Yellow-legged Gull & Other Gems of Winter at Quidi Vidi

Quidi Vidi lake, in eastern St. John’s, is the hub of local birding activity during winter (if not all year). The resident ducks are joined by many others as ponds & rivers around the city freeze up, and the small areas of open water at Quidi Vidi can provide great looks and photo opportunities with a a variety of interesting birds. Regular species there include Northern Pintail, Greater & Lesser Scaup, & Tufted Duck, among others. This winter they have been joined by more uncommon birds like a drake Wood Duck and a pair of Ring-necked Ducks. Very unusual have been as many as five Common Mergansers visiting the lake the past two weeks, providing great, close views that are very atypical for this normally wary species.

Ring-necked Ducks breed in Newfoundland, but are rarely easy to photograph. This drake has been hanging out in the relatively small patches of open water at Quidi Vidi since early February. - Photo: Jared Clarke (February 22. 2014)

Ring-necked Ducks breed in Newfoundland, but are rarely easy to photograph. This drake has been hanging out in the relatively small patches of open water at Quidi Vidi since early February.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (February 22. 2014)

Since this morning was the first chance I had to visit Quidi Vidi for several weeks, I was happy to find the mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks and the other divers hanging out there and providing some excellent photo opportunities.

Photo opportunities with Common Mergansers are few and far between ,since they usually stick to larger patches of open water and are very wary. A small group making regular visits to Quidi Vidi have been becoming more tolerant of people and allowing some great looks. - Photo: Jared Clarke (February 22. 2014)

Photo opportunities with Common Mergansers are few and far between ,since they usually stick to larger patches of open water and are very wary. A small group making regular visits to Quidi Vidi have been becoming more tolerant of people and allowing some great looks.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (February 22. 2014)

But my main reason for visiting this morning was to look for the adult Yellow-legged Gull which has been so elusive all winter. It has only been seen a handful of times since it was first discovered in late October, but in had been reported at Quidi Vidi each of the past three mornings. I only had a couple hours before having to return home for family obligations, so I was hoping it stuck to its apparent schedule. And sure enough, at ~9:40am I caught sight of this classy looking gull flying in. It landed on the “beach” at the Virginia River outflow, just 20m or so from where I and a handful of other hopeful birders were set up. I managed some decent photos (despite the fact its legs were consistently obscured by snow and/or water) before it moved further away to rest on the nearby ice and eventually flew off when the rest of the gulls were flushed by an eagle. Great start to the weekend!!

The Yellow-legged Gull is, in my opinion, one of the classiest looking gulls out there (and I do love gulls!). The combination of bright yellow bill and legs, brilliant red gony spot, and that magic shade of grey add up to one beautiful bird. - Photo: Jared Clarke (February 22. 2014)

The Yellow-legged Gull (right) is, in my opinion, one of the classiest looking gulls out there (and I do love gulls!). The combination of bright yellow bill and legs, brilliant red gony spot, and that magic shade of grey add up to one beautiful bird.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (February 22. 2014)

Note the single white mirror on P10 and the extensive black in the wingtip of this Yellow-legged Gull (especially compared to the Herring Gull wingtip visible at far left). - Photo: Jared Clarke (February 22. 2014)

Note the single white mirror on P10 and the extensive black in the wingtip of this Yellow-legged Gull (especially compared to the Herring Gull wingtip visible at far left).
– Photo: Jared Clarke (February 22. 2014)

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Public Presentation: The Snowy Owl Invasion

While the cold weather and heavy snow may have driven many of the Snowy Owls observed in Newfoundland earlier this winter into hiding, signs of this year’s massive invasion are still very evident in other parts of eastern North America. The extraordinary irruption was first noticed here on “the rock”, but it is the unprecedented number of owls reaching further south into the Great Lakes, New England and the midwestern United States that seem to have taken all the headlines. And they are still being seen in big numbers today. In fact, preliminary results for the Great Backyard Bird Count suggest that more than 2500 Snowy Owls were reported across 25 states and 7 provinces this past weekend!!

Photo: Jared Clarke (January 6, 2014)

Photo: Jared Clarke (January 6, 2014)

Join me for a discussion of this incredible incursion at the upcoming public presentation entitled “Arctic Invasion: The Snowy Owl Event of 2013-14” (sponsored by NatureNL).

Date: Thursday, February 20, 2014
Location: SN-2101, Memorial University (Science Building)
Meeting Time: 7:30pm
Note: Parking is available in the Science Building car park.

Boreal Owl – A Mid-Winter Visit to the City

This was a “snow-day” in St. John’s … 30cm of the fluffy white stuff fell last night and this morning, closing schools and making for prime winter scenery all around the city. Snow days are a big deal in our house, since my wife Susan works in the school system. And this one wasn’t going to be wasted – not long after breakfast, I was put to work helping clean the kitchen. One more reason to be happy when the phone rang with news of a Boreal Owl sitting in a private yard in the west end of town … an excuse to “sneak out”.

Boreal Owls are definitely one of my favourite birds. They are known for visiting residential neighbourhoods in mid-winter, when deep snow has impacted their traditional hunting areas in "the bush". - Photo: Jared Clarke (February 6, 2014)

Boreal Owls are definitely one of my favourite birds. They are known for visiting residential neighbourhoods in mid-winter, when deep snow has impacted their traditional hunting areas in “the bush”.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (February 6, 2014)

After finishing my chores and putting in an hour of shoveling, I headed across town in hopes that the little owl (one of my favourite birds!) was still there. Sure enough, it had moved to the next yard and was sitting in the snow at the base of a holly bush – completely unperturbed by the next door neighbour out snow-blowing his driveway! I set my camera up a comfortable distance away and waited … it was sleeping for the first ten minutes, its head tucked in and turned away. Eventually it woke up and turned to look at me, eyes open just a slant, before settling back in for another nap.

A short while later, it shook itself awake, turned around and began staring intently at the little flock of chickadees and juncos at the feeder across the fence. Several minutes and at least two false starts later, it catapulted off the ground and made a run for them. Coming up empty, it landed on a bare branch about ten feet off the ground, right above the road. What a beauty!! Two minutes later it took off again, diving over a hedge across the road in pursuit of what must have been a very startled chickadee. Other chickadees chased it, scolding all the way. I have no idea if it grabbed lunch or not, and lost it as it flew around the side of the house.

This little fella posed on a bare branch for just a couple minutes after a failed "smash-n-grab" attempt on some black-capped chickadees. It was fun to see it actively hutning - something I only witnessed once before, in Finland. - Photo: Jared Clarke (February 6, 2014)

This little fella posed on a bare branch for just a couple minutes after a failed “smash-n-grab” attempt on some black-capped chickadees. It was fun to see it actively hunting – something I only witnessed once before, in Finland.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (February 6, 2014)

A welcome reward for a morning of shoveling snow and scrubbing cupboards 😉

- Photo: Jared Clarke (February 6, 2014)

– Photo: Jared Clarke (February 6, 2014)

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– Photo: Jared Clarke (February 6, 2014)