Thursday, May 25, 2017

Exciting, Dizzying and Vexing

 Snow, rain and a brutal North wind accompanied the arrival of swallows in St. John's. Tree Swallows, Barn and Bank Swallows (pictured below) are typical at this time of the year. A flurry of swallows nearly always show up with the worst Spring weather. They swirl over the waters in search of something to eat. This year a few Cliff Swallows accompanied the flash mob.
 While much of the activity occurred at Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John's, a small number also gathered at Bidgood Park. It was there I got my best look at a Cliff Swallow. I have never really had an opportunity to stand and study this species. Keep in mind the sun popped out for one day this week, but the unrelenting North wind held steady.
 In Newfoundland, it is always a battle between the elements, the arrival of good birds and perseverance. Given our island location, it is almost a given: Bad weather equals good birds.
 Now for the best buzz! The most exciting bird arrival in St. John's this week was a Common Swift! This bird is a draw for birders across North America. So far, it has been here for five days. Since the weather today is rain, drizzle and fog with a temp around freezing and the presence of full-on North winds, it is likely the bird will continue at QV Lake.
 For anyone who wants to view this bird, go dressed for it: Winter boots, winter coat, hat, gloves and hand warmers.
 It is probable that viewers will be standing in one place for a long time tracking the steady movement of this swift. At times it will swoop in close, raising the level of excitement.
 For those hoping to photograph this bird, be prepared to have lots of patience. Of the hundreds of shots I took, these are the best. Most were just a blur or a distant silhouette is in dull gray atmosphere.
 Having said all that, make no mistake, the pleasure of seeing this bird far outweighs all the hardships. I will probably go down again today just to get another glimpse of this Common Swift.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Visiting Gull

 Amid all the swallow activity at Quidi Vidi Lake, I came across this different gull. It was larger and darker than a Lesser Black-backed Gull. There were other field marks that were different, too.
Luckily, Dave Brown was in the area and came to look at it. He figures it is a 3rd year Lesser Black-backed Gull. Good to have the experts around, because I stared at this bird for a long time. I figured it was a lesser because I couldn't find anything else to match. At this time of the year, it pays to look closely at every oddity around.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Eider Mania

 After Bruce's report of 10,000 eider at Cape Spear yesterday, I decided to head out to see what remained. When I arrived, I found two large flocks sitting offshore. Soon, they merged. Wow! It is impossible to imagine how many bird were sitting on the water, but when they lifted off the sky darkened. There, indeed, were thousands. In typical eider fashion, they seem to send a scouting party close to shore to check it out. Then more come and more and .....
 This trickle of birds moving into the waters below me gave me a chance to really look at them. This was the first King Eider that came close. With Bruce's help, I learned this is a first winter male.
 Then, came a first winter Common Eider. There is a big difference between these two species.
 At last an adult King Eider moved in.
 The numbers picked up, and they were moving in quickly. This was wonderful. I was going to get a real chance to study them.
 I crept along the snow mounds and rocks to get into a better position to watch and photograph this group just below the lighthouse.
 More King Eider appeared in a variety of variations. The most I counted in this nearby flock was nine males, and it wasn't even a quarter of the flock still sitting offshore.
Can it get any better than this? I should mention this didn't all happen in five minutes. I was there for nearly two hours waiting for this to happen.
 In this shot, there are three King Eider, each one in a different plumage. Very interesting!
 Then, in flew what I think is a female King Eider. The smaller body size, the beak and the mark over the eye is the basis for my ID.
 Then, appeared yet another different plumage. Bruce has advised me this is a hybrid Common/King Eider. He notes this is rare, but does happen.
 Another adult male King flew in. This was phenomenal.
 Then, this happened. This juvenile Bald Eagle flew over my shoulder and spoiled everything.
 The flock was very quick to react. Some flew South and others stayed put.
 Soon, they lifted off heading North. The eagle tried for five minutes to get breakfast. Obviously, it still needs to hone its skills. All eider survived. The flock soon settled offshore again. I knew it was going to be a long time before the birds felt safe enough to return inshore to feed.
It wasn't long before a large fishing vessel entered the scene and upset them again. Too cold to wait, I headed to the car shaking my head in amazement. If the weather had been better, I could have stayed all day:)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What a Day!

 The bright sunshine this morning hauled me outdoors, despite the early-morning chill in the air. As the sun rose, the day warmed. It turned out to be a beautiful day for walking.

