Thursday, May 31, 2012

American Robin - Nesting Behaviour

It very easy to tell when you are in a nesting zone with American Robins. Immediately, the male jumps out in the open and begins to fuss in a big way.  The speech is aggressive as is the movement. It jumps around like a cat on a hot tin roof!
The feathers on the crown bristle and the posture is assertive. Since the female, a paler rendition, is likely sitting, it is the male that takes on the role of the protector.
I have been in this particular area off Power's Rd. several times looking for a mystery bird I heard there. Every time I enter the trail, out pops this guy telling me to go away. I move through the area as quickly and as quietly as possible in an effort to not disturb the birds too much.

I came across this robin's egg on the trail at Bidgood's Park on May 24th. I don't know much about the hatching process, other than having hatched many quail in an incubator. This egg actually looks like the bird may have pecked its way out. I think this because the opening is localized and there seems to be no damage to the remainder of the shell.  Have the robins all around hatched by now? 

I heard a "cheep" rather than a "chip" coming from the trees behind my home yesterday.  At the time I wondered if it might be a baby bird.  It is exciting times to get out and watch nature unfold.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

White-crowned Sparrow

While Newfoundland is in the migratory range for the White-crowned Sparrow, I really didn't ever expect to see one.  They are most often reported on the west coast, so it was particularly exciting when Catherine and Paul Barrett reported one at their feeder. There, it joins a Fox Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow.
When I heard about it, I immediately headed to Goulds to see this one. Right on cue, it hopped up in a tree and then down on the ground.
The markings of this sparrow are very distinct.  The broad white crown bordered by black stripes and its plain gray breast are very prominent.  I also found the white spots on the wing bars to be very interesting.
This sparrow eats seeds, grass, buds, fruits and insects.  It will readily eat from a ground feeder of sunflower seeds and mixed bird seed. To attract this bird into your yard, try sprinkling seed on the ground near a wooded area for quick escape. If there is no protected area in your yard, try creating a brush pile that it can retreat into.
I didn't do a very good job on these pictures, despite a good opportunity.  I decided to take my camera in for a cleaning. When using it on a daily basis and placing it on the floor in the back seat of my car in between birds, it surely acquires a lot of dirt build-up. It took the auto focus to slow before I gave into giving it up for a couple of days.
Hats off to the Barretts who have been able to attract so many wonderful birds to their yard by always keeping their feeders topped up and for sharing the fruit of their labour with us all.

This is my fourth new bird for 2012. 

Note:  I removed the Google Ads from my site and the McAffee warning seems to have disappeared.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Magnolia Re-visited

First, let me address the McAfee Warning that has been popping up on my screen when I enter my site.  It does not happen every time but enough to concern me.  I have been told that it is happening on other people's screens as well, and it is definitely hurting the traffic as people hesitate to move past that barrier.  Nothing has been added to my site recently that might cause any problems. I will remove some of the gadgets as they may be the cause of the alert. I don't know how to complain about this but will try to get it worked out quickly.

After visiting the Magnolia on Power's Road a couple of times and returning home with no pictures to share, I decided to pop back and apply the time necessary to get a really good look at this hard-to-see warbler.
While I have seen one Magnolia each year of my birding, they are not seen frequently. It is good to make the most of it when it is so readily available.
Seeing a really good bird is like seeing a great movie:  Every time you watch it, you hear or see something more that enriches the experience. Such was the case with the Magnolia. It came down out of its high perch and flitted around among the brush at about three feet.  It was not always visible, but every now and then, it would pop up long enough for me to get a shot.
I was really taken by the richness of the golden yellow, especially under its beak. The bold dark stripes down its golden belly are stunning.

It was a cold, overcast day yesterday so the yellow didn't show as well as it could have. The best part of birding yesterday morning was that the wind was very low. Trying to ignore the frozen rain falling around me, I saw just how different this bird is from the Yellow-rumped Warbler.  Both birds bear some resemblance around the head and eye, the back also is similar. If seen from a distance or the back, it might be very easy to mistake the Magnolia for a Yellow-rumped.  The markings on the underside tail are quite different , the wing-bar stripes and of course, the flashing yellow rump is the give-away for the Yellow-rumped.
I left the road feeling satisfied that I had studied this bird well. Its call is very distinct, and I am working on trying to remember it.  At this point, all that I can recall, is that it is quite different from the other common warblers in the area.
I attached a picture of a Yellow-rumped Warbler for comparison.

