Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Dorian the Explorer

Hurricane Dorian....

Ever since the forecasts shifted away from a direct hit on Florida and eyed Newfoundland there has been building anticipation for the storm.

Every Hurricane season there is at least 1 storm or more with initial forecasts aimed at our island that eventually strays offshore, ignoring the initial forecasts. This one feels different.

Certainly the storm has been - and will continue to be - destructive. This is the case even if it comes to Newfoundland despite it likely becoming a "low" by the time it makes it this far. At least it won't stall for 24+ hours like it did in the Bahamas...

From a birding perspective I can't think of a more exciting course for a storm on its way to NS or NL. Surely the storm has already picked up some interesting seabirds in the Caribbean and Bahamas. Whether those birds survive the 3000km (one-way) trip to Newfoundland is another story.

Either NS or NL will have a storm to remember for decades.

The only storm that comes closest to Dorian's predicted path is Hurricane Helene from 1958. Check out this article documenting the birds that were involved.

How many more category 4/5 hurricanes do we need to force a systematic change in policy addressing climate change? Our role is to document what kind of havoc these storms have on birds, and the dispersal across our province.

Stay tuned...

Friday, 8 February 2019

Tufted Ducks in Newfoundland

Status & Distribution
The first record of Tufted Duck, a Eurasian species, for the island of Newfoundland was a well documented female at Quidi Vidi lake from 2 Jan - 26 Jan, 1982 [Am. Birds, 1982]. It was another four years until the second record came about: an immature male shot at Colinet on 3 Nov 1986 [Am Birds, 1987]. The 3rd record was a female in Harbour Grace 16 Dec 1986 to 8 Jan 1987. The 4th and 5th records, both female, occurred in the Fall of 1990. The species has been recorded every year since 1994 and numbers continue to increase with our wintering flock now approaching 100 individuals scattered across the local ponds in St. John's. The first bird found to remain the entire summer was in 2014: an immature male at Mundy Pond, St. John's. And summering records have since been recorded almost annually.

They are a very welcome addition to our avifauna.

Although there are no breeding records for the province, it wouldn’t be out of the question for a pair to remain on this side of the Atlantic at a remote pond. Hybrids have occurred with Ring-necked Duck and Greater Scaup, suggesting that at least some individuals attempt breeding in our region.

The epicentre of Tufted Ducks is clearly around the St. John's region with rare sightings outside of the city, mostly in the Conception Bay North, Harricott, Clarenville and Stephenville areas. There have been no sightings in Labrador.

The eBird range map shows a significant concentration around St. John's with scattered records across the entire island, including nearby St. Pierre-et-Miquelon.

Males are distinguished from the other aythya species by their jet black back contrasting with pure white flanks, and, of course, their name-sake tuft. The head has a green or purple iridescent colour in certain lighting. 

The black tip ("nail") to the bill is generally larger than Greater or Lesser Scaup, but distinctly smaller than that of Ring-necked Ducks.

Showing off the green iridescent head.

Beginner birders often anchor their Scaup and Tufted Duck identifications on the colour of the head.
Yet, both Scaup species, and Tufted Duck can show purple or green iridescence depending on the type and angle of light.

In non-breeding and first winter plumage, the males lack pure white flanks and instead have dusky flanks.

By late summer the males lose the bulk of their tuft and are left with a few short strands that can be seen with a good look.

Females also have a dark back; however, it is more dark brown rather than jet black. This can be a difficult feature to distinguish from the scaup species. Reliable features are the tuft, albeit shorter than that of the males, and the larger black area at the tip of the bill.

In flight, Tufted Ducks have a bold white wing stripe that extends well into the primaries.

Younger birds tend to have more dull amber-orange eye colour as compared to the bright yellow eyes of adults. The photo below is of a hatch year male photographed in October.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Peregrine Falcon: A New Breeding Species for the Island of Newfoundland

Peregrine Falcon was once an endangered species across North America. In the mid 1960's to 70's they were on the brink of extinction in our continent, largely due to the use of DDT - an insecticide. Thanks to the work of Rachel Carson through her book Silent Spring, and the efforts of many others, DDT was banned from use in 1972. Since then, with the help of recovery efforts, Peregrine Falcons have made a remarkable comeback across the entire continent. They now breed in all states, provinces, and territories (expect, maybe, PEI?)

Despite being a regular breeder in the mountains of Labrador, there was never a confirmed breeding record for the island of Newfoundland, until now.

Laura King first reported a pair near a seabird colony in early May, 2018. A couple weeks later Brendan Kelly found them at the same location and noted their "nesty" behaviour. In mid August, while out on a hike with Mike (a childhood friend), we came across a single adult feeding 2 begging juveniles. A long-overdue first breeding record for the island, but nonetheless exciting. The site will be monitored in the coming years, and hopefully there'll be more Peregrine nests discovered in the not too distant future. There certainly is no lack of cliffs and food in the way of seabirds for these birds to spread across the island.

Adult Peregrine with a juvenile Common Tern in its talons:

Note that this adult has already begun its pre-basic molt. Falcons are unusual in that their wing molt begins with p4 and s5 (the midpoint of the primaries and secondaries) rather than the more conventional innermost primary as with most other bird species. No one knows why this is.

The adult delivers a juvenile Common Tern to its freshly fledged youngster. 

Juvenile Peregrine Falcon enjoying a freshly delivered Common Tern:

A complete fresh coat of feathers - made right here in Newfoundland: