Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bauline East

Anyone who has ever been to Bauline East, Newfoundland will recognize these colorful buildings near the harbour.  I rarely see any activity in the area so I think they may be used seasonally.  The splash of vibrant colors is enough to make anyone stop and enjoy.
 I was thinking this morning about a quick trip made to Bauline East last Sunday morning. It made me think of how it must be to be a firefighter. The alarm goes off, you haul on your boots and coat and grab your keys and head to the alarm site.  Birders do the same thing, sometimes even with the same sense of urgency as a fireman.

A post on the Discussion Group announced that a Scarlet Tanager had been seen near Bauline East in Burnt Cove.  That is only about 45 minutes away so why not jump in the car and try to find this great little bird.  I have not seen one this year and never seen one in its Fall plumage.
 The trip was on.  We arrived at the location and there was not a bird in sight. That's not unusual.  We drove slowly along the road heading to Bauline East. Then the bird activity picked up and we stopped the car to take a look.  Two very interesting birds appeared among the juncos, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Goldfinch. However, they were there one minute and gone the next and no picture reported their existence, ergo no identification. Ugh! Every time that happens, I feel somewhat deflated.
I decided to leave the car and walk the road. There was the usual Belted Kingfisher that resides near the freshwater pond. It chattered up a storm as it moved about.  I walked to the end of the road reaching the boat launch without any other bird action.

On my walk back I flushed three Mourning Doves up from the side of the road.  I wonder where they were when I first walked by.  Mourning Doves seem to be everywhere these days.  I have seen eight over the last two weeks.

My birding buddy had not had any more success than I did so we got in the car and headed back up the road.  This time when we approached the location where the Scarlet Tanager was previously sighted, we saw some junco activity.  We inched as close as possible in the car and sat and watched.

Then all of a sudden I heard my birding partner say she was on a bird.  I struggled to see it with my binoculars because of the distance and the background color that was impacting visibility.  Then finally I saw it and started getting pictures.  I now must confess that we thought we had the Scarlet Tanager. Feeling quite proud of ourselves we thought we could head back home.

On the return drive we couldn't help but notice this huge bird on a lawn bordering the highway.  Screech went the tires and we pulled into an empty driveway to get a better look. There was this perfect domestic turkey grazing in the front yard.  Without a feather out of place or the least bit of fading or wear and tear, this turkey was perfect. It didn't look like a wild turkey at all.  We spotted a neighbor working in his yard and stopped to ask the story of this big guy.  It apparently belongs to a nearby family and has been left out on its own for quite sometime.  Seeing it so unexpectedly was a treat.

Well, we returned home and I began reviewing the pictures from the day.  It wasn't long before I really began to doubt that we had the Scarlet Tanager.  It was just too brown.  I sent the picture to someone who would surely know and got word that it was an Indigo Bunting. What?  How can it be that I didn't recognize an Indigo Bunting after I had just been studying them?  There didn't seem to be even a tint of blue on it. Anyway, the best part of the story is that it turned out to be a "life" bird for my buddy.

For both of us we reflected on how "wishful thinking" can color one's vision.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Finds Me

Sometimes I set out to find a bird that has been reported. More often than not, I come up empty-handed. It just seems that when I put myself out there in potentially "birdy" places, the most unexpected bird turns up. Not once, but twice!

This happens a lot. I go for a period of time that seems like forever not seeing a bird that I want to see. Then, once I see it the first time, I just keep seeing it again and again.  This was the case with the Blue Grosbeak. I kept looking for that bird and now in a short span of time, I have seen it four times. Each time it looked different, but that is for another post.
 While having a morning stroll around Cape Spear hoping to see a Lapland Longspur, I spotted a bird that disappeared over the edge of the cliff.  I got closer really expecting to see an American Pipit but I couldn't relocate the bird. I moved on when I caught a flash of white flying low over the short brush covering the hillside. I couldn't believe my eyes when I finally got a good look. There it was again...the Yellow-billed Cuckoo!  I had only seen my first one about ten days earlier.
This was a great opportunity to watch its behaviour in a different terrain. When I saw it last, it was sitting about mid-way up a tree. This time it was ground dwelling. I watched as I continued to walk toward the lighthouses. It moved just ahead of me, always keeping a safe distance.
Then I got a surprise, it latched on to a side of a rock using its long tail to help maintain a grip, much like a woodpecker. That was very different from what I expected.
Then it let go of the rock and flew right in front of me.  This picture is so blurry that it hurts my eyes but I uploaded it because this is the only shot that I have that shows the great tawny color under the wings. 

