Wednesday 28 March 2012

NL Records

Doug Clark and I have compiled many of the records of birds that are considered "Very Rare" on the Newfoundland checklist as well as any additions to that list since 2003. We read through all of the NAB reports that are available online and scoured the nf.birds forum. We found over 300 records and found 'sufficient' information for over 80% of those records.

As far as we know this is the only public database of rare birds for insular Newfoundland (this does not include Labrador).

We will continue to update and improve the list. If you notice any mistakes or know of any additions please let me know.
My email is:

*Please note that this is an unofficial list. No committee has reviewed the information*

*It is only as accurate as the information we have sourced from the NAB reports or from nf.birds *

Tips to understand the formatting are on the main page.

Tuesday 27 March 2012


Recently I've been making a few changes to my 'pages'. They are linked at the top of the blog right below the main image. One of the new pages is about digiscoping which I've also posted here as a blogpost as a way to introduce it (i.e. blog filler)!

I'll be regularly posting new digiscoped photos to this album:

Digiscoping is a relatively new field of photography (the word was coined in 1999 - probably the only word I know of and am older than!) which involves holding a camera up to a telescope and taking a picture. Easy, right!

My setup:
I use the Canon s95 camera with my Swarovski ATM 80 HD scope + 20-60x eyepiece.

I chose the Canon s95 because I had read that it is one of the best point and shoot cameras on the market. I certainly haven't been disappointed with the results. The camera designers made it extremely user-friendly to change the Aperture and Exposure settings which, in my opinion, are two of the most important settings for bird photography. It produces high quality images that are comparable with the photos I used to take with my Nikon d300s camera. Admittedly, the photos can't be enlarged to print on a huge poster - but who does that anyway?

The adaptors I use are the Jackar Universal Adaptor + the Swarovski DCA. Both adaptors are needed in unison for this setup.

You can find more information about digiscoping with the Canon s95 here.
Mike McDowell has a wonderful blog with many useful tips that helped me out a lot at the beginning.

Advantages/Disadvantages of digiscoping:
The obvious disadvantage of digiscoping is that it is much more difficult to photograph birds that are flying or constantly moving around. Bitterns are ideal subjects because they tend to be patient:

But with some patience and luck it is possible to get small birds that are notorious for never sitting still:

And if you're experienced it is possible to get some great photos of birds in flight. Check out this Tern.

The main benefits that I see in digiscoping are:

-You can photograph birds from much further away - meaning you don't need to harass distant birds.

-It is cheaper - yes a decent scope costs a lot of money, but if you're a birder there's a good chance you already have one so all you need to get are the camera and adaptors. Compared with a high quality Nikon or Canon camera with a 500mm + lens you'll be saving a few thousand dollars and be getting photos that you'll be just as, or even more, satisfied with!

-An extra incentive to get a better scope which will make the birding more enjoyable!

-Lighter in weight than a traditional camera setup - meaning you get to walk further and faster and enjoy the day even more.

-It's a good way of combining birding and photography - I usually have the scope with me so it's more convenient to only have to set up one set of optics to look at a bird and photograph it.

Monday 26 March 2012

Thailand Day 7: Khao Yai NP Cont'd

Our third and last day - and my last posting about Thailand! I can't believe this was a month ago!

Red-whiskered Bulbuls were one of eight species of bulbul from the trip. They can be rather difficult to distinguish. Red-whiskered Bulbul being the easiest of them all to identify:

Stripe-throated Bulbul is another relatively easy one to identify:

Pond-herons were very common in almost every habitat - from urban, to salt pans, to streams and ponds, to forest (well actually they don't really occupy forests - this one was just roosting in a tree next to a pond):

Red-headed Trogons are strikingly beautiful birds. I was happy to notice one feeding a mere few meters in front of us without taking any notice to our presence. Unfortunately, the bird was on the other side of the tree, I tried circling around the bird, but of course it noticed me and flew further into the forest.

It didn't fly too far though for me to take this record shot:

All in all, it was a great trip. I would certainly love to be able to go back again. Almost 1000 species of birds have been recorded in Thailand, occupying several different habitats. Our two weeks in Thailand was barely enough time to scratch the surface of two habitats.

On another note, I saw my 168th species in Singapore on my ~83rd day (last Sunday). Interestingly, Mira and I found 168 species during 7 days in Thailand. Of course, those 7 days involved more focused birding and in two of the best areas for birding. But we were there on our own, whereas I've done a fair amount of birding with locals here in Singapore as well as explored several different habitats. It simply goes to show that Thailand is a great birding destination! I hope to go back another time, but for now it'll have to wait several years at the least.

