Last Sunday, I took a drive out to Cape Spear. It was a really cold day, and I was not keen on walking down to the point. Sitting comfortably in my car in the parking lot, I began to scan the flock (seemingly 300 individuals) sitting off from the lower lookout.
My mission - to find a King Eider. I scanned every bird with my binos and when I saw something different, I took some pictures. The first pic in this series show one quite different bird (circled in red). Its head is dark while its body and under wings are white. Looked in the guide and can't find anything matching this odd one. Close but not within the group were these two immature male eider. It was remarkable how they seemed to be the only immature males in the large flock.
I really didn't realize just how large the flock was until something spooked the birds and they all lifted off. The flock seemed to have doubled or more as I saw them in the air. It was really interesting to watch as they behaved somewhat like the Purple Sandpipers. They flew one way, changed directions and flew the other way. As they turned the intermittent sun bounced off the beautiful white wings of the adult males. It was quite a show that lasted for at least five minutes.
That gave me a better opportunity to photograph them for a better review of each bird. I got shots of all of them. I sorted through each bird and there was no male King Eider. The distance prevented me from checking the females. In this photo there is one immature male in the lower right section of the middle-third of the photo. It was one of only two I saw with this large group. That seemed odd to me.
Eventually, the Common Eider flew into the distance and disappeared. Only then did I notice the large Bald Eagle soaring over the water. Note the head of this eagle...a little different.
Amid the flying frenzy, I spotted one small bird flying in the area. I have pretty much eliminated it being a Guillemot. My best guess is a Dovekie. I checked images of murres as well, but couldn't really say it's a murre. Any help would be appreciated.
Why do the eider have to come when it is sooooo cold!
In my last post I included two pictures of what I thought was a strange-looking Mew Gull. Well, it was so strange because it doesn't seem to be a Mew at all.
In fact, at first I thought it might be something other than a Mew or Ring-billed Gull because it was so different from both species.
I concluded it was a Mew (Common) Gull for these reasons: It was smaller than the nearby Ring-billed Gull; its beak was thinner and no well-defined ring, and its legs were greenish. The very dark, streaky head did not fit with either of the species I considered.
Yesterday, Jared Clarke sent me an e-mail asking for more pictures. He was leaning toward this being a Ring-billed Gull or on an outside reach - "a race of COGU from Asia (Kamchatka Gull) that can have denser head
streaking, pale eye and larger eye - but still doesn't look right."
That possibility sent me back to my pictures and Sibley's to see if I could figure this out.
I have several flight shots making it easy to study the wing patterns. Without doubt, the wing tips indicate this is a Ring-billed Gull, not a Common Gull.
Puzzling. This picture show the Common in the right forefront and a Ring-billed in the center back. The size differentiation is clear. I began to wonder if it might be a hybrid of both species. Probably not.
This shot clearly shows the markings on the wing tips.
This shot shows both species in flight. My streaky gull is a very odd-looking Ring-billed Gull.
I included this shot of a typical Ring-billed Gull just for comparison. This made for an interesting study. There is certainly plenty of time for study this winter.
There seems to be a new Mew Gull in town. Over the last several months, I have seen at least three Mew Gulls hanging around Quidi Vidi Lake. Late this last week, I saw one I didn't recognize. This little Mew has very dark streaking and was really skittish compared to the others. I also saw four on the ice at the same time. I wonder....
Actually, it's not the Mew that I wanted to talk about today, but rather the difference of my sightings year-over-year. It seems that I have seen a lot less birds during the first two months of 2014 than in 2013. To verify this, I checked my eBird reports for this period this morning.
While I found there wasn't a great difference (only 8 species), there is a huge difference in sightings of vagrants. Last year, we had a gentler winter enabling numerous vagrants to survive. Among them were the Pink-footed Goose, Brant, Hermit Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Pine Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Lincoln's Sparrow and Baltimore Oriole. Other birds seen in January-February 2013, not seen during the same period of 2014 include: Gadwall, King Eider, Ruffed Grouse, Merlin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Tree Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Evening Grosbeak, White-winged Scoter, Double-crested Cormorant, American Coot, Common Redpoll and IVORY GULL.
That are a lot birds missing from my 2014 sightings. Hopefully, many of these will show up during the year. Birds seen in the first two months of 2014, not seen in Jan. Feb. 2013, include: Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Black Scoter, Barrow's Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Ruddy Turnstone, Morning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, White-winged Crossbill, Snowy Owl, COMMON SNIPE and YELLOW-LEGGED GULL.
It is very easy to see the shortage of star-power so far this year. Yet, we have had winds enough to blow a bird off our east coast 360 degrees around the world and back to the west coast of the province. But where are the birds?