Sunday, 27 October 2013

Port aux Basques - Day 1

Spent the morning exploring my new patch before heavy rains forced me to retreat indoors. Hopefully there's better weather the next 2 weekends!

My first destination was Cape Ray, the location of a lighthouse and probably the best spot in the area for seawatching:

I've been looking forward to this trip for about 2 months now, and during that time I knowingly built it up, leading me to expect masses of vagrants. Obviously, that wasn't going to happen. The birding was generally pretty good for late fall in Newfoundland, but no vagrants, and the continuous rain kept my enthusiasm down.

There were thousands of sea ducks at Cape Ray. Mostly scoters and Common Eiders:

Highlighted by a flock of 6 Harlequin Ducks:

 The scenery in the area is fantastic, with mountains on one side, and the ocean on the other side:

Overall, the day felt like a typical late fall day in Southern Ontario. Many kinglets and sparrows (8 species) were around, including 15+ American Tree Sparrows, a White-crowned Sparrow, 10+ Yellow-rumped Warblers, 3 Snow Buntings and 1 Lapland Longspur - many of these would be unusual on the avalon peninsula at this time of year, but are more or less expected here.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

On the move

...once again!

This time I'm headed to Port-aux-Basques, NL (actually, I'm here now). A small community on the Southwest corner of the island for 2 weeks of school/work.

Location is at the "A":

Although my weekdays will probably be busy, weekends will be even busier! I'll be non-stop exploring this corner of the island on the weekends, an area where I've only passed through once in my life, as a toddler.

And I've got my most deadly weapon in tow:

I've had a lot of luck finding interesting geese while birding with this machine ;)

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Weather Forecast

There's going to be some winds lining up from Britain & Iceland almost straight to Newfoundland. This is Wednesdays forecast:

This could very well turn up something awesome. In mid-October the focus seems to be on new-world vagrants, but there are birds migrating away from Iceland now so there's no reason why they can't get caught up in these winds and end up here. Here's a run down of some potentials:

Barnacle Goose: peak migration for this species is mid-late October in Iceland... bring 'em on

Pink-Footed Goose: everyone saw the one last winter, but we need to make the mainlanders jealous.

Graylag Goose: one of these years there'll be a chase-able bird!

eBird Bar chart for the important geese in Iceland:

Common Scoter: Black Scoters are uncommon enough to be exciting themselves, Common Scoter would make me vomit.

Gray Heron: Migrate TO Iceland in early/mid October. There are 2 previous October records for NL!!

Corn Crake: Bit of a long shot here. (1 recent Nov record)

European Golden-Plover: There is a Nov record and 1 Oct record in Maine, I have a feeling that golden-plovers in the fall are all too often considered American, without a second glance.

Common-ringed Plover: latest record for NL was in late September. But if they're in Iceland in October, why can't they be here?

Black-tailed Godwit & Bar-tailed Godwit: (1 Oct record)

Northern Lapwing: an early one perhaps?

Northern Wheatear: How many times will I mention these?

Willow Warbler & Blackcap: Really getting wishful here :p

Anyway, I have an exam next week so will unfortunately have limited time to search. But I'll put a bit of time in at a few key spots near town!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Monday morning seawatch

Returned to Cape St. Francis this morning with John Wells and Dave Brown (eBird checklist here). With 3 scopes eyeing the seas, we were bound to find something interesting. Turns out that the two best sightings were found with the naked eye!

Generally there were several hundred shearwaters, with many going East around the cape from Conception Bay South, and many going West from the East side of the cape. In other words, they were flying in all directions. Interestingly, the CBS shearwaters were mostly Sooty, and the open ocean shearwaters were mostly Great.

Our first bit of excitement came from a small pod of Orcas that swam by the cape going East, and then returned, going West, about 15 minutes later. This is only the 2nd time I've seen this species in Newfoundland!

