Island Hopping: Trinidad & Tobago (Part 1)

A few weeks ago (December 2015), I was honoured to co-lead yet another trip with Eagle Eye Tours … this time, their annual adventure in Trinidad & Tobago! If you’re not familiar with this company, please check them out – they are a great Canadian company that offers amazing trips to many of the world’s best birding locations and I always enjoying working with them. They are also committed to being environmentally responsible and giving back to birds & conservation programs wherever they travel!

Trinidad & Tobago provides a great introduction to the birds of South America … it has a selection of almost every bird family found in mainland countries, but in a smaller and easier to navigate setting. In fact, we birded many habitats across much of the country while staying at just two locations … and we saw a LOT of awesome birds and other wildlife!

This funky-looking Tufted Coquette was just one of many awesome birds that we enjoyed during the 2015 Eagle Eye Tours trip to Trinidad & Tobago.

This funky-looking Tufted Coquette was just one of many awesome birds that we enjoyed during the 2015 Eagle Eye Tours trip to Trinidad & Tobago.

On the larger island of Trinidad, we stayed at the famous Asa Wright Nature Centre, where incredible birding was literally right at our doorstep! This centre and lodge was a pioneer in the world of ecotourism, and remains one of the best places for birding in the tropics. Whether relaxing on the veranda, walking the trails or taking a day-trip to nearby parts of the country, we encountered awesome birds,wildlife and scenery at every turn. Not to mention great people, delicious food and an endless supply of wonderful, locally grown coffee!

The view from the veranda at Asa Wright Nature Centre looks down over a lush valley in Trinidad's Northern Range. Lots of great birds and other wildlife in there!!

The view from the veranda at Asa Wright Nature Centre looks down over a lush valley in Trinidad’s Northern Range. Lots of great birds and other wildlife in there!!

A portion of the proceeds from this tour went to support the great work of both Bird Studies Canada (represented here by my friend & co-leader Jody Allair, centre) and the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Our group REALLY enjoyed their stay!

A portion of the proceeds from this tour went to support the great work of both Bird Studies Canada (represented here by my friend & co-leader Jody Allair, centre) and the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Our group REALLY enjoyed their stay!

Using the Asa Wright Nature Centre as our base, we explored a variety of habitats throughout northern and central Trinidad – mountain rainforests, grasslands, wetlands and even coastal swamps and fishing harbours. And during our “down time” we enjoyed the incredible birding available on the centre’s large estate – much of which remains wild and natural rainforest. The large veranda at the main house is alive with birds – dozens of hummingbirds, tanagers, orioles,  honeycreepers, oropendolas and many more beautiful species taking advantage of a rich offering of food!

Some of our best birding was done right from the veranda! Dozens of humming bird feeders and a buffet of fresh fruit brought an amazing variety of birds right to us.

Some of our best birding was done right from the veranda! Dozens of humming bird feeders and a buffet of fresh fruit brought an amazing variety of birds right to us. Here, some Bananaquits enjoy a juicy chunk of melon.

Plenty of other birds were spotted in the canopy surrounding the nature centre, including this beautiful Channel-billed Toucan.

Plenty of other birds were spotted in the canopy surrounding the nature centre, including this beautiful Channel-billed Toucan.

The estate offers lots of great birding right on site - property around the lodge, amazing trails, and even the road.

The estate offers lots of great birding right on site – property around the lodge, amazing trails, and even the road.

And it's not just birds. Trinidad has an incredible diversity of butterflies, including the large and beautiful Blue Morpho (known locally as the "Emperor").

And it’s not just birds. Trinidad has an incredible diversity of butterflies, including the large and beautiful Blue Morpho (known locally as the “Emperor”).

One of the most awe-inspiring birds found in the Northern Range is the Bearded Bellbird. Even more amazing than its wattled "beard" is its incredible call - something that has to be heard ot be believed. (Apologies for the poor photo - they are well concealed in the forest canopy and we were fortunate to have such great looks at this one!)

One of the most awe-inspiring birds found in the Northern Range is the Bearded Bellbird. Even more amazing than its wattled “beard” is its incredible call – something that has to be heard to be believed. (Apologies for the poor photo – they are well concealed in the forest canopy and we were fortunate to have such great looks at this one!)

Of course, hummingbirds are huge part of any visit to the tropics, and there is no shortage here! White-chested Emeralds were among the most confiding at Asa Wright's very busy feeders.

Of course, hummingbirds are huge part of any visit to the tropics, and there is no shortage here! White-chested Emeralds were among the most confiding at Asa Wright’s very busy feeders.

Less common at feeders but fun to watch were the hermits, like this Green Hermit. Despite being larger than the other hummers, they were often bullied away from the food and fed with interesting strategies.

Less common at feeders but fun to watch were the hermits, like this Green Hermit. Despite being larger than the other hummers, they were often bullied away from the food and fed with interesting strategies.

Many wild mammals in Trinidad are secretive and rarely seen, but the Red-rumped Agouti has adapted well to human settlement and enjoyed the fresh fruit being offered to birds at the nature centre.

Many wild mammals in Trinidad are secretive and rarely seen, but the Red-rumped Agouti has adapted well to human settlement and enjoyed the fresh fruit being offered to birds at the nature centre.

While some birds are well camouflaged for life in the forest, others are brilliant. Violaceous Euphonia is certainly among the most colourful!

While some birds are well camouflaged for life in the forest, others are very colourful. Violaceous Euphonia is certainly among the most brilliant!

Some birds advertise themselves in much more elaborate ways than colour. Male White-bearded Mannikins perform very entertaining courtship dances at leks, and we got to enjoy the show on a couple occasions. This little fella has his beard puffed out (some might joke that I've been known to use a similar strategy!).

Some birds advertise themselves in much more entertaining ways than colour. Male White-bearded Mannikins perform elaborate courtship dances at leks, and we got to enjoy the show on a couple occasions. This little fella has his beard puffed out (some might joke that I’ve been known to use a similar strategy!).

Here, another White-bearded Mannikin poses during part of the performance, showing a little less of the beard.

Here, another White-bearded Mannikin poses during part of the performance, showing a little less of the beard.

Frogs were often heard but rarely seen on our hikes, but we were fortunate to find a chorus of Trinidad Stream (Yellow-throated) Frogs. These tiny but very noisy critters are endemic to Trinidad, making it an extra special treat to see!

Frogs were often heard but rarely seen on our hikes, but we were fortunate to find a chorus of Trinidad Stream (Yellow-throated) Frogs. These tiny but very noisy critters are endemic to Trinidad, making it an extra special treat to see!

Even more fortunate was this sighting of another endemic species - Urich's Litter Frog. These tiny frogs are nocturnal, and we found one sitting on a leaf during a night stroll.

Even more fortunate was this sighting of another endemic species – Urich’s Litter Frog. These tiny frogs are nocturnal, and we found one sitting on a leaf during a night stroll.

Tufted Coquettes are stunning, but somewhat scarce in Trinidad. One or maybe two pairs can be found at Asa Wright, and photographing them was one of my "goals" during our visit. It proved a little tougher than anticipated since they never visit feeders, are extremely fast and active, and can be a bit elusive. It took a few days to figure out the feeding patterns of this male, but it eventually paid off with some decent photo opportunities. I love this bird!

Tufted Coquettes are stunning, but somewhat scarce in Trinidad. One or maybe two pairs can be found at Asa Wright, and photographing them was one of my “goals” during our visit. It proved a little tougher than anticipated since they never visit feeders, are extremely fast and active, and can be a bit elusive. It took a few days to figure out the feeding patterns of this male, but it eventually paid off with some decent photo opportunities. I love this bird!

A friend of mine described the male Tufted Coquette as the "David Bowie of hummingbirds", and here you can see why.

A friend of mine described the male Tufted Coquette as the “David Bowie of hummingbirds”, and here you can see why. Check out that crazy costume!

There are lots of other beautiful creatures to be found, including this Variegated Gecko which occurs only in Trinidad and northern Venezuela.

There are lots of other beautiful creatures to be found, including this Variegated Gecko which occurs only in Trinidad and northern Venezuela.

One of the most special experiences we had was a trek to see the Oilbirds at Asa Wright. These almost mythical birds are the only nocturnal flying fruit-eating birds in the world, using a combination of echolocation (just like bats!) and specially adapted eyesight to navigate in the dark. They live in caves, and produce the most guttural, haunting sounds you can imagine. Visiting the cave is a surreal experience, to say the least!

One of the most special experiences we had was a trek to see the Oilbirds at Asa Wright. These almost mythical birds are the only nocturnal flying fruit-eating birds in the world, using a combination of echolocation (just like bats!) and specially adapted eyesight to navigate in the dark. They live in caves, and produce the most guttural, haunting sounds you can imagine. Visiting the cave is a surreal experience, to say the least! We were also fortunate enough to spot four flying over the the valley in search of food one evening.

Another colourful visitor to the Asa Wright property is the Yellow Oriole ... what a great looking bird.

Another colourful visitor to the Asa Wright property is the Yellow Oriole … what a great looking bird.

Equally colourful, though of a very different hue, is the Blue-gray Tanager. These beautiful birds were regular visitors to the veranda feeders, yet I somehow came away with out a single unobscured photo!

Equally colourful, though of a very different hue, is the Blue-gray Tanager. These beautiful birds were regular visitors to the veranda feeders, yet I somehow came away with out a single unobscured photo (but I do like this one!).

One of the more understated birds that frequent the fruit trays are White-lined Tanagers. They were, nevertheless, very entertaining!

One of the more understated birds that frequent the fruit trays are White-lined Tanagers. They were, nevertheless, very entertaining!

In addition to great bring, we also took opportunities to learn about the local culture and economy. Trinidad is well known for its cocoa, and here our group is learning first-hand how it is traditionally harvested and processed.

In addition to great birding, we also took opportunities to learn about the local culture and economy. Trinidad is well known for its cocoa, and here our group is learning first-hand how it is traditionally harvested and processed.

In addition to cocoa, you can often find coffee growing throughout the landscape. Nothing goes better with a day of birding at Asa Wright than a great cup of coffee that was grown, harvested and roasted right on site!

In addition to cocoa, you can often find coffee growing throughout the landscape. Nothing goes better with a day of birding at Asa Wright than a great cup of coffee that was grown, harvested and roasted right on site!

Among my favourite hummingbirds were the White-necked Jacobins ... very classy!

Among my favourite hummingbirds were the White-necked Jacobins … very classy!

We had no trouble spotting a few Golden Tegu Lizards. At nearly a metre long, the largest of these critters could appear a little menacing and I usually gave one the right-of-way if I met it on a path!

We had no trouble spotting a few Golden Tegu Lizards. At nearly a metre long, the largest of these critters could appear a little menacing and I usually gave one the right-of-way if I met it on a path!

Smaller, but still a little menacing, was the Trinidad Chevron Tarantula. We spotted several of these, including this large female during a night stroll. Another (apparently a male) was making itself at home in the main house of the Asa Wright lodge. I hardly ever sat down without checking for it first!

Smaller, but still a little menacing, was the Trinidad Chevron Tarantula. We spotted several of these, including this large female during a night stroll. Another (apparently a male) was making itself at home in the main house of the Asa Wright lodge. I hardly ever sat down without checking for it first!

As you can tell by now, night time can be just as exciting as daytime when looking for life in the tropics. We saw or heard five species of owl in Trinidad, including this cooperative Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.

As you can tell by now, night time can be just as exciting as daytime when looking for life in the tropics. We saw or heard five species of owl in Trinidad, including this cooperative Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.

Stay tuned for more photo highlights in Part 2 of our adventure in Trinidad & Tobago!

 Click here to read Part 2 of our adventure in Trinidad & Tobago!

Codroy Valley – A New & Exciting Tour!

It’s the middle of winter & a storm is wailing outside … What better time to start planning for SPRING?!?! Here’s a fresh and exciting birding tour to help you get started! This tour is designed just as much for local Newfoundland birders as it is for visitors, and takes us to one of the richest and most beautiful birding locations our island has to offer! But register soon – spaces are limited!!

Codroy Valley & Central Newfoundland (June 1-7, 2016)

CodroyCollage2CodroyCollageNestled away in the southwest corner of Newfoundland, the Codroy Valley is easily one of the island’s most beautiful places. Being much closer to the Maritime provinces both geographically (it’s a mere 150 km from Cape Breton) and ecologically, it is also home to the province’s greatest diversity of landbirds. A number of species wander there regularly that are otherwise very uncommon or rare in the rest of Newfoundland, and a few have pushed the limits of their breeding range to include this small region of our island. There are many species that you can expect to find here but nowhere else in Newfoundland!

This tour will lead us through the Codroy Valley’s lush forests, sandy beaches, and rich estuaries – all while the beautiful Long Range Mountains loom in the distance. Our visit also coincides with the region’s Feather & Folk Nature Festival, and we will include time in our schedule to take in some of the social and educational events.

Starting and ending in St. John’s, we will spend some time in beautiful central Newfoundland to enjoy local birds and break up our travel. If time and weather allow, we will also visit nearby Stephenville Crossing to seek out its unique habitats and bounty of birds.

Highlights:

  • Leisurely birding in some of Newfoundland’s most scenic locations.
  • A variety of settings that include forests, wetlands, and seaside habitats.
  • An opportunity to enjoy Newfoundland’s richest diversity of songbirds, many of which have just arrived and provide a tremendous morning chorus.
  • Several of the provinces “species at risk”, including the endangered Piping Plover and some of the island’s last remaining Bobolink.
  • A number of “Codroy Valley specialties” – uncommon birds that might include several colourful warblers, vireos, and flycatchers among others.
  • Opportunities to meet local birders and participate in Feather & Folk Nature Festival events.

* A typical day will include an early morning start. Birding will be at a leisurely pace and may require short walks (up to several kilometers) that will be done very slowly. A more arduous, uphill hike may be offered as an optional outing.
* Weather is generally nice but cool in early June (especially in the mornings), so participants should pack accordingly … layering works. Waterproof coat and boots are advisable. We may continue to go birding outside in light showers, but plan for alternative birding or activities in more challenging weather.
* Each evening, a list of the birds and other wildlife encountered will be reviewed and discussed.
* Accommodations will include shared two-bedroom cabins in Codroy Valley (4 nights) and double-occupancy hotel rooms in central Newfoundland (2 nights). * See single occupancy supplement below regarding one-bedroom cabins and private hotel rooms.

CodroyCollage3

 Itinerary at a Glance:

Day 1 (June 1): Our tour begins at noon as we depart St. John’s and head west across the TransCanada Highway, arriving in central Newfoundland for the evening. We will make some brief birding stops along the way and/or take an evening bird stroll.    Overnight: Central Newfoundland (exact location TBD).

Day 2 (June 2): After a morning of birding in central Newfoundland’s rich forests, we continue west to our destination in beautiful Codroy Valley. Weather depending, we will make some birding stops along the way, including Stephenville Crossing to look for local specialties.    Overnight: Codroy Valley

Days 3-5 (June 3-5): We will spend three full days exploring one of Newfoundland’s best birding regions. Mornings will usually focus on the rich variety of songbirds that occur in the area, while other outings will take us to other great locations for strolls on the beach, coastal seawatches and a variety of wetland habitats. Afternoon breaks and opportunities to participate in festival events will be included in the schedule. Optional outings may be offered on nice evenings.    Overnight: Codroy Valley

Day 6 (June 6): After a final morning birding the Codroy Valley, we head east for another evening in central Newfoundland. We will make birding stops along the way.    Overnight: Central Newfoundland (exact location TBD)

Day 7 (June 7): After a morning birding in central Newfoundland, we will head back to St. John’s for a mid-afternoon arrival.

Price
$1395 /person; $2250/couple (taxes included)
Single occupancy supplement (private hotel room and one-bedroom cabin): $350

Includes:

  • 6 nights accommodations (4 nights at cabin in Codroy Valley; 2 nights at hotel in central Newfoundland)
  • 6 breakfasts and 6 lunches (may include picnic lunches)
  • Transportation throughout the tour, starting and ending in St. John’s (we can make alternate arrangements if you require pick-up at another point between).
  • Expert guiding services

Does not include:

  • Evening meals (you may choose to dine separately or as a group; cabins in Codroy Valley will include kitchenette and BBQ if desired).
  • Items of a personal nature

Contact Bird⋅The⋅Rock for more information or to REGISTER FOR THIS TOUR now!

WINGS 2016: Winter Birds in Newfoundland

Winter is a fun and special time to go birding in Newfoundland – which is why a group of WINGS tour participants brave the cold weather to visit here every January. This year, four birders (one from Maryland and three friends from California) made the voyage north to explore our rugged island! And I had the pleasure of sharing the wonderful birds & beautiful scenery of the eastern Avalon Peninsula with them. (This is my third year leading this adventure – and it always a great time! Follow these links to read blog posts about the 2014 and 2015 tours.)

WINGS tour participants scan for seabirds at wintery St. Vincent's beach on January 15.

WINGS tour participants scan for seabirds at wintery St. Vincent’s beach on January 15.

The tour is based out of St. John’s – one of the oldest cities in North America and located at its easternmost reaches. A variety of interesting and exciting species can be found around St. John’s during winter, and this year did not disappoint. Among the nine species of gulls found were Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and European Mew (Common) Gulls. Rare anywhere else on the continent, we enjoyed dozens of Tufted Ducks, several Eurasian Wigeon and two beautiful Eurasian (Common) Teal amid an array of the more expected North American waterfowl.

Traveling outside the city on several occasions, we enjoyed more exciting birds and stunning coastal scenery. Dovekie is always a key target during this tour and were present in excellent numbers, including a few cooperative birds that lingered just metres away. We also encountered Black-legged Kittiwakes during strong onshore winds – a species not often seen from shore in winter. Purple Sandpipers and Great Cormorants put in an excellent showing, posing on the coastal rocks. Boreal Chickadees, White-winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks gave us amazing looks, as did at least two Northern Goshawks and a very surprised Willow Ptarmigan. It was a fantastic tour with exciting birds, great people, and a wonderful setting!

We wpent a lot of time along the Avalon's rugged but beautiful coast during the week - lots of birds and stunning scenery!

We spent a lot of time along the Avalon’s rugged but beautiful coast during the week – lots of birds and stunning scenery!

Dovekie were no trouble to find this year, which is not always the case! We saw dozens most days, often flying past but sometimes obliging us with closer looks as they fed close by.

Dovekie were no trouble to find this year, which is not always the case! We saw dozens most days, often flying past but sometimes obliging us with great looks as they fed close by.

This photo, from last year's WINGS tours, shows just how cooperative Dovekie can be. We enjoyed several like this during the week.

This photo, from last year’s WINGS tour, shows just how cooperative Dovekie can be. We enjoyed several like this during the week.

Purple Sandpipers were also stars of this year's tour - we found three flocks of 50+ birds, all of which provided excellent views.

Purple Sandpipers were also stars of this year’s tour – we found three flocks of 50+ birds, all of which provided excellent views.

When not seaside, we enjoyed some beautiful walks in the local boreal forest and along streams and rivers.

When not seaside, we enjoyed some beautiful walks in the local boreal forest and along streams & rivers.

White-winged Crossbills have been arriving on the Avalon this month, and provided to be a crowd-pleaser for our participants.

White-winged Crossbills have been arriving on the Avalon this month, and proved to be a crowd-pleaser for our participants.

IMG_6318

The classy looking Tufted Duck is another popular bird for visitors, and we saw more than 40 this past week!

The classy looking Tufted Duck is another popular bird for visitors, and we saw more than 40 this past week!

This drake Eurasian Green-winged (aka Common) Teal was one of two drakes hanging out along a sheltered brook in St. John's. Maybe one day they will be "split" into separate species, as some authorities currently consider them.

This drake Eurasian Green-winged (aka Common) Teal was one of two drakes hanging out along a sheltered brook in St. John’s. Maybe one day they will be “split” into separate species, as some authorities currently consider them.

Another uncommon duck (though of North American origins) was this drake Barrow's Goldeneye spotted among a flock of Common Goldeneye in Spaniard's Bay (CBN).

Another uncommon duck (though of North American origins) was this drake Barrow’s Goldeneye spotted amid a flock of Common Goldeneye in Spaniard’s Bay (CBN).

IMG_6423

Lovely day for a picnic 😉

We also enjoyed several sightings of three species of seal, including this group of Harp Seals.

We also enjoyed several sightings of three species of seal, including this group of Harp Seals.

Gulls are an integral part of the tour, and we spent some time studying the various flocks around St. John's.

Gulls are an integral part of the tour, and we spent some time studying the various flocks around St. John’s.

This photo includes four of the most common species seen around the city - Herring, "Kumlien's" Iceland, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed (1w, front centre) Gulls.

This photo includes four of the most numerous gull species seen around the city – Herring, “Kumlien’s” Iceland, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed (1w, front centre) Gulls. All in all, we found nine species and several interesting hybrids to enjoy!

Black-headed Gulls have suddenly become less abundant following the closure of a large sewer outflow in St. John's, although we did manage o find some at other locations.

Black-headed Gulls have suddenly become less abundant following the closure of a large sewer outflow in St. John’s, although we had no trouble finding some at other locations.

We also relocated an adult Common (European Mew) Gull at a sewer outfall in Conception Bay South - it had been missing from its regular haunts in the city for several days.

We also rediscovered an adult Common (European Mew) Gull at a sewer outfall in Conception Bay South – it had been missing from its regular haunts in the city for several days.

While Great Cormorants are far more abundant here during winter, we managed to find a couple Double-crested Cormorants lingering around the region.

While Great Cormorants are far more abundant here during winter, we also managed to find a couple Double-crested Cormorants lingering around the region.

It was a wonderful week full of great birds, interesting weather, beautiful scenery and (most importantly) a fantastic group of people. I'm already looking forward to next year's WINGS Tour!

It was a wonderful week filled with great birds, interesting weather, beautiful scenery and (most importantly) a fantastic group of people. I’m already looking forward to next year’s WINGS Tour!

 

Rearview Mirror II: Looking Back on a Busy Summer

Here is a second installment of photo highlights from Summer 2015! It was a busy few months leading adventures for Eagle Eye Tours, Wildland Tours, and lots of Bird-The-Rock clients!

Black-backed Woodpeckers are regular but somewhat uncommon in Newfoundland ... we were fortunate to bump into several during our hikes through older growth forest.

Black-backed Woodpeckers are regular but somewhat uncommon in Newfoundland … we were fortunate to bump into several during our hikes through older growth forest.

The sheer number of seabirds, including Common Murre, can overwhelm visitors to Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. Here a small flurry zip past our boat.

The sheer number of seabirds, including Common Murre, can overwhelm visitors to Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. Here a small flurry zip past our boat.

A Humpback Whale cruises past some beautiful sea stacks in Trinity Bay.

A Humpback Whale cruises past some beautiful sea stacks in Trinity Bay.

Check out the white upperside on those big fins ... one of the feautres that separates Atlantic Humpback Whales from their cousins in the Pacific.

Check out the white upperside on those big fins … one of the features that separates Atlantic Humpback Whales from their cousins in the Pacific.

A Razorbill stands stoic on Gull Island (part of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve). This is one of the best places to see this very classy-looking bird.

A Razorbill stands stoic on Gull Island (part of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve). This is one of the best places to see this very classy-looking bird.

Visiting the historic town of Trinity is a highlight for many tours, and it lso makes a great backdrop for a boat tour!

Visiting the historic town of Trinity is a highlight for many tours, and it also makes a great backdrop for a boat tour!

Blue Flag Irises flank a cannon that still stands guard at the entrance to Trinity's storied harbour.

Blue Flag Irises flank a cannon that still stands guard at the entrance to Trinity’s storied harbour.

The Newfoundland race of Red Crossbill (percna) is considered enedmic to the island, and is currently considered a "species at risk" in the province.

The Newfoundland race of Red Crossbill (percna) is considered endemic to the island, and is currently considered a “species at risk” in the province.

Pine Siskins are among my favourite birds -- understated but beautiful and fun to watch.

Pine Siskins are among my favourite birds — understated but beautiful and fun to watch.

Some very classy butterflies also made the highlight list, including the small but brilliant Northern Blue.

Some very classy butterflies also made the highlight list, including the small but brilliant Northern Blue.

Atlantic Puffins, our provincial bird, can be found at several colonies along the coast.

Atlantic Puffins, our provincial bird, can be found at several colonies along the coast.

An Otter stakes claim to his little piece of shoreline.

An Otter stakes claim to his little piece of shoreline.

Arctic Terns sit on the beach at Holyrood Pond, showing off their catch.

Arctic Terns sit on the beach at Holyrood Pond, showing off their catch.

A female Mourning Warbler was spotted carrying food. This is a very scarce breeder on the Avalon Peninsula, but becomes more common further west on the island.

A female Mourning Warbler was spotted carrying food. This is a very scarce breeder on the Avalon Peninsula, but becomes more common further west on the island.

This rare yellow form of Pitcher Plant (our provincial flower) was found near Fort Point, Trinity Bay.

This rare yellow form of Pitcher Plant (our provincial flower) was found near Fort Point, Trinity Bay.

Sometimes we got up close and personal with a curious whale!

Sometimes we got up close and personal with a curious whale!

A tranquil moment along the Salmonier River.

A tranquil moment along the Salmonier River.

Caribou were a bit elusive this summer, but we did run into a few on the barrens of the southern Avalon.

Caribou were a bit elusive this summer, but we did run into a few on the barrens of the southern Avalon.

While Tufted Ducks are common during winter, summer sightings are few and far between. We were fortunate to see this immature male hanging out at a city pond.

While Tufted Ducks are common during winter, summer sightings are few and far between. We were fortunate to see this immature male hanging out at a city pond.

This Common (Eurasian Green-winged) Teal (left) was another summer surprise. It was hanging out with a regular Green-winged Teal in a small pond in St. Mary's Bay.

This Common (Eurasian Green-winged) Teal (left) was another summer surprise. It was hanging out with a regular Green-winged Teal in a small pond in St. Mary’s Bay.

The archaeological dig at the Colony of Avalon (Ferryland) showcases one of North America's earliest European settlements.

The archaeological dig at the Colony of Avalon (Ferryland) showcases one of North America’s earliest European settlements.

Magnolia Warblers make for colourful additions to any day of birding on the island.

Magnolia Warblers make for colourful additions to any day of birding on the island.

A male Yellow-rumped Warbler checks out his territory.

A male Yellow-rumped Warbler checks out his territory.

It was an awesome summer with some many highlights … many of which could never be captured with a camera!

Rearview Mirror: Looking Back on a Busy Summer!

It’s hard to believe Christmas is drawing near, and I’m still catching up on photos and stories from summer!

This was a very busy summer at BirdTheRock … sharing Newfoundland’s incredible birds & nature with visitors from all over the world. I led two wonderful tours of the Avalon Peninsula for Eagle Eye Tours, three “Newfoundland Adventures” for my friends at Wildland Tours, and hosted plenty of other guests in between. We regaled in the spectacle of amazing seabird colonies; scoured forests for reclusive northern songbirds; tramped over barren headlands in search of special butterflies; admired beautiful orchids and other wildflowers; cruised on the ocean (both calm and rough!) as whales frolicked around our boat; and enjoyed lots of stunning scenery & landscapes along the way!

Below is the first installment of photo highlights from a wonderful summer in Newfoundland (and these are just a sampling!). Thank you to all the wonderful people who shared these experiences with me!

This Black Guillemots proved to be among my favourite photo subjects this summer. We see many of them on tours, but not often on land at such close range.

This Black Guillemots proved to be among my favourite photo subjects this summer. We see many of them on tours, but not often on land at such close range.

Common Murres breed in several large colonies around the Newfoundland coast, especially at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve where several hundred thousand can be seen on boat tours!

Common Murres breed in several large colonies around the Newfoundland coast, especially at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve where several hundred thousand can be seen on boat tours!

There were a smaller number of icebergs around the Avalon compared to last year, but still a few beauties to be enjoyed.

There were a smaller number of icebergs around the Avalon compared to last year, but still a few beauties to be enjoyed.

Whales are always a highlight during summer tours in Newfoundland,. This Minke Whale shirked its reputation as being elusive and put on a great show for us.

Whales are always a highlight during summer tours in Newfoundland. This Minke Whale shirked its reputation as being elusive and put on a great show for us.

Of course, Humpback Whales are the real showboats of the North Atlantic, and they didn't disappoint.

Of course, Humpback Whales are the real showboats of the North Atlantic, and they didn’t disappoint.

Northern Fulmar are regular off our coast, but only breed here in small numbers. We were fortunate to observe a few pairs on every trip this summer!

Northern Fulmar are regular off our coast, but only breed here in small numbers. We were fortunate to observe a few pairs on every trip this summer!

Butterflies make a wonderful addition to a day on the headlands - especially the beautiful Short-tailed Swallowtail. These critters have a very restricted range, making Newfoundland the best place in the world to find them.

Butterflies make a wonderful addition to a day on the headlands – especially the beautiful Short-tailed Swallowtail. These critters have a very restricted range, making Newfoundland the best place in the world to find them.

Lots of wonderful scenery and culture to be found on our tours ... these lobster pots were sitting on a wharf in beautiful King's Cove, Bonavista Bay.

Lots of wonderful scenery and culture to be found on our tours … these lobster pots were sitting on a wharf in beautiful King’s Cove, Bonavista Bay.

Northern Gannets are among the most majestic seabirds in the world, and we enjoyed stunning looks at thousands of them at Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve.

Northern Gannets are among the most majestic seabirds in the world, and we enjoyed stunning looks at thousands of them at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve.

Bakeapples are prized in Newfoundland. Later in the summer, this little flower will have turned into a delicious (though difficult to pick) berry that brings a smile to many faces in this province. You have to try a Bakeapple tart if you're visiting!

Bakeapples are prized in Newfoundland. Later in the summer, this little flower will have turned into a delicious (though difficult to pick) berry that brings a smile to many faces in this province. You have to try a Bakeapple tart if you’re visiting!

Caplin may be a little fish, but they are a big cog in the wheel of life here.

Caplin may be a little fish, but they are a big cog in the wheel of life here.

Caplin school along the coast and spawn on our beaches every summer. They are an essential food source for larger fish, whales, and the many many breeding seabirds that call Newfoundland home this time of year.

Caplin school along the coast and spawn on our beaches every summer. They are an essential food source for larger fish, whales, and the many many breeding seabirds that call Newfoundland home this time of year.

Caplin are also harvested as food by people, and many that have washed up on the beaches are collected for use as fertilizer in vegetable gardens. The little fish that gives a lot!

Caplin are also harvested as food by people, and many that have washed up on the beaches are collected for use as fertilizer in vegetable gardens. The little fish that gives a lot!

A scene from the big barachois at St. Vincent's, where whales often gather to chase Caplin and put off a great show right along the beach!

A scene from the big barachois at St. Vincent’s, where whales often gather to chase Caplin and put off a great show right along the beach!

Here, a young Humpback does a sounding dive with the historic town of Trinity in the background.

Here, a young Humpback does a sounding dive with the historic town of Trinity in the background.

Newfoundland has a wide variety of wildflowers throughout the summer, but few are as popular as the Blueflag Iris.

Newfoundland has a wide variety of wildflowers throughout the summer, but few are as popular as the Blueflag Iris.

Traditional bread sits on a table at the Colony of Avalon, freshly baked the old-fashioned way in the wood-fired oven behind it.

Traditional bread sits on a table at the Colony of Avalon, freshly baked the old-fashioned way in the wood-fired oven behind it.

A wattled fence, also built the old-fashioned way, surrounds a traditional vegetable garden.

A wattled fence, also built the old-fashioned way, surrounds a traditional vegetable garden.

A Northern Waterthrush poses for a photo during on of our morning bird walks.

A Northern Waterthrush poses for a photo during one of our morning bird walks.

Privacy please! This dragonfly nymph is caught in the act of shedding its skin.

Privacy please! This dragonfly nymph is caught in the act of shedding its skin.

Fog sits over the cit of St. John's on an otherwise beautiful, sunny day. Fog is never far away along our coast, and can add a touch of character to our already stunning scenery!

Fog sits over the cit of St. John’s on an otherwise beautiful, sunny day. Fog is never far away along our coast, and can add a touch of character to our already stunning scenery!

A Common Yellowthroat announces its territory - probably trying to "shoo" away the humans that are traipsing along the trail.

A Common Yellowthroat announces its territory – probably trying to “shoo” away the humans that are traipsing along the trail.

Our groups are always on an adventure! Try finding a face without a smile ;)

Our groups are always on an adventure! Try finding a face without a smile 😉

Catching Up (with a White-winged Tern!!)

It has been an extremely busy summer … which I guess is a good thing when you’re in the ecotourism business 😉 Between Bird⋅The⋅Rock clients and commercial tours with my friends at Wildland and Eagle Eye Tours, I’ve had many opportunities to share the wonderful birds & nature of Newfoundland with visitors from all over the world, as well as lead a fun birding tour in beautiful New Brunswick! With that in mind, I now have a lot of catching up to do – so expect a full summer’s worth of great stories and photo highlights here on the blog over the next few weeks!!

However, the first “catching up” I had to do this week was with a very rare tern that showed up in Newfoundland while I was away. While leading a birding tour in New Brunswick, I received a series of texts about a WHITE-WINGED TERN that had been discovered in Conception Bay South – just 20 minutes from my home! As painful as it was, I soon learned that it seemed to be settled and had some routine habits – a good sign that it might hang around for a few days. Five days later, after concluding the tour, I was headed home and focused on seeing this beautiful bird for myself … until foggy weather in St. John’s forced the cancellation of my flight! Following an unplanned night in Montreal and a reroute through Toronto (my sixth province that month), I finally arrived home on the evening of Tuesday, August 25.

This breeding plumaged White-winged Tern was a very unexpected find when discovered by local birder Paul Linegar on August 19. It is normally found in southeastn Europe and Asia (wintering in in Africa and Australia), and is a very rare wanderer to North America.

This breeding plumaged White-winged Tern was a very unexpected find when discovered by local birder Paul Linegar on August 19. It is normally found in southeastern Europe and Asia (wintering in Africa and Australia), and is a very rare wanderer to North America.

The next morning, I headed straight to Chamberlain’s Pond where the tern was known to feed regularly throughout the day. I scanned the pond and, seeing nothing, stepped out of the car – when THE tern immediately flew in off the ocean and directly in front of me!! It continued to course around the far side of the pond, flying acrobatics and hawking insects off the water’s surface, for about 10 minutes before flying over my head again and out over the ocean, headed towards the nearby marina where it had been originally discovered. I relocated it there a short while later, but it was too far to enjoy or photograph. After some poking around, I found a public access to the long breakwater/sandbar opposite the marina and made the 15 minute stroll along its length to where I had last seen it. It was nowhere to be found, so I waited patiently – until it suddenly appeared out of nowhere and flew by just metres away! Fortunately I was able to raise my camera and snap off a few photos as it glided past – not perfect, but still precious! What a stunning and graceful bird!

WWTE_Aug26_7823

This beautiful bird represents the first record of White-winged Tern for the province – one that local birders may have dreamed about but never “really” expected to see here.

The black underwing coverts seen in this photo are an important feature, distinguishing this mega rarity from the very similar Black Tern (which while still somewhat rare in Newfoundland is by far the more expected species).

The black underwing coverts seen in this photo are an important feature, distinguishing this mega rarity from the very similar Black Tern (which while still somewhat rare in Newfoundland is by far the more expected species).

Notably, two other exciting birds have been reported recently. A moulting adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL has been spotted in east St. John’s several times over the past two weeks – a virtually annual visitor here but still a huge rarity for North America in general. Far less expected, a highly probably BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS was reported by a fisherman near Cape St. Mary’s on August 29 – a huge rarity that we are hoping will be spotted again!

Stay tuned to the blog for a series of reports on our adventures this past summer!

Lots of amazing birding, whales, scenery and fun this summer ... check back soon for some photo highlights!

Lots of amazing birding, whales, scenery and fun this summer … check back soon for some photo highlights!

BLGU_3867

Another teaser from my most recent adventure - an Eagle Eye Tours trip to New Brunswick and the beautiful Bay of Fundy!

Another teaser from my most recent adventure – an Eagle Eye Tours trip to New Brunswick and the beautiful Bay of Fundy!

Newfoundland’s Codroy Valley – Beautiful AND Birdy!

I spent most of last week visiting one of my favourite places in our beautiful province – the Codroy Valley. Located 900 km away in the very SW corner of the island, it’s not a place I have the opportunity to go very often … but I cherish every chance I get. Being much closer to the Maritime provinces both geographically (it’s a mere 150 km from Cape Breton) and ecologically, it is home to the greatest diversity of landbirds in all of Newfoundland. A number of species wander there regularly that are otherwise very uncommon or rare in the rest of Newfoundland, and a few have pushed the limits of their breeding range to include this small pocket of Acadian forest habitat. There are easily a dozen species that you can expect to find here but nowhere else in Newfoundland!

There is stunning scenery at every turn in the Codroy Valley. This beautiful vista across the estuary and marsh, with rolling fields and the snow-capped Long Range Mountains in the background, was right from our cabin window!

There is stunning scenery at every turn in the Codroy Valley. This beautiful vista across the estuary and marsh, with rolling fields and the snow-peppered Long Range Mountains in the background, was right from our cabin window!

I was invited to participate in the Feather & Folk Nature Festival – a relatively new and growing celebration of birds and culture. My dad joined me for the visit, and we soaked in the solitude, abundant nature and breathtaking vistas for four full days. I shared a selection of photos and interesting tidbits about birding in Newfoundland during a public presentation, led five fun outings with a group of eager birders, and chatted with locals about their wonderful piece of the world. I even enjoyed an opportunity to chat about the future of birding tourism both locally and throughout the province with representatives of the tourism and business communities.

Great Blue Heron is the unofficial mascot for the Codroy Valley. It is the only place in our province that this species is known ot breed (although anecdotally it may be spreading). This one greeted us from a treetop overlooking the estuary at sunrise.

Great Blue Heron is an unofficial mascot for the Codroy Valley. It is the only place in our province that this species is known to breed (although anecdotally it may be spreading). This one greeted us from a treetop overlooking the estuary at sunrise.

It was a fantastic trip … amazing birds, stunning scenery and so many wonderful people! The lush forests here are full of birds – and it is apparent as a rich chorus of song bubbles out from the tangled mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees at every stop. The large estuaries of the Grand Codroy and Little Codroy rivers are home to the island’s best variety of waterfowl, and the sandy beach at the river mouth is home to several shorebirds including the endangered Piping Plover. There was never a lack of birds or adventures … only a lack of time. I’m already looking forward to next year!!

*** I am planning to offer a week-long birding tour of Western Newfoundland (Codroy Valley & Gros Morne National Park) that will be scheduled to take in this excellent festival — details to be announced soon!! If you might be interested in joining me, please let me know and save the dates of June 1-7 (exact dates TBD). ***

The forests of the Codroy Valley seem more alive with birds than anywhere else in the province. Even relatively common species like this American Redstart seem to be present in far greater numbers.

The forests of the Codroy Valley seem more alive with birds than anywhere else in the province. Even relatively common species like this American Redstart seem to be present in far greater numbers.

Some species are considered to be

Some species are considered to be “Codroy specialties”. Blackburnian Warbler breed in several areas of tall spruce forest here, but not elsewhere in Newfoundland. We managed to find at least three during a morning walk along Brooms Brook Road.

Brooms Brook,  called

Brooms Brook, called “warbler alley” by locals, is known for hosting several species of warbler that are more typical of the Maritimes and not found elsewhere on the island.

Another local

Another local “specialty” is the Bobolink. This species was once more widespread across the island, but has seen drastic population declines in recent decades is now considered a “species at risk” in our province. Its last real foothold in Newfoundland seems to be a few hay fields in this beautiful valley.

BOBO_June6_0469

Colours really seem to pop here on the southwest coast ...

Colours really seem to pop here on the southwest coast …

Sometimes the view can distract me from the birding! I had to stop just after sunrise to take in this beautiful scene over the estuary.

Sometimes the view can distract me from the birding! I had to stop just after sunrise to take in this beautiful scene over the estuary.

Philadelphia Vireo is another species that occurs more regularly here than the rest of the island - it is scarce at best in other parts of western Newfoundland and rare anywhere else.

Philadelphia Vireo is another species that occurs more regularly here than the rest of the island – it is scarce at best in other parts of western Newfoundland and rare anywhere else.

Eastern Kingbirds are regular visitors from the Maritime provinces in spring, and may even breed here sporadically. A number were spotted last week, including this obliging bird in Upper Ferry.

Eastern Kingbirds are regular visitors from the Maritime provinces in spring, and may even breed here sporadically. A number were spotted last week, including this obliging bird in Upper Ferry.

My birding group enjoying looks at the flame-orange undersides of a Blackburnian Warbler, singing from the top of a black spruce.

My birding group enjoying looks at the flame-orange undersides of a Blackburnian Warbler, singing from the top of a black spruce.

This Snowshoe Hare was munching grass along the roadside during my first morning out. I saw numerous during the week, suggesting it has been a good spring for them.

This Snowshoe Hare was munching grass along the roadside during my first morning out. I saw numerous during the week, suggesting it has been a good spring for them.

Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were calling at many locations, although most refused to cooperate for photos.

Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were calling at many locations, although most refused to cooperate for photos.

We were fortunate enough to find a pair of Piping Plovers on the beach at Searston - the female tending to a nest. Every nest is a positive sign for this endangered species, especially in Newfoundland where appropriate habitat (large sandy beaches) is somewhat rare in its own right.

We were fortunate enough to find a pair of Piping Plovers on the beach at Searston – the female tending to a nest. Every nest is a positive sign for this endangered species, especially in Newfoundland where appropriate habitat (large sandy beaches) is somewhat rare in its own right.

Another locally uncommon shorebird is Willet. Although a small number do breed a at one or two locations further north along the coast, spotting one in the Codroy Valley was notable.

Another locally uncommon shorebird is Willet. Although a small number do breed at one or two locations further north along the coast, spotting one in the Codroy Valley was notable.

The low cloud and threatening rain over the Long Range Mountains was a beautiful sight ... even if rain was the last thing we wanted!

The low cloud and threatening rain over the Long Range Mountains was a beautiful sight … even if rain was the last thing we wanted!

Typical of the region, a band of rain hanging tight to the mountains was clearing as we drove north from the Cape Ray area, and much nicer weather awaited us back in the valley.

Typical of the region, a band of rain hanging tight to the mountains was clearing as we drove north from the Cape Ray area, and much nicer weather awaited us back in the valley.

Northern Parula is another Maritime species that hs expanded across the Gulf of St. Lawrence and now seems to breed regularly (though in small numbers) in the Codroy Valley.

Northern Parula is another Maritime species that has expanded across the Gulf of St. Lawrence and now seems to breed regularly (though in small numbers) in the Codroy Valley.

“Mainlanders” laugh at will, but Red-winged Blackbird is actually a good species to see in Newfoundland. They are sparse at best, and may not breed regularly away from the island’s SW corner.

TableMountains_0200

A Gray Catbird was a good find on our last morning outing. This species seems to occur here in small numbers each spring, although breeding status has not been confirmed.

A Gray Catbird was a good find on our last morning outing. This species seems to occur here in small numbers each spring, although breeding status has not been confirmed.

Mourning Warblers are always fun to see, despite being a little more widespread than some of the other Codroy species. This one was actually photographed in central Newfoundland on the way home.

Mourning Warblers are always fun to see, despite being a little more widespread than some of the other Codroy species. This one was actually photographed in central Newfoundland on the way home.

We were lucky enough to bump into this Olive-sided Flycatcher along the Wetland Trail on our very first group walk. It wasn't calling, but seemed at home on top of a large dead snag. This species is another provincial

We were lucky enough to bump into this Olive-sided Flycatcher along the Wetland Trail on our very first group walk. It wasn’t calling, but seemed at home on top of a large dead snag. This species is another provincial “species at risk” – one of four such species we saw last week!

And there is always something more to see than

And there is always something more to see than “just” birds. American Toads are not as well established in eastern Newfoundland, so it was fun to see several here in the Codroy Valley.

This young Baltimore Oriole was visiting a hummingbird feeder in Millville ... another Maritime species that occasionally makes its way to the Codroy for a visit in spring.

This young Baltimore Oriole was visiting a hummingbird feeder in Millville … another Maritime species that occasionally makes its way to the Codroy for a visit in spring.

Cedar Waxwings were abundant in some areas of the valley this spring.

Cedar Waxwings were abundant in some areas of the valley this spring.

The towns of Codroy and Cape Anguille in the northwest part of the Valley are more typical of coastal Newfoundland -- rugged coastlines and lovely ocean vistas.

The towns of Codroy and Cape Anguille in the northwest part of the Valley are more typical of coastal Newfoundland — rugged coastlines and lovely ocean vistas.

CapeRay_9102

There were a few early butterflies enjoying the sun, including Spring Azures like this one.

There were a few early butterflies enjoying the sun, including Spring Azures like this one.

Two Eastern Kingbirds even dropped in to visit us at our cabins, flycatching from the fence in front of our deck. Goes to show that you don't have to look hard to find great birds in the Codroy Valley!

Two Eastern Kingbirds even dropped in to visit us at our cabins, flycatching from the fence in front of our deck. Goes to show that you don’t have to look hard to find great birds in the Codroy Valley!

It was an awesome visit and a wonderful festival. I can't wait to go back next year. Want to join me???

It was an awesome visit and a wonderful festival. I can’t wait to go back next year. Want to join me???

A big thank-you to the wonderful people of the Codroy Valley for making us feel so welcome, and to the Codroy Valley Area Development Association for inviting me to participate in this excellent festival!!

Off the Rock: Hawaii (Part 5: Maui)

It’s been a long and mostly uneventful winter in Newfoundland. With the latest snowstorms billowing around me and the final stages of some tedious contract work spread out before me, I’ve been day-dreaming about an exotic getaway. Several of my friends are currently birding in far-flung, tropical places … including Hawaii, where I was fortunate enough to co-lead a birding adventure for Eagle Eye Tours exactly one year ago this week (March 2014).

I wrote a four-part blog series about that tour last spring, but ran out of steam before telling you about the post-tour excursion that co-leader Jody Allair and I made to Maui at the end of the trip. Now seems like the perfect time to remember …

Maui (March 23-24, 2014)

After bidding farewell to our wonderful tour group, Jody Allair and I caught a morning flight from Honolulu to Maui for our own little excursion. Maui is home to three endemic songbirds that cannot be found on the other islands (sadly, there were others that are now extinct). However, two of those can only be found in the Wakamoi Nature Preserve which is closed to commercial tour groups. Fortunately, Jody had been able to arrange a private hike with a local Nature Conservancy volunteer (thanks Chuck!), and we were stoked at the opportunity to go birding there!

We arrived at the Kahului airport, picked up our car and headed straight for nearby Kanaha Pond. Here we enjoyed a variety of wetland birds, including more than a dozen Hawaiian (Black-necked) Stilts, five Hawaiian Coots, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderling, Black-crowned Night Herons and a pair of Northern Shovelers. Three Grey Francolins were skulking near the entrance. (Unfortunately, we also discovered that my spotting scope had not fared so well on the latest flight and was no longer working — luckily it hadn’t happened earlier in the tour!)

Hawaiian (Black-necked) Stilt

Hawaiian (Black-necked) Stilt

However, our sights were fixed on the heights of Haleakala as it loomed above us — and that’s just where we headed. After checking in at the fantastic lodgings Jody had booked, we made our way straight for Hosmer Grove in Haleakala National Park, where we dodged some rain showers and strolled the trails. A fine mix of native and introduced species rose up to greet us – Iiwi and Apapane are abundant here, while a few Hawaii Amakihi were hanging out near the parking lot. Japanese White-eyes were singing in the rain, and Pacific Golden Plovers had to be herded off the road. A nice surprise was a Hwamei (Melodious Laughing Thrush) that happened to be sitting in the open in a lush valley below us … great looks at this very secretive bird! But the highlight was definitely a Maui Alauahio that dropped in for a brief visit – the first Maui endemic of our visit!

I'iwi is one of the most intriguing and recognizable native songbirds in Hawaii. It's long, curved bill is highly evolved to extract nectar from several species of lobelia - many of which are also endangered.

I’iwi is one of the most intriguing and recognizable native songbirds in Hawaii. Its long, curved bill is highly evolved to extract nectar from several species of lobelia – many of which are also endangered.

We began the long, winding ascent to the summit of Haleakala, just in time to join the busloads of “tourists” for a beautiful dusk above the clouds. But typical tourists we are not, and we soon slipped away to a less busy spot just below the actual summit, where we stood in wait as the sun began to set. It wasn’t long before it happened … Jody called out and pointed behind me. I turned in time to see a Hawaiian Petrel floating gracefully towards us. Seconds later, it banked and turned just 30 feet away (close enough to hear its wings flapping in the near silence) and then disappeared over the crater’s edge. I was kicking myself for not having the big lens on the camera, having been distracted by the amazing sunset happening “below”. But it was surreal and unforgettable moment, seeing an epic pelagic seabird almost 10,000 feet above the ocean, coming in to roost above the clouds inside an ancient volcano!! It was one of the things I had been most looking forward to the entire trip.

Me, overlooking the beautiful crater near the summit of Haleakala.

Me, overlooking the beautiful crater near the summit of Haleakala.

HaleakalaCanyon_5557 HaleakalaClouds_5600 HaleakalaSummit_5525

Haleakala Silversword is a threatened species that grows only on the high elevation, cinder slopes of this volcano. This resilient plant is strong enough to resist the wind and freezing temperature of this altitude, dehydration and the sun.

Haleakala Silversword is a threatened species that grows only on the high elevation, cinder slopes of this volcano. This resilient plant is strong enough to resist the wind and freezing temperature of this altitude, dehydration and the sun.

Darkness settled in over the next thirty minutes, but we heard and caught glimpses of about a dozen more Hawaiian Petrels as they arrived for the night … eerie yet intriguing calls as they searched out their own burrows within the protection of the crater. We also had great looks at a Hawaiian Hoary Bat, the only endemic mammal on the islands!

HaleakalaSunset_5595 HaleakaSunset_5608March 24

We rose early the next morning, returning to Hosmer Grove where we met our guide Chuck Probst at the entrance to Waikamoi Nature Preserve. This beautiful section of rain forest and alpine shrubland has been set aside as a sanctuary for hundreds of native species – birds, plants & insects; many of them endangered. The excitement was palpable, despite the clear threat of rain. The potential of seeing two more endemic songbirds, including one of the rarest and most special birds in the world, was the whole reason we had come to Maui.

