Wednesday 30 April 2014

Attu East Back in the Spotlight

As the West coast of Newfoundland is now infamously enjoying the stench of several beached and decaying whales, we on the East coast are enjoying hundreds upon hundreds of icebergs and what is one of the largest incursions of Icelandic/European birds to Newfoundland in recent memory.

Today the first NORTHERN WHEATEARS were found. 3 reported from one spot in the East end of St. John's seemed so unlikely but I got the message just as I had finished biking home so I decided to jump back on and go the 4km East. As soon as I put down my bike a bird flushed in front of me showing the diagnostic white tail with black tip. Wow. It was true. Wheatears have arrived!!!

Birders started arriving soon afterwards and got to see this rarity. This is a full 2-3 weeks ahead of when the Labrador breeding Northern Wheatears start to show up in Newfoundland & Labrador from Africa. In other words, these are Iceland/Greenland breeding Northern Wheatears. If a wheatear, a passerine, can make it across the atlantic surely wagtails and pipits can too?!

The count of EUROPEAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS is currently at 92, the 4 BLACK-TAILED GODWITS continue to be seen in Renews & St. Paul's, and the ROSS'S GULL was in Torbay today for the second day in a row.

Every day continues to outdo the previous day.

Finally, after a 5 and a half month hiatus, Northeast winds are back and Newfoundland is regaining its status as Attu East.

It all started on April 25 when photos of 2 Black-tailed Godwits in Renews were sent to Bruce, everyone was there early the next morning. Bruce and co. were there first and within 1 minute of moving on from the godwits to start the search for other euro vagrants they had found the first European Golden-Plover.

How many Northern Wheatears will be seen? 3 Northern Wheatears in an unlikely spot (Cuckold's cove) can only possibly be the first of many more to be found. Will enough of them arrive here to convince at least one pair to stay behind and breed like they did in 2001?

Here's a map of all the European Golden-Plovers that were reported up until yesterday (April 29):

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Here's a list of the European Golden-Plovers found so far:

1 -> 3 -> 6        Renews
3                       Cape Race
6                       Airport
2                       Gros Morne
2                       Pouch Cove
1                       Satellite Rd (Pouch Cove)
1                       Goulds (Cox's Lane)
3->6->18          Goulds (Raymond's Bridge)
2                       Ferryland
5                       Lumsden
3                       Cape Freels
3                       St. Lewis (Labrador)
22->24             Bay Bulls
4                       Outer Cove
3                       St. Shott's
10                     Trepassey

Total = 92 (minimum count)

Check back at these links for more updates, photos, and insight into the ongoing invasion:!forum/nf.birds

1 of 20+ icebergs visible from the same location as todays wheatear - bigger and more impressive ones are on the way ;)

Tuesday 29 April 2014

A Legendary Mega Transpires

An adult Ross's Gull was found this afternoon (April 29) by local birder Edmund Hayden at Torbay, Newfoundland.

Ed has been finding all sorts of great birds this year. Most notably with multiple European Golden-Plovers, and a rare (first?) spring record of Red Phalarope for Newfoundland.

Perhaps more notably though are his abilities of observing and describing birds even if they elude identification. This morning when he first saw the Ross's Gull he didn't know what it was but the did the right thing of studying the bird and posting a description to the local birding forum.

Here's part of his description:
"It has white undertail coverts, gray mantle, dark underwings and a dark beak thicker than a Red-necked Phalarope, though I couldn't detect a pale base. And the tail is slightly pointed".

As soon as I read that, Ross's Gull came to mind. But I dismissed it knowing how rare and unlikely it was. Bruce Mactavish was the next key player. After reading the description he drove straight to Torbay and the rest is history.

What a week this is turning out to be!!!

Sunday 27 April 2014

An Invasion Materializes

After yesterdays 2 Black-tailed Godwits and 12 European Golden-Plovers reported from across the island anticipation was high for even more european vagrants today.

And even though I'm writing this at noon there have already been numerous reports of more euro shorebirds!

As of noon, there have been 5 more European Golden-Plovers, and 2 more Black-tailed Godwits!!!

I was lucky to find 2 of those 5 with Peter Shelton at 6:45 this morning:

The next 7 days are going to be insanity... and frustrating as I have to prepare for an exam on Monday (May 5)...

Here's a short list of species that have been found at the same time of year following similar winds:

Pink-footed Goose
Graylag Goose
Little Egret
Eurasian Oystercatcher
Spotted Redshank
Common Redshank
Common Greenshank
Whimbrel (Eurasian subspecies)
Northern Wheatear
I will be surprised if at least 1 of of these is not found in the next 7 days.

