Wednesday, February 27, 2013


 My morning started out in a routine manner as I drove to Goulds to see the Red Crossbills as I didn't have them yet for my winter list.  I got lucky. After 45 minutes of sitting outside on a cold bench, thankfully provided by the Barrett's, the crossbills flew in.
Then, it was off to Cape Spear where the wind nearly lofted me into the Atlantic. I couldn't wait to get back to my car. On the drive back to town I was shaking my head and wondering what I was thinking to have left the safety of my car!

I stopped by QV Lake where there wasn't much happening. While sitting there, my daughter asked me to pick her up later than the appointed time, so I had time to spare. I checked Virginia Lake where the crows have taken over and one American Coot remains. I picked up a coffee and went back to QV to sit and wait for 1 p.m. to roll around.

While sitting at the Virginia River outflow, I spotted a very small, very white bird sitting on the ice. Ivory Gull? Could it be? I was lucky again that Bruce Mactavish was sitting a couple of cars over. I hurried over to ask him what the small, white gull on the ice was. When he saw it, with eyes as big as an owl, he shouted, "IVORY GULL!" I thought he was kidding me. He wasn't! The proof is in the pictures!

I hurried back to my car to grab my camera. This is a LIFER and a great one, too! We didn't have much time to look or take pictures. Within minutes of its first, distant sighting at around 12:40, it took off and flew toward Quidi Vidi Village. I had to leave, but returned to check the area again. There was no sign of it, but it can't have gone far. I went to QV Village where only the Gadwall was around.

What started out as a routine day, ended in a rush of excitement! You just never know what awaits, even in the terrible cold and gusty conditions of a winter's day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rapt with this Raptor

When I learned that I had missed seeing a Peregrine Falcon perched on a tree at Quidi Vidi Lake on Sunday morning, I was crestfallen. I had just taken a spin by there on my way home from an errand.  I lost sleep over that one.
On the off chance that the Peregrine might still be around, I headed to QV mid-morning on Monday. There it was, large as life, sitting in a tree. My spirits lifted, so much so that I tolerated the cold and trudged through the snow to get a closer look.
It was worth every minute of battling the elements to see this handsome guy full-on! I have seen Peregrine Falcons before, but only at a distance and always on the fly. This was pure gold!

Otherwise known as the "Duck Hawk," this bird is known to be the fasted creature on earth, capable of reaching over 300 km/h when in a high-speed dive (a stoop.) I guess that's why I never really saw it before, even when I saw it. 
Males and female Peregrine Falcons look very much alike. As is typical of most raptors, the female is larger than the male. I was quite surprised by how small this bird appeared when sitting, so I venture this is a male.

This falcon is known to perch in trees, usually near water, to have a clear view of the area, and that is where I found the falcon again this morning, scanning the whole west end of the lake.  (I couldn't help but feel bad for all the ducks and pigeons cowering together on the ice and shoreline. The resident otter was popping up all around the edge of the ice, and the falcon was overseeing all of the activity. The birds were doubly uncomfortable.)

The Peregrine Falcon is best known for snagging its prey right out of mid-air. The falcon may fly above its target, then go into a stoop to dive-bomb the prey, stunning or crushing it with its talons. They are also fast enough to catch right up to its prey from behind. Often, the Peregrine will sweep back around quickly and catch the falling prey in mid-air. What a sight that must be.

It is reported that the favorite meal of a Peregrine is a duck or pigeon. Is it any wonder, the ducks at the lake are having an anxiety attack? Yesterday, Richard Johnson photographed this falcon having a meal on a European Starling. The Peregrine Falcon needs to eat about 2.5 Oz per day, equal to about two blackbirds.  A healthy European Starling weighs about that, but that is not "dressed" weight. (The falcon will patiently pluck the bird before eating.) It is likely the Peregrine would need equal to two starlings a day.
If this falcon stays at QV for a while, it is possible (twice a day) to witness the full cycle of hunting and eating. All of this is so amazing, I find myself tempted to pack a lunch, a thermos of hot coffee, and a blanket to comfort me while I sit in my car waiting to witness this first hand. 

The Peregrine Falcon is one of the largest falcons in North America, with a wing span of 29 to 47 inches. That can be up to 3.5 feet. The one I saw at Cape Spear a short while back was every bit as big as that. I couldn't believe my eyes as it dwarfed the 9-inch Dovekie it was carrying.

Since Peregrine Falcons mate for life, I find myself wondering where the mate might be. Do they travel together or do they reunite before breeding season? These birds are known to travel 25,000 km in a year; in fact, the meaning of peregrine is "wanderer."
After nearly three years of looking up, this was without a doubt my best opportunity to see this uncommon visitor to St. John's. What an impression he has made on me!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pink-footed Goose Growing Tame

It has been nearly four months since our Pink-footed Goose came to visit. He definitely seems quite at home as he is mixing well with the other pool-dwellers at Bowring Park. He even joins in to enjoy the feed delivered regularly by bird lovers about town.

There have been several reports of Pink-footed Geese in Connecticut, Massachusetts and other hotspots along the east coast. However, none seem to be adapting to a human habitat as well as ours.

 Over the last few months, I have been looking at pictures of the PFG posted by birders sighting these other birds.
No pictures so far uploaded from these areas compare to those generated here in St. John's. The reason really has little to do with the photo talents here, but rather with the approachability to this rare guest. PFG are known to be timid and will quickly retreat when approached by humans.

This bird has provided another special dimension to visiting Bowring. Even non-birders are excited to see this guy. I have observed many people walking circles around the pool in the hopes of seeing this bird.

 How much longer will this goose stay with us? Nature's pull will surely have an effect on him. As the temps gradually begin to warm up over the weeks ahead and the days get longer, will he just up and go? That is very likely. When April rolls around, it will probably return to its breeding grounds in either Greenland, Iceland or Svalbard. Time is growing short for us to enjoy this particular bird.
 Nevertheless, it has been quite a privilege to host this special bird for so long. Another opportunity like this may never occur.
Notice how the beak is color matched to the feet. Is it possible these will brighten up even more with the on-set of Spring?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Duck Fight!

One day earlier in the month, I had finished a long walk around Bowring Park and was returning to my car. It was then a Mallard landed the first blow on a Domestic Duck.

Right at my feet, all-out war broke loose. The Domestic Duck was not going to be trounced on without a fight.

 The spectator ducks backed off and formed a circle around these two like some back-alley brawl. The next five minutes were action-filled

 Both opponents were struggling to get hold of the other's neck. They worked each other as the crowd "quacked" them on.
 With feet firmly planted each one landed one blow after another.
Cheek to cheek, they both tugged at each others' neck skin. Circling the arena, one would get the upper hand, and then...the other.

Domestic was setting up a "sleeper hold" on  Mallard.

 But Mallard was too slippery to let that happen. He wiggled and wiggled until he broke free.
Now, really angry, Mallard trounced and pinned Domestic to the mat.

But, it didn't last long. Domestic found his feet and jumped back into the fray.

Domestic, deciding this should end, walked away. It was then Mallard took a cheap shot, and it started all over again.

Domestic got low and Mallard couldn't attack the weak spot.

So, true to form, Mallard delivered a blow to the head, while Domestic held on to him. I expected to see them draw blood any time. Then, without warning, they both stood up and called it quits.

The missus, of course, appeared and began to give Mallard a real "dressing down." "You need Anger Management!"

As she walked away, Mallard stood looking dumbfounded, "What did I do?"

And so, duck nature plays itself out again as I am reminded that birds sometimes act like people and get into unnecessary scuffles. Now, since it was not clear who won this round, I understand a poll will be taken among the on-lookers. If the mallards all vote for Mallard, and the domestics all vote for Domestic, the outcome will clearly name Mallard the winner. But...what if the domestics vote more than once? Can they even the odds?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

In the Pink!

 Having spent the week nursing a bad case of snow "shovelitis" in my neck and shoulder, I haven't been birding for days. It has actually been a bit of a relief that no rare birds have shown up during this time.  Another aggravating storm is about to take hold of St. John's, yet again! All things considered, I have selected some pictures taken late last week to share today.
With Pier 17 becoming more and more inaccessible, getting pictures of the Black-headed Gull is going to be more difficult. These shots were taken at the Virginia River outflow into QV Lake, where a small group of BHGs has been gathering.

It was the bright pink showing on a couple of adult Black-headed Gulls that fascinated me.  When I first saw this a couple of years ago, I thought this coloration was a natural part of the spring transition, but now, I don't think so. Not all adults are pink.

This phenomenon appears to be more linked to diet than to season. Some slender billed gulls take on this hue as a result of high levels of  Astaxanthin in their system. This red pigment is found in microalgae, salmon, trout, krill and shrimp. It is likely this pink gull has ingested lots of shrimp.

Black-headed gulls live a long life (up to 63 years old.) I can't help but wonder if it is a result of their high astaxanthin diet, as this super nutrient is known to fight free radicals that attack the body's systems. Research shows that its antiocidant properties combat aging, reduce hypertension, enhance muscle endurance, aid in digestion and more.
All this makes me wonder if I should run out before the storm to buy a stash of krill oil, salmon oil or a bag of shrimp to help with my muscle fatigue. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Competing Forces

With the Great Backyard Birdcount slated from Feb. 15-18, I decided to prepare something a little special for my feeder birds. Mixing up a batch of homemade suet was pretty easy. Once all ingredients were added, I molded it in an old loaf pan and set it outside to freeze.

Once frozen, I sliced off a good sized piece to hang on the back porch and slipped the remainder in a freezer bag for future use. This was my first attempt at this exercise, and I  was excited to see if the birds would like it. They did!
However, it is difficult to get small birds to come in to eat when there is the competing force of a hungry Sharp-shinned Hawk hovering over the feeders.
 For several days, this Sharp-shinned Hawk has zoomed into my yard frightening away  little birds in the area.
He has chosen to sit in a branch about 30 feet from the feeder and wait and watch. He knows that all the little birds didn't fly far away and that some are just tucked into the evergreens just above and around him.

The juncos freeze in place, appearing to not even breathe. The hawk turns on all of his predatory senses and waits and watches.

This waiting game goes on for quite some time until one small junco makes a move and flies off, followed by several others. The hawk leaps into action and follows in hot pursuit.

This same scene has played itself out numerous times over the last week, and so far, the little birds appear to be too fast to fall victim to this hunter. Of course, I never see what happens when they vanish from my yard.