Thursday, April 29, 2010

European Starling, Rusty Blackbird and Common Grackle

The European Starling is a very common bird. They are around all year long and take on several different looks. They appear small and they appear large. They look black, iridescent, and multi-colored speckled, like this one. I got this shot from my patio door. Every now and then a nice bird decides to land in and around my yard.
This is a male Rusty Blackbird. Although this bird is considered fairly common in Newfoundland, there seem to be rare sightings. It is black overall with a bluish tint to its wings and tail. It has black legs and a yellow eye. In order to get this shot on Cape Race road, I had to chase it from both sides of the road and in through the thicket. When it did land, it picked the worst possible place as far as lighting goes and then, it sat there and sang for a while.
This Common Grackle was found near a feeder in a yard in a small community on the Southern Shore. According to the field guides, this bird is more rare than the Rusty Blackbird. There are many similarities between this bird and the Rusty Blackbird like the long black bill, yellow eyes and black feet. It may be best to identify this bird by its faint iridescent purplish color and markings.
It is very easy to confuse the birds from a distance and a challenge to accurately identify them even when close. It is always a good idea to take a picture and use the field guide to make an identification. If that fails there is always the "wingingit" source offered by Bruce McTavish of The Telegram.
Bird Walk Correction
The bird walk will be at the Botanical Gardens this Sunday morning, May 2, 2010, at 8:00 a.m. This walk will take approximately 2 hours.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Two posts in one day! I took a walk at Long Pond this morning and to my delight, this Osprey showed up to feed. He stayed for almost an hour and so did I. When I got home to look at the shots, I can see a huge difference with the new lens. It gives me hope that I will be able to capture some great shots. I couldn't wait another day before I posted these shots. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

What a great day! I didn't hold out much hope to go birding today since there was supposed to be scattered showers. At one point the thermometer read 21 degrees. It doesn't get much better than that.

The shot below depicts a common sight. The crows just can't leave the raptors alone. Most of the time when a raptor attempts to feed the crows set out to torment the bird. The Osprey feeds on fish and doesn't harm the other birds but the crows are very protective and work hard to drive them away. In this image taken from quite a distance, it is clear that the crow is even pecking at the Osprey. It is strange that the Osprey does not become the aggressor.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler - updated June 15, 2010 and October 1, 2010

It has been a busy time since my last post. I finally took the leap and bought a new lens. I got a 70mm - 300mm with two image stabilizers. It weighs about a pound and a half. That is all I can handle. I was tempted to get the 100mm to 400mm but was swayed by the 3 pounds of weight! I don't think I would have been able to manage that heavy a lens for full-day outings. The one I got is quite versatile. I had to go out a few times to give it a try before my birding tour.

I joined one of Dave Brown's birdwatching tours to Cape Race on Monday. The weather was as good as we were going to get. On this trip I added nine birds to my 2010 list and seven to my life list. We saw over 30 different species of birds and among them was the Yellow-rumped Warbler. You may remember that I posted an earlier experience with this kind of warbler but the spring blue colors of this returning warbler were amazing! It was like seeing the bird for the first time. It flitted around from bush to bush at Cape Race. I did the same to keep up with it. With the combination of the fresh look of this Yellow-rumped Warbler and my new lens, I was able to capture some much better pictures.

I have not tampered with the true color of these shots. There are three separate patches of yellow on this bird, on the breast, the rump and the crown of the head. I have uploaded enough pictures to reveal all three areas of yellow.

This is a very small bird that usually ranges from five to six inches. This one seemed even smaller. A very common bird in Newfoundland, there is a good chance of seeing several of these birds throughout the season.

This image of the warbler taking flight is considerably more clear than the earlier shot that I got at Kelly's Brook - delete!
I think that I will be deleting a lot of old shots as I break in my new lens, just in time for the Spring and Summer influx of birds.
Getting out to see the birds is invigorating. Our trip on Monday started from Quidi Vidi Lake at 5:00 a.m. and we returned home by 8:30 p.m. It was chocked full of bird sightings as well as caribou and a moose. If you are considering exploring whether birdwatching is for you, a great place to start is at the MUN Botanical Gardens. On every second Sunday (May 9, I think) they conduct a free birdwatching walk from the gardens to Oxen Pond. I understand that it takes about 2 hours and starts at 8:00 a.m. I plan to take part in the first walk of the season.
Birdwatching is like collecting and hunting all rolled into one. It is a hunting activity when it is up to you to find the birds. Once found the challenge is to not spook the bird and be able to get close enough for a good view and or picture. The picture becomes the trophy to add to the collection. Never mind, baseball cards or Pokemon cards - start a collection of nature's finest.

