Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Twillicks Birdathon - Part 1

Catherine and I beat all of our expectations for our 24 hour birdathon that started at 5pm last Friday!

Read on to find out more about our great day. And if you haven't already, please help support our birds by donating here. Thank you!

Our goal was to see (or hear) 75 species within 24 hours on the Avalon peninsula. Catherine's previous record was 73, and the all time record was somewhere in the high 70's. We finished the first 5 hours with 45 species on our list with many unexpected birds, and plenty of easy ones yet to see! Things were looking good ;)

The starting gate was at Third pond in the Goulds, also known as the "horsetrack pond". After scanning the estuary a couple times I heard a yellowlegs call. Knowing that a Ruff had recently been seen at the same location with 2 Greater Yellowlegs we began to search for the source of the call. Sure enough we found a shorebird not too far away - but far enough away that the heat haze made it difficult to identify. We got closer to the bird and saw that it was a yellowlegs, presumably a Greater. Next to it we were lucky to notice a well hidden sleeping shorebird. We were having difficulty figuring out what it was until it woke up and we could see that it was a/the Ruff! An excellent start to our count! We continued watching the two shorebirds, when eventually the yellowlegs also woke up - surprisingly it had a relatively short, thin, and straight bill - it was a Lesser Yellowlegs!! Two rare shorebirds in the first 5 minutes!!!

The next stop was Bidgood's Park. This park has been the site of many great birds in its short 3 year existence. We came hoping to get Barn Swallow and American Bittern. While scanning through the swallow flock Catherine noted a larger dark swallow. It soon disappeared and she was left wondering what she saw. Thankfully she re-found it a few minutes later and we both got excellent looks at her lifer PURPLE MARTIN! This was only our second stop and we had already found 3 rarities for our birdathon. What more could we ask for!

This male Northern Flicker was keeping an eye on us from his fortress in Bidgood's Park:

The next stop was 2km away at Murph's Pond, site of a small Rusty Blackbird colony. We spent about 30 minutes in the area looking for the blackbirds. We couldn't find them. But that's OK, they weren't a species we were expecting to get, so we moved on down the road. On our way back we lucked out with a single blackbird perched at the top of a spruce tree!

The next stop was Lundrigan's Marsh. Another marsh where many great birds have been found over the years. We gave ourselves a full hour to search the area from the lookout knowing that the birds are very difficult to find amongst the reeds. When we showed up, Ed Hayden had just seen one of our main targets, a Northern Shoveler. Unfortunately it had just moved into the reeds keeping itself out of our sights. We continued to scan the reeds for the next hour while our hopes of seeing the shoveler diminished. We were happy, however, to hear a Killdeer calling nearby. Another hard to get shorebird! We found it on a gravel pad across the road:

The search continued for the ducks as more people started to arrive. They were hoping to hear a Sora that had been heard there recently. As the sun was setting and visibility was diminishing we were all happy to hear the Sora call a few times. It had been heard occasionally in the previous week - but hadn't been reliable. As luck would have it, just as we were all ready to leave the male shoveler poked its head up over the reeds to see if the coast was clear. It soon emerged from the reeds to swim in the open water, and a female shoveler followed it out into the open!

The next stop was at Burton's Pond. A tiny pond where 2 Tufted Ducks have been seen over the previous week. Despite it being dark out we had no trouble finding the 2 tufties as they swam in the middle of the pond.

The last stop before getting a few hours of sleep was at Long Pond where a rare Northern Saw-whet Owl had been singing during the previous couple weeks. Our luck had been exhausted - despite patiently waiting to hear it, the owl did not sing for us and we made our way back home to get a few hours sleep. Our list stood at a respectable 45 species! We had the better part of a day ahead of us so we were hopeful we could reach our target of 75 species!

I'll be sure to post Part 2 tomorrow :)

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Birdathon Starts Tomorrow

Catherine Barrett and I will be starting the clock tomorrow evening around 17:00! Over the following 24 hours we're hoping to see 3 species of owl, 10 species of warbler, among 62 other species to bring us to our goal of at least 75 species!

I've spent a silly amount of time in the last few weeks scheming about our best route, and where we can get each species. It'll be fun to see how the day plays out. At least I can guarantee that I'll be taking in a few good doses of caffeine!

