A New Record for the Newfoundland Winter Bird List!!

NEWFOUNDLAND WINTER BIRD LIST, 2020-2021

While the scene outside my window leaves no doubt that winter is still here, the “official” winter birding season ended on February 28. This year, a total of 161 species were recorded on the island during that time — a new record!! Highlights were many, but obvious ones included Vermilion Flycatcher (1st provincial record), Gray Heron, THREE Redwings, Brown Thrasher, Tundra Swan, Slaty-backed Gull, (most recently) Spotted Towhee and of course the persistence of several very tough warblers. The growth of our west coast birding community certainly contributed to the record-setting season, with numerous species being found only there this year. One additional species in Labrador (Common Shelduck) puts the provincial tally at 162.

CHECK OUT THE 2020-2021 LIST HERE

Two species (Tundra Swan & Vermilion Flycatcher) represented first winter records, bringing the all-time winter list to an amazing 266 species.

CHECK OUT THE ALL-TIME WINTER BIRD LIST HERE

Thanks to everyone for all the great birding, spotting and reporting again this year. Enjoy what is left of winter and look forward to the excitement of spring 🙂

Cheers,
Jared

TWENTY TWENTY

It’s that time when I sit back to review the year that was. Or maybe wasn’t? 2020 was …. ummm … “interesting”. To say the least. (And since I’m writing this on January 7, I have to admit that 2021 is off to an “interesting” start).

I thrive on visuals, so it’s become my tradition to reflect on each passing year with a series of photos that represent highlights (check out my posts for 2017, 2018 & 2019). And as weird as 2020 was, there were many (many!) highlights to choose from. Here are twenty images/memories from 2020:

January started off great! I often extol the wonders of winter birding here in Newfoundland, and I was excited that my entire month was booked up leading tours with birders visiting from all over North America. It started with the annual WINGS tour and a very fun group of intrepid explorers, and continued with a line-up of private tours for birding friends new and old. January birding was at its best! Most notably, we had several amazing and very intimate experiences with Dovekie (arguably our most sought-after winter bird), and often elusive Willow Ptarmigan (above) were seen almost daily.
** NOTE: After a hiatus for much of 2020, I am once again offering winter tours – and you can find out more here. **
My guests and I spotted this Turkey Vulture on January 16. No doubt it wasn’t too exciting for my visitors from California, but it was a mega-rarity for Newfoundland – just my second ever for the province, and an exciting bird to discover on my own. We had a wonderful marathon of birding that day, trying to squeeze in as many of their targets as we could before an approaching storm (and we did with great success!!). Little did I know the impact that storm would have …

The “weather bomb” that hit the northeast Avalon that night and raged through January 17 dropped an amazing 90cm of snow on St. John’s — on top of 100cm already sitting on the ground. It crippled the city, caused a week-long shutdown and “state of emergency” as people and city crews dug out, and was later dubbed “snowmageddon” in popular media. My clients, who had managed just one day of birding, were marooned in their hotel for days and stuck in St. John’s for more than a week before flights resumed. And, of course, the rest of my January clients were forced to cancel their visits for the same reason. While snowstorms and travel delays do happen here in winter, this was the “storm of a century” and not something that people considering a visit here in the future should be worried about ;). (We never could have realized at the time that the weeklong “lockdown” we experienced then was just a trial-run for a pandemic that would hit our shores a few weeks later!!)

