Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Two large sandpipers sitting on a rock; one is a Willet and the other is not. When viewing these two birds from a distance and in unfavorable light or when they are sitting down, it can be very difficult to tell the difference. Close the distance or see them stand up and it is easy to see that the most distinguishing difference is that one has bright yellow/orange legs and the other has has blue/grey legs.
 Having to tell the difference between the Greater Yellowlegs and the Willet in Newfoundland will not happen often as the Willet does not come here often. It typically breeds ('tis the season) in central Canada and throughout the mid-western U.S. This one lost its way. The Willet is a stocky bird, more so than the Yellowlegs and this also is true of its thicker bill.

Despite these differences, these two birds have very similar movements. They looked like kissin' cousins as they moved around the rocks together.

When one would look in one direction, the other would follow. The Willet did, however, seem to be the leader.
 Catching me totally off guard, the Willet decided to jump from one rock to another. It is when it spreads its boldly marked, wide wings that the real difference in patterns is visible.
The broad white stripes on its black wings really stand out. These wings are not seen at all when the bird is at rest. It was a real thrill to see the whole bird when it lifted off.

This constituted yet another new bird for me and was found on a tip from others at the beach in Renews. I must add though that it took us two trips to the beach to locate this uncommon visitor.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hooded Merganser - Female

 It's not everyday that I get to see a Hooded Merganser. In fact this is only the second one and the first female that I have seen. This little female was found by a young birder in Paradise. He called and was so enthusiastic that I had to get and the car and go see it.

When I arrived the avid bird watcher was standing in the mist near the water's edge. He greeted me with the story of how he found it and that it had just been up on the wharf. I missed that.
 I went as close to the water as possible without driving the bird even further away. It was already at a distance that made getting a clear picture impossible. The HM moved to the other side of the pond and eventually began to work its way back toward us.

In the meantime this very handsome Green-winged Teal swam toward us and hopped up on the rocks beside the water. I have seen a number of Green-winged Teal but never one so willing to get close.  The ones that frequent Kelly's Brook flush at the snap of a twig.
 Even in the dull light the colors on this bird were so rich. The mist continued to come and my feet were really wet. If it weren't for the entertainment of this great Teal, I probably wouldn't have lasted long enough for the Hooded Merganser to return to us.

 Within 30 minutes it did work its way back but still did not come in close. It was clearly not accustomed to people. With the reflections off the water and the distance involved, I was lucky to get even get record shots. Despite the distance and the weather, it was still really nice to see this bird.
 When I encounter the burst of excitement coming out of the newest birder in the St. John's birding community, it is impossible to mope around about getting wet. We talked all the while we were waiting for the merganser.
At one point he saw a large bird flying toward us from far across the pond. Immediately, he recognized that it wasn't a duck by the wing beats. He was so right... the Common Loon continued toward us and flew right over head.
It would be so nice to see more youth getting involved in bird watching to ensure that the great tradition of birding the Avalon continues well into the future. Maybe there should be some type of youth birding event scheduled.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Weather Rant!

Day after day, after day after day, month after month we have been pelted with first snow starting in mid-January and then rain starting in April. When will it ever let up? My rain gage reflects the amount of rain that has drowned my yard for the last two weeks only. It has been incessant!
These daytime shots look more like late evening due to the dull grey blanket that is hovering over this island, and....this is good! Some days the fog has been so bad that I couldn't even see the fence from the house. I can only imagine that Vitamin D has been flying off the shelves in the health stores. Without question, this prolonged period of time without sunshine begins to wear away at the psyche.
 Beyond that it has been a huge hindrance to my preferred activities at this time of the year. On some days when the wind is less than 25k, I do go out for a walk and try to do some bird watching. However, on many of those days the clouds opened up and I got drenched. It is a real deterrent. I am less willing to go work in the yard under those conditions because everything is so wet! Two years ago I bought a rain barrel and set it up in case of drought.  What was I thinking?

 At this time of the year I host an annual garden party. This year my yard is not ready. Every day I check the weather and hope that this will be the day that I can get some work done.

I have completed a couple of projects this year but under less than ideal circumstances. I cut out the grass/weeds and put in my water fountain and surrounding ground cover. The mulch is down and I consider that section ready. The remaining mulch and top soil is lying in wait for the next good day.  I wonder when that will be. The lime and fertilizer plus much rain has really transformed the dull grass to lush green.
 One morning about 10 days ago, there was a little ray of sunshine peeking out through the clouds so I rushed out and completed the section to the left of the seating area. I cut out the weed-bound area and planted perennials and mulched the area. It is a good thing too because I had eight perennials sitting in planters and they needed to go in the ground. By mid-day the cloud had taken over and a cold front spurred on the fog and further work was out of the question.
 I have managed to get a few vegetables planted but they haven't had a chance to grow. The Romaine lettuce seems to be drowning as do the snow peas. It is my intention to prepare another vegetable bed to plant this year. I am really afraid that it is too late, but I will try. I have numerous seeds growing in a planter box. What will come of them?

