Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Hudwits & Dunlin

While at Biscay Bay yesterday, Ed and I were keen to see the 4 juvenile Hudsonian Godwits that were reported from there the day before.

It didn't take us long to find them. We were walking along the grassy track when the birds flew in and landed very close by!

They were quick to start feeding, and seemed to have no trouble finding large juicy worms:

When I was photographing this one I thought it had a band on at first, but then it changed angles and I couldn't see anything so dismissed it. Now I can see that it appears to have an injury on its leg:

A large flock of Dunlin landed close-by while I was laying low and photographing the godwits:

The majority were juveniles as far as I could tell:

Monday, 22 September 2014

Storm Driven Birds = 0

Sir Ed and I made our way around the southern shore today. We had high hopes to capitalize on seabirds driven close to shore due to the high winds. Unfortunately, visibility was too good (meaning birds knew where the land was and could steer clear), and, probably more importantly, the winds weren't strong enough.

Nevertheless, we had a great day and saw some great birds.

I've been seeing Common Eiders semi-regularly this month. I'm not sure if all of them have been over-summering or if they're recent migrants to the area. Of the 20+ I've seen this was the only one I got close enough to photograph:

This bird appears to be of the dresseri sub-species, which breeds in the maritimes and some places around Newfoundland. In the winter most of our eiders are of the borealis sub-species, which breeds further to the North.

Another highlight from today was a flock of phalaropes close to shore that contained both Red & Red-necked Phalaropes.
The size difference between the two species is evident in the above photo (the 2 Red-neckeds are noticeably smaller, while also being darker).

Red Phalarope peaking over a wave at the RNPH:

In the field I thought the RNPHs were juveniles because of their dark backs and the golden stripe along the inner scapulars. But now that I've looked at the photos it's obvious that these are adult Red-necked Phalaropes that still have much of their breeding plumage retained.

It was interesting to note that the Red Phalaropes appear much further advanced in their moult having replaced the majority of their coverts, scapulars, and mantle feathers. Whereas, the RNPHs had replaced fewer of those feathers.

The water was very choppy and the phalaropes were very adept at managing the constant wave action:

juvenile Sanderlings were along most beaches we checked:

The most unexpected species of the day was a Horned Grebe in winter plumage!
It was at Biscay Bay which happens to be the only location in NL known to have regularly occurring Horned Grebes in the winter. Perhaps this one was a failed breeder and knew exactly where it wanted to be for the next 8 or 9 months. Or it could have been there all summer?

On our way home we came across a freshly tilled field that attracted hundreds of gulls. Among them were 3 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls. This one still has its outer 2 primary feathers (P9 & P10) from its summer plumage: 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Signs of an Incoming Storm

With plans coming together for storm birding tomorrow, I was planning to sit down and work on my research project this afternoon. After two hours I got a message from Ian who was planning to check out Cape St. Francis in the afternoon. CSF is easily one of the most under-birded locations along the Eastern avalon and I've made it my intent to put it on the birding map since I moved back to NFLD in 2013. I've now visited 12 times, and have seen Great Skua on two visits, several jaegers, 3 Northern Wheatears, and a hornemanni's Hoary Redpoll! Although we didn't see any real rarities today we did have the opportunity to a close study of two adult Red Phalaropes.

During a 30 minute sea watch we saw about 100 phalaropes flying in all directions, and another 100 feeding on the ocean surface. Despite the strong offshore winds several were flying right by the point giving exceptional views. On one occasion an adult Red Phalarope and one juvenile Red-necked Phalarope flew by giving good looks at their different sizes and general upper-side coloration (a juvenile RNPH is quite dark). Would have made for a great comparison photo!

On our walk back to the car we noticed 2 Red Phalaropes clinging to the cliff feeding on invertebrates. A behaviour I've never seen before, and I suspect is partly associated with the strong offshore winds. These birds found this sheltered cove and an abundance of food and broke the rules to capitalize on an unexploited niche.

They appeared to be inexperienced cliffside feeders, looking very out of place, especially considering their webbed feet!

Pale base on a relatively thick bill is probably the most reliable way to identify this species in the winter. Although these ones aren't completely into their non-breeding plumage, they are getting there.

 They really are tiny birds. With the sun behind you they glisten against the dark ocean background and can be visible from several kilometres away.

Also had great looks at an adult Goshawk this morning before sunrise!


Hopes are high for a seabird show tomorrow. The storm is straight from the South punching out at 100km/h +

Storms from this direction are basically unexplored from a birding point of view in Newfoundland. I can only recall reading about one such event that got birded (see post here) - which ended up being an enviable day. Expectations are high that tomorrow will deliver.

Should be plenty more of these tomorrow: