Monday 27 August 2018

Common Ringed Plover Makes the August Scene

Just when it looked like we might miss Common Ringed Plover this month for the first August in a few years, a beautiful example of the species appeared out of nowhere at Renews on 26 August.  Even before the car rolled to a complete stop I had my eye on this one. The high contrasting dark marks around the head and the white supercilium looked right. A quick glance through binoculars solidified my initial impressions.  Here is the very first picture.

First picture of the Common Ringed Plover

Even at this range the strong clear cut black head markings and long white line over the black ear patch spelled Common Ringed Plover.  The thick black breast band helped too.  For the next 45 minutes I got lucky photographing this bird from the car on a hot day (26 C with high humidity) with limited heat shimmer next to a road busy with Sunday drivers, occasional dump truck and walkers. Below are selection of the closer shots. Any farther away and the heat shimmer started to have serious effect.

Pretty good view of the lack of webbing between middle and outer toe.


Alarm mode as a noisy truck passed on the road. 

There seems to be a lack of webbing between the middle and outer toes which is right for CRPL.

The three pictures below are of a fairly boldly marked Semipalmated Plover photographed the week before (19 August 2018) on the Burin Peninsula. After saturating your brain with all the above images of a Common Ringed Plover (CRPL) note how different a Semipalmated Plover (SEPL) appears. It is a combination of features that cause the affect. SEPL have a much more subdued white supercilum (line over eye) most of the time. Female SEPL can have extensive white superciliums but they are also less well marked around the head so the classic neatly stamped out, high contrast head markings of a CRPL are lacking. On SEPL the black cheek patch (auriculars) tends to dip down then comes to met the bill almost pinched off.  On CRPL the lower edge of the cheek patch is straighter and the black area where it meets the bill is wider therefore creating and more even width black mask over all. The orbital ring (fleshy ring around eye) is usually black on CRPL but can be yellow during high breeding condition.  On SEPL it is usually obviously yellow but can be extremely difficult to see in the field even close up. The white across forehead comes to a point and points in under the eye on CRPL but on SEPL the white is blocked off more squarely against the black in front of the eye. The breast band on a SEPL can look wide and of course varies depending on posture but usually narrows considerably more in the middle and never really matches the very wide breast band of a classic CRPL.  The CRPLs that Newfoundland receives are paler on the back and have a yellower tinge to their bright orange legs compared to SEPL.  Just more cosmetics that make a Common Ringed Plover a really distinct bird when you know your  Semipalmated Plover. There are other fine details that you can find in the field guides or in Dave Brown's most recent blog posting!/ .    

Using webbing or lack of in the toes is treading on dangerous grounds when separating these two plovers.  This is a classic SEPL toe webbing showing webbing between the middle and outer toe and no webbing between middle and inner toe..  But the same bird could seeming hide the webbing if its toes were perhaps more relaxed. I have photos showing such magic on other SEPLs somewhere in my collection.

Friday 24 August 2018

Greenland Dunlin in Newfoundland - 18 &19 August 2018

On 18 August 2018 Ken Knowles, John Wells and I were birding at L'Anse au Loup, Burin Peninsula, Newfoundland. This excellent location is birded less than annually because it is off the beaten track of Newfoundland birders.  We were surprised to see a breeding plumage Dunlin among the mixed flock of several hundred shorebirds.  A Dunlin in breeding plumage is a rarity in southern Canada during August.  Adults of the race breeding in the eastern Arctic (C.a. hudsonia) moult from breeding plumage to winter plumage while on the breeding grounds before migratin south in September and October.  We noted the surprisingly dull upper parts of the bird and the bill being on the short end of the spectrum for the hudsonia Dunlin that we see during fall migration.  It was the next morning before we had better views and secured some photos.

We suspected this was a Greenland Dunlin based mainly on the dark upper side that was so different from hudsonia. The scapulars and mantle feathers had large blackish centers. The only touches of orange colour were the lower scapulars. The race of Dunlin breeding in Britain, Iceland and s.e. Greenland is schinzii.  Farther north along the eastern Greenland coast the Dunlin get smaller, slimmer and have a shorter bill are called arctica.  There is much overlap between schinzii and arctica with only some at the extremes at the ends of the scale being safely assigned. Schinzii/arctica unlike hudsonia migrate south while in breeding plumage. They moult into winter plumage on their western African wintering grounds.

