Wednesday 28 December 2011

Around Town

I haven't been posting much because of a lack of time not because of a lack of birds.

I joined forces with Dave Brown and Richard Thomas for the St. John's CBC. We got the Red-bellied Woodpecker and re-found a Pine Warbler that was MIA for a while. A couple Baltimore Orioles were nice to see as well.

The most unexpected bird came the next day when I was looking to tick off some Eurasian Wigeons. The wigeons were not to be seen but a fleeting glimpse of a rail-like bird came as a shock. I didn't really know what to do considering I only had about 5 minutes before I had to get going.
I got the word out and others confirmed it as a Sora.

I returned today with Mira (my girlfriend) and local birder Brendan Kelly to see the bird walk right out in front of us:

This morning began early at Cape Spear to see the sunrise:

Two duck hunters were just off the point which didn't help us find seaducks. But at least 5 Dovekies were just off the point giving great looks:

A flock of 76 Purple Sandpipers was  a welcome sighting:

A local birder has a beautiful Cape May warbler visiting their feeder:

Saturday 24 December 2011

Red-bellied Woodpecker

The woodpecker was showing well today along with several Northern Flickers:

male Red-bellied Woodpecker:

A few people were asking why it's called Red-bellied when it clearly has a red head... Well it does have a red belly as you can see in the next photo and another woodpecker has already taken the title of Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker from Pelee last May:

Have a good Christmas!

Friday 23 December 2011

Back in Newfoundland

I had planned to write a summary blog post for Denmark but I didn't have time while flying...

Nevertheless, here's a quick video I put together from Norway (September) that has nothing to do with birds:

Anyway, today I did a brief search for Newfoundlands 9th record of Red-bellied Woodpecker (and the first for St. John's) without success. I'll be back though...

I'm more keen on working on my year list now though. There are about ten birds I haven't seen in Canada yet this year that I could get over the next week.
In somewhat decreasing likelihood:

Common Gull, Tufted Duck, Great Cormorant (actually I saw it today at Cape Spear), Eurasian Wigeon, Purple Sandpiper, WW Crossbill, Red Crossbill, Dovekie, Yellow-legged Gull, Willow Ptarmigan...

A brief visit to Cape Spear yielded a small flock of 6 Scoters very close to shore. 3 each of White-winged and Surf. If the Surf Scoters stick around until Monday they'll be the first record for the St. John's CBC - and I guess this was the first record for the CBC count week [CBC Records, 1966-2011]. ...and the first record of White-winged Scoter between 49 and 56 hours before the CBC date [Intuition, 2011]...

Distant shot of a female WW Scoter with male Surf Scoter from today:

There's a snow storm coming tonight - hopefully it will concentrate birds around the feeders (namely the Red-bellied Woodpecker) and also nice because I won't see snow again until next winter when I leave NL.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Quest for the Black Woodpecker

The day started early for me today. Maybe a bit too early actually. I arrived at my destination more then an hour before sunrise and I ended up standing around waiting for the sun while my toes got cold.
That doesn't happen often. Usually I'm racing to beat the sun!

When the sun finally rose (well it was cloudy so I'm not sure when exactly it occurred) and the day brightened up I looked over the water with a pessimistic view.
F*#k this, there's not going to be anything out there anyway. I was proved wrong. Within ten minutes I had several alcids pass by as well as a Red-throated Loon very close to me. After an hour or so the Alcid movement slowed down (after totaling over 100 individuals!) and the Gannets started to trickle in. I stopped counting after 11 Gannets and decided to start looking for some different birds.

My seawatch was from the grounds of the castle that is the setting for Shakespeare's Hamet:

Almost immediately after leaving the seawatch I heard an unusual trilling call and looked up to see my first Bohemian Waxwings for Europe!

The Waxwings didn't stay for long so I continued over to the harbour where I studied a confusing Herring Gull with yellow legs and an almost pure white head. It had me thinking Yellow-legged Gull but the other features weren't there so I moved on:

Not long after that I was looking at a lifer Rock Pipit!

The day was going well but I had another species on my mind.
Before coming to Denmark I expected Black Woodpeckers to be a relatively easy bird to find. In fact, after writing to some people and looking at old sightings it seemed that Black Woodpeckers were resident in the Deerpark (that park next to my house where the White-throated Dipper, Tawny Owl and Pygmy Owl are). So I felt that I was guaranteed to see them without much effort.
After three months of avidly birding my temporary patch I was beginning to get worried. Maybe I wouldn't see them after all? I voiced my worries to some local birders and learned that the local Goshawks had eaten the Black Woodpeckers!
So my hope that I'd see one in my patch withered away.

