Saturday, April 30, 2011

Black-legged Kittiwake - 2011

 The Black-legged Kittiwake is the most common gull in the world. Yet, many people have not seen them because they stay off shore. Cape St. Mary's is one place where at this time of the year they can be seen by the thousands while standing on dry land. They can also be seen via a boat tour out to the bird rocks in Witless Bay throughout the summer.

 These birds nest on the on the narrow ledges on the cliff face. It is a wonder any of the eggs survive the high winds, but clearly they do.
This medium size gull has a very loud and distinctive call that is the basis for its name, kittiwake. Mix in the calls of the Northern Gannet and the Common Murre and the tip of Cape St. Mary's is a deafening place to be. While in the swirl of activity, the noise is less noticeable but when walking away and the din fades into the distance, it becomes obvious just how loud it is standing amidst all of these thousands of sea birds.

This is an amazing place to be!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Misc. Birds from the Last Week

 If you have ever come upon a Horned Lark on the side of the road, you already know that it is impossible to get the car along side them without them flying. I had just seconds to grab the camera from the back seat and try to capture this shot. My camera was set for the high, high pictures (against a strong back light) of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Pale as it is, this shot is more clear than the ones I posted earlier from Cape St. Mary's. This lark was on the St. Shott's road.
The Evening Grosbeak is still frequenting some feeders just outside St. John's. On this day I saw about 8 that flushed when I pulled up. I waited and watched for more than an hour and only two females returned to the feeder. At least two males and other females hid in a close by tree but never showed themselves well. The males were looking particularly bright.
Our Ruddy Duck is still at Quidi Vidi Lake. It has been here a long time. Because of the increased walking traffic around the lake brought on by better weather and the Spring Break, the Ruddy Duck seems to have moved away from the West end of the lake and is staying farther from shore.
The Purple Finch are increasing their presence at feeders over the last two weeks. The males are looking especially brilliant. Their rosy color almost sparkles in the sunlight, but not this day as it was raining.

Bird activity is definitely picking up and within a few weeks we should begin to see more sparrows followed by the onslaught of many varieties of warblers. I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

 Persistence pays off! When an opportunity arose to try for the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker occurred on Monday, I jumped at the chance. Being with a great birder made me feel more optimistic about finding it. We made our drive to Trepassy arriving just after noon. In just minutes from our stopping point we found the bird.

 The sun was shinning and the brilliant crimson head and throat on this bird really over shadowed the yellow belly that it is named for. Although, its yellow belly was an obvious pale yellow. It stayed in the top of a tree the whole time we were there, at least 40 to 50 feet up at all times. I was shooting straight up.
We had hopes that it would drop down lower on the tree so that we could have a better look at it. With the help of a scope we did see it well enough to see it stick its tongue out. It was in constant motion while in the tree top, flitting from one branch to another.
Trying to get an clear shot of this bird was like trying to thread a needle with your eyes closed. There was a mass of branches blocking the view of the bird in almost every limb it climbed.
Aside from taking a brief rest here, the YB Sapsucker was steadily drilling holes and eating. Oddly enough, we could see it tapping but didn't hear any tapping noise. We heard its call at least twice and it was very distinct.

Judging by the extreme number of sap holes all around the trunk both high and low on all of the trees in this yard, this is not the first sapsucker to have visited. The Discussion Group has posted sightings of one or two on almost an annual basis. It seems that they have been sighted in Branch, Trepassy, Portugal Cove South and
area. Apparently, there was an apple
tree found last year that had many holes drilled. Is it possible that there are more Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers around waiting to be found?

While this is no great shot, it is the only one that I have of this bird in flight. I thought it might be useful to show the underside in case any one goes sapsucker hunting.
It is also likely that this will be the view that you will see most often as the sapsucker may well be high in a tree and looking to go higher.

This was a pretty amazing sighting for me because it was a first and this was such a stunning male in its Spring finest. 

Let's Talk Turkey

I photographed these Turkeys at a kennel/farm yard in Branch, NL. Driving by it was hard not to see them. The owner says they have had these two turkeys for a long time and like keeping a lot of  barnyard birds for the grandchildren. While this is not my first time to see a turkey, it is the first time since I have taken a real interest in birds. It seemed bigger and more grand than before.
 This one looks like it has had a few mishaps along the way but it hasn't dampened its spirit. It spread its feathers and put on quite a show for me.

Wild Turkeys are not native to Newfoundland but have been showing up in the Codroy Valley over recent years. It is a bit of a mystery about how they got here but word is that they are reproducing and becoming more common. Some speculate that they are descendants of domestic turkeys that were released into the wild. However, the ones in Codroy  do not look like this domestic Turkey. I think this is a Broad-breasted Bronze Turkey.

Apparently, the Turkey is only one of two domestic birds originating in the New World (the other is the Muscovy Duck.) These birds were taken by the Europeans from Mexico in around 1500. They have since taken on a special role during holidays all around the world.

This little female was working so hard to find an opening in the fence to move into the field with the male. We were assured that these two turkeys would never make it to the table.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Northern Gannet: Courtship on the Rock

The Northern Gannet is an awesome seabird. I only wish my pictures could capture the real magnificence of this bird. The cliffs and rocks of Cape St. Mary's are amass with thousands of Northern Gannets. While I have many pictures showing the numbers and the sheer frenzy of activity, I have chosen to try to focus on the individual birds and pairs that make up this huge gannetry.
It was a beautiful day to visit these breeding grounds on Newfoundland's south coast. The viewing area is perhaps a kilometer from the parking lot and Interpretative Center, all down hill going in and all up hill going out. The viewing area itself is a natural jut into the sea with no barriers. I often found myself looking down and getting dizzy and queasy. This was often compounded by staring out through my binoculars and camera. It is definitely not a place to allow children to roam freely. It is so easy to get rapt with all of the action that you forget where your feet are.

When we first arrived, I found one Northern Gannet by itself. Having been to this site once before, I quickly realized how rare that was so I began to take pictures. Isolating a bird in this setting is really difficult.
 This one almost seemed to be looking for some heavenly direction to pick the right mate. Then again, it may have been giving thanks for the rare day of sunshine.
All around there are Northern Gannets that seem to have already paired off.  These birds are monogamous and will pair off for the long term. There is a lot of courtship going on all around. The last time I saw any similar behaviour was in St. Petersburg, Florida during the Spring Break.
Zoom, Zoom. There is a constant flurry of birds in flight. They fly by so quickly and sometimes, so close that it is a real challenge to try to capture the beauty of this bird in flight. Despite that, the motivation to keep trying is driven by the amazing color, shape and grace of the Northern Gannet.
Before I knew it we had spent nearly three hours at the tip caught up in the awesome display of nature that just kept swirling around us. It would be so easy to go and spend an entire day in this area. There were times, many times when I just had to stop and drink in the spectacular show of nature unfolding. While a Fall visit was amazing, I think the combination of other breeding seabirds at this site and the mating activity makes the Spring even better.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Horned Lark

 When you travel to Cape St. Mary's to view birds, the Horned Lark is not the species that you think of first. Nevertheless, it may well be the first species you see on the drive in or in the parking lot or grounds in front of the Interpretation Center.
 I travelled with another birder on Saturday to Cape St. Mary's and the whole Southern Shore on Saturday. The trip was filled with excitement as one species after another tested our ability to find them and identify them.
 When we arrived at Cape St. Mary's to view the main event of all of the sea birds (more on this in another post), we were greeted by two Horned Lark. While I had great views my pictures left a lot to be desired. Don't quite know what happened but I am guessing that I left all of my settings on those set on my last birding outing when it was cloudy. This day was bright, very bright and sunny all day. That was our first rarity!
This was my first look at a Horned Lark in the Spring. Its colors seemed to be a little more bright at this time of the year. I hadn't realized that there was so much yellow but it really stood out in the lighting of the day.
There was another birder there when we arrived and with a bit of luck he will post his pictures of the Horned Lark which I am sure will show much more detail and clarity. As we drove out of the Cape St. Mary's road we found two more Horned Lark feeding near the side of the road. They are not easy to spot so it is best to watch for movement.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Yes, it really is Spring

 It was in 1960 when Elvis popularized a song called "Wooden Heart" in a movie by the name of G.I. Blues. I don't think this was the kind of wooden heart he was singing about, but this downed tree trunk at Long Pond couldn't help but bring up the memory.

