Thursday, 1 October 2015

A few Common Shorebird Photos

Birding during the autumn on the Avalon is basically vagrant hunting 100% of the time. The frequent thrills make it a rewarding activity but other parts of birding suffer. For me photography of nice common birds goes down the drain during fall migration.  Last weekend was extraordinarily cold and it seemed liked the supply of southern vagrants hanging around had vanished and there was no hope of new ones arriving.  This allowed me to do things a little different in that I could enjoy the common birds more and some photography even.  The cold north winds meant that south facing St. Shotts beach would be free of the camera eating air-borne salt spray that is so prevalent here on most visits. I had seen plenty of shorebird here in Saturday. The camera finger was itching but there was no time for photography. Sunday (27 September) was different. I made the time. St Shotts beach for photography was my objective of the day.  As per usual a sure-thing planned photo session is always flawed in some way. This time it was the very dark overcast sky and the frequent passes of raptors kept the birds away much of the time. But overall it was a very rewarding 3.5 hours standing on the beach behind my camera, 840 mm lens and tripod.  The birds eventually ignored me and near full frame shots were the everywhere I pointed the camera.  We are talking only a few species here, mainly Dunlin, White-rumped Sandpipers and the ubiquitous Semipalmated Plover.  I have not figured out how to convey the beautiful full frame shots off the camera to a reduced image size suitable for posting on this Blog. So much of the finer beauty is lost in the downsizing.    

The juvenile Dunlin are in the process moulting into winter plumage. Right now they come in varied individual patterns mixing bright oranges and blacks with the incoming muddy gray feathers for winter.


Newfoundland is at a lull in the migration of White-rumped Sandpipers. The peak of adults (above) has passed and the juveniles (below) are just starting to appear. There are always a few adults among the main wave of juvenile in October and November but this bird above showed far more breeding plumage on 27 Sept than most adults even in early August.  


The Semipalmated Plover is a very common shorebird during fall migration in Newfoundland. It is everywhere. Absolutely no adults left by now just endless juveniles, all tame, docile and birder friendly.  I added a couple dozen more portraits to my photo collection of this species for potential use down the road when needed to support the ID a juv Common Ringed Plover .

There are 4 Dunlin, 2 White-rumped Sandpipers and 1 Semipalmated Plover in this shot. You can see them all?

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Looking GOOD for a Newfoundland LITTLE STINT

A rushed post to get the first images of what seems to be a good LITTLE STINT at Renews, Avalon Peninsula. Images are small. Bird was far away and was using a 420mm lens. Tomorrow hoping for better.

Description: First impression was WOW look at that peep. It is so red and so white.  Little Stint came to mind first even though most of my Little Stint experience comes from photos.I had long ago concluded that I would not be trying to find one of these near impossible to ID birds among the common and highly variable juv Semipalmated Sandpiper in Newfoundland. It was a long afternoon chasing the bird around the harbour trying to get a decent look let alone a photo.  It was an hour after the initial sighting that I had seen enough that maybe I should tell someone but was torn between telling the world about a high potential false alarm.  First I phoned Alison Mews and Ed Haydon who I knew were close by. And then texted Alvan Buckley who I figured would take the gamble and go for it.

By late afternoon seven people had seen it. Some were returning from birding farther south when they saw us looking. Even a female RCMP officer stopped for a look with a sincere interest in what we were looking at. I got a One Free Speeding Certificate for everyone.

It was reddish. Hardly orange like some of the juv Semipalmated Sandpipers.  That is margins of scapulars, most wing coverts and tertials.  There were two sets of distinct white lines running down the scapulars. Also a particularly strong rufous cap. It had a good split supercilium which is said to be a good mark for Little Stint when present.  There were two strong short bars on side of the breast within a light wash of rufous - another good mark for Little Stint.  The wing coverts and scapulars were all solidly blackish.  Semipalmated Sandpipers have some grayish based scapulars.  The wing tips appeared to extend just slightly beyond the tail which is good for Little Stint. 

There was only one juv Semi Sand present for comparison.  The Semi was a fair bit larger and fatter. The suspect Little Stint was more slender, less puffy. The under parts were very white contrasting with the head markings.. Semipalmated Sandpipers often have a slight tinge of buffiness to the under parts, especially those at the orangest end of the scale. Also the bill and legs seemed a little blacker, more jet black compared to a Semi. By the end of it I knew to look for slightly longer legs and that is the way it was when next to the Semipalmated Sandpiper.

Below are some of today's pictures showing some of the features mentioned above.  Small images. Hopefully better tomorrow.

ADDENDUM - These photos were sent to a half dozen notable shorebird experts on both sides of the Atlantic with an unanimous response that it is a totally classic juvenile Little Stint. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Autumn Vagrant Hunting Season Opens

September 1st marks the beginning of the real fall birding. The vagrant hunting season is here. It is a period when any day has the potential to be a great day. All it takes is that phone call or a lucky find yourself.  The season is open for three months from September to November (92 days). Actually the season runs well into December. What will the collection of autumn rarities look like in 2015? How big will the rarity of the fall be?  It takes all of us to build up a rich haul of rarities. Start Now.....

The highlight of the fall of 2011 was the Fork-tailed Flycatcher at Renews 14-23 October.  Can we beat that in 2015?

Monday, 31 August 2015

Piping Plover at Cape Spear - LOST

A report of a Piping Plover on the side of the road at Cape Spear of course lead to skepticism on my part.  Could it be a Snowy Plover? What about a Greater Sand Plover? Or maybe a Mountain Plover? Although these have never been recorded in the province they sounded somewhat more realistic than a Piping Plover on the side of road on the Avalon Peninsula at the end of August.  A few dozen Piping Plovers nest in the southwest corner of the province from Burgeo around the corner at Port-aux Basques and up to Stephenville. There is an outpost pair at Shallow Bay GMNP and still occasional sightings from a former nesting location near Cape Freels. Piping Plover is accidental on the Avalon Peninsula. In the past three decades I can think of only two records - one from Bellevue Beach and a female that Richard Thomas found at Portugal Cove South one May not long ago and that one was seen by a number of people. Piping Plovers are also early departers from the stronghold breeding sites in Nova Scotia. I believe they are all gone before the end of August.

What was one doing on the side of the Cape Spear road on a busy Sunday on 30 August? It must have been very lost and disoriented. It fed on the gravel shoulder next to the pavement with constant cars and loud motorcycles passing within a meter or two. Semipalmated Plovers which regularly frequent the parking lot and Cape Spear grounds are typically wary of vehicles.  It seemed physically healthy and appeared to be finding lots to eat. I saw it eat a couple of large insects but most of the time one could not see what, if anything, it got every time it picked at the ground.

Where did it come from? This was one time when I wished there were a few leg bands burdening the plovers life and blemishing the look of the beautiful bird so we could find out where it was hatched.

The viewing and photo opportunities were exceptional.  I sat in my car on the opposite side of the road and fired away. There was hardly enough room to get the car off the pavement. Had to be careful to draw my lens inside the car so passing cars would not bang into it. 

It frequently picked at the ground in plover fashion but could not see what it was getting.

Stomp out Smoking

Near sun set the plover slowed down and tried to rest on the edge of the road but was continually disturbed by passing cars yet never moved more than two meters back from the road edge.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Shoe-In Yellow-legged Gull at Quidi Vidi Lake

On 18 August I checked the gulls on the ball fields at QV Lake looking for Yellow-legged Gulls as they regularly arrive during the third week of August. I actually saw very suspicious looking bird but due to bright sunlight and gulls being flushed by a dog walker and shortage of time on the way to work I left it. Wasn't sure of the shade and actual colour of mantle. I didn't get a photo. There weren't any gulls on the fields next morning before work and... well it didn't matter anymore because later the same morning was the discovery of the White-winged Tern which changed everyone's focus for days!

Alvan Buckley making the rounds on Sunday 23 Aug independently discovered the same bird. He sent around a few photos confirming this.  It did look like a good candidate for YLGU.  On Monday morning there were gulls present at the ball fields but not the gull of interest. Tuesday morning (today), Alvan located the gull in the ball fields.  Got some pictures and texted me.  I got there at 08:40. found the bird right away among the 300+ gulls present. Started taking pictures through chain fence.  A grounds-man was about to do some work on the field so I got out of the car ready for a flight shot.  Oddly the gulls didn't even fly at first.  Eventually only half the birds flew up but went to just the next field.  Dull foggy conditions meant slow shutter speeds, bad for flight shots. However, the bird looks right on for a YELLOW-LEGGED GULL. It is difficult to convey the little details that add up to right feeling you get when you have a genuine YLGU especially when these details are subdued during heavy moult.  A pale  Lesser Black-backed Gull or a hybrid LBBGx HERG are the ID challengers.  I won't even try to go through all the details now. The bird is a mess now but will gradually start looking better. Typically August arrivals linger and are regularly seen until at least November and if lucky it will overwinter.  

Attached are some snaps from this morning. Take them as you will. Expect better pictures over the coming weeks or months.

The common pose of  relaxed YLGU shows a short steep forehead and flat topped head with steeply dropping nape.

Head streaking restricted to forward part of head with a mainly white nape is classic YLGU. most of the HERGs don't have any head streaking yet.

(YLGU in the back) Just two unmoulted primaries. The majority of HERGs (in front) with several old primaries at this time.

Out stretched head and neck shows the mean/tough look of a YLGU that is often lacking when the bird is relaxed.

An indication of how the  black wingtip pattern will look like when finished moulting - sharply demarcated from rest of wing from below and above.

Monday, 24 August 2015


Skipped Day IV of the White-winged Tern show at Chamberlain's Pond and birded elsewhere for the day but on Sunday had to go back for more.  John Wells and I drove out for the tern watch and were part of a small crowd that got a great show 09:30 - 12:00. It waits for the temperature to warm up enough for the flies to come to life.  One wonders what will happen when day time highs temperatures drop this week to below 20C. Even Common  Terns were noticeably less numerous than five days earlier.

The pictures all start to look the same after a while but it is hard to stop.  The overcast light produced a black and white look to some. Frustrations reigned universal on getting an Autofocus fix on the bird. But those using only binoculars were happy with the close passes.  

Friday, 21 August 2015

WHITE-WINGED (BLACK) TERN in Newfoundland - Day III

The White-winged (Black) Tern continues to entertain at Chamberlains Pond while feeding and Manuels Yacht club when resting.  The pictures get a little better each day as we figure out its habits.

A few of the 300 keepers from today.