Sunday 28 September 2014

Grand Bank - Day 1 & 2

Arrived in Grand Bank, Newfoundland yesterday afternoon and will be here for another 2 weeks for a medical school rural placement. Needless to say I'll be taking advantage of the opportunity to explore this region which is very much under-birded, much like most of Newfoundland!

One of the first birds I saw was this Short-billed Dowitcher roosting on a soccer field with a few Black-bellied Plovers. I'm pretty sure it's a juvenile. But what's interesting is that some of the scapular feathers are grey, indicating that it's moulting into non-breeding plumage. The time of year for the moult isn't unusual, it's just unusual to see a moulting SB Dow during migration. Oftentimes, a moulting dowitcher is the first indication that you have a Long-billed. Not this time unfortunately!

The second stop had another juvenile SB Dow. This one hadn't started moulting yet:

The tertials are relatively bland for a Short-billed. But not bland enough for a Long-billed I think...

Seems that there are quite a few Great Cormorants in this area. They're still out-numbered by Double-cresteds, but definitely more common than on the avalon peninsula:

Community of Grand Bank:
Not many trees!!

A fair number of Blackpoll Warblers were present yesterday: 

A rare/uncommon Great Blue Heron was near the town:

The best place I've visited so far was definitely the "L'anse-aux-Loop T". The place has a large tidal flat with many mussels. I saw 12 species of shorebird at this location, highlighted by 2 Red Knots, and a single Buff-breasted Sandpiper this morning.

Juvenile Dunlin are unique among shorebirds in that they begin their moult into non-breeding plumage before starting their southbound migration. And they continue to replace scapulars and other feathers, throughout migration. They can be distinguished from adults by the retained wing coverts which are still pale-fringed:

There are still quite a few adult White-rumped Sandpipers here. They were getting to be quite rare on the avalon last week, so maybe these ones found a good spot and decided to stay for a little longer while the feeding is good:

Another adult White-rumped:

I didn't get any nice photos of juvenile White-rumpeds. But this photo has an adult and a juvenile. Adult is on the left, juvenile on the right:

The highlight for me was the opportunity to photograph 2 tame juvenile Red Knots with the sun setting behind me: 

Red Knots are uncommon passage migrants in Newfoundland. These ones were only my 6th and 7th for the year: 

While photographing the knots, this juvenile Black-bellied Plover must have realized that I wasn't much of a threat and came rather close for the species: 

To top things off, I was lucky to find a tame juvenile American Golden-plover earlier this week on a baseball field in St. John's:

juvenile BB and AMGPs are often confused. Note the smaller thinner bill, longer primary extension beyond the tertials, and more pronounced white eyebrow of the American GP versus the BBPL:
Habitat can be a pretty good clue as well. AMGPs are usually found on fields, whereas BBPLs are usually found around rocky shores. However, I have seen both species in the opposite habitat so don't rely on the habitat alone for ID purposes.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Hudwits & Dunlin

While at Biscay Bay yesterday, Ed and I were keen to see the 4 juvenile Hudsonian Godwits that were reported from there the day before.

It didn't take us long to find them. We were walking along the grassy track when the birds flew in and landed very close by!

They were quick to start feeding, and seemed to have no trouble finding large juicy worms:

When I was photographing this one I thought it had a band on at first, but then it changed angles and I couldn't see anything so dismissed it. Now I can see that it appears to have an injury on its leg:

A large flock of Dunlin landed close-by while I was laying low and photographing the godwits:

The majority were juveniles as far as I could tell:

Monday 22 September 2014

Storm Driven Birds = 0

Sir Ed and I made our way around the southern shore today. We had high hopes to capitalize on seabirds driven close to shore due to the high winds. Unfortunately, visibility was too good (meaning birds knew where the land was and could steer clear), and, probably more importantly, the winds weren't strong enough.

Nevertheless, we had a great day and saw some great birds.

I've been seeing Common Eiders semi-regularly this month. I'm not sure if all of them have been over-summering or if they're recent migrants to the area. Of the 20+ I've seen this was the only one I got close enough to photograph:

This bird appears to be of the dresseri sub-species, which breeds in the maritimes and some places around Newfoundland. In the winter most of our eiders are of the borealis sub-species, which breeds further to the North.

Another highlight from today was a flock of phalaropes close to shore that contained both Red & Red-necked Phalaropes.
The size difference between the two species is evident in the above photo (the 2 Red-neckeds are noticeably smaller, while also being darker).

Red Phalarope peaking over a wave at the RNPH:

In the field I thought the RNPHs were juveniles because of their dark backs and the golden stripe along the inner scapulars. But now that I've looked at the photos it's obvious that these are adult Red-necked Phalaropes that still have much of their breeding plumage retained.

It was interesting to note that the Red Phalaropes appear much further advanced in their moult having replaced the majority of their coverts, scapulars, and mantle feathers. Whereas, the RNPHs had replaced fewer of those feathers.

The water was very choppy and the phalaropes were very adept at managing the constant wave action:

juvenile Sanderlings were along most beaches we checked:

The most unexpected species of the day was a Horned Grebe in winter plumage!
It was at Biscay Bay which happens to be the only location in NL known to have regularly occurring Horned Grebes in the winter. Perhaps this one was a failed breeder and knew exactly where it wanted to be for the next 8 or 9 months. Or it could have been there all summer?

On our way home we came across a freshly tilled field that attracted hundreds of gulls. Among them were 3 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls. This one still has its outer 2 primary feathers (P9 & P10) from its summer plumage: 

Sunday 21 September 2014

Signs of an Incoming Storm

With plans coming together for storm birding tomorrow, I was planning to sit down and work on my research project this afternoon. After two hours I got a message from Ian who was planning to check out Cape St. Francis in the afternoon. CSF is easily one of the most under-birded locations along the Eastern avalon and I've made it my intent to put it on the birding map since I moved back to NFLD in 2013. I've now visited 12 times, and have seen Great Skua on two visits, several jaegers, 3 Northern Wheatears, and a hornemanni's Hoary Redpoll! Although we didn't see any real rarities today we did have the opportunity to a close study of two adult Red Phalaropes.

During a 30 minute sea watch we saw about 100 phalaropes flying in all directions, and another 100 feeding on the ocean surface. Despite the strong offshore winds several were flying right by the point giving exceptional views. On one occasion an adult Red Phalarope and one juvenile Red-necked Phalarope flew by giving good looks at their different sizes and general upper-side coloration (a juvenile RNPH is quite dark). Would have made for a great comparison photo!

On our walk back to the car we noticed 2 Red Phalaropes clinging to the cliff feeding on invertebrates. A behaviour I've never seen before, and I suspect is partly associated with the strong offshore winds. These birds found this sheltered cove and an abundance of food and broke the rules to capitalize on an unexploited niche.

They appeared to be inexperienced cliffside feeders, looking very out of place, especially considering their webbed feet!

Pale base on a relatively thick bill is probably the most reliable way to identify this species in the winter. Although these ones aren't completely into their non-breeding plumage, they are getting there.

 They really are tiny birds. With the sun behind you they glisten against the dark ocean background and can be visible from several kilometres away.

Also had great looks at an adult Goshawk this morning before sunrise!


Hopes are high for a seabird show tomorrow. The storm is straight from the South punching out at 100km/h +

Storms from this direction are basically unexplored from a birding point of view in Newfoundland. I can only recall reading about one such event that got birded (see post here) - which ended up being an enviable day. Expectations are high that tomorrow will deliver.

Should be plenty more of these tomorrow:

A Monday Windstorm in the Forecast

I'm a little late on detecting a possible seabird show in the making.

Right now (Sunday morning) there are strong SW winds sustained at around 60km/h. Over the next 24 hours the wind will switch to be from a more Southerly direction and will continue to be around 60km/h. By noon on Monday winds will have increased to over 80km/h sustained, and gusts up to 100km/h. They should continue to increase a bit in the early afternoon before slowly dying off into the evening.

Surely there'll be storm-petrels pushed close to shore from this event. The real question is if there'll be anything else?

Bruce Mactavish is currently on a boat offshore somewhere to the East of St. John's. He has seen 20+ skua over the last week, the majority of which have been the much sought after South Polar Skua! And, record numbers of Cory's Shearwaters were seen from a relatively nearshore pelagic off of Sambro, Nova Scotia on Sept 16. These birds are surely also flying around to the South of the avalon peninsula... Will the wind be strong enough to force them to fly by a headland or into a sheltered bay?

On Sept 12, 2012 Ian Jones was at Biscay Bay (southern coast of NL) during a tropical storm. Winds that day were 10-30km/h stronger than what is forecast for tomorrow. Here's his list of birds.

A late September, 2013 storm with Northeast winds brought 400+ jaegers, and a Sabine's Gull to Holyrood. Winds weren't nearly as strong that day as they're expected to be tomorrow, but Holyrood is a proven place for storm waifs to show up.

The forecast:

Cape Race.... gusts up to 100km/h
South coast Marine... 55 knots! And swells up to 7m :S
Wind map for the avalon <- that's the forecasted wind map for 9:30am on Monday.


Should be some of these tomorrow:

And hopefully some jaeger bombs:

We'll just have to wait and see!