And probably the most wanted of all, but never previously recorded is:
Meadow Pipit

There has been a lot of chatter about pipits in the last 48 hours...
This could be the time.

This is what the wind is looking like right now (noon, Sunday):

+24 hours and the winds continue to stretch from Iceland to Newfoundland...

This can only be the beginning.

Saturday 26 April 2014

April 26 is a Certified Birding Holiday

April 26 is a magical day in Newfoundland for birders. It is the day that european vagrants often start showing up on our shores. And today was no exception!!

We Newfoundland birders dream a lot. And looking at the wind maps over the last few days we were doing a lot of day-dreaming earlier this week.
But we didn't expect it to start this soon and so strongly!!

2 Black-tailed Godwits reported from Renews last night kicked things off and sent birders scrambling to rearrange weekend plans.

Photos speak for themselves:

The best part is that the winds are only supposed to improve throughout the next 48+ hours. Expect more golden plovers, and more european vagrants! This is only the start!

Video (click on the youtube link at the bottom right of the screen thingy for better times):

This is what we'd usually be looking at in April in Newfoundland:

I saw my first Red-winged Blackbird for the year today! And it could very well be my last...

... nowhere else in North American would this be possible (seeing fewer RWBLs than eurasian shorebirds), except Alaska...

CLASSIC plover weather - fog is the vanguard of more things to come:

Friday 25 April 2014

Transatlantic Weather Alert

The first decent Northeast winds since last fall are shaping up to be very interesting. Prolonged, and far-reaching winds from Iceland to Newfoundland are forecasted over the next few days, peaking on Monday with what seems like direct wind from Southern Iceland to the entire North facing coast of Newfoundland.

Things could get very exciting early next week. I'm sure there'll be some European Golden Plovers on our shores, it's just a matter of if we find them...






Here's a brief rundown of what species these winds could bring us. If you're birding in Newfoundland you should be on the lookout for these.

Pink-footed Goose
Graylag Goose
Barnacle Goose
Common Shelduck
Little Egret
Eurasian Oystercatcher
European Golden Plover
Common Ringed Plover
Spotted Redshank
Common Redshank
Common Greenshank
Black-tailed Godwit
Common Snipe
Arctic Tern (although they do breed here, any ARTEs that show up over the next week are probably ones that breed further North so are semi-exciting)
Common Wood-Pigeon!?
Common Swift
Eurasian Jackdaw
Barn Swallow (Eurasian subspecies is distinct from the North American subspecies)
Common House-Martin
Northern Wheatear
White Wagtail
Meadow Pipit

There's a lot of species on this list. This is when it pays to know the common birds because theoretically you'll be able to pick out something different instead of dismissing it. Check everything twice.

One species that should probably already be on the Newfoundland list, but isn't is the Meadow Pipit. If you see a pipit, take pictures! Even if you think it's 'just' an American Pipit!!!

Meadow Pipit has streaks on the upper parts, a less obvious supercilium (i.e. eyebrow) and pinkish legs.

One way to distinguish the two species is by their calls. See below for a couple recordings.

American Pipit:

The rest of the photos are of Meadow Pipits:

Compare the supercilium and streaking on the back of this bird and the previous one!

The calls:

They're pretty similar, but if you listen you may be able to pick out the differences.

This recording is of a Buff-bellied Pipit which is another name for American Pipit:

Meadow Pipit:

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Late April & early May Prophecies

As migration picks up in momentum as will the frequency of these posts... perhaps.

Here are some of the changes we can expect in the bird world over the next few weeks on the Avalon peninsula.

Canada Goose - numbers will continue to increase at known stopover sites and more will be reported from areas closer to town. Keep an eye out for any different species of goose!

Tufted Duck - they typically leave by the first week of May. Enjoy them while you still can and try to keep track of when your last one of the season is!

Common Eider - numbers will start to drop off more noticeably. They already have been actually, and most King Eiders have all but left by now.

Manx Shearwater - start looking now from Cape Spear and Cape Race and you might get lucky. They're uncommon though so it'll take time for one to be seen.

Leach's Storm-Petrel - ditto ^ except that they're more likely in a strong onshore wind. Speaking of which, we have a Northeaster coming our way - strongest one I can remember for several months at least! Only problem is that it'll bring fog.

Double-crested Cormorant - only 1 has been reported so far. They should be regular by end of the first week of May.

American Bittern - they usually start to show up in the first week of May. Listen for them at dawn or dusk at Long Pond or Lundrigan's Marsh.

Osprey - the first ones should show up this week - actually they did (this was pre-written)! And it'll take another week or two for them to be regular at the local ponds.

Northern Harrier - a few have already been seen, but give it another week and they'll be more regular on the barrens.

Greater Yellowlegs - a handful have shown up a week ahead of schedule already. This is the week they're supposed to start arriving. Expect to see more this coming weekend!

Wilson's Snipe - they go from being very difficult to find now that the snow has melted and they aren't concentrated in small feeding areas to being a common component of the chorus in boggy habitats. This will happen over the next couple weeks. A few have already started to return.

Pomarine Jaeger - this is the most common species of Jaeger here. They're offshore, but the odd one could stray towards land or if there's a strong onshore wind you might see one if there's no fog!

Black-headed Gulls - they've silently disappeared from town. Just over a week ago it was easy to see 40+ at Pier 17, now you have to work hard to see one in the city.

Alcids - they're already moving in towards the cliffs, but haven't taken up residence yet - that should become more evident as the next couple weeks progress. The first Atlantic Puffins are usually found by the end of the month! 7 days to go!

Iceland & Glaucous Gull - you should make an extra effort to look for these now that the vast majority have left.

Arctic Tern - our local breeding terms typically arrive in the second week of May; however, those that breed further North and East are occasionally pushed off course and end up on our shores in late April, a couple weeks ahead of the locals.

Common Tern - first couple weeks of May is when they start to show up.

Owls - has anyone been out owling?! Get out there. They're signing tonight! We need to learn more about the ongoings of these birds!

Short-eared Owl - don't try to listen for these ones because you might never hear them. But keep an extra eye out if you're driving across some barren landscapes. They seem to arrive around late April but they're not common enough for an obvious trend to be established.

American Kestrel - the first sightings should be in by the end of the month. They're uncommon though so don't expect it to be easy.

Merlin - migrants have already started to show up. They should be easier to find than kestrel.

Tree Swallow - second week of May is when they typically start arriving, but there's always a chance of an earlier migrant.

Barn Swallow - despite being considered a vagrant, they are quite regular on the avalon peninsula. Who will see the first one, and where? Third Pond & Bidgood's Park in the Goulds have been good places to check in previous years ;)

Winter Wren - first week of May is when the first ones start to arrive. They're very uncommon though, so you have to go to the right spots (salmonier line, La Manche also seems like it'd be good) and put the time in.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet - someone will hear one singing in Newfoundland by the end of the month!

Thrushes: Hermit, Gray-cheeked, Swainson's, & Wood Thrush and Veery have all shown up in this time period. Hermit Thrush is the only real 'widespread' breeder. I'd be excited by anything beyond a Hermit Thrush!

Yellow-rumped Warbler - first week of May is when we can expect them to arrive in numbers. Won't be much longer after that and they'll be ignored by most people.

Palm & Black-and-white Warbler are the next species of warbler that show up. Palm Warbler isn't really a breeder on the avalon though, so they're hard to come by.

Savannah Sparrow - expect the first reports to come this week. By the end of the month they could already be common in most areas where they're usually found.

Swamp & White-throated Sparrows also start showing up by the end of the month, and should become common by the end of the first week of May. I'm looking forward to the added diversity to the woodland chorus that they'll bring.

Rusty Blackbird - they've arrived in previous years during the last week in April. But since they're so uncommon nowadays it may take another week or two before a singing male is found in the woods somewhere. Blackhead rd, Petty Harbour Rd, Powers Rd, Bidgood's Park have been known spots for rusties in previous years.

==========The Rarities==========

We've already had a few vagrants show up. Most notably the Common Shelduck which was only seen by the original finders. Blue-winged Teals, Indigo Bunting, Killdeer and Great Blue Heron are all annual vagrants/rare breeders (in the case of Killdeer) that have shown up in the last few weeks. Here's a list of some of the less-surprising rarities that may show up:

Wood Duck - the overwintering ones have dispersed so they could be refound somewhere else?
Gadwall & Northern Shoveler

Pied-billed Grebe
Red-necked Phalarope
Franklin's Gull
Laughing Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
All thrush species (Veery, Wood Thrush, etc)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting

Eurasian birds - this is the real excitement. April 26 marks European vagrant season in Newfoundland. Or so I've been told. Winds are looking mediocre over the next few days for transatlantic flights. Be on the lookout for Eurasian Whimbrels, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, and the always exciting European Golden-Plover...

Of course, there's many more candidates for this list. Just get out there and see what you can surprise me with :)

Sunday 20 April 2014

Good Birds = Good Times

On Friday I joined local birders Peter Shelton, Edmund Hayden, and Lancy Cheng to do the southern shore loop. The day got continuously better with plenty of new year birds (and life birds for some of us!) and lots of new migrants.