Great winter birding continued into February, and a personal highlight was this Northern Saw-whet Owl found roosting in a city backyard. This species has been increasing across Newfoundland over the last 20 years, and the first confirmed breeding was just a few springs ago. Surprisingly, this was the first one I had been able to study and photograph – my only previous sighting was a fleeting one in my own yard as one passed through in the dark.
February is also a great time for gull-watching … an integral part of winter birding in St. John’s. Once again, I co-hosted NatureNL‘s annual Gull Workshop which included a short introductory slideshow followed by an outing to Quidi Vidi Lake. The turnout for this event has been growing each year, and 2020 was no exception. I’m always glad when people show an interest in gulls 🙂
The world was shaken in late winter as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world causing sickness, fear and unprecedented “lockdowns”. People across the planet were asked to stay close to home, travel plummeted and (for many birders) a disconnect with birds, birding and nature began to set in. At the same time, I was experimenting with “videoscoping” (using my phone and an adaptor to shoot video with my trusty Kowa TSN-883 spotting scope) and realized that I could use that technology to share my outings with birders all over the world. Facebook LIVE even allowed me to bird “with” (virtually) others in real time! You can watch some of those videos and spring birding sessions here on my Facebook page … and I’m looking forward to doing more this winter 🙂
As spring arrived and we settled into the new routines (or lack thereof!) of pandemic living, our family embraced the outdoors and opportunities to explore together. Like oh so many other people, we enjoyed some of the incredible trails and hiking that we are blessed to have here in Newfoundland – especially the East Coast Trail. As challenging as 2020 was, and the heavy toll it took on tourism and my own business, I’ll never take for granted the opportunity to spend more quality time with the people I love and doing the things we love. I hope we can all carry that appreciation forward to 2021 and beyond.
COVID-19 also forced many aspects of our lives to move online — from “Zoom” birthday parties to online meetings and virtual learning. Sometimes it was a struggle, but sometimes it provided opportunities to reach out in ways we never did before. In June, I delivered the first of several online presentations about birding that I would do throughout the year — this one for my friends at Kowa whose amazing optics I use pretty much every day. You can still check out this virtual birding trip to Newfoundland & Labrador on their YouTube channel, and feel free to drop me a line anytime if you’re interested in learning more.
While our world often felt like it was turned upside down and inside out, mother nature moved on unfazed. Our spring migrants arrived as usual, set up shop and started the annual breeding rituals. It was also the first year of Newfoundland’s first ever Breeding Bird Atlas – a long awaited project, and an added motivation for me to get out and explore new areas. I especially enjoyed birding some “atlas squares” near my hometown of Lewisporte, where birds like this beautiful eastern Palm Warbler brightened my morning walks. Several species (like this one) do not breed on the Avalon where I live now, so it was a treat getting to know them just a little bit better.
It felt weird in 2020 to not visit many of the birding spots that are normally a big part of my summer tours. But that didn’t stop me from writing about them! Throughout the year I wrote several articles and guest blog posts about birds & birding, including one about the beautiful Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (“Birdwatch Canada” magazine, Summer 2020). I also gushed about Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve and some of my other favourite places in a series of articles for Destination St. John’s.
Coincidentally (or not?), 2020 also seemed to be full of astrological wonders. Or maybe we just took the time to notice them more. In any case, our family spent more time than usual staring up at the night sky to enjoy a “supermoon”, meteor showers, visible plants and most recently the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. We especially enjoyed our views of Comet NEOWISE during a camping trip in July, when I captured this image of it hanging just above our tent. How cool! (Image is best viewed full size in a dark room)
Despite excellent birding all spring & summer I didn’t add a new bird to my Newfoundland life list until August, when I encountered this Great Skua during an exploratory boat trip with Hare Bay Adventures in Bonavista Bay. Although they are relatively common at sea, this can be a touch bird to spot close to land – and I was stoked when this one came in to check out our boat. I was especially excited when, looking at my photos, I discovered it was banded! It didn’t take long to find out that it was banded as a chick in Shetland (Scotland) in 2018 — the first of their banded individuals to be spotted in North America.
Of course, that Great Skua was just one of THOUSANDS of pelagic seabirds spotted during my boat trip with my friends at Hare Bay Adventures. Huge numbers of Great and Sooty Shearwaters, a few Manx Shearwaters along with Northern Gannets, Common Murre, Atlantic Puffins, Black-legged Kittiwakes and many others were enjoyed during our outing. Check out the eBird list here. There were also dozens of Humpback Whales, often many in view at one time. In fact, it was hard to photograph the birds (like this Great Shearwater) without a whale getting in the way 😉
Shorebird migration starts in late summer, when the forests have gone quiet and most breeding birds are focused on raising/fledging their young. It’s a perfect way to add spice to a day of birding at that time of year. There was a good showing of Buff-breasted Sandpipers this year — a very uncommon but annual visitor, and definitely one of the best looking shorebirds out there. This one was near Cape Race was especially cooperative, often coming quite near while I crouched quietly in the grass.
Autumn is a fantastic time for birding, and you never know what you’ll see during the chaotic fall migration. My next new bird for Newfoundland was this Great-crested Flycatcher in early October — one of three we ended up seeing that day, more than were reported in the province for the previous 10 years.
Fall is also berry-picking time across Newfoundland & Labrador — and with the extra time on my hands, I did more of that than usual. Blueberries in September, Partridgeberries (above) in October, and even Marshberries (aka Small Cranberry) in November. The highlight was a three-day trip to Grates Cove with my dad, who I don’t get to spend as much time with as I’d like. We had beautiful fall weather, leisurely days, perfect “around the bay” meals (fresh grilled tuna; sweet & sour moose!) and spirited card games. Quality time with family was definitely the silver lining on the challenges of 2020.
Going a little stir-crazy and missing travel, Bruce Mactavish & I decided to take a long November weekend (Nov 19-22) and go birding in the Codroy Valley at the very opposite corner of Newfoundland (this is a big island, so that’s not as close as you may think!). Among other things, one of my goals was to see this Tundra Swan that had been hanging out there since October – a provincial rarity and my third new bird for the province in 2020. Although it was always distant, we were able to enjoy some very good scope views as it fed in the Codroy estuary (an internationally significant wetland). As it turned out (see below), it wouldn’t even be the best bird of the trip 🙂
My fourth and final new bird for Newfoundland, and hands down “bird of the year”, was this immature male Vermilion Flycatcher in Stephenville (~7 hours west of St. John’s). Originally discovered on November 18, word got out just hours before Bruce Mactavish & I were set to drive across the province anyways — pure serendipity. Although we had poor luck seeing it the following day (after driving all morning), we finally got amazing views, and mediocre photos, the next day. A huge relief and a mega bird!! Despite the fact it should be in the arid climate of Arizona or Mexico rather than the November snow of Newfoundland, the bird look surprisingly well and continued to be seen sporadically into mid-December when the weather worsened.
December was mild with a notable lack of snow (especially here on the Avalon), leading to a much “greener” Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season than last year. Compare the photos from St. John’s CBC 2020 and 2019 above! In fact, as I’m writing this we are well into January and still experiencing unseasonably warm weather. At risk of being chased out of town — bring on some winter weather 🙂
As always, sharing my experiences, adventures and favourite moments with others was an important part of my year. This year, I wasn’t able to share with as many of you in person (boo!), but I continued to do so over social media. I hope my posts have have helped brighten a few days and elicit a few smiles during these challenging months — because I know that other people’s posts have certainly made the year more bearable for me. Above are my “Top 9” photos/posts (at least based on “likes”, which is not really the reason I do it) of 2020. In a year that was most certainly “different”, I’m glad to see that my most popular images were as well. I’m glad that some of the quirks are represented – including my ice-covered face during “Snowmageddon” , a “supermoon” (representing the fact that our family spent more time than usual stargazing this year), and of course a fun poke I took at the pandemic and the (then) novel idea of social distancing. It’s fun to look back the year that was (and often wasn’t), but I’m also hoping that next year’s photos include a lot more birds, travel and happy clients 🙂

Well, there you have it. There is so much more we could say (good, bad and ugly!) about 2020, but in the end I’m glad to look back and remember so many good times and highlights. I recognize that we were very fortunate here in Newfoundland & Labrador to get out in front of the COVID-19 situation relatively quickly and have managed to keep it mostly at bay. After a few challenging months, life returned much closer to normal here than in many places around the country and world – and our hearts go out to those who are still struggling with this virus and the unprecedented impacts on society. It also goes out to my many friends and colleagues in tourism, who have been pushed to the brink by travel restrictions and a catastrophic loss of work.

I think we can see the faint glow of the light at the end of the tunnel and, while it will be a tough few months yet, I firmly believe we can come out of this with a renewed energy, focus and appreciation for the things that matter most. Be safe, be kind, and keep looking forward that next adventure.

Birds, Berries & Looking Forward in a Time of Uncertainty

Time seemed to move so slowly when the COVID-19 pandemic first settled on our shores. Shutdowns, home-schooling, social distancing, and (for me) a complete absence of visiting birders to share my adventures with. It felt like any semblance of normal might never return. But as things here in Newfoundland & Labrador improved and life began to shift back towards “normal”, time has really flown. I can’t believe it’s been seven months, it’s mid-fall and the first tastes of snow and cold weather are already here again!!

As I mentioned in my last blog post, the silver lining of such an unusual summer was being able to spend more time hanging out and exploring with my family. While their lives have since veered back towards normal — the girls & Susan are back to school, and many of their other activities are starting back up (even if they aren’t exactly as they were) — mine remains quite different. Trips & tours I was excited about are still being cancelled (most recently my annual Trinidad & Tobago tour), and I’m still unable to welcome guests from most of Canada and the world. On the upside, I’ve been using the time to get back to birding basics – exploring new areas, hunting for fall vagrants with old friends, and even scoring a few great finds along the way. Here are a few highlights from Fall 2020 so far …

The first major highlight of fall happened on September 26, during an annual “big day” of sorts. Bruce Mactavish & I were just finishing a lacklustre walk around Cape Race when I flushed a rail from the grass, just inches from my toes. We both got great looks as it flew in a low but long arc — CORNCRAKE!!!! This mega-rare (and extremely elusive) visitor from Europe was at the top of my wish-list – but after narrowly missing the only other modern day record for Newfoundland in 2002, I didn’t believe it would happen again. While we did get another quick look as it flew up again 10 minutes later, there were no chances to get a photo. It was not relocated over the next two days despite a small throng of searchers. I still feel the “buzz” of that moment nearly two months later!
This Great-Crested Flycatcher (Oct 5) was a long-awaited addition to my Newfoundland list. Surprisingly rare on the island, not only did we relocate this one first discovered the previous day – but ended up seeing two more before the day was done!
Yellow-billed Cuckoo is an annual visitor to the island, but one I don’t get to see most years. This one surprised us by flying across the road in front of our van just seconds after my friend Bruce said “This looks like a great spot to find a cuckoo” !! I wish it worked like that more often 😉
While shorebird migration didn’t bring any real rarities, it was a good one for Buff-breasted Sandpipers. This was one of several very confiding birds at Long Beach in late September.

Fall is also a great time to go berry-picking in Newfoundland. I spent several days picking blueberries (September) & partridgeberries (October; my favourite!) in Grates Cove – including a fun weekend getaway with my dad how I don’t get to see often enough.

This Marsh Wren was an added perk of our berry-picking trip to Grates Cove in mid-October – a surprise find, and my first “self found” for the province (~17th record overall).
Another new “self found” bird was this Townsend’s Warbler in Cape Broyle (Oct 26). While very rare overall in eastern North America, Newfoundland has an uncanny history with them – more than two dozen records, with multiple each fall in recent years. I’ve seen close to a dozen, but was still excited find this one on my own at the end of an otherwise slow day of birding.
I took some time during a November outing to Grates Cove to pick some marshberries (aka small cranberry). These very tart fruits are best picked in late fall or early winter.

All that being said, I’m stoked to get back leading tours and sharing Newfoundland’s amazing birds with new people! I’m making plans for a brand new start in January – leaving the weirdness of 2020 behind and striking out on new adventures 😉

Stay tuned for some announcements next week — an exciting new partnership, winter tours and weekend workshops!

I’ve always had a soft spot for this photo of a Slaty-backed Gull (a major local rarity) I took back in 2007 … and now it brings to mind 2020 and the COVID pandemic. Perhaps because I always joked that this bird reminded me of the “Phoenix” rising from the ashes – just like we all (and especially my friends and colleagues in the tourism industry) have to do after this very challenging year. Or, perhaps, because much of 2020 felt like the dumpster fire that is so obvious in this image ;). Rise up we shall!

I am going to steal some words from my last blog post, since they ring just as true three months later: I know many people and families have been impacted by this pandemic in much greater ways than ours, and our hearts go out to everyone who has suffered illness, experienced loss or simply struggled to make ends meet. We pray every day to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel soon. However, if you’re as fortunate as we are to stay safe and healthy, I encourage you to find the silver linings in your own lives and make the most of them. Your smile and positive attitude may be just what the next person you run into needs to see.

Be safe, take care of yourself and those around you, and keep dreaming about that next adventure.

Strange Days & Silver Linings

What a weird summer this is. The world has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions – and we certainly hope that you and your family have been able to stay safe during this unprecedented crisis. Newfoundland & Labrador has weathered the storm very well so far — thanks in large part to good leadership, public cooperation and the ability to control influx from outside the province (I’m reminded of the words of the Newfoundland folk song “Thank God We’re Surrounded by Water“).

There have been costs, of course, and the tourism industry was hit fast and hard. I’ve missed welcoming visiting birders and nature lovers this spring and summer, and sharing the incredible beauty of my province with them – and have also had to cancel some of my favourite tours to other parts of Canada and even Greenland this season. I’m very much looking forward to seeing you all, as soon as it is safe and reasonable to travel again 😉

There have been silver linings to this very dark cloud – not the least of which is the extra quality time I am spending with my family. Summer is usually very busy for me, so it’s been a blessing to have these extra few weeks with my kids who are growing up way too fast. We’ve played games and watched movies, went on family hikes along our beautiful coastlines, visited family (now that it’s safe to do so) and spent time hanging out in some of our favourite places like Lewisporte and Grates Cove 🙂  I may never have a summer like this again, and I’m determined not to squander it.

And as much as I miss birding and exploring with so many of you, I am also embracing the opportunity to explore different places and in different ways on my own. I’ve spent time birding closer to home and contributing to the brand new Newfoundland Breeding Bird Atlas. I’ve even gotten to know my own backyard much better – watching the local robins and juncos raise their families, tackling gardening projects I’ve “talked about” for years, and helping my kids discover the little joys of nature. (They even scored the first record of new ladybug species for North America – right in our own yard!!)

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Newfoundland’s first Breeding Bird Atlas has given me a fun new reason to get out birding – and helped take the sting out of missing all the visiting birders I would have been exploring with this summer. These are just some of the breeding songbirds I would have shared with those clients – and now have been tallied for the atlas 😉

 

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Here is one of several 10-spotted Ladybugs (Adalia decempunctata) that my daughters first discovered in our yard. It turns out it was a (somewhat expected) first confirmed record for North America! Exploring our backyard has been a bright spot during our extended time at home this spring.

As part of my ramblings, I was lucky to spend a short time with a pair of Bald Eagles and their surprisingly young (given the date) chick. Check out this short video:

I know many people and families have been impacted by this pandemic in much greater ways than ours, and our hearts go out to everyone who has suffered illness, experienced loss or simply struggled to make ends meet. We pray every day to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel soon. However, if you’re as fortunate as we are to stay safe and healthy, I encourage you to find the silver linings in your own lives and make the most of them. Your smile and positive attitude may be just what the next person you run into needs to see.

Be safe, take care of yourself and those around you, and keep dreaming about that next adventure.

 

Kowa Webinar Series: Birding on “TheRock”

Is a birding trip to Newfoundland & Labrador on YOUR bucket list?? Want to learn more about this fantastic destination?? Join me for this free webinar, hosted by Kowa Sporting Optics, on Saturday June 20th …

YOU CAN WATCH THE RECORDED PRESENTATION ON YOUTUBE HERE

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Spring in the Time of COVID-19

What strange days we are living in! We here at BirdTheRock hope you are doing well, staying safe & healthy, and managing to find some solace in nature when/where you can. If you happen to be an essential worker — THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts for everything you are doing to keep us safe and our world moving. If, like us, you are lucky enough to do your part by staying home – thank you as well for doing just that.

