2birdfeature REVAMPED: Newfoundland-style

Earlier this year I ran a series called “2birdfeature” where I zoomed in on 2 species of birds seen on Protection Island, WA, USA (where I did the fieldwork for my masters). If you would like to read about those feathered dinos, click the links below.

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I’m bringing 2birdfeature back but this time, on a different island in a different ocean. I recently had an incredible opportunity to travel around the island of Newfoundland (one half of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada) to survey boreal landbirds during their breeding season.

I live in the capital city, St. John’s, which lies on a four-armed peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean called the Avalon Peninsula. After living here for a number of years, I was eager to adventure away from the Avalon Peninsula into the heart of the island and lucky for me, all the way north to the very tip of the Northern Peninsula where polar bears and other such magical creatures call home.

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My focus was mostly migratory inland birds (lots of songbirds and woodpeckers) but I also noted many shorebirds, seabirds, and birds of prey. Mammals too! More moose than I can count, several run-ins with caribou and one very interesting morning playing hide and go…stalk?…with a rather large male black bear.

I was on the road for over a month camping in the back of my SUV and when I got lucky, putting my feet up at a number of beautiful heritage B&B’s.

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It was an incredible, if not surreal, experience to walk through some of the last wild woods that remain on our planet. I have much to say about literally going where no woman has gone before. Most of it, in terms of getting my boots stuck in Newfoundland bogs and being attacked by Greater Yellowlegs while my boots are stuck in a bog.

Come back Wednesday for the first Newfoundland-style 2birdfeature.

All of the photos on today’s post came from my Instagram account which is linked to this blog. A feed of my photos can be found in your sidebar on the right-hand side of your screen. If you’re on a phone or iPad, scroll to the bottom to see more photos from my daily adventures. I never use filters so what you see is what you get.

Tips for Bird ID: 4 Birds in St. Pete Beach

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Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) – St. Pete Beach, FL, USA

  • Northern Mockingbird. If you’ve never seen one before you might be surprised at how drab they are. They are among the most romanticized birds (thanks, in part, to Harper Lee and that “Hush Little Baby” song). Tips for identifying: remember that when birding, always go for shape and size first, not colors. The long tail and skinny bill are best for spotting this bird. Personally, I’d rather ID this one from song. Many birds mimic other birds (and frogs, in this case) but the Northern Mockingbird always repeats a phrase 2 – 6 times. If you can only hear the bird and cannot see it, make sure to listen for a couple of minutes. Brown Thrashers repeat phrases 2 times as do Grey Catbirds, who sound nasally and garbled.
  • Mourning Dove. Another bird that is much easier to identify from its vocalizations. Sometimes, beginner birders hear doves and mistake them for owls because doves say “who, who, who” much more clearly than most owls. Mourning Doves call in intervals of who‘s at a particularly low-frequency. Once you know the shape of a dove or pigeon, it is easy to identify them, even by silhouette. My advice for this easy-to-recognize bird is to pay attention to where you are casting your gaze. Good places to look for Mourning Doves: power lines, fences, and other man-made structures.
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Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) – St. Pete Beach, FL, USA

  • Red-bellied Woodpecker. Though the name includes a color, it is still important to first identify the bird as a woodpecker by shape and behavior, THEN you can proceed to figure out which species you’re dealing with. Let me show you why. Here is a female Red-bellied Woodpecker that I spotted outside of my accommodations in St. Pete Beach.
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Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) – St. Pete Beach, FL, USA

If we just ID from the name, we expect a very Woody The Woodpecker-esque bird with a bright red belly, do we not? And then if we examine the above photo, we are inclined to re-name the bird to something including a red head. But that’s already another species of woodpecker. With a complex family like the woodpeckers, look for dead giveaways like that forked tail and sturdy long bill. But more importantly, have a look at what the bird is doing. Is it darting around the trunk of a tree or utility pole quickly examining the surface with its bill? Probably a woodpecker. If you’re lucky, like me (it’s actually a mixture of luck and patience) you’ll get to glimpse the red belly of this species.

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Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) – St. Pete Beach, FL, USA

Not much red to speak of. The dappled black and white back and the red on the head are good indicators, but not great. So how do you win with this woodpecker? You learn by looking at your field guide. And also by making yourself aware of birds’ ranges. The Red-bellied Woodpecker is found year-round in all parts of Florida so I can immediately cross off other woodpeckers that might look similar but belong to other parts of the world.

  • Bird #4 is a trick question.

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