Monday, February 22, 2010

New Tours Announced- Including Owling!

Hey Everyone,

I just wanted to add a quick note to let everyone know that I have added a few new tours. If you haven't been here lately you might notice that things have changed a bit. Under the title header you will notice some categories. One of these is Current Tours. Click on this to get information about upcoming tours.

I have just announced some Owling trips for late March and April as well as some spring trips on the southern Avalon. Feel free to take a look and see if anything interests you!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

IVORY GULL!!!

On Monday February 15,local birder Alvan Buckley and I birder the southern Avalon Peninsula. Our primary target was the Hoary Redpoll that has been frequenting a Portugal Cove South feeder.

we got underway early,weather was excellent,which was the opposite of what was forecast. We pretty much birded the entire day without anything exciting. the Redpoll was no where to be found and the meagre highlight was nice looks at a couple of Red-throated Loons.

It was only 1:00 in the afternoon and we were already heading back north towards St.John's. We decided to visit all the small coves along the way checking for Alcids close to shore and a stop in Ferryland to look for a long staying,yet elusive ( to birders at least) Dickcissel. Well, we dipped on the Dickcissel and hadn't found any Alcids until we got to Calvert.

Driving through Calvert we spotted a Common Murre floating close to the wharf. We decided to drive out onto the wharf and try for photos. Our plan was to wait for the Murre to dive then bolt out fo the car and get a few photos when it surfaced. The Murre dove and we got in position. We got some photos when it surfaced,but amazingly it swam away from us and close to shore. We bolted ot the shore where the Murre was diving. We hid behind a conveniently places warehouse and waited until the Murre dove and again we moved into position. The Murre popped up incredibly close,we got a few shots,then it dove again. Amazingly it popped up again and continued to feed only meters from us for almost 30 minutes. Not satisfied with the photos I was getting from the top of the breakwater, I decided to jump down on shore,since the tide was out and the waves were very small. This was great,until the tide began to rise very quickly. First a slightly bigger push of water,then a slightly bigger wave,then a much bigger wave! I was actually kneeling in the water and barely rose up above and got my back to wave to spare my camera equipment! But it was fun and worth it!!







Compared to the rest of our day this was exciting. I was explaining to Alvan,how sometimes on these trips we don't see anything rare,but there are usually memorable moments and we would likely remember the Murre photo session as the highlight of the trip. We had just pulled into Witless Bay as i was saying this and I had just gotten on 3 shorebirds flying across the bay. The default shorebird in winter is Purple Sandpiper,but these birds looked slightly off,probably because I really wanted to find something exciting. I followed the birds to shore and was suggesting that we drive over to have a look,when it happened! I saw a white gull way off in the distance. It looked somewhat unfamiliar. It's flight seemed unusually buoyant and reminded me of a cross between and Iceland Gull and a Kittiwake. I looked at the bird for about 5 seconds then it sunk in- this is an IVORY GULL. That is when I probably scared the heck out of Alvan, when I yelled,IVORY GULL,this is a f***ing IVORY GULL- I was a little excited.Pulse racing, I jumped out of the car,grabbed my camera and fired a few distant shots,just for the record,but the bird was drifting away.We had to chase it.

A couple of minutes later after a hairy 80km/hr drive down a narrow side road we were again watching the Ivory Gull. We were oblivious to the fact that we had invaded the property of a B&B and there were a few curious people watching us through the large bay window. I'm sure they were wondering what these two nuts we doing running around their front lawn with spotting scopes and cameras,yelling and waving to each other. we stayed here with the bird for about 20 minutes. It was working the coast and actually flre right in front of us several times. Unfortunately it was getting dark at this point and the bird was a little distant for photos. I did manage to grab a few record quality shots as the bird flew by and landed briefly.

WOW!! How things can change. What started out a one of the most bland birding days of the winter,ended out being one of the best. I often tell others that it only takes one bird to change things around and that's so true- especially when that one bird is an immaculate adult Ivory Gull.





Word is that there are flocks of Ivory Gulls in southern Labrador. Also, visiting birder/photographer Brandon Holden found three!! in Savage Cove on the Northern Peninsula. Combine this with my bird and things are shaping up for a good ole invasion of Ivory Gulls. Stay tuned- this might only be the beginning!!!

EDIT: 10-20 Ivory Gulls seen near the straight of Belle Isle in northern Newfoundland!!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Winter Drags On

Well, I haven't exactly been updating this blog daily as of late,but then again,there really hasn't been much to report- the winter doldrums are here. I've been spending nearly full days at Quidi Vidi Lake lately looking for something new to no avail. It has been nice to see the Slaty-backed and Yellow-legged Gull almost daily,but it's really time for a new gull, I'm again thinking of Glaucous-winged Gull, we see how that works out.

As I mentioned in previous posting,gull watching at the lake has been hampered lately by the constant presence of a group of Bald Eagles. One immature bird has become particularly tame and oftrn spends extended periods of time close to the lakes edges and is totally unconcerned by the growing crowds of on lookers,that have taken an interest in the eagles at the lake.



Aside from my daily visits to the lake I've been spending some time trying to get good images of our boreal birds. I haven't got much yet,but here is a Junco shot that I've come to like.



Well,unfortunately that's it for now. I hope to have something more interesting to report on my next update. In fact, I think I might write something about gull hybrids,since I've been seeing a few different combinations lately.

Regarding the tour this May, I'm still waiting to finalize the cost of accomodations and travel. I hope to have the cost finalized early next week. If you can't wait and need information sooner, email me and I'll see what I can do. Until next time...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Alcids,Boreal Birding and Euro Strays- Spring Birding in Newfoundland Tour- May 4th-9th 2010

I'm excited to be able to announce that this tour is coming along nicely. I still have some loose ends to tie together but will have everything finalized, most importantly the price,in the next few days.

This tour will feature three main attractions, Alcids, boreal birding and (hopefully) European Strays!

Alcids- we will see a couple hundred thousand Atlantic Puffins at close range. It is almost overwhelming to be in the presence of so many birds. Aside from Puffins, there will be plenty of Common and Thick-billed Murres, Razorbills and Black Guillemots,all seen at close range.

While viewing Alcids we will also see some Northern Fulmar and possibly Leach's Storm Petrels. Part of one day will also be dedicated to visiting Cape St.Mary's ecological reserve,where we'll enjoy extended views of 30,000 nesting Gannets on nests at very close range. Also in this area will be many more Common and and some Thick-billed Murres and Razorbills. Also, featured at this location will be Black-legged Kittiwakes on nests. If you interested in bird photography a 300 m lens can sometimes be too much here,since the birds get so close!

Boreal Birding- We will also take some time to look for out boreal breeding birds,such as Pine Grosbeak, Boreal Chickadee,White-winged Crossbill and others. Depending on the pace of the trip, we may also visit areas where Spruce Grouse will be possible. At least one evening there will be an optional outing in search of Boreal Owl. The extent of our boreal birding would depend on the interests of the group and also the upcoming section- Euro Strays!!

European Strays- this is probably the most exciting and definitely the most unpredictable feature of this tour. The most likely European vagrants to be seen on this tour would be European Golden Plover and Northern Wheatear. While this is definitely not guaranteed,they are annual on eastern Newfoundland for the most part some time between the last few days of April through the third week of May. The trick is having one turn up during the tour dates! If there are European Golden Plovers or Wheatears reported, we will be prepared to travel extensively to find them. When these birds turn up they are often between the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula and the Bonavista Peninsula and they usually linger a few days. These areas are both about a 2-2.5 hour drive from St.John's.Both areas offer good birding and we will be visiting both areas anyway,so it wouldn't even really be out of the way, it just might mean juggling things around a little.

Other European vagrants are possible,but unlikely to be found during such a narrow window. However, Common Redshank,Eurasian Oystercatcher,Black-tailed Godwit, Garganey,Eurasian Whimbrel,Redwing and others, have all turned up in spring over the last 10 years. To be sure I'm not misleading anyone,these species are very unlikely at best,but if we get favorable weather systems between Iceland and Newfoundland in spring,these things are possibilities.

To get the most out of this trip you should be prepared to be happy with the seabird spectacle and the boreal birding. There is always the chance of finding an exciting European birds and this creates anticipation and certainly gives one the feeling that anything is possible,especially, if as mentioned above, we get winds blowing from Iceland in April and early May.