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No matter where you find yourself during this pandemic, these are challenging and unsettling times. Many individuals and families are struggling with the health impacts of COVID-19, and our hearts go out to them. Many others, especially my friends and colleagues in the tourism & hospitality industry, are faced with a staggering loss of employment and the uncertainty of when (or even if) things will get back on track. I hope and trust that, by working together and supporting each other, we will rise out of this with renewed energy, strength and purpose. Thank you to everyone supporting small, local businesses in your own cities, towns and neighbourhoods during these tough times.

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Spring is slowly rolling in here in Newfoundland, with or without our watchful gaze. Migration is well underway, and pretty soon our forests, lakes, barrens and seabird colonies will be bustling. I can’t wait to say hello to many of my favourite birds – like this Atlantic Puffin 🙂

But nature keeps on truckin’, and spring is arriving (mostly) on schedule. I was (and still am!) looking forward to a busy season of enjoying nature and sharing amazing birds, wildlife & scenery with so many of you this year — but I know that much of that will have to be postponed for the time being. In fact, I would normally be preparing for my first trip of the season next week – leading a fantastic Eagle-Eye Tours trip to experience spring migration at Ontario’s Point Pelee National Park, Algonquin and many points between. I’ll very much miss being there this year, but here are a few photos from previous trips to remind you (mostly me!) of how wonderful it is 😉   (More photos from the 2019 tour are available here.)

I do hope that things return to normal sooner than later, and that I’ll still be able to welcome some visiting birders to Newfoundland later this summer. In any case, I’ve been busy planning and am excited for the time when we can go exploring together again.

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Like you, I have also been adjusting to the “new normal” – spending lots of quality time at home with my family, focusing on the importance of those around me, and occasionally getting out to enjoy nature in safe and responsible ways. My family & I wish you all the best during these uncertain times.

 

Be safe, take care of yourselves and others, and keep dreaming of that next adventure!

NINETEEN

"Better late than never" -- Me (far too often)

Wow … Time flies!! It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone … but not without lots of fun & adventure. In fact, 2019 was the busiest yet for BirdTheRock – I was blessed beyond words to share the natural wonders of Newfoundland & Labrador with so many visitors, travel to amazing places both near and far, and experience countless special moments along the way. From snowy mornings on the frozen tundra to hot, sunny afternoons in the ruins of an ancient, tropical city; snowy owls and caribou to hummingbirds and howler monkeys … what a ride!

Below are 19 photos from 2019; chosen to represent just a fraction of the many, many highlights from my year. The busier I get, the harder it is to keep up on this blog  – but be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram for LOTS more photos, regular highlights and often daily updates from ongoing tours! I’ll continue to update this blog when I can 😉

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My year of birding began with one of my favourite family events – the Christmas Bird Count for Kids. In partnership with NatureNL, we held it at Bowring Park where great winter weather and some excellent birds made for a wonderful morning. Three groups of kids, parents and volunteers scoured the park for gems that included Tufted Duck, Northern Goshawk, Downy Woodpecker and Double-crested Cormorant. Here, our group is enjoying a colourful flock of Evening Grosbeak (incl. my daughters; Emma at the scope and Leslie behind her).

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My winter season began with the annual WINGS “Winter in Newfoundland” tour. A variety of interesting and exciting species were found around St. John’s – including dozens of Tufted Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We also had several close encounters with a Northern Goshawk – a hands-down highlight for everyone! Travelling outside the city, we enjoyed more exciting birds and stunning coastal scenery. Dovekie (like the one above) were present in excellent numbers, including several cooperative birds that lingered just metres away. We braved wintry weather to see Purple Sandpipers, Thick-billed Murre, Great Cormorants, Common Eider and Long-tailed Ducks, along with many other northern seabirds. Pine Grosbeaks showed off their gaudy colours, and a very cooperative Snowy Owl capped off our week. It was a fantastic tour with exciting birds, great people, and a wonderful setting!

