Happy Halloween …

Hlloween2013sm… from me and my family to yours. Enjoy!!

(The above is a compilation of seven different photos taken all over the Avalon Peninsula)

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Return of the Prodi-GULL Son …

The smile that crossed my face when reading the local bird reports this morning was a celebratory one … an old friend of sorts has returned! Although I haven’t seen it yet myself, Bruce Mactavish spotted an adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL sitting in a flock of gulls on a familiar field in Pleasantville (St. John’s) this morning.

Yellow-legged Gull  (this adult photographed in February 2010) was a rare but regular fixture in St. John's every winter for more than a decade ... however it had been almost two years since the last sighting. Until this morning! - Photo: Jared Clarke (February 14, 2010)

Yellow-legged Gull (this adult photographed in February 2010) was a rare but regular fixture in St. John’s every winter for more than a decade … however it had been almost two years since the last sighting. Until this morning!
– Photo: Jared Clarke (February 14, 2010)

Most Yellow-legged Gulls recorded in Newfoundland have been adults, although this intriguing immature gull is considered by many to have been a second-winter Azorean/Atlantis Yellow-legged Gull. - Photo: Jared Clarke (January, 2008)

Most Yellow-legged Gulls recorded in Newfoundland have been adults, although this intriguing immature gull is considered by many to have been a second-winter Azorean/Atlantis Yellow-legged Gull.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (January, 2008)

Birders (and especially the few of us that consider ourselves gull fans) in St. John’s have been spoiled by this species the past dozen or so years. Yellow-legged Gull is a European species that occurs primarily in the eastern Atlantic/Mediterranean and is a very rare wanderer to North America (ABA Code 4). Yet, at least one has shown up here every fall and/or winter since the late 1990’s — enjoyed by local larophiles and a draw for many visitors, listers and even bird tours.There have been as many as three recorded around the city some years, and one usually hangs out for the entire winter. It can be tough to find sometimes amongst the tens of thousands of large gulls that winter here, making it elusive but well worth the hunt. St. John’s has been the only place in North America where this species could be seen regularly and (somewhat) reliably!

The majority (if not all) of Yellow-legged Gulls seen here have been theorized to originate from the Azores, where the Atlantis race has a slightly darker mantle and unique pattern of head streaking in fall/early winter. - Photo: Jared Clarke (December 3, 2010)

The majority (if not all) of Yellow-legged Gulls seen here have been theorized to originate from the Azores, where the Atlantis race has a slightly darker mantle and unique pattern of head streaking in fall/early winter.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (December 3, 2010)

However, something changed two winters ago (2011-12) — an adult Yellow-legged Gull showed up in early fall as expected, although sightings were sporadic and it often went long periods not being seen. Then it disappeared altogether – the last known sighting was on January 15, 2012 when I photographed it bathing with other gulls in some open water at Quidi Vidi lake. Despite lots of searching, often by experienced eyes, it was not seen again that winter. And for the first time in more than twelve years, the species was not recorded in Newfoundland at all the following fall or winter. We were worried!!

Hopefully this bird settles in and stays for a while … certainly there are people out there (near and far) who would love to enjoy it. I know I would, and I’ll be looking every chance I get!

Sometimes it takes experienced eyes to pick out and safely identify a Yellow-legged Gull. Although they can be distinctive among a flock of more typical gulls, there are a few hybrid possibilities that need to be eliminated. The clean white head in winter (or unique pattern of head streaking in fall, see above) and wingtip pattern are important clues to picking out the North American rarity. - Photo: Jared Clarke (December 13, 2009)

Sometimes it takes experienced eyes to pick out and safely identify a Yellow-legged Gull. Although they can be distinctive among a flock of more typical gulls, there are a few hybrid possibilities that need to be eliminated. The clean white head in winter (or unique pattern of head streaking in fall; see above) and wingtip pattern are important clues to picking out this North American rarity.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (December 13, 2009)

No doubt about it -- It's a classy looking gull! - Photo: Jared Clarke (February 14, 2010)

No doubt about it — It’s a classy looking gull!
– Photo: Jared Clarke (February 14, 2010)

A Few “birdtherock” Updates …

It’s been a while since I have updated or added any new resources to this website – all the regular excuses apply! So, I’m happy to announce a couple steps in the right direction (even if they are baby-steps).

First, I have updated my unofficial version of the Checklist of the Birds of Newfoundland. I have added two new species recorded in Newfoundland since last summer (Brown Booby and Lazuli Bunting), updated a few species profile pages with new records, and added a few more profiles. I am slowly working on a few more.

- Photo: Darroch Whitaker

– Photo: Darroch Whitaker

Secondly, following a suggestion and a little help from Darroch Whitaker (Parks Canada ecologist & birder extraordinaire), I have added a page about Torngat Mountains National Park. It includes a short blurb, some mouth-watering photos, and a checklist of the park’s birds. Eventually I hope to profile a number of such interesting & exciting places and  create a page of “Places to Go Birding in Newfoundland & Labrador”.

OK — That’s it for now. Were you expecting more?? Just stay tuned 😉

It’s happened — SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER !!

I was on “daddy duty” this morning, home alone with my two pre-school girls, when I found out that Bruce Mactavish had spotted a “Western Kingbird” flying across the road in Torbay an hour or so earlier. That’s a good bird for Newfoundland (less than annual), and worth looking for. It was cold and windy out, so I knew it might be tough … but the fact that he had also found a “content” Northern Wheatear nearby gave me the motivation to go. Either bird is always nice to see, and the wheatear might cooperate for photos.

The girls headed off to music class with their grandmother at 11:15am, so I took the opportunity to sneak out for an hour or so. As expected, no sign of the “kingbird”, but I readily found the Northern Wheatear in a cemetery where Bruce had described. Light was nice and it was fairly tolerant of me, so I got some nice photos. I spent another 20 minutes looking for the “kingbird”, but no dice. In the meantime, Lancy Cheng joined me in the hunt.

This Northern Wheatear was part of mini-invasion this week - at least seven have been reported on the eastern Avalon. - Photo: Jared Clarke (October 10, 2013)

This Northern Wheatear was part of mini-invasion this week – at least seven have been reported on the eastern Avalon.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (October 10, 2013)

A short while after heading home, I got a text from Lancy that he had seen the “kingbird” near the original location. “Great”, I thought. But I had no car for the next little while and couldn’t go. Oh well …

My mindset changed drastically an hour later (2:30pm) when I got another text saying that Dave Brown had arrived, seen the bird, and re-identified it as a SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER!! This is a mega mega rarity, having only been recorded once in the province (2001) and far out of reach for birders. And it’s a beautiful bird, to boot!!

This Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was initially misidentified based on a brief glimpse early this morning. Luckily it was refound and identified by Dave Brown - and birders were soon able catch up to it! - Photo: Jared Clarke (October 10, 2013)

This Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was initially misidentified based on a brief glimpse early this morning. Luckily it was refound and identified by Dave Brown – and birders were soon able catch up to it!
– Photo: Jared Clarke (October 10, 2013)

I was in anguish over the next hour while I hung out at home with the girls and made a few frantic phone calls to get the details. At 3:30pm I was jetting over the road, making record time to Torbay where I found a flock of birders staring at a dogberry (aka mountain ash) tree about 75m away. There it was – sitting quietly but in plain view. SCORE!!! I stayed there for the next two hours, watching and taking (mostly distant) photos as the bird moved around the neighbourhood (a neighbourhood that was likely confused and bemused by the dozen or so people who had descended unannounced on their street with scopes, bins, and cameras).

STFL_Oct102013_6323 STFL_Oct102013_6437WHAT A BIRD!!!

Diggin’ … for birds & worms

Thursday, October 3rd was one of those rare days (at least recently) that I could sneak away from home & office obligations to go birding in the middle of the week. When Bruce Mactavish planted the seed in my head, I immediately found a way to make it work. Both the date and the weather were ripe for vagrants – we had just come off some interesting weather that brought four straight days of record high temperatures. I was stoked!

Bruce and I have a good history of finding sweet birds together – so I felt extra good about this day out. It was cool and breezy when Bruce picked me up at 5:45am and we headed south for Bear Cove (site of last week’s Yellow-throated Vireo) and Cape Race (where anything can happen!). We pulled into the gravel pit just after first light, eager to hit the alders and find some gems popping around among the bright fall colours.

But thing started off slow … real slow. Even the Yellow-rumped Warblers that had been so abundant ten days earlier had moved on and we really had to dig to find birds. After several hours of working the tried and true locations between Bear Cove and Cappahayden, we had nothing to show besides a Cliff Swallow, two Palm Warblers, a Magnolia Warbler and a lone Red-eyed Vireo. Slim pickings, for sure …

Even Yellow-rumped Warblers start to become scarce in October.

Even Yellow-rumped Warblers start to become scarce in October.

Things didn’t improve much as we headed south to Cape Race … the road was dead quiet (even the Savannah Sparrows had made a mass exodus), and Long Beach was held no surprises except a Peregrine Falcon that swept through as soon as we arrived. The Baird’s Sandpiper among the flock of more regular shorebirds would have been more notable if it hadn’t been around for the past two weeks. Cape Race itself disappointed with just a handful of sparrows. An unidentified warbler flushed out of the grass was intriguing enough for us to spend an hour traipsing around trying to relocate it, but the strong winds and vast barrens of the headland made for good hiding. An American Kestrel was a minor highlight.

We headed home with a sunken feeling — lots of digging, but no gold.

—–

This evening (October 5) I finally made some time to go look for an immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron that has been hanging out in Torbay for a couple weeks. It was near dusk on a dark, dreary evening – but I had the chance so I took it. After driving around the neighbourhood for 15 minutes, I eventually found it coursing for supper on a lawn. It was very tame, allowing me to park quite close and get some mediocre record shots in very tough light. At least the rain had stopped …

This immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron has been hanging out in Torbay for a couple weeks, While it is pretty much annual in the province, they are usually elusive and this was only my second for the province. - Photo: Jared Clarke (October 5, 2013)

This immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron has been hanging out in Torbay for a couple weeks, While it is pretty much annual in the province, they are usually elusive and this was only my second for the province.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (October 5, 2013)

The heron seems to be doing really well – it was digging, too, but having much more success than Bruce and I had. It came up with several large worms in the fifteen minutes I spent enjoying the hunt.

- Photo: Jared Clarke (October 5, 2013)

– Photo: Jared Clarke (October 5, 2013)