About this time every year, a few Lapland Longspur stop over at Cape Spear. Most often I have seen them in the higher grounds, but this year this arctic breeder was all alone in the lower quadrant of the grounds.
Typically when a brown bird of this size pops out of nowhere, the first thought is "Savannah Sparrow" as the park is often crawling with them. During September, another bird that comes to mind is an American Pipit, and there have been a lot of them at Cape Spear this year.
Happy to eliminate the sparrow and pipit, I was pleased to see this perfect little Lapland Longspur close-by. The temp yesterday was not warm, and I really didn't want to hike up the hill where the wind was even more raw.
The birds that just appear are really the nicest kind of "finds." The window of opportunity to see this species at the Cape is small. They predictably appear and a predictably disappear as they continue their journey south.
Focus, focus, focus brings surprise after surprise. Fall birding is like a white-knuckle drive: Every corner holds a surprise. What can be a nicer surprise than a stunning, male Black-throated Blue Warbler.
Following every sight and sound, Ethel Dempsey and I encountered all of these birds in just five hours of actual birding. How did that happen? Well, it takes concentration, eating on the run and taking care of nature when the opportunity arises.
Being quick on the trigger finger nailed this Yellow-billed Cuckoo. As we started our walk down Renews Beach, a large bird flushed out of the grass. It was brown on top and white, very white underneath. Without this blurred photo as it quickly departed, we wouldn't have been able to ID this bird.
It takes checking out every bird, even the distant, small bird sitting on a wire. It just might turn out to be a Lark Sparrow. Then, it is gone.
Then, there are the unexpected bonus birds. Walking through low brush in Renews unseated this beautiful Northern Wheatear. This was the best look I have ever had of this species both in flight and perched.
It flew into the top of a woodpile where it stayed for nearly five minutes. Awesome!
This was an example of going to an area to look for another previously spotted species and turning up something even better.
Mixed in with two flocks of warblers found along the way, two Palm Warblers appeared. These are both the yellowish race which most commonly appear in the East.
This one stayed around us for a long time, kind of like the Common Yellowthroat does.
Another quick shot of a bird that whizzed past us on the beach netted a Merlin. One can't let down their guard when birding at this time of the year. Intent on seeing every bird I can and documenting it with a photo drives me to stay on the go when in an area known to be teeming with good birds.
At most every stop, we encountered Red-eyed Vireo. They seem to be mixed in with every flock. It is one thing to find all of these birds, it is another to remain unobtrusive in their presence in order for them to stay around long enough to really view them and to photograph them. These are exciting times!
It has been a fantastic three days of birding. Rather than lamenting the three "life" birds I failed to see, I am rejoicing over the amazing birds I did see.
It really all started about a week ago, but picked up steam over the last three days. The first batch of nice vagrants I encountered was off Blackhead Road where I saw this beautiful Blackburnian Warbler in the open. At the same location, I got a glimpse and poor shot of a Northern Parula and a brief glimpse of a Black-throated Blue Warbler. The sighting of the Black-throated Blue yesterday really topped the first one by miles.
There is an on-going sense of disbelief when the great birds just keep popping out of the woods. By far this year, I am much quicker on identification, but I still rely on the experience in our birding community to confirm the rarest of birds before I post.
Why? Because migration season is so short and birders have a limited amount of time to bird. I certainly do not want to send anyone on a wild goose chase.
I have to confess finding all of these good birds is a combination of good luck, persistence and location. Looking for out-of-the way hotspots and monitoring them regularly seems to be the key.
This year, I have made a big effort to explore many roads not typically taken. The birds are here and not just in the same ole places. Habitat, time of day and persistence yields great rewards. I should add that most all of my pictures from the last two weeks are hazy. That is not a reflection on me: that is the incessant fog and overcast conditions we have had to bird in.
The Little Stint that appeared in Renews is very hard to identify, impossible in flight...I've been told. So here I am with a flight shot of a very likely candidate (first bird to left) but can't be sure. This photo was shot within minutes of the stint being photographed on the ground in Renews. Did I capture the bird? I will probably never know.
With a little help from my friend, my trusty camera, I can add another bird to the great list of birds seen on September 13 in Renews. I mentioned earlier, I suspected many good birds to be in the large flock Ethel Dempsey and I happened upon last Sunday on Bear Cove Point Road.
The large flock evaded us very quickly, but not before I managed to zero in on one different one among the flock. While none of these photos are good, they are enough for an identification - Philadelphia Vireo. It took me a couple of days to get around to looking at all of my shots from that day. For two days, I poured over my beach images looking for a shot of the Little Stint.