June 15, 2010 Update:
As time goes buy, I find that my images are getting better, and I am also finding both male and female of the species.  I have uploaded three images of the female Yellow-rumped Warbler to complete this listing.   I found this female on Cochrane Pond Road. I have seen several in other locations but these are the best close-ups that I have been able to collect.

 Updated October 1, 2010:  Over the summer the Yellow-rumped Warbler was the bird that I saw most often. It seemed that everywhere I went, they were there in abundance. They are such a great little bird, I found myself shooting them every time.

There are so many faces of the Yellow-rumped Warbler given the gender, age and season. I hope you enjoy these new images.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mute Swans

The Mute Swans have been released into the ponds for the summer. I found these two at Kennie's Pond. They are all puffed up for Spring and great fun to photograph.

I decided that I would experiment with a flash and some late evening shooting. The swans seem so tame after a winter couped up that they cooperated and came right toward me. It is such a challenge to capture the majesty of this bird. They strike some poses that expose their grace and then again, the strike other poses that make them look very awkward and lumbering.I have yet to capture the "great Swan" image but I have a lot of time to work on that. Last night, it was cold and still raining when I was shooting these.
Check out this close-up of the Swan's foot. It looks like leather!

Answers to the Gull ID quiz!

The gull heads shown in the previous listing are in this order: Herring Gull, Slaty-Backed Gull, Mew Gull, Yellow-Legged Gull, Great Black-Backed Gull, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Black-Headed Gull, Ring-Billed Gull and Lesser Black-Backed Gull.

The last eleven days (ELEVEN Days!) of rain and fog have restricted my birding but I have accumulated a few new shots. I got a number of pictures of an Adult Glaucous Gull, some great group shots of Ring-Billed Gulls, and several record shots of a Black Guillemot. It is time for me to sort, label and file them. It is much more fun shooting the images than filing them.

This weekend I am going on an all-day bird tour to the southern shore. There are five of us joining one of Dave Brown's tours. It will be an early 5 a.m. rising but it will certainly be worth it. My 2010 list has now reached 65. I hope to bring that up to 70 by the end of this trip.

Be sure to stop and listen to the Robin's song, it is particularly nice at this time of the year!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Can you ID the Gulls?

I have cropped several gull shots to show only the head. Based on the pictures and the descriptions provided in earlier posts, you have all the information you need to identify the different types of gulls that frequent the St. John's area. Give it a try! Tip: The rarest gulls are often the most difficult to get close to; hence the pictures may be poor quality. I will provide the answers in my next post.

Glaucous Gull

This is my favorite shot of the Glaucous Gull, the last gull that I am learning to identify. It has been challenging because of the multi-year transformations. Many of the gulls are 4-year gulls and go through a series of changes that include their feather colors, beak and eye colors. There is enough to learn to fill up a whole year with just gull IDs. Dave Brown conducts gull identification workshops. His sessions include lectures and photos and a field trip to meet the gulls face-to-face.
Both of these gulls are Glaucous. The one in the background is more immature. It has dark wing feathers that will fade during its many changes. The gull in the foreground is older. Note the flesh color on the beak with a dark tip. This is typical of all ages of the Glaucous until it reaches full maturity. I thought this picture was particularly representative of a Glaucous as they are known to be scavengers. This one must be Canadian born!

The Glaucous Gull is almost as big as the Great Black-Backed Gull. It is stocky with its wings hardly as long as its tail. By the fourth year, the buff color of the Glaucous develops into a full grey mantle with no brown or black. Its beak becomes yellow with a red spot on the lower mandible. The eye that was brown in its youth becomes yellow with a yellow eye ring. It legs are a pale pink, much lighter than the pink legs of the Iceland Gull.

I continue to study this gull and work to distinguish is from the immature Iceland and Herring gulls.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Great Black-Backed Gull

The Great Black-Backed Gull is easy to spot among the masses of gulls that group together. It is distinct with its very dark mantle and wings and its size. The GBBG is the largest gull that frequents Newfoundland.

This GBBG seems to have gotten into some type of goo. It shows a little around its chest area but its underneath was totally matted. This image provides a good close-up of the mature GBBG's large beak, with a lone red mark on the lower mandible. Note the eye is yellow circled by a red eye ring.

The Great Black-Backed Gull is a four-year gull. In its early stages, it is brown, similar to the immature Herring Gull but should be larger than the Herrings. As I review my images to the GBBG, I realized that I don't have any really good shots. I think that is typical when a bird is fairly common, I forget to collect the stock shots.
This makes a total of nine posts made here on the gulls of Newfoundland. I have one last gull to profile - the Glaucous Gull. I saved it for last because I still am confused about the identification of the Glaucous but will study it before the post.

