Monday 13 April 2020

Another Pacific Eider in Newfoundland - 12 April 2020

The Pacific Eider (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum) is the race of Common Eider breeding in the western Canadian Arctic, Alaska and eastern Russia.  They winter in Alaska and eastern Russia. It's near mythical occurrence in the North Atlantic has change considerable in the last five years or so. It has now become just about annual in winter where eiders are scrutinized on the Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland. There have been one or two highly suspected or confirmed records of Pacific Eider in each of the last five years.  The commonly accepted speculation is that they are making it through the central Arctic island because of less ice during the summer in recent years.  Some are reaching the Atlantic side and coming south to Newfoundland to winter. This could be just the tip of the iceberg as there are many thousands of Common Eiders wintering north of the Avalon Peninsula off the coast of Labrador and even Baffin Island. Who knows what percentage of those might be Pacific Eiders?  I posted much better photos of a Pacific Eider at Cape Spear, Avalon Peninsula, NF in March 2018 blog.

It is still important to document the occurrences of Pacific Eider in the Atlantic. On 12 April 2020 I came across one on the Cape Race road, about 1 km east of Portugal Cove South, Avalon Peninsula.  In the bright early morning sunlight its orange bill stood out like a beacon among a group of ten borealis Common Eiders feeding 150 m off shore or 225 m from the car. For the next hour I tried to get as many pictures as I could to document the record.  It wasn't close and a shimmer in the air over the cold water was increasing as the sun rose higher preventing tact sharp pictures. All these pictures are 100% crops.


The orange bill glows like a neon carrot in the sunlight. Note the curved black cap (straight on borealis, our regular wintering eider). Black border of bill starts out broad at the top and comes to a point. It is more uniformly narrow on borealis. Pacific Eiders show a diffusion of green along the border of the cap. It was hard to see on this bird. It was mostly blown out in the bright sunny whites in the photos, but was there. It could be seen through the scope and appears in some of the following photos. There is also a more pronounced forehead bump.

Compared to borealis, the black of the crown comes down further over the forehead, while the frontal lobes are shorter and even more sharply pointed.

With borealis

 Pacific Eider is a bigger bird than borealis. Note the obvious difference in the shape of the lower edge of the black cap being strongly concave on the Pacific and quite straight on borealis. And that bill colour!

The Black 'V' 

 The famous black V on the underside of chin is typically impossible to see unless the eider rears up and flaps its wings which eiders frequently do during the day.  And as I discovered when mouthing large sea urchins trying break off the spines. It typically went for the big urchins and struggled getting them down. The other eiders were eating smaller urchins and had little trouble downing them shortly after reaching the surface. Very rarely borealis have this black V but the suite of other features will separate an adult drake Pacific Eider when seen well. Yet it is still the finally detail we like to see when confirming a Pacific Eider. ,

Wednesday 8 April 2020

EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER @ Elliston - 5th for Newfoundland

Diane Collins posted a photograph of an unfamiliar bird she saw in her home town of Elliston, Bonavista Peninsula on the Newfoundland Birding Facebook page. The striking black and white bird with a carrot for a bill immediately caught the attention of knowledgeable birders. It was a EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER. Just the fifth record for Newfoundland. The other four records are listed below.

1) Tors Cove, Avalon Peninsula, 22-25 May 1995,  
2) Eastport, Bonavista Bay, 3 April-2 May 1999,
3) St. John’s, Avalon Peninsula, 5 August 2006
4) Lushes Bight, Notre Dame Bay, 14-23 May 2019

It was just last spring that we all enjoyed a Eurasian Oystercatcher at Lushes Bight.  Details and pictures on this blog posting   

Winds during the week leading up to the discovery of the Elliston bird were right for a European vagrant in being moderate in a direct line from southern England & France area to Newfoundland.  The best winds for European shorebirds migrating from Ireland to Iceland are strong NE. Some of us were already thinking that if anything came out of this it would be a strong flier like an oystercatcher or Gray Heron. We are still waiting for the latter to be reported.

In times of the covid-19 maelstrom a rare bird chase was not an automatic reaction. Some people thought it best to follow the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada and stay home. While others weighed in the realistic side of making human contact on such an adventure and were in the car before dawn the next morning for the 320 km ride from St. John's to Elliston.  I was a first responder.  I won't say who else might have been there but it was strange to all be driving in our own cars. 

The bird was easy to find, though could disappear for periods of time.

The first picture.

An hour later pictures were still less than satisfying. Getting great pictures of rarities is often the result of luck, patience, luck and anticipating what the bird is likely to do next.

Finally things lined up. The lighting was never so perfect on a rarity.

The bird was feeding well. It has no competition for digging around in the tidal rocks for mussels and other odds & ends. It was still being seen today as I type on 8 April. 

Saturday 4 April 2020

Southern Oceans - Three Species of Gull

No Kelp Gulls. Just Dolphin Gull, Brown-hooded Gull and Gray Gull.  See previous posting for Kelp Gull pictures. As I said in the previous post, gulls were only a side dish of gravy compared to the main course of pelagic birding on this trip but gravy was so rich.

Dolphin Gull was seen on the Falklands and during single day visits to Ushuaia, Argentina and Punta Arenas, Chile.  The encounters were short lived but total indulgence. Gray Gull was but a four hour visit to the beach area on the south side of the main port at San Antonio, Chile, a port for the inland capital of Santiago.

Dolphin Gull

The Dolphin Gull is a stunner. Is that bill for real?  At times it looks soft and waxy. This is an adult at Ushuaia, Argentina.

The gray head and dusky tip to the bill make this a 2nd summer bird, meaning was  hatched in January 2018.

The bird in the middle with the coal -dusted head and pink bill with blackish tip is probably a one year old bird. The picture was taken on 1 Feb 2020 so the bird should have been hatched in January 2019. I think my calculations are correct. All the birds around it are adults.  Ushuaia, Argentina  

Classic adult Dolphin Gull 1 Feb 2002, Ushuaia, Argentina 

 A 2nd  summer (gray head) Dolphin  Gull surrounded by adults

Adult Dolphin Gull standing above a nesting colony of Imperial Shags.


The Brown-hooded Gull

The Brown-headed Gull of South America is very similar to the Black-headed Gull from Eurasian.  The adult shows more extensive black on the  underside of the primaries with a white wedge across the ends of P7-10.   The upper surface of the wing is similar to a Black-headed. 

This adult Brown-hooded Gull is so much like a Common Black-headed Gull. 6 Feb 2020, San Antonio, Chile

This bird was the exception in having in still having a dark hood and intact primaries.  2 Feb 2020, Punta Arenas, Chile. 

Adult Brown-hooded Gull.  6 Feb 2020, San Antonio, Chile.

Adult Brown-hooded Gull.  6 Feb 2020, San Antonio, Chile.

Adult Brown-hooded Gull.  6 Feb 2020, San Antonio, Chile.

Adult Brown-hooded Gull.  6 Feb 2020, San Antonio, Chile.

Adult Brown-hooded Gull.  2 Feb 2020, Punta Arenas, Chile. 

Two juveniles on left, adult on right.  2 Feb 2020, Punta Arenas, Chile. 

 Juvenile Brown-hooded Gull,  Note the conspicuous white tips to the primaries. This is lacking on Black-headed Gulls of the same age. 2 Feb 2020, Punta Arenas, Chile.

Juvenile Brown-hooded Gull.  Most had dark tail band like this one but some had wholly or mostly white tails . 2 Feb 2020, Punta Arenas, Chile.



The Gray Gull is a beautiful bird. It has a restricted range for a gull. It nests on inland lakes of the Atacama Desert inland in northern Chile. Sub-adults and adults in the non breeding season occur along the coast of Peru and Chile. My four hour encounter with the species on a beach just south of the port of San Antonio, Chile on 6 Feb 2020 reminded me of seeing Laughing Gulls on the beaches of the east coast of the USA.

 Gray Gulls loafing on the beach.

Adult Gray Gull

Adult Gray Gull

Adult Gray Gull
Adult Gray Gull
Adult Gray Gull

 A one year old Gray Gull

 A one year old Gray Gull

 A one year old Gray Gull

Gray Gulls on the beach waiting for the right wave.

When a receding wave draws down the water the Gray Gulls spring into action catching unseen critters exposed briefly before the next wave rolls in.