The lush rain forests of Waikamoi Nautre Preserve are home to many native and endangered species ... including some very rare birds!

The lush rain forests of Waikamoi Nature Preserve are home to many native and endangered species … including some very rare birds!

Hawaii is also home to many interesting plants. This lobelia (cyanea) species is unique in that it evolved to have thors when it is young (like this plant), but not when it older and the flowers were out of reach of the flocks of roaming, flightless ducks that once roamed Maui! Sadly, those ducks are long extinct and these wonderful plants are endangered.

Hawaii is also home to many interesting plants. This lobelia (cyanea) species is unique in that it evolved to have thorns when it is young (like this plant), but not when it older and the flowers were out of reach of the flocks of roaming, flightless ducks that once roamed Maui! Sadly, those ducks are long extinct and these wonderful plants are endangered.

A close-up of the flower of this interesting lobelia ... a classic curved shape that co-evolved with the specialized bill of the I'iwi (see above).     A clos-up of the flower of this interesting lobelia ... a classic curved shape that co-evolved with the specialized bill of the I'iwi (see above).

A close-up of the flower of this interesting lobelia … a classic curved shape that co-evolved with the specialized bill of the I’iwi (see above).

Our party of three doubled as a couple (birders and Nature Conservancy supporters) and one of the very talented field researchers working in the preserve joined us for the hike. We were nearly turned back by a combination of rain and overflowing brooks that had to be “forged”, but our determined group pushed on. And it was worth it! The lush, mostly native forests of Waikamoi were unlike others we had experienced in Hawaii, and we could “feel” the specialness of this place. It was quite birdy despite periods of rain … Iiwi, Apapane and a few Hawaii Amakihi flitted around in the canopy. As many as seven Maui Alauahio popped in throughout the morning. But the real highlights came as we approached the end of the infamous “boardwalk”, when a brilliant male MAUI PARROTBILL popped into view! This incredible honeycreeper, with a thick parrot-like bill, is critically endangered … indeed, it is possible that less than 500 adults remain in about 35 km² of habitat on the northeastern slopes of Haleakala. It is so rare that even for those lucky enough to visit this restricted area, it is missed far more often than it is seen. We continued combing the area over the next hour or so and were rewarded with THREE Maui Parrotbills (two singing males and a female). In fact, the researcher that was with us also found two more off trail, and she was ecstatic. It was an exceptional event!!

Maui Alauahip is small, active and very bright little honeycreeper. We were fortunate to see several during our short visit to Maui, including this one at the very bottom of the Waikamoi boardwalk.

Alauahio (Maui Creeper) is a small, active and very bright little honeycreeper. We were fortunate to see several during our short visit to Maui, including this one at the very bottom of the Waikamoi boardwalk.

In a strange twist, we found it harder to see Akohekohe (Crested Honeycreeper), which is generally the easier of the two. We did have good looks at one (imm) and fleeting glimpses of 2-3 others. Jody and I almost floated out of the valley and back to the trailhead. (However, due the persistent rain and the need to keep my camera tucked safely in the bag, I was unable to photograph any of these wonderful birds – a minor and insignificant complaint!)

Waikamoi Nature Preserve protects one of the most special and critically endangered habitats in the world.

Waikamoi Nature Preserve protects one of the most special and critically endangered habitats in the world.

Another unexpected, and very cool, find in the depths of Waikamoi Nature Preserve was this Carnivorous Caterpillar. This family of caterpillar, endemic to the Hawaiian islands, are unique in that they are predatorial. Their technique is straightforward ... lying in wait, when another insect wanders by it springs forward, snatches its prey and devours it. This one was on Jody's backpack, apparently looking for a BIG lunch!

Another unexpected, and very cool, find in the depths of Waikamoi Nature Preserve was this Carnivorous Caterpillar. This family of caterpillar, endemic to the Hawaiian islands, are unique in that they are predatorial. Their technique is straightforward … lying in wait, when another insect wanders by it springs forward, snatches its prey and devours it. This one was on Jody’s backpack, apparently looking for a BIG lunch!

With just a few hours ot spare before our long trip home, we snuck in a visit to Kealia Pond – and we had just 20 minutes to very quickly check the wetlands before the compound closed for the day. In addition to the expected species (e.g. Black-necked Stilts, Pacific Golden Plovers, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstones, Black-crowned Night Herons, Hawaiian Coots, Northern Shoveler), we also saw our one and only Semipalmated Plover (a continuing bird which was quite unusual for Hawaii) and only our second gull of the entire trip – a Bonaparte’s Gull. Five Nutmeg Mannikin, two Grey Francolin and a Red-crested Cardinal were hanging out along the road heading in to the pond.

Our final birding stop in Hawaii was at a non-descript location where a local had suggested we might find some Orange-cheeked Waxbills … one of the few remaining introduced songbirds left to see on this trip! It took us a while to find the spot, but when we did the birds were right on cue – just as promised. Our final “tick” of the trip.

And then the looooong trip home …

It was an absolutely amazing trip to one of the most incredible and special places on earth … from a purely natural history point of view of course 😉 Looking forward to the next one!

Winds, Waves & Winter Birds

January was a whirlwind of birding. Since the WINGS tour, I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the amazing scenery and wildlife of eastern Newfoundland with visiting birders from Texas (Jan 18-20), Ontario (Jan 23-27) and British Columbia (Jan 29). They all came with slightly different goals and targets, but everyone was keyed up to see the wonderful variety of birds that call this place home in winter.

The weather we experienced during those two weeks was also a whirlwind of sorts, spanning the gamut of the Avalon Peninsula’s infamously variable climate. January 18 was the coldest day of winter so far, and two birders from Texas (John & Tom) and I found ourselves facing very bitter winds on the edge of North America at Cape Spear. The stinging faces and numb fingertips were all worth it though, as we enjoyed watching a lone Dovekie feeding just offshore — a major target in the pocket. Throughout the next few days we enjoyed great views of other sought-after birds like Great Cormorants “sunning” on rock, dozens of Tufted Ducks at point-blank range, Black-headed Gulls bathing in small patches of open water, and beautiful Eurasian Wigeon dabbling with the local ducks. We even managed to relocate three White-winged Crossbill in Ferryland (scarce this year!) and a Snowy Owl keeping watch over the tundra south of Cappahayden.

DOVE_Jan12_2158

Dovekie is among the most sought-after species by visiting birders – and January is prime time to see them.

Eurasian Wigeon are uncommon visitors to Newfoundland, but they sure do add a little spice to our winters!

Eurasian Wigeon are uncommon visitors to Newfoundland, but they sure do add a little spice to our winters!

American Wigeon, the more expected species on this side of the Atlantic, aren't too shabby themselves.

American Wigeon, the more expected species on this side of the Atlantic, aren’t too shabby themselves.

Much of January was punctuated with high winds, including a storm on January 25 that brought gusts of well over 130 km/h and two days of storm surges along the island’s coast. Hoping for a rush of seabirds being blown onshore, visiting birder Judith and I met the storm along the Avalon’s southern shore. Black-legged Kittiwakes, which are usually far offshore in January, glided by and Dovekie zipped past as if it were a perfectly nice afternoon, while small groups of Common Eider bobbed up and down on the breakers. Unfortunately, many of the more pelagic species we were gunning for failed to show up, but the incredible winds, waves and angry seas made for a memorable experience!

Waves_Jan25_3997 Waves_Jan25_4009 Waves_Jan25_4048By month’s end, a mild spell and generous rains had opened up a bit of extra standing water and cleared away most of the snow cover. Testament to that is the fact that we were able to drive all the way to Cape Race several times – very unusual for this time of year. The open road opened a door to some excellent birding – at least two Snowy Owls, rafts of Common Eider, dozens of Red-necked Grebe, all three species of Scoter, and a pair of Harlequin Ducks. Even more interesting was a group of 32 Woodland Caribou traversing the barrens – an encouraging sign for this struggling herd.

It's been another great season for Snowy Owls. As usual, most tend to young ones - so this adult male was a nice surprise!

It’s been another great season for Snowy Owls. As usual, most tend to be young ones – so this adult male was a nice surprise!

SNOW_Jan272015_4151

Note the dark barring on this owl, identifying it as either young or female.

The Avalon herd of Woodland Caribou has seen incredible decline over the past few decades, so seeing a group of 32 was very heartwarming. Lovely animals!

The Avalon herd of Woodland Caribou has seen incredible decline over the past few decades, so seeing a group of 32 was very heartwarming. Lovely animals!

