Thursday, 30 October 2014

(The) Yellow-legged Gull and its impostors

As the sun was setting today behind thick rain clouds the Yellow-legged Gull came into view for a group of birders from Massachusetts and myself.

It has almost completed its primary growth, far ahead of any of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls (15+) that I saw today. Also saw 3 (!) LBBG x HERG hybrids today - one of which was quite advanced in its primary moult (photos further below).

P10 pretty well completely grown; white mirror only on the outer most primary. Black on the 5 outermost primaries. Bright yellow almost orange legs. And no (very limited) streaking on the head all add up to a highly desired bird for North American birders.

But there are impostors that get in the way.
Today I saw a personal high of 3 Lesser Black-backed X Herring hybrids. Their mantle colour is more or less the same as YLGU but there are important differences between what is expected of the hybrid and YLGUs.

This bird really had us working. The streaking on the head is certainly more pronounced around the front half of the head, and limited along the back of the neck, and very limited on the upper breast. From a distance it had a somewhat hooded appearance making me think it was going to be a YLGU.

After 1-2 hours of following/watching this bird we were finally able to see the legs and got spread wing shots: 

Leg colour could easily pass for YLGU on this bird. But a few things don't line up: streaking (although limited) was seen on the upper breast, the red orbital ring was quite dull (almost pinkish), complete black band on P4 (at least on the left wing) - otherwise the wing pattern looks perfect for YLGU. Those small features make a big difference on the ID.

Iceland Gulls are starting to become ubiquitous in town. Saw 1-2 at most locations today, and 10+ at the epicentre of Iceland Gulls: Pier 17.
 These ones photographed today at the west end of Quidi Vidi - probably returning birds considering how tame they were:

This one was all dressed up for Halloween - pretty freaky looking if you ask me!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Oriole for Lunch

This immature Sharp-shinned Hawk was tearing apart what looks like an oriole this afternoon:

Video here if you dare:

Photographed 2 weeks ago... in New York! A juvenile Piping Plover.

This is Buddy. A Lesser Black-backed Gull that has over-wintered at the West end of St. John's for the last 4 winters (I think it was hatched in 2010). It returned this year on or before Oct. 22 and will continue to be a regular at the bread conveyer that is at the west end of the lake.

Birders looking at a Nelson's Sparrow at Cape Race last Sunday:

A rather tame Horned Lark:

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Hurricane Gonzalo!

Hurricane Gonzalo is currently a category 4 storm and is tracking straight for Newfoundland! There hasn't been a hurricane of this strength since 2011!

The track of the storm is taking it nowhere close to US land before it reaches Newfoundland meaning it is unlikely to bring masses of Southern vagrants (i.e. Laughing Gulls, skimmers, terns, etc). Interestingly, however, it is passing right over Bermuda - land of the White-tailed Tropicbird (and Bermuda Petrel), and considering the mere size of this beast, it could easily catch a bunch of offshore birds during its Northward route.

Here's the current predicted storm track:

Hurricane Florence of 2006 took on a very similar track to this weeks storm (although it was about 40 days earlier in the season) and resulted in a White-tailed Tropicbird in St. John's and a Least Tern at St. Shott's!

The storm is expected to hit the island on Saturday night and last only about 12-18 hours on the avalon because it is moving very quickly!

Obviously lots of potential for regular seabirds to be pushed into shore including skuas and jaegers, Leach's and Wilson's Storm-Petrels, shearwaters, phalaropes, etc.

Be warned though, category 4 storms aren't friendly and being on the Southern shore of Newfoundland where there is little shelter on a calm day, will make for a dangerous place to be on Sunday.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at things), I'll be doing a sea watch on Sunday morning from the Northeastern tip of Long Island, New York. The hurricane won't have much of an influence in that area though.

As if a mega hurricane wasn't exciting enough, there is a beautiful low pressure system over the North Atlantic now that is bringing winds more or less straight from Britain to Newfoundland.

Here's the wind map for Thursday at sunrise:

Last year I made a list of species that could arise from a system like this and it applies equally as well to the current weather system. Last years transatlantic winds brought us a Pink-footed Goose and probably a bunch of other birds that went undiscovered...

Get out there and search, but don't be too cruel while I'm looking at more southern birds where they are supposed to be.