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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.

Making the Best of a Wet August

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!

GratesCove_coast_6716But 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!

CapeSpear_EmmaLeslie_6030 CapeSpear_EmmaLeslie_6059On 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!

Beautiful flowers, such as these White-fringed (left) and Ragged-fringed (right) Orchids were blooming in roadside bogs during our drives.

Beautiful flowers, such as these White-fringed (left) and Ragged-fringed (right) Orchids were blooming in roadside bogs during our drives.

We encountered a Snowy Owl sitting on the barrens near St. Shott's - an unusual sighting here in mid-summer but one of several known to have lingered after last fall's big invasion.

We encountered a Snowy Owl sitting on the barrens near St. Shott’s – an unusual sighting here in mid-summer but one of several known to have lingered after last fall’s big invasion.

We encountered our first fog at Cape St. Mary's, although it moved off during the morning to reveal a beautiful day.

We encountered our first fog at Cape St. Mary’s, although it moved off during the morning to reveal a beautiful day.

Subalpine flowers, like these Diapensia lapponica, grow on the sub-arctic tundra of Cape St. Mary's.

Subalpine flowers, like these Diapensia lapponica, grow on the sub-arctic tundra of Cape St. Mary’s.

Small Purple-fringed Orchids were also in bloom at Cape St. Mary's - often hiding amongst patches of longer grass.

Small Purple-fringed Orchids were also in bloom at Cape St. Mary’s – often hiding amongst patches of longer grass.

A young bull moose graced us by allowing us to get quite close, although he seemed reluctant to share his lunch ;)

A young bull moose graced us by allowing us to get quite close, although he seemed reluctant to share his lunch ;)

The other moose we enjoyed during the tour was on our plates -- this burger served with delicious partridgeberry ketchup at the Bonavista Social Club.

The other moose we enjoyed during the tour was on our plates — this burger served with delicious partridgeberry ketchup at the Bonavista Social Club.

Icebergs in August are pretty unusual, but this has been an exceptional year. This one in Bonavista Bay was the last one I'll see this year.

Icebergs in August are pretty unusual, but this has been an exceptional year. This one in Bonavista Bay was the last one I’ll see this year.

Whales were plentiful in Trinity Bay, and we enjoyed close encounters with twenty or more Humpbacks during our two zodiac trips with Sea of Whale Adventures.

Whales were plentiful in Trinity Bay, and we enjoyed close encounters with twenty or more Humpbacks during our two zodiac trips with Sea of Whale Adventures.

Although most were busy gorging on the schools of caplin, a few enetertained us with some beautiful breaches. This one in front of the historic town of Trinity!

Although most were busy gorging on the schools of capelin, a few entertained us with some beautiful breaches. This one in front of the historic town of Trinity!

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The last day of the tour was spent exploring the beautiful and historic sites of St. John's, North Americas oldest city.

The last day of the tour was spent exploring the beautiful and historic sites of St. John’s, North Americas oldest city.

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.

The ruggedness of the sea, coast and barrens at Grates Cove are always a treat. We're fortunate to be able to spend so much time there.

The ruggedness of the sea, coast and barrens at Grates Cove are always a treat. We’re fortunate to be able to spend so much time there.

It was nice to see the first Partridgeberries turning red on the barrens, although it was the blueberries that got most of our attention in August.

It was nice to see the first Partridgeberries turning red on the barrens, although it was the blueberries that got most of our attention in August.

It was interesting come upon some Burying Beetles (Nicrophorus sp) at work alongside one of my favourite walking trails.

It was interesting to come upon some Burying Beetles (Nicrophorus sp) at work alongside one of my favourite walking trails.

The last of our orchids to flower, Hooded Ladies Tresses, were popping into bloom in mid-August.

The last of our orchids to flower, Hooded Ladies Tresses, were popping into bloom in mid-August.

More abundant, but less splendid, was Gall of the Earth - an odd flower that looks sickly even when its in full bloom!

More abundant, but less splendid, was Gall of the Earth – an odd flower that looks sickly even when its in full bloom!

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 …MiniAquarium_Emma_6933 MiniAquarium_Leslie_6935Finally, 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!)

Thousands of Lach's Storm Petrels fluttered over Conception Bay, driven there by the strong wrap-around winds from Tropical Storm Cristobal (August 29).

Thousands of Leach’s Storm Petrels fluttered over Conception Bay, driven there by the strong wrap-around winds from Tropical Storm Cristobal (August 29).

 

WALRUS, Bay Bulls!

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!

My first glimpse of the Walrus as we approached its perch. (Note the photographer on the rocks above.)

My first glimpse of the Walrus as we approached its perch. (Note the photographer on the rocks above.)

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.

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At times, the walrus looked like the majestic beast I expected it to be.

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This walrus happens to be a young bull (male), which we were able to confirm only by getting a look at the underside ;) Both sexes have tusks and are not so easily sexed at this age on that feature alone.

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Now THAT’S a toothy smile!

Walrus_Sept22014_7809 Walrus_Sept22014_7866 Walrus_Sept22014_7875 Walrus_Sept22014_8007Once 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 ;)

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After spending much of the afternoon watching the walrus from our perch above, I got the feeling it was very lethargic … maybe a little too much so. I hope it is healthier than it often appeared to be.

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Awwww .. THIS is the life. Don’t get sun like this back home …

Walrus_Sept22014_8172Thanks to Con O’Brien and the rest of the crew at O’Brien’s Boat Tours for helping me find this awesome critter – and for all the other great trips I’ve taken with them this summer. Fine crowd, them!

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A Few Days in July

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.

LIGU_July312014_5831July 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!

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My two inquisitive daughters check out what's lurking in the tidal pools at Fox's Dock, near Lewisporte.

My two inquisitive daughters check out what’s lurking in the tidal pools at Fox’s Dock, near Lewisporte.

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.

We must have missed the capelin spawn by just a few hours -- although there was no sign of any fish at Fox's Dock, the beach itself was completely covered in eggs!

We must have missed the capelin spawn by just a few hours — although there was no sign of any fish at Fox’s Dock, the beach itself was completely covered in eggs!

A close-up of the capelin eggs. Huge schools of these amazing fish "roll" in with the tide and deposit thousands of eggs each - a spectacle that takes place on rocky/sandy beaches all over Newfoundland.

A close-up of the capelin eggs. Huge schools of these amazing fish “roll” in with the tide and deposit thousands of eggs each – a spectacle that takes place on rocky/sandy beaches all over Newfoundland.

A hot afternoon walk around a local pond helped me find a few early blossoms of Small Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes) hiding amongst the grass.

A hot afternoon walk around a local pond helped me find a few early blossoms of Small Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes) hiding amongst the grass.

Also hiding amongst the grass were some Green Frogs.

Also hiding amongst the grass were some Green Frogs …

 ... and lots of lovely dragonflies, most of which I had no chance of identifying!

… and lots of lovely dragonflies, most of which I had no chance of identifying!

Butterflies were also plentiful, including a few White Admirals. I found these to be more plentiful than in most years, but not nearly as abundant as Milbert's Tortoiseshells which were by far the most common butterfly on the wing that week.

Butterflies were also plentiful, including a few White Admirals. I found these to be more plentiful than in most years, but not nearly as abundant as Milbert’s Tortoiseshells which were by far the most common butterfly on the wing that week.

Another solitary stroll took me to a local bog which I had found to be full of orchids late last summer. This year, visiting a full month earlier, I found an abundance of beautiful Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides).

Another solitary stroll took me to a local bog which I had found to be full of orchids late last summer. This year, visiting a full month earlier, I found an abundance of beautiful Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides).

Far less common in that bog were Clubspur Orchids, understated and easily overlooked in the tall vegetation.

Far less common in that bog were Clubspur Orchids (Platanthera clavellata), understated and easily overlooked in the tall vegetation.

Common Ringlets were also plentiful around Lewisporte ...

Common Ringlets were also plentiful around Lewisporte …

... as were European Skippers. These were my "first of the season".

… as were European Skippers. These were my “first of the season”.

Evening light at one of our favourite picnic spots.

Evening light at one of our favourite picnic spots.

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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.

Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata)

Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata)

GratesCoveWash_5128Once 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.

A hoard of young warblers, including this Black & White Warbler, was gathered at the entrance of a walking trail in Old Perlican. It was nice to see so much activity in one small area - a sign of things to come as the birds gear up for fall migration.

A hoard of young warblers, including this Black & White Warbler, was gathered at the entrance of a walking trail in Old Perlican. It was nice to see so much activity in one small area – a sign of things to come as the birds gear up for fall migration.

Pitcher Plants were in full glory, dotting the landscape and every wet patch in the area.

Pitcher Plants were in full glory, dotting the landscape and every wet patch in the area.

Dragonsmouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa) was fairly common on the bog I trekked across between Old Perlican and Grates Cove.

Dragonsmouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa) was fairly common on the bog I trekked across between Old Perlican and Grates Cove.

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Grasspink (Calopogon tuberosus) was far less obvious – I only found two while wandering around in a large bog where I might have expected far more.

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Bog Coppers are beautiful little butterflies that I often overlook (or mistake for something else) ... this one posed nicely beside a pond in Old Perlican.

Bog Coppers are beautiful little butterflies that I often overlook (or mistake for something else) … this one posed nicely beside a pond in Old Perlican.

A nice patch of Water Lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) was growing along the sandy edge of a pond in Lower Island Cove, where we stopped for a picnic on the way back home.

A nice patch of Water Lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) was growing along the sandy edge of a pond in Lower Island Cove, where we stopped for a picnic on the way back home.

WaterLobelia_July22_5206As I said – definitely a July to remember.

“Newfoundland Adventure”, June 29 – July 5

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!

Here is our Wildland Tours group at Tickle Cove, Bonavista Bay. What a great bunch!!

Here is our Wildland Tours group at Tickle Cove, Bonavista Bay. What a great bunch!!

Our tour began & ended in North America' oldest city. There's never a lack of things to do in St. John's.

Our tour began & ended in North America’ oldest city. There’s never a lack of things to do in St. John’s.

The whales had arrived en masse in the days before our tour, and they entertained us from day one when we visited Witless Bay Ecological Reserve with O'Brien's Tours.

The whales had arrived en masse in the days before our tour, and they entertained us from day one when we visited Witless Bay Ecological Reserve with O’Brien’s Tours.

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Berry season was still weeks away, but the blossoms were a good sign. These blueberry flowers were at Blackhead.

Berry season was still weeks away, but the blossoms were a good sign. These blueberry flowers were at Blackhead.

This nealy iconic photo of St. John's narrows, an iceberg and a humpback whale was taken from Cape Spear, North America's easternmost point.

This nealy iconic photo of St. John’s narrows, an iceberg and a humpback whale was taken from Cape Spear, North America’s easternmost point.

A pair of Willow Ptarmigan graced us by crossing the road near Newfoundland's southernmost lighthouse, Cape Pine.

A pair of Willow Ptarmigan graced us by crossing the road near Newfoundland’s southernmost lighthouse, Cape Pine.

Cape Pine also produced our first Short-tailed Swallowtails of the trip ... they were plentiful at most headlands during the week.

Cape Pine also produced our first Short-tailed Swallowtails of the trip … they were plentiful at most headlands during the week.

Whales were part of the action every day - like this one at St. Vincent's which was breaching and waving.

Whales were part of the action every day – like this one at St. Vincent’s which was breaching and waving.

No visit to Newfoundland is complete without a visit to Cape St. Mary's. Despite some heavy fog (which, to be honest, is part of the experience there!) we enjoyed amazing views of the Northern Gannet colony.

No visit to Newfoundland is complete without a visit to Cape St. Mary’s. Despite some heavy fog (which, to be honest, is part of the experience there!) we enjoyed amazing views of the Northern Gannet colony.

Our group also enjoyed a zodiac tour of Bonavista Bay with Sea of Whale Adventures ...

Our group also enjoyed a zodiac tour of Bonavista Bay with Sea of Whale Adventures …

... and, of course, icebergs were one of the main attractions.

… and, of course, icebergs were one of the main attractions.

The tour ended in the scenic community of King's Cove.

The tour ended in the scenic community of King’s Cove.

A short hike around King's Cove (while the rest of the group enjoyed the zodiac ride!) included a very confiding Spotted Sandpiper

A short hike around King’s Cove (while the rest of the group enjoyed the zodiac ride!) included a very confiding Spotted Sandpiper.

