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.
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!
Follow these links to read previous installments of our recent Eagle Eye Tours adventure in Hawaii:
KAUAI (March 17-21)
After an awesome five days on Big Island, our Eagle Eye Tours group arrived at Lihue airport late afternoon of Monday, March 17. We headed straight to our accommodations in nearby Wailua – a beautiful hotel property set right behind the beach and overlooking the ocean. Sensing everyone was wiped after our last few busy days, we settled in for a relaxing meal and some light exploration of our immediate surroundings.
Birding around the hotel produced some great looks at nice birds. Small flocks of Chestnut Munia were often foraging on the manicured grass, Pacific Golden Plovers paraded around the property and nearby beach, and very classy-looking Red-crested Cardinals popped up from time to time. Other birds like Zebra Dove, House Finches and Common Myna were just about everywhere. After picking up some groceries and doing some other “group leader chores”, Jody and I sat back to toast St. Patrick’s Day with a couple cold Guinness.
Our first full day on Kauai was spent at one of its most special places – the Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve. “Alaka’i Swamp”, as it is often called, is a montane wet forest, home to alpine bogs, thick (mostly) native forests, and several species of critically endangered birds. It is also quite wet, being very close to Wai’ale’ale which receives one of the highest annual rainfalls in the world. We were extremely fortunate to begin our hike in light rain & fog and make our return in beautiful, sunny weather!
We were also extremely fortunate to have prolific Hawaiian birder and author Jim Denny as our guide of the day. The hike in was a little foggy, giving an eerie impression of the surrounding forest and ridges, but was also quite birdy. Apapane called from the treetops, Kauai Amakihi popped in to check us out, and a family group of three Iiwi flicked from limb to limb. Kauai Elepaio were especially cooperative, with several coming in quite close and one even stopping in to watch me eat my lunch. While introduced species were definitely on the scarce side, we did see a number of Japanese White-Eye and heard three Japanese Bush Warblers & two Hwamei (Melodious Laughing Thrush).
However, our two main targets for the day were Anianiau and Akeke’e, both small honeycreepers that can be found only on Kauai (and the latter only in Alaka’i Swamp!). Our group managed to find three Anianiau (by far the most abundant of the two species), although all observations were fairly fleeting. The first was heard only, although a yellow blur crossing the path in front of me was likely it. The others were seen foraging about mid-canopy, which is typical for these small yellow-warbler like birds. Akeke’e, on the other hand, has been declining rapidly and becoming more and more difficult to find in the mostly remote forests of Kauai. It is often not seen during tours, and has been a nemesis for Jody on his previous visits. Once we had hiked into an area where they were known to occur (though still tough to find), we were focused on listening for its subtle call and checking every bird that flitted in the treetops. It wasn’t until we were hiking back out of the area and had nearly given up hope that I heard Jody calling out “I got it! I got it!” I had hung behind to take some scenery photos, so dropped my backpack and went crashing along the muddy. root-ridden trail with my camera in one hand and telephoto lens in the other. I eventually spotted the little bird with its distinctive forked tail feeding high above me at the very top of an ohia tree. It continued to forage in the canopy, its actions and feeding style reminding me very much of a crossbill – which is not too surprising. since it too has a bill that is slightly crossed at the tips, designed for opening tasty seeds.
Two other critically endangered birds, the reclusive Akikiki and the exceedingly rare Puaiohi (one of only two native thrushes left in Hawaii) were also on our wishlist, although we knew seeing either would be an incredible stroke of luck. Both species can only be found in the deep forests of the Alaka’i Swamp, but almost always in areas that are too far and/or difficult for tour groups. Neither made an appearance for us, but maybe (hopefully) there be a “next time” ;)
Back at the head of the trail, we saw a Short-eared Owl flying high over the valley below us, as well as two White-tailed Tropicbirds soaring in the distance. Also hanging out in the area was a Black Rat - one of several introduced animals that have wreaked havoc on native birds species and are a big part of the reason that the birds of Alaka’i Swamp (along with the rest of Hawaii) are either struggling to survive or already extinct. Knowing this makes seeing such rare birds a very bittersweet experience …
On the drive back, we took advantage of the beautiful weather to stop and enjoy the overlook at Waimea Canyon. Sometimes called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, the stunning panorama of jagged cliffs, deep gorges and distant waterfalls is breathtaking – definitely one of the most scenic place in all of Hawaii. We were fortunate to be there with the evening light bringing out the deep red colours that give the canyon its name. My photos just don’t do it justice.
With the forecast calling for light-moderate NE winds, we decided to spend our second full day on Kauai visiting some prime birding spots along the north coast. Our first port-of-call was Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, with its fabulous scenery and statuesque lighthouse providing a stunning backdrop for a morning of birding. The steep cliffs and grassy slopes of Kilauea Point are home to some of the largest populations of nesting seabirds in Hawaii. This was one of the most anticipated outings for a number of people on the tour (myself included!), and it didn’t disappoint. The jaw-dropping birding started before our vans came to a stop in the parking lot, when a Laysan Albatross glided in and sailed right over our windshields. These iconic seabirds, with nearly 6ft wingspans, breed on the grassy slopes in and around the refuge. In fact, using a scope, we were even able to pick out a chick loafing on the wooded hillside west of the point. We also noted numerous Wedge-tailed Shearwater burrows right alongside the walking trails, and even found one snoozing away under thick brush just outside the fence at the main viewing area. It was amusing to hear the eerie “moaning” they are so well known for. A few others were seen later flying way offshore, distant even with scopes. A small group of Humpback Whales frolicked a few hundred metres off the point – although, being from Newfoundland where they are common, I couldn’t bring myself to bother looking at them with so many awesome seabirds zipping by!