Friday 23 March 2012

Educated Speculation: Ontario

I've been hearing and reading a lot about the warm winter that Ontario and most of North America has experienced. I was getting a little worried that maybe all the migrants will be on their breeding grounds by the time I got back. Similarly, I wondered if birds typical of southern North America might be more likely to venture further North. In either case, it's going to be difficult to see, let alone find any vagrant passerines if they're in the trees because, presumably, the leaves will be wide open by early May.

I decided to do a little research into this. A quick Google search revealed that the 1999-2000 winter was the warmest on record. And the 2001-2002 winter was the warmest for Souther Ontario (as of March, 2002). Then I read the NAB (North American Birds) reports for Ontario for Spring and Summer for both of those years:
Spring, 2000
Spring, 2002

Notable records for those two seasons:
-As expected there were plenty of early spring migrants from Loons to Warblers
-13 Snowy Egrets on May 16th, 2000 (+ several more throughout S. Ontario)!
-a few Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites.
-low water levels on the Great lakes resulted in a lot of shorebird habitat (there was no indication as to what caused the low water levels - perhaps the lack of melting snow?)
-interestingly there were 2 Mountain Bluebirds that wintered that years as well (at least 3 were found this past winter)
-worm-eating warbler singing in S Ontario (no breeding records, I believe)

Spring, 2002:
-a warm February and March were followed by snow and colder temperatures throughout much of the Spring, that doesn't seem to be the case this year.
-Snowy Plover
-Brown Pelican, Pelee
-Ferruginous Hawk
-Vermilion Flycatcher, Pelee
-Barn Owl
-Painted Bunting


So that doesn't really let me come to an obvious conclusion. There was no pattern between the two years (although drawing patterns from 2 data points isn't really a pattern in the first place). Not an exceptional number of vagrants, overshoots... etc
It was interesting to note that the water levels on the Great lakes were low during the 2000 Spring. I wouldn't mind that this year!
It also may mean that Laurel Lake (in Waterloo) won't be as high as usual, maybe providing at least a little bit of local shorebird habitat. I'm interested to see what happens to that lake in the Autumn...

In 2010 the lake emptied out after they opened the dam. But in 2011 it remained flooded for most of the season.

Laurel Lake from 2010 - I'll soon be boring my readers with repetitive reports from this area:

Thursday 22 March 2012

Thailand Day 6: Khao Yai NP Cont'd

On day 2 of exploring Khao Yai NP we started by walking 'Trail B'. 2 hours later and we had seen 3 birds and only identified 1 of those. It was a Hill Blue Flycatcher, the birding in the park can really be hit and miss. Once you get a wave of birds you start loving birding again, but while you're wandering around and waiting to see at least 1 bird you start questioning your sanity.

Hill Blue Flycatcher - bringing back our hope with its striking song:

Some interesting fungi along the trail:

Again, the most birds seen on day 2 were in developed areas. This Blue Rock Thrush was easily seen at the Visitors Centre:

Vernal Hanging Parrots are easy to find if you're familiar with the call and flight of hanging parrots:

Some impressive trees, this one is actually smothered by vines that have killed the tree. The inside is hollow and you can see through the tree:

Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters were always found up the hill from the visitors centre:

Red-whiskered Bulbuls are common in the grassy areas:

Another day has come and gone:

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Thailand Day 5: Khao Yai NP

I'm stretching this beyond the expiry date!

Our first day in Khao Yai National Park was very rewarding. We began the day by birding around the campsite which ended up being the best 2 hours of birding throughout the 3 days we stayed at the park.

Naturally, we had a few birds on our 'wish list', most of them we didn't see, but we did find many other birds that were equally cool. It's always enjoyable coming across a bird you've never seen before or heard about, rummaging through the field guide trying to figure it out, settling on a decision and then moving on to the next bird.

An Orange-headed Thrush was easily seen - no doubt tamed by the photographers that visit the park:

A male Siberian Blue Robin was nice to see after having seen plenty of bland females in Singapore:
 -it was rather dark in the forest so this is the best I could manage with my digiscoping set up

Waterfalls are always fun:

A few Blue-whistling Thrushes were seen along the streams. They are actually rather big for a thrush:

 Ashy Woodswallow - a rather dull looking bird, but for whatever reason I took a liking to these birds:

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Random FOTD

FOTD = Fact Of The Day

A polynya is a body of open water surrounded by sea ice.

Every winter Eiders that overwinter in the arctic make polynyas. At these polynyas they dive under the water to catch mussels. While they are under water they naturally exhale, the exhaled air rises and some of it is trapped under sea ice. This creates bubbles, and where the ice is thin and flexible the air forces the ice upwards into shallow domes. As more and more Eiders frequent the area the dome gradually becomes larger such that the birds can go into the airspace. Some of these domes can become large enough for scores of bird to seek shelter!

The Innu word for this is "Pillait".

Something I would love the BBC to film!

-actually, I think the polynyas fact applies more to Common Eiders and Spectacled Eiders.

This King Eider was 1 of 3 in Toronto this time last year. Imagine if it was there this year, in 26 degrees!

FOTD #2:

Crossbill story from Newfoundland (1988):
"The big finch story involved the White-winged Crossbill. Simultaneously they began appearing in New Brunswick and w. Newfoundland during the last third of June. Throughout July they were "just everywhere, singing so loudly that it was almost impossible to hear anything else!" Only adults were seen, and females began disappearing in late July, presumedly to sit on nests. The birth of an invasion. All of Atlantic Canada experienced an exceedingly heavy crop of cones on the white spruce and balsam fir, which probably triggered the intensive singing and breeding, but how did they find out about it and where did they come from? The arrival en masse over such a broad front was as if they had all read about the cone crop in the newspaper."


That's it for now, haven't been doing much birding lately. Except for another pelagic coming up on Saturday my birding in Singapore over the next 1.5 months is going to be limited.
Going back to Canada is becoming more and more appealing after my mother found a male Black-backed Woodpecker in NL (I still have never seen this species...) and some taunting about a Wigeon of some sort in Ontario ;)

Monday 19 March 2012

Hindhede Park

Despite failing - miserably - to see a Black Bittern on too many occasions, I chased a sighting at Hindhede Park in central Singapore. Not surprisingly, I didn't see it, but I did manage to see some other unexpected and more than welcome birds.

The first bird I came across was an adult Little Spiderhunter feeding a juvenile Spiderhunter. They have super long beaks - amazingly the mother had her beak down the throat of her child. It reminded me of those crazy people that swallow swords.

The lookout (where the bittern was seen) had a lot of other great birds around too.

A Stork-billed Kingfisher wasn't too far off, but for ten minutes it didn't once turn its head in the 'right' direction:

The closest it came to showing-off its bill:

A few Straw-headed Bulbuls were flitting around. Despite being a globally threatened species they are rather conspicuous and easy to see in Singapore. I even have one that roosts in a tree next to my window!

Some other birders showed up and helped me see some 'better' birds such as this Grey Nightjar:

And these Brown Hawk Owls:

Don't forget about the quiz below! So far no one has got them all correct!

Sunday 18 March 2012

Bird Song Quiz #8

As usual, click the play button, answer the questions below, rock on:

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Answers to Quiz #7:

Olive-sided Flycatcher sang at 0:05 (everyone got that correct)
Dark-eyed Junco sang at 0:12-0:14 (2/5 got that correct)
Lincoln's Sparrow sang at 0:33-0:35 (1/5 got that correct!)

Congrats (again) to David for getting them all correct - you're killing these!

Here's the recording:

Saturday 17 March 2012

Sungei Buloh

On Friday afternoon I visited Sungei Buloh to photograph some egrets. That didn't go over so well but I did see plenty of shorebirds as usual.

There are a few Milky Storks at the park which are apparently all escaped birds making them uncountable. But they are surviving just fine and maybe some day they'll become countable - many of the visiting birders already count them ;)

This Pacific Golden Plover was the first one to show signs of molting into breeding plumage. Within the next few weeks they'll start migrating back North towards their breeding grounds.

The Eurasian Whimbrels have a white rump which is distinctive from the North American subspecies. There are about 10-15 records of the 'white-rumped' Whimbrel in Newfoundland with a few in other atlantic provinces. It wouldn't be surprising if one is found in Ontario during the Autumn migration. Eventually this sub-species may be split from the North American one.

Showing off that white rump:

Friday 16 March 2012

Preening Egrets

At Sungei Buloh Wetland there is a dead tree that many egrets use as a roost during high tide. Conveniently there is a hide sufficiently close for digiscoping the birds:

It's nice to be able to photograph these birds because in Canada they're much more skittish and much more uncommon than here in Singapore.

Great Egret:

Little Egret:

Great Egret:

These photos are actually from January some time. I've been meaning to go back to try to get more photos during sunset. I went yesterday but the high tide was too low to force the birds to the roost.

Thursday 15 March 2012

Thailand: Day 4

Our 4th day in Thailand mostly involved driving from Pak Thale to Khao Yai National Park. On the way we made a few stops including one very productive stop at a marsh.

The marsh contained some familiar species such as this Common Kingfisher:

But also some new species such as Pheasant-tailed Jacanas - they have huge toes, but you can't see them here:

And this Sunda Cuckoo (cuckoos are notoriously difficult to ID so I may be wrong on this one):

Black-shouldered Kites were very common - last year I visited Spain hoping to see this species but I couldn't find one, so I was happy to see them in Thailand:

Asian Openbills seemed to be everywhere that day even though we didn't see any on the previous days:

A stop at the ancient city of Ayutthaya was neat. The city was founded in 1350 because the King wanted to escape a smallpox outbreak. It has some big monasteries and other relics that are now, slowly, deteriorating. Check out this statue that was engulfed by a tree:

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Thailand: Day 3

You didn't think the trip reports stopped after 2 days did you!

Here are some photo highlights from the 3rd day (I'm starting to forget the details of what actually happened, so I'm relying more on photos to tell the story).

Pied Fantail - these guys were pretty common but every time I tried photographing them they quickly flew away, only for this one to land right in front of me while I was photographing a Whiskered Tern.

Spoonie - this was the only day I really tried to get a proper photo of these birds. Unfortunately the only bird we found on the 3rd day was against the sun and it wasn't possible to get to the other side without flushing the hundreds of Curlews.

Whiskered Tern - this individual had claims on this pole and frequently came back despite my presence:

Black-tailed Godwit - the only godwit species with a straight bill - although it's not very straight:

Little Green Bee-eater:

Red-wattled Lapwing:

A last minute find was this Asian Dowitcher, one of my top 3 target birds - terrible picture because it was well after sunset:

Whiskered Tern:

Green Bee-eater:

Don't forget to try out the quiz below! So far only one person has got them all correct.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Bird Song Quiz #7

It's back for another round!

You know how the game goes. Listen to the recording, click on the checkboxes, fill in the blanks, go read someone else's blog.

But first, results from last quiz:
Finally managed to stump everyone! A Henslow's Sparrow sang throughout the recording and no one noticed it. It's a difficult one to pick out because it sounds like an insect!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Answers for Quiz #6:

Northern Cardinal sang from 0:02-0:05
Henslow's Sparrow sings throughout the recording! (some of the answers given include Song, Grasshopper and Swamp Sparrow).
Eastern Meadowlark 0:12-0:13 (2 people thought it was a Starling!)
Common Yellowthroat sings at 0:24-0:25

And here's the recording:

Thanks to everyone who has been trying these out. Ever since I used the new survey format I've had more participation, which is encouraging :) Hopefully other bloggers will make some of their own bird song quizzes!

Sunday 11 March 2012

Pelagic Results and birding ABC's

Yesterdays pelagic started great but quickly withered down once we got away from the islands.

The most exciting ten minutes involved a distant flock of birds that were flying in 'tight formation'. We all assumed they were waders based on the number of birds and formation of flight. To prove us wrong the flock changed direction and headed straight for us and some of them even landed on a buoy. It was a flock of Terns (at least 100 birds in the flock). I've never seen a flock of terns flying like that before so I (and the others) assume they were actively migrating.
The flock included the 3 main species we saw that day: Little Terns, Lesser Crested Terns and Black-naped Terns.

1 of the many Little Terns in that flock:

Near the end of the day we had a small group of Lesser Crested Terns on another buoy:

The darker outer primaries on the middle bird indicate that it is a first winter bird:

LC Tern:

We did see 3 Aleutian Terns, it was a less than satisfying look and not enough time to take a photo. Still nice to see though. One of them was in breeding plumage - ready to go back to Alaska or Siberia, a flight of over 10000km.

This morning I joined a local birder for the ABC (Annual Bird Census) at Singapore Botanic Gardens. It was a good day, nothing terribly interesting showed up but one tardy tick (a common bird I should have seen a while ago) helped me see my 700th life bird! It was a Grey-rumped Treeswift.

They're good looking fellas, although I never did get to see it this well:
Photo from here