NCC Birding Event – Codroy Valley (Sept 28, 2013)

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a wonderful organization that protects many areas of natural diversity across the nation – including here in Newfoundland & Labrador (where it has already protected more than 12,000 acres of important bird/wildlife habitat). They are leading environmental stewards and preserve beautiful tracts of land/wetlands for both the plants & animals that depend on it and for the enjoyment of people for generations to come. Additionally, they hold fun and educational events — one of which is happening THIS weekend in our very own Codroy Valley. Check it out!!

Date: Saturday September 28, 2013
Location: Upper Ferry, NL
Meeting Time: 1:00 pm at the Wetland Interpretation Centre
Special Features: Expert birding event, opportunity to speak with biologists conducting banding in the area
Sign-up Deadline: Friday September 27, 2013
Description: Help NCC survey for waterfowl in the Codroy Valley, one of the most productive of Newfoundland’s few estuarine wetland sites. The Codroy Valley is the only Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in the Province, is a recognized Important Bird Area for migratory birds, including shorebirds and ducks, and is a site where raptors and spring vagrants are commonly found.

Learn more and/or register HERE.

Advertisements

Yellow-throated Vireo … and the Fall “Big Day”

It felt like Christmas when I woke up on Saturday, September 21.

This was the day of the 21st Annual BMI  (Blake Maybank Invitational) – one of my favourite days of the year!! The event was originally named in honour of the man who started the tradition by inviting local birders out on Thanksgiving weekend and, while it no longer has anything to do with Blake (who now lives and birds in Nova Scotia) and isn’t always held on Thanksgiving, the name has stuck. The event sees teams of birders spread out over the Avalon peninsula to try and see as many species as possible, especially the rare ones!! (Think of it like a big Christmas Bird Count, but with a bigger focus on finding rarities than counting).

It felt like Christmas in another way, too — the temperature was hovering just above freezing as I carried my gear to the car and set out. It had been a cold, clear night with light northerly winds – raising the distinct possibility that many of the birds we had been hoping to find may have caught the breeze south and out of Newfoundland. But whatever the day might bring, it was going to be great one for being out and enjoying it.

I picked up my buddy and “teammate” Dave Brown, stopped for the obligatory coffee and breakfast sandwich, and headed south along the east coast to Renews. It was light when we got there at 7:00am, with the low sun sparking on the first frost of the year. We started birding in some of the alder-lined gravel pits north of Renews – such “pits” are well known for attracting and holding migrants (both local and wayward) during fall. At first we saw mostly sparrows (Swamp, Savannah, and White-throated), but 30 minutes and two stops later the activity levels exploded. Yellow-rumped Warblers were popping up all over the pace, with double digits at most stops. Among the dozens of Yellow-rumpeds we also found a few other “local” warblers – Blackpoll, Wilson’s, Yellow, Palm and Common Yellowthroat. A Tennessee Warbler was our first little taste of something that doesn’t usually occur on the Avalon (although they breed commonly in other parts of the island and Labrador).

While the activity remained high as we worked our way south to Renews, the variety was low. Everything we were seeing could be considered “local” species, and the big number of Yellow-rumped Warblers indicated that they were gathering on the southeast coast in preparation for a mass exodus. How many birds had left ahead of them during the north winds of the past 24 hours?? We stopped only briefly at Renews since the tide was high and another “team” was expected to cover it later in the day. A flock of 13 Northern Flickers was an odd spectacle, with eight on a single dead tree. At the beach, I only saw two Yellowlegs (one Greater, one Lesser), and we heard one Lapland Longspur flying over. It would be the only one of the day.

Activity remained high as we approached Bear Cove – a well known “migrant trap” that we bird on a regular basis. A recent program to clear all the roadside alders in that area has changed the landscape, but fortunately (and somewhat to our surprise) birds still seem to gather there. While Dave birded his way down the hill descending into Bear Cove itself, I headed to the area of a large gravel pit that was still home to lots of alders. Just metres from the car, a bright bird popped out of the trees. I knew it was going to be good, but struggled to get a clear look. Then it crept into the open — YELLOW-THROATED VIREO!!!

