Thursday, January 31, 2013

Meet Lincoln

For three consecutive days, I have traipsed around Bowring Park in search of the Brown Creeper. Heading to my car yesterday, once again feeling deflated, I perked up very quickly when I spotted Lincoln, the Lincoln's Sparrow, feeding near the water's edge.

On several occasion, I attempted to photograph this bird, but it just wouldn't cooperate. Yesterday, it played coy but still came out in the open several times.

Since it was first spotted by Ken Knowles on 13 January at Bowring Park, this bird (much like the Pink-footed Goose) has become more social. It is hard not to in this area because of the constant traffic and regular deliveries of seed. The Lincoln's has been loosely associated with the Dark-eyed Juncos in the area.

With all of the hype about Lincoln of late, I became curious about how this species got its name. There is actually a connection to Newfoundland and Labrador. The story goes something like this:

In 1834, Audubon and his team had been in Labrador for three weeks when on a dark and gloomy day, he spotted this species (which he referred to as a finch.) He first heard the bird and rallied his team to join him in pursuit of the sweet sound.

It took some time for the team to get a clear view of the bird. It is now known that this species is extremely secretive and flighty upon any disturbance. After some stalking, the elusive bird appeared, and Tom Lincoln took a deadly shot.

When Audubon retrieved the small bird, he realized it was one not yet recorded. He initially called the bird Tom's Finch, not because Tom had managed to shoot the bird, but because Tom was a favorite among the team.

When Audubon got around to writing up the new scientific description of this bird, he learned it had already appeared in the collection of  William Cooper of New York.  At the time, he called the bird Lincoln's Finch. It has since become the norm to refer to American Emberizinae as sparrows; hence the bird is now known as the Lincoln's Sparrow.
Audubon's sketch of this species refers to it as the Lincoln's Pinewood Finch: 

The back stories about different species are very interesting. To visit the source of the information included here, visit:

The Bent Series, published by The Smithsonian Institure, is a collection of monographs reporting history and human interest stories about bird species.

Given the typical behaviour of this species, viewing Lincoln at Bowring Park may offer one of the best opportunities to study and photograph this species. I wonder if this sparrow, full of personality, bears any resemblance to Tom Lincoln.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


 All of 2012 passed, and I didn't see a single Bohemian Waxwing. I was going to make sure that didn't happen this year. Earlier in the year, I saw one only fly overhead. I was really hoping that wouldn't be it for the year.
I have been keeping my eye on the berries lining Quidi Vidi Road. I couldn't imagine they would last this long without robins or waxwings finding them. This week, that happened. On Monday, I decided to take on the cold once again to see what I could find. When I drove south on QV Rd., I saw the flock from a distance. This was it! I pulled off and jumped out of the car to get a really good look. There were 35 Bohemian Waxwings in this one tree alone, with others milling about the area devouring berries.
 After taking in the mass of birds, I finally focused on this one. It plucked a berry.
I watched as it seemed to go through a ritual of enjoyment.

It maneuvered the berry in its beak.

Twice, it tossed the berry in the air and caught it again.

Getting ready to down it, it tipped its head upward, opening its throat.

Then, the berry dropped in.

The bird seemed quite satisfied, and I thought the event was over. Not quite.

It opened its mouth and throat one more time, to allow the berry to move smoothly down its gullet. Or? Maybe, release any gasses that may be trapped within.

 These birds are absolutely beautiful. I stood and stared in amazement. What a treat!
And then, I found myself to be the object of observation. This little one seemed to ask me, "Are you going to watch me eat, too?" It wasn't long before the large flock flew off to the park at the end of Cavell Ave. When the berry supply it gone, so will these birds leave us. Unless, that is, someone entices to them to stay by putting out a supply of berries and/or cut-up apple pieces.
I saw four Bohemian Waxwings at Bowring Park yesterday where they have almost cleaned the berries in the area.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Yellow-breasted Chat is a Pleaser

For more than a month, the Yellow-breasted Chat, first found by Alvan Buckley, has been attracting many birders to the upper Rennie's River Trail. Residents in the area have been extremely accommodating by keeping the bird well fed and showing extreme tolerance for the steady stream of birders standing just outside their fences.

In the early days of its known existence, it could take hours of standing around to get a glimpse of the chat. The weather was warmer then, making that a comfortable experience.

Now the "deep freeze" has set in; and thank goodness, the chat has been showing itself more readily.

