Monday, January 25, 2010

Iceland Gull- A Tale of Two Extremes

I've spent the better past of the last ten winters watching gulls in Newfoundland. One of my favorite species is Iceland Gull. We have the pleasure of seeing thousands of these gulls for almost six months of the year.The vast majority of our Iceland Gulls are of the Kumlien's subspecies and in fact. St.John's is the best location to view and photograph Kumlien's Gulls, in numbers and in comfort.

We get to see the full range of the species, from the very lightest, to the very darkest winged.The majority of birds fall somewhere in between, meaning they have at least some patterning in the primaries. There are always a few extreme birds around that are either very close to glaucoides, or Thayer's Gull, in terms of primary pattern and darkness,but these birds are usually separable, based on structural differences,bare parts and mantle color. Very, very rarely, we get a bird that everyone is comfortable calling a Thayer's and occasionally we get one that looks really good for glaucoides. Since we get such a huge variety of Kumlien's identifying Thayer's and glaucoides becomes problematic.

Today I had the pleaseure of spending some time with,what appears to be a fairly straightforward glaucoides Iceland Gull. To give you an idea of how rare this is, I studied several hundred Iceland Gulls today and this was the only one I felt comfortable calling a true glaucoides. This bird seems to fit the classic glaucoides model, being the absolute palest mantled, palest eyed,whitest winged, most petite form. Below are a few photos of todays glaucoides, as well a very dark winged Kumlien's Gull, just to show the variance that exists within this species. Of course, the variation is even greater if one considers Thayer's to be just another sub species of Iceland Gull, but that's a can of worms I'm not willing to open.









Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hornemann's Redpoll

I made my second rather lengthy chase of the year today,this time in search of a Hornemann's Redpoll, also known as Greenland Hoary Redpoll. Hoary Redpoll's are somewhat rare in Newfoundland,especially in a year that has not seen any significant gatherings of finches,including not a single report of Common Redpoll! Most years we get a few Hoary Redpolls,among Common's, but one had to feel very lucky to just pick up a random Hoary like this and a Hornemann's to boot!

Hoary Redpolls are currently divided into 2 subspecies, "Southern" Hoary Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni exilipes and Greenland or Arctic Hoary Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni hornemanni. The more southerly exilipes breeds in "low" acrtic across Canada and Eurasia,while the more northerly Hornemann's Redpolls, as their common name suggests, breed in the "high" arctic, from Greenland across some of the most northerly islands in the Canadian "high" arctic. This is a true arctic gem, that is only rarely seen in Newfoundland and very rarely is it seen as well as we saw it today, or under such good conditions!

Hoary Redpolls in general stand out among a flock of Common Redpolls by virtue of their frostier upperparts(including unstreaked rump),less streaky underparts,stubbier looking bill and increased feathering around base of their bills. Overall they often look frosted when seen among a flock of Common Redpolls. Kind of like comparing a frosted "mini wheat" to a regular one!!?? Ok maybe thats not a great analogy,but you know where I'm coming from.

Hornemann's Redpoll take the above features to the extreme. They are also significantly larger than other Redpolls. Although the bird seen today was seen along, or among Snow Buntings, it was noticeably large for a Redpoll. Below, is a list of features exhibited by this bird, that are consistent with Greenland "Hornemann's" Redpoll and following that, are a series of photos that I took of the bird this morning,from the shelter oh fellow birder,Dave Sheppard's SUV- thanks again Dave!!

- large size- no other Redpoll to compare it to,but appeared large for a Redpoll and apparently not totally dwarfed by surrounding Snow Buntings!
- head shape,bill structure and feathering at base of bill looks good for hornemanni- creating a very stubby billed appearance.
- large white stripes in back,thick white wing bars,lots of white in tertial edges and wing coverts
- largely unstreaked underparts aside from two fine rows on flanks
- completely pure white undertail coverts
- large pure white rump patch seemingly extending to lower back (streaking only on tips of uppertail coverts)

There are other differences as well and if anyone is interested in exploring the minutiae of Redpoll identification,here are a couple of decent links.

http://www.jeaniron.ca/2007/Redpolls/index.htm

http://www.mdbirds.org/mddcrc/pdf/rcskins2007.pdf (skip to page 13)


Now the photos.

















The Hoary Redpoll brought my year list to a modest 86 species. However,more important than the species number, is the fact I've managed to see some of the more "troublesome" winter species, such as NORTHERN LAPWING, REDWING,Gyrfalcon,Snowy Owl and now Hoary Redpoll. If I can add a Barrow's Goldeneye and an Ivory Gull, I'll be feeling good about the winter season.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Lazy Day

After nine consecutive days of guiding, or teaching ID workshops, I finally had a day off. Now, I'm not complaining, birding everyday is a dream,but the constant early rises and the pressure of finding birds for visitors can wear on you after a while. I was looking forward to relaxing today and maybe heading out later in the day to photograph some Herring Gulls in flight, in preparation for this weekends Gull ID workshop II.

It was 11:00 when I rolled out of bed, that's about six hours later than my average rise in the last two weeks,sleep is definitely NOT over-rated. After a few hours of mindless activity, at 2:30 I finally decided to head out to Quidi Vidi Lake. My plan was to photograph Herring Gulls,instead I spent some time photographing the Tufted Ducks. When Quidi Vidi Lake freezes, all of the ducks gather around small areas of open water where rivers empty into the lake. Today there were about 20 Tufted Ducks along aith a few Lesser and number of Greater Scaup.






Aside from the ducks, there was a Double-crested Cormorant sitting on the ice at the west end of the lake. This bird has been wintering at the lake and is not looking very good these days.It is probably having a hard time finding food in the small patches of open water and today it looks as though it has suffered an injury on the tip of it's bill. It actually looks as though the nail is almost entirely split from the rest of the bill. I'm unsure how this will affect the Cormorant's feeding,but certainly it won't help an already stressed bird.



I cleaned up the bill a bit in this photo.



Note the crack and blood on the tip of the bill.

It always saddens me to see birds in this condition. We see it each year,when birds decide to take the risk by over wintering and are suddenly faced with very difficult conditions when things freeze up. I'm going to try feeding this bird some sardines tomorrow. If the bird takes readily to the handouts, I'm sure it would appreciate some Capelin etc, that someone might have sitting in their freezer.

On a different note today,I heard of a flock of 200 Robins that were located north of St.John's in Pouch Cove. This is exciting news, since there haven't been any Robin flocks seen in, or near the city this winter.If this flock grows, or Robins flocks are seen in St.John's I'd expect there to be more reports of European Thrushes.Stay tuned!!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Slaty-backed Gull!!

Sometimes birding is all about timing. For the past four days I have been guiding visiting birder Liis Veelma from Manitoba. We have been pretty successful in picking up most of the Newfoundland winter birds,aside from Dovekie,which is mysteriously absent from our shores this winter. After a couple of days birding the southern Avalon, bagging a Redwing and various other winter birds, we changed our focus in the last two days to birding St.John's gulls and ducks.

We wandered yesterday taking in great views of 2 1st winter and an adult Common Gull,Black-headed Gulls,numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and many Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. This was nice of course but birders visiting St.John's in winter have a different species on their minds. One that has a mantle shade between Smithsonianus Herring Gull and Graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gull, a gleaming white head,crimson red orbital ring,extensive black in the outer primaries with just a singe mirror on p10 and of course, yellow legs. I'm of course,referring to Yellow-legged Gull.

After spending some time scanning the gull flocks on Quidi Vidi Lake,the sewer outlet and the harbour we decided it was time for lunch. When I arrived back at the car the phone rang, it was Bruce Mactavish- this could only be good news. He was calling to inform me that a Yellow-legged Gull has been seen resting with a small flock of gulls at the harbour. He also told me that it was seen 30 minutes ago and he had tried calling but got no answer!!When we went for lunch, I left the cell phone in the car- bad idea.Luckily, it never made any difference because I sped off to the location and easily found the bird resting among a small flock only 30 feet from the car. Once again long,scope filling views were had. We were interrupted at one point though by a government official who advised us that ir was prohibited to take photos in the area (coast guard parking lot).I advised him that we were only looking at the gulls, not taking photos. He proceeded to mumble something and I went about trying to convince him that it was not possible to take photos with my spotting scope.Well he didn't seem entirely convinced but didn't push the issue. Finally he reluctantly allowed us to stay,but not before warning us NOT to look at the ships with our optics! Now we were both confused. I guess there must have been a very important ship in town,or the coast guard has some secret they are trying to hide.Anyway, he left and we went back to enjoying the Yellow-legged Gull that was totally unconcerned by all the hoopla.

Today we were again doing the gull watching thing in St.John's. Our plan was to just keep scanning gull flocks at Quidi Vidi Lake and the harbour hoping to uncover a Slaty-backed Gull that had been found the a couple days earlier by visiting Ontario birder Brandon Holden. Well,things didn't go quite according to plan because we rolled into Quidi Vidi Lake and I was on the Slaty Backed Gull before I had the car in park. I jumped out got the scope on the bird to confirm our incredible luck. A quick look revealed all the detail needed and amazingly we had found our days target bird in our first minute of actual birding- it just doesn't get any better than this!











Finding our target gulls has freed up our last day to wander in search of Robin flocks, Alcids and whatever else we might stumble upon. Given the track record so far this winter, I have a feeling we might just bump into something pretty good!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Redwing Bagged Again- 3rd Day Running

Today I was guiding Manitoba birder Liis Veelma. Out primary focus was the Trepassey Redwing. It took some time before the bird made itself visible,but after about an hour we enjoyed great views of this Eurasian stray and North American mega rarity. This represents the third day in a row that I have seen this bird, pretty awesome!. After bagging the Redwing,this freed up some time for general birding. Our second most wanted bird was King Eider. We drove out to the Drook at Cape Race and found only 12 Eiders,where there had been 300+ yesterday. Amazingly,within a minute I had an adult male King Eider in the scope. I got Liis on the bird and boom,lifer number two. At this point we decided to make our way back north and check harbours for Black Guillemot and Dovekie. Well,not surprisingly, we never had any Dovekies,but we did score great looks at Black Guillemot at several locations. In the coming days we will be on the look out for Eurasian Ducks, Yellow-legged and Slaty-backed Gulls,more Eurasian strays and the now elusive Dovekie. I'll post an update ina couple of days.



Poor quality photo of the Trepassey Redwing. This bird has been very difficult to view and is often visible for only a couple of seconds before dissappearing.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

January 11-13 Avalon Peninsula Trip List

For the past three days I have been guiding a visiting birder from Cape May. The focus of our trip was Newfoundland winter birds and searching for European strays. We had a great trip and scored almost everything one could expect of a three days January trip to Newfoundland.Highlights of the trip included:

White-winged Crossbill- several
Pine Grosbeak- several and great looks
Boreal Chickadee- many
Common Murre
Great Cormorant
King Eider- imm male and stunning adult male
TUFTED DUCK- over 30!
Eurasian Wigeon
Green-winged Teal (European race)
YELLOW-LEGGED GULL- stunning close views
Black-headed Gull- many
GYRFALCON- dark morph
REDWING

Passerines and ducks of less interest to visiting birders not mentioned.Conspicuously absent form this list is Dovekie. This usually abundant Alcid,is virtually non-existent this winter- very odd. We did ,however, have it on all previous tours this winter. I think the Redwing,Yellow-legged Gull and Gyrfalcon more than made up for it though!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

REDWING TODAY!!

Today was my second day of guiding a visiting birder from Cape May. After getting killer "walk away" views of the Yellow-legged Gull yesterday, we were left wondering if today could get any better... well it did, sort of.

Our plan for the day was to check wet areas for Euro Snipes and hopefully find some berry eating birds that would give us a chance at Redwing and Fieldfare. Before we got to the intended starting point we had a large raptor fly across the road in front of the car. We got on it quickly and followed it for about 30 seconds. It was immediately apparent were looking at a large falcon. The large,broad wings, heavy dark streaking,pale contrasting flight feathers confirmed that this was a dark morph GYRFALCON, a much sought after bird for visiting birders and for me the quintessential winter bird.Feeling good we headed south.

We walked all around a few communities checking every wet ditch, flushing several Gallinago Snips, two confirmed Wilson's Snipe and two presumed Wilson's Snipe. Although,given the massive movement of Common Snipe in the UK,one can never be sure!

Our next stop was in Bear Cove to look for sea ducks. It took a while, but eventually we spotted an immature male King Eider- another good bird!While we were scanning the Eiders, I got a heads up call from local birder Dave Sheppard advising of a flock of Robins and Waxwings, further south in Trepassey. This was exciting. We knew there was potential for Euro Turds among these flocks. We set off again.

We stopped a couple of times on the way to have an intimate experience with Pine Grosbeaks and Boreal Chickadees, that were basically right on our faces! We didn't stay too long because we were interested in getting to Trepassey, to search those Robins. When we get to Trepassey there were already 4 visiting birders and local birder Bruce Mactavish. We watched a group of Cedar Waxwings and a couple of Robins for about 10-15 minutes,but nothing of interest. Then it happened.. We heard the word we were waiting for, REDWING!!! Bruce caught a brief flimpse of a Redwing as it popped into a Mountain Ash tree,before diving back into the cover of the surrounding coniferous forest. WOW, now we just had to refind it. After another 10 minutes of straining our eyes to see through the roadside alders, it hapened again. This time mtself, Bruce and visiting tour leader Bruce Dilabio all got it the same time and all three of us shouted REDWING!! Unfortunately,it was only in view for a couple of seconds and dissappeared again. The bird was seen briefly once more and again as it flew off to roost with the Robin flock. Unfortunately,none of the tour participants ever got on the bird.However, I have another visitor arriving tonight and will be back there again early tomorrow morning to refind this great bird.

As of all of this wasn't enough, on the way back north across the barrens we were admiring a stunning pink sunset against the snow covered barrens when I spotted another winter gem- SNOWY OWL! The bird was perched on a stunted conifer just perring at us in the van. After a couple of minutes the Owl lifted and flew across the pink glow created by the setting sun and eventually melted into the horizon. To see a Snowy Owl in this winter landscape was absolutely perfect,things just couldn't get any better than this- this is Newfoundland winter birding at it's finest.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Yellow-legged Gull Bagged

I met my latest visiting birder at his hotel this morning just before sunrise. We headed to Quidi Vidi Lake to spend some time looking around and to makes plans for the day. We decided we would bird north of the city,try some areas that have not been birder recently,or at all this year, in search of Euro strays. Our focus was on checking wet areas,run offs etc for Old World Snipes and Woodcock and anything else that might have strayed to the province during this unprecedented "cold weather movement" of European birds.

We checked many suitable areas and came up empty. We did find 4 White-winged Crossbills,which are extremely hard to find this winter and represented just my second sighting of this species in many months. The highlight of the day though, was stunningly,superb views of Yellow-legged Gull.

Many birders visit Newfoundland each year in search of Yellow-legged Gulls- some see it and some don't. Things get exponentially more difficult when Quidi Vidi Lake isn't frozen because large concentrations can be tough to come by. Local birder Jared Clarke had spend the previous three days scouring the city for YLGU for two visiting birders he was guiding. When the phone rang this morning as were watching Black Guillemots in Torbay,I was immediately excited and even more so when I saw it was Jared's number on the phone. This could only mean one thing a rare bird! Jared had located a YLGU and was watching it at close range sitting on a dock with some Herring and Great-Black-backed Gulls. We got there and found the bird within about a minute. We stayed and enjoyed phenomenal views from a about 30 ft for over an hour. At one point we had our scopes on this bird and were viewing it at 60X from 30 feet that essentially have us "in hand" views of the bird. it is amazing the detail one can see when you see a bird at such close range. Every detail of the eye and orbital ring was apparent- simply amazing. I've said this before,but eventhoguh I've seen YLGU a 100 times,every time is special and it was tough to leave it even after an hour.

Tomorrow we will be birding the southern Avalon Peninsula in search of sea ducks and any Euro strays that might be gracing our shores.I have a feeling we might just bump into something good!Stay tuned!!!

Dave Brown

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mystery Gull

Below are several photos taken January 8th from the sewage outflow in St. John's Newfoundland. In general size this bird is between average Iceland and Herring Gull. The bill in particular stands out among surrounding Iceland Gull and seems closer to Herring Gull in size.

I have already received several comments on this bird. Most people advising this is a Thayer's Gull.Another commented that it could be some kind of Herring Gull hybrid.It surely cannot be a Kumlien's Iceland Gull.

What confuses me about this bird is large amount of black in the wing tips. I have searched the internet and cannot find a Thayer's Gull with this amount of black in the primaries. I guess it's possible that some might consider Herring Gull in this identification,but this gull very clearly has a purple/pink orbital ring,that is never seen in Herring Gull to my knowledge.

Thayer's Gull is very rare in Newfoundland,the extreme variation in our Iceland Gulls makes it difficult to know where to draw the line between Thayer's and Kumliens(for me at least).

My question is,can this bird be unequivocally identified as Thayer's Gull? If not,then What is it? Could an Herring X Iceland Gull or Herring X Thayer's look like this? Again,to my knowledge neither of these crosses have been documented.

Any comments would be greatly appreciated and photos of similar looking Thayer's Gull would be excellent.









Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ever Hopeful,Ever Optimistic

Over the last two weeks St.John's birders have been on the edges of their seats,awaiting a potential invasion of European waders and thrushes. Every serious birder in Newfoundland knows of the great invasion of 1927,those that didn't know about it before, are learning of it now. It is a part of Newfoundland birding lore and something that we always talk about. We imagine what it would be like to witness such an extraordinary event and how unbelieveablly exciting, it would be.

You see, St.John's birders are a difficult to satisfy. You might say we are a jaded bunch, with our annual flocks of over 20 Tufted Ducks, annual European Golden Plover. Combine this with a mixed bag of other European birds, such as Black and Bar-tailed Godwit,Common Greenshank,Redshank,Euro Oystercatcher,Garganey and the list goes on. These species,although being far from annual, all have occured within the last 7-8 years. We're no longer satisfied with an occasional vagrant,we want more,we want a mass incursion, a true once in a lifetime invasion, on a massive scale!

I've been wrwiting about such events in the last couple of weeks and this is just another in that series. However, I do have reason for increased and sustained hope that such an event could happen. Europe (the UK in particular)is in the midst of one of it's longest and most severe cold snaps in many decades. Hordes of birds are fleeing Britain and moving west to Ireland to escape the wintery English landscape. Tens of thousands of Thrushes and Lapwings, Skylarks and other birds have been piling up along the Irish coast and some have even been seen flying out to sea- to where??

The one thing that has been working against us through al of this, has been our winds and those over the Northa Atlantic, between us and the UK- they just haven't lined up like they need to, to carry large numbers of birds our way. However, it looks like that will change in the next few days.

In the next three days a low pressure system will advance NE of Newfoundland and it looks like it will stall to our NE for a couple of days. Simultaneously a low pressure system is developing south of UK and it looks like it will link up forming a transatlantic wind tunnel,like those we see in spring occasionally, when we get influxes of European birds. If things play out just right and large numbers of birds are still moving in the UK,many could get pushed our way,then ride the winds across the Atlantic,straight to our shore. This is what happened in the 1927,when thousands of Lapwings were pushed to Newfoundland. I'm not asking for thousands, I'd settle for tens,along with some Thrushes,maybe a few Snipe,a Coot,throw in a couple of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks for good measure and I'd be one happy birder!.

Below is a snap shot of the projected weather maps for the next 72 and 84 hour intervals. Compare these to the weather map from December 20th,1927 and you'll see some similarities. The only problem is the main exodus of birds from the UK might have already occured and this could be too little too late. We'll have to wait and see what happens.





No New Rarities Today

Despite a full day of searching through berry laden,Mountain Ash trees, I could not find any European Thrushes. This isn't surprising,since I never found and North American Thrushes either! I don't ever remember a winter when all the Mountain Ash weren't stripped of their berries at some point by large flocks or Robins or Waxwings. We assume these birds wil appear in St.John's at some point and it is then, that the chances of seeing Euro Turds increases.

I added a couple of year birds- had a nice experience with an adult Northern Shrike,which is always appreciated. Besides, it nice not to have to worry about that one next fall. There are a still a few lingering birds around, such as Dickcissel and Mockingbird, that I need to pick up,although it is likley that I will see those species at some point before the end of the year.

Well,not much else to add. I've cooked up a scheme to attempt to feed the Northern Lapwing at Bay Bulls (south of STJ) earthworms. I have a friend working on getting worms from a guy he knows that has a worm farm?? Anyway, if we actually try this I'll post the results.

I have some visiting birders in town all next week so will be very busy guiding these folks.I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Big Year Hits and Misses

I decided to add a new category in the sidebar column called Big Year Hits and Misses. Basically this will be a list of the birds I chase throughout the year,the round trip distance travelled and whether I was successful(hit)or not(miss). I rarely make long drives just to see a single bird.During last years big year, I never chased a single rarity,aside from a couple within St.John's and hit 240.This year I will chase birds,but will usually be birding that area for an entire day or more, or be using that time to scout the area for future tours, or a spot to bring visiting birders during a private birding tour.

Anyway, I wasn't sure if yesterday's chase was a hit or miss,since I missed the Lapwing(s) that were originally reported,but then found my own and saw another. I decided to go with hit, because I never would have been in the area if I didn't chase the birds that were originally reported.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Excitement is Building

I have just returned from birding the southern Avalon Peninsula. My target for the day was Northern Lapwing- I had two, but not the same ones reported yesterday! I checked the areas where yesterday's birds were seen and found nothing. I even took my Chocolate Lab with me,who would have flushed every Jack Snipe within 2 miles if there were any present.

Jack Snipe..hmmm,why did I mention that? Well, in a previous blog I spoke of the great lapwing invasion in the winter of 1927.Along with those Lapwings was a Jack Snipe,in Labrador. Anyway, I was talking about Lapwings, I'll get back to the Snipe later. I dipped on the Portugal Cove South Lapwings but caught up with one on my second pass through Trepassy (West of PCS). I was just leaving the conveinience store when I heard a Lapwing calling overheard. I tried to get on the bird but failed. I chased the bird in the direction that I heard the call. I heard the bird call a couple more times over the next 10 minutes,but despite over an hour of searching I couldn't locate it, so I gave up.

I was feeling pretty dejected until I got a call about an hour later from a birder who had found a Northern Lapwing in Bay Bulls (20 min drive S of St.John's). I sped to the area and got good but distant looks at the bird. I also captured what might just be the worlds worst Northern Lapwing photo,taken in heavy overcast not long before dark.



I got home and had an email from a local birder that was entitled RED ALERT NF. Things are happening in western Europe.There is a massive movement of birds,Thrushes,Lapwings,Jack Snipe and Eurasian Woodcocks. These birds are excaping the extreme winter conditions in the UK and are turning up in Ireland in huge ( unprecendented?) numbers. Included below are some excerpts from an Ireland birding newsgroup.Remember the Jack Snipe I spoke of above...

“There's an almost continual stream of winter thrushes(90% Redwings,10%Fieldfares)heading out west from Sherkin this morning, between 9.30 - 10.30at least,with birds passing overhead at about 100 p/minute.There was asimilar stream of birds throughout yesterday as well,up until 2pm at least,though numbers weren't so dramatic,maybe 40birds p/minute at most.Is thisalso happening elsewhere?”

“There are indeed massive numbers of these thrushes about at the momentin almost all areas including city suburbs. Lapwing numbers are alsoat an amazing high. Sociable plover anyone?”

“Snap.Have a pair of fieldfares in my garden in Tallaght for the first timeever.There are also about 3 Song Thrushes and a few Blackbirds.Thefieldfares are giving each other a difficult time as are the SongThrushes.The fieldfares aredriving away the Song Thrushes andBlackbirds.Never had so many Song Thrushes in 10 years.Also noticed alot of Song Thrushes on my way up from Cork city on Sunday 3/1/10.Normally I'd see Blackbirds but none this time.”

“Obviously these birds will have to try and make land!Interestingly while at Red Barn Youghal yesterday afternoon I saw a constant stream of Redwings,Song Thrushes and Fieldfares coming in apparently directly off the sea.Are these British and European birds or "Irish" birds who have flown out to sea and had to rethink their strategy? Very few of the usual winter wagtails and pipits at Red Barn in spite of the feeding-I wonder where these birds went?”

“I was on Cape for New Year and there were Redwing in every field,
especially those with cattle breaking up the ground.Only 2 Fieldfare
but most notable were large numbers of Robin.Only other bird of note
was a Peregrine.”

“All birds this morning(and yesterday)were flying straight out towardsCape/Mizen, without stopping on Sherkin,which does however,still hold the
highest numbers of Redwings I've known in six years here,certainly in thelow hundreds(and Fieldfares -double figures yesterday)By my reckoning,Cape must now be jammed packed with Redwings.Are they going to veer southfor Iberia?”

“Large numbers present out in West Connemara here for the last two weeks.Most of the thrushes were actually flying East last week? Had 1 Waxwing in.Clifden last Sunday also.Alot of thrushes feeding in seaweed and even on the tideline amongst Ringed Plover and Sanderling one morning.Put out feeders 2 days ago for the first time and they were mobbed by the end of the day.It usually takes bird days to find/use new feeders in my experience”

"Phenomenal happenings here.Redwings and Fieldfares even in downtown Belfast.A Scottish friend who lives on the island beside Cape Clear Island reports a stream of thrushes going west...that means out to sea!Quite a lot of JACK SNIPE being reported all over the place too. And stacks of Woodcock in western Ireland."

