Sunday, February 12, 2012

Close Encounter with a Gray Jay

 What a fantastic day we had yesterday!  Catherine Barrett rallied Margie McMillan and me to head to the Southern Shore for a full day birding. We stopped at numerous locations on our way to Cape Race and were able to see a steady stream of birds all day.
On the drive down, Margie spotted Gray Jays. We backed up and had a good look.  There were three. The Gray Jay is a bird that we don't see that often on the Avalon, so even though it is a common bird in NL, it was not common to us.
A little farther down the road, Catherine spotted a Gray Jay sitting atop a tree, and we backed up again.  There were two this time, for a total of five Gray Jays in one day.  My camera was set to take some distant shots, and I didn't expect to get anything notable.
Then, Margie began to throw some biscuits out the window. Much to my surprise, in flew a Gray Jay.  I was fumbling with my camera, adjusting settings, trying to get my seat belt off and all the time, saying "wait, wait, I'm not ready."
The morsels continued to fly out the window, and I managed to get a more appropriate setting on my camera and started shooting right away.  I haven't had a close encounter with a small bird in a long time, and this was exciting.
 In no time, there were two Gray Jays just feet away from us scrounging every bite. They jumped out of the woods, looking like they had springs on their feet.

 When the treat was gone, they flew back up into the woods, only to return again when another biscuit appeared.
These two were a very happy pair and typical of their demeanor, they were fearless. These birds are known to eat from hand or to rob a picnic table with a crowd sitting around.
 Despite their boldness, they kept a watchful eye on us, taking no chances.  The sound of the shutter constantly clicking also seemed to get their attention.
 It was a very special treat to have an opportunity to watch these playful little birds enjoying every bite.
I could have easily stayed for an hour enjoying the Gray Jays of the Southern Shore.  This was a real learning experience for me because I have never seen them as close as this or in this mode. Some of the food disappeared really quickly.  When I looked their behaviour up, I learned they coat food with saliva and store it away for later. I wonder if that is what they were doing when they flew off with a large chunk of biscuit in their mouth.
 This bird is also known as a Whiskey Jack, and I have heard them referenced by this name by people who spend a lot of time in the woods, like hunters and loggers.

This was not our most rare bird of the day, but it was, indeed, our closest and most fun.

Note:  Click on the image to enlarge it.

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