It also reminded me that it is Spring time and love is in the air for the ducks around all of the city ponds.
 The ducks are pairing off and boldly walking across the roadways, searching the edges of the waterways and focusing all of their attention on proliferation at this time. With the help of a young bird enthusiast, there are six new hen nesting boxes placed in strategic places around the city.  It will be interesting to watch to see if  nesting ducks take up residency.

Most all birds are decked out in their best Easter frocks, especially the males in an attempt to attract their heart's desire. The beak is shining more brightly than ever and there is a definite twinkle in the eye.  Some are transitioning into their breeding plumage. Others stay just as they are.
Even the most common duck looks special at this time. There  is a swagger in the walk and a purposefulness beyond feeding.
 The Northern Pintail does not change its plumage but it certainly looks very sharp at this time of the year. This striking duck seems to always stand out, year around.
It was on April 30, 2010 when this Garganey showed up at Mundy Pond last year for a one-day stay. That was something quite special to see. I wonder if we will see one this year or what other surprises Spring has in store for us.

I remember freezing in the cold temps and the blustery conditions of the day. Try as I might, I couldn't stay long.  Today's weather will really get you. I got up to find at least 2 inches of snow on the ground and on my deck and more is falling. The feeder birds are flocking to the different feeders in my yard to fortify for the day.
For a few days we have had above freezing temperatures and most of the snow had gone.  There were a couple of days when it was very pleasant to spend extended periods of time bird gazing. There is always something new to see, even with the birds observed everyday. This demure duck seems to be flirting.  There will be more and more of this in the days to come.

 The first photos that I got of baby ducks last year was on May 13 with the latest shot of ducklings taken toward the end of June. It won't be long now!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Crisp Saturday Afternoon in April

 How does a healthful walk in the park turn into a bird watching excursion? That's easy...just walk at Long Pond, Pippy Park. Where there were no birds in the winter, spring has brought them back to us. I started my jaunt with a chill; it is not warm. However, I first ran into a young boy and his father who warmed me up. The boy, maybe 14 years old, was so excited. He and his dad had just erected this duck nesting box. The young fellow was filled with information and enthusiasm, all supported by his dad. That is enough to warm the heart!
 I continued my walk to the "bench of birds."  Due to the vegetation and the help of regular seed drops, numerous birds frequent the area around the last bench on the west end. With no deadlines impacting my day, I sat on the bench and watched the show.
I sat for about 30 minutes and never left the bench. I will let the pictures speak to the variety and richness of the experience.

 This little Boreal Chickadee was not very cooperative.

Tearing myself away from this great place, I walked on where I found more than a dozen fresh American Robins frolicking around Harmony Gardens. Numerous Boreal Chickadees were also in the area. By now, I was ready to move on and try my hand at some more pictures of the Great Egret.
 This little American Wigeon has been in Long Pond for quite some time and does not seem bothered by the celebrity of the Great Egret.
 For a short while I had a one-on-one with the Great Egret. There was concern about how this bird would cope with the recent cold nights. He looked great, actively feeding and moving about.
I am still struggling with shooting white birds in the bright sunlight. Through trial and error, I will get it. I have had lots of trials and more than my share of errors, so I must keep trying. What better motivation than this great southern treasure.

Is there any place else in the world where it is possible to see all of these species less than .5 kilometers from each other? 

Get out and go for a walk.  Be sure to take your binoculars and camera and leave your watch at home.