Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cedar Waxwing and more

It was a beautiful morning with a fresh frost on the trees. It was just too nice to stay home. I packed up all of my paraphernalia (two cameras, binoculars, gloves and liners, hat, five layers of clothing, hiking boots, super thick socks) and headed out.

I started my day at QV where there was a juvenile bald eagle perched in a tree surrounded by more than a dozen photographer and their gear. Quite a sight! I got a picture of that. I hurried into the group but the eagle didn't stay much longer. It was looking away most of the time before it lifted off. Oh, well, not to worry. There has been a steady stream of eagles this year. On one day four were spotted on the ice with ten hovering overhead. They are always a "show-stopper."

I took a quick jaunt into Long Pond in the hopes of seeing the Black-backed woodpecker. He wasn't there. But, I did get a shot of a brown creeper. There were at least two shinnying up and down the tree. I thought that I should probably go home, but I didn't. I headed out to the Bauline Line Extension and hit the jackpot. The first pair of birds that I am sharing with you is a male and female White-winged Crossbill (above). The shot was taken from about 100 feet away and is a huge crop off the original image. The same applies to the picture of the Pine Grosbeaks (below).

Nevertheless, I posted two poor images for two reasons. First it is really nice to get a male and female in the same shot and second, because of the similar shots of Crossbills and Grosbeaks. The bills of the Grosbeak and Crossbill are very different: hence, their names. The grosbeak has a very large bill among the finch family. The Crossbill, as the name implies, has a beak like tiny sissors. The female Grosbeak is larger than the female Crossbill. The colors of the males are also different. The Grosbeak is more of a rose color and the Crossbill male is bright red at this time of year. See if you can note the differences, even with these poor pictures. (Unfortunately, the formatting in this blog is not working right or I would have placed the pictures side by side.)

As if it I hadn't seen enough already, I then came upon a flock of American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Pine Siskins, and a Purple Finch. This was my big day because I have chased all over the Avalon trying to find a Waxwing. When I saw it, the wait was worth it. It is a very different kind of bird. It has a crest, with body feathers that almost look like poured wax. Its coloring it bright and happy. That's it, it looks like a stately happy bird. (Image below)

All of these birds were mixed together feeding on Dogberries. I posted an image of an American Robin and a Cedar Waxwing below. Seeing them side-by-side in the tree, the Waxwing is a little larger than the Robin.

I talked to someone nearby who tells me that there is also a woodpecker that comes in the area. Guess where I am going in the morning! Oh, yes. I also thawed out some capelin to lure the eagle to my lens!

To cap off my day, I drove to Pouch Cove to get a glimpse of the White-winged Dove that has been frequenting a feeder in the area. Glimpse was what I got. It flew by twice but didn't land, and I didn't get a picture. Maybe next time!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Black Duck & Odd Mallard

My message today is all about looking without seeing. All too often, we are taken by the splash and color of what is before us. The Black Duck is a very common, often drab looking bird when mixed among the Northern Pintails, Mallards and other colorful ducks. Yet, as this unretouched photo of the Black Duck illustrates, it is a very handsome bird.
This Mallard, a major crop of a much larger photo, is quite peculiar. Overall, this one little piece of the bigger picture is nondescript until I looked more closely at each duck in the shot. Look at the Mallard's tail feathers. Those are not the typical tail feathers of a Mallard. They are actually more like the tail feathers of a Herring Gull. Now, how did that happen?
It is one thing to go out and enjoy the birds; it is very special. The moment is filled with an array of sensory input but sometimes the sights, sounds and weather conditions can blur the eye's ability to "see "everything in its view. It is sometimes an awakening to come home and look at the shots. Once all of those blurry shots that get deleted, the images of the better pictures create a whole different learning experience. Beauty happens! Flukes of nature happen ....and I am reminded that I need to look more closely when I am in the moment. I might just miss something special.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Double-crested Cormorant and American Coot

Much to my surprise, the bad weather held off until early afternoon. Of course, that meant I had to go out to try to get a better picture of the White-winged Crossbill. I did, but it is still too far away. I will continue to pursue that because I really like its bright red color. As a bonus today, I saw a Ruffed Grouse. It didn't cooperate well for pictures, but I did get the important record shot.

Today, I chose two odd looking birds to share. The Double-crested Cormorant is such a hearty looking bird. It surely must be built for the hard weather of the shoreline.

The other bird, the American Coot, looks somewhat like a chicken. It walks like one and has feet more similar to a chicken than a duck. Some people mistake this bird for a duck, particularly when it is sitting in the water. It seems very clumsy with its big feet. This little guy is not supposed to be in Newfoundland. It must have gotten blown off course. It has been at Quidi Vidi Lake all winter.

If you want to see some amazing photos recently posted, visit Brandon Holdon Photography. The link to his site is listed on the right sidebar.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Golden-crowned Kinglet and Junco

I wanted to continue to work on small bird images this evening since I had already worked on images of sparrows and chickadees. Tonight, I am sharing images of the Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Dark-eyed (Slate Colored) Junco.

The Golden-crowned Kinglet is a pretty little bird, but I have had a hard time getting a great shot of one. They tend to stay in close to the trunk and flutter a lot. They are very busy birds and can hover much like a hummingbird. Their coloring is particularly nice. I wanted to show the color on the crown that cannot be seen on side images of this bird. Kinglets do not typically stay in the same trees as groups of junco but are often only a tree or two away. There is also a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I "think" I saw two one day but they flew by so quickly that I couldn't photograph them. I don't count the bird unless I have a clear record shot or someone else verifies the sighting.

The Dark-eyed Junco is everywhere! I shot this one from my kitchen window. Even though he is brown with brown streaking, it really is a Slate-colored Junco. This is the youthful rendition. Juncos are very friendly and will continue to feed with spectators looking on.

Birding Trip Today!

I did get out birding today and spent way too much time at it. I started watching the eagles at Quidi Vidi. I didn't get any great shots of them because I couldn't get the settings of my camera to fit the strange grey haze in the air. I am really looking forward to the sun shining again. Nothing beats natural light. I went on to Pier 17 but since the sewage outlet has been closed, there wasn't much to see there. I took a jaunt to Long Pond and it was virtually "birdless!"

Not to worry, though. There are many places to go. I headed out the Bauline Line Extension and came upon two small birds with very red heads and dark black and white wing tips. Couldn't stop the car fast enough to photograph them, and I have no idea what they were.

I drove on and came upon another group of birds with great flashes of red. I stopped the car and stayed in the car until they came out on the road again. A car is a perfect blind. When the group returned, I made my way out of the car to take some record shots. Those are the first and most important ones pictures. They prove to me that I saw the bird. I took several shots and was eager to start my comparison with the many pictures in my books.

I had something new to add to my life list, I drove on with a great deal of satisfaction. I headed to Pouch Cove and Flatrock to see if there were any signs of sea birds, most particularly the Ivory Gull. No luck there, but it was a nice drive. Great scenery. I was happy to head home to see what I had stored in my camera.

When I got home I downloaded my pictures and identified the two new birds to add to my list. I had seen a White-winged Crossbill and a Pine Grosbeak. I don't know why the crossbill is known for its two white wings when its red color is so vibrant. It's not everyday that I get to add a new bird to my life list. I just got an e-mail to confirm the identification of these two birds and much to my amazement, there is a third variety among them - a Pine Siskin. That is three new birds for my list. (They are all finch-like birds.) I am very satisfied with today's trip.

If I can't control the urge, I may go out again tomorrow ;)

Friday, February 19, 2010


There are at least five different kinds of chickadees that take up residence in Canada. All bare a resemblance. Of the five, only two are known to make Newfoundland their home. You might say that the two chickadees pictured here are cousins, but not "kissin' cousins." They don't hang out together. They share the mutual friends of Juncos but tend to not group in the same flocks. The Boreal Chickadee is most often seen with Golden-crowned Kinglets.

Despite their differences they behave similarly. They flit around very quickly and will chance human contact in order to dine on bird seed and sunflower seeds. Note the similar throat coloring and eye line. The Boreal Chickadee has a brown head while the "Black-capped....." Well, the name says it all.

It is more likely that a Black-capped Chickadee will show up at a bird feeder than a Boreal. The image of the Black-capped Chickadee was taken at Long Pond, Pippy Park bird feeder. I found the Boreal Chickadee when driving down Bauline Line toward Torbay. I noticed several Juncos fly across the highway in front of me. That is a good indicator that a group of birds may be nearby. I stopped and began walking in a woody trail. Within moments, there was the Boreal. I only have a few pictures of Boreals because they are not as prevalent, it seems, as the Black-capped.

It is a bit tricky to get a good picture of either of these birds because the eye will often fade into the darkness of the head. I used a flash on the Black-capped to make the eye more prominent.

It wasn't until I began this project that I realized how many pictures I have accumulated.
Weather permitting, I will go birding tomorrow.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

White-throated Sparrow

My recent posts have been on big birds. I thought it would be a nice change to share a picture of a small bird. This is a White-throated Sparrow photographed at Long Pond, Pippy Park.

Shooting small birds is very different from photographing larger birds. Since the limit of my lens is 250mm, I have to get quite close. That requires being very still and inching my way toward the bird. It is best to squat down. The bird feels less threatened than if you stand.

The lighting is a challenge as well. Often, the bird is in the shelter and shade of a tree. In this case I used a flash to even out the light. The lightening speed of the birds poses another challenge. For this shot, I used a high ISO setting. That is the alternative to using a very fast shutter speed which will reduce available lighting.

In the Fall, a man known as Wolfman hung a bird feeder in a clearing west of the Fluvarium. Every time I walk the trail, I take a bag of seed. If there are no birds around the feeder, I top up the feeder and go for a walk. Most times, I return to find numerous small birds enjoying the treats. Then, it is a matter of stalking, patience and bird cooperation to get a good picture. For me, it takes several sessions to get a good picture of a special bird. I feel like I know this sparrow. In this shot, his feathers are puffed up to stay warm. He really isn't that big around when he is hopping about.

Long Pond is a great place for a new birder to learn about birds. There has been a great variety of birds there during the fall and winter. These have included Eurasian Wigeons, American Wigeons, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Tufted Ducks, Black-backed Woodpecker, Clay-coloured Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Blue jays, Northern Flickers, Robins, American Goldfinches, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Black-capped Chickadees, Boreal Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch and the usual complement of black ducks, mallards and seagulls.

Birdwatching is similar to a lot of hobbies like antiquing, comic book or coin collecting. First you have to know a little bit about what you are looking for. If you don't know, it is important to have an eye for what might be "special" or rare and bring it home anyway. Then comes studying the image captured and matching it to all of the pictures in the reference books. If all of the pieces come together, the item or bird is identified. When all else fails, ask an expert. Once you know what you have, you add it to the list of birds seen.

A photo, even a poor one, is good to document the sighting. Once home, it is important to add the new bird to the lists. There are several lists. The "Life List" is the most important one. This documents all of the birds you have seen in your whole life. I started mine recently but included birds that I had photographed earlier. It is a special event to add a new bird to the life list. There is also the annual list. I have 43 species accumulated since January 1, 2010. Then, there is the backyard list. It was a special event when a White-throated Sparrow appeared in my backyard for the first time last week. Every bird is an event and the event should be recorded.

Grab a sheet of paper or open Excel and start listing!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lesser Black-backed Gull

I pulled out of the parking lot from work at 4:05 this afternoon. The sky was spitting a mixture of drizzle and ice pellets and the temperature was hovering around freezing. It certainly was not a day fit for birdwatching. Nevertheless, when my car got to the road, it somehow turned toward QV Lake instead of home. It was like "Herbie" was at the controls, and I was just along for the ride.

A flash of the rare yellow-legged gull flipped through my mind, but then, I thought "...hope I don't see anything special because I don't have my camera with me." I pulled into the Virginia River outflow parking lot and spied thousands of gulls on the ice. I grabbed my binoculars and started to scan the dots on the ice. In the poor light and distortion created by the rain, I knew there was no chance of spotting the YLG.

In less than two minutes about 4,000 gulls lifted off the ice. It had to be an eagle. Although, the gulls have been somewhat edgy lately and lift off for no obvious reason sometimes. (Given that there were five juvenile Bald Eagles hanging out around the lake, it is no wonder.) Then, the ducks lifted off. It had to be an eagle! I got out of the car and looked up and there was a stately adult Bald Eagle flying from East to West across the lake. Every bird that was on the ice was now in the air. I watched the eagle land about 40 yards from the west shore.

I didn't feel too badly about not having my camera because the conditions were not suitable to producing a good picture. Nevertheless, it is always a spectacle to see the forces of nature. The sheer presence of this single bald eagle unsettled thousands of resting gulls and ducks.