All of this might not amount to anything more than we've already experienced. But,where else in North America can you see more than one Northern Lapwing in a day?The extreme winter weather is supposed to continue in the UK,if we get the right winds,it could be like the birds of Europe have migrated to Newfoundland. It will probably never happen,but if it did, it could be the single greatest birding event in the history of North American Birding.Fow now we wait,try to keep a level head and contain the excitement. Remember Christmas Eve when you were a kid? That's what Newfoundland birders are feeling right now!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Year Birds and a Lapwing Report!!

After yesterdays debacle with the car windshield,I decided to actually try to get some birding in today.I, of course, made my usual stops at the sewage outflow and QV Lake- not much ro see there so I headed off in search of berry eating birds.

I actually saw my first Bohemian Waxwings,since last winter in Flat Rock, a small community about a 15 minute drive north of St.John's. It was just a small flock of 12,but I think these are just the vanguards for the larger numbers that should inevitably follow.



Also in Flatrock, I found a small flock of 8 Eiders,that amazingly included a brilliant female King Eider. I was able to photograph this species for the first time today. Even though the photos aren't very good,they make good record shots and serve as a nice memento of this cool experience,with a very cool bird.



There was a third year bird added to my 2010 list today, American Coot. We were commenting earlier in the year, that this would be the first winter in very long time, without an American Coot at QV Lake. Well,one materialized out of no where and was reported from QV Lake yesterday. I caught up with it today walking among Mallards and Pintails and looking very comfortable. It was very tame and totally unconcerned by my presence. I wonder if it might be one of the birds that overwintered at this location last year.



However,while I was out today finding these birds a much rarer bird was found. A Northern Lapwing was reported from Portugal Cove South, on the extreme SE tip of the Avalon Peninsula. For those who have bee following gmy blog, you will remember some time ago I wrote about the winter Lapwing invasion of 1927 and 1966. In the former event, thousands of Lapwings invaded Newfoundland in December and January, escaping unusually extreme winter weather in the UK and riding strong NE winds to Newfoundland. Well the UK has had really ugly weather over the last month and we've had out our share of intense E and NE winds. Is this Lapwing a sign of bigger things to come? Well, no one knows, but I'll be in Portugal Cove South for sunrise tomorrow morning to find out. I'll post my findings on my blog tomorrow evening.

I should also note that just a single spot remains on the Southern Avalon Encore Birding Tour on January 16th.

January 4th- Bad Day and No Birding= Short Blog

Well in a word,today sucked! I was getting ready to go birding, I was actually planning to search for Robin flocks that might contain European Thrushes. I took my gear to the car,loaded it in the the back seat and SMASH! Out goes the back windshield. It shattered,literally, into a million pieces and scattered all throughout the car. I have no idea what happened. Anyway, to make a long and very shitty story, short. I spent the rest of the day dealing with my insurance provider and getting the windshield replaced.Tomorrow,I hope to do a sea watch in the morning,then bag a Redwing before lunch, thereby still leaving time in the day to find a Fieldfare or Eurasian Blackbird....hey don't laugh, it could happen :)Here's to a better day tomorrow...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

St.John's Sewer Outlet- What Will We Do Without it?

For most people the shutting down of a sewage outlet would be considered a good thing,a boon for the environment. However, I and other St.John's birders, will be in a state of mourning,when the day finally comes that the city decides to shut of the Pier 17 sewer outlet.

This is perhaps the best location in the world to view and photograph Kumlien's Iceland Gulls. It is the best location in North America to view Black-headed Gulls. Not to mention the 5-6 other species that occur there,including, Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

The city has undertaken a large scale waste management plan, that, aside from the redirecting of sewage to a treatment plant,will also include a complete facelift of the St.John's landfill and the closure of most of the other landfills on the Avalon Peninsula. The changes are already very obvious at the St. John's dump,which is no longer accessible to birders anyway. Currently, St.John's is one of the premier gull warching destinations in North America- it is not uncommon to see 10 species of gulls in a single day(my personal best day is 13).Winthin the next 5 years, or less, this will likely not be the case.There will be no exposed food waste at the dump for the gulls to feed on,no sewer outflow and as a result, no reason for gulls to congregate in the massive numbers that can currently be witnessed. With these food sources removed, the possibility of finding Yellow-legged Gull and other rarities, may become nearly impossible. If you want to add this species to your ABA list,you'd better do it while you still can!

For now,things look pretty much as they have in recent years,lots of gulls at the dump,lots in the harbour near the sewage outflow and among them, the usual rarities,such as Common Gull and Yellow-legged Gull. It might take a few years before the full impact of the changes at the dump are felt.However,we expect that gulls will dissappear from the sewer outlflow immediately,as they have when other sewage flows have been cut off.

Below are a few photos taken recently at the Pier 17 sewer outlet. You can see my Kumlien's Gull blog for a sample of the many Iceland Gulls that overwinter there.





















Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Big Year Ends and Another Begins

I had mentioned in a previous blog post, that I was doing a Newfoundland big year in 2009. For those unfamiliar with this concept,it basically means you try to see as many species of birds in Newfoundland as possible, in a single year. My goal was 250 species and I finished the year at 240 species. I would have had a legitimate shot at 250, had I started listing on Jan 1 of 2009. I missed several gettable species last winter,like, Ivory Gull,Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl,Saw Whet Owl,Boreal Owl, an overwintering Red-bellied Woodpecker and several others. Also I never made an effort to see breeders such as Spruce Grouse,Grey-cheeked Thrush and Rock Ptarmigan.

Since I anticipate to spend a great deal of time in the field this year I decided to give it another shot. Right now, it looks like getting to 250 will be a tall order, since there aren't many rarities lingering this winter,that allow me to jump start my list. So,how does one go about seeing 250 species in Newfoundland in 12 months? Well,this is somewhat uncharted territory,since no one has ever done this before. The current record is 247 species, in a vagrant filled 1998. For me, there are several keys, that I think will give me a chance to hit this landmark total.

1) Early start- To have a chance you have to go all out for 12 months- this is my plan right now.Also, winter is a crucial time to pick up lingering warblers,and other vagrants, as well as species like, Gyrfalcon and Ivory Gull. I might even try for Spruce Grouse or Hawk Owk this winter, if the opportunity arises.

2) Spring Euro vagrants- occasionally we get a small influx of European birds in spring,should the winds line up correctly between here and Iceland, I'll be chasing Euro Golden Plover this year for sure!

2) Clean up on rare breeders(esp owls and Grouse)- There are a number of breeding species that take quite a bit of effort to see. Some of these such as Hawk Owl,Three-toed Woodpecker and Rock Ptarmigan have eluded me in my 10 years of serious birding in the province,but are definitely gettable with enough effort and a little luck. Then there are other key species such as our owls and Spruce Grouse that one can find if they really dig. Another gettable bird is Wilson's Storm Petrel, which can be seen from our province's ferry's.

3) Codroy Valley in Late May/early June- this is pretty much mandatory in any Newdoundland big year. There are close to 20 species seen in this area,that are unlikely to be seen anywhere else in the province,unless you see them as fall vagrants.

4) lots of mid summer sea watching- to get to 250 I'll need all three specie of jaeger and at least Great Skua.As well,in July and August,small gulls such as Little Gull and Sabine Gull,although very rare, are a possibility.

5) lots of shorebirding- seeing species such as Baird's Sandpiper,Hudsonian Godwit,Wilson's Phalarope and Stilt Sandpiper are an absolute must.

6) An eye on weather in Sept/Oct and lots of time in the alders- this is extremely important if you are to bolster your warbler list. This is the time of year when things like Hooded Warbler,Kentucky,Cerulean, Prothotary etc, can sometimes be found. No doubt,this will require some luck,but some fast moving weather systems from the south will really help.

7) Chase Everything at a moments notice- you can't wait to see if a rare bird will stick around,or hope another will appear closer to home- you just have to go for it and hope for the best. I'll be doing lots of this in 2010, providing there are aome of rarities to chase!

8) Some luck helps too- I'll be hoping for some of this in the coming months with Gyrfalcon and Ivory Gull in mind.

The above,I believe are some key factors that will determine the success of my big year. There are no doubt many more variables that influence my chance of attaining this goal. Two days into the year my list sits at a meagre 40 species. However,there are still a bunch of easy winter species left,including many winter ducks. I'll be updating my big year list on my blog each Sunday with additions from the previous and the outlook for the coming months.

I know I've said this already,but I have two gull workshops coming up and I really want to write something on Gull ID. I welcome ideas in the form of comments on this posting. Otherwise I guess I'll have to some up with something on my own.

Hopefully everyone has a happy,life bird filled,vagrant laden New Year!!