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For a fun family outing, Susan and I took the girls to see and photograph some Harp & Harbour seals in Conception Bay. It was a cold morning, but we enjoyed some very close encounters with these beautiful animals. A few weeks later we found a locally rare Bearded Seal in St. John’s Harbour — you can see photos and read more about that in a blog post here.

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The NatureNL “Winter Gull Workshop” has become a popular tradition, and dozens of budding birders showed up to see and learn about the diversity of gulls that visit Quidi Vidi lake during the colder months. It was a beautiful day for sharing the joy of birding, and we enjoyed a rich variety from Glaucous Gull to Gadwall and Tufted Duck to “Saddleback”.

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This rare Slaty-backed Gull had been around for a few days and popped in to show off during the Gull Workshop (above). Although I’ve seen, and even discovered, a surprising number over the years, it is always exciting to see one and even moreso to share it with such a fun group of people.

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This winter brought with it an opportunity  to explore new places, birds and wildlife in Central America. Eagle-Eye Tours offered me a chance to visit Belize & Tikal (Guatemala), where I co-led a fantastic tour with my friend and fellow guide Ernesto Carman. The birds were, of course, amazing — but so were the other critters like this Black Howler Monkey. Listening to their incredible, eerie howls as I hiked the trails or even lay in bed is something I’ll forever remember.

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Belize & Guatemala included much more than just birds, of course – the incredible culture and history of the area alone is worth a visit. Wandering around, and birding in, the incredible temples and ancient metropolis of Tikal was transcendent. The largest city of the Mayan Classical period, it was inhabited from ~600BC until its abandonment ~900AD and had a peak population of more than 100,000 people! You can check out a short blog post about the trip, or simply view a selection of my photos in this Flickr album. You can also read about my previous visit to Central America (Honduras) here.

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My next Eagle-Eye Tours adventure brought me to more familiar places – the Point Pelee and Algonquin Park tour. Lady Luck was on our side this year, as we hit the migration melting pot of Point Pelee National Park on three amazing days! We experienced a “fallout” of migrating songbirds, had colourful warblers hopping at our feet, watched the unique phenomenon of “reverse migration” over the point, and scored a number of “sought-after” species like Acadian Flycatcher and Canadian rarities like Swallow-tailed Kite. Things may have slowed down a little after such a fast-paced start, but the birding remained excellent through other Ontario hotspots like Rondeau, Long Point, and Algonquin Provicial Park. (Above: a Blackburnian Warbler – one of many, many warblers that showed off for us at Point Pelee. Check out more photos in this Flickr album.)

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One of the most sought-after birds during spring migration is Kirtland’s Warbler. This enigmatic little warbler is one of the most range-restricted species in North America, breeding in young Jack Pine forests of Michigan and (just barely) Wisconsin. A few get spotted at migration hotspots like Point Pelee (Ontario) or Magee Marsh (Ohio) each spring, and is always an exciting find. Kirtland’s Warbler was a bird I very much hoped (but not necessarily expected) to encounter during this tour – and I was totally stoked when we met up with this one near one of Point Pelee’s many picnic areas. Making the bird even more special, it is named after Dr. Jared Kirtland – who, of course, shares my first name 😉

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The last day of the Point Pelee & Algonquin tour was punctuated by some exciting news from back home … an extremely rare Eurasian Oystercatcher had just been reported!! Just the fifth record for all of North America (and the fourth for Newfoundland), this wily shorebird was found and photographed at Lush’s Bight, on a small island in Notre Dame Bay. It took a few days for me to arrange the time (since I was just arriving home from a long trip and the bird was ~7 hours drive and short ferry ride from St. John’s), but the next week my friend Chris Ryan and I made the two-day trek and scored this mega — perhaps my “most wanted” species for Newfoundland! You can read the full story, and see lots more photos, on the blog post here.