Aside from the above mentioned birds,there should be a few lingering Tufted Ducks and probably Eurasian Wigeon and Common Teal around the city. There is perhaps even a very outside chance that there could be a Yellow-legged Gull still in town. I will be closely tracking our YLGU's whereabouts as the tour approaching,so I'll have a good idea if it's worth looking for or not.

To do this tour properly 5-6 full days of birding would be required,also a longer tour increases the chances of finding European birds if they should be around. It is my intention to offer this tour for a very reasonable price,certainly less than other similar tours that have travelled to Newfoundland. I hope to have everything in order and will announce a price by the end of the week. This will be a small tour and I will be accepting an absolute maximum of 5 participants. I'm expecting that this tour will fill quickly once officially released and advertised. If you'd like further details or would like to pre-book,please contact me via email.

Official announcement,including price by Friday of this week!!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ivory Gulls on the Way??

There are few birds that hold legendary,almost mythical status in the birding world. Some of these birds such as the Resplendant Quetzel and are amazingly colorful and beautiful. Some such as Harpy Eagle because they are astoundingly powerful. Then there are others because they combine,beauty and elusiveness. In Newfoundland we are fortunate enpough to see birds that combine all of the above. We are far enough north that we usually stand a reasonable chance of getting a few visitors from the high Arctic each winter. Birds that spend the majority of their lives in far flung,remote places,untouched by humans. Places such as North West Greenland and Baffin Island. One such Arctic visitor is the Ivory Gull,one of the most highly sought after of all bird species.



Ivory Gulls often spend most fo their lives without ever seing a human. Ergo,they often have no fear of humans and are very approachable. Especially if you have some seal meat,moose,hamburger meat etc to offer!





The Ivory Gull has it all.It has mystique and beauty, it is an Arctic ghost, and seeing one of these amazing birds, is something that most birders can only dream of. However,for Newfoundland birders,this is much more than a dream, it's very much a reality. Some years when conditions are right we see movements of Ivory Gulls to the shores around Newfoundland. They are often seen at coastal locations on north or east facing portions of the island. They often come in with the arrival of the pack ice, or fierce nor easters,where they are often seen scavenging on seal carcasses or dead birds frozen into the ice. Some years we often see them right in St.John's at Quidi Vidi Lake, or around the harbour.

I did some reading last night about the pack ice situation in Newfoundland and found that the pack ice had moved into the far NE portions of the island by late January. Perhaps,not coincidentally,two Ivory Gulls were reported from New World Island in north eastern Newfoundland. Also,perhaps unrelated, an Ivory Gull was reported from St.Shotts on the extreme southern edge of the Avalon Peninsula. This might be an indication that birds are moving though,especially when you add in a couple of birds from the eastern US.



Sea ice coverage in NE Newfoundland as of January 29th.

So it's possible right now that we are experiencing a trifecta of events that might combine to bring us some Ivory Gulls;

1) birds moving south from Arctic-due to unfavorable feeding conditions etc?
2) arrival of sea ice in Eastern Newfoundland-we know there are IVGU's on the ice
3) massive storm that is currently east of the Avalon Peninsula,but is so large that the wrap around N, NNW adn NW winds will be blowing directly from Greenland and the Labrador sea for the next 3-4 days!

The strong winds might push the sea ice a little furth south and closer to shore,making Ivory Gulls accessible. Also,if some birds wanted to move,or are moving,the winds should bring them in our direction. Below are a few weather maps for the coming days,showing the current system.



Current weather map for February 5th



February 6th



February 7th

Right now as I type this we have already received about 20 cm(8 inches)of snow in the last 12 hours and are getting pounded by NNW winds gusting to 90 km/hr. This is supposed to continue for the next 2-3 days with possible accumulations of 50+ cm (20 inches) of snow likley. Once things calm down a little I'll be out looking for Ivory Gulls and anything else the winds might blow in. In 2000? in mid winter a juvenile Great Skua showed up a Quidi Vidi lake following a violent storm! I don't think we'll ever see that again,but a few Ivory Gulls and maybe even a Gyrfalcon that have moved our way,following the ice and riding the winds might be more than possible.

Disclaimer: what you have just read is nothing more than idle speculation. It isn't really based on any particular research,but just a combination of possibilities,that provide the fuel that fanatiacal birders need to keep them going through the lean times,during the depths of winter. Dream on!