I have now seen this bird twice and its behaviour was very different both times.  I wonder how many times one has to see a bird to really develop an understanding of its habits.  Fortunately, the field markings of this bird are so distinct that there was no mistaking it for anything other than what it was. Yet, if this had been one of those confusing fall warblers that look so much alike, I would have been convinced that it had to have been two different birds because of its location and behaviour.

I continued my walk up the hill and this great bird led the way for a long time until it finally branched off onto a secondary trail at the Cape.

Nope, I didn't see a Lapland Longspur and still look forward to that opportunity but my morning definitely was not dull.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Search Feature!

If you are looking for pictures of a specific bird, please be sure to use the "Search Feature" at the top of the page.  I am nearing 400 posts now and there are multiple entries for some birds.  These multiple entries do not appear in the index as I only add new birds to that list.

The "views" this month have exceeded all other months over the last 18 months, and I would like to thank the visitors who come to my site and hope you continue to find the pictures and the info interesting.

Golden-crowned Kinglet - 2011

 During my first year of birding (just last year) I could find a Golden-crowned Kinglet most any day at Long Pond or along the road around Bauline or Pouch Cove. Then all of a sudden they were gone.  This little bird is a common breeder and year-round resident of Eastern Newfoundland. I was puzzled why they had been so scarce.

According to range maps they may have moved into the Northern Peninsula during breeding.

On October 17th I came across two small flocks of these small little birds on Blackhead Road while travelling from Cape Spear. What a welcome sight! 

Then, all of a sudden, I began seeing them everywhere. What causes a common little bird to move around like this?  They are here; they are gone and now they are back again enmasse.
The Golden-crowned Kinglet feeds on insects, seeds, sap and more.  On the Avalon we had a very poor cone crop last year. Could this have affected the movement of this bird?  If so, then they should stay around for quite a while this year because the trees are laden with cones.

Berries are also abundant this year when we had practically none last year.  Folk lore has it that when there is a large Dogberry crop that we will have an equivalent abundance of snow.  We all hope that this will not be the case!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sharp-shinned Hawk Soaring

 These pictures are such huge crops that they are very grainy and blurry. So why post them?  Well, it was just last week that I reported that I had never seen a Sharp-shinned Hawk soar.  Up until then I have only seen them sitting on branches and swooping in fast and low to take its prey.
 Well, that changed on Sunday while in Bauline East.  I had spotted two very interesting little birds fly into the woods and disappear. I kept hoping that they would reappear for an identification.  That didn't happen. While patiently waiting, I spotted a hawk soaring very, very high overhead. There was no chance to identify it with binoculars.  Thanks to some good lighting I was able to get some shots that are identifiable.
 It is very interesting how a wrong perception of a bird's behaviour can impede identification. I was so confident that a Sharpie didn't soar that even the markings didn't convince me that this was the common, everyday Sharp-shinned Hawk. I guess I was thinking in a box.
This bird looked really big in the distance and it kept circling and moving farther and farther away. This behaviour was more typical of my experience with a Northern Goshawk or a Northern Harrier, not a Sharp-shinned Hawk. While we didn't get any great birds that day, I did learn a good lesson that both behaviour AND field markings add up to a correct ID.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Snow Bunting - Bear Cove Beach

Even on a gray, foggy, misty day, this little bird stands out in its non-breeding plumage. A week ago today two other birders and I were enjoying a fairly warm day birding around the Southern Shore.  We were standing on the edge of Bear Cove Beach surveying the shorebirds that were barely visible in the fog when all of a sudden in flew this little Snow Bunting.
At any time this little migratory bird is always nice to see but by contrast to the conditions and the shorebirds, it was a stunner. Its rusty colors mixed with black and the amazingly white streak beginning at the shoulder and running down the wing made it as real standout.

 This little Snow Bunting seemed to like us. It took its time but is began working its way toward us and was so close at times that it was impossible to get a clear picture with a telephoto lens.  It was not bothered by our movement or talking.  This is very unlike Snow Buntings that I have seen in a flock in Portugal Cove South but very similar to the behaviour of Snow Buntings that have gathered at Cape Spear. There, they can often be found on the boardwalk and will stay just feet ahead of walkers.
This migratory bird winters in Newfoundland and may well be a common sight throughout the months to come.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Indigo Bunting

 Three days ago I set out to see what I could find on Blackhead Road.  There were quite a few Robins and Juncos moving around so I was hopeful that I would find something special.  Indigo Buntings had been sighted but I hadn't seen one. That would be good.

After several attempts to locate a flock of birds in the community of Blackhead, I finally came upon them.  I set out to pick my way through the tall grass, bushes and fallen limbs.  I couldn't really see what I was stepping into but we don't have any reptiles here so I was pretty brave. Then, squish!  I was in the water. Two days in a row I was soaked up past my ankles. Oh, well, once wet there really is no reason to turn back.  I kept inching my way toward the birds. 

I saw what I thought was an Indigo Bunting and a Blue Grosbeak, confirmed several Red Crossbills, American Goldfinch and Juncos. I really didn't get any good pictures and I really wasn't sure what I had pictures of.
Dripping wet I returned to my car and headed toward Cape Spear.  I picked a spot on the road and decided to get out and do some pishing.  There I was standing up along the side of the road with my back to the traffic, hissing like I had lost my mind.

I was just about to give up when I noticed something small moving among the alders.  I looked very closely and saw two little brown birds that seemed to have a white throat.  I couldn't see them well and had no idea what they were.

Then, as quickly as they came, they left and I was unable to get one picture.
 I stood there limp grieving the loss of these little birds.  Then, I decided to move up the hill to see if they had gone there. I pished a little and voila, there they were. With a great deal of effort I was able to get these top three pictures before they disappeared again.

When I returned to my car to review the images, I was sure that I would be able to identify these birds from the pictures that I had and with a smile on my face I began my drive back.
Then, just in front of me I spotted this little bird skirting along the edge where the woods meets the road.  I stopped right away. Maybe the park should put up a sign, "Beware of Birdwatchers."

I was able to inch my way up close to this little bird as it seemed intent on staying in the open.
It came out of hiding and ignored me totally.  Right away, I noticed that this little bird had more brown on its breast than the one that I photographed earlier.

There was a difference in the behaviour of these two birds.  One was more bold and the other was more secretive.  I came to the conclusion, maybe erroneously, that the one on the gravel was a female and the one hiding in the trees was a male. The bird that stayed hidden away in the trees had a very pale blue breast.
The Indigo Bunting in front of me began to gather insects that were mixed among the small stones.
It picked, threw back its head, opened its beak and swallowed several insects as I looked on.
What great luck!  I thought I had missed my chance to see these birds altogether and then here sat one right out in the open!
 While that bird ate away at every insect it could gather, I turned my attention to the one hiding in the brush.
At last the other one stepped out in the open enough for me to see the beautiful blue on its breast. I wasn't sure, mind you, but I thought that I had found the Indigo Buntings.
The subtle blue on the breast and wings and tail told the story.  When I returned to the car, I grabbed my bird guide and started comparing my pictures with the images in the book. This was one of those really sweet moments: There were no birds in sight; I was able to lure these two into the area and worked very hard to see them and ended up with identifiable pictures of a new life bird.

There is an amazing satisfaction associated with these kinds of birding experiences.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

 Last week word rang out that a Fork-tailed Flycatcher had landed! This bird breeds from Southern Mexico to Argentina but tracks north to the Eastern seaboard on rare occasions. This visitor became the fifth Fork-tailed Flycatcher to be recorded in Newfoundland. Visit Dave Brown's blog linked from this page to get a feel for the excitement of this bird's arrival.
 Word came late in the day of this bird's presence and perhaps I am too much of a novice to really appreciate how rare this experience was, but I didn't go to see it on that day. The next day the rains came and I thought that it would be very poor viewing so once again, I didn't make the trip.  The next day dawned warm and sunny but I was involved in a planned trip on the following day to bird the whole Southern Shore. I just couldn't justify making this trip two days in a row so I was really hoping the our rare visitor would stick around. It did! 
We searched for it for only about five minutes and then, there it appeared sitting on a power line. Thank goodness we got to see it.  It was a very poor day for photos and time was short if we were going to make it all the way to Trepassey where other uncommon birds had been spotted.  We spent about 20 minutes with this very interesting little guy. In this shot he seems to be yawning. I can only imagine how long the trip from the South to Renews took and even after several days, he must still be tired.
 Nevertheless, he was still very active. He carried out his fly catching as if no one were watching. He would spring from the wire to a post, to a small tree, and to the wire again. It never came too close so it was a real chore to get a great look.  He is still reported to be in the area and perhaps another trip is in order to try to get a really close view. Who knows when another will come our way.
It is always great to see a new bird, especially one as exotic as this one but it is even more special to view it with other bird lovers. In addition to our group of three, two other birders from St. John's joined us at the viewing grounds. There is often a quiet calm that comes over birders as they stand and stare in awe at the wonder of the absolute perfection of nature embodied in one little creature.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Renews Egret