Not long after that, John got on a passerine that luckily landed about 15 meters in front of us. As soon as he called it a redpoll I put my scope on it and immediately noticed the very pale flanks. The bill was also very stubby, making me confident that it was a Hoary Redpoll. In fact, of the 20-30 Hoary Redpolls I've seen, I've never been so confident identifying one. We all agreed that this bird was strikingly pale. There was a faint pinkish wash on the breast, indicating that it was a male. Unfortunately, as soon as I reached for my camera it vanished, just like a wheatear does. Based on the ~10s look, the bird seemed larger than any redpoll I've seen before, and considering how pale the bird was, it seems likely that this bird was a Hornemanni's Redpoll. I just wish I had a photo!

There have been strong winds straight from Greenland and Labrador to Newfoundland lately, so it makes sense that this bird showed up. What else is out there? Barnacle Goose? Fieldfare? How many more Northern Wheatears?

Here's a super poor quality video of some Sooty Shearwaters flying by the cape - next time I'll remember to take video with better quality settings!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Cape Race Turkey Breakfast

On Saturday I joined Bruce Mactavish and John Pratt to bird the Cape Race road and Renews. The number of birds was noticeably lower than previous weeks in the area. Nevertheless, with 95% of Savannah Sparrows gone, there was a decent concentration of vagrant birds.

While wandering around the grass at Cape Race we flushed up 1 Common Yellowthroat, 1 Dickcissel, and 1 Clay-colored Sparrow was nearby.

Clay-colored Sparrows are annual fall vagrants in NL with most being found between Oct and Nov

This immature Northern Goshawk was seen along the road several times:

By 9am we were at Cliff Doran's place next to the lighthouse. He had turkey breakfast, and multiple cakes ready for the visiting birders! What an awesome guy!

After stuffing ourselves and sharing our sightings, we made our way to the famous "Hooded Warbler tuck". It is a completely unassuming location, but has a track record of turning up unusual rarities over the years, particularly Hooded Warblers!

We hadn't been seeing many passerines in any of the tuckermore (stunted trees along the coast), so hopes weren't high when we entered into the small area. Less than 10 meters in, I noticed a bird flitting around, I got a brief glimpse of a yellowish bird, with noticeable streaks on the flanks, and a grey head. Prairie Warbler (PRAW) was on my mind, but the grey head didn't seem to fit. The bird quickly disappeared into the trees. Any yellow bird at this time of year is bound to be something good, so we all went in closer for the kill. After some pishing it popped and flew right up to us, revealing it's ID:
This 1st winter male PRAW, was my first ever fall PRAW
A few seconds later and another Prairie Warbler joined it!
This PRAW appears to be a 1st winter female.
The only other bird we heard/saw in the area, despite searching most of the area, was a Golden-crowned Kinglet. Only in Newfoundland!

On our way home, we stopped in Renews where we saw an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk unsuccessfully chase a medium-sized peep, and then come very close to catching a Song Sparrow.

The previous two weeks had brought a flood of Northern Wheatears to the Avalon Peninsula. Prior to Saturday I had already found 3 on my own, 2 of which promptly disappeared shortly after I discovered them. We knew there would be Wheatears around on Saturday. Bruce, flushed one at Cape Race, which quickly disappeared, so I wasn't able to see it. I wasn't worried - there was a good chance there would be more! Sure enough, while driving by the bay in Renews we noticed a Northern Wheatear staring us down, after I managed to take a few photos of the bird, it vanished just like so many others. How many of them are on the Avalon right now!?

There are usually 2-4 Northern Wheatears found every year on the island. About 10 have been found in the past 3 weeks, all of which have been 1st winter birds, and likely result from strong N/NW winds that have stretched from Greenland and Labrador to Eastern Newfoundland.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!!

Yesterday morning, during lectures I learned that a flycatcher was discovered in Torbay (just outside of St. John's). It was initially identified as a Western Kingbird. An exciting find, but considering that they're almost annual in the province, I wasn't too rushed to go see it.

Just after lunch, unbeknownst to me (I was busy studying cadavers at school...), it was re-identified as a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (STFL)!
STFL is a huge rarity on the island, with only 1 previous record, that no birders were able to see. I knew that this was going to be one of those once in a life time opportunities to see this species in the province.

Long story short, I was there this morning ready to enjoy this amazing rarity.

Thankfully it put on a good show, in time for me to get to school for Friday lectures.

In this photo below the brown and tattered primaries are noticeable. In the field it was clear that the tertials looked crisp and fresh, and some of the flight feathers (secondaries) were also fresh, which contrasted with the brown and tattered outer primaries and inner secondaries. Obviously, this bird is in the middle of a molt cycle, indicating that it is an adult (juveniles grow out their flight feathers in the nest, or just after fledging, and keep those feathers until the Spring). The fact that it's molting explains why it doesn't have the long ornamental tail feathers typically associated with this species. They will grow in with time!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

500 and counting

An early morning seawatch at Cape Spear (the Easterly most point in North America) produced my 500th Newfoundland eBird checklist. Will I submit 5000 by the end of my degree (May/June, 2017)?

The highlights?
-Good looks at Sooty and Great Shearwaters flying North. I don't think I'll ever tire of looking at shearwaters.

-Several Jaegers. Always enjoy any chance I get to study these complicated birds.


A 1st winter Mediterranean Gull was found in Iceland today. Their first record of that species.

While living in Denmark I did wonder if Mediterranean Gull showed up in Iceland, and if so, if they might ever make it all the way to Newfoundland...

If Iceland can get a Varied Thrush, Mediterranean Gull is certainly possible here along with the many other European birds they get...

Here's a 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull I photographed in Denmark - Nov, 2011:

Aged by the dull red on the inner half of the bill:

Here's an adult with its bright red bill, and black ring - Spain, Oct 2011:

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Seawatch @ Cape St Francis

I took a gamble this morning and drove to Cape St. Francis (NE corner of the Avalon Peninsula) after some strong West winds that shifted towards NW overnight. I was hoping for a bit of visibility, and maybe a few shearwaters. While driving there conditions weren't looking promising. The fog was inland, and Torbay had very little visibility...

Thankfully I didn't turn around because the conditions were perfect at the cape.

This photo makes it look much clearer than it was:

The seabird show was one of the best I've experienced in Newfoundland. A constant stream of shearwaters the entire 2 hours I was there. Mostly Sooty Shearwaters at first, but by the end there was a noticeable push of Great Shearwaters. But I wanted something different...

An adult Pomarine Jaeger motored through when a small rain cloud passed over, and then less than 10 minutes later a monster of a bird rounded the cape: it was a huge beast, with a body seemingly too large to be capable of flight, and with white wing flashes that were blinding! It was obvious that it was a Skua. I watched the bird for ~20s while it quickly flew further away. But I got on it early enough to get a decent look at its back. It was a fairly dark bird, with a tinge of brown/red on the back. A memory that will forever be seared into my mind.

Having never seen a Skua, I was not well prepared for this bird, but considering the time of year and the details I saw I am pretty confident it was a Great Skua. Photos were near impossible with my Canon superzoom camera, so I focused on looking at the bird rather than taking photos.

Other highlights included 2 small flocks of Red Phalaropes being blown around in the wind, and 6 Northern Fulmars.

On the way back to the road, I stopped in an open grassy area - Indigo Bunting was on my hit list (not a terribly rare bird, but one I still haven't seen in NL). The only bird I saw was a passerine with a light brown back, white on the inner tail, with black at the tip. My first thought was Snow Bunting - but something wasn't right. It didn't take long to confirm that it was a Northern Wheatear - my 2nd one this Autumn!

On the way back home I stopped into Torbay and found the juv. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron roosting in a tree. It's been here for a couple weeks, and was my second one for NL:

Last weekend was unseasonably warm and brought out many dragonflies. I'm pretty sure these two are Common Green Darners (any thoughts?). Apparently they're vagrants in NL - but they have been quite common this season:

An Orange-crowned Warbler from earlier in the week:

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Where have you eBirded?

The Birdventure site recently posted a procedure for how to create a map of where all your eBird checklists are. Try it out, it shouldn't take more than 15 minutes to create these maps.

Planning to fill this in a bit more in the very near future ;)

5 years spent wisely in Ontario:

Lots of empty spaces in here: