Friday, 23 January 2015

Ring-necked Duck X Scaup Hybrid

An adult Ring-necked Duck X Scaup hybrid, first noted on Jan 5, has been a daily fixture at Burton's Pond and Quidi Vidi in St. John's. Even though I've seen it several times and have had great looks, it still often registers as a slightly odd Ring-necked Duck upon first sight.

But there are a few key things to look for to make sure you have the real deal.

The first think to look for is the peaked head. The head shape essentially looks like that of a Ring-necked Duck (RNDU) - but it is a little less pronounced making you wonder if it might be a Lesser Scaup.

Then you'll notice that the back is quite dark - on scaup the back is a greyish white - easily ruling out either of the scaup species. But the back isn't entirely black, as would be expected on RNDU or Tufted Duck.

RNDU x scaup hybrid:

A number of key features help you rule out a "pure" Ring-necked Duck.
First of all, the back isn't a solid black. There are faint grey lines giving the back a dark grey colour - that is more concentrated towards the front (which is also the case for scaup - the back becomes darker towards the tail).

RNDU x scaup hybrid:

In comparison with the RNDU in the following photo note:
        • no white at the base of the bill
        • less extensive spur on the flanks (on the RNDU below see the white that extends up from the flanks towards the neck)
        • the bill tip is less black
        • the flanks are entirely white whereas on RNDU it is a light grey with a small area of white towards the front

Ring-necked Duck (this one is from the winter of 2013/2014):

As far as I know, there are only 2 Ring-necked Ducks in town this winter. One female, and this male which I believe to be a first winter male:

 In direct comparison with a Tufted Duck, note that the back isn't a solid black (RNDU x scaup hybrid is behind the TUDU):

This photo of a Lesser Scaup shows the small black tip to the bill. Tufted & Ring-necked Ducks have much more extensive black tips. Greater Scaups are similar to Lesser Scaups in this regard.

Overall, the St. John's hybrid duck seems to be intermediate between Ring-necked Duck and scaup in almost every feature:

        • head shape is less peaked than RNDU
        • the black tip to the bill is intermediate between scaup and RNDU
        • there is a white ring around the bill (just proximal to the black tip) - but no white at the base of the bill
        • the 'spur' on the flanks is not as pronounced as on RNDU, but more so than a scaup (which don't really have a spur)
        • back coloration is somewhere between the solid black of RNDU and white/grey of the scaup species

It's hard to know for sure whether its other parent was a Lesser or Greater Scaup. But a few things seem to suggest the Lesser Scaup X RNDU hybrid:

      • that hybrid combination is more regular across the continent (according to eBird)
      • the lack of green in the luminescence of the head also indicates that it probably does not have Greater Scaup genes
      • the wing pattern (as seen on photos by BMt) shows primaries that are darker than the secondaries - again, another pro-Lesser Scaup feature

Maybe next winter it will return to St. John's and we will be struggling to identify its offspring!

Saturday, 3 January 2015

2015 Goals

A review of my 2014 goals reveals that I managed to reach 12 of my 13 goals. Only missed Slaty-backed Gull... That's OK, gotta save some fun for another year ;)


Here are some goals for 2015 - keeping in mind that I will have A LOT less time to bird this year (especially in the Autumn :S).

My major goal of the year is to focus my time on less developed/explored areas (i.e. Bay Bulls to Ferryland, & Cape St. Francis, Point Lance and other areas).
In fact the first two days of birding this year involved a trip to less explored areas of the avalon, and the Bonavista Peninsula!

Submit 1300 eBird lists in Newfoundland - submitted over 1800 in 2014, so this should be attainable.

Add 15 species to my Newfoundland life list (or 20 if I make it to the West coast in the Spring/Summer) - currently at 251

Add 15 species to my Newfoundland self-found list - currently sitting at 217 or something...

See 200 species on the island - managed to get 220 in 2014, but with the lack of time in 2015 it may be more difficult than I hope...

Reach 8000km biked - currently have logged 6549km .... or something like that

Target Birds (these are self-find targets):

A shorebird I still need for my NL list (ex: Ruff, Stilt Sandpiper.... Western Sandpiper)
A rare heron (rarer than Great Blue or Great Egret)
Add a warbler to my self-found list
A rare sparrow that I still need for my NL list (ex: Towhee, Field, Grasshopper.... etc.)

And.... if you find one of these 5 species this year on the island and I get to see it, I will personally buy you a large bottle of liquor:

Eurasian Curlew
Purple Gallinule - the search for this species begins on Monday!
Connecticut Warbler
American Woodcock displaying on the Avalon!

Good luck for a great year!
What are you hoping to see this year?

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014 in review

It's been a phenomenal year in Newfoundland far exceeding my expectations.
Here are some of the highlights.

The year started with a bang when a Common Snipe was found in Ferryland - it was seen for at least another 2 months in the same area.
Perhaps it was a vanguard of the many european shorebirds that were to follow 4 months later.

The snipe had to endure one of the worst winters in recent memory - this photo pretty much sums up what it was like:

There was a lot of snow!

Despite being cold, the winter can be beautiful. This photo was taken in Cape St. Francis - I visited the headland 15 times this year recording 51 species during many memorable seawatches.

Much of the winter was spent looking at gulls - the elusive Yellow-legged Gull became a Quidi Vidi regular for a couple weeks in March much to the satisfaction of local birders:

Late April to late May was non-stop madness for birders on the island. It all started with 
2 Black-tailed Godwits on April 25:

Over 300 European Golden-Plovers were seen over the following weeks:

And in the middle of the invasion everyones Most Wanted Bird showed up in Torbay - a day many of us will not soon forget:

A schinzii Dunlin was seen for a single day (Greenland sub-species):

While 40+ Northern Wheatears were enjoyed by many:

As if there weren't enough rarities in the preceding month, this Pacific Loon kept the lists growing:

While we were scrambling to see all the Euro rarities, the regular breeding birds were returning. Here a Northern Gannet flies by an iceberg:

Insects stole my attention for a short while:

After a 5 week trip to Nepal for school-related activities I had 3 weeks of solid birding before school started up again.

One highlight was photographing this juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher:

And finding two adult Common Ringed Plovers:

Seabird events seemed more regular this year than usual. One such event involved 5 species of jaeger/skua in one day!

Warblers impressed, as they usually do, in late August through September:

A totally unexpected gull best fitting that of Kamchatka Gull showed up in September only being seen once more:

November saw a lot of time sunk into figuring out what kind of meadowlark was in our midst. 

And soon the winter began to set in once again:

Great Cormorants will surely return to our local ponds and rivers in the coming months as they continue to adapt to freshwater:

One of my favourite photos of the year:

Hopefully 2015 will be just as good or even better!