Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Drat! No new birds in three weeks!

 Not every day do I find a new bird!  I wish I did.  I have set a target number of birds that I wanted to see this year and I am very close but given the dry spell that I have had over the last three weeks, I probably won't hit my target:(

That prospect doesn't stop me from trying.  The ones that got away in the St. John's area are many.  I have tried multiple times to see:  Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Snowy Owl, King Eider, Lincoln Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Black Scoter, Orange-crowned Warbler and most recently a Pine Warbler.  I wish it weren't so but I missed them all.
 When this happens I take solace in knowing that I am outside enjoying the fresh air, the exercise and the amazing scenery such as the sights that I share today. On October 4, 2011 I was at Cape Spear before sunrise and was able to stand and watch the pallet paint itself in amazing colors.
And then.... in typical Newfoundland fashion all of the color drained out of the sky as a bank of cloud and fog rolled in. Fortunately, it didn't last too long and the sun illuminated the sky once again.

Will I reach my target number of birds over the next 31 days?  Not likely!

Common Tern - Juvenile

 In June 2010 I was seeing my first Common Terns.  I was struck by how elegant, agile and beautiful they are, especially when feeding.  It was then that I photographed this adult Common Tern feeding around Conception Bay South.  I didn't get similar pictures this year.
However, I did get a chance to see a juvenile Common Tern this summer when on a long drive around the Southern Shore.  I was with two other birders and it was a first for all three of us when we spotted terns with a white spot on their head.  The adults in the area were very protective and would fly at us if we got too close. So, on that day there were no "keeper" pictures taken.
On a warm day in August when I went to Mundy Pond to see the Gadwall swimming in the lagoon, I did come upon several young Common Terns.  When I couldn't get a good look at the Gadwall from the trail, I ventured out to the island in the hopes of looking back to see the Gadwall. There was too much growth and water on the island to get to the edge for a good look.  All was not lost, however.  I went to the pond side of the island where I got amazing "looks" at an osprey feeding and then the young birder with me spotted a Common Tern feeding her young.  We edged closer to watch the ritual.  It was then that two juvenile Common Terns lifted off and flew right in front of us. 

These pictures clearly show the white patch on the front of the head that will change to black as the bird matures. 

There is a maxim of birding.  You may not see exactly what you are going to see but if you put yourself out there in typically "birdy" places, you will surely see something special.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In pursuit of the American Pipit, again!

 The experience that Catherine Barrett and I had on November 4, 2011 at Renews Beach reminded me a lot of our first experience with an American Pipit that we had on January 4, 2011 at Bear Cove Beach.
We met up on Nov. 4th quite by accident when viewing the Western Kingbird.  Catherine joined Margie McMillan and me as we continued to scour Renews for any other treasures.  There had been several reports of some rare to uncommon sparrows, an Indigo Bunting and a Blue Grosbeak found around Renews Beach.  The tide was low and it was a great day to walk the beach in search of these birds.
 About half way down the beach two sparrow-like birds flushed and flew to another part of the beach. All that happened so quickly that no ID was possible. We walked the distance of the beach and flushed the pair again who then returned to their first location.  We turned around and walked back to try to get a look.  For the third time, up they came over our heads and back to the other end of the beach.  Still we could not identify them.
This time we decided to split up and approach them from both sides, very slowly and deliberately, mind you.  This was working!  We began to close the gap and they were still on the ground. At last we could get the binoculars on them and identified them as American Pipits at about the same moment.  We gradually worked our way close enough to get these pictures. They are a darned sight better than the ones reported in the January 2011 posting.

In both situations this species of bird made us work very hard to get a good look at them.  Next time I come across an American Pipit, I will factor in the behaviour that we witnessed on both occasions.  That may help.  It is likely that if this had been one of our target birds that they would have flown for the nearby woods and left the beach entirely.

I can't describe how it feels to finally get a bead on a bird that is difficult to identify.  It is the thrill of the hunt combined with the satisfaction of recognizing the bird and capturing a record shot that is so special.  I can't tell you how the sands of time flow through the hour glass when actively engaged in this type of birding.

