Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Looking Back on 2015

 It was a very good year....2015. As my bird sightings in Newfoundland grow, it gets harder and harder to see birds I have never seen here before. That is to be expected, but some of the birds that showed up on the Avalon were not expected.
 The first birds shown here, the Bobolink, Baird's Sandpiper, Piping Plover, Short-eared Owl and Chipping Sparrow have been on my radar for quite some time. These species are seen regularly on the Avalon, I just hadn't seen them before. Well, the Bobolink and Piping Plover are common to the west coast and not the east so they were truly unexpected bonuses. The Bobolink was found by Alvan Buckley and Catherine Barrett on their annual 24-hour bird-a-thon. The Baird's Sandpiper (second photo) was my jewel.
 I have tried several years in a row to see this bird at St. Shotts and failed miserably. I was so excited to see one and actually identify it at Renews. That was a true highlight of my year. What was depressing was I missed the Little Stint that was there the same day:(
 The Piping Plover was a one-day-wonder that just dropped in at Cape Spear. A non-birder saw the bird and told me. I went looking for it, but dipped. Telling Paul L. who was heading up there was a good thing. He found it and came to get Ethel D. and me to see it. That, too, was very special.
 The Short-eared Owl was another new and special bird for me. I have heard of several sightings in previous years, but had never been so lucky. This year there were three or four seen regularly at St. Shotts and Cape Pine. I was able to see them well during several visits.
Cliff D. of Trepassey has a history of attracting special birds to his feeder. Among them this year was this Chipping Sparrow.
While I have seen Chipping Sparrows, Brown Thrashers and Purple Martin in Arkansas many times I had never seen them here. It was pretty exciting when Alvan B. reported seeing this Brown Thrasher just a km from my home.
 While some birds are close, others require driving and patience. This Summer Tanager reported by David S. in Portugal Cove South was one of those. I cannot fully explain how excruciatingly cold it was the day Ethel D. and I struggled to see this bird. We could only stay out of the car for minutes before we froze up and had to retreat. What a relief when the tanager finally showed up.
 The Ibis is another bird common to Arkansas, but I had never seen one here. It was Bruce M. who first found a pair of Glossy Ibis at Third Pond, Goulds. It was a treat. However, a short time later, two showed up at the Ruby Line Pond where I was able to see them very well.
 We had both a Little Egret and Snowy Egret land in Newfoundland this year. I had seen the Little Egret (much rarer here) before, so it was the Snowy Egret I wanted to see. Again, Portugal Cove South yielded this bird reported by David S. It is always a good after driving a long way to actually see the target bird.
 The Least Bittern found by Alison M. at Virginia Lake created quite a stir. This very rare bird, often hidden by the reeds, could have easily gone undetected.
Another big rarity showed up at the Long Pond yacht club. This White-winged Tern was found by Paul L. It stayed in the area and was seen by many, many birders.
 Two Purple Martins were spotted this year. The first was found by Brendan K. in Witless by in the early spring. A second was found by Catherine B at Bidgood Park during the bird-a-thon. Both were great finds, and the second bird stayed around long enough for many birders to enjoy.
My best find of the year was this Orchard Oriole. I made an attempt to get it identified early, but when that didn't happen, I assumed it must have just been a Baltimore Oriole. Unfortunately, the bird got away before seen by others. Honestly, there is no sweeter birding feeling than finding a rare, new-for-me bird!
There were other new birds I saw this year, but did not get suitable photos. These include Wilson's Phalarope and Pacific Loon. Both birds were seen at quite a distance.

Beyond all my expectations, I saw 15 new species this year bringing my life-list for Newfoundland up to 283 species. During the year, even though I birded a lot less, I saw 215 species. While 215 is the highest number of species I have seen in one year, it is only 76% of the 283 species reported for the province. I typically aspire to reach 80%.
 That could have easily happened if I had pursued a number of birds that I just didn't chase including a Solitary Sandpiper and a Cardinal.

I don't know if my count was influenced by good luck or smart birding. Of course, I like to think it was smart birding.
 Aside from seeing new birds, there were several other highlights in my birding year. The Eastern Wood Pewee was one of those. Found by Ethel D. and me in Renews, it marked only the second time I have seen that species.

During Spring, I had some other treats including this Olive-sided Flycatcher I found at Bidgood Park. This is the third such bird I have seen on the Avalon over the years, despite its rare visits here.
Fall was a very productive time for me. I was able to see FIVE Black-throated Blue Warblers and THREE Yellow-throated Vireos (near Cape Spear, Lamanche and Bear Cove Point Road).

I spent more time hiking this year which I attribute to much of my success with spotting. However, there are times when driving is a given. I only went to Cape Race once and have never been to Cape St. Francis. As a result, there were a lot of sea birds I missed this year, but now is not the time to dwell on the misses, but to reflect on the many exciting moments of seeing such a great variety of birds. What in the world will 2016 bring?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas

This has to be the biggest Christmas bulb on the Northeast Avalon:)
After several years of nurturing my Blue Spruce, it is finally giving back.
And so the new star shines in the East guiding us into the new day. May you all have a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tibb's Eve Birding

I decided to take the better part of the day to indulge in the great outdoors. What better way to spend Tibb's Eve. Now, sipping on a glass of wine, I decided to share a little of the experience.
 It was a perfect day! Although the temperature was low, the absence of winds made for ideal conditions to get out and walk a lot. Not to mention, that is a great thing to do before the other Christmas indulgences.
 It's too bad the Christmas Bird Count didn't happen today. The woods were filled with birds on the ground, in the trees and in the air. Robins, juncos, chickadees and finches were plentiful.
 Is it any wonder? Nature has provided a great bounty of berries and cones to get many of the birds through the winter.
 Then, I encountered two Christmas fools hunting. I didn't see any ducks on the water, but they must have been there because these two were firing their guns regularly. There must have been eider flying off shore.
 Blackhead Village hosted many juncos and more Chickadees than I have seen in quite a while. There were even two Red-breasted Nuthatches visiting the feeder at the bus turnaround.
I was standing near the feeder watching the hungry birds zoom in and out, when out of the blue this Sharp-shinned Hawk whizzed into the trees in the hope of also having a good breakfast. Eating was the focus of the day as all birds were downing every morsel in sight. Unfortunately or fortunately, this guy came up empty-handed.

