Saturday 31 May 2014

An Avalon Big Day

Three teams scoured the avalon today with hopes of seeing a high diversity of species. Between the three groups we came up with about 89 species for the day! Migration is very late this year on the avalon, only 5 or so Yellow Warblers have been seen so far and no American Redstarts!!!

But we shouldn't be complaining after what has been a phenomenal month of rarities.

The last stop of the day yielded the best bird of the day, a Black-tailed Godwit (yet again!) in full breeding plumage in Renews. I knew what it was right away when I saw it because we all became familiar with this plumage earlier in the month, but it wasn't on the radar - we had thought all the European shorebirds had left! The last Black-tailed Godwit was seen on May 16 in Stephenville. Could this one be a new one that arrived in the last week (there were some very good winds...) or is it a straggler from the early May invasion?

My group made it out to Cape Race in what was perhaps the calmest day I've ever seen in that area. There was barely any detectable swells! Several Razorbills were feeding in close to the rocks:

American Pipits were eagerly singing in several locations:

We also saw our first non-hibernating (?) butterfly of the year, a Spring Azure:

Several cathedrals still floating by:

eBirding has been growing very quickly in Newfoundland this year. We've already got 10 locals who have submitted over 100 checklists for the year (previously there were only about 5), and almost 10 who have recorded 100+ species to eBird for the year!

More impressive is that we've submitted over 1300 individual checklists to eBird from the avalon peninsula in the month of May alone!

Wednesday 28 May 2014


I've heard a lot of people say that raptors are "real" birds because of their ability to gracefully soar and hunt other birds.

Those people don't realize that seabirds are the truly impressive birds flying thousands of kilometres just for one meal, and somehow managing to return to their small breeding islands without any apparent geography to guide them there, all the while enduring gale force winds despite some of them weighing less than 500 grams.

Although they seem to be able to manage any kind of wind and ocean swell they do occasionally get blown close to shore. This morning Ed and I were happy to see several Leach's Storm-Petrels and a handful of Red-necked and Red Phalaropes in breeding plumage.

This photo more or less sums up the morning:
Can you name all 4 species? (this looks way way better if you click on the image!!)

And whenever the seabirds are blown to shore, the predators are never far behind:

Some videos from this morning:

Sunday 18 May 2014

Another Mega in the Bag!

As if this spring weren't exciting enough! Team "NL eBird" scoured the southern shore of the avalon peninsula today and found Newfoundlands third ever Pacific Loon!

Initial looks were dismal at best due to distance - over 1km! But thankfully the sea was calm and we were all able to see the bird and keep track of where it was going. On more than a couple occasions I've seen distant loons and thought something looked odd about it. But impatience or subsequent better looks kept me moving on. Today things lined up. We waited, and we were rewarded.

What kept me looking back at this loon was the flash of gray I was getting from the top of its head and nape whenever it turned away from me, the more sloped head shape, and the small bill caught my attention as well. But when you're looking at a bird over the ocean from 1+km you can convince yourself of many things so I wasn't getting excited at that point. I was on the fence about continuing on to the next location or coercing my fellow birders to stick back and watch the bird in hopes of turning it into what I wanted it to be. To try and keep everyones interest (mine as well!) I suggested we drive to the other side of the river and see if we could get a better look.

Sure enough, we re-found it right away and things were looking more interesting!
That's when the stars aligned and the loon started swimming towards us!

Eventually it swam up to a Common Loon and the overall size difference was apparent along with the short and thin bill. The head shape was definitely not right for Common Loon and the gray head and nape stood out so much from the nearby Common Loons!

A very faint chin strap seemed to be visible at times, but again I felt as though I was convincing myself of this simply because that's what I wanted to see.

Note the relatively smooth forehead compared to the blocky forehead of the Common Loon (in front):

This was one of those very satisfying finds. It wasn't initially exciting and my heart rate never raced. But with diligence and team work the 4 of us were patient and worked out what we were looking at despite very little to no experience with Arctic vs Pacific Loon!

Video footage (click on the youtube icon in the bottom right and then make sure to put it in high definition!)

After studying the loon for over an hour and getting the above photos and videos we bee-lined it to Trepassey to take advantage of Cliff's place once again. This time it wasn't for a feast of jiggs dinner, I was eager to get any photo online and get the word out.
Cell phone reception is spotty at best on the southern shore of Newfoundland!!

We did make one quick stop to enjoy relatively up close looks at 3 young caribou: 

Lots of year birds today including several Blackpoll Warblers:

And another Newfoundland lifer for me, an Eastern Kingbird (and Lancy's 200th species for the island!!!):


Loon... Help!

What is it?
Seen 30 minutes ago (11:30am) at St. Vincent's Beach, Newfoundland.
Common Loon in front. Pacific Loon behind??

Posting from Cliff Doran's diner in Trepassey.

709 691 6049 is my # 
Only 2 previous records of this species in NL:

EDIT: It is a Pacific Loon! See the next blog post here.

