Sunday, 24 November 2013

Blinded by the white

I spent another day scouring around St. John's for unusual birds. The high winds made finding passerines difficult, so I gave that up after a couple hours and checked some of the local ponds.

There has been a male Green-winged Teal at Kelly's Brook with several females for a couple weeks now. Despite having a good look at the bird and seeing it on a few different days I haven't seen any white horizontal or vertical stripes on the birds scapulars or breast. The presence of one of those lines is the easiest way to tell the Eurasian species/subspecies from the American one. I guess it makes sense that a hybrid of the two teal types could have no white lines. The white lines on the face are definitely not conspicuous enough for a Common Teal, but probably fall in the range of an Am. Green-winged Teal.

Later in the morning Richard Thomas and I re-found the Great Egret that has been wandering around town. This time it was at Virginia Lake. Actually another local birder had already found it that morning but I didn't know about that until I got home.

After letting a few locals know about the bird, 2 domestic Mute Swans started chasing it away. The egret finally gave up and flew away not long after the swans started harassing it.

Newfoundland has been experiencing a huge invasion of Snowy Owls over the last 2 weeks. A count of 42 along a 25km stretch of road yesterday is an indication that hundreds and maybe even thousands of these birds are all along the Southern coast of the island. Hatch year birds make up the vast majority of these birds, but a few adults have been seen.

I finally went to see the local Snowy Owls at Cape Spear this afternoon just before sunset:

Interesting cloud formation at Cape Spear this arvo (are these associated with boundaries between air fronts?):

Saturday, 23 November 2013

St. John's birding Nov 23

Despite the lack of posts I have been birding a fair bit this month. November is a great month for finding lost travellers in the city and this years star November rarity was a real shocker! On December 14th the tireless Dave Brown found a Virginia's Warbler 2.5 km from my house.

This bird was not on my radar so when I read the text message while trying to listen to a lecture I became very ... well I don't know. All I know is that I saw the bird about 3 hours later after missing a few lectures. And today I saw it for the 3rd time and had my best looks yet.

The yellow undertail coverts and rump are what stand out the most on this bird:

The back looks very blue at times and often reminded me of a blue-gray gnatcatcher. And the white eye-ring is very noticeable:

There is a faint hint of yellow on the breast. Aging and sexing fall birds isn't straightforward unless they have a lot of yellow on the breast. It's probably a 1st year bird - just like many other vagrants that live their last days in this city in late Autumn early Winter.

The Quidi Vidi lake Pied-billed Grebe and Ruddy Duck continue to hang out at the West end of the lake.

1 of 2 Common Gulls seen in town today:

I finally connected with the adult Bonaparte's Gull at Pier 17. I've visited Mundy Pond several times over the last month hoping to see a Bonaparte's Gull. I am always surprised at how much shorter their legs are when compared to a Black-headed Gull:

The best self-found bird of the day was this Clay-colored Sparrow. I'm not totally sure how rare this species in Newfoundland - but I'm guessing that the annual average is about 5 individuals. This one was very confident and patient allowing us to study the bird closely.

The other unusual bird was a young Yellow Warbler. The only evidence I have of its existence is this:

What other vagrants are out there waiting to be found?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Port aux Basques - Days 8 to 11

Sunday I had planned to focus on passerines. At this time of year, in Newfoundland, much of the passerine birding is centred around finding junco flocks and hoping something different is travelling with them. After an hour of finding very little I went to my fallback of seawatching. It was frustrating. The first bird I saw was a tern. Any tern at this time of year should be closely studied to make sure it's not a Forster's Tern, after getting a 5 second look in my scope I opted to try to take some photos - I didn't want a repeat of the previous days highlight not being photographed. It was a terrible decision because not only could I not find the bird on my camera screen, I couldn't refind the bird after failing to photograph it.

While seawatching at Cape Ray several hawks flew by, including 2 Rough-legged Hawks. Both can be seen in this photo (crops focused on both birds are below):

 Dark morph:

 Light morph (juvenile?):

My first Surf Scoters for the trip were nearby as well:

On Tuesday after finishing up a little early I did a short walk in the woods, and came across 2 small flocks of Bohemian Waxwings. Hopefully there'll be some mega huge flocks of these in St. John's this winter, although it seems unlikely considering the berry crop everywhere else...

Shrike, an uncommon bird on the island, only my 3rd one for the province - this one's a juvenile:

Today, while biking to a clinic I noticed a male goldeneye diving in a sheltered bay close to my house. It was my first male goldeneye in the area, so I decided to take a closer look at it. I was surprised to see that it was a Barrow's Goldeneye and not the expected Common Goldeneye!

Note that the back has much more black than a Common Goldeneye, the scapulars have limited white, the steep forehead without a peaked crown, and the facial crescent extends up above the eye. Another, not often mentioned, field mark is the black vertical spur that extends down in the flanks - that pretty much rules out a Common X Barrow's Goldeneye hybrid.

Barrow's Goldeneye is one of those species that if you're second guessing yourself about the ID, it probably is a Common Goldeneye, but once you see a Barrow's Goldeneye there's no doubt about it!

In Newfoundland, Barrow's Goldeneye is regular in the west coast, but quite rare on the East coast.

Not that I've picked one out in flight, but a good field mark to separate COGO from BAGO in flight is the amount of white on the scapulars:

Thankfully this bird didn't fly very far away, so hopefully I'll get to know him a little better over my remaining few days in the area.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Port aux Basques - Days 2 to 7

Birded the famous, but under birded, Grand Codroy Valley today in Southwestern Newfoundland. This was my first time visiting the area so I tried to cover all areas in an effort to become familiar with all the area knowing that the new-formed mental map will help me on future visits.

I got dropped off at the north side of the estuary with my bike at 7am, and continued North to Cape Anguille where there was an amazing seabird flight. Gulls were cruising down the coast just above the short cliff allowing great looks from less than 50m away. Several Iceland Gulls were amongst the hundreds of Herring Gulls - a clear sign that they've flooded in during the last few days, as I've only seen singles so far this season. Seabirds were not too far off either - most were flying South less than 100m from my observation point, including: 15 Black Scoter, & 24 Harlequin Ducks! The best part though was having 8 Red-throated Loons fly by throughout the sea watch - a good opportunity to become more familiar with this uncommon species.

Always love a good seawatch next to a lighthouse

I was struggling to convince myself to leave the seawatch after only an hour in favour of getting to the valley where there was promise of several thousand waterfowl. I eventually did tear myself away and got to the Codroy Valley Provincial Park - which forms a barrier between the estuary and the ocean. This is where I got my first flavour of the high concentration of waterfowl in the area.

Codroy Valley Provincial Park - a tiny park!
Any goose other than Canada Goose was high on my wish list. I thoroughly checked all 1200+ CANG that I came across without finding an odd one out.

Not often seen on the island: a large concentration of waterfowl

In the afternoon I returned to the park after looping around the valley. Not long after I arrived I noticed a small gull flying towards the ocean. I quickly put my scope on it expecting to tick Black-headed Gull for the day. As soon as I saw it I was confused - the bird definitely did not fit for BHGU, it seemed small, had a lot more black on the underwing, and absolutely no black on the upperwing. For some reason it took me a while to consider Little Gull - a less than annual vagrant in the province that I obviously didn't have on my radar for this weekend. Once the species came to mind everything fit. I could have taken photos - but I decided to study the bird for the 15-20 seconds that it was in my presence before it flew out to sea.

Mountains with peaks of over 1500ft can be seen inland from the valley:

The second main highlight of the day came just before sunrise at a totally unexpected spot. Google maps led me to believe that there was a paved road on the South side of the Little Codroy valley - but there wasn't, which probably explains why very few (or no) birders have checked out this side of the valley. I followed googles route anyway and made it to a park that is very similar to the Codroy Valley Provincial Park. This park, Mummichog PP, divides the Little Codroy river from the ocean in much the same way that the Codroy Valley PP divides the Grand Codroy river from the ocean.

Oddly, there was very few waterfowl in the Little Codroy valley; however, there were plenty of seaducks just beyond the park and were quite visible from a spot called Shoal Point:

From this observation point I counted 220 Black Scoter, 52 Red-necked Grebe, & 3 Harlequin Ducks. The Black Scoter and Red-necked Grebe counts could be all-time high counts for the island! I definitely was not expecting this concentration here.

Pics of the main Black Scoter flock

There's 180 in this flock alone!
Check out this poorly edited video of the scoters and Harlequin Ducks (best if you go to the actual Youtube page and put it at the highest quality and full screen...):

'til next time