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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Biscay Bay Gems

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 Biscay Bay is a small community on the Southern Shore originally settled by the Basques. Fishing and root crop farming formed the basis of its survival. The long inlet jutting into Biscay Bay is about one and a half kilometers wide making it a challenge to view birds in this area. Nevertheless, it is always worth a stop and a scan of the area. On most any given day in the winter it is easy to see plenty of Common Loons, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Black Guillemots.
 With a little more effort is is also possible to see some species not often seen elsewhere. Among these gems is the Red-throated Loon. This small loon rarely comes close to shore making it necessary to allow the eyes to adjust to the rolling waves and small specks on the water. It would be so nice to see this loon up close, but it tends to favor the far side of the inlet.
On Tuesday, there was the surprise appearance of three White-winged Scoter that blew by.
 It is typically easier to see this species around headlands like Cape Race and Cape Spear, but I have also see them at St. Stephen's this year.
Also among the regular species seen in this area are grebes. The Red-necked Grebe pictured here is the most common, but this is the time of the year when Horned Grebe also move into this inlet. However, none were seen on Tuesday.
The two Red-necked Grebe seen in Biscay Bay were in different stages of plumage. One was well on its way to breeding plumage while the other was not.

(It was interesting to see this grebe - last photo - just up the road in Trepassey in full breeding plumage.)
All in all, viewing sea birds in Biscay Bay is always a challenge and yet, enticing as the potential to see different species is high.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Snowy Owl Upchucks

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 On a birding expedition yesterday, our group was able to see two Snowy Owls, each one special. This owl was seen sitting on a mound in the meadow at Portugal Cove South, where it has been seen before. We stopped to enjoy the creature.
While watching this young bird with a lot of streaking, it suddenly expelled a pellet. When an owl is eating, its digestive system separates the edible materials from the non-edible bones, teeth, fur and feathers. The indigestibles of the prey get sent to the gizzard where they are compressed in the shape of the gizzard.
 After compression, the pellet moves into the glandular stomach which produces digestive juices. When all of the nutritious value has been extracted from the food, the pellet is ejected. This process can take from ten to twelve hours. This event often signals the bird is ready to eat again.
Regurgitation  often occurs when the owl is sitting on its favorite roost. . Just before expulsion, the owl takes on a pained expression and the eyes close. As these photos show .... just as the pellet is being expelled, the neck stretches upward and forward, the beak opens, and the pellet just drops out. It was special to watch this happen.

Purple Martin....Sweet!

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The direction of my day changed as soon as I opened the nfBirds this morning and found that Brendan Kelly reported finding a Purple Martin on the East Coast Trail near Witless Bay. The day was sunny and one of the warmest we have had so far this Spring, so there was no excuse not to go.

That section of the trail is one of the nicest, and I looked forward to it. The first half km was good going, a bit damp but no snow. The second half of the distance to "12 O'Clock Beach" got worse with every step. I made it very close to the beach, but the last slope up was formidable. I attempted to climb it, but when the branch I was holding to pull myself up snapped, I nearly catapulted to the bottom of the icy incline. That was it....I was not going farther. I settled down on the hillside and stared longingly at the point that blocked my view of the destination and looking with disgust at the glassy trail. After half an hour, I spotted two swallow-size birds go into a tree at the distant point. Too far to see with binoculars, I just stared. Then, to my surprise one of them flew off and in my direction. My camera wasn't even turned on. I scrambled to get it ready as I stared at the Purple Martin. It was sheer luck the bird came to me AND to get my camera up just in time for a shot. Then, it was over. I waited another 20 minutes or so hoping for a repeat performance, but it didn't happen. I headed back down the slippery slopes where I found Ed Hayden heading up. From his report, he made it to the beach and had very good views of the active bird. The second bird? I don't know, maybe it will appear for others heading that way.

There were a few small birds along the way, including a Fox Sparrow.

Monday, April 13, 2015

No Spring Melodies

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 Spring in Newfoundland is one of the most depressing seasons. I read reports of the influx of spring migrants to the south of us at the same time as I step outdoors here and tramp through the snow and shiver through the crazy north winds. Is it any wonder the little birds don't venture here for weeks and months to come.
 Typically, the Fox Sparrows arrive before the Black-headed Gulls depart. Well, there are only four Black-headed Gulls left at Quidi Vidi Lake and very few Fox Sparrows are showing up. To date, I have heard no report of any of these few singing.
This morning, I found this little Fox Sparrow pounding the ground at the Blackhead playground, low and out of the wind. I wouldn't sit in the top of the tree and sing either in the biting cold morning wind. At least a few of these birds are showing up. Along the way, I also saw two Pine Grosbeaks chomping away on the few remaining cones near the Maddox Cove turn-off. Those two are the first I have seen in six weeks. For us, it is a long wait for the migrating birds at a time when other North American birders are well into the joys of spring birding.