Once all of the gulls of 2010 have been profiled, I will post the heads of each to see if you can identify all of them correctly.

What's up with this cold, wet weather we have had this week and forecast for the next 10 days? It has been a real deterrent to going birding! However, the nice thing about adding photography to the birding experience is that I have thousands of pictures to work on.

On Monday of this week, we had the last blast of sunshine. I used that day, the whole day, to rake and weed my front yard. Countering the 54 km winds, I used a lot of energy just keeping my balance. This is the year that I am going to work to create a more bird-friendly yard so I wanted to get a good jump on the process before the weeds took control. All of this rain will be very good for the grass.

I checked with the hardware store about a rain barrel for the summer. I certainly don't want to get caught up in a draught this summer and not be able to water my trees and shrubs. The barrels are expected in by the end of April.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mew Gull

Today was another day of great weather. I used the time wisely and worked on my garden. I hope that I got a real jump on those weeds that keep crowding out my grass. I replanted a tree that was uprooted during the winter and did some overall raking. My garden thanks me. I know it is early but I also got my bright chairs out and put in place. The pix included here is from last year.
Yesterday evening, I took a drive over to QV and was glad to find the Mew Gull, also known as the Common Gull. I took several pictures of this little guy over the winter but I seem to have lost them! It was a stroke of luck that the Mew Gull is still around. As far as I know, three Mew Gulls stayed in St. John's over the winter months. They became quite friendly with people and would eat bread crumbs.

The Mew Gull is quite small. The one pictured here still has some of its brown winter streaking on the head. That will soon vanish. The beak is narrow and all yellow with no markings. Its legs are a greenish-yellow, not bright yellow like the Ring-Billed Gull. It is also quite small compared to the Herring Gull. The red in the mouth is the actual color, no "photoshopping" here!

With a close-up look, it is easy to see the red eye ring and the narrow beak. This gull is most often found in northern Europe, Asia and North West America. This is a link to a 38 page conservation document all about the Common Gull. It is still a treat when one visits St. John's.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Slaty-Backed Gull

The Slaty-Backed Gull is an uncommon bird in Newfoundland, although there have been a number of documented visits. This special bird was first spotted in October in the ball field on the south side of Quidi Vidi Lake. Before the lake froze, it was spotted in fields, in the harbour and in the dump. Every sighting was posted on the discussion group, prompting birders to rush to the area in hopes of getting a glimpse and a snapshot of the Slaty-Backed Gull.

This gull is most often seen in Northeast Asia. It has been a great attraction for birders who visit Japan. Sources say that it comes from as far away as Siberia. It is not easy for a new birder to identify this species. Its mantle is a slate grey and it has a white wing tip on the back. Its legs are much darker pink than the Greater-Black Backed Gull. It is also smaller than the GBBG. Its beak is not as large as a GBBG, but it does have the red dot on the lower bill.

On one of those very cold days in January, I darted down to QV Lake to see if I could spot the SBG. When I arrived, Brandon Holden who was visiting from Ontario for two months of birding, was there. He was braving the cold, and I sat in my car. All of a sudden he waved at me to come out. The Slaty-Backed Gull had arrived. Just as I was getting out of the car to get set up, another birder arrived. I alerted him to hurry, quietly.

In no time these two photographers were in place and firing away at the SBG. They were as picture-worthy as the gull.

I zoomed as far as my camera would allow and got some decent record shots of this Asian visitor. I was shooting with a 250 mm lens while Brandon was shooting away with his 600 mm lens. His shots turned out great!

He was enjoying it so much that I took another shot of him alone. I sent him the image to share with his family. He was posting on his web site everyday, and I thought his family might like to see him at work. He posted the shot on his web page and was very appreciative. Much to my surprise, I was browsing web sites today and what should I find? My picture posted on the Illinois Bird Forum with no credit given! I quickly submitted my request to be credited with the shot. We'll see how that turns out.

Later on that day, I met a teacher from Ontario who had her scope set up to view the Slaty-Backed Gull. I learned that she had taken her 4-day long weekend to take a jaunt to St. John's specifically to view the Slaty-Backed Gull and the Yellow-Legged Gull. Her family wondered about her normality having chosen to spend her break standing out in the cold and wind on the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake. She seemed perfectly normal, just bitten by the bird watcher's bug.

I have recently encountered people from Ontario, Manitoba, and Texas who have travelled to St. John's for the express purpose of birdwatching. This is a unique setting that will see birds stop over here and nowhere else in North America. It is clear that there is great potential for this city and province to attract birdwatchers to the area. Tourism capitalizes on the bird eco-reserves surrounding Newfoundland and Labrador, but there is little mention of the other great feathered rarities that visit our island.