Monday, May 28, 2012

American Redstart - Male

It was just a few days ago when I found a few American Redstart along the side of the road.  I could hardly see the bird but I saw flashes of orange, and I was sure what it was.  Today, I stopped by the same area where I paced a short stretch of the road for more than an hour. My patience paid off.
In the beginning there was no bird activity at all on the road, but I was sure the Redstarts must still be around. At last, I caught sight of one. It played the same game as last week - stayed away from the road and hidden in the branches.
With a few twists of my bird call, it moved out into the open albeit still away from the road.  I maneuvered until I finally got a clear shot of it.
What a stunning bird and it even sat and sang me a brief song. Some people refer to this as the "butterfly  of the bird world," so named for its pattern of fluttering and the orange on its wings and tail.
I have never had such a good look at the male American Redstart, but three females turned up in my yard two years ago.  Today, I caught sight of several females, but they simply would not come out into the open.
While waiting so long for the Redstart to show up, I saw one of almost every kind of bird on the go now.  The hour on this road flew by as quickly as the Redstarts.

Click on images to enlarge them.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Expect the Unexpected!

It was the report of the Northern Shovelers that pulled me away from my yard on the 22nd.  I hurried over to Goulds and was able to see them.  Of course, it is impossible to be in the area and not check out a few other places. Given the time of the day, late afternoon, I didn't expect to see anything on Power's Road.
It was really quiet there that evening, until Margie M. and I came upon this Hermit Thrush singing away. We certainly didn't expect to see it.  It stayed in the area in full voice and outlasted us.

It is one thing to go in search of a special bird, or just explore an area for familiar and common birds. However, when one unexpected finds its way into the picture, it is adds an extra flavour to the whole trip.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hawk Heaven

Fairly early Thursday morning, I found a Northern Harrier on Power's Road.  It was quite far from the road, and I didn't get any pictures. When I first saw it skirting along the tree tops, I felt confident it was a Northern Harrier. Then, I saw the flash of the white on the rump. It was a Northern Harrier, alright.

I went on about my birding the rest of the road and toward the end of my scouting, I decided to return to the area to see if I could get a picture.
As soon as I rounded the bend at about 4 km. in the road, I saw a flurry of activity.  I pulled forward, readied my camera for any opportunity and started watching with my binoculars.
Wow! What was going on?  There were two harriers, one was clearly a male and the other, a female. But wait, there was also a Northern Goshawk among them briefly.  I didn't get a shot of it as it was too far away.
This was my first time to see a male Northern Harrier and it was stunning.
Getting to see the male and female side-by-side, I will always be able to differentiate them in the future.  I wondered if the pair might be nesting in the area.  I returned to the spot, twice, yesterday and I couldn't find any sign of them. Maybe they decided the areas was just too busy.
I watched as the action intensified. Both harriers were very aggressive. Of course, the crows had moved in to get in on the action. The harriers were chasing the crows.  This poor crow looked like it has been in a major fray.

The harriers persisted until the crows were driven off.
Then, a Bald Eagle moved into the area.  The harriers immediately turned their attention to the eagle and drove it off.
I may never see another multi-raptor event such as this again but the memory of this time will stay with me for a long time.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Magnolia Played Hard-to-Get

Elusive and Tricky! That's what my experience was with the Magnolia Warbler.  Two evenings ago, Margie M. and I were driving Power's Road.  We were delighted to find a Hermit Thrush singing loudly from the top of a tree, but on the way back out of the road, we heard something different. I had seen a Magnolia on this road last year, so I checked the sound on my machine. The bird we heard did not sound anything like the iBird version. We got out and walked around. It was surely in the tree right in front of us but ten minutes of looking it over yielded nothing. Then, the singing bird flew, and we didn't get a look at it. We hung around and beat back the flies as long as we could stand and ended up going home knowing we had missed something good.

Still curious and thinking about it a lot, I headed back to the spot this morning. I heard nothing in the area on the way up the road, but on the way back I heard it loud and clear. I stopped the car on the spot and listened. It was close and stayed a long time singing. Finally, I ventured out of the car and once again, I knew which tree it was in. Yet again, I could not see it. The temp was cold and the wind was gusting. Why couldn't I see the bird? 

After about twenty minutes or so, I spotted Mike P. driving up the road and rushed to his car. "Listen. Do you know what that is?"  He heard it right away and thought it was the Magnolia.  Both of us pinpointed the tree but couldn't see it. After about 5-10 minutes, we saw a flutter. I raised my camera and got on it right away. It WAS the Magnolia.

It's behaviour was quite unique.  It moved from tree to tree, judging by the location of the song but was never visible. It stayed fairly low in the trees and it was not possible to see it when it relocated.  Perhaps motivated by the cold, blustery day, it stayed in close to the trunk of the tree. In fact, very few birds jumped out in the open today. It crossed the road at some point, unseen by us.  I went in a trail in pursuit of what looked like a Redstart. When I came out with nothing, Mike told me he got a good look at the Magnolia on the opposite side of the road.

Sometimes, it just takes patience to find a special bird, and it sure is wonderful when it pays off.