One of our targets were 2 Blue-winged Teal found by Bruce Mactavish and co last weekend. I didn't think they'd stick around for a whole week - but apparently they did!
They were surprisingly tame allowing us to study their plumage in detail:

While watching the ducks I noticed a small cormorant swimming around about 30m offshore. It was the first Double-crested Cormorant (DCCO) for the season! Although I've seen hundreds of thousands of DCCOs, it was nice to see my first one for the year.

Our next stop was at Point La Haye where we picked up some lifers for Peter:

It's always exciting birding with people who have a higher chance of seeing a lifer! It's an extra motivation to scan the surroundings more thoroughly and work harder to find target species.

At St. Shott's we had our only Snow Bunting for the day - I was expecting to see a lot more during the day but I suppose they've spread out now that most of the snow has melted?

We also had what I believe is a hybrid Glaucous X Great Black-backed Gull:

In the afternoon we found our first Greater Yellowlegs for the year in Portugal Cove South:

And in Renews there were a couple more:
Hearing these guys give their obnoxious calls for the first time in the year was nostalgic, and bitter sweet knowing that I'll be sick of it within a few weeks!

The biggest surprise of the day was this American Bittern - a very early record for Newfoundland, but not the earliest ever! It was in a roadside ditch just North of Renews:

I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to watch a bittern hunt before. This guy was successful in catching 2 small fish during the short time that we watched it:

On Saturday I joined a non-birding friend for a hike near Point Lance. During the ride down we saw a lynx cross the road, and then stop to watch us for 30 seconds! It was my first lynx I've seen in Newfoundland and by far the best look I've ever gotten... Unfortunately my camera was in the trunk at the time so I have no evidence of its existence :(

On our way home we came across this Red Crossbill:

Thursday 10 April 2014

Get your game face on

This just in, from St. Pierre:

It's a White-eyed Vireo!! Seen yesterday... :S

The real excitement though is Fridays winds! It's a perfect long-reaching wind straight from SE USA to Newfoundland, the winds even bypass Nova Scotia and St. Pierre at night and essentially point straight to the Southern Avalon!!

Speculation at best, but I would be surprised if an egret at minimum isn't found this weekend. At the very least we can expect more Fox Sparrows, Ring-billed Gulls, Robins, the first Harriers?, Barn Swallow is also possible! Lots of potential here...

Noon on Friday:

Friday at sunset:

Saturday at sunrise:

Click on the pictures so you can actually see them ;)

Expect to hear these guys everywhere in the woods this weekend... finally!

Don't expect this, but be ready to recognize it!!

Sunday 6 April 2014

Spring is Trickling in

Lancy and I did part of the southern shore this morning before the rain came in. It was my first time down there since January 25th! I imagine I'll be down there much more regularly over the next few months.

The first sign of spring that we came across was the Great Blue Heron in Renews - apparently there are two of them there now... We only saw one, but we made sure to check for red thighs to rule out Gray Heron, which wouldn't be totally mind-boggling considering that Common Shelduck earlier this week...

Next up was a small flock of Horned Larks mixed in with Snow Buntings. This male Horned Lark appears to be of the expected alpestris subspecies. A member of the "Eastern Dark Group". The species has only 1 complete molt per year which occurs in the fall just before they migrate. So the feathers we see on them now are not fresh, they're actually from last autumn!

Some of the Snow Buntings were well on the way towards their breeding plumage, this one still has part of its winter coat on:

This week the Cape Race road was plowed, meaning it was open for the first time since late January! Hopefully with the rain and mild temperatures forecasted it will remain open for the rest of the season. 
Some of the snow walls were easily taller than my car:

Lots of snow still at Long Beach:

At Cape Race we were rewarded with our first Northern Gannets of the year. 2 of them made close passes - I look forward to seeing many thousands more over the next few months!

Ferryland is where these 2 snipe were photographed this morning. A Common Snipe was seen at the same location earlier in the winter, and although Common Snipe isn't a straightforward ID, neither of these two snipe fit the description for Common Snipe. I've had many people send me photos of what I'm fairly certain are these two birds - the first one is paler than the second one, and they have noticeably different tertials and facial patterns among other things. I think these are simply related to the under-appreciated variation in this species rather than different species!

The obvious highlight of the day was a beached Sperm Whale! It has been floating in Biscay Bay for the last few days, and apparently the tide/waves pushed it to shore sometime in the last 24 hours.

I've never seen a Sperm Whale before, and this certainly wasn't the way I expected to see my first one. Getting an up close look at the teeth and jaws was amazing:

Ontario, you might get Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, and may have more seabird species on your checklist than Newfoundland - but good luck finding one of these suckers on the shores of Lake Ontario...