Tuesday 30 December 2014

2014 in review

It's been a phenomenal year in Newfoundland far exceeding my expectations.
Here are some of the highlights.

The year started with a bang when a Common Snipe was found in Ferryland - it was seen for at least another 2 months in the same area.
Perhaps it was a vanguard of the many european shorebirds that were to follow 4 months later.

The snipe had to endure one of the worst winters in recent memory - this photo pretty much sums up what it was like:

There was a lot of snow!

Despite being cold, the winter can be beautiful. This photo was taken in Cape St. Francis - I visited the headland 15 times this year recording 51 species during many memorable seawatches.

Much of the winter was spent looking at gulls - the elusive Yellow-legged Gull became a Quidi Vidi regular for a couple weeks in March much to the satisfaction of local birders:

Late April to late May was non-stop madness for birders on the island. It all started with 
2 Black-tailed Godwits on April 25:

Over 300 European Golden-Plovers were seen over the following weeks:

And in the middle of the invasion everyones Most Wanted Bird showed up in Torbay - a day many of us will not soon forget:

A schinzii Dunlin was seen for a single day (Greenland sub-species):

While 40+ Northern Wheatears were enjoyed by many:

As if there weren't enough rarities in the preceding month, this Pacific Loon kept the lists growing:

While we were scrambling to see all the Euro rarities, the regular breeding birds were returning. Here a Northern Gannet flies by an iceberg:

Insects stole my attention for a short while:

After a 5 week trip to Nepal for school-related activities I had 3 weeks of solid birding before school started up again.

One highlight was photographing this juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher:

And finding two adult Common Ringed Plovers:

Seabird events seemed more regular this year than usual. One such event involved 5 species of jaeger/skua in one day!

Warblers impressed, as they usually do, in late August through September:

A totally unexpected gull best fitting that of Kamchatka Gull showed up in September only being seen once more:

November saw a lot of time sunk into figuring out what kind of meadowlark was in our midst. 

And soon the winter began to set in once again:

Great Cormorants will surely return to our local ponds and rivers in the coming months as they continue to adapt to freshwater:

One of my favourite photos of the year:

Hopefully 2015 will be just as good or even better!

Sunday 28 December 2014

Feast of Eiders

This morning, at Cape Spear, the sun and the eiders aligned. After 2+ years of seeking out good close looks at eider flocks it finally happened this morning and we were rewarded - Mira was there for the fun too!

At sunrise the eiders were eager to come close to shore and were stretched out in a long line:

The reason I was so keen to get close looks of eiders wasn't really for the photos. It was more to see if I could distinguish them along their sub-species. The borealis sub-species is most common during the winter months in Newfoundland, whereas the dresseri sub-species is much more uncommon/rare - and the object of my desires this morning.

Among the 600+ eiders, I managed to find one adult male Common Eider of the dresseri sub-species - can you find it in this photo (click on the pic for a larger version)?

While scanning through the flocks for different eiders I noticed a handful that looked something like this:
I'm assuming they're all sub-adult male COEIs, but I suppose it's possible that they're still moulting out of eclipse plumage? Something to look into.

All three males in this photo are of the same sub-species (borealis) - but there is notable variation among their bill patterns. Ranging from bright orange to dull olive, and from pointed to more rounded lobes. Gaining an appreciation of their variation is the first step towards finding a dresseri in Newfoundland.

It didn't take long for one lone-dresseri to stand out. The two adult males in this photo represent the two 'expected' sub-species in our waters:

Note that the eider to the left has much more rounded lobes and a dull olive bill colour.

Hard to appreciate in this photo - but I found that the dresseri eider had a more peaked forehead - giving it a more blocky appearance.

It was lucky that the eiders learned to trust Mira and I as we were standing on the rocks. Unfortunately they flushed when a few tourists gained an interest in the birds.

In addition to the two COEI sub-species we managed to pick out 2 female King Eiders. Perhaps the most surprising sighting though was a lone male Northern Pintail that was hanging out with the flock of eiders...

Later that day we saw a 2nd cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull - only my second of this age this season.

Success at last!

Friday 26 December 2014

St. John's Christmas Bird Count

The 49th annual St. John's CBC was held today (Dec 26th). The weather was wonderful considering the time of year - an overnight rain storm ended as soon as the sun rose, and as the wind died down the sun emerged creating great conditions for wandering the streets and parks of the city in search of its birds.

This Autumn and winter has seen remarkable numbers of juncos all across the avalon. 1700+ were recorded on todays count. Unlike last year, they didn't have to contend with a thick layer of snow on the ground.
This is what last years juncos had to search through:

A highlight for me on todays count was watching this adult Northern Goshawk chase after a Northern Flicker. The flicker can count its lucky primaries today because it just barely managed to get away. I also can consider myself lucky because the goshawk allowed me to get unusually close without bothering it:

This guy has been in the area for over a month and seems to be getting used to the many pedestrians.

A mainstay of St. John's birding is the gulls. Today 9 species were recorded, involving 14000 individuals!

Here, an Iceland Gull flies across its winter home with the colourful houses of St. John's in the background:

Thursday 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Hope you're all enjoying the holidays!

Here are a couple random photos from the last couple weeks:

... is that green area around the eye normal?

Saturday 20 December 2014

Cape St. Mary's CBC

The Cape St. Mary's Christmas Bird Count was held today (Dec 20). After not being held for 3 years I was looking forward to what the results would be. Highlights centred around the waterfowl: the two new species for the overall count were Northern Shoveler & Northern Pintail. And perhaps more impressive was the high count of 374 Harlequin Ducks! A quick eBird search showed no other province/state with such a high concentration of Harlequin's.

A mere 7 Harlequin Ducks:

 Riding the waves!

They were all in the Golden Bay area on the southern shore of the avalon peninsula. This area is under-rated for its scenery - the cliffs and geological patterns were stunning: 

Lancy and I did a 13km hike to access some of the harder to reach areas to maximize the Harlequin count. The hike ended at the famous Cape St. Mary's:

Not a bit of snow anywhere we looked! But a few SNOWs were seen on the count.