This stunning Yellow-throated Vireo was the big highlight of this year's BMI birding. It is quite rare in Newfoundland, with maybe a dozen or so records. Photo: Jared Clarke (Bear Cove, September 21, 2013)

This stunning Yellow-throated Vireo was the big highlight of this year’s BMI birding. It is quite rare in Newfoundland, with maybe a dozen or so records.
Photo: Jared Clarke (Bear Cove, September 21, 2013)

This very dull Dickcissel was another good bird, especially for this date. It was found just metres from the vireo. Photo: Jared Clarke (Bear Cove, September 21, 2013)

This very dull Dickcissel was another good bird, especially for this date. It was found just metres from the vireo.
Photo: Jared Clarke (Bear Cove, September 21, 2013)

I yelled out to Dave, but he was too far up the road to hear me. I ran for the camera, but the vireo had disappeared in the 30 seconds I was gone. But more birds were moving through, and I soon picked out a very dull Dickcissel low down in the vegetation. I snapped a few photos as Dave was cresting the hill – he had found a Bobolink (the first of at least two we would see during the day). Together we worked the area where I had seen the vireo. A few minutes later we heard a grating chatter reminiscent of an oriole — that was IT! We soon got on the bird again – this time Dave got great looks, and I got some distant record shots. We also found a WARBLING VIREO – another great bird for Newfoundland, although pretty much annual and far less exciting. Through the next hour of working south through Bear Cove and Cappahayden we found two more Warbling Vireos, a Blue-headed Vireo, and another BobolinkBear Cove beach had the regular assortment of shorebirds, including several dozen Semipalmated Plover and Semipalmated Sandpiper, four Dunlin, three Sanderling, two White-rumped Sandpipers and one Ruddy Turnstone. Lone Black and Surf Scoters loafed on the water just offshore.

This adult male Blue Grosbeak was among the best birds seen all day, although it had been present for a few days so lacked the "exciting discovery" factor  ;)  However, we rarely see them in this plumage. Photo: Jared Clarke (Cape Race, September 21, 2013)

This adult male Blue Grosbeak was among the best birds seen all day, although it had been present for a few days so lacked the “exciting discovery” factor 😉 However, we rarely see them in this plumage.
Photo: Jared Clarke (Cape Race, September 21, 2013)

The activity had petered out by noon, so we finished covering “our” area and headed further afield to Cape Race (where another “team” had started at first light). It was very quiet along the road, and we later learned it had been so all day. At the lighthouse we saw a brilliant adult male BLUE GROSBEAK – an exciting bird but it had been present and known for several days, so not a surprise. We also saw two LARK SPARROWS at the lighthouse and yet another at nearby Long Beach – an unprecedented total for that species. Along the way home we picked up a Baltimore Oriole for the day, and Dave flushed another (probable) Bobolink. And while I was watching the small flock of shorebirds at Long Beach, a Merlin swooped in and grabbed a Semipalmated Plover just metres in front of me — if only I had been a bit more ready with the camera!

LASP_Sept21_5202

I narrowly missed an awesome (albeit brutal) photo opportunity when this Merlin snagged a plover just metres in front of me -- this is the best I could muster. Photo: Jared Clarke (September 21, 2013)

I narrowly missed an awesome (albeit brutal) photo opportunity when this Merlin snagged a plover just metres in front of me — this is the best I could muster.
Photo: Jared Clarke (September 21, 2013)

Perhaps the most interesting thing (for me, at least) was a school of Bluefin Tuna leaping out of the water just off the cape, surrounded by dozens of Northern Gannets and gulls and several whales (Minke and Humpback). Those Tuna were a “lifer” and very cool to see in action!!

We finished the day with an impressive 75 species, including the best bird of the day! Back at Bruce Mactavish’s house for chili and “refreshments”, we compiled the grand list — overall, the day had produced an excellent 118 species, including two that were new for the BMI (Yellow-throated Vireo & Northern Mockingbird). Other good birds (not seen by us) included a Northern Wheatear, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Pied-billed Grebe, Baird’s & Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Blackburnian Warbler and an unidentified empidonax flycatcher. Over the past 21 years, a staggering 223 species have been recorded on this event!

Not bad for a day’s birding!

Savannah Sparrows were plentiful along the Cape Race road ... their peak out-migration is still a couple weeks away. Photo: Jared Clarke (September 21, 2013)

Savannah Sparrows were plentiful along the Cape Race road … their peak out-migration is still a couple weeks away.
Photo: Jared Clarke (September 21, 2013)

LAZULI BUNTING ??!?!?

There have been several big-time, but “ungettable”, rarities reported the past few days – a Brown Booby on the Grand Banks and a late report of a Lewis’s Woodpecker in Labrador!! Still, I was stunned when I received a text message from my friend Chris Ryan this morning asking me about a LAZULI BUNTING just reported on the newsgroup! WHAT?!?!

Bruce Rodriguez, who works with the Division of Wildlife and has bird experience from across the country, reported seeing an adult male Lazuli Bunting in his Corner Brook yard this morning – however it flew off before he could get a “decent” photo. I immediately emailed him …  the  description he sent me was compelling, but I had to wait for him to send me a couple photos he described as “dark” and “just a blur”. When he did, a lightened version of his dark photo (below) showed a bird that almost certainly is a LAZULI BUNTING!!!

This apparent adult male LAZULI BUNTING was photographed in Corner Brook this morning - if confirmed (and this photo pretty much does that), it would mark the first record of this western species for Newfoundland & Labrador!! WOW!!!

This apparent adult male LAZULI BUNTING was photographed in Corner Brook this morning – if confirmed (and this photo pretty much does that), it would mark the first record of this western species for Newfoundland & Labrador!! WOW!!!
– Photo: Bruce Rodriguez (September 10, 2013)

Lazuli Buntings occur across the western half of the United States and the southernmost regions of British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba; wintering primarily in western Mexico. While not completely unprecedented in the northeast, it is a major league rarity in these parts and the first for Newfoundland & Labrador.

Bruce watched in futility as the bird flew out of his yard, moved through several neighbour’s properties and eventually out of sight. Hopefully it will return … Bruce is stocking his feeders as I write this! Personally, I’m stranded in St. John’s with family obligations the next few days, but with a rarity like this I’ll be aching to go chase it the first chance I get!!

Off the Rock: Birding New Brunswick

I recently returned from New Brunswick, where I co-led an Eagle Eye tour with crack birder Jody Allair (August 17-26). We had an excellent group of nine people from British Columbia, Ontario, Vermont and Virginia; awesome weather from start to finish; and a whole pile of amazing experiences surrounded by wonderful birds and scenery.

The tour started in Saint John and took us through beautiful Fundy National Park, where we enjoyed lush boreal forests and birds like Common Loon, Winter Wren, Boreal Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthcatch, and Blackburnian Warbler. We also heard the intriguing song of Nelson’s Sparrows at a nearby saltmarsh and watched as thousands of shorebirds foraged on the famous Bay of Fundy mudflats at Mary’s Point.

Tens of thousands of Semipalmated Sandpipers were roosting at Johnson Mills at high tide. An estimated three-quarters of the world's population of this small shorebird stop over at the Bay of Fundy during southward migration every year.

Tens of thousands of Semipalmated Sandpipers were roosting at Johnson Mills at high tide. An estimated three-quarters of the world’s population of this small shorebird stop over at the Bay of Fundy during southward migration every year.

However, the real shorebird spectacle took place the next morning when we visited Johnson Mills. Huge flocks of Black-bellied Plover and smaller shorebirds were frantically feeding as the waters rushed in, and then an incredible 60,000+ Semipalmated Sandpipers roosted in one tight flock on a small stretch of exposed beach at high tide. There is no way to describe the sight of a beach completely covered in birds – no sand or rocks visible between them; nor of the amazing maneuvers somehow carried out in unison as tens of thousands of birds zig-zag through the air and above the rolling water!!

From there we visited the phenomenal Sackville Waterfowl Park, where we enjoyed dozens of larger shorebirds such as Greater & Lesser Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers and Wilson’s Snipe. A normally very secretive Sora even graced us by walking out of the dense vegetation right in front of us!

Talk about close quarters! No

Talk about close quarters! No “personal space” in this crowd.

Two days were spent exploring New Brunswick’s fabulous north shore – including the quaint Acadian town of Bouctouche and the rich forests, bogs and beaches of Kouchibouguac National Park. Excellent birds such as Willet, Ruddy Turnstone and Semipalmated Plover graced the sandy shorelines, while hundreds of Common Terns wheeled around just offshore. Two Gray Jays dropped in to say hello, while a family of Palm Warblers offered great views on the edge of a spruce bog. A real surprise, several Red Crossbills were heard flying over – and one even allowed everyone in the group a fantastic look as it fed among the treetops. Eastern Kingbirds and Common Nighthawks even entertained as we ate incredible evening meals at our historic bed and breakfast. The next morning we enjoyed a very birdy walk along a quiet river trail, enjoying a variety of birds that included Hooded Merganser, Magnolia & Tennessee Warblers, Northern Parula, American Redstart and Brown Creeper  – all before heading back to Saint John for the evening.

GRYE_log_3396The next stage of our tour took us to beautiful Grand Manan Island, an ocean playground nestled away in the Bay of Fundy. An overnight cold front and light northerly winds brought us our first real taste of songbird migration. Fifteen species of warbler were found at various locations, including the northern tip of the island and the wonderful property of the very hotel in which we stayed. Eastern Phoebes darted around, a Black-billed Cuckoo sang for us, and a pair of Northern Cardinals called out from the treetops. An evening seawatch at Long Eddie Point (“The Whistle”) scored us hundreds of Sooty and Great Shearwaters along with several Manx Shearwater, while a stunning Broad-winged Hawk soared overhead.

Great Shearwater was definite highlight of our boat trip off the SE coast of Grand Manan Island.

Great Shearwater was definite highlight of our boat trip off the SE coast of Grand Manan Island.

But the real seabird show took place during a pelagic whale-watching expedition between Grand Manan and White Head Islands — Shearwaters swarmed all around the boat, thousands of Phalaropes (Red and Red-necked) fluttered past, and Wilson’s Storm Petrels coasted by. We also scored several Great Cormorants – a tough species and major target for several members of our group. (Whales? Yes – they were there too. A dozen Humpbacks Whales, several Fin Whales and a group of White-sided Dolphins all put on an amazing show that successfully distracted us from the birds far too much of the time!)

Despite our best efforts to stay focused on birds, the whales sometimes stole the show.

Despite our best efforts to stay focused on birds, the whales sometimes stole the show.

GMIferry_Swallowtail_4174

The Grand Manan ferry offers up some excellent birding opportunities!

The ferry ride back to mainland New Brunswick was incredibly smooth and resulted in some excellent birding – Razorbills, Atlantic Puffins and our only Common Murre of the trip floated by at close range, an Arctic Tern sat cooperatively on a floating log, and a Basking Shark appeared on the surface just long enough to tease Jody and me. Harbour Porpoises were everywhere we looked.

Chumming_3728

Our final birding stop at Irving Nature Park in Saint John netted us a Northern Harrier, several Merlins and the Peregrine Falcon that had been so elusive all week — chasing thousands of shorebirds over the beach and water’s edge. A small flock of Surf Scoters was our last new bird — bringing our tally up to an incredible 137 species!! What an amazing trip!!

A few of the places we visited & things we saw:

BouctoucheTrail_3512

Bouctouche – a beautiful example of Acadian culture and scenery!

Find the plover  ;)

Find the plover 😉

Kelly’s Beach, Kouchibouguac National Park

CastaliaMarsh_3516

Castalia Marsh, Grand Manan

We also saw a good number of butterflies – including new ones for me, like this Eastern Tailed Blue. Beauty!

North Harbour, Grand Manan (with a herring weir in the foreground)

MarathonInn_3846

Marathon Inn, Grand Manan

An Eastern Phoebe hanging out on the clothesline.
(See what I did there? “Hanging out … clothesline”? Eh?)

North Harbour, Grand Manan

Common Wood Nymph – another classy butterfly.

Dulse – both a delicacy and a way of life on Grand Manan!

Lots of fin slapping …

Swallowtail Light, Grand Manan

Swallowtail Light, Grand Manan

Sunset at Long Eddie Point (“The Whistle”), Grand Manan

“Bye” for now …
(OK – I admit that’s even cheesier than the clothesline thing!)