With my desperation I was ready to go anywhere in Denmark to search out a Black Woodpecker (BLWO). With less than 5 days to go I read through all the sightings in Denmark to see where and when BLWO had been seen. The most accessible spot was Teglstrup Hegn. I wooded area North of where I live and conveniently close to a decent seawatch spot (where the castle is).
The only problem was that the BLWO's hadn't been seen since November 13th. Considering that I had the two shortest days of the year to work with and a bird that hasn't been seen recently I was pessimistic about going to Teglstrup Hegn.

Nevertheless that's exactly where I found myself today after the seawatch.

My first impression was this:

WTF is this! Toilet paper and garbage bags...
F*#k this! No woodpeckers are going to live in this place.
Pessimism sets in... yet again.

For whatever reason, I have the opinion that elusive birds prefer pristine habitat and will not tolerate any sign of impurities.

I continued on and one of the first birds I saw was a Northern Goshawk. I immediately thought of the Goshawk that ate the BLWO's in the Deerpark... my hopes of seeing a BLWO pretty much shattered.

I decided to continue on anyway and was rewarded with a small flock of Bullfinches:

Only the second time I've seen them.

After wandering around I had found both Marsh Tits and Willow Tits - the first time I've seen them on the same day which is notable because I was never confident if I could really distinguish them.

The next highlight was this Northern Shrike:

But still no BLWO's. I was also looking for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker so I was keenly pursuing any woodpecker call that I heard. I must have heard at least 20 and they all ended up being Greater Spotted Woodpecker (GSWO):

After over two hours I decided to call it quits and head home. The only problem was that I was lost. I had made my own path through the forest on a few occasions and frequently changed my course so now I was hopelessly lost. My solution was to follow the sound of any woodpecker and hope that it guides me out. That method was abolished after a few more GSWO's.

And then I heard an unusual call. It sounded suspiciously similar to the BLWO call I have on my iPod. Thinking that the sound must have came from my pocket I turned off my iPod and continued on my way.

But the sound returned again and it was a little bit louder this time. That's when my meandering turned into sprinting. The call was getting closer and closer:


I never knew that I took such quick footsteps?

Anyway, I eventually located the sound to a tree and soon enough a large dark bird flew out of the tree flying in the other direction. It landed on a tall tree without any branches allowing me to get an identifiable view of the bird confirming it as a BLWO! But it was all to quick because the bird flew off calling repeatedly.
Oh well, at least I have the recording as bad as it may be!

Oddly enough the BLWO calling lead me to a path that I recognized and so I found my way back on to the trail.


With the success of the BLWO behind me I decided to head for home while I still knew where I was.
While walking past the spot where I first saw the Goshawk I wondered if I would be able to find it again. I noticed some movement in the forest and caught a glimpse of a dark bird with surprisingly big wings land on the wrong side of a tree. I couldn't think of anything that would be in a dense patch of forest and match that description.
Turns out there was another Black Woodpecker!
Amazing, and a great way to end the walk. Naturally I tried to get a photo of this bird but failed - apparently they're pretty wary.

While on the train home I decided to get off early so that I can check in on the White-throated Dippers and add it to my day list.

I ended the day with a respectable 50 species! Not bad considering the short day, late date and the latitude of Denmark.

That Black Woodpecker will likely be the last lifer in Europe! A great way to end it the trip :)

Only two more sleeps in Denmark - I'm going to miss this place

Monday 19 December 2011


It's been a great day! Exams finished and went well and I found my 150th bird for Denmark near the sea.
A small flock of Long-tailed Bushtits was foraging in the bushes nearby my usual seawatch spot.

I couldn't have wished for a better bird for my 150th. They're extremely cute:

Check out the beak on that guy!

2 days left... unfortunately they happen to also be the shortest days of the year. I'll see what I can muster up.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Next up is Singapore

I've come to really enjoy the birding here in Denmark so it's disappointing for me to leave it behind. But on the other hand my next destination has a lot to offer!

This week I (finally) got a place to live in Singapore which means I can now concentrate on some of the more important things, such as the birds!

I've never been in Asia so I really don't know what to expect (in terms of birds and life in general) but I'm sure that it'll be fun. I think that the birding will be more difficult for me to get a grasp of when compared to Denmark because of a few reasons:

-> The family groups (let alone the species) are very different from those in North America where I am most 'at home'.

-> The field guide is not nearly as good as that of Birds of Europe - this is understandably because of the lack of coverage in Singapore (I couldn't even find a bird blogger from there!!)

-> And lastly because the island is very developed and many of the natural areas are out of bounds thereby limiting the number of birding hotspots.

Many people in Asia think of Singapore as the gateway to the Western world (or at least that's what my Vietnamese roommate once told me) so for me it'll be the opposite. The gateway to Asia and SE/Pacific in general. Which means that I have a few tricks (i.e. trips) up my sleeve!
Borneo is a short and cheap flight to the East, Thailand is equally short and cheap to the North and Indonesia is a swimmable (for a penguin) distance to the South. Oh, and Malaysia is literally just across the river!

