Sunday, 10 December 2017

Winter Listing - The First Ten Days.

Part of the fun injected into winter birding is winter listing.  This is a list of species seen during the three month period Dec-Feb. The game adds new value to late birds or winter rarities. It gets one out a little more and birding places you might not be checking otherwise. The end result is more rare birds get found.  I have been playing the game.  

The first ten days of the winter list season have been interesting. The mild weather means the late warblers are surviving.  I usually carry a camera at all times while birding just in case.  I take record shots of any rarity I come across.  Some the shots below are the definition of a record shot and far from a National Geographic cover shot.

The best bird of the season on the Avalon Peninsula was the EARED GREBE found by Chris Brown at Peters River on the southern Avalon. This was the first record for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Today an AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER at Cape Spear was just as mind blowing.

Below is a photographic record of some of the birds that I have seen so far this month.

This EARED GREBE at present at Peters River on 1st, 2nd and 4th of December was a first record for the province. The partial breeding plumage was unusual for December and may indicate the bird has been under stress and/or not feeding well in recent months.

This juvenile AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER was a big surprise at Cape Spear today 10 December.  It is the latest provincial record by at least three weeks. It appeared during an intense weather system with far reaching southerly winds and an abnormal temperature of +18C. It appeared healthy.  The four, just about five, primaries extending beyond tertials is right for American GP. It should be only three for Pacific. Coincidentally exactly one year ago there was a juvenile PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER at Pt La Haye, Avalon Peninsula, NF.

This Forster's Tern first found in late October at Trepassey remained into December. It is less than annual in the province.

This Clay-coloured Sparrow at Ferryland was keeping company with a Song Sparrow when found on 1st Dec but a couple days later, out of the blue, three more Clay-coloured Sparrows appeared making a record size flock of 4 CCSP in Newfoundland and in December to boot. Krazy.

A Lincoln's Sparrows joins a Song Sparrow in scolding a pisher at Renews on 1 Dec.  

More often than not there is a lingering Prairie Warbler for the ticking in early December.  This one at the famous Kelly's Brook micro-habitat in east St. John's.

Orange-crowned Warblers have never been so numerous in December. I've seen eight this month myself, more than I see in most entire fall seasons Oct-Dec.

It is easy to go an entire year without seeing a Nashville Warbler in Newfoundland. December birds do happen..  This one at Cappahayden on 9 Dec was photographed early in the morning under heavy overcast skies at a distance using ISO 10,000. It worked, just barely.

Common Yellowthroat is surprisingly rare in December. It is far easier to see a Yellow-throated Warbler than this species in December. I think this is only the fourth Common Yellowthroat I have seen in December. Also unusual is that it is an adult male, a plumage we rarely see after the end of August.  This was along the road north of Cappahayden.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Crossley ID Guide: Waterfowl - a review.

The Crossley ID Guide: Waterfowl was published in the summer 2017. It is self-published so may not be widely available at present. It is available on Amazon for $40.00.  As in the style of the previous four Crossley ID Guide books, it is a photographic identification guide. This book covers the regular and vagrant species of ducks, geese and swan occurring in Canada and the United States.  It goes into more depth per species than the other Crossley ID Guides.  The 512 high grade glossy pages create a flexibound book with a substantial weight.

Nearly full page or double page spreads attempt to show birds as they would appear in the field through the use of murals comprised of photographs of individual or groups of waterfowl inserted on to a real life background.  The scenes are alive with activity set in appropriate habitat and season for the corresponding species and plumages. The plates are easy on the eye with the learning process setting in almost subconsciously as one takes a walk through the scene. The details and colours of the birds at various distances are believable and accurate.

The common species are shown with an abundance of images. For example the two species of goldeneyes get a combined total of 12 pages of plates. They show perfectly plumaged spring drakes, first-year males and adult males in eclipse, females and even ducklings. There are some scenes showing both Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye for comparison.  Those long time aches and pains most of us Easterners have had about the head shape and bill colour of any plumage of Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye should receive relief and satisfaction with this book.

The 17 pages of scoter plates are an exposé of the obscure female and non-breeding male plumages possible throughout the year while at the same time doing justice to the striking breeding plumage drakes without over shining the spot light. There are numerous images of eclipse male and female Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Tufted Duck, Redhead and Canvasback to help solve the identification, including sexing and aging, of those challenging brown aythyas. The eight pages of plates devoted to the four North American subspecies of Common Eider, a subject close to my heart, is the most extensive collection of photographs yet published on the subject in any one place.  Yet, I found myself yearning for more examples of close up adult drakes showing the full details of the bill and head.  Those who find joy in dissecting Canada Geese into subspecies will find something to sink their teeth into. The inclusion of ducklings at several stages of development available for most species is a nice plus for this book.

