Friday, March 2, 2018

GYR Mania!

 What is it with Gyrfalcons and fog??  It is impossible to get a picture fitting of this grand bird when shooting through dense, dense fog. It was so foggy at 8:30 I almost didn't get out of the car at Cape Spear. Then on a nagging pull, I decided to take the walk just before driving away. When I neared the main lookout travelling from below the parking lot, I saw this - a brown Gyrfalcon flying over the lookout and into the fog. I shot several pictures as it disappeared.
 I remained standing and staring into the foggy abyss. Wow! The falcon  was gone just like that!. Within seconds, this Gyrfalcon flew in landing on a rock just 50 feet from me. Where did it come from? I didn't see it fly back in. Was this another one? It was very difficult to see through the fog and its brown on a brown rock compounded the challenge.
 I moved into a little better position to look at it. Good view with binos.. The falcon stayed for about four minutes, and I was continuously adjusting my camera to try to get a decent photo. It was impossible.

 These are the best of the lot despite my efforts. What a fine bird!

 Once rested, it was off flying into the fog toward Blackhead/St. John's. Is this the one that showed up at QV at 10:30? Probably.
I tried to wait out the fog to see what else might be around, but the messy stuff never lifted. While waiting I had a little treat when 14 Purple Sandpipers flew by.

The road out to the Cape was very birdy with robins, chickadees, juncos,  and jays. Also saw two Pine Siskins, two Golden-crowned Kinglets and two Cedar Waxwings.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Highlights

 The top bird for me in February was this Gyrfalcon. This morning, I staked out QV Lake for just over an hour and a half.
 Getting a little cold from just standing around, I got back in the car to wait. In due time the gulls and pigeons lifted off the ice. With that, I hopped out of my car and scanned the sky.
 With less than 5 seconds of "bird time," I was able to get these few shots in the foggy mess that hung over the lake.
 Whoosh! It was going already. Wow! While I didn't get long, pleasing looks, I knew this was not the same bird photographed a couple of days ago. It was presenting much too much brown. The earlier documented bird was quite grey. Just a few minutes ago, I checked the reporting group and learned there were, indeed, two Gyrs on the ice.
 Just like that, the falcon unsettled everything around and few off. Apparently, it returned within the half hour.
 QV Lake is a raptor hangout. It is always easy to see Bald Eagles of all ages hanging around and feeding on the ice. Northern Goshawk, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Peregrine Falcon have also been seen at the lake this winter.

 Skulking around the sides of the lake, I was able to see the Gadwall, which seemed to vanish every time I showed up. Finally, I caught it.
 This Pied-billed Grebe hung around most of the winter, but I haven't seen it over the last couple of days. Time whiled at QV Lake is always well spent.
 The only other area around town I birded in February was Cape Spear. That trip always offers up something of interest. This Snow bunting was one of three seen last week.
 White-winged Crossbills have not been a prevalent this year as last, but I did manage to see seven on one trip out to the Cape.
 On the "finchy" day I thought I would check the bus shelter pit. Unfortunately, this Northern Goshawk got there before me. Just as I arrived, it was flying off in the far distance. It looks really, really white.
 I stayed for a while hoping the birds would return. A few moved back into the area. I found this very orange Pine Grosbeak interesting.
 King Eider (top left with yellow bill) are getting more scarce as are all eider. This is thanks to the never-ending hunters in the area.
 Back at the Cape this Horned Lark remains for several weeks now. It must be very lonely.
 I was lucky to hit a day that two Snowy Owls were seen below the lighthouse. This one was the whitest one I have ever seen.
Blackhead was the site of this yawning seal. I'm not sure what kind it is. On the same day I saw a pod of dolphins and a Humpback Whale off the point at the Cape. Considering I haven't been out a lot, I am surprised I saw so many good birds and interesting species.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sitting Ducks!

 It was a fine morning at Cape Spear yesterday morning. I can never resist the calm conditions, and, I was not disappointed when I found myself staring out over the water. There was the typical flock of Long-tailed Ducks. One moment you see hundreds, and the next they disappear under the water leaving little trace they were ever there.
 Below the canon a tight knot of more than 100 Common Eider was steadily moving in close to shore. I watched with anticipation. Then, the tranquil moment was shattered by the rapport of two gun shots. I quickly looked around to see if I were in danger of shots coming in off the water.
 I wasn't the only living thing that reacted. The raft of eider made a  180 degree turn and headed back out to sea. Shoot! Literally!
 Around the bend several different, smaller flocks began streaming in from the north to join the larger flocks.
It was steady. In no time the approximately 500 eider flocks became easily 1500.
 They pooled together as if there were safety in numbers.
 Chasing them was a lone gunman intent on taking a couple of ducks home. His full-throttle approach unseated every duck on the water.
 The Long-tailed Duck launched an air get-away by spreading out and making several directional changes, much like Purple Sandpipers do. Soon they vanished in the distance.
 The jumble of eider weren't going to take it either. All of a sudden they lifted off. Unlike the Long-tails, these birds flew outward in every direction.  Briefly scattered, they eventually came together in a long streaming exit toward Petty Harbour. When the sniper was done, there was not one duck left on the water. After two hours of walking around the cape and the trail, not one had returned.
 Other birds found in and around the area was this single Snow Bunting. It was skittish and didn't stay long.
 Near the cabin this Northern Goshawk flew across the road and landed in a tree. I was alerted to this bird by another birder who had seen it fly. I was able to relocate it perched high in the distance.
It seems the work on the East Coast Trail has finished, so I ventured in. Mostly the trail was clear of ice, but as the treeline narrowed, the trail became impassable. Mid-treed area, I found 12 female Pine Grosbeaks. Added to the pair I saw on the roadside, that made 14 for the day. There were also three Boreal Chickadees in the area.

