Wednesday 13 August 2014

Branch, NL - Shorebirds

Joined local birders Alison & Ethel this morning to search for a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in Branch, NL. Although we didn't manage to see the hummer we were surprised by the abundance of shorebirds (by NL standards anyway) on the small tidal flat in the community. We counted over 170 shorebirds and decided to take the time to study them a bit more closely (thanks to Alison for being my note keeper while I counted and aged the shorebirds!!) and also photograph them.

This juvenile Semipalmated Plover was my first young one for that species this season:
Common Ringed Plover can be ruled out from the above picture because there's slight webbing seen between the middle & outer toes, the lores are pinched just before they meet the bill, and the dark mask widens behind the eye (whereas it generally has a more even width throughout on a CRPL). Not that CRPL's are common here (only about 15-20 records, and only 1 was a juvenile I think) - but all Semipalmated Plovers should be checked closely as I'm sure many get over-looked, and if you're not studying the SEPLs it makes it hard to find a CRPL!

All the White-rumped Sandpipers so far have been adults. Typically juvenile WRSAs arrive much later than juveniles of the other sandpiper species. Last year my first juvenile WRSAs were on September 21st. But they probably start arriving in early September sometime...

On the left is a juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper (SESA), and on the right is a juvenile Least Sandpiper (LESA).
Beginner birders often try to distinguish these two species by the colour of the legs (dark in SESA, yellowish in LESA). And I did as well when I started out. But after studying hundreds and seeing thousands of these peeps over the years, you start to absorb other more subtle features to help ID them more instinctively (and reliably) without having to rely on difficult to see and unreliable features such as leg colour.
The LESA is noticeably more red/orange in its plumage as compared to the grayer SESA (although they too can have some redness at times).

The white throat is less noticeable in LESA, and the streaking on the breast sides is more defined whereas I find it more 'blurry' on a SESA and it usually doesn't form a complete breast band on the SESA. Another juvenile LESA for comparison:

One of the more subtle features that you may sometimes use (cautiously!) to help separate the two species from a distance is the shape of the neck/head. I often find that SESA has a more chunky appearance due to the apparently shorter neck. LESA is more thin along the neck and head. Definitely a subtle feature that I'm not describing very well...

  Some LESAs can try to confuse you by seeming to have fairly whitish throats, and prominent white eyebrows (i.e. superciliums):
But the orange cast to the wing feathers, yellow legs, and streaked breast markings point towards LESA.

The highlight from Branch were 2 Short-billed Dowitchers. To top it off one was an adult and the other a juvenile giving me my first real chance to compare the two plumages directly. Big difference! Only problem is that the adult was more timid and flew off well before I had an opportunity to photograph it and share my findings.

Here's the juvenile SB Dowitcher:

 It wasn't all tidal flats today. We searched tundra habitat for Whimbrel and Horned Larks without finding any:

A Northern Blue butterfly was on the tundra:

As were a couple Rusty Tussock Moths (aka Vapourer!!) - correct me if the ID is wrong:

Earlier in the day we birded some boreal habitat and saw a juv. Hermit Thrush:

And a few Brown Creepers:

But yeah, the dowitchers were definitely the highlight for me:

First time I've photographed a juvenile dowitcher!

 Lots of White-rumped Sandpipers at this location today. We had a high count of 94! I only saw a total of 129 last year in NL, so I'm off to a good start towards beating that total... there's always some new standard to improve on thanks to the endless stream of eBird stats.

A typical view of a Newfoundland White-rumped Sandpiper rummaging around like a dumpster-diver in beached kelp.