As well as some confiding dragonflies like this Forcipate Emerald (a new one for me) ...

As well as some confiding dragonflies like this Forcipate Emerald (a new one for me) …

and this Four-spotted Skimmer.

and this Four-spotted Skimmer.

We took advantage of the sunny afternoon to hike the Skerwink Trail. Incredible scenery ...

We took advantage of the sunny afternoon to hike the Skerwink Trail.

Incredible scenery ...

Incredible scenery …

whales ...

whales …

and another stunning iceberg.

and another stunning iceberg.

We also encountered our first caplin of the trip -- masses of them spawning and rolling on a beach as we watched from a cliff high above.

We also encountered our first capelin of the trip — masses of them spawning and rolling on a beach as we watched from a cliff high above.

We also enjoyed a visit to Elliston, where the Atlantic Puffins can be enjoyed comfortably from land.

We also enjoyed a visit to Elliston, where the Atlantic Puffins can be enjoyed comfortably from land.

This Mustard White was at Elliston was a bit of a surprise for me ... I see them so rarely in eastern Newfoundland, though they may be more common than I realize in other areas.

This Mustard White was at Elliston was a bit of a surprise for me … I see them so rarely in eastern Newfoundland, though they may be more common than I realize in other areas.

These Beach-head Irises were blooming in many locations. Here, the town of Elliston lingers in the background.

These Beach-head Irises were blooming in many locations. Here, the town of Elliston lingers in the background.

Northern Blue butterflies were abundant at the tip of the Bonavista Peninsula ... I spent a fair bit of time chasing them around the barrens trying to catch a decent photo!

Northern Blue butterflies were abundant at the tip of the Bonavista Peninsula … I spent a fair bit of time chasing them around the barrens trying in vain to catch a decent photo!

Food is a big part of any tour, and this one didn't disappoint. This delicious mooseburger (complete with partridgeberry ketchup and homemade chips) was a popular choice at the Bonavista Social Club.

Food is a big part of any tour, and this one didn’t disappoint. This delicious mooseburger (complete with partridgeberry ketchup and homemade chips) was a popular choice at the Bonavista Social Club.

Another brilliant iceberg was grounded just off the scenic little outport of Red Cliff, Bonavista Bay.

Another brilliant iceberg was grounded just off the scenic little outport of Red Cliff, Bonavista Bay.

The sea arch at nearby Tickle Cove is always a beautiful sight, but especially when you can spot a massive iceberg through it!

The sea arch at nearby Tickle Cove is always a beautiful sight, but especially so when you can spot a massive iceberg through it!

A shot of Tickle Cove with an iris in the foreground.

A shot of Tickle Cove with an iris in the foreground.

Beach Pea is another lovely but often overlooked flower that blossoms on our beaches.

Beach Pea is another lovely but often overlooked flower that blossoms on our beaches.

We ended the week with a wonderful day back in St. John's.

We ended the week with a wonderful day back in St. John’s.

Our final day of the tour began with a boat tour out of St. John's harbour ... passing the iconic Battery along the way.

Our final day of the tour began with a boat tour … passing the iconic Battery along the way.

Not surprisingly, the highlight was getting up close and personal with more icebergs. Here we could see St. John's in the distance between two bergs.

Not surprisingly, the highlight was getting up close and personal with more icebergs. Here we could see St. John’s in the distance between two bergs.

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A view of St. John's harbour as we entered the narrows.

A view of St. John’s harbour as we entered the narrows.

We also hiked from Signal Hill to the qualit Quidi Vidi village, stopping to enjoy some Bald Eagle chicks along the way.

We also hiked from Signal Hill to the quaint Quidi Vidi village, stopping to enjoy some Bald Eagle chicks along the way.

Our last stop was Middle Cove Beach, just north of the city ...

Our last stop was Middle Cove Beach, just north of the city …

...where we found a small run of capelin "rolling" on the beach.

…where we found a small run of capelin “rolling” on the beach.

Capelin require coarse sandy beaches in order to spawn ... huge schools "roll" in with the tide, with the females depositing as many as 50,000 eggs each!

Capelin require coarse sandy beaches in order to spawn … huge schools “roll” in with the tide, with the females depositing as many as 50,000 eggs each!

Caplin_MCVJuly5_4141It 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!

Bergs, birds, whales & history …

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!!

Icebergs have been everywhere this spring - including one we enjoyed right alongside the huge seabird colonies of Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (Wildland Tours/Adventure Canada/O'Briens Boat Tours)

Icebergs have been everywhere this spring – including one we enjoyed right alongside the huge seabird colonies of Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (Wildland Tours/Adventure Canada/O’Briens Boat Tours)

The massive colonies of Common Murre in Witless Bay Ecological Reserve are always awe-inspiring! (Wildland Tours/Adventure Canada/O'Brien's Boat Tours)

The massive colonies of Common Murre in Witless Bay Ecological Reserve are always awe-inspiring!

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Atlantic Puffin, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (Wildland Tours/Adventure Canada/O'Brien's Boat Tours)

Atlantic Puffin, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Common Murre, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (Wildland Tours/Adventure Canada/O'Brien's Boat Tours)

Common Murre, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Razorbills, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (Wildland Tours/Adventure Canada/O'Brien's Boat Tours)

Razorbills, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Cape Pine is the southernmost point of land in Newfoundland ...

Cape Pine is the southernmost point of land in Newfoundland …

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… and an excellent place to see Short-tailed Swallowtail, which has a very restricted range and is more or less an island specialty.

Nearby St. Shott's is the island's southernmost community, and beautifully rugged. (Wildland Tours)

Nearby St. Shott’s is the island’s southernmost community, and beautifully rugged.

Following on this theme, North America's southernmost herd of Woodland Caribou can often be seen in this area, too.

Following on this theme, North America’s southernmost herd of Woodland Caribou can often be seen in this area, too. These ones were near Sam’s River.

Arctic Tern have been nesting on the bach at St. Vincent's for a number of years now, allowing for unusually close encounters with these often shy birds.

Arctic Tern have been nesting on the bach at St. Vincent’s for a number of years now, allowing for unusually close encounters with these often shy birds.

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Castle Hill provides not only a great look at an important part of Newfoundland's history, but also a fantastic view over Placentia, which was once the "French capital" of our island.

Castle Hill provides not only a great look at an important part of Newfoundland’s history, but also a fantastic view over Placentia, which was once the “French capital” of our island.

We enjoyed a visit by a pair of inquisitive Gray Jays while visiting Castle Hill.

We enjoyed a visit by a pair of inquisitive Gray Jays while visiting Castle Hill.

I enjoyed some stunning evening light and scenery at the beautiful boat harbour in St. Bride's ...

I enjoyed some stunning evening light and scenery at the beautiful boat harbour in St. Bride’s …

... some of it a sad reminder of the struggle that these communities have had to face since the closure of the cod fishery.

… some of it a sad reminder of the struggle that these communities have had to face since the closure of the cod fishery.

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The sunset at St. Bride's was amazing.

The sunset at St. Bride’s was amazing.

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Cape St. Mary's and its Northern Gannets are always a crowd pleaser - and all my groups had fantastic days there, with or without the fog!

Cape St. Mary’s and its Northern Gannets are always a crowd pleaser – and all my groups had fantastic days there, with or without the fog!

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The icebergs in Bonavista & Trinity Bays were incredible - in number, size and sheer beauty. Some dramatic skies added to the scene at times.

The icebergs in Bonavista & Trinity Bays were incredible – in number, size and sheer beauty. Some dramatic skies added to the scene at times.

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Sometimes, a whale or two even got in the way of the iceberg viewing  ;)

Sometimes, a whale or two even got in the way of the iceberg viewing ;)

A visit to historic Trinity was also a highlight.

A visit to historic Trinity was also a highlight.

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Our tour of "Cape Random" (near New Bonaventure) was fun, and included yet another iceberg right in the cove.

Our tour of “Cape Random” (near New Bonaventure) was fun, and included yet another iceberg right in the cove.

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We also enjoyed a short visit with the Atlantic Puffins at Elliston, where the colony can be viewed comfortably from land.

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A boat tour out of St. John's harbour give a new perspective on Cape Spear, North America's easternmost point - this time with a rainstorm brewing in the background.

A boat tour out of St. John’s harbour gives a new perspective on Cape Spear, North America’s easternmost point – this time with a rainstorm brewing in the background.

