Friday 27 June 2014

ID'ing a Northern Amber Bumble Bee

After recently receiving a copy of "North American Bumble Bees - An Identification Guide" (by Williams, Thorp, Richardson, & Colla) I've been out catching and studying these insects... and with limited success in identifying them. I don't think the book is to blame, it's just that they're very difficult to identify.

So far I've only identified the Northern Amber Bumble Bee with confidence, and the Fernald Cuckoo Bumble Bee with a little less confidence. It seems that about 20 - 30% of the bees I see are Northern Amber Bumble Bees, and over 50% are Fernald Cuckoo BB's. I've caught at least 2 other species but haven't been able to identify them yet.

I caught two Northern Amber Bumble Bees and now have them as specimens. Today I took photos to demonstrate how I identified them using the method laid out in the guide book.

Here's a picture of a Northern Amber Bumble Bee (Bombus borealis):

The first step towards identifying female (which most of the ones we see are) bumble bees is to look at the tibia of the hind leg. In the Northern Amber BB it is flat, reflects light, and has no hair on the broad surface, but long hair on the front and back edges of the tibia:

The next step is to look at the midleg - the distal (bottom) posterior (back) corner of the basitarsus (last large segment of the leg + foot) is pointed not rounded.

 The mandible has 3 (?) keels that extend along the outer surface. The front most keel extends all the way to the distal margin of the mandible. This is not easy to see and requires the correct angle of light.
In the above photo you can see that the flat surface (clypeus) - between the eyes and below the yellow hair - is smooth and shiny.
Also, the hair just above the clypeus is not black, but a creamy-yellow colour that is paler than the hair on the Tergum (the upper surface of the third body part).

dIn the next photo you can see the stinger of the bee. Preceding this are two sections (T5 & T6) of the tergum that are entirely black, and preceding these two sections are another 4 sections which are entirely golden-yellow (T1 - T4). 

That's the method of identifying this species of bumble bee using the Identification Key outlined in it the book. After identifying my first couple this way, I can somewhat confidently identify them in the field simply by looking at the golden-yellow tergum that is mostly yellow and black near the back - and also based on the size (about 2cm long).

The Yellow Warblers in my yard had 4 eggs in their nest last week - which have now hatched:

Friday 20 June 2014

Newfoundland eBird

eBird use has been growing by leaps and bounds in Newfoundland over the last year. I'm a little (*very*) obsessed with eBird so I may be the only person who will ever be interested in this?

In previous years less than 5 of the local birders used eBird regularly, but this year after completing some missionary work we have at least 12 locals using it on a regular basis!

Some milestones we've reached:

- For the first time in Newfoundland eBirding history over 1000 checklists have been submitted from the avalon peninsula in one month (that was in May)!

- Another big milestone we already reached this year is to have 10 people submit over 100 checklists (previous record was 4), and 8 people with over 100 species submitted (previous record was 7). And we're only at the half way point!

- Anyway, the real reason this should be exciting is because more data is being contributed to the database and is publicly available. Check out these maps for Northern Waterthrush and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher sightings - blue is from 2013, orange is from 2014.

Northern Waterthrush:

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher:

Big differences in those 2 years!

Some photos from this morning at Cape St. Francis:

Wouldn't be a cape in Newfoundland if there weren't pipits:

Sunday 15 June 2014


This spring has been phenomenal for icebergs around Newfoundland. There's been a steady of stream of the white towers heading South. And in the last couple of weeks two large ones have grounded themselves between St. John's harbour and Cape Spear offering great looks and photos that are easy to impress people with!

The tourist boats are making a lot of money off them this week!
 I even heard that taxi's are having a very busy week with all the people in town for business meetings hoping to see an iceberg!

Really neat texture on these things:

My only bird pic from this weekend:

bees bees bees... Bumble Bees!


I swear I still do go birding - I just don't take pictures of birds. I'm a little jaded when it comes to taking photos of birds so it's hard to fill these blog posts with fresh bird pics...

Today I saw my first Mourning Warbler of the year - I photographed this one in Waterloo 2 years ago:

Saturday 7 June 2014

More Pics Less Words... Pa-leazz

Did the southern shore loop this weekend with a couple local birders. No new rarities found but a lot of singing birds on territory is always great to see & hear.

Willet in Renews:

bumble bee:



female Yellow-rumped Warbler:

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

St. Vincent's:

Arctic Terns asserting their love for one another:

The Yellow Warbler has been busy building its nest in my yard:

Less than a day later and it's already looking much more comfortable:

Thursday 5 June 2014

Birds in the Hood

Some random photos from the past couple days:

Moth! Did you see Mike Burrell's badass post about moths?
I know I know... not a bird... but look at that eye!!!!!
Honestly! Look at that thang

Larch tree flower/future pine cone!

 Sir Ed himself with an iceberg lurking in the fog:

^that was taken this morning after seeing an Eurasian Whimbrel! Didn't get pics of that beauty of a beast... but yeah, it was a cool bird!!!

An Eastern Kingbird was nearby too:

This Yellow Warbler arrived in my neighbourhood no earlier than May 31. By today (June 5) it was well on the way building a nest in my backyard hedgerow:

Close up of the nest:


What's happenin' in da hood

Sunday 1 June 2014

The 2014 Icelandic Invasion

To non-birders it's hard to explain the saga the spring of 2014 will leave behind. I compare it to Toronto Maple Leafs fans. Every year they have high hopes that their team will win the Stanley Cup, but usually they're lucky if they get to see their team play 5 games in the playoffs. Watching their team win the cup simply doesn't happen. Similarly, the number and diversity of icelandic birds was unprecedented and surpassed the dreams of any Newfoundland birders - and we do dream a lot, sometimes that's all that we have to keep us going!!

I may be young and I may go birding every day of the year regardless of the weather or other time commitments, but I never expect to experience what I've experienced in the last month despite intentions to live here until the day I die.


This is a summary of all the Icelandic vagrants that were seen in Newfoundland & Labrador and that I know about. Any birds that were reported but not submitted to eBird by the finders/observers were added to eBird under the "NLRecords" account - this way both the geographical and temporal scale of the influx can be accurately seen and maintained in a publicly accessible database!

The final tally of European Golden-Plovers came to 309! A very impressive sum, but not our record. In 1988 about 350 were recorded.

The first plover was seen on April 26, and the last plovers were seen on May 16.

Click on the orange/blue icons to see how many, what date, and where the plovers were seen:

NOTE: these maps don't seem to work for some people - click this link if it isn't working for you.

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I total of 47 Northern Wheatears were reported:
(I didn't get a chance to put them all on eBird yet, but I made sure to include the ones that weren't on the avalon)

If the map doesn't work for you, try this link.

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The Black-tailed Godwits were easier to keep track of.

The first 2 were found on April 25, and the last one was seen on May 16... until we found that one yesterday (May 31) in Renews!

Try this link if the below map isn't working for you.

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2 Common Redshank - Renews
1 Whimbrel (Eurasian subspecies) - Cape Spear
1 Pink-footed Goose - Bay De Verde
1 Dunlin (schinzii subspecies) - Cape Spear... which I still do plan to write a proper blog post about!
1 Ross's Gull - Torbay

I'll be telling my grandchildren about this in 60 years and they won't believe a word I say. What happened in the last month just doesn't happen. But it did in the spring of 2014.