Caribou_Jan272015_4139Walking trails had turned to ice, feeling more like skating rinks than paths – but that didn’t stop Fran (from British Columbia) from making the best of our day out. We crept along the north side of Long Pond, stopping to enjoy the company of several Boreal Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches as they took seeds right from my hand. Tufted Ducks, Greater Scaup and even an American Coot entertained at us at several ponds, while a lone Purple Sandpiper, Long-tailed Ducks and dozens of Common Eider were among the highlights at Cape Spear.

Of course, birds aren't the only stars of our show! We also enjoyed seals, otters and even a humpback whale this January.

Of course, birds aren’t the only stars of our show! We also enjoyed seals, otters and even a humpback whale this January.

A Great Cormorant drying its wings in the heart of historic St. John's.

A Great Cormorant drying its wings in the heart of historic St. John’s.

SNOW_Jan272015_4171What a great month! I wish they all could be like January 😉

WINGS Tour 2015: Newfoundland’s Winter Birds

Winter is a fun and special time to go birding in Newfoundland – which is why a group of WINGS tour participants brave the cold weather to visit here every January. This year, just two intrepid birders made the trip – from two very different parts of the United States, Maryland and Washington state! And I had the pleasure of sharing the wonderful birds & beautiful scenery of the eastern Avalon Peninsula with them.

A wintery morning at Cape Spear.

A wintery morning at Cape Spear.

We started the five-day tour with a visit to Cape Spear – the easternmost point in North America and a perfect place to spot some of our main targets for the week. It didn’t take long to find the local flock of Purple Sandpipers, first fluttering past the point and then taking shelter among the jagged rock jetties. A few small flocks of Common Eider flew by during our visit, and a group of ~40 Long-tailed Ducks bobbed up and down in the distance. An immature Peregrine Falcon (of the northern tundrius race) appeared out of nowhere, briefly checking us out before disappearing over the nearby hills. We even found six Dovekie quite close to the rocks below us. But the real highlight was finding another Dovekie actively feeding just metres from the shoreline at Blackhead village – it paid little attention to us as we sat on the snow-covered beach and soaked in the close-up views and photo opportunities!

Dovekie are always a big hit on winter tours, and this one really entertained as it fed in the shallow waters just metres away.

Dovekie are always a big hit on winter tours, and this one really entertained as it fed in the shallow waters just metres away.

The rest of the first two days were spent birding in St. John’s, where we enjoyed the full smorgasbord of exciting winter birds that the city has to offer. Among the nine species of duck hanging out in local ponds, the dozens of Tufted Ducks were a hands-down favourite. Both American and the much rarer Eurasian Green-winged Teals were seen, allowing for great comparisons of these two surprisingly unique subspecies. We enjoyed point blank looks at Great Cormorant in the harbour, as well as a very confiding adult Peregrine Falcon perched in a tree overlooking Quidi Vidi lake. We even tracked down a very late and out-of-place Pine Warbler that has been hanging out in Bowring Park!

This adult Peregrine Falcon has been hanging out near Quidi Vidi lake and provided great looks for our WINGS participants!

This adult Peregrine Falcon has been hanging out near Quidi Vidi lake and provided great looks for our WINGS participants!

The classy looking Tufted Duck is another popular bird for visitors, and we saw nearly 70 this past week!

The classy looking Tufted Duck is another popular bird with visitors, and we saw nearly 70 this past week!

We found this drake Common (aka Eurasian Green-winged) Teal in a small city brook. I consider this a "pocket species", since maybe it will be split someday.

We found this drake Common (aka Eurasian Green-winged) Teal in a small city brook. I consider this a “pocket species”, since maybe it will be split someday.

Among the 100+ divers hanging out in St. John's is this odd-looking bird thought to be a Ring-necked Duck X Scaup hybrid. Cool!

Among the 100+ divers hanging out in St. John’s is this odd-looking bird thought to be a Ring-necked Duck X Scaup hybrid. Cool!

This Pine Warbler is out of its element here in the middle of our winter, but seems to be doing okay for itself thanks to a few helpful birders keeping the park stocked with food.

This Pine Warbler is out of its element here in the middle of our winter, but seems to be doing okay for itself thanks to a few helpful birders keeping the park stocked with food.

It's difficult to ignore the beautofulwinter scenery of North America's oldest city, even when you're busy birding.

It’s difficult to ignore the beautiful winter scenery of North America’s oldest city, even when you’re busy birding.

Gulls are an essential part of any winter tour in Newfoundland, and this week did not disappoint. We soaked in great looks and photo opportunities with 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 two Common (aka European Mew) Gulls! It was a great learning experience for both participants, who are now set to find and identify these rare northern visitors closer to home.

Visitors are often amazed at the variation among our wintering Iceland Gulls. The vast majority are of the "Kumlien's" race, but every now and then we encounter a candidate "glaucoides", like this one.

Visitors are often amazed at the variation among our wintering Iceland Gulls. The vast majority are of the “Kumlien’s” race, but every now and then we encounter a candidate “glaucoides”, like this one. Note the pure white wingtips and paler mantle compared to the more typical Kumlien’s Gulls in the background.

The third day brought beautiful (though cold!) weather, so we headed off to bird the beautiful coast of the southeast Avalon. Our first big highlight was finding three White-winged Crossbills feeding in a white spruce at Ferryland … a special and somewhat unexpected treat in what has been a sparse year for northern finches. Both the birds and the light cooperated for excellent photo opportunities, making for two happy participants and one very delighted guide!

This is one of three immature White-winged Crossbills we came across, feasting on the abundant white spruce cones. Most other conifers have had a poor cone crop this year.

This is one of three immature White-winged Crossbills we came across, feasting on the abundant white spruce cones. Most other conifers have had a poor cone crop this year.

Among other highlights were six Snow Buntings, a lingering Fox Sparrow, a very uncommon Horned Grebe and three more Dovekie. We were excited to find that, due to a relative lack of snow cover, we were able to drive the entire length of coastal road to Cape Race. Along the way we spotted three Snowy Owls on the tundra and at least fifteen Red-necked Grebes bobbing on the water. A large mixed flock of birds below the lighthouse consisted of ~320 White-winged Scoter, one Surf Scoter, a hundred Common Eider, two hundred Common Murre and at least five Thick-billed Murre.

The next day we headed north to Conception Bay, where ducks were the order of the day. We tallied a dozen species in the various harbours and inlets along the way, including 19 Eurasian Wigeon, 2 American Wigeon, 250 Greater Scaup, 50+ Common Goldeneye, 10 Bufflehead and dozens of both Common and Red-breasted Merganser. A pair of American Wigeon X Mallard hybrids were also noted (they have been hanging out in the area for several winters now).

Most scaup in Newfoundland are Greater Scaup, but careful observers can often pick out a Lesser Scaup or two (like this one).

Most scaup in Newfoundland are Greater Scaup, but careful observers can often pick out a Lesser Scaup or two (like this one).

The last day of this WINGS tour was spent around St. John’s, including another trip to Cape Spear. A much larger concentration of Common Eiders had built up since our earlier visit – with more than 800 spread out in three main flocks. Despite the much heavier, rolling seas we were able to spot a drake King Eider in one of the flocks – a great addition to the week and yet another lifer for one participant! On the way back to town, we picked up five Pine Grosbeaks flying over our heads, a Mourning Dove on a wire and eight Evening Grosbeak at a feeder we had (unsuccessfully) staked out earlier in the week. Our last new species for the week was an adult Bonaparte’s Gull cavorting with Black-headed Gulls in St. John’s harbour. We ended the tour on a high note with a confiding flock of ~100 Bohemian Waxwings feeding in an apple tree at eye level, four very cooperative Great Cormorants, and some very tame Boreal Chickadees eating seed right out of our hands – all great photo opportunities!

A walk in the woods this time of year can prove very quiet, although on this trail we did come across a few Boreal Chickadees and five Pine Grosbeak flying overhead.

A walk in the woods this time of year can prove very quiet, although on this trail we did come across a few Boreal Chickadees and five Pine Grosbeak flying overhead.

Great Cormorant often hang out in St. John's harbour - sometimes with a very neat and historic backdrop.

Great Cormorant often hang out in St. John’s harbour – sometimes with a very neat and historic backdrop.

GRCO_Jan162015_3502

A major highlight of our week was finding a flock of Bohemian Waxwings in the historic Battery neighbourhood With about one hundred birds and maybe seven apples, there quite a ruckus at times!

A major highlight of our week was finding a flock of Bohemian Waxwings in the historic Battery neighbourhood With about one hundred birds and maybe seven apples, there quite a ruckus at times!

BOWA_Jan162015_3151It was a fantastic week spent enjoying great birds & amazing scenery with some wonderful people. What more can I ask?!?!