The pictures tell the story. In these picture note the dark back, black centered feathering in the scapulars and mantle, the lack of warm colours, the heavily marked head and upper chest.  The bill is on the short end of the for hudsonia. These photos are all from 19 August, 2018, L'Anse au Loup, Burin Peninsula. NF.

Size is not much bigger than these two White-rumped Sandpipers.

Below are photographs of schinzii and probable arctica from Tacumshin, Ireland on 21 August 2018 taken by Killian Mullarney. Note the similarity to the Newfoundland bird particularly the blackish backs.

The middle bird being smaller, slimmer with a short bill is a good candidate for arctica.

Unfortunately I could not rustle up photos of adult hudsonia in August in time for this blog.  Opportunities to photograph adult Dunlin during that month are not readily available since one would have to be on their Arctic breeding grounds. Adult hudsonia should show signs of moulting by 19 August. This bird showed worn edges to wing coverts and scapulars but no new 'winter' plumage feathers.

Previous records of Greenland Dunlin in North America? There are excellent photos of spring schinzii from Cape Spear, Newfoundland on 3 May 2014 taken by Peter Shelton during a major influx of Icelandic shorebirds (  There are apparently good records from Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland and Bermuda (fide  M. O'Brien).  There are occasional sightings of adult Dunlin during August in eastern Canada.  These should be documented with photos.  

Thursday 16 August 2018

STONKING FORKER @ Bonavista - 6th Newfoundland record

Alison Mews knows how to destroy a days work at the office.  It was close to 10:30 am when she sent a text with a picture. How much can go through one's mind in a full second? It would be interesting to have brain scan when news of FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER that you could see has just been found. Alison was on a non-birding holiday with husband Paul and some friends to Bonavista.  Just because it is a non birding holiday it doesn't mean you turn off the birding radar while you pretend to be a civilian for a while. Even the non-birders in the group thought the FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER was a pretty snazzy bird.

Ken Knowles was ready and could meet me in the office parking lot in 30 minutes. We were gone on the 640 km round trip 45 minutes after hearing about the bird.

It was not a shoe-in.  There were tense moments when we found out the wind had changed from a hot SW wind to a cool and foggy north wind just before we got there. I talked to a lady who worked in the tourist trade at the famous Bonavista lighthouse. She said it was there just an hour ago on the fence. It would fly up and catch a fly and then come back to the fence.  We expanded around search zone after scouring the lighthouse buildings. I ran into Brenda Taylor (Jon Joys other half) guiding a couple of tourists.  She had good news. The flycatcher was down the road by that patch of tree when she came back from lunch.  THAT IS WHERE WE FOUND It!!!  For the next 90 minutes we followed the bird around.  It ended up going back to the fence behind the right most building where Alison first saw it.

The first shot. Just in case it vanished never to be seen again in the next second I took a long shot when we first located the Fork-tailed Flycatcher.

It sat for a while here in the complete shelter from the wind before getting active and began feeding again.

The bird moved around a good bit. It was interesting to watch its big swooping undulating flight as it moved from perch to perch. It really is a fast flier.

It can look like an Eastern Kingbird on some angles.  The intense whiteness of the breast was interesting. Far whiter than an Eastern Kingbird..  Sometimes the  intense whiteness of the breast against the green vegetation threw you off. It looked too white to be part of a bird. 

The bird must be an adult because it seems to be holding worn outer tail feathers while growing in a new tail.  Yellow crown feathers were sometimes visible when the wind ruffled its thick feathered head but I didn't read anything in the literature that this would indicate the sex of this bird.

It let loose a couple times indicating it was feeding well.  Even the most elegant have to go.

How do you make a rusty  chain link fence look good. Just add one Fork-tailed Flycatcher.  

Wednesday 15 August 2018

OROR in Newfoundland

It was around 08:51 on 13th August 2018 that Ethel Dempsey saw a 'good bird' at Cape Spear.  Alison Mews texted me on the Atlantic Raven 300 km offshore with Frank Kings photos of the bird. I became a hurting unit in an instance.  It was an Orchard Oriole!!!  This is a big rarity in Newfoundland and Labrador. There were only four previous records for the the province.

On 15 August I was back on land and got to enjoy the Cape Spear Orchard Oriole. Here are some pictures of my encounter.

The first sighting.  Exciting to see it in Newfoundland