Like flies at a picnic, Storm Petrels were everywhere. There were thousands in Holyrood dotting the sky and the sea.
What a spectacular event! This is only my second "event" where I have seen more petrels than I can count. The last time was in 2011 in Outer Cove where the Storm Petrels bombed the beach. On that day they were accompanied by shearwaters and kittiwakes, and it wasn't even stormy. They were pursuing a late influx of capelin coming to shore. Spectators to that event had to dodge the masses of birds zipping to and fro.
This time, the Storm Petrels were carried by high winds and were with Red Phalaropes and jaegers. It was mesmerizing to sit in my car (was not getting out in the rough conditions) and watch the swirl of activity. These little birds never landed on the water.
It was constant motion for them. I hardly knew where to look as there was action everywhere.
They were like sea swallows, dipping, spinning, gliding on the wind and walking on water.
When a morsel of food would surface, several Storm Petrels would swoop in for a piece of the action. What a spectacular way to observe a bird I have only seen twice before. Gradually, as the weather began to clear, large numbers would leave to return to the open sea. Sadly, Brendan Kelly reported many casualties on the morning after. The petrels were drawn by the night lights and landed on shore where they could not lift off. These birds were made to thrive on the open waters, not on land.
The day dawned with pelting rain and a driving North wind. Nothing was going to get me out of the house and out into it. My plans were made, and lists of household chores were going to get done. I had settled down to have my second cup of coffee and decide what I was going to do first.
One last look around the Internet and I was going to roll up my sleeves and get to it. That was the deed that undid all other deeds. Bruce Mactavish had just reported a "seabird event" in Holyrood. His list of birds contained three birds I had never seen before.
What was I to do? It took all of two seconds to decide. Scrap the list of chores and go face the weather in the hopes of seeing some new birds.
I couldn't leave right away, but my mindset was totally changed. I did a couple of errands before leaving town and headed straight to Holyrood.
As I drove into the area, I could see birds spinning everywhere. Awesome! It took a little while for me to get a good location to view the birds where the fierce wind and rain wouldn't put my eyes out with my window down.
With guidance from Dave Brown, I found the spot and just below the road were the Red Phalaropes. Wow! I had only seen one phalarope ever, a Red-necked Phalarope. While the numbers had dwindled from the early-morning count, there were still plenty there and not too far from my viewing perch.
They were so small and light in color that it was easy to lose sight of them in the swelling ocean. Lucky for me, they seemed to be drawn to the surf around the edges. What a great chance to see these wonderful little birds! You must have gathered by now that a "bird event" takes precedence over most everything else. Oh, how good is it to be retired!
St. Shott's Beach is one of the best shorebird catchments on the southern shore. Over the last year, I have visited the beach three times in an attempt to see a Baird's Sandpiper. I have concluded it would have to be standing naked right in front of me before I would see it. Dip!
In the meantime, there is much entertainment on the beach with a mix of a couple of Sanderlings, a handful of Dunlin, plenty of Semipalmated Plover and Sandpipers, and of course, the White-rumped Sandpipers. Mix in a couple of Horned Lark, and it is a dizzying experience to try to look at each one.
Constant movement, occasional flushes, glaring sunlight and a lack of knowledge about shorebirds all create chaos... fun chaos.
Without doubt the Dunlin is the most striking bird among the lot. Its rich brown colors, long beak and hefty size make it the king of the beach. I could hardly take my eyes off it to look at the other birds.
Some of the Dunlin seemed to have longer, down-curved beaks than the others, but that again is a part of the optical illusion created by all of the factors on the beach. This shot provides a great comparison between the size of the Dunlin and the smaller Semipalmated Plover.
The long Dunlin beak allows it to reach deep into the kelp and bring up a delectable food supply that keeps the plump bird happy. The birds became fairly comfortable with our presence and moved around us without fear.
Here was a pair, a Dunlin and a White-rumped Sandpiper, tucked in for a high-tide rest. They seemed quite cozy and stayed in place for nearly 45 minutes.
Finally, the Dunlin showed its head allowing for a great side-by-side comparison between the two species.
Several of the White-rumped Sandpiper were still wearing some of their breeding plumage. This was a first for me to see the rich colors of this bird. Previously, I had only seen the gray colors of the winter suit. I guess getting to the beach early in the season has its benefits. It was hard to pull away from this shorebird zone, but there were other places to go and other birds to see. It would certainly be worth spending a whole day in a place like this to study the variance and behaviour of each species.
When I heard there was a Brown-headed Cowbird in Portugal Cove South and I was in the area, I was super pleased. I have seen them before but never in Newfoundland.
When we pulled up to the feeder where the bird was reported, it was nowhere to be seen. Reluctantly, Catherine B. and I left the spot and headed up Cape Race Road in the hopes of seeing the Blue Grosbeak and Lark Sparrow. The Cowbird would just have to wait until we returned.