Birding With My Granddaughter

Yesterday was one of those special days that I spend with my granddaughter.  She is so bright and willing to engage in an adventure at any time.  I took her to MUN in search of the Common Yellowthroat spotted there the day before.  We didn't have any luck, but we made the most of finding Juncos.  On our stroll back to the car, we came across this lovely patch of tulips, and she fully cooperated with my request to tiptoe into the patch.
In between appointments and chores, we stopped by Kenny's Pond to see the swans and play in the play ground. Introducing a child to birdwatching is really all about making the experience fun and exciting.  She was really taken by the flashy displays of  Mr. Swan. The size of the nest and Mrs. Swan "sitting" was also special.

We walked around the pond where we saw a single Yellow Warbler singing its heart out. As we made our way around the pond, she wondered why people walk in circles.
She quickly spotted the playground and birdwatching was put on hold for a while.  The equipment at this location is the best I have seen in the city for a four-year-old. Every piece was age-appropriate, and she had a grand time. Once again making an observation...why are there so few children playing there?  This time on our way back to the car, out popped Mr. Swan heading straight for us. Uh-oh! We backed away and then ran for safety. How exciting!

Later in the afternoon, we looked at the pictures from the morning. Also on my camera were these shots taken the day before.  As soon as she saw these she made a gleeful identification - " A Red Warbler."
When I told her they were Purple Finches, she wasn't going to buy into that. There is no purple on them! She wanted to see more bird pictures.  That, I think, is the key to nurturing a little birdwatcher...keep it short and sweet and keep them wanting more.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spotted Sandpiper - Victoria Day Weekend

Right on schedule!  It was two years ago on the Victoria Day Weekend while walking around Long Pond that I saw my first Spotted Sandpiper.  It is funny how in the throws of a fading memory I can recall each and every time and place where I first saw a bird.  That is a testimony to the excitement of it. Much like historical events, when someone asks me where did you first see a particular bird, I know.
This year I saw my first shorebird, the Spotted Sandpiper, at Fourth Pond in Goulds.  I was taken with watching the swallows on a wire when I heard a clear "peet" come from over the water.  I looked quickly and saw two sandpipers flying toward me over the water. They landed briefly and took off again.
Following my usual route from Fourth Pond, on to Forest Pond and then Second Pond, I decided to walk the trail.  When I arrived at the marsh, I saw a sandpiper sitting on a rock and another flitting around. The fisherman perched on a nearby rock didn't seem to bother them at all.
I worked my way toward them and was able to get fairly close. The sandpipers were fully in breeding plumage with the small round spots covering the breast and undersides.  This little bird often looks like it is about to lose its balance as it teeters up and down on a rock. My total Spotted Sandpipers for the day was four. Not a bad start.  Now, I am looking forward to the return of the Greater Yellowlegs to the St. John's area.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Barn Swallows - Male and Female

The Barn Swallow is one of the most strikingly pretty of all all of the swallows.  Its back is cobalt blue, and they have a rich chestnut color on their lower face, almost-neck, and chest. This color fades into a rusty color on their bellies.  The degree of the bright color varies from bird to bird and gender.
Apparently, the brighter the color, the healthier the bird is supposed to be. It is the male that has the most color on its underneath while  the female underparts are a light wash of  buff color. The female also has a more rusty forehead and neck instead of the deep chestnut color of the male.   The male also has a longer, more deeply forked tail than does the female. This picture clearly illustrates the difference. (The last three photos in this post also show the difference in length of the forked tail.)
This male is very handsome and is sure to attract a female. The female of this species is known to pick her mate based on the brightness of his appearance.  The sad part of it is, she will move on to another if a more dashing male presents itself.   For the female, the mating game is never over.  As her chosen male fades during the season, she will pick another.
This male spent a lot of time preening and working to make himself the most handsome bird on the wire.
This shot shows the the male tail very well including the spots at the edges.  When I spent all of that time trying to catch a Barn Swallow in flight, I really didn't think I would get a chance such as this to really study its markings.

Barn Swallows do not visit feeders but have been known to visit yards with crushed egg shells and a mud supply, as their nests are built of mud. It takes more than a miracle to have nesting birds in a back yard. These two bits of information may be helpful to anyone attempting to lure a nesting pair into a yard.
Swallows, like many other species, have very specific calendars of events. They tend to return to breeding grounds on the same day (with an allowance of a day or two) each year. The Cliff Swallows of Capistrano have been documented to return to San Juan, California every March 19th.  Unfortunately, when some renovations were done on the church, the swallows went elsewhere.  Workers there are now in the process of recreating a more natural habitat in the hopes of luring them back.
It seems that I am now progressing into a different phase of birdwatching enjoyment. Initially, I was "ahhing and oohing" over the variety and diversity of the many birds that visit Newfoundland.  From there, I became quite contented to be able to group my sightings by "family" classification, i.e. finches, warblers, thrushes, etc.. Then, it became important to me to identify the species of the bird, and now, in addition to all of the above, I want to know more about the gender, range and cycle of the birds. For me as a hobbyist, learning has been a low-impact, exciting experience that has naturally progressed and will obviously continue to just happen.