And, of course, more icebergs. There were some mammoths outside the narrows this month!

And, of course, more icebergs. There were some mammoths outside the narrows this month!

Humpback Whales have been showing up in the past two weeks, following the capelin inshore. I expect to see a lot more of them this week!

Humpback Whales have been showing up in the past two weeks, following the capelin inshore. I expect to see a lot more of them this week!

Off the Rock: Hawaii (Part 4: Oahu)

Follow these links to read previous installments of our recent Eagle Eye Tours adventure in Hawaii:

OAHU (March 21-23)

We arrived in Honolulu mid-afternoon, fresh off an intense few days of birding in Kauai. We were faced with our first real taste of “urban life” since arriving in Hawaii ten days earlier, as we made our way through the city traffic to our hotel. It was worth the drive, since we found ourselves at a beautiful beachfront hotel in scenic Waikiki.

Kapiolani Park offers some wonderful birding, right in the middle of beautiful Waikiki, Honolulu.

Kapiolani Park offers some wonderful birding, right in the middle of beautiful Waikiki, Honolulu.

This White Tern chick, nearly ready to fledge, was found nestled on a branch in Kapiolani Park - one of only a few places where these stunning birds nest in Hawaii.

This White Tern chick, nearly ready to fledge, was found nestled on a branch in Kapiolani Park – one of only a few places where these stunning birds nest in Hawaii.

We wasted no time getting down to birding, heading out for a late afternoon stroll in Kapiolani Park. Our main target was White Tern, which nest very locally in just a few parks around the city. We were fortunate to see nearly a dozen adults flying around overhead, purposely heading back and forth between the nearby ocean and their nest sites hidden throughout the area. A surprising number of white (feral) Rock Pigeons complicated our search for tern chicks, but Jody’s keen eye managed to find one nestled on a high branch along the park’s boundary. The chick was surprisingly large and probably ready to fledge at anytime.  We also enjoyed great looks at about 18 beautiful Rose-ringed Parakeets, which have also taken up residence in the park and nest in some of the taller trees.

Rose-ringed Parakeets, which were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands as escaped cagebirds, are well established in some parts of Honolulu.

Rose-ringed Parakeets, which were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands as escaped cagebirds, are well established in some parts of Honolulu.

A large flock of Common Waxbill was feeding in the grass while kids played soccer just metres away, and Yellow-fronted Canaries were doing the same at the other end of the park. A handful of Red-vented Bulbuls, Red-crested Cardinals and Java Sparrows added some extra flavour to our walk, along with more familiar species like House Sparrow, House Finch and the ever-present Common Myna. Several Cattle Egrets coursed around on the park grass, while Pacific Golden Plovers scoured the beach during our walk back to the hotel. We ended the evening with a wonderful Japanese dinner.

A large flock of Common Waxbill were foraging in the centre of Kapiolani Park, offering by far the best views we had of this species in Hawaii.

A large flock of Common Waxbill were foraging in the centre of Kapiolani Park, offering by far the best views we had of this species in Hawaii.

Red-vented Bulbul is another introduced species that is now well established on Oahu, and is often considered an agricultural pest.

Red-vented Bulbul is another introduced species that is now well established on Oahu, and is often considered an agricultural pest.

Diamond Head, on the western edge of Waikiki, is seen here from Kapiolani Park.

Diamond Head, on the western edge of Waikiki, is seen here from Kapiolani Park.

March 22

Fueled by an equally excellent Hawaiian breakfast, we began the next morning with a hike on the Kuli’ou’ou Valley Trail in Honolulu.This popular trail meanders through a steep river valley and into increasingly native forests (something that is especially scarce on Oahu), where several native birds also live. A key target here was the Oahu Elepaio, which is endangered and much more difficult to find than its cousins on Big Island and Kauai. We were fortunate to hear two individuals during our hike, although Jody was the only person able to catch a glimpse of one. We also heard two Oahu Amakihi, but again both were elusive and managed to avoid our gaze. We did enjoy great looks at Red-billed Leiothrix, which are usually quite secretive, as well as several White-rumped Shama, Japanese White-eye and Common Waxbill. It was a great start to our day!