Monday, November 28, 2011

White-rumped Sandpiper - Bear Cove Pt. Road (Nov. 4, 2011)

 On the same day that I saw the Western Kingbird and the Dovekie this great little White-rumped Sandpiper just appeared in a puddle on the road near the light house at Bear Cove Point.
 It was calm and cooperative, perfectly content to let us look, photograph and just generally enjoy his presence.
He made no effort to get away as we searched the area for any one of the special birds found in the surrounding woods as reported by other birders.
It is remarkable how small this little bird seems when you are really close to it.  His coloring was still vibrant which may be a little unusual for early November.
 If only he could talk, maybe he knew were the rare birds may have been hiding.
Bear Cove Point Road has been an amazing place to bird from Spring to Fall. Even though there were some days that it was very quiet I experienced some amazing days of birding on this road.
Now that we have had our first snow fall (a record for any November since 1980 - 29 cm.) it is not likely that I will go up this road again until Spring 2012.  Winter offers a different kind of birding and I must admit that my favorite time is when Spring warmth breaks through and all of the birds are singing in the woods.  In the meantime I have saved a lot of pictures of small, colorful birds to share during the long, cold winter months.

Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Birds on the Move

 It was on November 4, 2011 when we spotted several flocks of birds moving in the sky, high above us.  On a return drive from Bear Cove Point to Renews we heard some birds in the woods  prompting us to pull over and head into the woods via a semi-trail.  We saw quite a bit of bird activity in the area but were unable to get close enough for pictures.
 While standing knee deep in the tangle of the woods, a large flock of White-winged Crossbills appeared above us.  The flock actually circled over us several times appearing to get add birds with each pass. Staring into the glare of the back light, we were unsure what the birds were but a good guess for any flock this size is a group of finches of some sort.

Closer scrutiny of the pictures revealed that the birds were White-winged Crossbill but I wouldn't have been surprised if there were some other species mixed in with them.  We stared and hoped that they would land some where near us but that didn't happen.
Earlier in the day while looking at the Western Kingbird in Renews a smaller flock flew by and disappeared in the distance.  Again, we were unsure of the species but I got a few pictures that revealed that these birds were Cedar Waxwings.  We also saw flocks of American Robins and American Goldfinch during the day. The birds were on the move!

And then on most every trip there is the "one that got away."  Once again while watching the Western Kingbird a small bird landed on a wire some distance from us.  It was too far to get to in the hopes of seeing it closely.  What made this bird very interesting was that there were no Juncos or House Sparrows around so it seemed possible that this might have been a special bird.  Knowing that I couldn't get a clear picture I still took a couple of snapshots from the distance in the hopes that we might be able to pick up some identifiable markings.  In this case all we have here is the shape of a bird on a wire.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


 I have heard that it is something of an unwritten rule that if you haven't seen a Dovekie then you aren't really a Newfoundland birder.  Well, I waited a long time for that event.  Maybe I have now crossed the track into the land of real birders.
It was on November 4, 2011 when another birder and I took a jaunt to Renews to see the Western Kingbird, a new life bird for me.  That was successful and we had time to spare so we went to Bear Cove Point Road where we connected with yet another birder from Goulds.  We birded the road together and on the way in we didn't have much luck.  When we reached the lighthouse, we heard but didn't see many birds.  Then, while peering off the point into the waters, Catherine Barrett spotted the Dovekie. In moments I had my binoculars on it and was pretty excited. At last.... my first Dovekie!  Thanks Catherine.

This is the smallest auk and is only about 7 to 9" long.  It is pretty easy to identify because of its size and it appears to have no neck.  This one is now in its winter plumage and was all alone. Like most sea birds it is very difficult to get a picture because of the distance.  Nevertheless, I did walk away with record shots of this great little bird.

That brought my total for the day to two "life" birds. An unexpected sighting such as this is always a thrill!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Greater Yellowlegs at Second Pond

These photos date back to the evening of September 1, 2011.  It is funny how the many pictures that I have can prompt a clear recollection.  I had gone for a walk at Second Pond after supper in search of some special shorebirds that had been showing up in this area.

I was alone soaking up the surroundings and gazing at this Greater Yellowlegs standing on this rock.  It was the only bird in the area at the moment. It was then that my phone rang and the voice on the other end said, "Turn around." I did and there was the welcome face of another birder who had also grabbed a moment after supper to check out the birds.
 She walked over and we were standing there talking when the Greater Yellowlegs lifted off and flew right past us. Through pure reflex I lifted my camera and fired off the two shots that I showcase today.
The Greater Yellowlegs is a great bird to photograph.  Its features are so distinct, its behaviour is very predictable, its colors typically contrast very well with its surroundings and it will often stay close to shore. Some of my favorite pictures are of this species.

