Monday, 28 December 2015

December 28 - Around the Bay

Daylight is short in late December.  I've had a hankering to know if the November Little Gull was still present at Bellevue Beach. Daylight is so short that low tides were happening under the cover of darkness. I knew it was too much to expect the tide at Bellevue would fall far low enough before darkness for the small gulls and what ever else might be using the Bellevue Beach mudflats to be out. But it as only going to get worse during the week so I took a chance and combined it with some birding at the waterfowl hotspots on the western side of Conception Bay.  It was an OK day with few surprises. Below are some of the highlights that got photographed along the way.

The Avondale Bufflehead flock was 13 strong. Here are most of them. There was another five at Clarke's Beach.

Knowing a Wood Duck overwintered at Brigus the last two years I decided to look for it.  I found it right away with a group of ten Black Ducks.  I was lucky because the little flock of ducks swam into vegetation flooded by an unusually high tide and would have been out of sight with a casual scan from the road.

The drake Barrow's Goldeneye was at Spaniard's Bay but too far out there to photograph. There is always a flock of Euro Wigeons wintering in Spaniard's Bay. Not entirely sure where they feed but at high tide they can sometimes be found at the Spaniard's Bay 'mini park'.They flew in just as I arrived. 12 EUWI and 1 female AMWI.  Is there any dabbling duck more attractive than an adult drake EUWI?

Can you spot the female American Wigeon in this and the above photo. The light was very low in the shade of the stream and the wigeon swam quickly and nervously in and out of the stream mouth where numerous tamed Black Ducks were present. Most of my photos were badly out of focus.

Unlike the wigeons, this hybrid American Wigeon x Mallard, one of three present annually during the winter season at Harbour Grace is bread trained.

I spent nearly two hours at Bellevue Beach town watching the tide fall hoping at least a little feeding frenzy might occur at the outlet. Nope. The mudflats also were not even beginning to be exposed by the time I had to leave so we do not know what might be overwintering at Bellevue Beach this year. I didn't leave completely empty handed.  There were three adult Bonaparte's Gulls and a Black-headed Gull flying about the harbour and occasionally stopping to feed among the seaweed.

This Dunlin was a little bit of a surprise on the rocks at the Graveyard Point. I am surprised more shorebirds do not try to over winter at Bellevue Beach.  

Friday, 25 December 2015

Christmas Morning Birding Tradition

At our house it is tradition on Christmas morning.that Bruce checks out the gulls in St. John's harbour and at Quidi Vidi Lake after the presents under the tree are opened and while the turkey cooks. This year it was a little different in that I started with a walk to the graveyard five minutes down the road to check out the meal worm feeder setup that Gerard Hickey has got working.  Amazingly a Blue-headed Vireo has discovered it as well as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Pine Warbler. It was an beautiful morning at +5C with sun and light winds. There were little insects flying around. It took 40 minutes sitting by the feeder before each of the three target birds made their visits but all three birds stayed in the area for a further 30 minutes. An adult Sharp-shinned Hawk made a close pass.

The Blue-headed Vireo in a flower pot, just one of the places where meal worms have been placed.

The vireo is friendly and used to people when they sit still and watch.  This the latest BHVI in Newfoundland and I believe only the third ever in December. It was found in mid November.

I didn't know Ruby-crowned Kinglets would go to a bird feeder. This one goes after the suet mixture as well as the meal worms. They occasionally show up on Christmas Bird Counts in Newfoundland but I don't think there has been one in January.  This bird should make it and maybe much farther into the new year.

Pine Warblers are no strangers to bird feeders and can survive a Newfoundland winter with a good steady supply of nourishment.

Gull watching at Quidi Vidi Lake was spoiled by two Bald Eagles so there were few gulls except for the semi-domesticated gulls standing shamelessly among pigeons waiting for handouts from people feeding the ducks. 

Two American Coots are with the ducks at the Rennies River mouth. This one taking advantage of the bare grass before the next snow fall.

Some of the 70+ Tufted Ducks sitting around wondering what to do now that the lake has been mostly frozen for the previous 48 hours.

The wigeons depend on bare grass for food.  Miracle how they survive the St John's winters. They were happy to see the thin snow cover vanish in the warm spring like air. This drake Eurasian Wigeon needs all the nourishment it can get to grow into a better looking 1st winter plumage.

Wigeons are often a little wary but a group 2 EUWI and 5 AMWI were well tamed today at the west end of the lake. This typical brown-headed female Eurasian Wigeon provided some great views.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Time for a Change of Targets

Hunting autumn vagrants in Newfoundland is not over yet but the focus is switching to early winter vagrant hunting. This includes the  highly exciting European Turdus thrush (Euro Turd) hunting.There is an excellent crop of dogberries awaiting any turdus thrushes that comes our way.

