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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Cave Swallow Challenge

 Alvan Buckley aced it again finding a Cave Swallow at Quidi Vidi Lake, only the second sighting ever recorded for Newfoundland. The last reported by Jared Clarke was in 2008 in the area of Cape Race.
 With such an exciting bird at my doorstep, I made the 5 minute drive to the lake. What did I find? Cold temperatures, high winds and a dozen swallows hugging the water. Ugh! Not good. The best way to photograph swallows is when they are high enough the sky is the background.
 Well getting a shot was secondary. First, I wanted to see the bird. That I did fairly quickly. It was browner, smaller and flew differently. Satisfied with the bino views, it was time to raise my camera.
 This bird got the better of me. As I flipped through my shots, there were more "deletes" than I care to say. Distance, every-changing lighting, the low angle and the swiftness of this bird created near-impossible conditions. (Couldn't find speed of a Cave Swallow, but did find a Barn Swallow flies 11 metres per second. I am guessing that is about the same as our Cave.)
With all that ground to cover, it is very hard to get a focus on a small zooming target sticking very close to the water. This bird bested me.
 Sad to say, these are the best shots I got after an hour spent around the lake. I have not seen the bird since the first day.
Note in this last shot how it flattened it profile to skim directly over the water to snag a fly. Swallows are extremely interesting.  I have whiled away a lot of dizzying hours staring up and down and all around working to identify swallows in flight..

Saturday, May 28, 2016

For the New Birder

As the woods begin to fill up with migrating birds, it becomes a place of great learning. There could be as many as 20 species of warblers flitting around over the next few months. Among the more difficult species to identify is the Blackpoll Warbler because it presents in many different variations. However, one sure way to ID this bird is by the bright yellow legs as seen in this photo. When in doubt, check the legs.
While the Gray Jay is not a migratory bird, but a local resident, I include it here because there is something to learn from it. I've been told you will never see one in the St. John's area. With that thought in my mind, I doubted myself for a long time as I began to see them regularly in predictable locations. Lesson learned: Believe your eyes, reference your guide and get a photo. Birds that predictably aren't suppose to be in an area continually and delightfully turn up.
The Magnolia Warbler is one of the brightest and nicest of our returning warblers. It is interesting this species, like so many others, returns to the same areas year over year. It is more obvious with this species because they are not abundant. The Mourning Warbler is another species that can be seen in the same vicinity each year. However, that doesn't mean they won't be seen in other locations too. The Magnolia is similar to the Yellow-rumped Warbler and the Canada Warbler. However, it is the only warbler species with a white bar across its tail.
Expect the expected, but be open to the unexpected. I saw my first Blue-headed Vireo this year in a location where I have never seen one before. It helps if the bird is singing, but this one was not.
It is important to check out every moving bird to ensure it is not a typical bird for the time and area. Assume nothing, and you may be surprised with a really nice bird. Note this vireo like many others has what is called spectacles surrounding the eye. They also have a rich song.

 At this time of the year, anything goes, and some really great birds have turned up all around the province this spring. The element of surprise is one of the ensuring attractions to birding.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Recent Sightings

It seems I've fallen way behind in sharing some of my images. While I have a load of shots of birds seen before these, I decided to  share some of the most recent. This Palm Warbler seen alongside Highway 10 caught me off guard. It only stayed for about 15 seconds and was gone again. Another appeared closer to Cape Broyle, but I didn't get out of the car quick enough.
This Laughing Gull was actually the target bird of the day, and he proved to be very cooperative. It seemed much larger and much tamer than the Franklin's Gull seen a week earlier.

Ethel Dempsey and I had a surprise when we saw two birds in Renews not presenting with yellow legs. The bird shown on the lower part of the rock appears to be the new arrival. It was much "buffier" than the Willet standing on the top of the rock.

It was also quite tired. For a few moments, I tried to turn this bird into something more exotic, but all of that faded as the two birds lifted. One look at the wing pattern was enough to confirm that there were TWO Willets resting in Renews.

While I enjoy going to see birds previously sighted, the biggest thrill comes when the unexpected appears right in front of you. The second Willet provided that rush often felt by birders when surprised in the moment.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

One by One

 The birds are returning and they picked a beautiful day for it. I was up early this morning and headed straight to Goulds. It was me, the birds and one young mother strolling a fussy baby in the early morning hours. Birding was fantastic. These shots are not comprehensive nor are they presented in any particular order. The first was a bit of serendipity. As I thought I had seen all the park had to offer, I spotted this small bird in the distance. I couldn't tell what it was, so I snapped a shot just as it took off. Here is my first Blackpoll Warbler of the season.
 Two Black and White Warblers were singing in the park and this one further up Power's Road. Nice to have them back.
 This Northern Waterthrush was  my second for the day found on Power's Road. The first is shown below sitting a top a tree where it sang a good song.

 I have been checking Ruby Line Pond/Puddle regularly for a Least Sandpiper. It seems each year at least one lands in this spot. Today was the day. I checked the area as I left Goulds, and it seemed to have left already. Tricky!
 Eight Swallows burst into the park, zoomed around low and close to me most of the short time they were there making it impossible to get shots. I did manage to get a few snaps of the Barn Swallows.

 Like day-old bread, so are the following pictures. A guaranteed location to see an early Spotted Sandpiper is Second Pond. This year was no different.
The first warbler to return was the Yellow-rumped. Now, they are everywhere. The Yellow-rumped Warbler was the first warbler I ever saw, and I was struck by its beauty. I guess I can place the blame on this lovely little species for whiling away many hours in the woods.
Swamp Sparrows, White-throated and Savannah Sparrows are all back in increasing numbers. It is getting harder and harder to stay home as the sun rises. I don't want to miss a moment of the return of all my favorite birds.