I have laid many stone walk ways in my garden and they are crying out to be cleared and tidied up. They look very nice when cleared properly and they look so abandoned when left to grow wild.

 This shot shows what the space looked like two years ago before many hours of back-breaking work. The one thing missing from the shot is the crazy amount of weeds that had a grip on the yard. I worked for hours to try to get rid of them in a natural way.
This shot from last summer clearly shows what the walkway along the perennial garden should look like. That is a project that I need to do right away: Reset the stone barriers, mulch around the plants and clear the walkway of over-grown grass and weeds.

There are over 70 perennials planted in the yard, most of them of the flowering variety but so far they haven't had enough sun to coax them open. I also have an area that I plan to work on to groom a space for outdoor toys for my grandchildren. I had hoped by this time to have stained the fence. When I look at my yard I see so many things that I want to do to make it a comfortable room out doors. I have been cutting wood for my fire pit but I haven't even set it up yet because it would just become a rust bucket. Will the weather finally clear and allow me to at least tidy up what I have completed before party time? I hope so but it really is out of my hands.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Olive-sided Flycatcher

One of the great things about being a novice at anything is that the experiences are filled with "firsts."  Today I have two firsts:  First, the sighting of an Olive-sided Flycatcher and second, posting another bird watcher's photos.

Catherine Barrett and I took what was intended to be a half-day trip to Renews to enjoy the wave of Spring birds that have landed on our island.  We stopped in the usual places and ended up at Bear Cove Point Road in Renews.  The weather was somewhat better than we have been experiencing so we were out of the car a lot. We went to the end of the road and began to work our way back.
Sometimes birds just appear at the right time and place. Having seen a number of Yellow-bellied Flycatchers (pictured below), we spotted a different flycatcher perched atop a branch. Inching the car as close as possible without flushing the bird, Catherine was able to get a couple of record shots before I got out of the car and attempted to hide behind it to get a picture. It was not to be. The bird flew.
Within moments Catherine had the field guide out and was viewing the picture of the Olive-sided Flycatcher. We both felt confident that our bird was this uncommon bird but waited to have it verified before posting the sighting.

I reviewed the postings on the Discussion Group for previous sightings of this bird that has been on the endangered species list since 2007. All sightings, with the exception of one, were in Central or Western Newfoundland. The one posting of an Olive-sided Flycatcher reported a sighting near Jone's Pond in Middle Cove in 2005. It is very clear that we had a special treat on this day to have found a new "life" bird for both of us and on the Avalon Peninsula, to boot!
The other highlight of the day was seeing several Yellow-bellied Flycatchers. Catherine skirted through the woods and came out with these great pictures of the little birds.
At one point we came upon a group of three Yellow-bellied Flycatchers quite some distance from the road flitting around and chasing each other. It was remarkable how big they looked and how green.
We watched them for some time but they never really came close. We did have great looks with binoculars though.
This one just appeared on the power line as we were driving out of the road. A trip on Bear Cove Point Road is always filled with treasures and delights. Before we knew it the hands of time had moved well past noon and we forced ourselves to leave bird country and head back to St. John's with a sense of accomplishment over having seen the Olive-sided Flycatcher and anticipation to have the pictures confirmed.

I would like to thank Catherine for sharing her pictures.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Red Crossbill

 Over the last several months there have been a number of postings about the presence of the Red Crossbill at feeders. On two previous occasions I attempted to see them but had no luck. Recently, a posting from Chamberlains showed up on the Discussion Group. I contacted the poster and asked if I might drop by. With a nod of approval I decided to go, despite the rain, fog and very high winds. I knew if I waited for a good day it would be very likely that the Red Crossbills might move on.
 When we first arrived at the yard with the bird feeder, the only birds around were Pine Siskins. We waited and watched for about 30 minutes. Then, it was time to implement Plan B:  Drive around the neighborhood to look for the birds and hope that while we were gone the crossbills would move back into the feeder zone.  After about 10 minutes of cruising around, we returned and parked in the driveway between two feeders.
 Within moments, we spotted a male and female perched in the tree. We waited quietly and watched.  Soon they dropped down to the feeder and then one-by-one others came in. There ended up being eight Red Crossbills in all, four males and four females.  They were alternating between the feeders and the ground. The wait had been well worth it because for me it was the first time to see this bird. These are not the prettiest birds that I have ever seen but they are really interesting.
The male has rusty red plumage while the female is more rusty orange.  Both have matching color rumps. Their large crossbills look like a formidable weapon. I would not want to tangle with one of these birds.
 However, that didn't stop this bold male Purple Finch from trying to move in to have a feed of seeds. The female Red Crossbill immediately objected to his arrival. 

