a learning experience or at least a refresher course for all.  1) The shallow rapid wing beat. 2)The black outer three primaries contrasting sharply with rest of bird, unlike the black wash on upper wing of the Common Tern that starts appearing in middle of primaries and works its way to outer most. 3) The amazing whiteness of the bird made it always easy to pick out and follow among the Common and Arctics when there was a mass flush. 4) strong, square shoulders, long head of the Roseate recalling a miniature Sandwich Tern more than a Common or Arctic.  Didn't hear it call. Hope this encounter continues into the weekend and fog? is there any chance it won't be foggy down there??? Probably not until August.

This how far away the bird was with a 840 mm lens. Uncropped photo, just resized.

Same picture cropped and fixed to reduce cloudiness of fog. 

Coming in for a landing showing off whiteness and on this individual three black primaries contrasting with rest of wing. The number of dark primaries varies on summer Roseate but it starts from the outers and works toward inners.

Massive crop. Bands couldn't be read.  A large percentage of nesting Roseate Terns are banded during annual studies at the core of their breeding range in coastal New York and Massachusetts and also at the small colonies in western Nova Scotia. 

Three species of tern. Arctic in flight. The Roseate is the one with the whitest breast.

The highly contrasting outer three primaries on this particular bird is striking. It is different on every bird. Some are white across entire surface of wing.

The 2006 11 June Roseate Tern at Trepassey. Note it was also banded but the numbers were not read.

Saturday 14 July 2018

Black Tern in July

Black Tern was a more regular stray to Newfoundland. It was kind of like what Little Gull has become in very recent years - more or less annual. The general retraction of the breeding range in Atlantic, Quebec and Ontario has mirrored the decline of records for Newfoundland. When Ken Knowles and I stumbled across at Black Tern on the Pt La Haye beach yesterday (13 July) it got me thinking back to my last Newfoundland Black Tern.  I know I missed a few by being away from NF when they were sighted. The last Black Tern I saw in NF might have been at Renews in August about 2010! That is a shock.  This bird was a beaut on the Newfoundland scene with Arctic Terns and kittiwakes.  Attached are some pictures from today all taken within a three minute period when it was feeding on large flies (mayflies?) next to the road. There was no time to think beyond jamming the index finger on the shutter button and hoping for the best. It was bounding erratically around the shoreline like a Common Nighthawk after flies. Some shots show a bulging crop suggesting it was doing very well!.

A Black Tern in pristine breeding plumage at Pt La Haye, St. Mary's Bay, Newfoundland.

Eye on a May Fly followed by a perfect catch.

Wednesday 4 July 2018

Little Egret at Spaniard's Bay, Newfoundland - July 2018

Word reached the birding community of an unidentified egret at Spaniard's Bay on 30 June.  Lois Trickett was walking her dog on the Trailway when the egret flushed.  She posted blurry cell phone pictures on the Newfoundland Birdwatching Facebook. The bird looked like it might have a dark bill so then not a Great Egret left over from the record spring influx.  On 1 July I went to the site which I was thinking of visiting anyway and found the bird perched in a tree on a cold foggy morning.  Within seconds the the two spaghetti head plumes blew up over its head. It was a LITTLE EGRET - 11th record for Newfoundland.  The rest is history as birders and locals enjoyed the celebrity bird. It was also learned that Cathy Johnstone had a cell phone photo showing the Little Egret complete with two head plumes from back on 18 June.  So the bird had already been around for two weeks at least before we found out about it. Being summer time and low migration period it could stick around all summer. The habitat is excellent.  Below are some of my photos from 1 & 2 July 2018.

The very first picture on 1 July. It doesn't show much, but an hour standing here as the bird alternated between sleeping and preening revealed the detail needed to nail the ID. 

This picture shows the classic two spaghetti head plumes and the bluish-gray lores.  Snowy Egret, its North American cousin, has bushy head plumes and yellow lores.  

It made use of the down time at high tide to give itself a full body preen job.  

All the rest of the pictures were taken on 2 July as it fed in the tidal flats by the Trailway (abandoned rail bed made into walking trail). Note the two white spaghetti noodle head plumes and bluish-gray lores.  At least one of these features is visible in every photo separating it from a Snowy Egret. The lack of yellow running up the back of legs and the impression of a larger bill are lesser features to look for.

The Little Egret in a little tidal cove at Spaniard's Bay on 2 July 2018