Sunday, July 24, 2011

Immature Yellow Warbler Fooled Me!

 I was out for my morning walk yesterday when I came across a Yellow Warbler singing. This is becoming less and less common so I stopped for a moment to enjoy it. (This pic of a Yellow Warbler was taken on a previous outing.)
 While standing and listening to this great little summer bird, in flew another bird that looked very different. It was yellow, had a distinct eye ring, a pinkish beak and plenty of gray on it.
What could this be?  I took pictures of each angle so that I could look it up when I got home. There were similarities between this bird and the Tennessee Warbler and the Nashville Warbler but there were just as many differences. Searching through several bird guides, I couldn't find a bird that looked like this.
The body shape was very much that of a Yellow Warbler but what was up with all of the gray and the eye ring? When there is not a clean match between a mature bird and all of the pictures available, chances are that the bird is an immature. While I tried to "will" it to not be so, I really suspected that this little bird was an immature Yellow Warbler. Confirmation from those who know so much more than I do agreed that this is, indeed, a Yellow Warbler.

Well, as the saying goes...."Fool me once......" I will surely be able to identify any immatures such as this one the next time I have an encounter.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Black and White Warbler - Female or juvenile?

 So many times a walk in the woods will yield a number of birds hiding behind leaves and branches or offer up distant glimpses of an active bird just passing by. Sometimes they are unidentifiable and I wonder if I missed something really special.
 Then, there are the rare and dazzling moments when a little bird will drop out of hiding for an extended visit. This year the Black and White Warbler seems more inclined to do that than some other birds.

Such was the case with this friendly female Black and White Warbler. She seemed to be people watching as she stayed low and near me for quite a while. While I have had this experience with both male and female Black and Whites, I am wondering, based on the markings of this bird, if it might be a juvenile.

 This one decided to talk to me. It has  a very thin voice as it says "seet, seet." The sound it very easy to identify and assists in the location of this bird. Black and Whites nest at the base of trees typically in a well-sheltered area. It is very common to walk through the woods and hear their thin voice coming out of a thick clump of greenery but be unable to see them.

I read that this bird was once known as a Black and White Creeper because of its habit of creeping around tree trunks in search of insects hidden under the bark.  It also will work its way out onto branches and is often seen hanging upside down.

For comparison, I have added this photo of a male Black and White. Their markings are much darker, more plentiful and bolder.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sparrows of Summer - 2011

Long after the warblers have stopped singing, the Fox Sparrow can be heard throughout most wooded areas. The song of this sparrow is quite distinct, and I can recognize it from quite a distance.

While I have seen and heard this species often, it is most often high atop a tree in the distance. This photo represents one of the rare opportunities that I had this year to get up close. The markings on this bird are also easy to identify with its red-brown coloring, speckled breast and gray forehead.

By far the Swamp Sparrow has been the most often seen sparrow of summer. They arrived early in Spring and can still be readily seen in marshy and boggy areas. They tend to stay low to the ground and will fly low and disappear into the tall plants.
Its song is a slow, one-note trill, in some ways similar to the trill of a Dark-eyed Junco. However, the location of the song coming from low wetlands is a good indicator that the trill is from a Swamp Sparrow.
 The Swamp Sparrow seems to have many faces depending on its profile and the light. Yet, there are many easily identifiable markings on this bird. The chest is plain gray; it has a rusty crown on its head that is often seen standing up; it has a dark malar line and it is only about half the size of the Fox Sparrow above.

In these two pictures of the Swamp Sparrow, its red-brown streaking on the back and head are not visible. Yet, by listening to its song, noting the malar eye and the solid gray breast, it is still easy to identify. The white throat is also quite visible.
The White-throated Sparrow has been one of my favorites this year. The white and black stripes on the head, the pure white throat and the bright yellow patch just in front of and above the eye make this bird an easy one to identify.   Please note that like the Swamp Sparrow it has a plain breast.
 Its whistling call can also be heard from a long distance. I have seen this bird frequently in Goulds this year and saw one just yesterday enjoying the sunflower seeds fallen from a feeder in Torbay.
I have seen the Song Sparrow less often this year than the above species. This bird has little color with varying shades of brown and gray on its body.  I heard the Song Sparrow singing as recently as last week.  Some think the song of this sparrow is the sweetest of all. I'm not sure that I agree.
The breast of the Song Sparrow is heavily streaked and has a central dark breast spot. The size of the Song Sparrow is similar to the Swamp Sparrow.
Seen much less often this year is the Savannah Sparrow. It is another of the streaked sparrows. Its head is tan and white with dark brown stripes on its head separated by a pale stripe down the middle. Its pale yellow eyebrow is one of the easiest marking for me to make the ID of this bird.