When I looked at my watch, I wondered how time had passed so quickly. I guess it doesn't take much to distract me.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Out of the Blue

 A rare winter trip turned into a special event! Catherine B. and I ventured down the shore to see what might be hanging around. Like any birding trip, anticipation hangs in the air. Sometimes that feeling surpasses expectations.
 Such was the moment when this Short-eared Owl blew in as we crossed the barrens. First look told me it was an owl. Wow! Catherine hit the brakes, and I jumped out of the car. I had no idea what the settings on my camera were. I just began shooting and adjusting the settings randomly as I fired, in the hope I would hit a good spot.
 This great Short-eared Owl was not bothered by us and continued to hunt for at least two minutes. I never thought it would stay that long and was afraid to take my camera off of it. What a sight!
 Time stood still as we gawked! Sure enough, when I took my camera down to check the settings, the bird disappeared.
 Fully charged by this experience, we continued to search the roadsides and sky as we continued along the barrens.
 Then, another shock! There sitting in a distant tree was a stocky, small bird. Not a familiar frame by any means. Catherine backed up as I raised my binoculars. There lifting off a branch was a Northern Saw-whit Owl! I could hardly believe my eyes.
 I quickly got out to try to follow its flight path. With no luck and reluctance after a good scouring of the area, we slowly moved on. How could this be? We only saw two birds on the barrens, and they were two "10's."  Our day was made in just 15 minutes!
 While the day could not be considered "birdy" by any means, we did see a number of good birds. Sea birds were hard to come by. It was Cappahayden and Trepassey fish plant area that yielded the most. There we saw a Red-throated Loon, several Common Loons, a Red-necked Grebe, 1 probable murre and the grebe pictured here.
 I am leaning toward a Horned Grebe for an ID. This has not been confirmed yet. Getting pictures was difficult due to the distance, wind and light. Sadly, these are the best I could do.
In St. Vincent's I was surprised to see this immature Black-legged Kittiwake. I was really challenged by the elements to get this shot. Point La Haye hosted about 20 Snow Buntings.  These are not all the birds we saw during the day, but they do constitute some of the more memorable ones.

What a great day birding, and I will never travel the barrens again without thinking of our owl strike there.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


 As icy as it was, I couldn't help but crawl around Cape Spear yesterday. I should have known when my car didn't stop when I applied the brakes in the parking lot. By inches I just missed taking out a post. After 10 minutes of navigating, I was able to get my car off the sheet of ice and park in the middle of the lot.
 Now that should have been lesson enough, but I forgot to change into my boots with the ice grips. What was I thinking? I slipped and slid all the way up to the lighthouse and back. Why? Well, there is just something quite amazing and remarkable about watching thousands of Eider move around the area. Below the cannon I was able to capture a couple of King Eider. The blustery conditions and churning waters made it difficult to identify them on the water, but the blurry images reveal they were there.
Then, there was this odd looking bird amidst them. I suppose it is an Eider, but it looks like it has a tuft. There is always something to try to figure out when observing sea birds.
 When I say thousands, I mean thousands! There were several huge flocks and smaller groups steadily flying both ways.
 This group gave a close fly-by and revealed one male King Eider. It can be seen in the lower left quarter of this image.
 Several Dovekie were in the area, popping in and out of the water. They tended to stay close to the Eider, perhaps for safety.
 This poor little Dovekie was not so smart or lucky. This Herring Gull lingered in the protected cove and waited until just the right moment to snag a little bird when it popped it.
 Eighteen Purple Sandpipers in the area must have gotten a fright from the snatch and zoomed out of the area. They did not return during the hour and a half I watched.
 The little Dovekie put up as good a fight as it could. It took the Herring Gull quite a while to lift off the water.
 As you can imagine the other gulls took note and wanted in on the action.
 All the time the Dovekie was struggling, and the gulls were swooping in hoping to snatch the catch.
 Finally, the Herring got airborne, but the competing forces were too much.
 Another gull, coloring looks like an Iceland, but it is too big. Could it be a Glaucous Gull? It tormented the Herring until the Dovekie fell back to the water.
 Quick on the draw, the attacking gull captured the prize. It appeared the Dovekie was still fighting.
 This large gull tried to get away with the little bird, too.
 However, it, too, struggled to get off the water. Must have been the fighting Dovekie making it so difficult.
 At last, the gull, now looking more like a Glaucous Gull, got off the water. I think it was too preoccupied with that process to notice what looks like an immature Black-backed Gull coming in fast.
 In a moment, the immature bird now had the Dovekie, but the larger white gull was not going to give up.
 An aerial battle for the Dovekie began.
 The large white gull would not give up. It stayed close and aggressive.
 The white gull came in from underneath and knocked the Dovekie out of the mouth of the immature gull.
The Dovekie dropped to the water as both gulls tried to catch it. The injured bird disappeared under the water. Neither gull had a meal, and I don't know if the Dovekie survived the full-on five minute battle.
It is moments like this of pure nature in motion that remove all reason regarding the dangerous icy conditions. Had I not risked the walk, I would have missed this amazing sight.