Three Nene (Hawaiian Geese) were seen near the parking lot, while four others were feeding on the grassy “lawn” near the point, quite accustomed to the many onlookers. Despite the fact that I had been looking forward to seeing these classy little geese for quite some time, it was difficult to pay them much heed when Red-footed Boobies and Great Frigatebirds were constantly flying by at close range, often right overhead. A large colony of Red-footed Boobies occupies the hillside just east of the point – Jody’s rough estimate of visible birds amounted to at least 800, and we knew many more were obscured by the trees they nest in and/or flying offshore at any one time. We had several sightings of Brown Booby, which do not breed in the refuge so only pop in as infrequent visitors.
Perhaps my favourite birds of the morning were the Red-tailed Tropicbirds cruising by the point, often very close. They were real show-offs, parading around with their sleek white plumage and brilliant red tail streamers. Several times we saw a pair doing their courtship ritual, cartwheeling around each other in mid-air – sometimes just metres away from us. Stunning birds! A handful of White-tailed Topicbirds were also seen, though usually not as close and somewhat less entertaining (although just as beautiful!).
We ate lunch at scenic Anini Beach, where we enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere and beautiful sunny weather. One of our participants discovered a White-rumped Shama across the road, which proved to be unusually cooperative and hung around for the entire group to get great looks. Several Red-crested Cardinals were also loitering around the picnic spot.
Our next stop was the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, which was set up to protect critical habitat for Hawaii’s endangered water birds. While much of the refuge, consisting of wetlands, riparian pastures and large taro ponds is inaccessible to the public, a portion of it can be viewed from a public road and a large area can be scoped from an overlook on the main highway. The taro ponds, visible from the roadside, were quite active. Pacific Golden Plovers foraged on the grass, Black-crowned Night Herons and Cattle Egrets were standing on the banks and wading in the shallow water. A total of nine Nene (Hawaiian Geese) were also grazing there – most of them very close to the road and allowing for great looks.
We also enjoyed our first looks at bona fide Koloa (Hawaiian Duck), which now can only be seen reliably on Kauai. Populations on other islands have been reintroduced and/or primarily consist of individuals that have hybridized with Mallards (We also noted several apparent hybrids on Kauai, despite efforts to control this issue here). Koloa are undoubtedly one of the rarest and most endangered ducks in the world, and could realistically become extinct as a pure species in the near future. A number of Common (Hawaiian) Gallinule and Hawaiian Coots were weaving in and out through the taro patches, enjoying the food and shelter. While the coots are considered a separate (endemic) species, the gallinules are currently considered a subspecies. However, the gallinule population is struggling and is no longer found in many of its former locations (including the islands of Big Island, Maui, Molokai and Lanai). Four Hawaiian (Black-necked) Stilts, another endemic subspecies, were also spotted wading gingerly through the shallow water.
With one more full day on Kauai, we headed back to the western side of the island. Our first stop was an overlook near Hanapepe, giving a great view into a lush canyon. It took a few minutes to locate our target bird – Rose-ringed Parakeet – but sure enough we saw several flying through the deep valley. Eventually we found a few more that obliged us by sitting majestically on open branches along the cliffs — great for scope views of these beautiful lime-green birds.
We continued on to a small series of salt ponds near Hanapepe, where several Hawaiian (Black-necked) Stilts and a duo of Wandering Tattler were foraging in the shallow waters and being very vocal. Several Western Meadowlarks were hear singing, and at least two were spotted on the grassy fields of nearby Port Allen airfield. A Black Francolin also put in an appearance on the far side of the airfield, perched nicely on a dead snag for all to enjoy. A quick seawatch from the coast behind the runways was most exciting as I was able to find a Hawaiian Petrel (one of my most wanted birds for the entire trip!!) flying very low along the horizon. Fortunately Jody and one participant were able to get on it before it turned and disappeared behind the waves. We also spotted one Brown Booby and a couple dozen Red-footed Boobies cruising by.
Our next stop was Koke’e State Park, where we had started our trek into Alaka’i Swamp two days earlier. This time we were met with periods of heavy rain and shifting fog, dampening our birding efforts and obscuring some of the scenic views we had hoped to enjoy. We placated ourselves with a delicious lunch in the comfort of a picnic shelter and the entertainment of several Red Junglefowl, Pacific Golden Plover and Zebra Doves roaming around the grass. Apapane and Japanese White-eyes flitted around in the nearby trees.
Leaving the rain-soaked mountains, we stopped to bird at several (sunny!) coastal location on the way back to our hotel. One stop, at the Kawai’ele Sand Mine Bird Sanctuary, was very “birdy” with numerous Black-crowned Night Herons, Cattle Egrets, Ruddy Turnstones and Hawaiian (Black-necked) Stilts, as well as a flock of Nutmeg Mannakin. Another stop brought us distant views of a Wedge-tailed Shearwaters feeding over the open ocean, along with both Brown and Red-footed Boobies drifting past.
Since our last day in Kauai was also a travel day, we made the most of our morning birding. A short drive from our hotel was the Wailua River Valley – consisting of lush neighbourhoods, scenic overlooks and a wonderful walking trail. Our first stop was the Kuilau Trail, which meanders along the valley through tall, green forests and is a great place to see and hear many of the island’s introduced songbirds. We were not disappointed, hearing several secretive Japanese Bush Warblers and then having one pop out and sing in the open for us. We were also able to coax a Hwamei (Melodious Laughing Thrush) from its haunt and it, too, posed momentarily so that the entire group was able to enjoy it before sinking back into hiding. Several White-rumped Shama, Japanese White-eyes, Red-crested Cardinals and a lone Northern Cardinal also joined in, making for a very fun walk.
Our last stop of the morning was at the beautiful Opeaka’a Falls, where we enjoyed the serenity for just a few minutes before heading back and preparing for our early afternoon flight to Oahu.
Common Redshank is one of those birds that a Newfoundland birder (well, any North American birder!!) dreams about … Not only is it beautiful and interesting, but it is a mega rarity that has only ever shown up twice before. And it is also one that was front and foremost on the minds of many birders here during this past week, while persistent NE winds have been dropping European/Icelandic vagrants on our island left, right & centre.
Although I had been predicting for days now that a Common Redshank would be found, I was still left gob-smocked when Bruce Mactavish called me at home this morning to say that he and Ken Knowles had found one in Renews — on the very beach that visiting birder Barrett Pierce (TX) and I had walked just 18 hours earlier. Unfortunately, I had committed to lead a group walk for local club this morning and couldn’t back out!! It was another agonizing four hours before I could turn my car south and head to Renews, cursing the weekend traffic (however light) as I went. I received news about halfway there that it had flown off with two Greater Yellowlegs, but convinced myself it would return.
I arrived at Renews at 12:30pm, turned the corner to the main beach and saw several happy faces, all chatting contentedly. I jumped out of the car and, with a quick point from fellow birder Brendan Kelly, immediately found the bird a ways down the beach, poking around on the tidal flats and rotting kelp. SCORE!!!! Once my stomach settled and I had good scope looks, I noticed that a local gentleman at the other end of the beach was shoveling kelp into his truck, and the bird was much closer to him than us. So Barrett and I drove to that end of the beach and parked … and after just a few minutes the Common Redshank worked its way along the kelpline until it was right beside us, allowing for mind-blowing looks and awesome photo opportunities!!
News had broken that two Northern Wheatear, A Eurasian Whimbrel and a potential Greenland race Dunlin had been seen at Cape Spear, so we birded our way back to there. Unofrtunately we were unable to relocate any of those birds (not too surprising given the many people out waling, enjoying the sunshine and nearby icebergs). But, any way you add it up, it was an awesome awesome day!! A dream has come true, and a mega has fallen.
The invasion of Icelandic vagrants into Newfoundland continues to grow … both in terms of geography and species. More than 130 European Golden Plovers, 7 Black-tailed Godwits, a handful of Northern Wheatear and an incredible Ross’s Gull have been reported across Newfoundland and southern Labrador in the past seven days. And now, this morning, news has broken that a COMMON REDSHANK has been discovered in Renews (more about that later).
Since I had to travel to western Newfoundland this week for meetings, I decided to make the most of it and tag on a day of birding. On April 30, I joined my friend and biologist Darroch Whitaker for a day of birding in Gros Morne National Park. It was an awesome day in an amazing setting – hiking for kilometres across vast tidal flats in St. Paul’s Inlet with the beautiful Long Range Mountains looming in the background. After a good walk, we managed to refind the two Black-tailed Godwits that he had discovered a few days earlier. They were distant and wary, but it still felt great to see and made the trek all the more rewarding. While birds were scarce (the only other shorebirds were one Greater Yellowlegs and a pair of Killdeer), we did come across a recently dead Snowy Owl and a European Green Crab. And the scenery was hard to ignore! We also checked out a dead Blue Whale which has washed ashore in Rocky Harbour, hoping for (but not finding) some arctic gulls. Later, we also refound two European Golden Plovers that Darroch had discovered several days prior while biking through Sally’s Cove. They proved very amicable, at times approaching the car so close that it was difficult to photograph them!
After returning to St. John’s, I spent yesterday (May 2) rarity-hunting with a birder from Texas. Barrett has visited Newfoundland several times before in search of Eurasian rarities, and is back again in the wake of this recent invasion. We had an excellent day, seeing a total of 66 European Golden Plover at three locations (Goulds, Bay Bulls and Renews) and finding a stunning male Northern Wheatear in Ferryland.