 I started the walk at Cape Spear. There were very few birds to be seen, but the conditions made up for that. A few small flocks of Common Eider flew by as well as one Murre. I couldn't tell which kind it was. Guillemot dotted the water and one large flock of Long-tailed Ducks appeared and disappeared under the water. There was a feisty drone circling the area.
 Maddox Cove had at least six Red-breasted Mergansers and a smattering of Guillemot and gulls.
 Third Pond was interesting. The parking lot had not been cleared and a front-end loader blocked the entrance. I parked there and took a walk-about. The brooks are open on both sides of the pond. Snow is not deep and easy to walk, and the growth is very low. Viewing the area was almost too easy. The only problem was there were no special birds in the area. Plenty of crows dotted the sky, starlings seem to have moved into the horse barns, and the typical ducks skirted around the marsh.
Bidgood Park was perfect for walking. Again, there were few birds. A small flock of junco and several Black Ducks ruled the park.
Fourth Pond is still quite frozen, easily supporting the walkers going from cabins to homes across the pond. The usual domestic geese were present. Cochrane Pond Road produced no birds whatsoever. Blocking the entrance to the gravel road is a h-u-g-e wall of snow. I figure it won't melt until sometime in July!
A quick jaunt into Mundy Pond showed the inner lagoon open. From a distance, I didn't see any birds in the area. Then, it was on to Quidi Vidi Lake.
It was there I saw the prize-of-the-day - the visiting Slaty-backed Gull. It has been several years since I have seen one; and thanks to Frank King and his scope, I saw it very well. Too bad the bird was so far away, and photos don't do it justice. What a great way to end my longest birding outing for quite some time.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Fair Day

 Having rejigged my weather benchmarks for birding this winter, I haven't gotten out much. Nevertheless, when the weather offers up a fair day, I jump at the chance to get out. Yesterday was one of those days. With temps hovering around freezing and winds at about 15 clicks, I hit the road for Cape Spear. It has been more than two months since I exited my car at this location, and I was looking forward to a stroll around the grounds.
 Very few birds were flying by. Guillemot were plentiful, a few Long-tailed Ducks flew in, the usual cormorants were flying back and forth, but there was no sign of the Purple Sandpiper. Several times along my walk, I thought I heard the sounds of small birds. I scanned and scanned the area to try to locate the sound. Just about to give up, I headed toward the parking lot. It was then, I caught sight of a flash of movement. Excitement! It was really nice and unexpected to see these two Common Redpoll feasting on the seeds in the low growth.
 Satisfied, I headed to Quidi Vidi Lake to see if I could get some extended looks at the lingering Redwing Blackbird. It was very cooperative, after the four fishermen finished casting near its zone.
The bird went on about its routine as if I weren't there. Finding food at the ice edge has kept this bird alive for months. It cycled through picking at the water, preening and even singing.

At one point, while preening, it flashed its bright orange patch on the wing. As this bird ages, it will become more back, and the patch will turn a deeper red.
This blackbird was so cooperative, I lingered for a long time watching its cycle. This is an example of one of the nice moments birdwatching has to offer: A good look at a bird that is not always around.

Before leaving, I started to check over the many seagulls sitting on the ice. Just as a spotted one bird with a different gray mantle, this happened! Oh, well....

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year's Day Surprise

 On a glorious day at Cape Spear with the temp hovering around the freezing mark and no wind, things were hopping. Even a little squirrel was feeding on the hillside. There were large flocks of waxwings and Purple Sandpipers. Smaller flocks of Long-tailed Ducks and Eider were scattered about. Among the Common Eider were three King Eider and several Black Scoter, all of which were an unexpected treat.
 While walking down to the point, I came across nature-taking-its course as this gull was toying with a downed Dovekie. Keeping a watchful eye for other Dovekies I didn't see any flying by. I walked along the forbidden construction area and back with no luck.
 I was totally shocked when this happened. Just as I returned to the lower lookout, in flew this little Dovekie and landed about 12 feet from me.
 I blinked twice to make sure this wasn't a figment of my imagination. It was amazing to see this species out of the water, very close and so comfortable. It did not even seem to notice I was there.
 It set about preening and working on an area of its breast that appeared to have a healing gash in it.
 There was no indication in this bird's behaviour that it was hurting or impeded by this injury.
 From all angles, the gash appeared to be healing. The Dovekie stayed for about 10 to 15 minutes. I kept watching the trail to see if any other birders might arrive in time to see this close-up show. Fortunately, two others arrived and got a few minutes of great viewing.
As quick as it arrived, the Dovekie lifted off and flew on its way. Cape Spear always amazes, especially on a nice day!