Wednesday 9 November 2016

It's Good to be Back!

I returned to Newfoundland last Wednesday after travelling the country for 3 months. I had 4 solid days of exploring the Southwest area of the island before going back to school/work in Grand Falls-Windsor.

Here are some of the highlights from those 4 days:

One of the first moments of excitement came while doing a short seawatch at a headland near Port-aux-Basques. This bird "migrated" by, while being chased by some gulls.
Any ideas what it is?
Answer is at the bottom of this post!

The biggest rarity came on Friday morning when John Tuach, who I was birding with, pointed out a shorebird roosting nearby. I immediately recognized it as a dowitcher and knew the significance of this. Any dowitcher in November in Canada is almost certainly going to be a Long-billed Dowitcher (...unless you're Alix d'Entremont who keeps finding Short-billeds in southern Nova Scotia this week). Somewhat amazingly there has only been one previous record of LBDO for the province (Nov 6-7, 2005 in St. John's).

Unfortunately the bird didn't come close for stellar looks, so these distant shots will have to suffice.

In the first photo note the hunched back while the bird is feeding. Often described as having swallowed a grapefruit, Long-billed Dowitchers are best distinguished from their shorter-billed cousins by this "general impression of the shape".

A key feature I was previously unaware of is the extent of white on the leading edge of the axillary area. Short-billed's, apparently, have more uniform markings in their 'wingpits'.
Thankfully I took a video just before this bird started preening and stretched out its wings. A still-frame from that video, below, shows that signature LBDO feature.

The barring on the flanks also seems to fit more with LBDO.

The easiest and most reliable feature to distinguish SBDO & LBDO is the pitch of their call note. I didn't manage to get a recording of this bird call, but based on my recent experience with LBDOs in Vancouver I felt that the call was classic for LBDO.

Let me know if you see any other features from these photos that suggest one species or the other!

As usual the scenery in this area was fantastic:

A few hours after finding that dowitcher we came across this Pacific Loon - only the 4th record for the province (and the first away from the Avalon peninsula). 

Another distant shot of the Short-eared Owl that flew past the headland with a gull in hot pursuit: