Monday 30 May 2016

The Twillicks 2016 Birdathon - Part I

On Friday, May 27th, Catherine Barrett and I began our effort to see as many species of bird as possible on the Avalon peninsula in a 24-hour period. This is an annual event we do as part of the "Great Canadian Birdathon" to raise money for Bird Studies Canada & Nature Newfoundland & Labrador.

Check out our team page here: "The Twillicks"

Last year we saw a record 92 species on this count along with several great rarities! That was the number to beat this year, but we had two major factors against us: the weather was miserable at best, and there were relatively fewer rarities staked out this year. So we made a modest goal of 75 species for the day and started the clock at 17:30 on Friday evening.

Our strategy in both years has been to tick all the local rarities or city birds on the first evening and start the next day half way down the Southern shore by sunrise.

We started on Friday in the Goulds, just South of St. John's where Catherine had found a stunning male Ruff the day before. Last year we had a Ruff within the first 5 minutes of the count, so we were hoping to repeat that this year. We searched the entire area very thoroughly but dipped. We did see this beautiful male Northern Pintail in a small pool of water:

We continued on to Third Pond where we saw our first species that we missed last year... Canada Goose! By the end of this count we saw 15 individuals.

Nearby, Catherine picked out a small flock of White-winged Crossbills! A small flock leftover from this past winters invasion. A great bird for the count as I hadn't seen any for over 2 weeks!

While scanning the pond we noticed a large flock of swallows milling around on the far side of the pond near a dairy farm so we decided to check out the area in hopes of finding a few species of swallow for our list.

Our best bird at this location was a single Bank Swallow with the 100+ Tree Swallows:

After sifting through the large flock of swallows we headed straight for the Murphy's pond area where there is a known pair of Rusty Blackbirds and a family of Great Horned Owls. Last year we ticked both of these species without even getting out of the car! This year we dipped on both so felt a little defeated.

We did find some of the common breeders here including Hermit Thrush, and Wilson's Warbler:

By the time we finished there it was already 19:30 and we had hoped to get to Lundrigan's Marsh in town by 20:00 to listen for Sora. We swung by Kenny's Pond on the way but dipped again on our target bird - a Greater Scaup that Catherine had seen there earlier in the day. Our chances of beating last years record were looking dim but we pressed on to Lundrigan's Marsh.

Immediately upon arriving at the marsh we spotted one of the pairs of Northern Shoveler:

A few minutes later we heard the distinctive whinny call of a Sora!

We spent the next 50 minutes searching in vain for the American Coot that had been there for almost a week.
Finally, when we were about to pack up and leave it showed its face on the far side of the "car wreck" pond:

With the sun well below the horizon and a dark sky overhead we zipped over to Quidi Vidi to tick the American Wigeon that had been there throughout the month. It was right where it was supposed to be so we decided to rush back to Kenny's Pond to see if we could find the Greater Scaup. Amazingly it was right there and we were able to find it no problem :)

We finished the first part of the day with 47 species on our list! Remarkably, this was 2 species ahead of our list from the previous year after the first portion so maybe we weren't doing so bad after all ;)

Part II to come shortly!
EDIT: .... Here it is :)

Saturday 28 May 2016

Euro Golden-Plover

Catherine Barrett and I did our annual birdathon today.
With literally, and I mean literally, two minutes before our 24 hours were up we zipped by a largish shorebird in Biscay Bay. Thinking it was almost certainly a Greater Yellowlegs we were reluctant to turn back and be sure... wow were we thankful we did!

Only the second Euro GP seen on the island this year - and the first on the Avalon since the major invasion of 2014.

A summary of our birdathon to come within the next couple days :)

Monday 16 May 2016

Gull, Flatfish, Lichen, & Caribou

Some randoms from this past weekend in Terra Nova:

First up, the Great Black-backed Gull and flatfish (flounder) fiasco.
Barry Day and I were walking along Buckley Trail (I didn't name it!!) when we noticed this GBBG perched up on a rock preparing its lunch. It didn't take long for it to finish its meal:

In the old burn site in the park the ground was covered in Labrador Tea plants and these matchstick-like lichen:

Turns out that they're called Cladonia cristatella - also known as British Soldiers.

They're an important food source for woodland caribou of Newfoundland.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Weekend in Terra Nova

Some photos from this past weekend in Terra Nova National Park (3hr drive West of St. John's).

Gray Jay:

My lifer Newfoundland Spruce Grouse (they aren't found on the Avalon peninsula): 

One spot I've been eyeing for a while in the park is a section of previously burned forest. Apparently the fire burned about 15 years ago. It didn't take us long to find a Black-backed Woodpecker working the trees for grub:

These fungi were covering the ground in the burned area. I've seen them before, but not this widespread. I'll have to try to figure out what species they are.

This Great Black-backed Gull swallowed a flounder (flatfish) whole after stabbing it repeatedly. I'll get the video uploaded soon!

Another Black-backed Woodpecker in another are of the park:

Hermit Thrushes are widespread breeders on the island:

Their flute-like song is one of my favourites:

I had about 10 Palm Warblers over the weekend in the park. Despite being so common in this area I've yet to find any singing on the Avalon:

Shorebird migration barely exists in the Spring in Newfoundland (unless you count vagrants from Europe!) - so seeing a small flock of 8 Least Sandpipers was nice:

Red-breasted Merganser:

Another Spruce Grouse - I had 5 in total over the weekend! All of them were very tame.

Only my second warbler species so far this year:

This Yellow-rumped Warbler stood out with its golden hues over the back. I assume this is a second year bird (hatched last year) based on these brownish feathers:

2 Redheads found just over a week ago in nearby Gander were still around so I stopped by to have a look at them myself. These are only the 9th record for the island!

The other highlight was a minimum of 3, probably up to 6, Northern Saw-whet Owls singing in the park. Here is a recording from one of them:

Tuesday 10 May 2016

The Twillicks - 2016 Birdathon

In just under a few weeks time Catherine Barrett and I will be participating in the "Great Canadian Birdathon". Our team, "The Twillicks" will do the birdathon on the last weekend of May in an effort to see as many bird species as possible in 24 hours on the Avalon peninsula. The event is a way to promote awareness about our environment and help raise money to conserve birds and biodiversity across our country!

Please help us reach our fundraising goals. You can click on this link and then click the name of the person you would like to support to see our personal fundraising pages and make a donation.

Donations can be made as a flat fee (e.g. $20), or you can donate per species! We already have commitments of $2 for each species we see - which gives us extra incentive to make every effort to see as many species as possible :)

A tax receipt will be generated automatically via email. If you prefer you can give your donation to Catherine or myself directly (cash or cheque) and we will forward it to Bird Studies Canada.

A portion of the funds we raise will be returned to this province to Nature NL.

Thank you for your support!

"Twillicks" is a name used by Newfoundlanders for Greater Yellowlegs - a species I will guarantee that we see on the birdathon!

Surely there'll be some surprises, but what will it be this year? 

Sunday 8 May 2016

Gray Heron - Bonavista

Yesterday evening photos were posted on the local Facebook group of a heron that was very suggestive of a Gray Heron. The photos were a little distant and blurry so left some details to be desired. Today, Ken Knowles and I arrived in Bonavista in the late morning and spent 3 hours searching for the bird before finding it where it was originally found: Beaver Pond - which is right in the centre of Bonavista town.

This is Newfoundlands third or fourth record, depending on how you look at it. The first record is from Oct 1996 of a bird that was collected and originally identified as a Great Blue Heron only to be re-identified by a keen grad student at MUN as a Gray Heron! A ship-assisted bird arrived in Sept 2002. And a widely seen bird was in Little Hearts Ease from at least March to June of 2013.

Todays bird was fairly easily identified as a Gray Heron based on the white thighs and white "shoulders". Studying the bird in the scope revealed a bill that was a brighter orange than what I can remember for Great Blue Herons. The sides of the necks were a pale gray and the streaking on the front of the neck was quite distinct from what I've ever seen for GBHEs: the streaking consisted of a few long dark vertical stripes.

I was surprised to see some cinnamon/rufous colouration mixed in with the gray of the covert feathers - although this was very limited.

The cap seemed to have a base colour of white - but had several "splotches" of dark markings throughout giving a pale gray appearance to the cap from a distance.

Based on these and other features I would identify this bird as a second year bird. Adult plumage is attained in the 3rd year of life for Great Blue & Gray Herons.

Below are a number of photos and a short video clip of the bird feeding. Note that all of these are taken with my Samsung S7 phone through a Swarovski Scope. The quality far surpassed any of the photos I got with my "real" camera.