Thursday, 20 July 2017

I Lost My Jaeger MOJO

On Saturday 15 July 2017 I ran into some jaeger feeding action at St. Vincents Beach on the southern Avalon Peninsula. The capelin and humpback whales were in. Kittiwakes and terns were hunting for capelin near the surf.  I soon realized there were jaegers as well.  Subadult jaegers are typically part of the capelin feeding smorgasbord usually hanging a few hundred meters offshore harassing the birds but today the jaegers were coming in over the beach after kittiwakes and terns carrying fish. Often these jaegers go unidentified because they lack central tails feathers and views are not close enough for plumage details. The 2nd years may have a semblance of adult tail. We identify that bird to species and then compare the size and actions to others that bird to help with our IDs.  Generally most are Pomarines. It usually takes a while to nail down a Parasitic Jaeger. Very uncommonly is there a subadult Long-tailed Jaeger among these capelin birds. Yet subadult Long tails are routine in the offshore zones 200-400 km offshore eastern and southern Newfoundland.  It is practically the default jaeger mid June to early August.

I quickly identified some of the 15 July jaegers as Parasitics by the tiny pointed central tail feather projections eliminating Pomarine. Even on the birds I could not see this feature, the manner in which they chased kittiwakes with capelin was in the Parasitic style = strong powerful flights low over the water to a target followed by a fierce aerial chase full of rapid twists and turns for extended periods of time.  Poms do this but usually call off the chase sooner.  Long-tailed Jaegers, in Newfoundland waters at least, only occasionally chase birds and then somewhat half halfheartedly.  They spend more time playfully chasing one another than other birds. (An exception to this was off NE Greenland where I saw adult LTJAs regularly and purposefully chasing kittiwakes, Ivory Gulls and Arctic Terns.)

Long-tailed Jaeger hardly even entered the equation at St. Vincents Beach. None of the birds were acting like Long-tailed Jaegers.  Everything was either a Parasitic or a Pomarine and then identified as Parasitic by central tail feather. In total I think there were 10 Parasitic Jaegers. Saw up to 8 at one time.  And no Pomarine. The photography opportunities were exceptional so that is what I targeted for the next three hours. The jaegers were mostly resting 300 m offshore between raids on the feeding kittiwakes and terns feeding among the surf.

It seems I photographed only three different individuals. One was a darkish bird. Seemed fine for a Parasitic but I was rather shocked by the photos of the other two.  Features I would look for on 1st summer Long-tailed Jaegers were obvious on these bird.  Features like white primary shafts restricted to outer two primaries, narrow rear and tail, highly checkered dark and white tail coverts and blond heads, frail thin body, possibly small head and bills.  This surprised me. I admit to never looking at the birds with binoculars when close but always through the camera.  The birds were acting so much like Parasitic Jaegers I didn't think Long-tailed Jaeger was a possibility.

I have more research to do yet but after a couples days of thinking about the scene I am hedging toward all the birds being Parasitic with no Long-tailed.  Parasitic Jaeger of all ages is the jaeger I am least familiar with. Lots to learn.

Below are photos of the three birds.  

BIRD # 1

Note how number of pale primary shafts changes with the angle of light but the two outer most were the brightest and often the only two showing up as white in the photographs.

BIRD # 2

Bird # 1 on Left, Bird # 2 on Right

Bird # 2 Left, Bird # 1 on Right

Is there a jaeger watcher out there does not automatically think Long-tailed Jaeger when they see this!?

A different angle to the sun makes more than the two outer primaries look pale.

BIRD # 3

I am sticking with my original identification in the field that these three birds are 1st summer Parasitic Jaegers.  I admit to being surprised by the two pale birds and how closely they fit into my mental image library of Long-tailed Jaeger.  The library shelf for Parasitic Jaeger images is unfortunately sparse. Would be happy to hear opinions from others on these birds.  You may leave a comment at the end of this Blog or email me at brucemactavish1 AT  The bill on the photo above looks long and narrow for a LTJA - doesn't it!?