The plates while functional identification aids are often beautiful.  Many look good enough to be enlarged and framed. The Steller’s Eiders coming into land on brassy water with a background of fog shrouded mountains is a beauty. You can almost hear the nasal calls and feel the splashing water in the double page spread of displaying drake Common Goldeneyes.

There is a brief descriptive passage across the bottom of each page of plates.  However, if you can tear yourself away from the pictures you will notice that the back one third of the book is comprised of written species accounts.  The three to four page per species accounts containing a wealth of information are divided into sections with these interesting headings: Other Common or Regional Names, Measurements, First Impressions, ID: In Depth and Similar Species, Year in the Life, Geographic Variation, Sounds, Diet and Feeding Behavior, Nesting, Hunting and Population and Conservation.  Crossley’s easy going somewhat narrative-style rounds out the corners of hard fact and scientific knowledge.

The common species are allotted two range maps, one for the breeding range and another for the winter range.  With such space you might expect some fine-tuned accurate detailed mapping of waterfowl ranges in North America but – NOPE! In fact there are astonishing mistakes. You can sort of excuse the lack of mapping the tiny breeding range of Blue-winged Teal in southwest corner of Newfoundland as it is rather insignificant on such a large scale map.  We are used to that, but when Northern Shoveler is shown as breeding throughout Labrador and Northern Pintail is not shown as breeding at all in Labrador then you are left shaking your head. The wintering range of the eastern Harlequin Duck is shown as Maine to Maryland.  What about the hundreds wintering in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland!? There are several incidents of incorrect mapping of the winter and breeding ranges of waterfowl in Newfoundland and Labrador that would be obvious only to the birders from this province.  You have to wonder where the creators of the maps got their information. The baseline map does not even show the existence of Cape Breton Island or the entire province of Prince Edward Island!  Oh well - you would not a buy a book like this for the range maps anyway.

Ignoring the range maps, I think this book is a masterpiece. The treasure chest of images makes this book invaluable. But who needs this book? Your average field guide to birds covers waterfowl adequately for your basic identification needs. Experts on bird identification will perhaps have the most to gain from this book.  Little things come to light like the dusky underwing coverts of a female Red-breasted Merganser versus the whiter coverts of a female Common Merganser and the solid dark under wings of a female Common Goldeneye which could all magically come into play on a snapshot flyby of ducks on some cold misty January morning. This book has all the particulars for those who want to know a little more.

The Crossley ID Guide: Waterfowl is a visual encyclopedia of North American waterfowl.  The voluminous text is thorough with easy to extract information.  It is a pillar of a reference book that deserves a place in every birdwatcher’s library. This will be my first go to book for waterfowl queries from now on.

The eider watching season is starting up in Newfoundland with a number of Kings already found among the first arriving borealis Common Eiders.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Cackling Goose in Newfoundland - Fake News

Spent the last two days in the Codroy Valley in SW Newfoundland looking through waterfowl, especially geese. There were no rare geese except for this Cackler. It was exciting to come across this distinctive form of the Canada Goose that in 2004 gained full species rank! yah- right. What is wrong with distinctive subspecieses?  Anyhow... here is the bird.  

It was about 2/3 the size of the regular Canada Geese. It was also paler grayish. Always easy to pick out by the grayness when you could not see other features.  The short stubby bill and squared off head were classic Cackler.  The stocky short neck was usually apparent. A white ring around base of black neck was a bonus as only some of the Richardson's race of Cackler show this. Richardson's is the common widespread Cackler. The other three forms are Alaskan only breeders.

Below are pics of the bird. It was genuinely cute.  But for those with similar feelings on giving this form of Canada Goose species status I invite you to join the organization call SOS (Save Our Subspecies).  We also protest other species splits like Bicknells' Thrush and Salt Marsh Sparrow.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

An October Empidonax at Cape Race, Newfoundland

On 5 October 2017 I turned up an empidonax flycatcher on the Cape Race road. It was in a patch of tuckamore (windy blown stunted trees) between the Cripple Cove turn off and the Radar House. I was lucky to find any bird in the strong SW winds and drizzly foggy conditions. It was feeding on the lee side of the trees next to the road. My initial reaction was Alder Flycatcher because it looked too big and long billed for a Least. I didn't waste any more time looking at it but started taking as many photos as I could during the observation period of less than five minutes, perhaps only 3 minutes.  I stopped looking at the bird when it blew over the top of the sheltered trees and out of sight.  I went on my merry way. When I looked at the pictures on computer that evening. I was baffled at my species conclusion. The primary projection seemed too short for Alder/Willow, the bill looked intermediate in length. There was also the pointed rear to the eye ring which was in my limited knowledge was consistent with the western empidonaxs.  I sent photos a few people who knew empidonaxs far better than I.  I got mixed responses.  Below are photos of the bird.  All are greatly cropped with some light adjusting. I tended to have the bird over exposed against the dark green back drop of balsam fir needles.

THE ANSWER:  It has been pretty well unanimously identified at a Least Flycatcher by the 15 or so people from around North America who viewed these pictures. Still  a rare species with only a handful of autumn records for the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Sabine's Gull on Renews Beach

Took the day off work to do some warblering in the alders of Biscay Bay and Powles Head.  By 10:40 the slowness of the morning was starting to take its toll on my perseverance. Too lazy to get out of the car again on Powles Head road, I delayed an extra minute to check nf.birds on the iphone.  I was very surprised to see Dave Shepherd reporting for Richard Thomas and Jeff Harrison that they had a SABINE'S GULL in Renews at 10:15. It was a clear calm day.  Nothing made sense about that. Instead of trying to figure it out I made a U turn. It was the perfect monkey wrench in my plans to really work the alders until 1 pm. A Sabine's was the easy way out.

I flew down the road to Renews. Right away I saw the bird down the beach. I texted the crowd back in St. John's that it was still there. I drove around to the boat launch road. stopped  the car to change to a bigger (840mm) lens. Got out bean bag. Took off seat belt and attached behind me.

I could not see the beach because of the long grass. I knew approximately where it should be. I crept the car along the top of the beach. There were two layers of grass and weeds between my line of sight and the beach. The sun could not have been better positioned for maximum glare.  I located the bird ahead through the grass tops.  In an attempt to improve my angle with the sun I drove inland slightly so the bird could not see me and past the location of the gull.  I crept the car back up on the beach top and saw the gull behind me in better but still poor light. I found a narrow avenue of open light between the layers of grass and laid my camera down on the bean bag and started clicking.

The bird was mostly standing still looking out to sea.  It walked a short distance toward me along the water's edge and picked briefly at the mud. Then it stretched it wings up over it back and without warning went to wing. It flew directly away out through the harbour. No wavering to investigate anything. I watched it until it was a dot in the sky beyond the rock where cormorant loaf. It was over as quickly as that. Five minutes later and I would not have even taken a photo. Below are pics of the bird.

Such an unexpected, if not bizarre record. There was a slight bulge in the neck that might have indicated a health issue with the bird.  This was only my 6th Sabine's Gull from land in 40 years of birding in Newfoundland.  Interestingly only one of those birds was storm related. Once again Renews comes through with the unexpected.

There is no other small immature gull with a uniform scaly wing coverts and and back and with a gray wash over back of the neck.

The slight bulge in the neck was visible in several photos indicating a possible health problem.

The classic white triangles in the wing were visible as the bird flew away.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Yet Another - COMMON RINGED PLOVER - # 3

I arrived at Portugal Cove South on the southern Avalon Peninsula just as Alison Mews and Alvan Buckley were getting out of the car on 19 Aug 2017.  Alvan quickly spotted a suspicious plover that we were kind of looking for after he had a brief look at a highly likely Common Ringed Plover the weekend before in the fog.  Yup - it was a COMMON RINGED PLOVER alright. The big black ring around the neck, strong distinct white supercilium and distinct black markings on the head made it stick out.  But was it the same bird the had been at Biscay Bay 29 July to 3 Aug and then again at nearby Trepassey 5-7 August?  

Photography was very difficult with the heat shimmer rising off the dark coarse sand of Portugal Cove South beach (PCS). But the photos were enough to show that the PCS bird was different than the Biscay Bay bird.  The plovers can greatly changed how the width of their breast band and facial markings look depending on the mood of the bird = relaxed vs hyper active.  Taking this into account the PCS still had a wider black bar and narrower white space on forecrown.  The black tip on the bill covers about 50% of the bill tip on the PCS bird but only 33% on the Biscay Bay bird. Besides that the bird seemed to have a larger or more contrasting white supercilium, possibly slightly darker upper parts and different tone of orange legs and bill base. Bottom line is that the PCS bird is going down as a new bird and 3rd of the summer of 2017 in Newfoundland.

Common Ringed Plover 19 Aug 2017 at Portugal Cove South.

Common Ringed Plover 19 Aug 2017 at Portugal Cove South.

Common Ringed Plover 19 Aug 2017 at Portugal Cove South.

Common Ringed Plover 19 Aug 2017 at Portugal Cove South.

Common Ringed Plover 30 July 2017 at Biscay Bay.


On a different note, an arguably rarer shorebird in Newfoundland is the Stilt Sandpiper. An unexpected three individuals, each an immaculate juvenile, showed up this weekend on the Avalon Peninsula.

Two juvenile Stilt Sandpipers at Renews 19-20 Aug 2017

One juvenile Stilt Sandpiper at Cape Broyle 19-20 Aug 2017