It has been too long since the last Redwing.  For several years in a row its status had been lowered to nothing more than a year bird if you lived on the Avalon Peninsula. It was still an exciting chase looking for a Redwing but we got spoiled with too many successes.  After a three (4?) winter drought we have regained a fresh hunger to see Redwing.  We are coming into a good situation for Redwing = lots and lots of dogberries, and there were some NE winds over the autumn season. So far we are having trouble seeing even American Robins but that is normal. It is often in January when St. John's and the eastern Avalon becomes hot for robins.

Redwing became the Euro Turd of choice in Newfoundland through the 2000s as Fieldfare dropped completely off the map. In the late 1980s and 1990s Fieldfare was the normal Euro Turd to look for and Redwing was the Super Star.  Modern day Newfoundland birders(post 2000) have not seen Fieldfare in Newfoundland but have seen Redwing.  This changing of the Euro Turds in Newfoundland corresponds to the change in status of these birds in Greenland.  Redwings quickly built up a small pocket of breeders in the southwest (?) part of the country exactly the same time the species began regularly showing up in Newfoundland. Meanwhile the tiny breeding population of Greenland Fieldfares diminished. 

We await to see what happens this winter. If it is another Redwing blank then it will be time to find out why. Maybe the Greenland breeding pocket vanished as quickly as it built up.  

Redwing on 23 Jan 2007 near the Fluvarium, St. John's

The same Redwing as above. The species is shy.  
Usually the dogberry crop does not last much beyond mid February as the birds and wind take care of the fruit.  Then the Robin flocks have to leave Newfoundland taking the Redwings with them but in the winter of 2007/2008 there were a few berries available through the winter and a small number of robins and this Redwing got through the season.   (Quidi Vidi Lake, 9 March 2008)

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Odds & Ends early Dec 2015

The first nine days of December have been fairly winterish on the Avalon Peninsula but not extremely cold or wickedly windy.  A record snow fall of 30 cm on 4 Dec was not what anyone was hoping for this early.  With the temperatures hovering around the freezing mark some struggling insectivores are still hanging in.  A Blue-headed Vireo in the Waterford Bridge Road cemetery is the most unusual species currently present. A Black-and-white Warbler and sometimes a Pine Warbler are hanging out with it.

The Blue-headed Vireo manages to survive up to today. This picture taken on 1 Dec 2015.

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet that was also part of the cemetery gang hasn't been seen since for a week.  Here it was on 1 Dec 2015.

There have been three different Wilson's Warblers seen this month on the Avalon Peninsula. This one was on the lower Virginia River just up stream from the Boulevard on 6 Dec 2015.

With the capping of the Pier 17 sewer outlet in St. John's, the Common Gull is going to become a rare gull unless they get a taste for bread like that Ring-billed Gull in the background.  Here at Va River parking lot at QV Lake on 6 Dec 2015.

This 1st winter Great Black-backed Gull has lost the black pigment on its bill. Or maybe it is the thin sheath of 'skin' covering the bills of gulls that is missing.  The rest of the bird looked normal.  Mundy Pond 7 Dec 2015.

The slight variation in the colour of Kumlien's Gull upper parts can be seen here on these daytime loafers at Mundy Pond on 7 Dec 2015.

This motley crew of Harlequin Ducks has been frequently the rocks below the Cape Race lighthouse. here on 5 Dec 2015. A good size flock for the location.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Weekend Warbler Haul and By-Catch

The November 28 & 29 weekend is still prime November Warblering in St John's if there has been no periods of cold weather. But a cold front to pass over St. John's with rain just after dawn on Saturday was a threat to warblering.  I was expecting it was going to be a gull watching Saturday morning but thought I'd take a chance before it rained and walked five minutes down Waterford Bridge road to the graveyard and try to see the Blue-headed Vireo found by John Williams and Dave Hawkins early in the week and seen at least once afterward. I'd seen only one later Blue-headed Vireo in Newfoundland.

Blue-headed Vireo was the first bird I saw and one of the few birds present. Nice views of this attractive species. It seemed to be getting insect life to eat. An Orange-crowned Warbler joined it in a rhododendron bush.  The dark sky was threatening but thought maybe I could get in a quick pish at St. Mary's school.  Got lucky with a Northern Parula at the top of the hill. A scarce bird at anytime in eastern Newfoundland there have been only a handful of November sightings. Went to check out the make shift feeder that someone has put up near the old folks home. Suddenly I was looking a THREE Orange-crowned Warblers in one little green bush growing out of a chain link fence. Then a/the Parula flew in and joined them. Then to the right there was a late Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Black-and-white Warbler.  Things were happening so fast I had to be careful not miss anything. No pishing required. There were lots of chickadees, juncos and goldfinches present as well.   I tried to follow the nucleus of the flock. Warblers petered out. The rain started. I had to be satisfied with that even though the stink of mega was thick in the air.

The Blue-headed Vireo in the Waterford Bridge Rd graveyard. 28 Nov 2015

The flashy and flighty little Northern Parula at the top of the trail by St. Mary's School. 28 Nov 2015

One of the most routine warblers during November in St. John's but just try to find one outside the tall Norway maples of the city anywhere else on the Avalon in November. It never happens. 28 Nov 2015

The rest of Saturday was rained out. Went to bed that night planning a full on assault of the Waterford Valley for Sunday. Sometime in the middle of the night there was a change.  Began thinking about the non-warbler megas that could be lurking down the Southern Shore not being seen. Flycatchers, sparrows etc. I ran with that instead. Got to Cape Broyle at dawn on Sunday.  It was eerily dark and very very still. For the first couple or three hours it was magical getting the birds out. They wanted to see you. So many sparrows, juncos by the swarm, Golden-crowned Kinglets were vermin. You could cut the rarity stink with a knife. Finally a sign. Two bright Baltimore orioles with a large junco flock behind the church in Calvert.  And then the most intense yellow ever on a yellow-breasted chat in the wet alders appeared. The beautiful mossy green back and the snow white spectacles framing the surprised bright black eyes. No chat ever looked better but it it a relatively 'common' rarity.
This photo does no justice to the views through binoculars of this Yellow-breasted Chat at Calvert.  29 Nov 2015

By 11 am the sun started breaking through the clouds as the air cooled off even more. The magic feeling for finding birds was over. The birds were still there but harder to dig out. Never did find the mega I was hoping for. A  Grasshopper Sparrow near the end of the day at Cappahayden was at least the first one of the year in the province. The only other warbler was an Orange-crowned Warbler. Meanwhile I had been in texting contact with John Wells who found three new warblers in east St. John's a Yellow-throated, Prairie and Wilson's.  It made me wonder what I would have found if I'd spent the day in the Waterford Valley. I was still happy to have put in the effort down the Southern Shore where for certain there are some extremely rare birds just waiting to be found. Oh why are there five long days between weekends!

It was a big day for finding sparrows with late November high  totals of three Lincoln's and eight Swamp Sparrows. This Lincoln's Sparrow at Cappahayden was watchful of the three bullying Swamp Sparrows it was associating with.

Bird of the day was this Grasshopper Sparrow on Murphys Lane.  Sometimes it pays to be lazy and pish from the car. I doubt this shy bird would have exposed itself if it could have seen all of me. As it was it present only briefly. 29 Nov 2015

Only my second warbler of the day but the 5th Orange-crowned Warbler of the weekend.  It ended a pretty good weekend of birding. 29 Nov 2015 at Renews.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

November Warblering - A Lost Passion

Waaaaaaay back in 1983 on November 16th a handful of birders in a euphoric state stood in front of maple tree on Waterford Bridge Road that contained seven species of warblers. There was an 8th species of warbler found in the same yard. Six other species of warbler were seen that day in St. John's.  A ridiculous 14 species warbler were seen on November 16, 1983 in St. John's, Newfoundland. 

Let's see if I can remember the list Townsend's and Pine were both new for the province that day. The other bird in that yard was a Prairie Warbler only the 2nd provincial record. A Hooded Warbler seen but found the week before was a provincial first. There were multiple Wilson's and Cape May Warblers. There were some Black-and-whites, one Common Yellowthroat,  a Yellow or two, Yellow-rumped, 2 Yellow-throateds, probably Palm, Nashville I think, and certainly Orange-crowned.

Thus began a the phenomena of November Warblering in St. John's. That was over three decades ago. There have have been changes over those three decades.  There seems to be fewer individual November warblers.  Even when allowing for the less pointed effort by November Warblering Booldhounds there definitely seems to be fewer individual warblers happening in November. Part of this could be fewer vagrant warblers to start with. Maybe smaller numbers of warblers during fall migration overall. Maybe fewer of those mysterious November aphids on the abundant Norway maples of St. John's that might entice warblers to linger in the city.  

Modern day birders hardly know the reasoning behind pounding the sidewalks and listening for Black-capped Chickadees between the houses. It isn't fun birding as you know people are in the houses staring out at you on the sidewalk with a finger ready to dial 911. But the rewards can be huge as the die-hards know striving to drive another shot of warbler-rarity into their veins.  But those die-hards are now getting old and losing momentum. Most of the people present at the 1983 Warbler Tree are now sitting on the birding shelf collecting dust or have fallen off the shelf. The newer birders never really understood what it was all about.  The act of November Warblering in St. John's is but a lost art.  

Two of the twisted nails from the 1983 Warbler Tree were out warblering today.  John Wells (The  1983 Warbler Tree discoverer) and moi among the first on the scene in 1983, were out on this exceptionally beautiful sunny November day.  JW found a Pine Warbler and Wilson's Warbler around Long Pond. He birded all the way down the Rennies River and Kelly's Brook without another warbler score.  Yours truly spent four hours in the Waterford Valley in the morning. The only warbler was a Pine Warbler just outside the chain link fence bordering the vast yard containing the 1983 Warbler Tree. I think I could recognize the tops of the famous tree.  Later in the afternoon I added a nice looking Nashville Warbler and an Orange-crowned Warbler to the list in the Waterford Valley graveyard..

You know things are different when the bog standard Black-and-white Warbler which was the bog standard boring warbler to find at all the best warbler hunting areas are now getting hard to find.  It was some sort of relief today that five warblers of four species were found but I fear the bottom has fallen out of the effort.  The passion of November Warblering in St. John's is all but dust the wind.

A dull immature Pine Warbler behind St. Mary's School on Waterford Bridge Road. It was about 5 seconds flight from the famous Warbler Tree of 1983 where the first Pine Warbler for Newfoundland was found by John Wells in 1983. We've learned so much since then.  Pine Warbler is now found annually.  

It is always exciting to pish in a warbler with the chickadees and juncos in November for the odds of it being a true mega rarity are high.  There is always a little disappointment when you identify it as a relatively regular November warbler such as this Orange-crowned even though it is an interesting looking bird

Looks are often quick with photo confirmation never a guarantee.  Thanks to modern day capabilities of digital photography the picture above can be turned into the picture below.

A Nashville Warbler is a medium quality November Warbler because it is a fairly rare breeding species with no stake out locations to find it at any season.  It is one of the more regular November Warblers in St. John's. 

An enlarged crop of the bird on the same branch as below.

Nashville Warbler is an OK warbler to see in November but there are bigger rewards out there RIGHT NOW !!!!! 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Mid Nov Meandering in the Rain

Sunday 15 Nov 2015 was wet and cold but not to waste free time I went car birding around the bay - Conception Bay and Trinity Bay. A few photos happened along the way, nearly all from shelter of car.
What! A female Barrow's Goldeneye so close? Not so quick. The bill is yellow and the forehead steep. But things are not right. The bill is too big and the wrong shape, It lacks the shaggy crest look. Below you can see the bird in more relaxed mode with a typical rounded head of a Common Goldeneye. The bird with it also had a brownish bill unlike the gray bills with yellow tips in winter plumage. Need some research but I wondering if these are first year males. They have rather white necks and breasts. Beware of the yellow bill, go for bill and head shape.  photos from Bay Roberts.


A Sanderling on the beach beside the road at high tide in Spaniard's Bay.

The three hybrid American Wigeon x Mallards are back at Harbour Grace for the 4th? 5th? winter. This is a long distance crop of two of them.  No real need of it since they are tame and will come for bread but I had no bread and it was too wet to get out of the car. You can barely see the yellow leg of the bird on the right.

During a 20 minute break in the rain at Bellevue Beach I got out of the car to get as close as I could to some gulls across a channel and surprised a Red-throated Loon resting in a quiet cove out of the northerly gale.  I was partially conceal behind a rose bush while the loon checked me out with its head held up high to sniff the air.

The targeted highlight of the trip was the 1st winter LITTLE GULL at Bellevue Beach.  Ed Hayden had found it here on 11 Nov.  Little Gull is rare enough in Newfoundland with an average of less than one per year and nearly all them being 1st summer rat heaps June to Aug. A fresh fall 1st winter Little Gull was treat.  I was not going to be able to walk out the beach so was relying on picking it out with the scope across the channel from the town site.  I had misjudged the tides as per usual for Bellevue. While the mud flats were never exposed while I was there, a tide rip developed in the channel and the small gulls were feeding on small fish (sand lance). This included the Little Gull, 10 Bonaparte's and 5 Black-headed Gulls.  Of course they hugged the far shoreline but I got as close as I could by the graveyard and had some nice scope views and managed some record shots in the failing late afternoon light between rain storms.

Little  and Bonaparte's on the the beach with a Black-headed Gull over head.

The black pattern on upper wing is similar to kittiwake.

The Little Gull was feisty and often participated in chasing gulls that had caught a sand lance. Here harassing a Bonaparte's.