In case you have never seen flocks of gulls take to the sky in fright, I have provided a picture below of a "lift off" captured last Fall. Most of the gulls in the flock shot are herring gulls.

Since gulls are on my mind, I decided to label a couple of shots of Lesser Black Back Gulls and share them. The lesser black back gull is a relatively small gull compared to the herring gull. It often looks a bit scruffy until it reaches adulthood. LBBG goes through four years of transformations before it reaches adult plumage. They are distinguished by their bright yellow legs, dark grey mantle, red eye circle, and a yellow bill with a red marking on it. The 3rd year gull still has black on the bill. This fades in the 4th year and the bill becomes bright yellow like the one pictured on the left. The dark markings on the head are part of the winter plumage. This will evolve to white by summer. The lesser black back also has a more angular head than a herring gull.
Having taught many different courses in high school for a number of years, I quickly learned there is no better way to become knowledgeable about a subject, than to teach it to others. Here I am continuing to learn and share:)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

American Crow

Taking care of business has kept me from birding for two whole days. I was tempted to head out late this afternoon but the weight of tax preparation was hanging heavy. I decided to be "good" and organize my tax papers today. That is a far cry from the joy of the great outdoors and the sound of my shutter clicking!

For days like this, I have thousands of pictures to sort and and "photoshop." Tonight, I have chosen a simple shot of an American Crow. One important thing that I discovered in my early days of birding is that the camera captures so much more than I see with the naked eye. There are sharp, distinct colors and textures that I viewed but never really saw.

This crow was enjoying a fresh orange. While he was a bit suspicious of my motives, he was not going to chance leaving his treat for a moment.

Note: I don't always use a black or white background. This is a technique that I am currently learning; so several of my recent shots have been framed in this way.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


During the Fall of 2009, I had an excellent taste of what retirement will be like. Who knew it would be so wonderful! Boredom is out of the question! I have so many interests that I can't fit them all in one day, one week or one month. My biggest challenge is going to be finding a balance in my hobbies.

For years I have been interested in photography and have dabbled throughout my life, off and on. Photography is a hobby that requires a lot of time. It takes more than a little luck to be in the right place at the right time with the right subject matter, the right angle and the right weather. Then, of course, there are all of the fine settings that cameras offer. For me, it it trial and error. The challenge has really captured my interest. My best shots are landscapes, but I am particularly interested in blending a new fascination with birdwatching with photography. I have more blurred images than anyone can imagine. Yet, the one or two good shots that I do get are enough to motivate me to keep trying. Trust me, bird photography takes a lot of practice. So does birdwatching for that matter.

I have five reference books to help me to identify the birds I see. Nevertheless, not all birds look the same all year and may not look exactly like the pictures in the books. I have met a few people who are avid birdwatchers in the St. John's area. They are extremely knowledgeable and are always willing to help a new "birder" learn the ropes. When I see their enthusiasm, I feel like I have found a hobby that will continue to excite.

Having had a relatively successful career and being an authority on some subjects, it is almost like entering kindergarten again. I embark on my adventures of birding and photography with the same excitement and vigor linked to most new beginnings.

There are many great benefits of these activities. My mind has to stay sharp to learn all the technical aspects of photography and to develop an eye for the different birds and their behavior. My body thanks me for getting out and walking. After all, birding from the kitchen window can get old fast.

I have always been a "lister." Lists to do this and that, usually chores and things that have to be done. Now, I am generating a "Life List" of birds that I see and trying to make a pictoral record. Bird lists are much more fun than grocery lists!

Launching this blog is a way for me to organize my thoughts, time and my adventures in a way that is reasonable and enjoyable. In the days to come, I plan to upload many pictures to chronicle my progress of my photography and to create a record of my life of retirement.

Bird photography has a number of side effects - good side effects. It is amazing how much shorter this winter seemed because I got up and outdoors on a daily basis. I built my resistance to the cold weather of Newfoundland and quieted my dread of the short winter days. Now, despite the flashes of snow and cold spells, there are signs of spring in the air, and I am wondering where winter went.

I have returned to work for a short time, but not an hour goes by that I don't long to be outdoors, exploring all that it has to offer. During this time, I will plan for the future and the freedom that retirement brings.

Today, I uploaded my first two pictures. Hope you enjoy!