 Yesterday morning, I arrived in the area around 8 a.m. and walked the distance between four houses several times looking for the glowing yellow breast. Twenty minutes passed and nothing. My feet were getting numb and my hands had passed the point of comfort. Where was this bird? The latest report was that the chat was making intermittent visits to the feeder about every 15 minutes.
I kept fighting through the discomfort, hoping that it would put in an appearance. Then, without fanfare, it peeped out of a shrub. It is hard to miss this guy"?" (female and male Yellow-breasted Chats look the same) with its vibrant yellow breast. (I think this bird is actually getting even more yellow as time goes by.)

At last, I was in the game! I watched and waited.  I was no longer focused on how uncomfortable I was, but was captivated by every move of this bird.

It then made its first move to the feeder. Wow! I saw the whole bird in all its splendor. I took lots of pictures and had some lovely poses. However, because I was shooting through a chain link fence, many of the images were soft as the crisscrossed wires became part of the picture.

Periodically, the chat would fly from the suet to the shrub and back again. This went on for over 30 minutes. I had so many chances to photograph this bird that I even piled up some snow in an effort to make a mound that would raise me above the fence. I wasn't able to build it high enough with my weakened hands.

So, I had to settle for what pictures I could get through the fence. This time, the chat outlasted me. It was still going back and forth for more than half an hour when I decided I had to walk to the car while I still could. What a thrill to be able to enjoy this elusive bird in this way. Note:  So far, we have had the coldest January since 2003! What happened to that long-term forecast for a "mild" winter?

Monday, January 28, 2013

You can run but you can't hide!

 Joe Lewis, the great boxer, was attributed with having said this first about an upcoming match with a much faster Billy Conn just before a 1946 bout. It seemed to apply to our two missing ducks. Since January 3rd, I have been looking for the Northern Shoveller. It went missing, then the Gadwall went missing. Well, they couldn't evade the keen birder, Ken Knowles, who tracked them down for the rest of us. These two ducks seem to be fast friends and are spending their time together upriver from Quidi Vidi Village.
It is impossible to visit QV Village without stopping for a moment to soak up the beautiful scene from Newfoundland's yesteryear. The buildings are new or updated, but the beautiful natural surroundings transported me to times gone by when this was a thriving fishing village that supplied the city of St. John's with its fresh catch. Had it not been so cold, it would have been wonderful to drink in the scenery with a QV Iceberg beer!

Having nearly perished standing in the cold to get these few pictures, I decided it was going to take a rare bird to beat all rare birds to get me out of my car again. I drove to Cape Spear to see what might be there. Nothing! Nothing on the drive out and nothing in the water at the Cape! I decided to check out Flatrock, Bauline and Pouch Cove. Stopping in at Torbay Beach, I found a flock of what I think are Greater Scaup. There were two Great Cormorants, two Black-headed Gulls (unusual in this area,) a couple of Black Guillemots, Black Ducks and Iceland Gulls, nothing really out of the ordinary. I saw a Song Sparrow on Lower Road leading to the beach.

 I went on to Flatrock where I didn't see the Brant, but did find the carcass of the Dovekie that had been floating close to the wooden dock. I drove on. As I was leaving Flatrock, I met Emma Jane, a beautiful Great Dane. She is definitely the belle of Flatrock.
I continued my drive to Pouch Cove, Bauline and Portugal Cove - St. Phillips. There was not one single woodland bird to be seen. I was hoping for WW Crossbills or Pine Grosbeaks, but absolutely nothing materialized. Where have all of the usual birds gone this winter? I guess birding from the car has the advantage of warmth, but not necessarily productivity.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Interesting and Useful Info

For some reason I began to wonder if I could name the provincial birds of Canada. Well, I knew the Atlantic Puffin was the Newfoundland Provincial Bird, and I knew the Blue Jay was the bird of PEI. That was it. I didn't know any more, so I decided to look into it. This is what I found:
Alberta - Great Horned Owl
British Columbia - Steller's Jay
Manitoba - Great Grey Owl
New Brunswick - Black-capped Chickadee
Newfoundland and Labrador - Puffin
Nova Scotia - Osprey
Ontario - Common Loon
Prince Edward Island - Blue Jay
Quebec - Snowy Owl
Saskatchewan - Sharp-tailed Grouse
Northwest Territories - Gryfalcon
Nunavut - Rock Ptarmigan
Yukon - Common Raven
My musings then began to move in another direction. What birds were regularly being sighted in each of these areas? It took me quite a while to locate a series of web sites that maintain regular reports like our NL Google Discussion Group.  Having looked at the sites for other provinces, I concluded ours is really the best reporting system on the go. Maybe there are others out there I am not aware of. I invite anyone who had a useful link to leave a comment directing us to any provincial reporting site.
British Columbia -
I have met a number of people from out-of-province that follow our google group regularly. I thought, perhaps, some from here might be interested in following other provincial birding activity.

Friday, January 25, 2013

January Birding

 As I look outside, I see a lot of snow, frosty air, and few birds. Is this normal for January? It is a good thing I am able to review eBird reports and my own previous January posts to get a grip on this question. My year-over-year recollection can get a bit fuzzy, especially as I continue to be wide-eyed with wonder.
While the number of birds reported in Newfoundland for January is not spectacular (2011 = 111; 2012 = 96; and to date: 2013 = 94 with seven more reporting days remaining,) there have been some really spectacular birds reported in January each year.
 In January 2011, the most exciting bird reported was this Anna's Hummingbird. Many birders travelled to get a look at this special winter visitor. Closer to St. John's, many of us enjoyed watching this Sora  (pictured above) at Kent's Pond. Food was delivered regularly in the hopes of keeping it going throughout the winter. Our bird disappeared, and its fate was unknown. The Black-tailed Gull found earlier in the year also stayed around in January and attracted a lot of attention.

Last winter (2012) St. John's birders were treated to the arrival of a Horned Grebe at Quidi Vidi Lake. I'm not sure how uncommon this is, but it was a first for me to really get a good look at this great bird.
However, it was the Red-bellied Woodpecker that lingered into January 2012 that really attracted a lot of attention. It moved from Lower Rennie's River to Bannerman Park where it enjoyed suet put out in both locations.

Included in the 2012 January list was the Brant seen in Harbour Grace. This year, much closer to home, a Brant has chosen to winter in Flatrock. This has provided a lot of opportunity for St. John's birders to enjoy this goose.
 However, it is the Pink-footed Goose that is/was (bumped by the Fieldfare) the Bird of the Month. I think this is the first time one has knowingly wintered in NL. This bird has drawn numerous out-of-province visitors to see it at Bowring Park.

Consecutively in January, over the years we have had reports of Baltimore Orioles, Northern Mockingbirds, and of course, our regular visits of the Yellow-legged Gull and Slaty-backed Gull, which are notably absent this year. I have not seen the Yellow-legged Gull since 2011 and last year, I only saw the Slaty-backed Gull on one occasion  in January. What's going on with these gulls this year? Also notable this January are the warblers, six different species have been recorded over the last three weeks.
While January birding is somewhat predictable, there always seem to be some really good surprises, the best one so far is the report of the Fieldfare in Stephenville just this last week. Stephenville is seven hours from St. John's (during good weather, but that is not the case this week as Stephenville has been under a weather warning the whole week.) That would mean driving a minimum of fourteen hours in winter conditions to maybe see, maybe not see this very rare bird. May the winds blow it eastward!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Story of the House Sparrow

With the thermometer outside sitting at -13°, it is a sure thing I am not going out in it. This is a time for a "reach back" in My Pictures to see what I can share.  Having pondered several different topics today, I settled on the House Sparrow. This handsome little sparrow has been in the background of several of my pictures of more rare species. It is interesting to note that some of the best rare birds tend to congregate toward flocks of House Sparrows.  These include the Yellow-headed Blackbird (in Portugal Cove South), Dickcissel, Yellow-breasted Chat, American Tree Sparrow (in St. John's) and several vagrant warblers. It is also interesting to observe the types of areas that attract House Sparrow into yards in Newfoundland. These birds like cover, lots of cover. They also are often seen around wood piles, and of course, they are attracted to yards that have these features AND a feeder. As with most species of sparrows, they prefer to eat from the ground or from a flat feeder.
 What is the back story of this bird? Well, it is not native to North America. In 1851, eight house sparrows were imported to Brooklyn, New York. When these eight didn't survive another attempt to introduce the House Sparrow was made the next year when 25 pairs were brought to New York City. They adapted and survived. Other imports were brought in. Why introduce the House Sparrow to North America? There are a lot of theories floating around the reasons. Some speculate the bird was introduced to the U. S. and Canada to provide some semblance of home and comfort to the early European Settles to these areas.
Other more earthy and economical reasons included the hope that the House Sparrows would consume the Green Worms that were damaging the foliage in Central Park, or eat the grain in the mounds of horse manure and expedite the composing process, or they would consume the bugs that were destroying the crops across the country. Were the House Sparrows effective in completing their appointed tasks? That is unknown.

 What is known is that they reproduced quickly and their abundance became a concern as they became a nuisance. It is thought that their current population in the lower 48 is 150 million individuals. As their numbers grew, their aggressive nature kicked in, and they began to chase Eastern Bluebirds from their nests, drive other insect-eating birds away from fields, and actually ate so much grain intended for the livestock that farmers felt a pinch in the cost of feed.
I really don't think of the House Sparrow as a nuisance, but then there is the European Starling. Now, that is another story. They, too, were introduced into Central Park, NY when 80 to 100 birds were released in 1891.  It is thought that over 200 million European Starlings cover the landscape from coast to coast with as many as 100,000 birds gathering in one flock! That is a nuisance, especially when they land in your yard! There are only three birds not protected by the U.S. government. These are the House Sparrow, the European Starling and the pigeon. Despite the lack of protection, these species are here to stay.
From my perspective, I would be really happy to see some House Sparrows move into my yard. Then again, I might be even more obsessive about staring out my window for fear I might miss a rare bird drawn in by the HS magnet.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Great Day of Winter Birding

 With the sun shining, temps rising to a tropical +5 c, and the report of a possible Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on Blackhead Road, it was time to go birding. I called Margie M. at a dangerously early hour to invite her to join me. She was game and by 8:45 we were on our way. Hopeful birds were the sapsucker, Red Crossbills, the Brown Creeper, and the Lincoln's Sparrow. All of these birds evaded us, but we were rewarded with the unexpected.
Having traversed Blackhead Road twice and seeing only juncos, we headed for Goulds via Maddox Cove. Deciding to check out a feeder in the residential area of the community, we headed upward. I was surprised, totally surprised by a bird that popped up in front of my car and landed not ten feet away. As soon as I relocated it, I was shocked to see it was a Dovekie!

There have been several recent reports of Dovekies showing up on the beach and on land. Speculation is that they are having a hard time finding food. Whatever the reason, there sat this bright, alert little Dovekie right in front of us, sitting on the road.

 Mixed with the excitement of the find and the dread that this bird might be on the way out, we watched. What a quandary! The bird looked healthy, like it should be at sea and not sitting on a roadway. Migratory Bird laws dictate that these birds should not be picked up, although it did cross my mind. Should we call someone with a permit to get this bird back to the water! What to do!
It was a great relief when this bird lifted off and flew with aplomb straight toward the water. Once we completed our drive-about up the hill, we checked the waterfront. There was no sign of the bird. Once it was aloft, it must have headed straight back to sea. It is really amazing the unusual things I have come across while out birding. I go with one goal in mind and end up with something totally different.

We proceeded to Goulds hoping to see the Red Crossbills. There were none, only goldfinch and juncos aplenty. As we were leaving the area, we caught sight of several birds flying into a group of trees. We really weren't sure what we had seen until this beauty popped up. There were six beautiful Mourning Doves sitting on branches and milling about under the trees. Now, with the 12 reported on Old Bay Bulls Road and these six, there are at least 18 Mourning Doves in Goulds. That is a lot!

We stopped at Bowring Park, but didn't see the Pink-footed Goose nor the Brown Creeper, nor the Lincoln's Sparrow. On the way home we popped by the Southside where we saw the spry little Yellow-rumped Warbler hanging in there, along with at least one Song Sparrow and one Junco. Stopping at Caledonia Place, we didn't see any of the rarities known to have been in the area. That marked the end of the morning birding.

As luck would have it I found myself with about two more hours of free time in the afternoon, so I decided to walk around the North trail of Long Pond. It had been a long time since I was there, but felt right at home. During my first year of birding, I walked this trail at least three times a week during the winter. Why? Because it was one of the few places I knew to go and because it yielded lots of bird activity and tranquility.

Again, I was surprised. Seeds were sprinkled all along the trail and there were many birds, juncos, BC Chickadees, Boreal Chickadees, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. Then, I came upon this Ruffed Grouse also enjoying some of the free seed spread on the snow. The light browns showing up on this bird were really stunning. When I checked images on the Net, I found this to be a common color on a winter bird.

My last surprise of the day came as I was nearing the Fluvarium on the return walk. A Northern Goshawk flew in over the trees on one side of the trail, right over me and into the trees on the other side. There was no time to get a picture, but that doesn't diminish the thrill of seeing it so close.
So, there were misses and hits during the day.  I thought it is was a really good thing I was done, because a "flash freeze" was setting in. The wind picked up intensity, the temperature rapidly dropped, and I headed for my car quite satisfied with a great day of birding.

Click on images to enlarge.