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Eurasian Oystercatcher may have been the most exciting new species I saw in Newfoundland this year, but I did add two more that were somewhat more common (at least in other parts of eastern North America — Roseate Tern (a long-time “nemesis”) and this Turkey Vulture (a species which is reported occasionally on the island, but rarely tracked down by eager birders). This individual spent several days hanging out near La Manche Provincial Park (45 minutes south of St. John’s) in late May. I managed to spot another (or maybe the same one) near Renews in January 2020, and it was later reported hanging out in that area. Turkey Vultures are becoming increasingly common in the Maritime provinces, but since they generally avoid flying over open water they rarely make it over to Newfoundland.

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Late spring and summer were extremely busy for BirdTheRock Bird & Nature Tours. I was very lucky to spend that time sharing the amazing birds, wildlife and scenery of Newfoundland with dozens of visiting birders – from St. John’s to Gros Morne National Park and Witless Bay to Bonavista. I especially enjoyed having my daughter Emma join me for her very first visit to the incredible Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve. It was a spectacular day, and smiles like that are exactly why I do what I do.

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Each and every tour held a special surprise or highlight, but the Northern Gannets aof Cape St. Mary’s are always at the top of the list. One day, my guests and I were treated to an especially close encounter as a lone gannet perched nonchalantly at the tip of the “Bird Rock” viewing area – allowing us to capture some wonderful photos.

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Of course, Atlantic Puffins also steal the show on many days – and this summer was no exception. Catching interactions between these cute but goofy birds is always fun, and this turned out to be one of my favourite images of the entire year.

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Late summer (August) each year brings another fun Eagle-Eye Tours trip – this one to New Brunswick and the beautiful Bay of Fundy. Highlights of this tour include the spectacular gathering of tens of thousands of Semipalmated Sandpipers and other shorebirds, migrating  songbirds, and a visit to lovely Grand Manan island. We had gorgeous weather and light during our pelagic trip this year, and great looks at many seabirds (including hundreds of Great Shearwater like this one).

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I was honoured once again this fall to join Adventure Canada on their “Newfoundland Circumnavigation” – exploring my own beautiful province from a very different perspective aboard the Ocean Endeavour. This expedition cruise stops at three (!!) UNESCO World Heritage Sites, several small and isolated outports, and even explores uninhabited coves, bays and fjords along the way. The diverse cultural, historical and of course nature-based experiences make this  a world-class trip – and I recommend it to anyone who wants to see Newfoundland in a unique way. This year (2020), I’ll be teaming up with Adventure Canada for a different expedition – this time to Greenland & Wild Labrador! Join me??

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December snuck up on me quickly – along with a happy return to Trinidad & Tobago, leading my fourth Eagle-Eye Tours trip to this awesome destination. We had a great time – enjoying the amazing birding at Asa Wright Nature Centre, across the varied habitats of Trinidad, and then to more relaxed but equally bird-filled Tobago. This Guianan Trogon was just one of many many highlights! (You can find many more photos and stories from my earlier trips here and here.)

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Throughout all my travels, my constant companions included my trusty Kowa scope & binoculars. I’m proud to be an ambassador for these amazing optics – the sharpest, brightest glass out there; comfortable to use and handle; and above all else, tough! My gear gets used a lot, lugged all over the world, and carried through all kinds of terrain & weather – so it needs to hold up 🙂  Follow the link above to read more about my experiences with Kowa gear.

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The winter began, and they year ended, with a surprising number of rare and lingering warblers in eastern Newfoundland. This Hermit Warbler (the 4th record for Newfoundland) was perhaps the biggest surprise, although the unprecedented number of Townsend’s Warblers (12+) may have been the bigger story. We’ll likely never know what caused such an insane influx of western warblers, but we enjoyed it just the same! The Hermit Warbler survived well into January thanks to the hard work and dedication of several birders, but sadly disappeared after another unprecedented event – “Snowmageddon”. But that’s a story for next year 😉

And there you have it — another fantastic year in the books. So far, 2020 has been equally exciting, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year will bring. Won’t you follow along, or better yet join me, to find out??