A couple of hours later Catherine eased her car up the road alongside the feeder. Only one bird, a House Sparrow, was on a bush near the feeder. However, there were several House Sparrows sitting on a wood pile. We began checking them over.
Being at a bad angle with poor lighting, we didn't see the bird. Fortunately, two other birders pulled up and pointed the bird out to us on the wood pile.
Knowing it was there, we picked it out pretty quickly. However, I was shocked by its appearance. It didn't look anything like the Brown-headed Cowbirds of Arkansas.
The next two photos are of a female and male Brown-headed Cowbird seen in my sister's yard. They were big, large-beaked and bore the distinct colors of the cowbird.
The little bird we saw in Portugal Cove South was so different. I haven't heard it said, but I think our visitor is an immature male. To me, it looks like it just fell out of the nest, but in order to get here, it has to be much older. At any rate, it certainly had the distinctive brown head developing. If looking for this bird, look closely, because it certainly blended in with all of the House Sparrows.
When I first saw a Blue Grosbeak in October 2011 in Trepassey, it looked like this. An interesting bird with a definite grosbeak, but where was the blue?
Last weekend I got a look at the real thing - the grosbeak was actually blue. I only spent about 10 minutes in the area, so my pictures are lacking.
However, I did get a good look at this bird that appears to be a different species from the one pictured above.
It was happily playing with two Lark Sparrows in the area of the residence at Cape Race where it has been seen for several days. Seed scattered on the ground was keeping them happy.
There is still the possibility a Blue Grosbeak and an Indigo Bunting may show up in or around Blackhead toward the end of this month and the middle of next month. I will be watching.
Keep an eye open for any bird flashing tinges of blue. While we are certainly not inundated with birds in Newfoundland, we do see such an amazing variety of species show up in unusual locations at odd times of the year. It is partially because of this that every bird is valued. And, it is partially because of this that every birding experience is filled with excitement, never knowing what will pop up next.
About ten days ago, I saw a Blackburnian Warbler off Blackhead Road, but just for seconds. I reported the bird, but I didn't count it as it would have been a life bird for me. I have this thing about not wanting to add birds to my life list unless it is confirmed by a photo or a knowledgeable birder at my side. Neither was the case on that day.
I kept hoping I could find it again and get a picture or someone else would see it and confirm its existence. That didn't happen.
I was pretty excited when I learned a team of birders had found a Blackburnian Warblers in Trepassey, and Catherine B. and I were on our way to Trepassey!
I wasn't that sure we would be able to locate the bird, but we headed to the area. It took us about 30 minutes of walking, listening and searching. Then, at last, we came upon a small flock of birds.
We moved in a little closer and gave our best pish! Out popped the Blackburnian! As you can see, it was a very handsome one. Wow! And ....Tick!
With all of the sparrows around at this time, it would be really easy to miss this little Lapland Longspur.
While unsuccessfully chasing some rarities yesterday, I came across this unexpected surprise.
Typically, I don't like checking La Manche road on the weekends, because it is usually very busy there. I made an exception yesterday and took a quick dart in. About half way in, I spotted this little bird picking at the gravel at the side of the road. What really struck me as unusual was that it didn't fly when I stopped.
That peaked my interest. I was on the bad side of the lighting, so it was a little while before I could actually see its markings through my binoculars. Fortunately, it was a very cooperative Lapland Longspur, giving me ample time to look and take a few shots.
This was the morning of the week that I designated a "stay-at-home time" to get a few mundane things done. That all flew out the window when I opened the Google group this a.m. and saw the report of the Yellow-crowned Night-heron in Torbay, a mere 10 minutes away.
By 7:30 I was on my way. I checked the reported area on Shea's Lane but couldn't see any thing. That set me on a mission to try to find the bird. After more than an hour of looking, I returned home. I was going to post the bird was not to be seen when I saw Ken Knowles' report that the bird was in the same place as last night.
By 9 a.m., I am back on the road again. This time I was lucky. This is such a lovely bird it was worth it to go twice.
When I first saw it, it was standing so still and looking so handsome, I thought I was looking at a lawn ornament. Then, it moved. Wow! This marked my best look at this bird. The only other time I saw one was on August 16, 2011 at Quidi Vidi Lake in the rain.
There was one reported on Donovan's Road last year, but its stay was short, and I missed it. Not this time!
The Yellow-crowned Night-heron is considered an unusual bird to Newfoundland, with one being reported nearly annually.
This immature Night-heron looked very healthy. It was moving around a lot and eating well. I saw it fly from the tree to the ground, and it seemed to be in good health all around.
So, now I am at home trying to get around to those things I need to do, but I had to post this first. Surely, these pictures will motivate you to go see this bird if you can.