Tibb's Day Jingle:

Twelve Juncos Flitting
Eleven Pipers Flying
Ten Crossbills Calling
Nine Goldfinch Waving
Eight Eagles Soaring
Seven Robins Singing
Six Nuthatches Yaking
Five Chick-a-dees
Four Cawing Crows
Three Purple Finch
Two Christmas Fools
and a Sharpie in a Bare Tree.

Handsome Blackbird

 When Spring arrives, we in Newfoundland get all excited about the return of the Rusty Blackbird for all of the obvious reasons. Yet, the best looking blackbird to prance around St. John's is the Common Grackle.
 In many places blackbirds are considered a big nuisance, but here most any bird is a wonder.
 In Winter, a medium-sized flock of Common Grackle move around the east end gobbling up anything edible. It is difficult to get photos of them when they are flocking because they seem to be very skittish and flush very easily.
 However, in the spring and summer there is a better opportunity to find a lone grackle that will stay around long enough for a few photos.
This particular grackle was photographed in Renews in late May where another regular small flock often appears. He was certainly strutting his stuff.  I haven't seen the St. John's flock yet this winter, but I bet it will be found on Boxing Day when the Christmas Bird count takes place.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Banded Gull Update

 After several stops at Quidi Vidi Lake and area I was able to see three banded or tagged birds I hadn't seen before. This Herring Gull and the Iceland Gull pictured below are tagged with the "M" series of tags. These two birds were banded in the QV area last winter and have returned this year.
 This Herring Gull with a wing tag 200 is interesting. I saw it only once and got a pitiful little photo, but enough to read the number. I have submitted this sighting for additional information. However, I have heard back indicating the tagging of this bird had not been submitted to them yet. I submitted this photo, and they are looking into it. I will update when I get more info.
I also saw the banded Mew Gull and was able to verify it is the bird that has been returning to winter here for several years. I will continue to eye bands and tags as I find the history of the bird to be very interesting.

Note: I will add these new birds to my Banded Birds Page later.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


This was the last Merlin I saw until yesterday when I got a good look at one flying up Portugal Cove Road. It started to cross the road, then went back, flew further up the road and then, finally, crossed right in front of me. Unfortunately, I have no photo of that one.

This bird was photographed in Pouch Cove in late September.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bellevue Spectacle

 Most Avalon birders make at least one annual  trip to Bellevue Beach. Typically, it is the shorebirds that draw the traffic. On occasion there are also special gulls stopping by like the Little Gull recently found by Ed Hayden.
 Yet, there is one mainstay that never fails to put on a spectacular show...the Osprey. It was in August that C. Barrett and I sat back and watched the amazing behaviour of this summer raptor.
There are often as many as ten Osprey working the waters for a good meal. They spend a good while hunting, flying by and scouring the water for the desired flatfish.
Once decided on a target, the Osprey hover over the spot. Sometimes they change their minds, and sometimes they set up for the catch.
 Folding their wings up, they dive with tremendous power into the water. (It actually looks like this one already has something in its claws. I have no idea what that might be.)
 Hitting the water with great force, it takes a moment before the head emerges from the water. Probably manipulating the fish under water, they prepare for the lift off..
 Then, "up she comes" gripping a flat fish in her talons.
 She starts off slowly, securing the grip on the fish. All the while she is lifting off, she is also adjusting the fish for the flight.
 The ultimate lift-off is smooth and focused.
 The fish flips around, but I have never seen an Osprey drop one.
The final maneuver sees the Osprey turns the fish so that it is facing forward for the flight. I assume this is an aerodynamic move. Away she flies to a comfortable place to dine on her catch.
No sooner is one Osprey gone before another flies in and begins the hunting process. It is impossible to look at anything else as this action unfolds. What a magnificent bird!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Winter Wonders

 These little birds shouldn't be here, but there is no mistaking it....they are. This bright Yellow Warbler showed up at one of the most productive winter birding spots in St. John's...Kelly's Brook. Just up the brook there was a Wilson's Warbler. Unfortunately, it stayed low and shielded by the brush all of the time I was there, so I have no picture.
These three buddies showed up at a cemetery in the west end. Despite the plentiful food provided for them, they were all foraging the natural habitat on the "warmish" winter day I saw them.
 In the early morning hours the cemetery was very quiet, not even a breeze to disturb the silence. In a compatible manner, these three (Black and White Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo and Pine Warbler) flitted around high in the tree tops and low on the ground. It would have been so easy to miss them as there were none of the more boisterous juncos or chickadees about.
It was critical to watch for small flashes of movement. I stood and watched these gentle creatures for more than half and hour. I kept thinking there should be an Orange-crowned Warbler with them. Well, not yet but the winter weather is just getting under way.