Friday, September 28, 2018

Cliff Swallows at Cape Spear

 It is fairly common for Cliff Swallows to move through Cape Spear at this time of the year. I don't always catch them there, but I did this year.
 As I neared the main lookout, I caught sight of one bird flying. Perking up, I saw another and another. The birds were zipping by which is their usual behaviour, but the wind was speeding up their flight.
 It was a real challenge to get pictures. At one point I thought there might have been six, but eventually decided on a sure number of three.
 They often flew in too close for me to photograph. My purpose was to get record shots of each one and rule out anything different. I am not sure I got a picture of all three.

 I was comfortable to stay around long enough to try for better shots.
 It was this eagle that changed my plans. It came soaring in, turned around, dropped lower in the sky until it nearly reached my eye level.
 While enjoying the eagle's flight, the swallows moved left toward the first lookout. I didn't pursue them.
 Walks through the East Coast Trail,  Warbler Alley and the bus shelter trail yielded nothing but Blue Jays, Robins, Nuthatches and a lone Purple Finch.
 All the while I walked I could hear gun shots from the hunters, some far and some uncomfortably close. Trail walking may now necessitate bright clothing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Fall Birding

 Fall birding brings with it a mix of common, uncommon and rare birds. That is what makes birding during migration so exciting. One never knows what it hiding in the alders just feet away.
 There is no particular order to the photos shared here today as they were taken in a variety of locations on different days. However, that is somewhat fitting as fall birding is like that.
 As birders we bounce about from known hotspots in the hopes of seeing something really nice. Some of these pics have stories and others just represent nice moments.
 Shorebirds show up yearly in the fields in Goulds. One of the nice ones is shown in this series. The first pictures shows a Baird's Sandpiper which decided to fly away just as I arrived at the field. The one and only shot I have of it captured it before its departure. The other was a Buff-breasted Sandpiper. I missed otherl shorebirds that stopped over briefly including a Pectoral and Dunlin. C'est la vie!
 Widgeons are moving back into their usual places.
 This Northern Gannet fly-by at Cape Spear made me do a big double-take. There had recently been a Brown Booby reported in the waters off Newfoundland. That was in my mind when I saw this dark, distant bird fly by.  Good thing I got a picture or I would have forever wondered if I had missed a really great bird.
 Black-throated Greens have been quite common around St. John's lately. This is always nice.
 How many birds just get away? Too many, for sure, but not this time. Ethel Dempsey and I were birding near Cappahayden when we spotted a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Straining to get pictures we shot continuously. Then, suddenly, two birds of the same size flew out of the alder and left us with our mouths agape. Two?
 We did not knowingly photography two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. What was the second bird? We left the area unsure and hoping with all of our shots, we might have picked up the other bird without knowing it. Sure enough, when going through my pictures I found three that capture two of these great birds in the same shot. Mystery solved. Not all mysteries get solved by any means.

 Kinglets keep popping out all over the place. Some Ruby-crowned and some Golden-crowned. Always nice to see them.
 Magnolias have been plentiful this fall, looking just as nice in their fall plumage as they do in their spring suit.
 Plentiful is not the word for Red-breasted Nuthatch. They have been abundant! This is a big contrast to the last couple of years.
 Palm Warbler frequent the Avalon typically during migration. Twice this year I had a four-Palm Warbler day. That is unusual.
 Lingering to the very end are the Yellow-rumped Warblers. Long after many other species have left, we can usually count on seeing the Yellow-rump flash by. Note the slanted rain streaks here. That, too, is a added challenge of fall birding in NL. The elements do not make it easy on birders.
 It is not only nice to see them, but they also provide company to the migrating birds. Rule: See a Yellow-rumped Warbler; stick around and look closely for something more exciting with them.
 Savannah numbers, like other sparrow species, are dwindling.
 This nice Stilt Sandpiper showed up at Virginia Lake this fall. It popped in intermittently over several days. This is not typical. It was several years before I saw my first Stilt.

 Often sticking around later than most birds, the Common Yellowthroat can often be found moving around in low bushes and alone.
 White-throated Sparrows are also among the last to leave. A flick of a branch easily alerts birders to their presence.
It won't be long now until the woods go quiet and we all settle in for a long winter's wait for the warblers to return. Sigh.....

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Fractured Birding Community - An Opinion Piece

 It was in 2010 I started my journey of birdwatching and sharing my experiences and photos along the way. Since then much has changed in the NL birding community. There were fewer birders, fewer photographers and fewer reports.
 At that time the "go-to" spot to learn about birds seen in the province was!forum/nf.birds

As best I can tell this forum was started in 1997 by many of the NF "founding" birders. The site has lived for 21 years offering information on sightings, identification, influencing factors and more related to birding. It has been an extremely useful tool for birders over the years, but its use is waning. While the founding birders remain true to this universal reporting site, others have veered off in new directions. Why fix something that isn't broken, especially when the fix weakens the original structure.
 There are many changes in communications over the years and many new birders are joining the hunt to see the amazing birds that regularly, sporadically and rarely reach our province. These changes should be a good thing, but like much of the internet growth and use, the outcome is not always good.

