Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Jaegers: Hunting For Answers

With so many jaegers up close and personal we have had a better opportunity to study them than unusual. All of the Pomarine Jaegers (25-27 in total) have been light morph adults, and all but one have been in breeding plumage (one appears to be hanging onto it's winter plumage). And there have been 4 Parasitic Jaegers. Plus 3 jaegers seen in St. Pierre!

Lots of wondering as to why this event has occurred. Nothing like this has happened before in Newfoundland. The wind wasn't exceptionally strong, and fog certainly isn't unusual so it makes sense that a lack of food became the prime suspect to explain the event.

A message from Yann Kolbeinsson (birder in Iceland) to Jared Clarke gives more perspective on the event. He suggested that events like this are more regular/expected in Iceland. They occur with moderate onshore winds with humid foggy air, and rain. This type of event has previously occurred in Iceland in the first to second week of May.

But, that kind of weather is more or less the norm here! Perhaps the difference this year was the far-reaching Easterly winds, at the right time of year (bringing migrating jaegers from the open ocean closer to our waters)? Maybe a poor food supply exasperated the meagre weather, causing them to be stranded on our shores? All questions that we simply don't have concrete answers to. If it happens again another year, maybe then we can connect the dots.

Which is a great segway into eBird! eBird is the perfect medium to document an event like this - it gives a temporal and spatial perspective on the event, and the data is saved for future generations!

Here's a quick map of all the Pomarine Jaeger sightings in the last couple weeks:

See the link here for the up to date map

Despite all the Pomarine Jaegers being light morphs, there has been a bit of variation of their plumage. Mostly in the breast band.

Some have a complete breast band:

Others have close to none:

Others have a more diffuse breast band:

On the Pomarine Jaeger above, note that the black cap extends all the way down to below the gape of the bill. Compare that with this Parasitic Jaeger:

Note that the black cap clearly ends at the gape of the bill - the area below the gape is slightly darker than the neck, but is noticeably lighter than the cap.

One Pomarine Jaeger stood out from the rest due to the extensive dark markings on the chest:

My thought was that this was because it was still partly in non-breeding plumage rather than being a sub-adult. Something to look up when I have more time another day!

This photo was taken by Ken Knowles (same bird showing the extensive chest markings).

Two Parasitic Jaegers showed up at the St. John's harbour.

I am calling this Parasitic Jaeger an "intermediate morph" because it doesn't seem as light as the Pomarine Jaegers that we've seen this week.

Also because I have seen a lighter adult Parasitic Jaeger in the Northwest Territories - as seen here with its mate, a dark-morph Parasitic Jaeger!
Perhaps their offspring would have looked similar to our intermediate morph in St. John's?

Jaeger sightings are always exciting, but are often frustrating because they're difficult to identify when seen out over the open ocean. It's been no problem identifying them this week while they're stranded on our shores - but they still bring a lot of questions and confusion with them.



This female Northern Pintail was acting "nesty" in St. John's earlier this week:

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Jaegers Grounded

Still no European Golden Plovers in Newfoundland. Suitable winds forecasted for the next 5 days will continue to keep my hopes high. Surely there'll be some found by next Sunday!

Todays highlight was more of the same from yesterday.
The Easterly winds, fog, and rain have grounded many jaegers and allowed great looks at several birds flying around sheltered bays.

In total, I saw 10 Pomarine Jaegers. Did miss an adult dark morph Parasitic Jaeger that was near St. John's.

Some other birds:

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull:

4th winter/cycle LBBG (note the lack of white-tipped primaries, and hint of brown to the secondary coverts):

Saw one of yesterdays Arctic Terns again today:

It's back to school for me tomorrow - I'll be dreaming about what I'm missing out there!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Saturday Update - April 25

Still no definite european birds found on our shores - but it should happen within the next week.

With East winds for the next few days, including some associated with far reaching low pressure systems, it's hard to imagine that we won't get any.

Lots of signs around with that Little Gull earlier in the week, and today, 2 ARCTIC TERNS and a few jaegers - and perhaps the most promising sign is that of a flock of 8 plovers seen ~1000km offshore, flying due West for Newfoundland.

Our local breeding Arctic Terns show up in mid May. There are few April records of Arctic Tern and all have been associated with low pressure systems blowing winds from the centre of the Atlantic. Surely these birds are migrating to Iceland and have recently passed by Africa.