Then, I checked the woods shots. Once I found this one, I thought it might be a Philadelphia Vireo because of its unbarred wings and the light yellow on its underparts. A Tennessee Warbler, similar, would have shown more white underneath. I have spent a couple of days getting confirmation.
Birding with a quick camera is value-added. When a bird gets away so quickly, it is impossible to be sure of its identification with the naked eye. A camera provides additional detail and much-needed evidence to confirm the sighting. How could I get along without it?
I guess it could be said the Baird's Sandpiper has been my nemesis bird. For three years I have traveled to St. Shott's Beach to see one that has routinely been reported there.
Each time I left with a boatload of pictures certain and sure in every way I had seen the Baird's. Each time I endured the harshest of weather in my effort. Each time it turned out I had amassed a collection of Semipalmated Sandpiper and White-rumped Sandpiper images. Each time I returned home and poured over the images and my field guides to try to see the differences between those two similar species and my target bird - the Baird's. I was beginning to think I would never see the Baird's.
That situation finally turned around when I spotted a shorebird that could really be described as "buffy," expecially on the breast. Its wings extended beyond the tail, and its beak appeared to be slender and longer than a Semi. Could this finally be it? Having no confidence in my ability to tell the difference, I asked two other birders what they thought. Then, the expert arrived on the scene, and the Baird's was confirmed. At Last!
I think it was a little easier this time because there were few birds on the beach in Renews, and the weather was perfect for standing for long periods of time gazing through my binoculars.
However, compounding the identification effort is the variation in plumage of the other peeps. Some, like this Semipalmated Sandpiper shown in these two images ranged from nearly breeding plumage to non-breeding plumage and everything in between. Clearly, the semi has a shorter, more stout beak than either the White-rumped or the Baird's.
Sometimes, the White-rumped Sandpiper (shown here) is easier to identify by its grayish appearance, longer beak and long wings. The streaking that sometimes extends to the flanks is a leftover of breeding plumage, but is not always present in juveniles, nor obvious in non-breaking plumage.
To illustrate how challenging the identification of the White-rumped can be, I have provided two additional images of a White-rumped Sandpiper with quite different plumages sported by this bird. One variation appears much browner than the other very gray bird. It goes without saying, the rump is white. That, too, differentiates it from the Baird's that has a mostly brown rump.
It is the gray plumage that is the easiest for me to pick out. The plumage in the preceding shot gives cause for pause. It is the streaks along the flanks, the overall gray streaking on the front and the wings that help me out. Do I now feel confident I will always know the difference? Absolutely not, but I have added a little more information to my bank of knowledge as small as it is.
When Ethel Dempsey and I entered the La Manche Trail Road yesterday morning, it did not look very hopeful. Very few birds were moving around. We hit a small group of warblers, but didn't see anything of interest. We went on to the trail parking lot where we only saw about 6 birds...3 of them were vireos.
The fog was so heavy and with the exception of the Blue-headed Vireo, the birds were not cooperating. I got three bad snaps of the Red-eyed Vireo and didn't identify it on the spot.
Then, somewhere in the mix, the Yellow-throated Vireo jumped into the picture. I had been seeing a Black-throated Green Warbler from time to time, so I didn't pause when I saw a bird with yellow....I just took a picture. I was really surprised. At first, I thought this shot must have been taken along the road, but the time stamp on the shot puts it right in the middle of the vireo zone.... the parking lot.
This is the time of the year when any bird flashing different plumage warrants attention. Mixed in with the vagrants is the ever-challenging Blackpoll.
This is one species of warblers that presents with many different plumages as we see the bird go through molt as well as immature birds and males and females.
Yesterday, as I was tracking a Baltimore Oriole and a Prairie Warbler through the branches, I caught sight of yet another bright yellow bird. I watched and watched until it showed itself to be a Blackpoll.
The morning sun also makes them look more yellow making for added flashes of excitement in the hunt.
I thought it might be a good time to share the array of images of variable Blackpoll Warblers I have collected throughout this season.
Despite the many variations, there are several field marks that remain the same. There is a line through the eye, except for the male in breeding plumage.. There are always wing bars, but the easiest way to confirm this species quickly is to check the legs and feet.
Almost always, they will appear bright yellow or orange.
While the numbers of this species, like other warblers, are diminishing, there are several still in the mix....just the spice things up.