Saturday, 3 October 2015

A Seawatch to Remember

I arrived at one of my favourite seawatch locations, Cape St. Francis, this morning shortly after sunrise. Throughout the week I had been anticipating a seabird event in nearby Conception Bay South, but as the weekend approached the wind forecasts became weaker. That in combination with the lack of fog or significant rain made me even less expectant of a seabird event so I was expecting an average seawatch when I woke up this morning with maybe a few shearwaters.

And that's pretty well how it was for the first 45 minutes. I was stationed on the East side of the headland looking towards the East and saw a total of 4 Sooty Shearwaters, and 5 Northern Fulmars - 3 of which were grey morphs. These few shearwaters that I did see were all to the North of the point, and were flying East. So I moved to the West side of the point and faced the mouth of Conception Bay where it was immediately obvious there was quite a bit of seabird action!

Cape St. Francis is at the blue star (see map below). Last nights wind direction is shown by the green arrows. The purple line outlines Conception Bay. The red star is Holyrood, a location where seabirds often get trapped after strong Northerly winds - Conception Bay essentially funnels the seabirds right into Holyrood. The black star is Baccalieu island - the worlds largest Leach's Storm-Petrel colony. Some estimates say that 40% of the entire breeding population breeds on this island. Three million individuals in total!!! What's even more amazing is that such a prolific bird can go more or less unnoticed by us - before today I had seen only one single storm-petrel this year!

The highlight of this mornings seawatch was a skua that I've identified as a probable South Polar Skua. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera out and ready at the time so I don't have any pixels to share - but that might be for the best because it forced me to focus on the bird with my scope giving me my best looks ever at a skua!

The other highlight was the number of jaegers - about 20 in total, many of which flew within 300 metres of the headland! I was surprised to see that they were all adults.

Here's a video of some of the action from this morning. Can you identify everything?
Best way to watch the video is go to the youtube page and change the settings to the highest possible quality. 1080p!!

Sooty Shearwater with its long stiff wings handling the high winds with ease: 

Great Cormorant rounding the cape:

Dark morph adult Pomarine Jaeger:

One of many American Pipits over the last few weeks:

Yesterday I came across the St. John's Bonaparte's Gull - it seems we always get one adult BOGU in the Autumn.

Wigeon are becoming increasingly common - a sure sign that Autumn has come and winter isn't far behind:

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Sept 19th Birding

This morning while birding the Cape Race road I heard a repeated loud "chok" call that I couldn't quite recognize. I walked towards the source and pished a few times only to see a warbler with bright yellow underparts and darker upper parts flush across an open area. My immediate thought was Hooded Warbler even though the chip wasn't quite right. A few minutes of impatient pishing and squeaking and I caught a glimpse of the bird again but still couldn't quite figure it out. Eventually it flew right out into the open and I was genuinely surprised to see a Kentucky Warbler staring right back at me!

This was my best ever look at a Kentucky Warbler! A species I've often day-dreamed of finding for myself.

Among 8 species of warbler seen today were 4 American Redstarts:

And a total of 10 Baltimore Orioles! That'x exactly as many as I saw in the entire year of 2014. Obviously a lot have moved in recent days!

September is probably the best month for birding in Newfoundland! There's a constant stream of new birds, and a high yield of vagrants.

Two gulls at Mundy Pond recently:

Black-headed Gull (in back with red bill), and Bonaparte's Gull (in front)

Sunday, 13 September 2015


Bruce Mactavish struck again this afternoon with a cautious text message about a possible Little Stint in Renews. Having driven for a possible Little Stint in Ontario (2012) for over 12 hours that turned out to be an odd Least Sandpiper I kept my excitement down. Considering that this time it was only a 3 hour round trip, and knowing that I wouldn't have a chance to go again until next weekend the decision was easy to make!

Here's what we saw:

The bird was about the same size as a nearby Semipalmated Sandpiper but was notably more slender. It was obviously smaller than a nearby White-rumped and Baird's Sandpiper.

In general it was a bright red/orange bird (like a Least Sandpiper), but it had black legs without any hint of yellow or olive colouration. The breast side patches were very noticeable - much more than I have ever seen on a Least or Semi Sandpiper. Importantly, these patches had dark streaking throughout adding to the overall prominence of the patch.

Two things to note on the following photo:

- The supercilium (white eyebrow) starts in front of the eye and continues beyond the back of the eye, it also has a short branch that extends up and backwards which is parallel with the central crown stripe. This is called a split supercilium - a key feature for Little Stint!

- Although not really reliable, the toes appear to be unwebbed. Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers both have webbed toes - but it can be very very difficult to see (or photograph) in the field. So this one photo is not sufficient to rule this out.

Note that the primaries extend just beyond the tail. AND, more importantly, there is a long primary projection beyond the tertials.

One thing we noted on todays bird were the two white "lines" down the back of the bird. Juvenile Least and Pectoral sandpipers also have a white "line" down the back. In fact, it is the lateral most mantle feathers that have a thick white fringe - this set of feathers, with their white edges, extends down the border between the scapular and mantle feathers creating the appearance of a white line.
There appeared to be a second similar white line extending in the same direction, but within the scapulars.

The white lines down the back and sides of a Wilson's Snipe help demonstrate what I'm trying to describe:

Something else I noticed was a faint rufousy cloud across the breast that connected the two breast patches. 

The tarsus is longer (or at least, more of the tarsus is visible) - this is the part above the "knee".

Note how the tertials have a rufous fringing on the probable Little Stint (left), versus the grey/white fringed tertials of the Semi Sandpiper (right)

Size comparison:

Looking less pot-bellied, longer winged, and with a prominent breast patch in comparison with the Semi Sandpiper (back)

One feature of Little Stint vs. Semi & Least Sandpiper is the dark centre to the coverts and scapulars. The base colour of Semi and Least Sandpipers seems to be greyer, therefore the dark centre of the feather pops out against this grey background.

Least Sandpiper:

Semipalmated Sandpiper:


These dark lines were never visible on todays probable Little Stint simple because the base colour of the feathers is just as dark.


What a bird! I am thankful I had the day off today!