Friday, 10 February 2017

The Yellow-legged Gull Returns - A Pattern Emergs.

Yesterday Lancy Cheng turned up a Yellow-legged Gull at Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland. It was the first great day for gull watching in a couple of weeks. After a cold windy spell and hardly any gulls on the lake, a warm spell with rain really stirred up the gulls and brought them out from hiding. It is still a mystery why we can't see large numbers of gulls in cold windy weather. The only food major source for 'ten thousand miles' is the St. John's landfill.  So they aren't leaving the zone but their habits do not cross paths with birding habits. Unfortunately our birding habits are prohibited from including the landfill where all the big gulls (except Iceland) must go to feed.

It was nice that Lancy found the Yellow-legged Gull again.  It adds a coating of lacquer to a developing pattern. This is the third consecutive year that this particular YLGU has shown up in St. John's in Sept/Oct and stayed until December - vanished completely - then appears out of no where in February. If the pattern holds we'll have only 2-3 weeks to enjoy its presence before it vanishes for good until the fall. 

I was already planning to take today off work. It coincided nicely with the new abundance of gulls. It was still raining and unseasonably warm when I set out early Friday morning. There were a lot of gulls also too many eagles  Between eagle flushes I managed three separate sightings of the Yellow-legged Gull. Twice on the bare ground by the Granite & Tile building near the entrance to the landfill and once bathing at close range at the west end of Quidi Vidi lake.

Photos were secured. It was all in panic mode. No time for breathing normally as the next eagle flush was just around the corner. Hopefully there will be some more close encounters over the next couple of weeks.

Below are photos of the bird today. I won't go through all the reasons why this is a Yellow-legged Gull because I outlined this in Feb 2016. The details can be seen here.  Enjoy.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Seductive Wigeon

There is something about an adult drake Eurasian Wigeon that I find irresistible. The burnt orange head and silvery gray body must have something to do with it. The trim and tidy, smart looking, rounded head and agility on their feet are attractive features of both American and Eurasian Wigeon.  Most adult drake ducks in full breeding plumage when studied intimately are works of art but there is something about the colour combination of the adult drake Eurasian Wigeon that just melts me.  Always been that way since I saw my first one in my mid-teens in southern Ontario. I was in a car packed with birders on the way to a May weekend at Point Pelee.  It was a stake out along the way. We had time for only a brief look. 

Many years later I was in another car packed with birders driving back roads in the marshlands of the Netherlands looking for White-tailed Eagles. It was winter. There were lots of waterfowl in the half frozen ponds including Eurasian Wigeons by the flock. It was painful to drive by everything in search of one species of bird. Finally there was a pond so close to the road, so full of wigeons that I blurted out - "can we stop here for a quick look".  Slightly perturbed for the stop when they realized all I was doing was looking at the wigeons, I felt better when someone mentioned that when  the famous bird illustrator from Sweden with the initial LJ was here last month he wanted to look at wigeons too.  LJ was probably more interested in the finer details of distinguishing 1st winter from adult females or something like that for his next master piece, where as all I was doing was soaking in those burnt orange heads and silver gray bodies. It was like eating a drug. 

We are blessed in St. John's to get a couple dozen or Eurasian Wigeon every fall. Most of them try to over winter. Some have to depart when there is too much snow covering up the lawns on which they like to graze on.  But lately, especially this year, wigeon are joining in with the other ducks eating bird seed and what ever people are offering the starving crowd.  Adult drake Eurasian Wigeon are generally the wariest and most difficult to see well among wigeon. Not they are that wary! This winter there has been a tame adult drake at Nevilles Pond and another at Powers Pond.  Females and young males are spread out more liberally among the city ponds and are easy to view around your feet wherever ducks gather in winter.

This week I spent some time with the Nevilles Pond drake  - a perfect specimen, and also a few minutes with the Powers Pond bird.

All of the above were the same bird photographed at Nevilles Pond, Paradise, Newfoundland on 29 & 30 January 2017.
Below is a shot of the adult Eurasian Wigeon at Powers Pond plus its mate also a Eurasian Wigeon. There were four pairs of American Wigeon here each paired up with one their own species. They know how to tell the difference. 
Photo: 31 Jan 2017


A flock of wigeon, a gray headed female American in the middle and rest Eurasian, at Spaniard's Bay on the west side of Conception Bay.  This area supports the most Eurasian Wigeons during the hardest times of mid winter. These are a wary group. Photo: 28 Dec 2015.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Missed That but Saw This.

