Friday, October 30, 2015

Flock of Siskins

 On the one nice morning of this week, I had to tend to "preping" my snowblower of the inevitable. Thus, I find myself forced to return to old shots for my birding experience. On the 20th of this month, I snapped this flock of siskins flying in Blackhead.
As I look over the flock shot, I found this odd-one-out. I don't think it is a siskin. The tail is right, but the apparent white rump and hint of an eye ring suggests it is something different. At this time of the year, it pays to look over every bird in a seemingly humdrum flock. Now what is this bird?

Thursday, October 22, 2015


 The Least Bittern continues to delight at Virginia Lake. The scope brigade was interwoven with the tree line as soon as day broke. It is quite remarkable someone even spotted this secretive bird hidden among the distant reeds.
 Those with patience were rewarded with much better views as the morning wore on. My inability to stay in one place for long periods of time sent me on the prowl for other birds.
 A quick check of Cuckhold's Cove and Blackhead yielded nothing new. I headed out to Cape Spear. When I drove onto the grounds the flyover bird shown below zipped over my car and toward the water. I managed to get one shot and no ID.
 There was a team of  RNC roaming around the grounds (scoping out the area for today's training session.) I didn't know why they were there at the time, so I chose to stay in my car. As I watched them stroll down the boardwalk, I saw a small bird flushed from its hiding place zoom into a small spruce near the boardwalk.
That was enough to get me out of my car. I quickly headed to the tree, keeping my eye trained on it, lest the bird fly away. I stopped about 20 feet short of the spruce and used my "tweeter" a couple of times. In an instant this great female Black-throated Blue Warbler popped out and sat on a branch in the open for several minutes. Wow! That was just too easy.  My good fortune with this species continues. This is the fifth Black-throated Blue I have seen this season. How many of them are out there?
Continuing to get my goat are the sudden appearances and disappearances of flashing birds I am unable to identify because of the brevity of the look. I continue to win some and to lose some.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A True Rarity!

 I was 30 minutes away when I got word Allison Mews had spotted a Least Bittern at Virginia Lake. Wow! I was just there earlier in the morning to see the Pied-billed Grebe. However, the down pour of rain drove me to my car. There will be much said about this bird over the days to come, I am sure. I will leave it to the "old guard" to say just how rare this bird is. I should say, though, getting this poor photo was a fluke.
While standing with other birders, Bruce Mactavish shouted, "It's out." All the scope users locked their eyes on to the scope. Unsure exactly where  the bird was, I raised my camera and shot in the general direction hoping to see it though my camera. I didn't see it then, but did catch a bit of it in the reeds (center of photo.) Fortunately, I was able to see it properly though a scope, and it is a beautiful bird.
 Now, where was I when I got the call? I was in Blackhead looking at Indigo Buntings. At the time, I thought I had seen only one bunting, but thanks to my trusty camera, I was able to see quite a difference in the color of the two birds.
 It was the bird in the darker image I saw first and for a very brief time. Then, the buffy colored bunting popped out. That was the bird that I expected at this time showing only a tinge of blue.
 I included images of both birds to show just how much their plumage can differ at this time.
The first bird shows with a lot of the "breeding blue" remaining. It is clearly a male. The second, however, has only a faint hint of blue. This may be a female bird or an immature. I just don't know enough about them to be able to tell the difference.

What was interesting was the high number of birds in the area. In recent days, things have been very quiet, but even with the mix of rain and sun, birds were moving about.

Monday, October 19, 2015


 On two consecutive mornings last week I birded areas of St. John's, Blackhead, Cape Spear and Goulds. Naturally, I was looking for something rare that might be hiding away, but I didn't find anything unusual that hadn't already been reported.
 What I did find was a variety of seasonal birds overlapping each other. Some of the birds are just late migrating out. Others are early migrants coming to stay the winter and others were blown off course. It is really the off-course birds that are the most interesting and exciting.  
While I have included photos of a couple of the vagrants, these species typically show up every year. Like clockwork, the Baltimore Oriole (and plenty of them) can be seen around St. John's and Blackhead. The one pictured here is one of three I saw in two days.
 The Hudsonian Godwit is a little less predictable, but can often be found in a field in Goulds. This year they seem to be bouncing between Mundy Pond and the farm fields.
 The Snow Bunting is right on schedule. I saw one more than a week ago in Blackhead and four more last week at Cape Spear.
 What was odd was the Snow Bunting was sitting very close to a seemingly lost Semipalmated Plover on the rocks at Cape Spear. Thinking that was odd, I was even more surprised when I located two more Semi Plovers at the race track in Goulds. They were some distance apart and probably didn't know the other was there.
 It seemed to me shorebirds were not nearly as plentiful this year as in others. Those that came didn't stay long. I guess it was the northwest winds early in migration season that provided an easy sail for them to head south. Since August I have been keeping an eye on Virginia Lake as it was one area that regularly had a shoreline available for shorebirds. Most of the ponds and lakes were too high. I found this Black-bellied Plover at Virginia Lake along with two Yellowlegs shown below.
 Unsurprisingly, the diving ducks have returned and in big numbers. I keep dropping by to check them often, because it was at this time last year when B. Mactavish found a rare Canvasback resting among the scaup and Tufted Ducks. It is also possible a Redhead could show up and blend in with these many birds. Good to check them over regularly.
 These two Hudsonian Godwit (found by B. Mactavish) have been around for at least ten days. They are keeping themselves happy with a mix of surf and turf.
 American Pipits are a common sight here, but always enjoyable. Nevertheless, I was stunned when I drove up a farm road and at least 100 hundred of them lifted off. It took me a while to get my window open and camera so I missed most of them. This is one of the images I got before they disappeared.
 Racetrack Birds: This is one of the Semipalmated Plovers I found at the race track.
Not too far away, I found this little Common Yellowthroat. Warblers are VERY scarce now.
 Back to Virginia Lake: I had to show this Lesser Yellowlegs, a really small one.
Note the contrast in size with the Lesser in the forefront and the Greater in the background. I don't know that I have ever seen such a difference in size between these two species.

With such a variety of birds scattered around, it is so easy to spend morning after morning exploring hotspots.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

No Picture!

It happens more than I would like, but this time it really got me! Early yesterday morning, I headed out to a favorite place sheltered from the south winds. The temp was perfect and the wind was low, but the viewing conditions were not great. It was too early. My camera was cranked up to 2500 ISO with a wide aperture and slow shutter speed, all ready (I thought) to capture whatever I saw.

When I drove up to Cuckhold's Cove, a small bird darted across the trail. Ah ha! I was right, there were going to be birds. I got out and quietly started to spy movement in the alders. I finally tracked my small bird and identified it as a Song Sparrow. Disappointing, but not deterring.... there were other birds in the area. Juncos and chickadees flitted all about.

Then, I spotted a small reddish brown bird moving low  and deep in the leaf-laden alders. I would catch a fleeting look at it every now and then, enough to know it was something worth pursuing. This went on for more than 20 minutes. As the day brightened, I could see more of the red-brown color and the small size. It was not a sparrow. I was determined to see this bird.

Every now and then, it would perch, but there was always an obstruction between me and the bird and with very little light, I couldn't get a single picture.

At last, it popped up into an apple tree and moved out on a branch. I saw it clearly, but was so taken by how different this bird was, I forgot all about my camera. There I stood, stunned, staring at the reddish-brown (rusty) bird with a pale breast in the dim light, and I still didn't know what it was. My impression was a small wren, but I didn't see the beak, so I couldn't in good consciousness call it a wren.

Having only about 5 seconds, it finally dawned on me....get a picture. Usually, in five second, I have multiple shots. What was I thinking? I wasn't. I was just so interested in seeing this different bird, for one of  very few times, I actually forgot about my camera. Finally, it dawned on me....get a shot. I raised the camera and aimed at the dim-lit branch, but the bird was gone. All I got were three pitiful pics of a near-by junco. The shots were so dark on my camera, I didn't know if I had captured the bird or not. I had to wait until I got home to see. Even then, the shots were so dark, I really couldn't tell.

I doctored the images enough to sift a noisy, under-exposed image to the forefront. The bird didn't look brown at all, but gray. It turns out, I missed the bird altogether and snagged a nearby junco. All I have left of the mystery bird is the image burned into my brain.

