Saturday, May 28, 2011

Birds, birds and more birds...

 This is the time of the year when "more is more." Baby ducklings are showing up on the water's edge and numbers are increasing. Such was the case in my family this week as well. We welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world on May 24th. It has been a busy and exciting time. Maybe another little birdwatcher to nurture....
 By Friday things settled down a bit and I squeezed in a morning of birding in a park West of the city. The usual favorites such as this Boreal Chickadee were present in increasing numbers. I never tire of watching them.
 The American Robins are every where, on the ground and in the trees. Their rich song fills the air.
 The Yellow-rumped Warblers have been around for more than two weeks and are now on most every tree, loudly singing their repertoire of songs.
On Friday as we entered the park THREE American Bitterns lifted off from different areas of the marsh. It seems impossible to slip up on these guys. This is the second time that they were inadvertently flushed.
The Black and White Warblers are now in the mix but not yet as prevalent as the Yellow-rumped. On this day, I think that I have learned the song of the Black-and White. It is quite unique. Only time will tell if I can retain this learning.
 There seem to be more Fox Sparrows this year than last but then again, maybe I am just looking in the right places. The Fox was located in two different areas on this birding trip.
 The Swamp Sparrows have increased in numbers very quickly. They can often be found in the tall grass around the marshy areas. This one, however, showed up in the trees and like most little birds it has hidden itself well behind the branches.
When it was not partially hidden, it decided to give me the cold shoulder and would not turn around. This perspective provides a great look at the rich colors on its head and back.
Yesterday was my first sighting of the Wilson's Warbler for 2011. While they don't seem to be plentiful yet, they are here. It was very difficult to get close to one on this trip. I think after they have been here for a while, they will be more approachable.
For me the best bird of the spring so far has been this stunning White-throated Sparrow. His fresh spring colors and very distinct song make it a stand-out.
Now that I am making progress on identifying small birds by sight it is time to begin learning the songs and calls of the birds. This is an extremely valuable skill as it can help to id the bird before it is seen. Why do this? Well, birds have different behaviours and areas of the tree or ground that they frequent. To know what to look for by the sound can help to spot the bird more quickly.

Because I don't hear high-pitched frequencies as well as I once did, this is going to be a real challenge for me. Sometimes I hear only part of the sound as the rest of it gets lost in the wind. I think time and practice will be required. I guess I will just have to go birding more often:)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

White-throated Sparrow

 Last Thursday was a beautiful warm day that brought out sparrows and birdwatchers alike. On that day I saw five different species of sparrows but the greatest of these was the White-throated Sparrow. This is without doubt the best look that I have ever had at this bird and I was startled by the brightness of the yellow and the pure white throat.  It was easy to find because of its distinctive call.
 Another birder and I spent quite a bit of time trying to find it out in the open to get some nice pictures but it was only partially cooperative. Nevertheless, it gave us a good challenge and that is one of the great parts of birding. If it is too easy, why bother?

Over the fall and winter I became so accustomed to taking pictures on the dark, dreary days that I forgot how to set my camera for lots of sun and bright open spaces. Gotta work on that.
 On the same day the song of the Fox Sparrow drew us to it. However, it was even less approachable than the White-throated Sparrow. It kept its distance far back from the trail. It was interesting because it was singing a song very different from one that I remember from last year. Yet, it was a loud and long song.
 In Goulds there were many different birds just beginning to show up.  This Swamp Sparrow could be heard from a long distance... singing away. There seemed to be two in the area.
When a bird is singing and if approached very slowly and quietly, they seem undisturbed and will continue to sing. On this particular day, we were hearing one different song after another and realized how very hard it is to learn the songs of birds. Any one species may have three or more songs and calls. I think that is a task beyond my reach at this time. I listen, try to render it to memory and then I hear another song and the first one is gone out of my head! There is no doubt that this skill is very important to birding as it is more likely to hear a bird before seeing it.
Not yet in song is this Song Sparrow that was hanging out at Long Pond on the same day. This is the third time to see this bird or its buddy (there are two) and I have not heard it sing yet.
This last sparrow is still a mystery. I can only say what it is not but cannot determine what it is. I was able to get only this one very poor picture. There is no streaking which eliminates Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, or Fox Sparrow. I am leaning toward a Swamp Sparrow but am far from certain. I will send this one to someone more knowledgeable than me to ID this one. If anyone knows, please post a comment.

It is so pleasing to find the sparrows back in the woods. With all of the activity, song and sunshine, I thought I was in the tropics!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Portrait of a Red-breasted Nuthatch

The Red-breasted Nuthatch is a feisty year-round resident of Newfoundland. It is not nearly as common as Dark-eyed Juncos or Black-capped Chickadees but they are often seen in similar locations and among these birds.
This smart-looking little bird can easily entertain on-lookers for quite some time. They flit in an out to pick up sunflower seed, pick at suet or sort out their favorite seed from a mixed bag. They are often seen hanging upside down or working their way down a tree.
They move around with the speed of lightening, zooming in and out in a flash. Yet, they will pause for just a moment to grab the food or will linger on a tree trunk for longer periods of time extracting insects from the bark. This means that birdwatchers and photographers can easily study and document their habits.
The RB Nuthatch has some interesting habits. First, like woodpeckers it is one of the few birds that will hollow out a hole in a dead tree for nesting. I was recently shown one such project in progress. Second, they will line the hole with resin both inside and out in an attempt to keep unwanted visitors out.  Third, they will store food in the bark of trees for later consumption during leaner times.
I have had two Red-breasted Nuthatches visit my back-yard feeder on a fairly regular basis. There is something very special about this bird that makes me stop and watch every time it drops in. Yet, don't let is diminutive size fool you.  This small little bird can be quite aggressive and will make sure that it gets its share of whatever is being offered.  Everyone should have at least one resident RB Nuthatch in their yard!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Out-migration? Maybe...

 In Newfoundland when we hear the term "out migration," we do not typically think of birds leaving. More likely, we  conjure up visions of young people packing their cars with their worldly possessions and heading West in search of work.  Fortunately, this kind of outflow has ebbed somewhat and we are now speaking of "in migration" as more people are returning to this province. Needless to say, this is good news.

Among birders at this time of the year it is the "in-migration" of small song birds that is mostly on our minds. Yet, there are birds that have wintered here that also are jumping on the out-migration train and leaving us. Among these are the Black-tailed Gull and other special gulls.
 Far from being an expert in the area of migration, I think that this group of diving ducks has just left us.  On Friday the 13th I took a walk around Kent Pond and took a quick head count of all of the diving ducks on the water. I came up with 14. I continued my walk enjoying the outdoors and the infrequent song of robins and the Yellow-rumped Warbler. 
As I came to the end of the East end of the pond, I noticed about half of the diving ducks lift off the water altogether. They flew towards me and then looped back and flew the length of the pond and headed toward me again. On their second approach the remaining diving ducks lifted off and followed behind. They were all heading straight toward me. I felt somewhat like the queen enjoying a Snowbird flyby. It was amazing to see them in flight so close to me.
Fortunately, I was quick to document the event and then I stood and watched as they flew off in the distance. It was quite a special event. I have walked the pond every day since and there is not a single diving duck left on the pond. Was this the actual time and date of their out-migration? I really think it was, and I felt very lucky to have been there to witness it.

Portrait of a Boreal Chickadee

 I have been lucky to have seen three types of Chickadees including the Black-capped, Carolina and the Boreal.  Perhaps it is the rounded shape of the chickadee's head and body or the great colors or even the willingness of the chickadee to come close that makes a sighting of any chickadee so enjoyable. Of the three I most enjoy the Boreal Chickadee.
The Boreal Chickadee lives year-round in Newfoundland. For many who come to this province for a "special" birding experience, the Boreal is on their list of target birds. This spring I have found the Boreal at Long Pond, Kent Pond and Bidgood's Park. It was the latter area where I photographed this bird earlier this week. 
The Boreal will often come closer when "phished" to see what is causing the unusual noise. They seem to be in constant motion and it is not easy to catch one just sitting. The rich brown colors of the Boreal and its acrobatic skills cause me to stop and stare every time I see one.
 They eat seeds and insects as well as frequent backyard feeders where they can enjoy suet or sunflower seeds.  By late summer they will begin collecting  seeds and larvae to stash for winter. They may be seen flying to a feeder to grab a seed and fly away. However, it is unlikely that the sunflower seeds are being stashed as it has been found that stashes hold only spruce seeds and insect larvae.
Any sign of chickadees very often results in the sighting of other birds as well. While birds not of a feather don't necessarily flock together, they do seem to stay in close proximity. On the day that I saw these Boreals there were a number of Yellow-rumped Warblers and one Black and White Chickadee fliting around the same area.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Let the parade begin...

Around St. John's there are many causes for celebrations. Most any day of the week there are parades, dedications and events all around the city. For birders this time of year brings anticipation and excitement associated with a different kind of parade - the Parade of the Warblers. Some creative musician should pen a fanfare to denote the "Return of the Warblers."  There are certainly many bird songs that could be integrated into the creation.

It seems that the first warbler to return is the male Yellow-rumped Warbler. For more than a week now, there have been random sightings around the city and surely around the province. In the last few days the numbers are increasing and their song and color is beginning the fill the woods.
A trip to Bidgood's Park yesterday yielded more than a dozen YR Warblers throughout the park grounds. This is an amazing place for birds. The park is sectioned with great walkways that carve their way through the untouched and natural surroundings. I anticipate that this area will fill up with birds over the days to come. On weekdays it doesn't seem to be too busy at all.
Along with the YRWs there were also a number of Boreal Chickadees to enjoy. Pictures of these to come in a future posting.  There were American Robins, Black Ducks, Mallards, four Tree Swallows flying overhead and one Black and White Warbler. The Black and White was my first of the season (documented with photo.)

I kept staring into the trees watching for movement. I don't hear high-pitched sounds very well so I have to rely on my ability to discern movement. I noticed a small bird staying very close to the trunk of the tree. Yellow-rumped Warblers do not often do is. Within the 10 to 15 seconds I had to view the bird, I thought it was a Black and White but had to wait until I returned home to look at the picture and get confirmation of the sighting.

The Yellow-rumped Warbler is such a beautiful little bird. The first time I saw one was more than a year ago on Cape Race Road. I was stunned and amazed by the color of it. When I thought of birds in Newfoundland before, I really never thought of such great splashes of color.
Last week while walking at Kent's Pond, I saw a small warbler that was not a YRW. It had a lot of yellow and I was surely certain that it was a Yellow Warbler which would apparently be very early for the return of this species. I rushed home and got my camera. (I broke my own rule to never go without my camera!) When I returned there was a small warbler in the same area but I am not sure if it was the same one. I got a very poor picture and the best guess of the species is the Magnolia Warbler. Were there two different species or is that the same one that I saw before? Who knows but one thing is for sure, now that the woods are filling up with fluttery life, I will be out there and I WILL have my camera.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Here's my take on Spring 2011 in Newfoundland...

I want a "do-over!" Thinking that it really should be Spring, I went for a jaunt to the beach with my granddaughter. She was dressed in layer upon layer in an attempt to stay warm. Mittens at the beach is not my idea of spring.

The calendar says so but is it really Spring. While mostly striking out with spring birds, I have looked around for signs to remind me that "yes" it is spring. One such sign is the Spencer Girl on Military Road holding a fresh bouquet of daffodils.
The swans have been released back out to the ponds around town. Female swans are sitting their nests and the males are protecting and foraging.
The snipe are filling the skies on the outskirts of town creating their eerie winnowing sound as they fly overhead.
A pair of Song Sparrows showed up at Long Pond. I only saw them on one occasion. Where did they go?
One very special sign of Spring is the sound of bird song echoing through the trees and over the waters. The American Robin, Purple Finch and the American Goldfinch are the most prevalent song birds of the moment. I even came upon a Red-breasted Nuthatch singing away. There are scatterings of the Yellow-rumped Warbler around beginning to join in the chorus. Any day now, there should be a wave of newcomers flying in.

In the meantime there is a great deal of enjoyment to be derived by the song and beautiful "yellowing" of the American Goldfinch as they transition into the new season.
I have had a number of American Goldfinch visit my feeder this spring. They were enjoying the black-oil sunflower seeds. When I ran out and replaced the feed with a blended seed, they disappeared. They have a preference and nature is offering them an option. I have purchased more sunflower seeds and will take care of that little problem promptly.

It is interesting that niger seed is often thought of as the feed of choice for the American Goldfinch, but I offer both in my backyard buffet and they go to the sunflower seeds 95% of the time.
This great little male AG was photographed at Kent's Pond during one of those rare moments of sunshine early in the week.  There is hope that there may be some sun this week, but the time has come that I must lime and fertilize my lawn so no birding for me unless I work quickly!