Codroy Valley Birding Tour Announced!!!



I'm really excited to announce this summers 5 day birding tour in the scenic Codroy Valley in south western Newfoundland. This is by far the most bird rich area on the island and over 100 species should be seen on this tour. There will be something for everyone,visitors and locals alike. We'll see many species that cannot be seen anywhere else in Newfoundland,such as Piping Plover, Ruby-throated Hummingbird,Northern Parula,Blackburnian Warbler,Bay-breasted Warbler, Cape May Warbler and many many more. Aside from those, we'll also see a nice sampling of the islands boreal birds as well,including Pine Grosbeak, Boreal Chickadee,Black-backed Woodpecker etc. We should also see a good selection of seabirds as well, and we can designate more or less time on these species,depending in the groups interest.

Aside from the birds, the entire area is incredibly scenic and our accommodations provide an amazing view of the Great Codroy Estuary and the Long Range Mountains. We'll be based in the Codroy Valley for the duration of the tour and as mentioned above, our focus will largely depend on the interest level of the participants. I'm a huge bird photography enthusiast and there will be many great photo opportunities. For the photographers in the group,we will have lots of time to get some amazing photos.



Sunset at Searston Beach, also an amazing palce to see Common and Artic Terns and Great Blue Herons at close range.





Part of the view from the cottges,where we'll be staying.


As seen on the add above, the cost for the tour is just $1650.00 (based on double occupancy- $350 single supplement)for a full five days and nights!Those who have been on birding tours before, or who have researched them online, will notice this tour is significantly less expensive than other, similar tours. As well,this will be much more customized than many of those tours and when the tour fills I will speak with each participant to ensure that the itinerary meets their needs. For that reason I am not releasing a full itinerary at this time. I can say however, that this will be a full out birding tour,there will be little time spent in vehicles once we reach the Codroy Valley.

For those who are considering travelling from outside Newdoundland to take part in this tour, please contact me by email at dave.browne@gmail.com to discuss travel plans and transportation.

The tour will run from June 7th-11th. We will begin early on the morning of the 7th. It is recommended that you arrive on June 6th to get settled in and ready to go on the 7th. Breakfasts and lunches are included on all days, as is dinner on the evening of the 11th. As with most of my tours,I intend on offering a learning component and there will be plenty of time available for learning during this tour,both about birding and bird photography.

I'm only accepting a maximum of 6 participants for this tour and I expect it to fill quickly.To book your place, or to request more information please contact me via email. A $500 deposit is required by April 1st to ensure I can book the accommodations.

Also stay tuned for other happening including spring seabird and songbird blitzes. As well, I will be available for private or group tours this spring,especially for those interested in searching for European vagrants,such as European Golden Plover and seabirds. If you are considering a trip those spring make sure you contact me asap to insure my availability.

Note: I will be in the Codroy Valley from around May 15th through the end of June. If the scheduled dates do not work for you,pelase contact me and I can arrange a private tour, or day trip that suits your needs.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Plague of Eagles

This has not been a good week for gull watching in St.John's. Each day the lake has been frequented by several Bald Eagles. When an eagle even approaches Quidi Vidi lake from a distance everything flushes, well all the gulls at least. This is common at this time of year as the eagles come to the lake to scavenge on the remains of gulls carcases. As if that wasn't enough,even when small flocks of gulls did manage to form,the sun is so bright that it is nearly impossible to view them!

Since the gull watching has been bad I have resorted to photographing our flock of diving ducks. There was a high count of 72 diving ducks in town earlier in the winter,comprised of no less than 34 Tufted Ducks, about a half dozen Lesser Scaup and the rest Greater Scaup. With the deep freeze of the last two weeks,some of these ducks seem to have moved on,but there is still plenty of each around and are not quite tame and tolerant of people. I know evertone is probably getting sick of Tufted Duck photos,but here a few more,these will probably be the last until next year..maybe...