The next 4 months are going to offer me a lot of opportunities to see some new, really strange and fun birds. The only problem is that I've done zero studying of them. I ordered a field guide and that is in Newfoundland now so I've been gleaning over trip reports online about Singapore.

Some things I'm looking forward to:
 White-bellied Woodpecker - From Wikipedia

 Black-capped Kingfisher - photo from here

You never know! Spoon-billed Sandpiper photo from here

Basically I just want to see more new species than I did in Europe. As of now that is 144!

So 150 sounds like a reasonable goal to me. Wish me luck! Again, I'm going to make the goal rather lax by including any new bird I see in Asia - so that includes Indonesia which happens to be very close by, a very likely trip to Thailand for shorebirds ;) and anywhere else my travels take me (Malaysia and Borneo come to mind).

But before I flee to Asia I have 1 monster exam to finish tomorrow followed by two full days of non-stop birding in DK followed by a short visit to Newfoundland for a week.

I'm making a last ditch attempt for a Black Woodpecker in 30 hours... I'm getting desperate

Thursday 15 December 2011


Believe it or not one of my favourite species is the Sanderling.
Partly because of how they endlessly scurry around on beaches and partly because I've seen them in almost every area in the world that I've been birding and at all times of the year.

While searching for interesting gulls in Spain I came across a flock of Sanderlings that were busy eating away and purposefully ignoring me.

With the sun low in the sky behind me and not much else to entertain me I decided to give up the never ending search for rare gulls and began photographing the Sanderlings.

They're relatively easy to photograph because they usually scurry along a beach continuing in one general direction even if you lie in the middle of their path waiting for them to come.

If you click on a photo it will expand 'out of the page'. It makes the photos look better ;) ... and you don't have to read all the bull shit that I'm writing.

They're usually found in small flocks:

This guy was far ahead of the pack:

They almost always have their heads down:

This one was practically sprinting:

Head-deep in sand and water:

I quite like this photo. Even though it's way out of focus the distinctive features of the Sanderling are still obvious:

Heads down, bums up:

Probably one of my favourite ones:

Don't forget to try out the bird quiz from Tuesday!

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Bird Song Quiz #2

It's back for another round!
Thank you to David and Josh for posting replies to the quiz from last week!
They more than aced the quiz, identifying all 4 species I was looking for and more. They also included the times when the birds sang, which was a great idea!

Well done guys and I hope you keep it up because I learned a lot from your comments!

Anyway, if you haven't had a chance to try the Quiz #1 it is below, along with the answers.
But first, here's Quiz #2:

This recording is from New Hampshire, but all the birds in the recording are typical breeding birds of Ontario and Newfoundland (and everywhere in between)!

Clue: I'm looking for 6 additional species along with Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (there are more that I can't quite figure out). Additional clues in the comments section if you want!

Quiz #1:

With answers:

The four birds I was looking for were (and in brackets the first time the bird can be clearly heard):
Alder Flycatcher (0:08)
Nashville Warbler (0:10-0:12)
White-throated Sparrow (0:03-0:05)
Song Sparrow (0:18-0:19)

There were some other bonus species (i.e. I didn't find them until David or Josh pointed them out) including:
Chestnut-sided Warbler (0:16)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (0:30)
American Redstart (this one was difficult but I can convince myself there is one at 0:04 and more clearly at 0:16)

It would be great if others made similar quizzes! It's an easy way to keep the blog going and it would really help me learn :)

Sunday 11 December 2011

Birds can be Celebrities Too

What was expected to be a quick check-in on the Owl today turned into a long visit.

Well over 50 people saw the bird today with thousands of dollars worth of equipment:

Here's the celebrity who patiently sat around for over 2 hours:

Occasionally it would preen:

and stretch its wings:

And, as requested by some people today, here's a short video of the bird (click on the "Youtube" button to see a bigger version):

Saturday 10 December 2011

To the sea again

With recent high winds I was hoping for some interesting seabirds to be on the move this morning.

The sea was rather calm and held the usual birds.

A fly-by Long-tailed Duck was my first for Denmark bringing me to 149. One more to go!

I made my way over to the Pygmy Owl spot to see if it was home today. I'm hoping to get some decent digiscoped shots of it eventually. Time is running short though with only 12 days left!

This rather tame Robin was on the look out for hand outs - probably tamed after hundreds of visitors to see the Pygmy Owl:

The Owl did show itself today, but didn't allow for good photos once it emerged:

And of course, the White-throated Dippers were in their usual spot.

Yesterday I spent some time trying to get better shots at a low angle. Definitely an improvement from previous sessions with the Dipper but there's one shot that I'm envisioning but haven't been able to produce, so until then I'll keep showing you these:

Digiscoping is very capable of creating detailed up-close shots:

One drawback is that it is difficult to photograph an off-center bird, resulting in mediocre framing of the bird (would have preferred more space in front of the bird here):

And going for a dip: