This site is the beginning of something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. It’s much more than a blog – it’s an information center about birds and birding in Newfoundland (Canada), geared towards both local birders and those planning/wishing to visit from abroad. For now, I’ve added a few features that you might find helpful, but I’m hoping to add more. So … explore, and let me know what you think.
Gull season started a tad early this year – and with a bit of a bang. Bruce Mactavish first reported an adult Yellow-legged Gull in Pleasantville (east St. John’s) on September 7. Alvan Buckley upped the ante by photographing a presumed third-year Yellow-legged Gull on the same field on September 11 (relocated and photographed again by Bruce a few days later).
However, the star of the show turned out to be an odd-looking gull that Alvan photographed on September 16 while trying to relocate the Yellow-legged Gulls. Most of the features pointed to it being a Common Gull (Larus canus), which in itself is not that unusual in Newfoundland. We get a few every winter. But this one was a headscratcher because, compared to nearby Herring Gulls, it appeared too big and dark for our typical Common Gull (the nominate canus race that originates in western Europe). The size, dark mantle shade, relatively bulky structure and wingtip pattern seemed to suggest that this Common Gull was not so common — in fact, it may be a member of the kamchatka race that occurs in east Asia (Siberia, Japan). See Alvan’s blog for some more discussion.
Those of us looking failed relocate this gull over the next ten days. Yesterday morning, after a solid morning of birding around Signal Hill, Bruce Mactavish and I checked the regular gull locations in that area of town – unable to find it (or anything else exciting) yet again. Switching gears, we decided to head out to Goulds where a flock of American Golden Plover, and tons of gulls, had been hanging out in a freshly plowed field. After a few minutes, I spotted a mid-sized gull with a dark grey mantle sitting on the field — it hadn’t been there moments before. I could easily have passed it off as a Lesser-Black-backed Gull (of which there were several around), but something about the pattern of head streaking gave me pause. Then the dark eye. And the bill. There it was — the “odd” Common Gull!! (Note – this was 20+ km from the original spot, so it wasn’t really on our radar for this location).
Fortunately, Bruce was just as excited as me to have found this bird, and we quickly organized so that he could photograph the heck out of it (he having the far better lens & camera!). Light was really harsh with bright sunlight and poor angles, but the gull did cooperate by approaching fairly close to our position, parked on the side of a busy road. Over the next hour it made its way to the south end of the field, where we were able to reposition for better (though still very bright) light, and I even snapped off a few mediocre pics of my own.
Check out Bruce Mactavish’s blog for more of his excellent photos and further discussion. Alvan Buckley also posted some excellent discussion on his blog following his original discovery of the gull two weeks ago.
The jury is still out while we do a bit more research — gull identification, especially to subspecies level, is never as straightforward as we’d like. But all things considered, this certainly appears to be an excellent candidate for Kamchatka Gull.
While it certainly wasn’t on our radar, there have been a few other claims from the northeast (some of them rather convincing) to set a bit of a precedence. And hell – if we can get Slaty-backed Gulls, which originate in the same part of the world, then maybe a Kamchatka Gull isn’t so far-fetched afterall!
Family obligations have been keeping me close to home a lot the past few weeks – especially this week when I found myself with full-time parenting duties during the day. But while I haven’t been able to get out birding, I did spend a bit of time poking around at some small projects that have been bouncing around in my head.
One of those projects was to come up with a logo for “birdtherock” … especially since I have been toying with the idea of developing it into a small part-time business. Plus, I wanted something recognizable to be able to put on the blog, calling cards, and even as a watermarks on some of my photos. I envisioned working from one of my own photos, incorporating a recognizable Newfoundland bird into a classy, silhouette style logo. Here’s the photo I chose:
I thought the head-on flight angle and distinctness of the bird would make for a nice silhouette. Here is the extracted hagdown, ready to be immortalized in my attempt at artwork.
I liked this version, but felt it could use a little more spunk, so used some gradients to give it a more metallic type look. Then, for added measure, I inverted the colour scheme to make the logo white-on-black. I was definitely getting there.
As luck should have it, one of my little girls (age 5) had been watching me work on the image throughout the day and badgered me into helping her make her own Photoshop art. Turns out our little project gave me another idea, so I applied a couple filters to the last image and came up with this one — which I like a lot! (Best viewed large)
Turned out to be a pretty fun few hours “playing with” Photoshop, and a pretty decent new logo to boot! Different versions for different uses. I’m even toying with a simplified version of the logo as a watermark on some photos. I’d love to hear what people think …
There’s an old adage in St. John’s that summer ends after Regatta Day (the famous rowing races held here on the first Wednesday of August). While that hasn’t really been my experience, this year it held true. Very true. While July was one of the hottest (and driest) months on record for the city, August turned out to be among the wettest and coolest! The rain started on Regatta Day (Aug 6) and hardly let up for the next few weeks. Temperatures rarely climbed out of the teens and sometimes dipped down to single digits, and there were only 5 days without rain the entire month!
But what odds? A little rain, drizzle & fog hasn’t stopped me from enjoying life before, and neither would it now. I started the month by spending some quality time with my father and two little girls (while all the women in our family were traveling in Ireland!), including a few days in Grates Cove, a visit to beautiful Cape Spear and lots of other fun. In fact, those first few days of August were the hottest days of summer, with temps in the mid-thirties!
On August 5, I headed off to start my last tour of the season — a Wildland’s “Newfoundland Adventure” Tour that had just one guest, a Canadian currently living abroad in Holland and making her first foray to Newfoundland. It was a great week as we enjoyed amazing scenery, tons of whales, historical walks, and even a close-up moose … all while dodging the fog and rain that had begun its big invasion!
The rest of the month was family-time – much of it spent hanging out together in Grates Cove. We are fortunate that my wife’s family has an old home there, at the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula, where we can get back to basics and connect a little with nature, history and each other.
We also visited the Mini Aquarium at Petty Harbour. Although the girls have been there twice with their aunt (my sister), it was my first time … and it was fun. I’ll include some more photos and details in another post … Finally, August ended with more rain as Tropical Storm Cristobal passed south of Newfoundland. More importantly, the wrap-around winds produced by this storm came from the northeast, blowing thousands of Leach’s Storm Petrels into the bottom of Conception Bay. I arrived at Holyrood late in the day, finding the bay alive with fluttering petrels, and a steady stream of them buzzing by at close range as the blasting winds forced them right in over the beach and road. (I’ll do a separate post on this event soon!)
I’ve always wanted to see a Walrus. Then again, doesn’t everyone? The Eastern Arctic population of these big, foreboding critters breed on the Labrador coast, but rarely wander further south. Walrus was once a regular sight in Newfoundland (as well as Nova Scotia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence), but that Northwest population was hunted to extinction by the late 1700’s. Since then, any sighting of a walrus in Newfoundland waters has been few and far between. I know of only a handful in my lifetime. Earlier this summer, one was spotted sunning on a rock in Conception Bay, followed by another (or very possibly the same) spotted by a tour boat swimming around at the entrance the St. John’s harbour. These were one-day wonders and not exactly “chaseable”.
So, when I got home from Grates Cove last night (after a long weekend with no internet or cell phone service) and saw a report that one had been spotted in Bay Bulls harbour throughout the day, my mental engines starting revving. I asked my friends at O’Brien’s Boat Tours to keep me updated on any sightings the next morning and went to bed scheming about how I might see it myself. This could very well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a walrus in Newfoundland!
I woke the next morning and decided to take my chances, joining the first boat tour of the day at 11:30am. Shortly after arriving I got word that the walrus, thought to be a young bull (which we later confirmed), was still lazing around on the rocks … and we were off. Along with a small group of tourists (most of whom may not have realized how unusual the sighting was!), I enjoyed great looks and some decent photo opportunities as “Captain Joe” brought the boat in for a closer look. The walrus wasn’t too perturbed, neither by our boat nor a photographer perched on the rocks above it. After a couple passes, I was high on finally having seen one of these amazing beasts and sat back to enjoy the rest of the boat ride on a beautiful, calm ocean. We even glimpsed an Ocean Sunfish on the steam back to port.
Once the boat was docked, I met my sister Marsha in the parking lot and we decided to head off on foot to enjoy the walrus from land. For a short while we were the only people there, sitting quietly on the rocks above the walrus and enjoying the moment (and the weather!). For its part, the walrus wasn’t bothered at all by our presence, nor that of several other onlookers who eventually arrived. It lazed about, feigning sleep and occasionally rolling over or cocking its massive head to look up at us. All that being said, I left feeling a bit concerned about its health, since it appeared a little “too” lethargic and tolerant of us … sometimes appearing laboured by the very act of lifting its head and shoulders. Although that concern about its well-being (and the growing number of onlookers and boats that will undoubtedly disturb its stay) made the experience a tad bittersweet, I am still left with a warm glow after sharing some time with it. I hope it does well and makes its merry way when the time comes ;)
This past July was one to remember in Newfoundland … one that was great not only for the tourists who soaked in the great weather, massive icebergs, and frolicking whales but also for us locals who got to enjoy it ALL in our own backyard (literally, for some!). July was packed with amazing weather from start to finish – sometimes a little too amazing. It turned out to be the hottest month on record for much of the island, including here on the northeast Avalon.
July ended with a bang for local birders, when Bruce Mactavish discovered an immature Little Gull hanging out in a sheltered bay at Mobile (just 30 minutes south of St. John’s). I was among the first on the scene, enjoying great looks at a bird that has always managed to elude me on this side of the Atlantic. They are only recorded every few years in Newfoundland, usually at some far-flung location and/or on the move, never to be seen again. The fact that this one stayed around for several days, feasting on the plentiful capelin and entertaining birders, was both surprising and appreciated!
But, let me take a few steps back and recap some of the other wonderful moments I was able to enjoy out in nature. After finishing up a busy few weeks of nature tours and bird guiding, I took much of July to hang out with my family. One of our my first adventures was to pack up and take my two little girls to visit my parents in Lewisporte (Notre Dame Bay) – the first time I’ve really done something like that without my incredible wife, who was incredibly busy taking classes for her Master’s program and needed the break from parenting! During out little vacation, we visited relatives, went exploring at a local beach, and had lots of fun doing family stuff. I even took advantage of having “Grandma & Poppy” around to sneak out and do a little exploring on my own.
Family fun continued after we headed back to St. John’s — even when it meant convincing them all to join me on yet another nature walk ;) We all headed to MUN Botanical Gardens, where we (somewhat) escaped the heat with a stroll through the shaded forest. The girls had a great time solving a series of animal riddles posted along the trail, while I managed to track down a single stem of an orchid I had been searching for.
Once Susan finished her classes, we headed out to Grate’s Cove for a few days. Whales were busy feeding all around the cove, even breaching occasionally. Harebells were in full bloom all over the barren landscape, and the first Whimbrel of the summer were sailing overhead – a harbinger of fall shorebird migration. I even managed to sneak away for a few hours to hike a short trail and explore some local bogs that I’ve been eying curiously for some time now.
Newfoundland is an amazing place at any time of year, but early summer just might take the cake. It certainly did this year! Starting at the end of June, I was fortunate to join another great group of visitors from all over the world for their “Newfoundland Adventure” with Wildland Tours. Here are just a few photo highlights of the many, many things we enjoyed!
It was another awesome week, filled with lots of fun, beautiful weather, and all the trimmings of a real Newfoundland adventure! Icebergs, whales, seabirds, moose, excellent food … and a great group of people to share it with. Thanks to everyone for joining me on this Wildland Tours excursion. I’m looking forward to leading another one in August!
June has been a hectic month … hence the lack of blog updates. I have been busy leading a number of tours – private bookings and for folks like Wildland Tours and Eagle Eye Tours/Adventure Canada. The excursions have ranged from one to seven days and involved birds, bergs, whales, and even a little history! It’s nice to be making use of more than just my birding knowledge for a change!
I begin yet another week-long tour in just a few hours, so no time for a detailed post — but here are some photo highlights from the past few weeks. It has been fun!!