Thursday 30 October 2014

(The) Yellow-legged Gull and its impostors

As the sun was setting today behind thick rain clouds the Yellow-legged Gull came into view for a group of birders from Massachusetts and myself.

It has almost completed its primary growth, far ahead of any of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls (15+) that I saw today. Also saw 3 (!) LBBG x HERG hybrids today - one of which was quite advanced in its primary moult (photos further below).

P10 pretty well completely grown; white mirror only on the outer most primary. Black on the 5 outermost primaries. Bright yellow almost orange legs. And no (very limited) streaking on the head all add up to a highly desired bird for North American birders.

But there are impostors that get in the way.
Today I saw a personal high of 3 Lesser Black-backed X Herring hybrids. Their mantle colour is more or less the same as YLGU but there are important differences between what is expected of the hybrid and YLGUs.

This bird really had us working. The streaking on the head is certainly more pronounced around the front half of the head, and limited along the back of the neck, and very limited on the upper breast. From a distance it had a somewhat hooded appearance making me think it was going to be a YLGU.

After 1-2 hours of following/watching this bird we were finally able to see the legs and got spread wing shots: 

Leg colour could easily pass for YLGU on this bird. But a few things don't line up: streaking (although limited) was seen on the upper breast, the red orbital ring was quite dull (almost pinkish), complete black band on P4 (at least on the left wing) - otherwise the wing pattern looks perfect for YLGU. Those small features make a big difference on the ID.

Iceland Gulls are starting to become ubiquitous in town. Saw 1-2 at most locations today, and 10+ at the epicentre of Iceland Gulls: Pier 17.
 These ones photographed today at the west end of Quidi Vidi - probably returning birds considering how tame they were:

This one was all dressed up for Halloween - pretty freaky looking if you ask me!

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Oriole for Lunch

This immature Sharp-shinned Hawk was tearing apart what looks like an oriole this afternoon:

Video here if you dare:

Photographed 2 weeks ago... in New York! A juvenile Piping Plover.

This is Buddy. A Lesser Black-backed Gull that has over-wintered at the West end of St. John's for the last 4 winters (I think it was hatched in 2010). It returned this year on or before Oct. 22 and will continue to be a regular at the bread conveyer that is at the west end of the lake.

Birders looking at a Nelson's Sparrow at Cape Race last Sunday:

A rather tame Horned Lark:

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Hurricane Gonzalo!

Hurricane Gonzalo is currently a category 4 storm and is tracking straight for Newfoundland! There hasn't been a hurricane of this strength since 2011!

The track of the storm is taking it nowhere close to US land before it reaches Newfoundland meaning it is unlikely to bring masses of Southern vagrants (i.e. Laughing Gulls, skimmers, terns, etc). Interestingly, however, it is passing right over Bermuda - land of the White-tailed Tropicbird (and Bermuda Petrel), and considering the mere size of this beast, it could easily catch a bunch of offshore birds during its Northward route.

Here's the current predicted storm track:

Hurricane Florence of 2006 took on a very similar track to this weeks storm (although it was about 40 days earlier in the season) and resulted in a White-tailed Tropicbird in St. John's and a Least Tern at St. Shott's!

The storm is expected to hit the island on Saturday night and last only about 12-18 hours on the avalon because it is moving very quickly!

Obviously lots of potential for regular seabirds to be pushed into shore including skuas and jaegers, Leach's and Wilson's Storm-Petrels, shearwaters, phalaropes, etc.

Be warned though, category 4 storms aren't friendly and being on the Southern shore of Newfoundland where there is little shelter on a calm day, will make for a dangerous place to be on Sunday.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at things), I'll be doing a sea watch on Sunday morning from the Northeastern tip of Long Island, New York. The hurricane won't have much of an influence in that area though.

As if a mega hurricane wasn't exciting enough, there is a beautiful low pressure system over the North Atlantic now that is bringing winds more or less straight from Britain to Newfoundland.

Here's the wind map for Thursday at sunrise:

Last year I made a list of species that could arise from a system like this and it applies equally as well to the current weather system. Last years transatlantic winds brought us a Pink-footed Goose and probably a bunch of other birds that went undiscovered...

Get out there and search, but don't be too cruel while I'm looking at more southern birds where they are supposed to be.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Possible Tufted Duck x scaup hybrid?

Spent the afternoon around St. John's today.
First order of business was to see the Canvasback. It went missing yesterday, and I couldn't find it in the early morning so I was feeling a little gripped off. But it was re-found in the early afternoon and I was able to see it then!

It spent most of its time sleeping, as did the other divers. I guess it'll become a familiar bird over the next few weeks.

One of the nearby 19 Tufted Ducks looked a bit odd to me. I think it's an adult female, with a peaked rear crown reminiscent of a Lesser Scaup. There was also a fair bit of white around the base of the bill - but certainly within the range of TUDU.

At first glance I thought it was a LESC due to the peaked head. But it was 'too' peaked, and the back was too dark for LESC. All making me think that it was a TUDU.

Note the wide black tip to the bill. Which is another important pro-TUDU feature.
However, there is a bold white ring around the bill just before the black tip of the bill. This is unusual for a Tufted Duck.

 Compare the head shape to these Tufted Ducks photographed today:
This one is an adult female TUDU (aged by eye colour and juveniles usually don't have such a long tuft).

Another adult female TUDU. More white around the base of the bill. Female TUDUs can have more white around the base of the bill...

Adult female LESC photographed earlier in the season. This is the head shape that is what I'm seeing in the possible hybrid diver mixed with a short and bushy tuft.

I guess I'll have to get some more photos of the hybrid before we can be sure. But right now I'm thinking TUDU x LESC hybrid. Let me know what you think!

Also scored the adult Yellow-legged Gull this afternoon. This is the fifth time I've seen it this season (first time was on Sept 11). 

P10 is half grown now and it has a prominent white mirror. P9 has no mirror, and is still growing in.

Here is an adult LBBGxHERG hybrid seen today for comparison:

Also saw my first Iceland Gull of the season today, bringing me to 8 species of gull for the day.
Missed Common/Mew Gull and Black-legged Kittiwake. So 10-11 species should be easy later this month, once Glaucous Gulls start returning.

This juvenile Herring Gull stood out as the only one still in juvenile plumage today: 

Saturday 11 October 2014

A Triple Weather Alert

THREE (yes, 3!) weather systems/events are currently in the making, and each one of them could very well make for a legendary day of birding in Newfoundland.

Alert #1: Holyrood seabird event Monday morning (or even Sunday afternoon/evening)? That alert was almost predictable!

Strong Northerly winds starting Sunday afternoon and continuing throughout the night and into Monday. Only problem is that the winds seem to have too much of a Westerly component overnight. But that could change. Still worth checking Holyrood Monday morning, especially since it's not supposed to be raining!!

A storm in early to mid October, 2009 produced several jaegers, a skua, phalaropes, and the usual storm-petrels. See here and here.

Alert #2: Currently the most exciting of the alerts in my opinion.

Winds from Britian/Ireland and Iceland headed straight for Newfoundland on Thursday!

What's even more shocking is that the weather maps from pretty much the exact same date last year show the exact same winds (see here). That storm was associated with multiple Hornemanni's Hoary Redpolls, and a Pink-footed Goose. And could very well be the source of the Common Snipe found in January of this year (October is peak migration time for snipe). Let's see if we can do better this time around!


The third alert is in the hurricane department:

 That red area shows a high probability of a tropical storm developing in the next 5 days. Obviously, no one knows what it'll do over the next couple weeks - but it's off to a great start to say the least.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Grand Bank - Days 3 - 8

After spending my first week at the hospital (as a student, not a patient!) I was rewarded with this Blue Grosbeak on my bike ride home:

That night I found myself sleeping under the stars:
you can see the big dipper if you click for the bigger version...

Both nights this weekend had a frost: 

Which may or may not be associated with the appearance of birds typically seen in the winter, such as this Purple Sandpiper:
I think this one is a hatch year bird (but not 100% on this one - don't get enough practice with these guys). Seems to have retained wing coverts and white-fringing on the tertials...

A slow but steady flight of Dovekies this morning was also unexpected - they were my first ones of the season. There were absolutely no winds to force them close to land along Fortune Bay (where I am now) but there they were. I counted close to 200 in about 40 minutes of seawatching.

A very brown junco was unusual... There was a time when I tried turning these into Oregon or "cassiar" Juncos. Not really sure that that is appropriate though. Just an aberrant Slate-colored Junco me thinks.

One Dovekie was feeding quite close to shore around this big boulder:

Dark underwings are unique to this species for Atlantic ocean alcids (edit: except for Atlantic Puffin!):

I've biked a total of 310 kilometres in the last 8 days!

Tons of juvenile White-rumped Sandpipers everywhere I look:

and in various stages of pre-formative molt (transitioning from juvenile to 1st winter plumage) - the subject of a future blog post: