While it is no doubt the aim at this time of the year to seek out rare birds just passing through, it is still a joy to see the other common or uncommon birds in our midst.
These great birds showed up along the way yesterday as I birded Blackhead Road and area.
It is strange and interesting at the same time. On several occasions I have found one Common Grackle in this area. Wonder why it is alone... When observing this bird, he was without doubt the king of the feeder. Even the Blue Jays kept a respectful distance until it left.
This look at a Ruffed Grouse was the best one I have had this year. It is said they don't like getting their feathers wet. As a result, they will often show up on the roads when the trees and brush are dripping.
I haven't seen as many Red-eyed Vireos this year as in previous years, so it is always worth taking the time to look them over well when one appears.
All in all, add these birds to the TWO Black-throated Blue Warblers of yesterday, and that was a good day of birding.
While looking for the flock of Snow Buntings I saw fly in at Cape Spear, I found myself up by the old lighthouse. Being that far already, I decided to walk the East Coast Trail.
I never saw a single bird on the way in, not even a jay. I stayed the course and walked to the end of the tree-lined trail.
Just as I reached the open area, I saw two Golden-crowned Kinglets fly in the distance. Just happy to see a bird, I stopped and began to use my squeaker to draw them closer to me.
They came along with about six juncos and a couple of chickadees. At first, I thought this bird was a junco as it was hidden in the trees. Then, I caught sight of the white on the wing and began to pay more attention to it.
Finally, it came in closer, and it was evident what it was...a Black-throated Blue Warbler. I hadn't seen one in a couple of years, but its markings are so distinct I knew right away what it was! It stayed in the area for about five minutes and gave me an opportunity to see it very well.
Perfectly happy with my morning of birding, I headed home. Of course, I can't help myself...every time I see a junco, I have to stop. This time I was coming down the hill toward the village of Blackhead. I pulled over easily just after the guardrail and caught quite a bit of activity. The truth is...I saw a bird I couldn't identify. I tried to follow it into the woods as all the birds disappeared. No luck. I rushed around to the bus turnaround in Blackhead, hoping to find the flock there. Nothing. Undaunted, I returned to the original spot.
By now the showers were coming hard. I found a Boreal Chickadee, a Golden-crowned Kinglet, a Red-eyed Vireo and then, out of nowhere, in flew this male Black-throated Blue. I couldn't believe my eyes...TWO in one day!
I never relocated the sought-after bird, but was somewhat contented to settle for this great little bird.
On a recent trip to Renews, Margie M. and I stayed quite late in the day. As the sun was going down, we made one last check of the beach.
There, we found Yellowlegs in high numbers, both Lesser and Greater. The Hudsonian Godwit was present as were two Black-bellied Plovers. The Semipalmated Plover seen earlier in the day was gone.
However, a quick scan down the beach revealed a small sandpiper. I started the walk. Before I could reach the point where I saw the small bird, I came across four sandpipers.
They looked so small. Driven by the report of a Baird's Sandpiper on this beach, I focused on these birds in the hopes I would get lucky.
These birds looked soooo small. I guess it was because they were flanked by yellowlegs and the godwit.
Anyway, it was time to make an ID. Through the process of elimination, we settled on White-rumped Sandpipers.
Their legs were clearly not yellow and there was no webbing on the feet. That really only left the White-rumped as the possible species, especially when the rump was exposed. That clinched it!
I looked and photographed them all. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not find one that was buffy enough to be a Baird's. Although, the third image posted here shows a bird with a much straighter beak than most White-rumped Sandpipers.
Despite that, the whole thought process to arrive at the White-rumped Sandpiper was interesting and beneficial.
For several consecutive years, a Hudsonian Godwit or two have shown up in the St. John's area. So far, not this year. With all of the hot weather in July, the water levels were dropping and rocks were becoming exposed. It looked promising for shorebirds in Goulds this year.
Then, came August. Non-stop rain quickly filled up the ponds, and roosting rocks vanished under the water. This may have impacted the low number of shorebirds that showed up here this fall.
Fortunately, one Hudsonian Godwit appeared in Renews. Even then there was no guarantee it would be there when I was there.
Margie M. and I birded Renews earlier this week. First check of the shoreline found the godwit feeding away. We checked other places and returned, and it was gone.
We stayed unusually late in Renews; so before we left, we took one more look around the bay. At that time, many shorebirds had flown in, and there was the godwit again. It seemed to be unusually tame allowing us to get close looks. There were four small sandpipers there as well that sent us back to the books to study. More on that at another time.
UPDATE: Ed Hayden reported 4 Hudsonian Godwits in Goulds last week.
It's the time of the year that Dark-eyed Juncos take on a greater importance.
Yesterday and today, I was able to locate several large flocks of juncos. Why is this so special? Well, it is known that vagrants often attach themselves to flocks of other birds.
With a flock of 40 to 50 juncos and a few chickadees thrown in for good measures, it is very difficult to scan them all. Keen and vigilant, I typically attempt to scan the large group in a left to right fashion. This system often fails as more and more juncos fly into the flock.
Looking for any signs of yellow or brown, it seems an impossible task. Yet, on occasion, a rare bird does surface. Finding one rare bird sometimes leads to finding others as birders flock to the area and conduct a more extensive search. All of this is not to diminish the value of the very likable junco. As the breeding birds retreat to warmer grounds, the junco will be one of the nicest mainstays in this province's winter birding routine.
Fall birding styles vary from other seasons. I often walk the same old trails, visit the same old locations where vagrants have been spotted in years gone by, and I often come up with the same old tally...Nil. Nevertheless, I keep going out when time and weather permits. A couple of days ago, I visited Cuckhold's Cove Trail with a familiar feeling: Maybe, I will find something good; maybe, I won't.
Then, at the top of the hill, I caught sight of a warbler, species unknown. I kept a close eye on it as it moved through the leaves until it started to keep a close watch on me. I couldn't see all of the bird so I was hesitant to make a call on the ID.
Patiently and not-so-patiently, I watched as it moved around. The bird was looking more like an Orange-crowned Warbler, but I still hadn't had a full-on look at it.
It is quite amazing when tracking a warbler at this time of the year. My adrenaline goes from 0 to 60 mph in one second. All focus is on the bird and attempting to get a good look at it. Experience tells me it could be gone in a flash without an ID.
For that reason, I keep shooting photos because on many occasions, I have had to make an ID after the fact based on bits and pieces of the bird as represented in images.
That was not the case this time. Just before its final departure, the great little warbler hopped out in the open to give me an opportunity to see all of it and proclaim it to be an Orange-crowned Warbler....on the spot!
That is why I will continued to walk the familiar trails in search of an unfamiliar bird.
Afterword: With Hurricane Gonzalo just offshore from the SE Avalon, I know there are birders already sitting in strategic locations hoping to catch sight of some rare seabirds in the midst of the downpour and high winds. That sounds a little strange for those who enjoy sitting out a storm in the comfort of their home, but what is really strange is the number of runners and volunteers who are now right in the middle of a Cat 1 hurricane running from Cape Spear to Cabot Tower. Oh, how our passions impact our common sense!
Over the year, I have been fortunate to see several Palm Warblers. They are uncommon around St. John's, so that makes a sighting even more special.
It was in the woods that run along Stick Pond that offered up this Spring Palm Warbler.
In breeding plumage its colors were bright and fetching.
Fast forward to October 6 when I saw this Palm Warbler in the pit at the end of Bus Shelter Trail.
Much of the rufous color is gone and the yellow has dulled tremendously. One constant, though, is the bright yellow under-tail coverts
Against the evergreen and the bare deciduous trees, this bird can look pretty bright. The Palm is a "tail bobber." At this time of the year, it can more readily be seen among the low, seed-producing plants. That is where I found this one.
This bird is running a little behind schedule, as it should soon be well on its way to the SE United States and/or the Caribbean Isles by now.
I have become a little obsessive about checking the birder's discussion group throughout the day. Especially if I am going out, the last thing I have to do is look to see if there have been any new postings.
That paid off in a big way yesterday. Heading out to run errands, I opened the "group" page and found a mega-rarity in the headline.
Bruce Mactavish had found a Canvasback Duck sleeping with other diving ducks at Kenny's Pond, less than 5 minutes away.
Quickly, I realigned my list and headed straight for Kenny's Pond.
By the time I arrived, the Canvasback was awake and busy with morning feeding and preening.
What an amazing profile on this bird! The beak and the sloping head make even its profile stand out as I peered through my binoculars across the pond.
Strolling around to the south side, I was able to see the bird better where I watched it for about 30 minutes. It covered a lot of space during that time but seemed quite comfortable.
This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this species in Newfoundland. That first and last (until today) documented sighting was in 1973....41 years ago.