Like most sparrows the Savannah stays close to the ground and is known to be an able runner. It may disappear into a patch of tall grass and begin running through the growth and not be seen again. I have not knowingly heard this bird sing.

One thing that has been common among the sparrows has been their regular chipping. If not in song, they can often be detected by their chipping sound echoing through the woods.

So these are the only sparrows that I have seen this summer, totalling five. There have been other species located off the Avalon Peninsula but I haven't been so lucky, yet.

It is also interesting to note that the names of the sparrows are extremely fitting to their look or sound, all except the Savannah. It was so named because it was first identified in Savannah, Georgia.  There is still ample time to enjoy the Sparrows of the Avalon before the end of the summer. Last year, I had a number of sparrows visit my yard. So far this year, that has not happened. I shall keep watching for them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Started the day bird watching but ended up whale watching

Early yesterday morning I headed out to Cape Spear in the hopes of seeing some sea birds, namely shearwaters. Then, if I saw them I hoped that I would know what I was seeing. It wasn't a hot day by any means but it was comfortable enough and there was very little wind. These days, I just have to "settle" and go out "like" it is a hot summer's day.
 When I got to the cape I headed down to the point and began scanning for birds. All of a sudden I heard a bit "blow" and looked over to see a humpback whale moving quickly around the point. I watched and tried to take a few pictures but it was not close and it would go under for long periods of time and then come up even farther away.
 From the point I walked up to the lighthouse where others had been watching the whale as it disappeared into the fog.  On my way down from the lighthouses, I noticed an adult whale and a small whale feeding in the cove. I hurried down over the many steps and took up a viewing spot on a rock. Again, they were quite far away but with binoculars I enjoyed the show.
 After about half an hour the pair started to move along shore toward the lookout. I hurried along the coast line and was able to get a shot or two as they moved quickly on their way. I got to the viewing area where many others, tourists included were watching the movement.
Right on cue just below the viewing stand, the adult Humpback Whale turned over in the water. There were many "ah's" and "ooo's" from the onlookers.
I watched and photographed the event and then began to think that the little whale was not keeping up with the adult. I think the adult made a quick turn to go back and get the little one.
 She hurried along with clear purpose going back in the same direction from which she had come.
All of the spectators were really enjoying the unexpected detour that kept them around a little longer.
Within moments she caught up with the little one and they surfaced together heading back toward the feeding ground in the cove.
They disappeared for a few moments and then resurfaced facing the other direction once again moving around the point. They must have made the turn deep under water this time because there was no displaced water.  The adult surfaced first followed by the small whale.
In no time they were once again heading around the cape to disappear in the distance.

All in all I saw five whales yesterday morning. While I did see Northern Gannets, Atlantic Puffins, and Black Guillemots, I didn't see any shearwaters. Nevertheless, I was not disappointed with the morning's trip. Viewing whales in the wild is a spectacular event not to be taken for granted by us who can see them from most any shoreline these days.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pine Grosbeaks in my Backyard!

The Pine Grosbeak is a bird that I  really only have seen at a distance. Their markings are distinct and make them easily distinguishable, except for the orange one that I posted last week.

This week I visited one of the best feeders in the St. John's area and much to my surprise there were Pine Grosbeaks. It was that cold, rainy, windy day with temps at 8 degrees c. My hands were cold and I couldn't get a clear shot no matter how hard I tried.

I must confess, I left there with a serious case of Pine Grosbeak envy.
 Yesterday, I got quite a nice surprise in my own yard. I looked up and there was a pair of Pine Grosbeaks feeding at my distant feeder. I took a few shots and moved closer. They were not bothered by my presence but for the 10 minutes that the sun peeped out yesterday, I was shooting into a back light.
 I decided to get my binoculars and just study them. Much to my surprise they moved to the feeder on my deck where my camera was within reach.  I began taking pictures and was very surprised that they didn't flinch. It was like a reaffirmation that the work that I have been doing in my yard is beginning to pay off. Very satisfied, I had a toast to my new yard bird.
This morning when getting coffee, I looked out the patio door and what should I see but yet another Pine Grosbeak. I kind of think this might be a juvenile. It sat in the pouring rain looking very much like a drenched Pine Grosbeak.
 I opened the patio screen and began taking pictures. Once again, this little bird was not bothered. It put on quite a show.
 It certainly had a bad case of wet, bed head! Yet, it was stunning in its own way.
 Then, this bird appeared at the feeder. Is it the same bird? I really don't think so. In fact, I think it might be a Purple Finch disguising itself as a Pine Grosbeak. When the bird is wet, it looks very different.

This is my favorite shot of the morning bird as it was shaking the water off. During the day, the adult pair dropped in briefly had a bite to eat and went on again. Will they return again?  I really hope so.

This female Pine Grosbeak photographed this morning is very likely the same bird that appeared yesterday afternoon. I make that call due to the bald spot that appears under the beak on both pictures of the females shown here. Is this a common characteristic of the female? I have never seen it on any picture before. Once again, I have questions that I cannot answer. Maybe this time next year, I will know more.

Warblers: Newfoundland Spring and Summer 2011

 While awaiting the arrival of the return of the small songbirds in the Spring, I most anticipated seeing the warblers. To me, they are the most colorful, variable and vocal of all the small birds.
This year they were late coming, perhaps due to the late arrival of Spring.  When they came, they sang their heads off. This lasted for about two weeks and then the song began to taper off. There were a few days when I stood among the trees at Bidgood's Park and was serenaded by many unique songs of the  different species. Sometimes it sounded like an orchestra warming up with dissonant sounds and at other times it was sheer harmony.
 The warblers would frequently sit atop a branch and sing and sing. The songs of the Black and White Warbler and this Blackpoll Warbler are not as melodious as the others. They have a much more terse, thin sound. It was common to hear the Black and White call coming from lower on the tree and deep within a tree or brush.

The Common Yellowthroat Warbler is not that common in the St. John's area. This one was spotted on the Southern Shore near Fermeuse. It did not stay long and would not fully expose itself before flitting off back into the woods. While I was able to see it through the branches, the camera could not capture a full view.
 This Magnolia Warbler was spotted on Power's Road about 5 km in. It wouldn't come close and this was the best look that I got at it this year. This is considered a common bird here but I have only seen this one so far this year.
That is the exact opposite of the Northern Waterthrush. This little warbler has been and continues to be extremely common this year. It sang loudly in Goulds for over a month and I still, occasionally, hear this bird singing in the woods.
It is not as secretive as some birds and has been very accessible to watch and photograph.
I have seen a lot of Wilson's Warblers this year. They seem more plentiful than last year, but then again, I may just be looking in more of the right places this year.
Last year when I first saw the warblers, I was in a bit of a stupor. I had never noticed these colorful birds before and couldn't believe I was seeing them here in Newfoundland. During that time, I did learn to identify some of the more common ones and it was a real thrill when they returned this year and I knew exactly what they were. The Wilson's is one of these easily identifiable birds with its yellow body and black cap.
 Yet, if there has to be a designation of the most plentiful warbler in the St. John's area it would have to be the Yellow-rumped Warbler (an early "arrivant") followed by the Yellow Warbler.
The Yellow Warbler can be seen in most any wooded area and has even appeared in my back yard. For the brief time last evening when the rain stopped, I sat on my deck and watched and listened to a Yellow Warbler as it flitted around the trees. I never tire of seeing these beautiful, charming little birds.
These last two pictures were taken on the Virginia River Trail during a brief weather break. The most "birdy" section of that trail seems to be between Newfoundland Drive and McDonald Drive.
One of my favorite finds this year is this Mourning Warbler which is known to not show itself very often. It is the little surprises like this that add a real element of excitement to bird watching. It is a delight to see the expected birds but it is sheer excitement when a different or less common bird puts in an appearance.

By far, the Yellow-rumped Warbler has been the most common warbler that I have seen this summer. It is put in an early appearance leading the way for the other warblers and continues to show itself in the woods. I saw this bird again yesterday.  They seem very curious and often come out and show themselves very easily.

So far this year I have seen nine different Warblers. That is less than last year but I may still have an opportunity to see a Black-throated Green and maybe a Tennessee
Warbler. I will certainly keep looking.  Maybe when this most recent spell of bad weather passes, the birds will all pop out to celebrate.