Even with the constant eagle flushes,there have still been a few interesting gulls around,including the bird featured below. This is a fairly typical 1st winter Kumlien's Iceland Gull,aside from the fact that it has exceptionally dark primaries. more exceptional than the color of the primaries is their stark contrast to the rest of the bird. We often get 1st basic kumlieni with dark brown primaries,but in these cases the rest of the bird is dark as well. This bird is quite pale and cold colored overall, aside from those nice rich,chocolate brown primaries- a cool bird and perhaps the first I've seen that look quite like this.



Unfortunately,this is about as exciting as it has gotten for me around here recently. I would like to say though that I'm currently planning lots of events for this spring and summer. Ever winder what a million Puffins look like? What about 50,000 Gannets? These are just a couple of the events we will be witnessing on my upcoming spring seabird tours.Of course,spring not only brings seabirds it brings renewed possibility for European vagrants. It might seem a little early to speak of spring vagrants,but in just a little over two months European Golden Plovers will be returning to Iceland and some will likely end up right here in Newfoundland! This year I'll be having at least one tour that will take us in search of such European strays,combined with the seabird spectacles. So stay tuned for that one!

Also, this summer I will be offering two full week vacations in western Newfoundland. These will include 5 full days of birding,accommodations,most meals, transportation in western Newfoundland,as well as any associated fees etc. This is by far the most bird rich part of Newfoundland and we'll likely see over a 100 species for the trip,including many boreal specialties. All the details have yet to be finalized,but I can say that this tour will be significantly cheaper than most birding tours and will much more customized to the wants of the participants. I'll be announcing this tour officially in the probably within the next week.

Tomorrow I'm not entirely sure what I'll be doing. I will surely make my daily visit to Quidi Vidi Lake,but after that who knows. if the light isn't too bad I might try to search for some finches to photograph,or maybe just try to some great shots of Boreal Chickadees,which I don't have yet for some reason. Anyway, I'll try to update daily as much as possible,but it's getting tougher now that the winter doldrums have set in. We do,however have a large storm coming from the south west in the next week.If this should just past to the east and position itself,then turn toward Greenland like many of these systems do we could get some strong wrap around NW winds that could bring...dare I say Ivory Gulls........

Monday, February 1, 2010

I'm Back (Gull Workshop Success)

I've received a few emails from some of my readers wondering when I might be posting an update, so in an effort to keep my loyal readers happy, I present tonights blog entry.

Ton be honest there isn't a great deal to talk about... by that I mean daily encounters with Yellow-legged Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, numbers of Lesser Black-backs, 4 Common Gulls and 30+ Tufted Ducks etc etc, seem to be losing their excitement. It's time for a new bird to be found.

Lately, I've had Glaucous-winged Gull on my mind,we have two previouis records,both in Feb-march,so I know it's possible!But until then we have to settle for the list of super rarities above that would thrill most birders,but now barely result in St.John's birders doing a second take. Well, that's not entirely true,we still get excited about YLGU and SBGU and whenever I see one I still watch the bird until it decideds to move. I've never walked away from a great look at a YLGU and if I'm lucky enough to get within photograpy range I just can'e seem to stop taking photos until my card fills or the bird flies.

I had such an encounter yesterday,while doing the field portion of my Gull Identification II workshop. The materialized from out of nowhere and lingered for over 10 minutes at close range allowing all the participants scope filling views of this spectacular gull. we also a brief,but nice encounter with a SBGU,which was a lifer for several of the workshop participants. Overall the workshop went really well. Everyoen seemed pleased with the material and the presentation and appearances by YLGU and SBGU I'm sure didn't hurt!

Below are a few photos taken around town recently. Now that I have a few days to myself, I hope to post something gull related in the next couple days.I might write write something about identification of 1st winter European Herring Gull from a North American perspective if I'm feeling particularly ambitious. Anyway, below are the photos...



Yellow-legged Gull



Nice comparison of YLGU mantle shade in direct comparison to smithsonianus Herring Gull




Another image of our most recent Slaty-backed Gull, check out those folded primaries!



Slaty-back spread wing.Note the extreme amount of white in this birds wings.This must be somewhat extreme for this species.



Note: Bird in middle with the pale brown primaries,with frosty,white tips. This is a presumed 2nd winter Greater Black-backed X Glaucous Gull hybrid. Bird is aged by the apparent lack of any juvenile feathers in plumage and rounded primary tips.



Great Cormorant



Tufted Duck (male)



Boreal Chickadee