The Purple Finch tried to stand his ground as they fussed back and forth. Unfortunately, he was over-powered by this female who wouldn't leave him alone. Within moments he flew off to wait for another time.

The Red Crossbills stayed for about 45 minutes and then in a flash they flew off. We decided not to await their return because it could have been quite a while. I definitely went home satisfied that I had the opportunity to see so many Red Crossbills and for so long. Not all bird sightings last so long!

Thank goodness for the many bird watchers who share information about birds in their yards. It makes viewing possible for those who may not have an opportunity to see a special bird else where.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tree Swallows Move In!

 On June 7 I reported that a pair of Tree Swallows plus one were checking out my nesting box. They came and went for days on end. Finally, there was a flurry of mating activity and shortly thereafter the female began gathering nesting material. I was pretty optimistic. (I have read that an immature female will often join a pair without being threatening to them. In the event that something were to happen to the main female, the secondary one would come in an incubate the eggs - a sort of surrogate mother, I guess.)
While the female worked away gathering nesting materials, the male checked out every corner of the yard. He was either doing a security check or marking his territory. I really don't know which but no space was left untouched.

 It was common to see him flexing his muscles as if working out to be sure that he would be up for the next opportunity to meet his mate.
 Many days of this same activity came and went. Sometimes the pair was here and sometimes they were gone. Then, last week I looked out and saw a scene unfold that reminded me of a sketch I saw years ago on "Laugh In."

The female was sitting on the wire minding her own business when in flies the "dirty old man."
He perches on the wire beside her and she totally ignores him.   He asks, "Do you believe in the hereafter?" She looks the other way and moves a little further away from him.
He then lifts off and says, "Do you know what I am here after?"

 In no time, he shows her exactly what he is here after.  This was not the first tryst but it did seem to be the last before the female moved into the box on a regular basis. The Tree Swallow can lay from 4 to 7 eggs and take 13 to 16 days to hatch. Once hatched they will likely remain in the box for 16 to 24 days. I understand that Tree Swallows have two broods a year. It will be interesting to see if that happens.
In the meantime the male sits and waits like an expectant father while the female sits quietly in the nesting box. My yard will be a laboratory of study for the next month to six weeks and maybe even longer.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Color is Light

It is well-accepted  belief that light has a direct effect on our mood and behaviour. If we in Newfoundland had to rely on sun light as our only source of light we would be one cranky lot of people. In the absence of regular rays of sun, nature has provided us with an array of other colors that serve to lift our spirits and keep up motivated until a real stretch of sun's light and warmth comes our way. (Forecasts suggest that this may be within the next ten days:)
 In mid-May the early Spring perennials bravely poked their heads above the earth's bounds and began to spread their color around the city. It was on an unexpectedly bright evening during a walk around Long Pond that I came across these beautiful flowers spreading joy.

For a short while I was fooled into thinking that this Spring might be different from the rest. What was I thinking?  Too many years of experiencing extended periods of Capelin weather should have taught me better. (I heard yesterday that the Capelin are already rolling in Holyrood. Maybe, that clears the way for a turn for the better with more sun and higher temps on the horizon.)

 The richness of color of the many Spring flowers touches the soul and washes away the long Winter doldrums. What a much needed boost! 

With time other colorful creatures of Nature begin to show up to spread the joy.
 This cluster of colors reminded me of the parallel of colors between plant life and bird life. Reds and yellows are prevalent light catchers of Spring.
 Never has yellow looked so vibrant as it does on this American Goldfinch feeding just outside my window. Shooting through the window pane I was able to capture the fresh colors. In Winter the American Goldfinch is a dull brownish yellow and gradually over the early days of Spring the dull colors are replaced by this sunburst of yellow.
 It is such a delight to be able to view this from my kitchen table. There is no doubt that it always lifts my spirits.
Even though I am inside, this little bird is ever vigilant making sure that I don't come too close.  It seems to be saying, "Look, but don't touch."
Then, last week I was so pleased to find that I now have a regular visitor of a male Purple Finch showing up on my deck. It is like a rainbow if forming just for me.

The time is now to enjoy all of these amazing colors because as the days go by so will the freshness of the spring burst of color and it will fade into a more dull hue. That is just the cycle of life and by that time, hopefully, the sun will have decided to bring all the light we need. Until then I will continue to soak in all of the colors that Nature brings my way.