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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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 PLOVER – 200+ individuals reported from two dozen locations all over the island & SE Labrador … not quite a record invasion, but very very impressive.
- NORTHERN WHEATEAR – Dozens 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.
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!!
After 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!