There seems to be a greater urgency to find and chase the good birds. There also seems to be less full-on birding in favour of the chase. Why? To what end is this need for instant notification. What is being lost along the way?

These new communication tools are being employed to fatten lists. As I recall, the rapid communication era began with individual text notifications, eventually growing to group texts. This led to instant congregations pouring into roadways and private yards to get a glimpse of the reported bird.

Then came eBird, a tool intended to enhance reporting records of  migration and bird sightings around the globe. This software soon became the tail wagging the dog. In my mind, eBird began the splintering of the birding community in NL. Groups began to form. There were eBirders, and there were non-eBirders. This program seemed to have started a Cape Spear to Cape Race marathon to chase every new bird reported to add to a year list or a life list. What was once a peaceful, enjoyable activity became a frantic competition to see every bird sighted.

With an invigorated purpose, birders began to explore new and more rapid ways to communicate. There are individual web accounts, Facebook accounts and WhatsApp messenger with small group implementation. Perhaps each of these methods of notification serves a purpose; perhaps they are exclusive by design or perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.... What ever the purpose, this new direction has usurped the Google group.

There are some who are not comfortable to report on the NF Birds site. Over the years, others have been happy to make a report on their behalf. The Facebook group is particularly good for new or non-birders who have seen a bird and would like help identifying it. This avenue has led to the reporting of some special birds that may have gone unreported. The Purple Gallinule is one such example. Texting and messaging have provided instant reporting for those who want to jump in their car immediately and speed to the reported bird. To each his own.

However, all of this diversification in reporting has led to the decline of reporting on NF Birds, a site birders have depended on for 21 years. Many good birds have not been reported on this site lately, and this weakens the birding community. The newly employed, elite notification methods have created a division that has impinged on the original, strong, inclusive sharing nature of the  birding community in our province. New birders, who have not seen how in the past the community joined  together, could easily think of birding as a competitive sport necessitating being in the right circle to compete. Hmmm...

Let me not beat around the bush, but say outright what I think: The elitist notification system is having a negative effect on the unification of the NL birding community. The collective birding nature of the province is disappearing. I am an invested birder. Birding is my happy place, but the purist pleasure of birding is unsettled every time I see the collective nature of the birding community being eroded.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Least Flycatcher

 When the usual birding "hotspots" become overcrowded like a Costco parking lot, I have a tendency to go check out less travelled areas. For me, birding is not so much about seeing birds others have been lucky enough to find, but rather "the hunt."
 The time in the woods, the quiet and fresh air are often enough to satisfy me. Yet, I have to say, I really do enjoy finding unexpected birds. After 11,000 steps yesterday and checking many out-of-the-way locations, I heard a lone bird calling. Thought it might be a flycatcher, but not a Yellow-bellied or Alder. Their calls are familiar.
 I flipped through my birding program on my phone and listened to the call of a Least Flycatcher. That was it. As I played the call, out popped this guy! It was a Least Flycatcher.
 Having never seen nor heard one before, I checked the ID before posting. I would have been really disappointed if it turned out to be an Alder. You see, by the time I heard back, I had already finished my celebratory beer:)

 Checking the records on eBird, a Least Flycatcher has not been reported in the area of St. John's since 1996.
 It is this kind of intermittent reinforcement, that keeps me ever vigilant and hopeful as I roam the woods.
Note: During my many trail walks over the last couple of weeks, I have seen many signs of foxes in the areas. I have also seen two crossing Cape Spear Road. Good to be aware.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Canada Warbler and Orioles

 This morning, like so many others, I walked my usual trails and checked typical locations. What was different this morning was the presence of a few good birds. Naturally, the day started with two birds getting away. I managed one flight shot. I suppose they are a Blackpoll and a Yellow-rumped. However, I don't say that with confidence.
 I happened upon several good flocks, but it was the one by the Cape Spear cabin that yielded the most and best bird of the day. This Canada Warbler was mixed in with a number of warblers and chickadees.
 There was a bright Yellow Warbler present, but the yellow of the Canada stood out. I followed it through the leaves and hoped it would pop out and give me a moment.
 As you can see, it didn't. Nevertheless, I got enough shots to confirm the ID.

 Since I started a little late this morning, I didn't walk the lower trail at Cape Spear. The number of tourists was growing.
 Instead, I headed up toward the East Coast Trail. On the way up, I saw only a couple of sparrows. I stayed in the trail for about an hour and a half. On my walk down, I got a brief glimpse of a Baltimore Oriole in a tree by the trail. Light was not in my favor. It disappeared into the tree and was gone.
 Yet, there were many sparrows flying around, so I inched my way down the trail. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a tree dripping in orioles.  Well, maybe not dripping, but there were four in there at one time. I could not get them all in one picture.
 I don't know what it is about Orioles, but I never seem to get a decent shot. I was really more concerned this morning about getting a shot of every bird. With little time to work with, I thought the bird on the lower left in this shot was a little different from the others. Note: The birds did not linger. In just moments, they moved on and I didn't see them again.
 It is most probable that all four are just drab, first year Baltimore Orioles, but maybe they should be looked at by fresh eyes.
It is this bird that struck me as being different. Comments are welcome.