Monday, 10 July 2017

Common Ringed Plover

This afternoon, co-worker Tony Lang and I on work assignment to Marystown, Burin Peninsula found ourselves distracted by shorebirding at nearby (only 30 km beyond Marystown) Frenchmens Cove.  I was pleased to see my first Semipalmated Plovers of the season and plus a good dose of adult Least Sandpipers and the usual Greater Yellowlegs, one Lesser Legs and a semi rare Willet. Across the heat shimmering sand flats I had my eye on a Semi Plover of considerable interest.  For sure all I could see through the distorted air a heavy breast band and I thought I was seeing a long distinct white line on the head behind the eye.  These two features are Step One on the way toward a possible Common Ringed Plover.  

We moved in with  our scopes.  Views were pretty good through the scopes but all photos were somewhat distant and affected by heat distortion over the sand.  The distinct head markings contrasting distinctly from adjacent feathering was in favour of Common Ringed Plover. The dark areas on the head of Semipalmated Plovers tend to blend with adjacent areas of different colour.

The orbital ring colour is an important distinction between the two cousin plovers.  Scope views of eye were microscopic at up to 50X.  There was a dim white-ish colour to the orbital ring on the lower side of the eye but nothing on the upper side of the orbital ring. I think this still sits inside the Common Ringed Plover comfort zone as some adult males in high breeding plumage have a complete narrow yellow orbital ring. Usually the area around the eye looked dark even in the bright light while the yellow orbital of the half dozen Semipalmated Plovers were clearly outlined in yellow.

As you look through these photos processed on a poor laptop in a Marystown hotel, note the details around the head plus the wide breast band. The light created strong contrast and dulled the subtle brown colours of the back.  It should be noted that theRinged Plover was a shade heavier than the other plovers.

24 hours later. Saw the bird again today. A shorter encounter but less harsh light made for nice scope views. Only photos today were some flight shots which show some detail on wing stripe being wider than Semipalmated Plover as it should be.  It looked excellent for Common Ringed Plover today. It felt right. It is solid.   Photos added to the end of this posting..


 Flight shots. July 11, 2017  Common Ringed Plovers have a more extensive white wing stripe than Semipalmated Plover. The lighting and angle of wing makes comparison tricky.  Comparing the size of the area in white on each individual primary feather reveals the larger amount of white on the Common Ringed Plover (in the lead).  The wider white bar on secondaries is at least suggestive in these photos.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Not Always Picture Perfect.

Good bird pictures can happen by accident. You can get lucky.  You can make luck more likely to happen by knowing your bird. Often luck does not work out at all and all your pictures are full of sticks crossing the bird or everything is wrong with exposures, focus etc etc.  Sometimes I still keep them.

Yesterday I was walking out in the Goulds when I came across a female Black-backed Woodpecker.  BBWO is one of those deep woods birds that does not give much notice to man kind. With a little caution they are usually easy to watch at close range.  Photo Opt!  BBWO is my favourite woodpecker.  I only encounter it a couple times per year mainly because  I don't go into their habitat.  I see its habitat all along the roads everywhere but walking far into the fir and spruce forest is not my typical birding habitat.

Even though I was near the bird for about an hour I saw it only 5% of the time. I was also being entertained by Mourning Warblers that thrive in the young deciduous growing up on the edge of the field. The woodpecker was feeding in log debris along the edge of hay field where trees bulldozed to clear the land were left in a tangled ridge paralleling the field.  The bird was tantalizing close. I could hear the churk churk calls. Occasionally it would pop up into view but always hidden behind a mass of sticks and twigs.  In the end I never got a Picture Perfect shot but I kept many of the photos to remind me of the experience and it shows a real Black-backed Woodpecker doing what they do.

The very first frame was like the majority, too many sticks between the lens and the bird.

It worked over up rooted trees that have been dead for many years

Its back was coal black.

It worked over this fir for a while providing the best views.

It used its tongue to reach into holes it made in search of some beetle larvae.

A little twisting was required to get that tongue up the tunnels carved into the trunk by the larvae. 

The reward - a fat grub.  

Three toes - count 'em.  Note the red stain on underside of tail that was probably resin. Time for a change of feathers.  

The last shot, complete with the imperfection of stick over its body, just before it flew across the field to work on the debris ridge on the other side.