Sunday, April 28, 2013

Black and White Diving Ducks - Bay Ducks

 Listen up! There is a lot of information in this post. I'm sure there have been dissertations galore about black and white diving ducks, and I am going to try to cover it off in one post. Well, it is all relative to how much one knows.  One post is all I can muster.
 Four Bay Ducks commonly frequent the ponds and bays of Newfoundland. The least often, but regularly spotted, is the Ring-necked Duck. When seen up close, this species (both male and female) is very easy to identify by the white ring that crosses its bill. Other notable features are also helpful: The female has a dark eye surrounded by a white eye ring. This is different from the yellow-eyed scaup and Tufted Ducks. The male also has a white vertical mark behind the black breast and before the wing.

 While the record-keepers at e-bird designate the Tufted Duck as being rare in Newfoundland, those of us in St. John's can see them on any and every day of the winter. A flock of a dozen or more moves around the inner-city ponds, making them easily accessible.
 When in doubt about the species, check out the head. The tuft on the male and female Tufted Ducks is very obvious, especially on a windy day. The female Tufted does not always have white/rust at the base of the bill. They can be all brown, and in fact, appear to be a darker brown than the female scaup.
 The male Greater Scaup and male Lesser Scaup can be tricky to differentiate. I have collected a few shots of both species, mainly to educate myself as well as share the information. The male Greater is often whiter than the lesser. It typically has a green head rather than a purple, although this feature can sometimes not be a reliable field mark to tell the two apart. The Greater has a rounder head, wider beak with a large black nail at the tip.
 The female is much more difficult to identify. Like the male, the head is quite round, the beak is wider than the lesser and also has a large black tip. When watching the scaup this week at Mundy (Windy) Pond, I found it helps to be able to view both species together to actually see the differences.
The male Lesser Scaup has a more peaked head, the bill appears more blue and the head is often purple. The beak is more tapered and has a smaller nail.

 The female Lesser Scaup often has a cleaner white patch near the base of the bill. As these pictures illustrate, that is not always the case. However, the head is much more peaked than the Greater, and the picture on the right of the grouping shows the tapered, rather than wide, bill. It helps to see the birds paired off, because the female lesser tends to stay with the male lesser...duh!
 So, that brings us to the point that actually prompted me to work on this post. I saw two bay ducks right in the center of Forest Pond a while back. I looked and looked but from the distance, I couldn't be sure what I was seeing. At first, I considered Ring-necked, but then changed my mind and thought they were probably Tufted Ducks. It turned out they will Ring-necked. Why couldn't I be sure? I told one of the experienced birders in town about my confusion, and this is what she advised me when trying to identify black and white birds from a distance: Look at the color of the back. Tufted and Ring-necked Ducks have a black back. Check the white vertical line before the wing. A large vertical white line denotes Ring-necked. The scaup have a gray back, and it is almost impossible to distinguish one from the other when far away. This info, by the way, was passed on to my source from another birder. So hoping that I got it right, pass it on!
Now, having shared all of these pictures with a little information, which scaup is this? Its head appears peaked, its head is green, its bill is wide and the nail is large. The sides appear to be bright white. So, despite the appearance of a peaked head, this is probably a Greater Scaup just getting ready to dive.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Northern Harrier Return

The first report of a sighting of a Northern Harrier in 2013 came from John Gosse on April 16. He spotted the bird in Cape Freels South in Central.  When I checked my records, I noted that I found the first one on the Avalon on April 18 of last year.

Considering this, I took a dart out to Power's Road yesterday to see what I could find. I didn't go very far up the road before I turned around. Coming down over the hill, flanked by two fields, I spotted this bird in the distance. I kind of thought it was just a crow, but I watched it. As it drew nearer, I saw the brown. Grabbing the camera, I was able to get this shot as it flew over the road directly in front of me.

Also yesterday, Allison Mews and Ed Hayden spotted one on the barrens of the Southern Shore near Portugal Cove South. I think it is safe to say - they are back. The closest place to see one is in Goulds. I had several on Power's Road last year and one that hung around the field before the entrance to Cochrane Pond Road. As I write this, I also recall the snow was completely gone in these areas last year. That is not the case in 2013!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Surfeited Sharp-shinned Hawk

Why is this Sharp-shinned Hawk so plump? Well, I think he is the one who ate all the Purple Finches, Pine Siskins and most of the American Goldfinch!

Despite having clearly had his smorgasbord of winter finches, he continues to look around for more. 

Let's hope he turns his attention to small mammals when the sparrows, warblers and thrushes return!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Horned Grebe in Biscay Bay

While the Horned Grebe is considered rare in Newfoundland, there seem to be a few that arrive each year. Biscay Bay offers the best place to view this species, but they have been reported in Placentia as well as Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John's.

It is very difficult to see them without a scope at Biscay Bay which makes this shot particularly special for me. Distance and conditions dictate the situation. This shot taken earlier this week was taken on a dull, overcast day, but still clearly shows the distinctive golden ear tufts.
There will likely never be an opportunity to see one so close, albeit winter plumage, as the day in January 2011 when this stray appeared at Quidi Vidi Lake.  While it didn't stay too long, it did stay close to shore and provided amazing views.  There is such a big difference between the winter and the breeding plumage of the Horned Grebe. Like so many of the sea birds, the window of opportunity to see this species is limited as they will soon head off to their breeding grounds west of us.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Willow Ptarmagin

I have seen Willow Ptarmigan before, but never like this. My first glimpse was when this partridge was in winter plumage, all white. I have also seen this species in the fall when the colors were not so rich.

Nothing compared to this stunning male Willow Ptarmigan in breeding plumage. It was remarkable. Its colors blend in very well with the Cape Race terrain. If it weren't for Margie Macmillan spotting this one, I would have missed this opportunity altogether.

She alerted me. I stopped, backed up and put the window down. All the while, the bird froze in place. I was able to take this one picture before it bolted and flew out of sight very quickly. Short as the viewing was, it left quite an impression on me! For more info about Willow Ptarmigan in Newfoundland, visit this site:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Greater White-fronted Goose

For more information about the origin and rarity of this Greater White-fronted Goose currently in Biscay Bay, NL, please visit The Bruce Mactavish Birding Blog or BirdtheRock Blog by Jared Clarke. Both are linked on the right side of this page under Blog List.

With a quick decision on Friday morning, I decided to make the two-hour drive to Biscay Bay in the hopes of seeing yet another new bird. The day was overcast and on the whole drive down, I had this nagging worry that the dark skies might be a bad omen. Maybe the bird would be gone. That is always a concern when travelling some distance to see one specific bird: Will it be there? Flown off into another area? Gone for good?

It is a build-in risk when birding. There are no guarantees! I am sure I let out an audible sigh of relief when we rounded the last bend to find the Greater White-fronted Goose contentedly working the field.

The goose looked very healthy and quite alert. Margie M. and I watched it for about 30 minutes and drew some conclusions. Like most tourists to Newfoundland, this goose was settling in. It didn't seem to be at all disturbed by passing cars. We watched as several other cars pulled off the road to get a better look at the goose. 

Oddly enough, the goose seemed to react differently to different cars. Has this bird got a preference for colors? It appeared to be very comfortable with black. In no time, it perked up and actually walked toward the car, shortening the distance between us.

It came closer and closer.

It even seemed comfortable enough to settle down in the grass for a snack while we looked on.

While the White-fronted Goose was ever-vigilant, it didn't seem distracted from its mission to eat plenty and seemingly pick at the gravel in the field.

During our observation, it moved across a wide area of the field, stopping every now and again to check to see if we were still watching.

When other cars would pull over, it would stop, look and listen, and then settled back to graze the field.

Checking out all sides and not demonstrating any behaviour suggesting it felt threatened, it would go on about its business.

However, as we were leaving, I'm sure I saw it do a little Happy Dance!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hairy Woodpecker on a Pole

While I had planned to share images of black and white diving ducks today, I realized I don't have any really good images of Lesser Scaup. I will have to work on that. In the meantime, I was looking at pictures of scaup on the "Internet of Everything" and concluded I am not the only one struggling with differentiating a Greater from a Lesser Scaup. Under scaup images, I found Tufted Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks and mislabeled Greater and Lesser Scaup. You just can't believe everything you see/read on the Internet.

In light of a relatively warm and windless morning, I took a drive out to Cape Spear yesterday and came across this great little Hairy Woodpecker. This bird and other "Hairys" have been regularly seen along about a half km stretch of the road around the bus stop.

On the same trip, I also caught a brief glimpse, supported by a picture, of an adult Northern Goshawk flying over the area of Blackhead Crescent. It was so far away, it was a challenge to get an ID, but with the help of those in-the-know, it was determined it was a Goshawk. I can't miss an opportunity to shoot upward, because one of these days, it is going to turn up something really special.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ducks of Newfoundland

 I actually started out this morning to focus on duck beaks, but somewhere along the way, I got sidetracked.
I think it was that I just got caught up in how many different kinds of ducks we are able to see here and just how amazingly colorful and striking they are. In the meantime, it is good to note from these pictures the difference between the beaks of the American Black Duck and the Mallard. These are ducks we see in every pond and stream. Sometimes it is easy to confuse the female mallard with the male and female Black Duck.  The images in these two sets show a striking difference between the beaks of each species.

American Wigeons and Eurasian Wigeons are also a mainstay in St. John's throughout the winter and early spring. Their beaks seem to be be exactly alike as is their overall body shape. However, there is no mistaking their different colors. In the American Wigeon plate, I have included a picture of what appears to be an immature American Wigeon. This juvenile bird resembles the female; however, there are signs of green appearing on the head. That made me wonder if these wigeons may have bred here. Probably not. I read that wigeons reach reproductive maturity at one year but may not molt into full adult plumage at that time.

 These wigeons have been moving around during the winter from Long Pond to Burton's Pond to Mundy Pond and to Kent's Pond. I have also seen one or two show up at QV Lake. They definitely follow the food. Two days ago, I counted a mixed flock of 17 on Kent's Pond.
The Gadwall is not a bird we see often, but this year we were treated to one female Gadwall staying around all winter. The female can very easily get lost among a flock of Black Ducks and Mallards. It is indeed the beak of the female Gadwall that helps to differentiate it from the others. Note the male Gadwall does not have the distinctive beak coloring of the female. In fact, there seems to be very little similarity between these two birds.

The Green-winged Teal flock that often inhabits Kelly's Brook provides a sure-fired sighting most any time. However, that is not the only place in town where they can be seen. More often than flocks, single birds can be seen at Virginia River, Bowring Park, QV Lake and Kent's Pond. Frequently, a small flock can be seen at Mundy Pond. I have a picture of an immature bird in the last photo plate in this post that I suspect is an immature Green-winged Teal. However, its beak seems to be bigger than these shown here. Yet another puzzle!

 One of the most striking ducks that is a year-round resident of St. John's is the Northern Pintail. For me, it is almost impossible to pass them by without stopping for just a moment, at least, to admire their elegant shape and the stunning colors of the males.
 The Ruddy Duck is another of those birds we don't see all the time. However, every year, it seems one or two show up. The stunning, slightly upturned, blue beak of the male really sets it apart from the other ducks.
Each year for the last three years, we have had visits from Wood Ducks, both genders It is certainly easy to while away a lot of time looking at these very different and beautiful ducks.

 It really pays to stop and look at the ducks carefully. Most of the time, there is really nothing unusual among the flocks of common ducks we see all the time. Nevertheless, there are those unusual to rare moments when a second look can reveal a tiny Bufflehead or a non-descript female Blue-winged Teal. And.... if really lucky a closer look can ferret out a very rare duck like this Redhead!
Getting back to my intended focus, no duck has a beak so large as the Northern Shoveller. It swims like it is front-loaded as it skims the water filtering for food. This late edition picture on the right is the duck I think is a teal. However, the beak gives me pause.

This short post actually showcases thirteen species of ducks I have seen on inland waters on the Avalon Peninsula. I really hadn't thought about how many there are, and I haven't even brought the black and white ducks to the discussion or other sea ducks like the Hooded Merganser or the Red-breasted Merganser that have been seen in fresh or brackish waters around St. John's.

My next post will look more closely at the  black and white diving ducks.

Note: It will help to click on any image to see enlarged versions.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Possible April and May Rarities

 Each month brings the potential to yield rare birds. I was curious about what could show up during this month so that I could be on the lookout.
I dipped back into my pictures from Spring in previous years and came up with a few to share today. There have been sightings of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting. I believe in the past the grosbeak has been seen in St. John's while the bunting has been reported on the west coast of the province. I recall one spring grosbeak reported at Kent's Pond, two years ago I think.

The special rarity was the European Golden Plover seen in Goulds on May 15, 2010. I included it here because this is one we should be watching for every time we get a strong NE wind.

The Ivory Gull showed up at QV on Feb. 27, but has been sighted as recently as March 31st. It is still possible there may be more out there to be found.

While the Laughing Gull has been reported in the province as early as April, it was in June 2010 when one showed up at Kenny's Pond and July 2012 when one was spotted on Pond Road in CBS. Anything goes with rarities, that is what makes them so exciting when they do appear.

This Garganey arrived at Mundy Pond on April 30, 2010 and stayed only one day. I recall the day to be cold and blustery, hardly tolerable. Nevertheless, I was glad I pushed through it because this bird did not linger.

It was on April 25, 2011 in Trepassey when I first saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. This is really a great bird! There are reports of at least two that regularly frequent Trepassey during the spring. In fact, signs on trees in the area suggest there may be more than two and that they have been very busy.
It was on May 10, 2010 that I was able to see this great Red-necked Phalarope in the Ruby Line Pond. This bird stayed around for several days.
There was this Great Egret that flew into Long Pond in April 2011 and stayed long enough to wow birders and non-birders alike.
Last year, it was a White Pelican that teased us at about this time of the year. I made two trips in an effort to see that very active bird but was unsuccessful. This year there have been reports of possibly three Greater White-fronted Geese in Central NL. The Gray Heron still lingers in Little Heart's Ease, and who knows what else is out there. Of course, also possible to see at this time of the year are the owls. This is a group of birds that I have only seen the Great-horned Owl and the Snowy Owl. The thought of seeing the small owls that breed in our province is pretty exciting.
Even though it seems quiet on the bird front, the possibilities keep me engaged enough to get out there looking for the next unexpected rarity. Good places to check at this time of the year are fields and ponds in Goulds, Long Pond, Mundy Pond, and all feeders. Anticipation is a great motivator to get out and explore the many areas, even though the weather-of-the-month is not shaping up to be that great.
For more information about birds of Spring, check Jared Clarke's blog: Birdtherock to read his spring summaries. (Linked under My Blog List.)