Now, where do you think I am going this morning? There is not much chance the bird is still around, but I have to try to relocate it just to quiet my niggling curiosity. Should I get lucky, I will post more about the bird. If I don't relocate it, I don't want to talk about it any more.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What Types of Birding Are There?

There are many different kinds of birding, each one special in its own way. There is shore birding which for me is one of the most challenging. This requires spending endless hours with wind-dried eyes staring into the sun glare and shimmer or through the fog to try to focus on each of the many scurrying little birds gliding across the beached kelp. It is dizzying!
 There is incidental birding which just occurs when one is really not birding, but on the way somewhere when a bird just appears in the sky. I guess this goes to show: A birder is always birding.
 There is sea birding or conducting a sea watch. Big winds at the right time of year can yield some really good birds. This is best done with a scope. Staring out to sea can also be dizzying and even generate a little sea sickness, especially when the person next to you sees a really good bird and you don't.
There is confused birding when a familiar bird presents with a variation from the typical species.
 There is fantasy birding when a common bird takes on the appearance of an "another world" bird.
 There is seasonal birding when common birds drop in at a particular time of the year.
There is therapeutic birding where a birder goes out to enjoy the fresh air and beautiful sights of birds just going about their business. 
There is vagrant birding when the sole purpose is to find the rare birds that just drop in briefly during migration.

There is speed birding when there is only a little time before having to be at an appointed place at an appointed time. It is a rush to a favorite location in the hopes of seeing something special. Sometimes, this is the best birding.

 There is deep birding when it is necessary to work hard to see a bird well enough to identify it or when it is necessary to go deep into the woods to manage to see any bird.

There is birding-to-list where "ticking" becomes very important.  This type of birding often requires a lot of travelling and patience.

I guess I should also mention obsessive birding when a birder spends every waking hour either birding or studying birds.
Whatever the type of birding, the birding experience seems to be the driving force and is so rewarding in so many ways.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Sleepy Shorebirds

 So what's so good about sleepy shorebirds? They are calm and allow people to approach without leaping into the air and moving to an impossible distance.
 These birds were tired, all of them. Although, many of the Semipalmated Plovers continued to mill about... sleep walking. They must have been flying around all day, just waiting for low tide.
This is how Catherine B. and I came to see these few shorebirds up close.
It was near the end of the day and the tide was going out. We tacked on a quick trip to St. Shott's after birding Trepassey for about 10 hours.
 We headed up to the sod farm first to have a look around. There were no evident birds there. Given the time of the day, we opted not to walk about. On the drive down the hill, we saw one Savannah Sparrow. They had certainly been scarce for the day.
 Our arrival at the beach coincided with a fly-in flock of small shorebirds. A quick snap showed there were a few sandpipers among the plovers. That meant we would walk the beach.
 That, we did. On the walk down the absence of birds seemed really strange. In years past (on similar dates), this beach had been filled with American Pipits, Horned Larks and so many plovers and sandpipers it was impossible to scan them all.
When we arrived at the end of the beach, about 15 birds were feeding near the shoreline. Another five or six flew in while we were there.
 It didn't take long for us to spy the sandpipers and look them over closely for a possible rarity. That was easy as there were only four non-plovers on the beach. The Dunlin pictured above was a stand-our with its size, beak and nearly all-gray plumage.
There was one Semiplamated Sandpiper that stayed much to itself. Then, there were these two White-rumped Sandpipers. These were two of only three White-rumped Sandpipers seen from St. John's to St. Shott's. Wow! How did a White-rumped Sandpiper become rare? Nevertheless, it was interesting to see them both side-by-side because their plumage was somewhat different. One was much darker than the other. The truth is this may be the last ones we see this year.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Bird on a Wire

 After scrutinizing a large flock of juncos and sparrows in Blackhead, I had really given up the idea there might be something good around. Then, I drove out. There sitting on a wire in the distance was a bird.
 It would have been easy to assume this, too, was a junco or sparrow. That didn't really factor into my thinking, because I always stop and try to see the bird more clearly.
While straining to see against the back light, I heard the distinctive old-man call come out of this bird. It was a Dickcissel, a cooperative Dickcissel.
Not only did it stay on the wire, it turned around to show me the yellow streak running down its breast. Much of the time, it is just downright luck to be in the right place at the right time. To maximize that luck, it is important to take the time to stop and look closely at every little bird...and big ones too:)