Monday 12 May 2014

The Boys are Back in Town

The Bread and Butter bird of the Boreal forest has made it back to the avalon:

Saw my first one on Saturday and have since seen/heard well over 30! It's amazing what a difference 24 hours can make. Yellow-rumped Warblers are in my mind the true vanguard of spring. Seeing that first warbler of the year is ecstasy not necessarily because Yellow-rumpeds instil much excitement themselves but because after a long drawn out winter you can finally allow yourself to be excited for spring knowing that migration is on the cusp of exploding.

An Eastern Phoebe was found last week by the Lisa de Leon + Margie MacMillian team. A great find for the avalon peninsula and not a species I was expecting to see this year:

Last Saturday I did the Southern shore loop with Bruce Mactavish & John Wells. We wracked up 66 species for the day, including 3 Northern Wheatears:

4 Snowy Owls:

 And four European Golden-Plovers:

The dead Sperm Whale at Biscay Bay has now moved to the main beach and is now very bleached and toothless!

Upper jaw bone:

I'm not sure why, but Ruffed Grouse seem to emerge from the woods in Spring time and spend a lot of their time chowing down grass. They did a good job of hiding themselves all winter! 

Despite Yellow-rumped Warblers heralding the return of spring this past weekend, St. John's woke up this morning to ice-covered trees!

Won't be long till summer comes around
now that the boys are back in town

Never stop birdin'!

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Give me More

Weather maps continue to look great for transatlantic flights so I am sure more European vagrants will be seen over the next week - just not sure if there'll be different species.

In the meantime, I've been searching and keep on finding more of the same. But before I bombard you with photos, you should check out a post written about the Dunlin Lancy and I found last Saturday on the Birding Frontiers site - nice to see some North American sightings making it to there!!

Of course, more European Golden-Plovers have been found this week, they seem to be flocking up suggesting that they're getting ready to reorientate themselves or fly North at the very least when they get good winds.

I've now seen 5 Northern Wheatears, 4 of them today! I've only seen males so far, and they sure look smart with their masks on, unlike those brown ones we were seeing last Autumn.

Most of them are quite timid so I usually see a flash of white and black from the tail. But it's distinctive enough to know that what you're seeing is a wheatear:

Northern Gannet in the fog:

The other Greenland vagrants we're seeing are icebergs - lots of them this spring and peak season isn't even upon us yet!!

We're up to 227 European Golden-Plovers, 20 Northern Wheatears, 12 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Common Redshanks, 1 Ross's Gull, 1 Dunlin (schinzii subspecies), and 1 Whimbrel (Eurasian subspecies).

Others that are on the radar:

Pink-footed Goose
Common Shelduck
Little Egret
Common Ringed Plover
Eurasian Oystercatcher
Spotted Redshank
Common Greenshank
White Wagtail
Meadow Pipit

Saturday 3 May 2014

The Madness Continues

Around 7am today Bruce Mactavish and Ken Knowles found a Common Redshank in Renews. The same location of the Common Shelduck one month ago, 2 Black-tailed Godwits last week, and several European Golden-Plovers that continue to be seen every day.

This is the 7th individual Common Redshank for Newfoundland. 4 were seen during a similar event in the spring of 1995, and another was seen in 1999. The ones in 1995 were the first North American records. I'm not sure if there have been any outside of Newfoundland since then?

The European Golden-Plovers in Renews were particularly tame today:

Female European Golden-Plover:

And the highlight for me was at Cape Spear in the early afternoon. Lancy and I were scouring the cape for a Eurasian Whimbrel (!!!) that was found earlier in the day. We decided to divide and conquer to improve our chances of re-finding it. I got a call from Lancy and despite the poor reception and wind I could barely hear him say "small sandpiper"... my mind was racing!!! First thoughts involved the 3 species of stint...

By the time I got to him he had identified it as a Dunlin. But I knew that the European subspecies was distinct from the North American one and probably more likely considering what has been happening this past week. We studied the bird and took our pictures and went to find Anne & Todd (who we were birding with today) and tried re-finding the Dunlin without any luck. We decided to leave Cape Spear without seeing it again, but I just got word from Peter Shelton (another local birder) that he re-found the Dunlin (5pm).

I've since studied up on the different Dunlin subspecies and I am fairly confident this one is a member of the schinzii subpecies. It has a small and relatively straight bill compared to the nominate hudsonia subspecies of North America. It also has slightly more streaking on the upper breast, and the black underbelly is not pure black, and the scapulars are a duller brown than what would be expected for the hudsonia subspecies.

Here's a photo from Lancy showing the black underbelly a little better:

The real problem is separating the arctica and schinzii subspecies. The schinzii subspecies breeds in Iceland & Southern Greenland. While the arctica subspecies breeds in North America. There are multiple records of "greenland" subspecies Dunlin for North America but I believe they are all of the Northern Greenland breeding subspecies (arctica).

I think the arctica subspecies can be ruled out by the fact that this bird has more black on the underbelly than would be expected for that subspecies.

I need to do more research on these subspecies. But I also need to go birding and do a million other things. So I'm going to leave this one at that for now, except to say that I don't think the schinzii subspecies has been documented in North America before and that that subspecies is probably the most likely one to arrive in Newfoundland right now considering that their peak migration is now and they breed in Southern Greenland...

What are your thoughts on this Dunlin? Comment below or email me at:
alvanbuckley AT