Bristle-thighed Curlew are difficult to see anywhere in North America, but winter at several locations in Hawaii. Great bird!!

Bristle-thighed Curlew are difficult to see anywhere in North America, but winter at several locations in Hawaii. Great bird!!

From Honolulu, we headed north towards James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge, stopping for some great fish tacos along the way. In and around the refuge, we were able to spot an awesome eleven Bristle-thighed Curlew – a sweet looking shorebird and one of the birds I was most looking forward to on this trip. Interestingly, one of the curlews was colour banded and wearing a satellite transmitter. Other shorebirds at this location included numerous Pacific Golden Plover, a fly-by Sanderling and a Ruddy Turnstone looking very out of place standing on a fence post! Plenty of Cattle Egret, two Black-crowned Night Heron and a couple Ring-necked Pheasants were also hanging out in the area. Non-bird highlights included several Fiery Skippers and a Brown Anole.

Fiery Skipper

Fiery Skipper

Brown Anole

Brown Anole on the boundary fence at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge.

I have never before in my life gone ten straight days without seeing a gull, so was pleasantly surprised when we discovered a Laughing Gull at the nearby Kahuku Aqua Ponds. Any gull is a good bird in Hawaii! We also found several Hawaiian Coot, Common Gallinule and Hawaiian (Black-necked) Stilt, along with nearly a dozen Black-crowned Night Herons.

The scenic NE coast of Oahu, as seen from La'ie Point.

The scenic NE coast of Oahu, as seen from La’ie Point.

Our last birding stop of the day (and the tour!) was at La’ie Point, where we were treated to about a dozen Brown Noddies flying by at close range, along with a handful of Red-footed Boobies coasting by offshore. However the real highlight was an adult Masked Booby that we first picked up flying north past the point, then watched for more than ten minutes as it circled and plunge-dived in the distance. Everyone was able to see this excellent bird, and it was a much-wanted “lifer” for both Jody & me!! Another memorable sighting were two Green Sea Turtles that I spotted just off the coast – their behaviour had me stumped for a few minutes until I realized they were mating, with the male clinging on to the female’s back!

A natural sea arch lies just offshore at La'ie Point -- and just beyond that we were thrilled by a Masked Booby circling and plunge diving!

A natural sea arch lies just offshore at La’ie Point — and just beyond that we were thrilled by a Masked Booby circling and plunge diving!

Jody and I ended the last full day of the tour with a cold beer, watching a stunning sunset and several White Terns flying past our hotel balcony.

Waikiki Sunset

Waikiki Sunset

March 23

The tour officially ended with another great Hawaiian breakfast and a long round of heartfelt good-byes. We had been blessed with twelve days of not only excellent weather and awesome birding, but also an amazing group of people to enjoy it all with.

But for Jody and I, the adventure was not quite over … as we headed over to Maui for two more days of birding. (Check out the next installation for a summary of that post-tour excursion.)

Wrapping-up: The “Euro Invasion” of Spring 2014

It has been a crazy three weeks! It all began when we started noticing strong, persistent northeasterly winds setting up across the North Atlantic in late April – a system that Newfoundland birders hope for at this time of year. Spring migration of European birds over the Atlantic, especially to Iceland & Greenland, is peaking in late April and early May and history has shown that these weather systems can bring wayward migrants to our coasts.

This fun photo, showing a mega-rare Common Redshank with an iceberg backdrop, is a nice reflection for how spring has been in Newfoundland. Cold, beautiful, and extremely exciting!!

This fun photo, showing a mega-rare Common Redshank with an iceberg backdrop, is a nice reflection for how spring has been in Newfoundland. Cold, beautiful, and extremely exciting!!

The "event" started with two Black-tailed Godwits discovered in Renews, and just kept growing over the next two weeks.

The “event” started with two Black-tailed Godwits discovered in Renews, and just kept growing over the next two weeks.

It all started coming together on April 25, when two Black-tailed Godwits were photographed in Renews. The next morning, the first European Golden Plover was discovered in a field just 100m from the godwits. When eleven more were reported from three other locations across the province (Cape Race, St. John’s and Gros Morne National Park), the alarm bells started ringing. With the winds still blasting in from the northeast and a forecast for them to stay that way for the foreseeable future, we knew we were in for an exciting event. And the birds just kept coming …

A Summary of the Spring 2014 “Invasion” (April 25 – May 13)

  • COMMON REDSHANK 2 !! A single bird present at Renews from May 3-13 was joined briefly by a second on May 4.
  • ROSS’S GULL - an adult at Torbay (April 29-30) was completely unexpected and may have caused more local excitement than any other bird this spring.
  • BLACK-TAILED GODWIT – a total of 12 (!!) reported at six locations island-wide.
  • EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVER200+ individuals reported from two dozen locations all over the island & SE Labrador … not quite a record invasion, but very very impressive.
  • NORTHERN WHEATEARDozens reported from locations island-wide – and clearly many more went unnoticed.
  • (EURASIAN) WHIMBREL - 1 at Cape Spear (May 3)
  • DUNLIN (Icelandic/Greenland race) 1 at Cape Spear (May 3). This may be of the schinzii subspecies which has very few, if any, previous records in North America.
The breadth of the invasion was evident not only in the number of European Golden Plover reported in early May, but also the geographic distribution across the entire east/northeast coast of Newfoundland and southeastern Labrador.

The breadth of the invasion was evident not only in the number of European Golden Plover reported in early May, but also the geographic distribution across the entire east/northeast coast of Newfoundland and southeastern Labrador.

The largest single flock of European Golden Plovers occurred in Goulds (St. John's), where an initial handful of birds swelled to at least 90 in just a few days!

The largest single flock of European Golden Plovers occurred in Goulds (St. John’s), where an initial handful of birds swelled to at least 90 in just a few days!

These European Golden Plovers, part of a flock of nine, were in an unassuming backyard at Old Perlican on the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula.

These European Golden Plovers, part of a flock of nine, were in an unassuming backyard at Old Perlican on the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula.

During that time, I have been able to enjoy seeing many of these amazing birds, visit some of my favourite birding locations, and share the experience with many other birders from near & far. I have especially enjoyed birding with a number of keen birders who visited from all over North America to see these incredible ABA rarities … people from Ontario, Maine, New York, Massachussetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas & California!!

I was fortunate enough to see six Black-tailed Godwits in four far-flung locations during  the past few weeks - including two at Renews, two in St. Paul's Inlet, one in Goulds and this one at Old Perlican.

I was fortunate enough to see six Black-tailed Godwits in four far-flung locations during the past few weeks – including two at Renews, two in St. Paul’s Inlet, one in Goulds and this one at Old Perlican.

BTGO_May4OldPerlican_9022After a long, cold but very thrilling three weeks, the winds have finally turned southerly and many of our lingering visitors appear to have moved on – hopefully back to their intended destinations of Iceland & Greenland. Regular spring migration is rearing its head now, with a flood of more expected arrivals from down south being reported in the past few days. While the “Euro Invasion” of spring 2014 is winding down, the awesome birds & birding of these past few weeks will remain fresh in our memories for a long time to come … and we’ll always be keeping an eye on the winds!

Northern Wheatears are rare but expected in Newfoundland most springs. However, these winds brought dozens of reports, likely of birds that would have been destined for breeding grounds in Iceland or Greenland rather than northern Labrador.

Northern Wheatears are rare but expected in Newfoundland most springs. However, these winds brought dozens of reports, likely of birds that would have been destined for breeding grounds in Iceland or Greenland rather than northern Labrador.

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However, the real star of the Euro Inasion was a Common Redshank at Renews from May 3-13. Since it represented just the third record (and sixth individual) for both Newfoundland and North America, many birder came from near and far to see it. A second individual presnt at the same location on May 4 was chased off by the first and never seen again!

However, the real star of the Euro Invasion was a Common Redshank at Renews from May 3-13. Since it represented just the third record (and seventh individual) for both Newfoundland and North America, many birder came from near and far to see it. A second individual presnt at the same location on May 4 was chased off by the first and never seen again!

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The striking wing and rump pattern of Common Redshank is very different than the familiar Greater Yellowlegs that were also hanging out at Renews.

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We seem to have said “Good-bye” to this popular visitor, with no reports since May 13 despite plenty of looking. And so winds down this amazing event that has dominated Newfoundland (and North American) birding so far this spring!