Click on the images to get a better look.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ruddy Duck - Female

 What is special about this bird?  Well, for me it is my first opportunity to see a female Ruddy Duck, and for St. John's it marked a rare chance to see two Ruddy Ducks together.  The only time that this has occurred in recent memory was in 2006 where two were located at Mundy Pond.
These two Ruddy Ducks showed up at Forest Pond in Goulds in late October and have stayed around for quite a while.
 It is interesting in that Forest Pond is known to attract different birds.  Most of them land and stay around an area where rocks protrude out of the water but these two little marsh-dwelling birds are staying at a different section of the pond and are staying fairly close to shore.
 I have had an opportunity to see them on three different occasions but only one day provided lighting conditions where I could work with the pictures.
The Ruddy Duck is known to winter in waters around Massachusetts but from time to time they seem to get blown off course and end up here.

I recall a Ruddy Duck being located in Fourth Pond in Goulds in September 2010 hanging out with all things....a Surf Scoter! I went over but was unable to see that one.
So, I was quite pleased when a great little male Ruddy Duck flew into Quidi Vidi Lake last April and stayed around for quite a while.  The sun was warming things up a little at that time and it was a good situation to sit and view that duck as it fed, slept and generally entertained the many on-lookers. Pictures of the male Ruddy Duck appear at the end of this post.
 The Ruddy Duck is one of those birds where identification is quite easy. They are very small, have a stiff tail that is often visible when it is moving about the pond and it has a distinct bill. Even though the female plumage is very different from the male, it is still clearly a Ruddy Duck.

Now, all that remains is for me to see a pair of these birds together.

We have been experiencing consistently high winds for the last two weeks.  With that kind of fast "air" we could see just about anything fall into our wintry island.

Winter indeed arrived in Newfoundland last night. There was at least 18 inches of snow in my driveway this morning and it is still falling. This really kicked up the Junco activity at my feeder today.  I will have to dart out in the back yard and top up the feeders soon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Common Grackle - Blackhead

 Trips down Blackhead Road these days don't offer up much in the way of birds.  There are flocks of Juncos, American Goldfinch, Chickadees and occasional Purple Finch flitting around the trees but closer looks don't yield much else.  Look up, waaaay up and you may see flocks of American Robins and White-winged Crossbills flying overhead.

At this time of year, I guess, this is very common so when anything else pops up it is worth chasing down.
While standing on the side of the road in the community of Blackhead looking at a flock of Juncos, a black bird flew by quite low along the street and darted into the woods at about two feet off the ground.

What was it?  The mind starts processing:  It was too small for a crow and its behaviour was not like a crow. It was about the size of a Robin but it was too dark. What was it?

 My friend and I got in the car and drove to the area where it went into the woods and we stopped.  I quickly got out and peered into the woods. There was this beautiful Common Grackle.  It only stayed long enough to eat a berry or two and then it was gone.
Thank goodness for curiosity or we would have missed seeing this beautifully colored bird.  Recently, a flock of about 50 Common Grackles was reported in the heart of St. John's and I have seen a few flying overhead as I travel around the city. It looks like there may be a group planning to spend the Winter here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Red-necked Grebe

 It was less than two weeks ago that I saw a Red-necked Grebe's silhouette some distance from shore in Harbour Grace.  My experience has been that once I see a bird, I tend to keep seeing the same species over and over. It is funny how that seems to happen.
In a drive-about yesterday, I popped down to the sewer outlet in Torbay.  This is the same area where I saw several White-winged Scoter just a few weeks back.  The area always seems to have a small flock of sea gulls, Black Ducks and Mallards. Yesterday, the usual group was joined by two winter plumage Black Guillemot, one female White-winged Scoter and this Red-necked Grebe.
When I first saw it, I thought it was a loon but it just didn't look right for a loon. I kept looking at it through my binoculars and it began to move closer to shore.  It's neck was too long for a loon and then I saw the yellow bill. This couldn't be a loon.
I stayed in my car next to the guard rail and watched and waited. Experience has taught me that once a sea bird sees a person it will either dive or slowly and steadily move farther from shore or both, dive and come up farther from shore.
This bird didn't seem to be feeding so I figured it would vanish very quickly if I tried to get closer. I took a moment to look in my field guide to make an ID on the bird and when I looked up I couldn't see it any more. I watched and watched and it popped back up to the surface but it was definitely farther away. It would come and go like the tide. This may well have been the best opportunity that I will have to get a really good look at a Red-necked Grebe. I enjoyed it to the fullest.

Click on an image to enlarge it.