Arctic Tern - note the white cheek that is set off from the grey back, wings, and belly.

Been seeing an unusually high number of 1st winter LBBGs recently....

Most unusual was an adult Pomarine Jaeger sitting in some reeds less than 1km from my house. A few were seen today after some strong onshore winds and mega thick fog.

Scene from Cape Spear this evening: 

Hopefully more news tomorrow!
After all, April 26th is a certified Euro Vagrant holiday for birders in Newfoundland.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015


Seen this morning at 7:11am flying steadily North past Cape Spear.

Did it come from the North American population or European/Iceland population of Little Gulls? Who knows.

Surprisingly, there is another late April record for Newfoundland from L'Anse aux Meadows (1995).

Hard to know if this is a vanguard of other European birds in the region - more probable though is that it's just a lost bird and its appearance has something to do with the huge Low pressure system that passed East of us just yesterday.

4 screenshots from the few seconds of video I managed to capture:

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Update on the Euro Vagrant Forecast

As promised, the Sunday weather forecast update (aka Euro fallout prophesies):

A large low pressure system, currently just South Southeast of the Avalon, will travel North and then swing East out over the Atlantic where it will draw winds from Britain and Ireland and send them directly towards Northeast Newfoundland.

As with any weather system - there are just too many variables and unknowns to be sure of what will happen. But, whatever happens in the next 7 days will be interesting.

Ideal winds will climax on Wednesday, but start to form on Monday night and continue right through to Friday.

Wednesday - a stunning map:

North Atlantic Surface Pressure for Wednesday:

These weather systems are a few days earlier than last years legendary winds that brought 300+ Euro Golden Plovers, 12+ Black-tailed Godwits, 40+ Northern Wheatears, and a bunch of other crazy megas.

A quick review of the Iceland occurrence charts reveals that Eurasian Oystercatcher, Meadow Pipit, and Redwing are among the earlier migrants that we missed last year. Would be nice to get any one of those in 2015 ;)

Geese are also earlier to migrate (Pink-footed & Graylag)

Spring of 2014 saw an incursion of european vagrants of unbelievable magnitude - can we double it up!??

Not the only passerine that will be on my mind next week

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Twillicks - 2015 Birdathon

This year I will be participating in the "Great Canadian Birdathon" with Catherine Barrett. Our team, "The Twillicks" will do the birdathon on the last weekend of May in an effort to see as many bird species as possible in 24 hours on the Avalon peninsula. The event is a way to promote awareness about our environment and help raise money to conserve birds and biodiversity across our country!

Please help us reach our fundraising goals. You can click on this link and then click the name of the person you would like to support to see our personal fundraising pages and make a donation.

A tax receipt will be generated automatically via email. If you prefer you can give your donation to Catherine or myself directly and we will forward it to Bird Studies Canada.

A portion of the funds we raise will be returned to this province to Nature NL.

Thank you for your support!

"Twillicks" is a name used by Newfoundlanders for Greater Yellowlegs - a species I will guarantee that we see on the birdathon!

Last years team saw one of these - surely we can do better in 2015!

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Late April Weather Forecast

Spring of 2014 was a birders dream on the Avalon. Could it possibly happen again?!

It's a little too early to tell really - but to say the least... well, I don't want to jinx it!
You can decide for yourself:

Forecast for April 23 shows a low pressure system stretching across the Atlantic ocean:
low pressure system = counter clockwise winds

And the same low pressure system a few days earlier (April 20) shows some nice Northeast winds - maybe we can kickstart late April with a Ross's Gull in Conception Bay South?!
^ these are the type of winds that would bring storm-petrels and other seabirds to Holyrood. Storm-petrels should be off of Newfoundland at this time of year in low numbers.

And just as a reminder, here are the wind maps for April 24 & 25 of 2014 - the two days before everything went crazy last year:

I think the key is to have sustained winds coming from the East or Northeast for 3+ days before we can really start dreaming of a Euro fallout anything like last year.


Even a single Euro GP would get the blood simmering: 

A single Black-tailed Godwit would have the blood boiling:

And one of these would cause an instant heart attack:

Expect a weather update on Sunday!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Bird Song Quiz #16

More people tried out that last one than expected Encouraging me to put another one together.

From Cape Spear this morning:
It was silent