Check out our Birdathon page here:

Northern Waterthrush - one of our guaranteed warbler species

Tufted Duck - they over-summered last year at Mundy Pond. But none have been seen there lately. Thankfully there are 2 others at another location.

The bird our team is named after - Greater Yellowlegs, aka The Twillicks!

Last year Yellow Warblers showed up really late - and it was almost a stretch to get them on the last day of May. This year they're already ubiquitous everywhere you go.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Mistaken Point Fossils

Made a long overdue trip to Mistaken Point today with 2 friends from Ontario.

This site is home to the worlds oldest fossils of complex lifeforms - 575 million years old! It is on the Southern Avalon along the Cape Race road. Daily guided hikes (free of charge) take you to the impressive display of literally thousands of exposed fossils.

I've seen many photos and videos of these fossils, but in real life they were much more impactful. Although photos can pick up the details of a single specimen, it's the number of fossils in the area that is truly breath taking and make the walk to the point worthwhile. Not to mention the good birds we saw along the way: Willow Ptarmigan (on a nest!), Merlin, American Pipit, among others.

This last fossil shows a ring like structure that is thought to be the base of the "leaf" that extends upwards, similar to seaweed this base would have held the organism to the seafloor.

Here's a short clip narrated by none other than David Attenborough about these very fossils:

Rusty Blackbirds have returned to the Avalon recently:

Also saw my lifer Brown Elphin the other day - poor photo but a beautiful butterfly!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

May 12 Pelagic Trip

Things lined up today to finally allow me to join Ian Jones on one of his semi-regular pelagic extravaganzas. We spent the day, with Neil Aitken, roaming the high seas looking for any sort of wildlife and cool scenery.

The seabird colonies in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve were teaming with alcids. Other highlights included 2 small icebergs, amazing coastal scenery, and 16 Red-necked Phalaropes.

Here's the route we took:

Razorbills were concentrated around Pee Pee and Ship island, whereas Common Murres were more numerous around the larger islands (Great & Gull Island):

Bridled Common Murres were nice to see:

The average Common Murre:

Hard to mis-identify this one:

Total fluke photograph of one of the RN Phalarope flocks we came across:

Surprisingly few BL Kittiwakes on the cliff faces.

View of Bay Bulls lighthouse from offshore:

One of the breeding islands in the background here:

Sunday, 10 May 2015

May 10, 2015

Some photos from a days birding between St. John's and St. Shott's.

Highlight was this Snowy Egret found earlier in the week by Dave Shepherd:
It was looking forlorn with all the rain and fog throughout the day.

Runner-up for the highlight were 2 Rough-legged Hawks we came across:
This species has bred on the Avalon before - maybe they will again this summer!

Two Red Crossbills seen today at different feeders were unexpected. I've only had one previous observation of this species this year:

2 Common Mergansers were relatively tame: 

We were happy to see 4 Willow Ptarmigan:

I've never had such a great look at a breeding plumaged male Long-tailed Duck before today:

Not more than 100m from the Snowy Egret was this Snowy Owl: 

Renews harbour is always worth a stop:

Greater Yellowlegs were in abundance today: 

Note the subtle up-turn to the bill. Something often mentioned in field guides - but not always easy to observe:

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Downy Woodpecker

Found this male Downy Woodpecker making a commotion next to Long Pond this morning:

Lots of migrants pouring in here (finally) with White-throated Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Swamp Sparrows being reported from all over the island.

Compare the outer tails feathers of the Hairy (below) and Downy (above). The downy has dark bars on the white outer tail feathers - the Hairy doesn't have any. This can be a useful feature to identify them if you're having difficulty judging the size of the bird, or bill shape.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Recent Birding

Despite all the hypes, and birding all the right spots we didn't find any european birds on the Avalon (yet). Still some hope that something will happen!

However, the West coast birders showed us up with a Black-tailed Godwit in Deer Lake!

^ this one photographed in 2014

Today's highlight was 2 Blue-winged Teal found at Kent's Pond by Lisa de Leon.

Yesterday one of the local birders found a dead Pomarine Jaeger - I got to see it before passing it on to Ian Jones. Neat to see the extent of white on the upper-side of the outer primaries: