Friday, 23 June 2017

A Stir Fry for American Robins

Looking for something to point a camera at yesterday evening I opened up on some American Robins gathering food by the Cape Spear parking lot.  The robins are accustomed to people and cars coming and going throughout the day.  They were wary when you stopped to look at them but were easy to stalk and shoot from the car.  It was probably just two birds that kept returning to a patch of mowed grass beside my parked car.  The dark backed bird was probably the male and the paler bird the female. The dark upper back of the 'male'' is a feature regularly seen on Newfoundland robins.  The youngsters were being well fed in a hidden nest according to the number of trips with food made by the adults.

The ingredients for a well rounded healthy stir fry for robins include - caterpillars a la moth, red wiggler earthworms, a few straws of grass and a dash of moss.

And it is more of the same for the next meal.


The male robin (dark neck and upper back) captured its share of groceries for the household as well. 

Sunday, 11 June 2017

One Leg in the Door of Summer - Shearwaters

The flight of shearwaters at Pt LaHaye on Saturday was not a pure sign of summer. They were storm driven and not capelin followers. But  knowing  they are out there is sure sign we are close to walking into summer.

I experienced an enjoyable 2 hours of seawatching at Pt La Haye, St.Mary's Bay, Newfoundland on 10 June. Three hours of daylight had already passed before I got there.  The heavy gale force south winds and rain/drizzle/fog were having an effect on seabirds. This is what I tallied in two hours before the storm passed and the blue sky appeared.


Northern Fulmar - 25
Great Shearwater - 350
Sooty Shearwater - 250
Manx Shearwater - 65
Leach' Storm-Petrel- 30
Pomarine Jaeger - 3
Parasitic Jaeger - 1
kittiwake - many 100s
Puffins, murres and razorbills - many 100s
Northern Gannets - many


The Parasitic Jaeger appeared to be an adult. The underwing coverts looked uniformly dark. Jaegers in adult-like plumage during summer usually give away their sub-adult status when they reveal checkered underwing coverts. But not this bird - it seems to be an adult.


A Parasitic Jaeger flying past Pt La Haye on 10 June 2017. It appears to be bona fide adult based on uniform dark underwing coverts. Late date for an adult at this latitude.







I am trying to believe in summer but St. Vincent's Beach was not looking great for summer whale watching on Saturday.

This Laughing Gull was hanging on to the road by its toe nails during the steady 45 knot SW winds at St. Shotts. It was eating plenty of partially dried up earth worms on the road. Laughing Gull is a definite sign of summer. The brown secondaries, primaries & primary coverts say this is bird hatched last summer. A small handful of Laughing Gulls show up every summer in Newfoundland. This is the first of 2017.





How can it really be summer when there are still icebergs floating around the Avalon Peninsula. This one at Ferryland was one of six icebergs for the day.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A Late Spring Alberta Diversion

Spring is a mean season for human beings in Newfoundland. The weather just refuses to warm up nearly as fast as we think it should. It is embarrassing to say that on 6 June as I write this the Norway maples in my St. John's backyard are ... are just starting to break open their first leafy buds. Only some of them, the minority in fact, most of the leaf buds are still close tight as a nut.


A family vacation to Alberta 19-27 May 2017 was intended to be a family sort of visit to a brother in Red Deer but the warm summer-like weather and leaves full out on the trees made it paradisiacal for three winter weary Newfoundlanders.  Birding was partly restricted but far from curtailed.

Alberta is birding is a mecca of easy eye candy to Newfoundland bird starved birders. There is so much life around those sloughs it is euphoric to witness when coming directly from Newfoundland. Many of the common birds are birds we chase as rarities in Newfoundland. Alberta is under rated or not even rated as a vacation destination for Newfoundland birders. Even a day extension to a business trip to Calgary would produce much birder joy. Birding is easy in Alberta.

My birding joy was marred a little by camera withdrawal syndrome caused by downgrading to a Canon 40D after my beloved 1D Mark IV died completely at a young age of 6 1/2 years.  The 40D was fabulous when it first came out.  It took some getting use to and remembering that it does take good pictures when the birds are close and the light is good. I used only a 300 mm f4 for the following snaps.
Wilson's Phalaropes (female above, male below) are numerous and present in most sloughs of any size.


Yellow-headed Blackbirds are dirt common abundant at sloughs everywhere .



Cinnamon Teal are on the uncommon side but you will not miss them on a days outing around Calgary or Red Deer.

Forster's Terns are common in the larger sloughs.  Try to find a Common Tern in the prairies of central Alberta. I saw just one probably a migrant vs a few hundred Foresters.

Franklin's Gulls are the kittiwake of the Alberta prairies.  Abundant in the larger sloughs but also in fields being ploughed and random locations.

Hundred of Franklin's Gulls and a fair number of White-faced Ibis are nesting in the cattails you can see in this picture at the well known birding locality of Frank Lake about a 45 minute drive south of Calgary.

Eurasian Collared Doves have established themselves at isolated farm houses and small towns on the wide open flat prairie east and southeast of Calgary.

Eared Grebes are super abundant on the medium to large sloughs. Western, Red-necked and Horned Grebes are also present in good numbers in appropriate habitats.

White Pelicans are on the local side but easy to find with a little help or accidentally as they soar high over the prairie. These were feeding together at Pelican Point, Buffalo Lake, 40 minutes ENE of Red Deer.



Alberta Swainson's Hawks are a favourite of visiting easterners. They are plentiful in the Calgary area and most of the southern third of Alberta.


California Gull is another target of easterner visiting the prairie provinces. Not nearly as abundant as the Franklin's Gull, they are a little on the local side but where nesting quite common. They also frequent fast food restaurants where this one was photographed.


The unexpected surprise of the trip was coming across a staggering 150 SABINE'S GULLS at Pelican Pt,  Buffalo Lake, all adults in high breeding plumage. While not exactly close they were still a great experience. Flocks of Sabine's are known to get grounded by bad weather at larger Alberta waterbodies while taking the shortcut from the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic breeding site. But the weather on this day was light winds, sunny and 25C. Maybe they stop here anyways to feed. There were plenty of Franklin's Gulls, Forster's Terns and Black Terns feeding  on insects over the lake. About ten Sabine's are in this photo. The 150 were spread out over a few 100 meters. A man on seadoo drove through the flock allowing for a count of Sabine's among the mixed species flock.
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A little trip to the mountains was a frustrating for birding time but this pair of tame Barrow's Goldeneye were present next to a scenic rest stop.

The bird I most wanted to see on the Alberta trip was the Le Conte's Sparrow. I knew where they would be from previous trips. Only 15 minutes from my brothers house near Red Deer there are little colonies of Le Conte's in the right kind of fields. Rather distant with a 300 mm lens, prolonged views through the spotting scope at 50X were brain damaging. 




Alberta is a Birding Heaven for Newfoundlanders.  I never even got to the southeast corner of the province where the prairie longspurs, Ferruginous Hawks and Baird's Sparrow live. Next time...






Wednesday, 10 May 2017

A Couple of Euro Whims

Newfoundland has been on the western end of some transatlantic winds for the last five days or so. The winds are not strong but direct. We were expecting a few transatlantic waifs and it happened. Typical Icelandic species and just a light smattering of birds. Very light. A total of four European Golden Plovers at three locations and a Euro Whimbrel around a ship at sea. Then Ed Hayden found two European Whimbrels at Maddox Cove. White-rumped whimbrels are rarer than Black-tailed Godwits in Newfoundland.  Often just a brief visit at a Cape or headland and up to now always a single bird. Two Euro Whimbrels close to St. John's was a hit among the birders.

The two birds were feeding on narrow steep grassy margins between a fairly busy road and the rocky shoreline. A very unlikely place for Whimbrels of any nationality. I struggled with a backup camera, a Canon 40D while my beloved 1D MarkIV is in hospital. In the dark foggy conditions I realised the advantages of a camera capable of good results at higher ISOs among other comforts I'd taken for granted for the last six years. I missed my opt for flight shots because some ()*&^*^ dial accidentally turned to the Mars shooting mode in the moment of action.

The white rumps and white under wings transforms a pretty ordinary looking Whimbrel into a European star.

Is there a way to tell the nationality of these two birds with there white parts concealed? They seem to have more obvious white borders to the wing coverts or is that just my imagination?


Feeding among boulders on a narrow slope between the road and the rocky shoreline was a very unlikely location to find Whimbrels. They arrived in the fog so probably didn't have much of an idea of their surroundings.



Every time they fluttered their wings there was a response of camera shutters on the road. Many locals stopped to see what they were missing. Most were disappointed to find out it was only birds.




This individual vomited.  Looks like a stomach full of fresh slugs. Slugs are common in the grass. Didn't know anything ate them. Maybe there is a good reason for that.




The other bird looked on concernedly at its buddy hurling but seemed OK itself.


Overall this was the best all round European Whimbrel experience ever in Newfoundland. It was enjoyed by the most people and at leisure and there were two of them.


Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Season called Spring in Newfoundland

Spring weather is probably better on Mars than it is in Newfoundland. As I type this on 20 April it is currently snowing and there is a Freezing Rain Warning posted for tonight in St. Johns and the northern Avalon Peninsula. There is a strip of pack ice  across the entrance to St. John's harbour.  The good news about spring is the high frequency of Icelandic vagrants. Frequently during the spring large Low Pressure areas stall and enlarge in the mid North Atlantic generating an air flow from Ireland & Iceland to Newfoundland and Labrador. Shorebirds wintering in Ireland and the rest of the UK on their way to nesting grounds in Iceland sometimes miss their mark and ride the winds all the way to Newfoundland.  European Golden Plover is the most regular and most numerous species.  It is found almost every spring somewhere in eastern Newfoundland but in good years there can be several hundred with single flocks of up to 60 birds. Black-tailed Godwit is a distant second in abundance, followed by Eurasian Whimbrel and Common Redshank.  The peak period is 20 April to 10 May.

There is mildly promising weather for some Icelandic birds in the next week but the winds are actually surprisingly good from Spain/France to eastern Newfoundland for the next 48 hours. We have a list of outlandish possibilities that could come from that area which are too crazy reproduce here.

Below are a few photos of Icelandic vagrants from our last big influx of Icelandic vagrants to Newfoundland in 2014 just to help whet the appetite..  

Two striking Black-tailed Godwits at Renews on 26 April 2014.

Eurasian Whimbrel at Cape Spear 9 June 2014. It arrived in mid May.


One of two Common Redshanks that were present at Renews beach on 4 May 2014.

A Greater Yellowlegs challenged the stranger (Common Redshank) at Renews Beach 4 May 2014. It was a brief skirmish. The redshank held its ground and did not fly away but went back to feeding soon as the yellowlegs let go.

Sometimes Northern Wheatears add a bit of variety during an Icelandic vagrant show composed mainly of shorebirds. May 2014 at Renews.

It does not matter how many times you see them in Newfoundland  the first one that lands in the spring is a big thrill.  European Golden Plovers WILL happen again. Will spring 2017 be another big influx???  Photo: early May 2014 Renews.



Not all birds of European origin arrive in Newfoundland flying directly across the Atlantic in spring. Some are thought to have flown across the Atlantic Ocean farther south, perhaps from western Africa during fall or winter.  After finding a winter refuge in say the Caribbean it is theorized that such birds fly north through North America in spring.  I am sold on this theory for explaining birds like the two pictured below. Both showed up in mid day during clear blue skies and strong west winds.


Little Egret at (where else?) Renews on 23 May 2015.


Garganey at Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's on 15 May 2009..