It was an exciting phone call from Clara Dunne, a long time feeder watcher in Renews, when she said she was emailing me a picture of an unfamiliar bird at her feeder. Clara was not home all day but was reviewing the day's take of creatures that had triggered the Trail Cam she had trained on one of her bird feeders when she found a show stopper. I aborted my supper and headed downstairs and opened up Clara's email. This was I saw attached.
Female Varied Thrush captured on a Trail Cam at Clara Dunne's bird feeder at Renews, Newfoundland.

This opened up the adrenaline hoses that had been seizing up after a couple of quiet weeks of birding. The news was spread and plans were made to skip work or any responsibilities for Tuesday.  This was the 7th Varied Thrush for Newfoundland and Labrador but it has been a good while since there was one around that was relatively easy to see. The newer birders on the block had never seen one and the veterans had not seen one for a long time.

 I was happy for an excuse to take time off work. Ken Knowles and I left St. John's in time to reach Renews just before sunrise. It was an incredibly clear, cool dawn with the fir trees standing out razor sharp against the growing fiery eastern sky. We parked the car sidesaddle to the feeder so we could both be ready with our cameras when the bird arrived.  IT NEVER ARRIVED.  The Varied Thrush did not come to Clara's feeder today. Another 8 birders showed up for the stake out. It was simply not there to be seen

Ken and I  spent four solid hours sitting in the car near the feeder before we had to leave for a whizz. The piss stop turned into a longer birding circuit of Renews harbour. We came back to the feeder before heading back to St. John's at 2 pm. Clara's Trail Cam did not pick it up either. Newfoundland Varied Thrush has an ominous record of playing very hard to get even when showing up at bird feeders.

So here we go again. In some ways waiting for a Varied Thrush is a waste of precious birding time, but actually seeing the classy bird on Newfoundland soil would make it worthwhile.  Attached are some of the sights from today.  We missed the Varied Thrush but saw this. 

The faithful White-winged Dove could not have picked a better bird feeder to try to spend the winter in Newfoundland.  It has been present since late November. There is only one other WWDO that has tried to over winter in Newfoundland and it made it. Fingers are crossed for this bird.

The two Mourning Doves at Clara's feeder were even shier than the White-winged Dove. Their bills are tiny compared to the White-winged Dove.

Common Grackle tries to survive year-round in Newfoundland but it seems their noble effort is waning. It is becoming rare again. Clara has this one at her feeder every day.

There were at least four flickers making the rounds of Clara's feeders. They take no duff from any bird while at the feeder including the pig-fashioned starlings.

This snipe had a little patch of water to probe its bill at the 'Snipe Spot'.

 A yearling Harp Seal tried sleeping on the ice but could not seem to get settled down.

This young Hooded Seal had no trouble sleeping time away on the ice in the centre of inner Renews harbour.   Note the dark back clearly contrasting with the pale side.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

KELP GULL for Christmas in Newfoundland

No one could sleep Christmas Eve knowing there was a Kelp Gull in St. John's after belated news of a Kelp Gull photographed on 23 Dec reached the birding community on Christmas Eve. It was Shawn Fitzpatrick with his fresh eyes for odd gulls that noticed it and luckily snapped it on 23 December.

After going through the Christmas morning family rituals with a calm front but boiling inside I was granted freedom at 08:30. I  texted Lancy Cheng who was waiting to hear for the OK. Picked him up and we went to Quidi Vidi lake. It was blocked with gulls.  Lots of interesting birds at the Rennies River inflow, most of them becoming familiar.  We went down to Virginia River mouth the site of the actual sighting on 23 Dec.  Took shelter from winds behind thick pine trees. Lots to look at. We could see Alvan Buckley up on an excellent perch with shelter by the 'blue building' from wind 150 m away. There was a flush caused by a rather aggressive goshawk. Shortly after the cell phone rang. It was Alvan who said - "I have a candidate for The Bird.".

Lancy and I got there in no time flat. Looked through Alvan's scope locked on the bird. After memorizing Shawn's photos I knew without a doubt this was definitely THE GULL. We watched it from about 200 m for 15 minutes. It was standing then sat down.  Scope replaced by camera on the tripod for terribly long distant photos. And waiting for the next mass flush which are all too frequent at the lake from passing Bald Eagles and now this new bully goshawk, It happened. I was ready but The Gull did not fly into the wind as expected but angled left leaving little opportunity for nice flight shots.

We spent the rest of the morning trying to relocate the bird but no luck. About eight other birder cars appeared shortly thereafter breaking away from Xmas morning duties  It was not relocated. But it will be, Eventually we will nail this bird into the ground with photos and views. It is a keeper. It is a KELP GULL. This is Newfoundland.

Kelp Gull - slight crop with 840 mm lens

Kelp Gull -100% crop

Sturdy bill, long parallel sided, strong gonydeal angle.

Note P10 still a long way from fully grown but showing the only white mirror on the wing.


This is not an obviously different gull among the flock. It is as dark above as the abundant Great Black-backed Gulls. Easily overlooked among them.

This why it is a KELP GULL in no particular order of importance, plus some other features worth noting.

a) The legs are greenish. Not pink, gray or yellowish.  Presumably would be yellower in breeding plumage.
a a) the only white mirror in the outer primaries is the one on P10 not fully grown in this bird. GBBG have such a unchanging P10 P9 pattern with a huge clean white tip to P10 and significant white mirror on P9
b) size is a little smaller than the average Herring Gull.
c) head is pure white. Blocky shape, long, low flat crown. Many GBBGs also with pure white heads in winter. 
d) upper parts every bit as dark or even darker than a GBBG.
e) tertial crescent wider than GBBG and LBBG though not as wide as Slaty-backed Gull.
f) white tips of folded primaries small. Smaller than GBBG and our Herring Gulls in adult plumage.
g) bill stout, rather parallel from face to gonys. Significant gonydeal angle. Base of bill through scope slight greenish yellow.

As it would happen when you are looking for something better, the elusive but always around Yellow-legged Gull present was getting in the way all day. It just sat there saying "take my picture".  

Yellow-legged Gull.  Note  the 'rare' shade of gray somewhere between a Herring Gull and but closer to a Lesser Black-backed Gull. Who knows how this shade of gray will appear on your monitor.  A peculiar feature consistent feature with ALL Yellow-legged Gulls seen in Newfoundland but I can not find in any pictures of Yellow-legged Gull from Europe, even from the Azores is the wide spacing between P8 and P7. Maybe it is only these longer winged birds that can make it all the way between the Azores and Newfoundland.  The legs always seem a bit thick and completely yellow even around the joints.

Time predawn 27 Dec 2016. There were no sightings of Kelp Gull on 26 Dec during a very cold and windy local CBC day.  Paul Jones of  Ottawa sent a photo of a Kelp Gull taken in November 2016 in Chile.  Note the pale green leg colour of this bird is a match for the St. John's bird. Also note 1) the broad white 'skirt', the white tips of folded secondaries, 2) tiny white tips to primaries, 3) white mirror on underside of P10 isolated from a black tip, 4) darkish eye is like St. John's bird as well.

GOOD LUCK OUT THERE. This bird must and will be found again.

Adult Kelp Gull in Chile November 2016 . Photo by Paul Jones.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Potential MONSTER GULL RARITY at QV Lake yesterday

This is a hurried post. NO sightings of this bird today. News is only becoming known now at noon Saturday  Here are the only pictures. Please look it up on internet or books to see why this has some very key marks indicating KELP GULL !!!

The 1st 3rd and 4th picture are by Shawn Fitzpatrick and 2nd and 5th by Paul Linegar.

Five more pictures of this surely a shoe-in sealed, signed and delivered KELP GULL taken by Shawn Fitzpatrick at noon 23 Dec 2016 at Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Fox Sparrow - ***ESPECIAL***

On 17 Dec 2016 Julie Cappleman noticed what she thought at first was an odd junco at the feeder in Portugal Cove South, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland.  When she realized it was heavily streaked on the underside she called Dave Shepherd to the window.  He realized it was a 'western' Fox Sparrow.

Word was spread and people from St. John's drove the 90 minutes to PCS to see this extraordinary Fox Sparrow. Western Fox Sparrows are not something you hear much about in the east. This is perhaps because they do not make the headlines as western Fox Sparrows are not a full species like say Golden-crowned Sparrow or Harris's Sparrow or Spotted Towhee - species that always make the Regional news and beyond when occurring in northeastern North America. 

I got to see the bird on 22 December.  It was an amazing looker. Striking bird compared to the abundant breeding Fox Sparrow of Newfoundland.  With photos secured and back home looking at them on the computer screen the work of trying fit this bird into the proper subspecies slot began.  It was more complicated than I expected. It probably requires more than run of the mill field guides which is all I have on the subject.  Because the bird has a distinct gray under tones to the head and in good light a reddish undertone to the back and spotting on breast, my current vote is for the Slate-coloured Fox Sparrow of the Interior West.  The Sooty Fox Sparrow of the Pacific Coast should lack just about all gray and reddish tones.  However, it was remarkable how the bird could look like a classic Sooty Fox Sparrow in some lights and then in others the reddish and gray tones would appear.
[There has been a unanimous vote for Sooty Fox Sparrow from a number of west coast US birders and others who viewed these photographs]

Below are a sampling of the 22 December 2016 photos from Portugal Cove South, NF.

This last photo is for reference - a standard Newfoundland Fox Sparrow from Trepassey 30 Nov 2014