When do you only spend five minutes with a Great Egret?  When there is a Fork-tailed Flycatcher in the neighbourhood!  This is the fourth Great Egret that I have seen on the Avalon Peninsula over the last two years and I know others have been reported. One of them succumbed to the exhaustion shortly after its arrival.  Others have stayed for quite a while before leaving for parts unknown.
Perhaps it is the huge wings on this bird that make it susceptible to getting swept away by strong winds. Whatever the cause, these are always welcome visitors to the province. Many non-birders stop and enjoy the sight of the Great Egret.  It is hard to drive by without stopping to admire its sleek, lanky body.  At times it can look amazingly graceful and at other times it seems so disproportionate and awkward.
This Great Egret turned up at Renews which is a very small community on the Southern Shore that has hosted many rare birds over the years. Notable were the Northern Lapwing, many Killdeer, this Great Egret and the latest...the Fork-tailed Flycatcher.  This list doesn't include the many vagrant birds that show up on Bear Cove Point Road.
The weather has be warm and hopefully our current vagrants will eat well, get strong and continue on safely about their journey.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sharp-shinned Hawk in Backyard

For the last two days while out birding I have watched as a Sharp-shinned Hawk swept in and scattered the little birds into hidden nooks. The behaviour of this bird is quite different from the hovering, scouring buteos.  I have never seen this bird circle overhead looking for its prey.

This is a swoop in, grab the prey and fly away kind of guy. They just appear in front of you quickly in pursuit of a small bird and then they are gone. Sometimes they will lurk on a branch and just wait, usually somewhere near a feeder.
Yesterday, another birder and I were watching a group of five Blue Jays enjoying some bird seed left behind.  They were having a great time and demonstrating who among them was the most dominant.  It was an interesting scene. Then, all of a sudden they all flushed and hid away.  There was no obvious reason. Then, within 30 seconds in swooped a Sharp-shinned Hawk. The jays knew well in advance of its arrival.
The hawk flew low into the bushes and it was quiet for a few moments. Then, with a burst of purpose it rose into the air and pursued one lone Blue Jay that was perched atop of Spruce tree. The hawk reached the top of the tree before the jay reacted and then there was a bit of confrontation where the jay escaped and the hawk flew off empty handed.
It was interesting because I have read that the Sharp-shinned Hawk is about the size of a Blue Jay. Well, based on what I saw yesterday as I stared at their silhouettes while they struggled, that just wasn't the case.  The hawk was much larger.
Not particularly thrilled about how the Sharp-shinned Hawk behaved yesterday, I thought about this group of pictures that I took from my deck on August 31st.  On this day the "sharpie" was much more endearing.  It flew in early in the morning and sat on a dead tree and stayed for quite a while.
 I watched it for over fifteen minutes.  First, it scanned the area and then in its comfort zone it began grooming.  It was not at all threatened by my looking on. However, it did stare at me a few times but I guess it decided that I wasn't meal size and went on about its business.
It is just the cycle of nature that the Sharp-shinned Hawk dines on smaller birds but it doesn't make it any easier to see it snatch a little bird out of its prime.  I witnessed this last year as one hawk snagged a Purple Finch.  I have also seen a Northern Goshawk snatch a European Starling and a Bald Eagle rip a Common Eider right out of the water just feet away from me.

These sights are fairly common and can be seen most anywhere at anytime. Despite the difficulty of watching these grab and run events, it is quite awesome to watch the power of birds of prey.