Sinister Song

You've seen a horror movie before. You know the drill. A couple goes camping in the middle of a swamp full of alligators and right before one of them becomes a snack, you hear a reel of "chilling nature noises" from the age-old hollywood stockpile of avian and insect recordings. One of these sounds comes from the Common Loon and I'm betting you've heard it before. The most commonly recognized call is the "wail" and the acoustic properties of this call allow it to travel through foggy forested environments. Here in Newfoundland, we have more forest and more fog than you can begin to dream up. We also have more than one species of loon. The Red-throated Loon stops by the island for breeding as well but I have yet to spot one. You'll be the first to know when I do. I have linked a video which includes quality recordings of the "wail" call at the end of this post.

I spotted the Common Loon below in a tiny pond near Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, NL. See if you can distinguish his bright red eyes.



Loons have very interesting feet. Picture a duck's foot and then expand the webbing. Now expand it again. An adult Common Loon (6 - 10 lbs.) has feet that in no way look proportionate to its body. This is, of course, directly related to its method of eating and landing prey. Check out this photo of someone banding a loon so that you can get an idea of how large the legs and feet can be.

Loon foot

The following video/audio is courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Macaulay Library.


See you soon with a very special guest, the Snowy Owl!


Hart's Basin (Part One)

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While I was home visiting Colorado, I took a little drive over to Fruitgrower's Reservoir (more commonly known as Hart's Basin) in Orchard City to check out some birds. This place is known for being a prominent landmark in the Sandhill Crane migration. I was a few weeks late for that but no matter, Hart's Basin never disappoints when it comes to water birds, raptors, songbirds and lizards, actually. Loads of lizards all over the place. I had just gotten a new camera before I went so, admittedly, I went buck wild taking pictures of birds and various other things. So many, in fact, that I'm splitting this blog into two parts. One for the water birds (this one) and one for the other fellows who like water but not really for swimming. Just hydration. I'm very excited to take credit for all the photos on these blogs because generally I'm pirating off of google, as you all well know.

First contestant: Western Grebe. In nice terms, this bird looks like a geometrically elegant "S" on the water, pleasantly split into black(ish) and white plumage. In honest terms, he looks like a skinny hipster swan. And yes, the eyes are naturally inferno red which makes them a biggie for identifying this species if you've never seen it before. While Western Grebes may look like ducks, they aren't. They're kicking it stag in their own category. Here are some of those beauties:




You would think that all grebes look somewhat similar but instead, they comprise a pretty diverse continuum of shapes and sizes. The Black-necked Grebe was also present in numbers. Excellent hairstyle on these guys if you ask me.



The American Coot also looks like a duck but is not one. To me, this guy is very easy to distinguish because of his white bill (uncommon in ducks) and stubby little butt. He doesn't have ornate tail feathers (retrices) like a Northern Pintail or curls on the tail like Mallards. Just straight, short feathers. With all the sensible ways that I could have organized these birds (i.e. chronologically, phylogenetically), I chose to organize them by eye color. Keeping with the tradition, the American Coot also has naturally red eyes.




Finally, a duck. I've only seen this duck one other time so I was quite pleased to see it again (if it's the same one, I'll be damned). This Ruddy Duck is either a juvenile, an adult female or an adult male in summer non-breeding plumage. Look up the adult male if you feel like seeing a duck with a sky blue bill. Beautiful. To answer your next question, yes, his/her tail is supposed to look all scraggly.


I think I have mentioned this before but American White Pelicans are sort of special to me. They are both a fond memory from birding during my undergrad and a surprising spectacle every time I see them. I could watch them fish for hours, patience I don't even have for my own lake fishing attempts.


I'm going to throw the Ring-billed Gull in with water birds for obvious reasons. They are a very common species in North America and I see them all summer long in Newfoundland as well.


And what kind of birder would I be if I had been to this reservoir and not seen a Great Blue Heron or three. I love the plumage on these birds. Pink feathers on the neck which serve (probably) no other purpose than making the birds sexy to mates. A rat-tail like hairdo off the back of the head. And hello, the bird is actually blue (or grey in some lights, shh). How cool is this guy?!




NEW BIRD SIGHTING ALERT. I've never seen White-faced Ibises before. Just about couldn't contain myself when I saw this sweet couple. It would be hard to say what color they actually are because they're iridescent all over and so look red at times, purple at other times and sometimes just brown. Check out that bill. The tip is innervated for finding food underwater.


Stay tuned for other birds I saw in Hart's Basin!

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