Thursday, 29 June 2017

Not Always Picture Perfect.

Good bird pictures can happen by accident. You can get lucky.  You can make luck more likely to happen by knowing your bird. Often luck does not work out at all and all your pictures are full of sticks crossing the bird or everything is wrong with exposures, focus etc etc.  Sometimes I still keep them.

Yesterday I was walking out in the Goulds when I came across a female Black-backed Woodpecker.  BBWO is one of those deep woods birds that does not give much notice to man kind. With a little caution they are usually easy to watch at close range.  Photo Opt!  BBWO is my favourite woodpecker.  I only encounter it a couple times per year mainly because  I don't go into their habitat.  I see its habitat all along the roads everywhere but walking far into the fir and spruce forest is not my typical birding habitat.

Even though I was near the bird for about an hour I saw it only 5% of the time. I was also being entertained by Mourning Warblers that thrive in the young deciduous growing up on the edge of the field. The woodpecker was feeding in log debris along the edge of hay field where trees bulldozed to clear the land were left in a tangled ridge paralleling the field.  The bird was tantalizing close. I could hear the churk churk calls. Occasionally it would pop up into view but always hidden behind a mass of sticks and twigs.  In the end I never got a Picture Perfect shot but I kept many of the photos to remind me of the experience and it shows a real Black-backed Woodpecker doing what they do.

The very first frame was like the majority, too many sticks between the lens and the bird.

It worked over up rooted trees that have been dead for many years

Its back was coal black.

It worked over this fir for a while providing the best views.

It used its tongue to reach into holes it made in search of some beetle larvae.

A little twisting was required to get that tongue up the tunnels carved into the trunk by the larvae. 

The reward - a fat grub.  

Three toes - count 'em.  Note the red stain on underside of tail that was probably resin. Time for a change of feathers.  

The last shot, complete with the imperfection of stick over its body, just before it flew across the field to work on the debris ridge on the other side.

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.

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...