WINGS: Winter in Newfoundland

Four enthusiastic birders from across the United States visited St. John's last week as part of the WINGS winter tour. Here they can be seen at Cape Spear, smiling after scoring great looks at two prime targets - Purple Sandpipers and Dovekie!!

Four enthusiastic birders from across the United States visited St. John’s last week as part of the WINGS winter tour. Here they can be seen at Cape Spear, smiling after scoring great looks at two prime targets – Purple Sandpipers and Dovekie!!

It’s become an annual tradition that a group of WINGS tour participants descend on St. John’s in January, excited to get out and enjoy the wonderful birds of “Newfoundland in Winter” (if not the weather!). This year, I had the distinct pleasure of leading four eager visitors on a five-day birding bonanza around the city and parts of the eastern Avalon Peninsula.

We started the tour with a bang – heading straight to Ferryland on the very first morning where we were rewarded with amazing looks at a COMMON SNIPE that had been discovered two days earlier. It was just the third confirmed record for the province (including one from Labrador) and eastern North America! To sweeten the deal even further, a Wilson’s Snipe was also hanging out just a few metres away, allowing for a great comparison of these formerly conspecific cousins.

A comparison of the mega-rare COMMON SNIPE and the more expected Wilson's Snipe, it's North American cousin. Both were seen and photographed just metres apart in Ferryland on the very first morning of the tour! - Photos: Jared Clarke (January 13, 2014)

We spent the remainder of the first four days birding in and around St. John’s, enjoying some unusually mild weather and ignoring periods rain, wind and fog. The group’s spirits refused to be dampened as we enjoyed stunning views of great birds, including record-high numbers of Tufted Ducks, both Eurasian & American Wigeon, and some very confiding Great Cormorants. Even a northern River Otter got in on the action, posing for us amidst the quaint scenery of the Quidi Vidi’s famous fishing village.

Great, close-up views at thousands of gulls were just part of the fun during this tour. Ten species were seen, including well over 2000 of these stunning "Kumlien's" Iceland Gulls. - Photo: Jared Clarke

Great, close-up views of thousands of gulls were just part of the fun during this tour. Ten species were seen, including well over 2000 of these stunning “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gulls.
– Photo: Jared Clarke

An important part of winter birding in St. John’s, the massive gull flocks showed off an array of birds – thousands of Herring, Great Black-backed and “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gulls, several hundred Glaucous Gulls, dozens of Black-headed Gulls (a key target for the tour!), a handful of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and three Common (aka European Mew) Gulls! Everyone learned a lot about these often “under-appreciated” birds 😉

Purple Sandpipers were a prime target for all four participants ... and they did not disappoint! - Photo: Jared Clarke

Purple Sandpipers were a prime target for all four participants … and they did not disappoint!
– Photo: Jared Clarke

Bald Eagles regularly dropped in to show off, while a Northern Goshawk buzzed our heads during a morning walk in Pippy Park.

A major highlight of the tour was a visit to Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America. It was one of the most beautiful January mornings I have ever experienced there, with mild temperatures, light wind and perfectly clear viewing. We were thrilled with killer views of two key targets for the tour – dozens of Purple Sandpipers resting and feeding among the rocks, and eight Dovekie putting on a show in the foamy white water right off the tip!On our fifth & final day, we headed south along the “Irish Loop”, enjoying the amazing scenery, historic communities and many great birds. Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Eiders entertained us at several stops, while a female King Eider at Bear Cove was an unexpected highlight for everyone. A family group of five Gray Jays were apparently entertained by us, dropping in along the roadside to check us out. Common & Red-throated Loons and Red-necked Grebes were found in excellent numbers, often in sheltered coves buffeted by stark, beautiful cliffs. And several Boreal Chickadees finally made an appearance, after proving elusive all week.

Common Loons winter along the coast of Newfoundland - we saw many of them during our week. - Photo: Jared Clarke

Common Loons winter along the coast of Newfoundland – we saw many of them during our week.
– Photo: Jared Clarke

Tufted Duck are a regular part of the winter in St. John's, likely originating in Iceland. - Jared Clarke

Tufted Duck are a regular part of the winter in St. John’s, likely originating in Iceland.
– Photo: Jared Clarke

Great Cormorants were seen daily, often at very close range. - Photo: Jared Clarke

Great Cormorants were seen daily, often at very close range.
– Photo: Jared Clarke

Cape Spear - the easternmost point in North America.

Cape Spear – the easternmost point in North America.

It was a fantastic week spent enjoying great birds with some great people. And, needless to say, amidst some truly great scenery.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s