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.

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

Kowa_Webinar

 

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??

 

 

Geese, Herons & Quality Time

I was thrilled this weekend to spend a fun morning birding with my oldest daughter, Emma (9) … a morning which quickly turned “epic” as we ended up scoring two ABA (North American) rarities together!

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Emma enjoying the second of two ABA (North American) rarities of our morning – a Gray Heron hanging out in Renews. A lifer for her, my second for Newfoundland, and just the ~5th record for the province and Canada.

It’s not always easy to find balance in life as a birder, professional nature guide and a parent of two busy girls. I have no shame admitting that I spend far less time birding “recreationally” for myself these days (I do, of course, spend a lot of time birding with tours and clients – but as fun as that is, it’s not quite the same) … and I spend most of my other weekends involved in an array of family activities. I encourage my girls to appreciate and explore nature and (especially) birds, but I have never pushed it on them. Much to my glee, Emma has been expressing lots of interest lately and has even been asking me to take her to see two rare PINK-FOOTED GEESE that showed up in St. John’s recently — something I was excited to make happen. We got up early on Saturday, grabbed a “birder’s breakfast” (Tim Horton’s muffin and coffee/hot chocolate!) and made the short drive across town under cover of darkness. The geese have been spending nights in a city pond, but consistently fly off within minutes of sunrise to spend the day at a currently unknown location — so the key to seeing them is to be early.

We were able to spot the two Pink-footed Geese, along with more than a dozen Canada Geese, through my Kowa scope while it was still quite dark. Joined by another local birder, we walked along the trail for a closer vantage point and waited for the light to trickle in, eventually enjoying longer and better looks. True to form, the entire flock of geese picked up shortly after sunrise and flew off over the nearby neighbourhood – no doubt to a farm field in nearby Kilbride or Goulds. The hadn’t stayed long enough to allow for decent photos, but our views has been excellent!

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Two Pink-footed Geese have been hanging out with a small flock of Canada Geese in Mount Pearl (just outside St. John’s) since at least October 24. As on most mornings, they flew off before the light got nice enough for decent photos, but still provided some great views.

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Emma celebrating her “lifer” Pink-footed Geese, spotted with the help of my Kowa scope well before the sun came up.

We still had the full morning ahead of us as we arrived back at the car, and were looking forward to some more birding … maybe driving around the local fields looking for the geese or a wayward Cattle Egret (numerous had been reported in eastern Newfoundland the past two days). Suddenly my phone buzzed with a message that an intriguing heron in Renews from the evening before had been confirmed as a mega-rare GRAY HERON and was still there this morning. Emma was gung-ho for the adventure, so we hit the highway south for what has always been one of my favourite birding locations. We chatted non-stop for the 1.5 hour drive (mostly about birds), and Emma even honed her eBird skills by entering a checklist all on her own.

We arrived at Renews to find fellow birder Peter Shelton looking at the Gray Heron on a rock across the inner bay – distant, but well within scope range. Emma was also thrilled to find a Harbour Seal on the rocks much closer to us. Eventually the heron picked up and flew around the harbour, eventually landing a little closer to the road on the other side where we enjoyed somewhat closer views … and met up with lots of other birders as they began to appear. Emma was in her glee enjoying the birds, meeting the other birders (although a little shy, I think she liked the attention she garnered as they youngest birder there!) and trying to photograph a very rare heron.

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My poor record shot of this huge rarity from Europe – a Gray Heron. Very similar to its North American cousin, the Great Blue Heron, it is distinguished using several key features such as clean white (versus rusty) thighs, lack of rufous in the leading edge of the wing, and even more subtle differences in bill and plumage patterns. Even in my less-than-ideal photos you can see the overall gray appearance of this bird, lacking the bluish tones of Great Blue Heron.

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Though pressed for time (afternoon obligations – did I mention our girls are busy?!?!), we made a few quick stops on the drive home enjoying other notable birds such as a beautiful Bald Eagle sitting right beside the road, a late Greater Yellowlegs, and even Emma’s first ever Mourning Dove (not overly common in these parts). All in all, it was incredible morning of birding and one of the most memorable adventures I’ve had the pleasure of sharing with Emma. I think she’s hooked, so I look forward to many more 😉

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A Year with KOWA Gear

“Optics” are an integral part of a birder’s life. Binoculars and (for many) spotting scopes are without a doubt the most important pieces of equipment we use … essential for almost every birding excursion or outing we make. And the more birding we do, the more important “quality” equipment becomes. We all want optics that are durable, weather-resistant, comfortable to use and, above all else, provide a bright & sharp image for our enjoyment.

I’ve owned and used several pairs of binoculars during my ~20 years of birding … starting with my father’s old Tasco tanks, which he used mostly for the occasional moose hunting trip. I bought my own first pair in university, when my birding hobby got serious, and moved up to a “mid-range” pair a few years later. I purchased my first scope in 2003 – a quality, second-hand one that had been only used a few times and was going for a “steal”. Those optics saw me through a lot of wonderful experiences – beautiful birds, rare sightings, and travel to some very cool places.

But last winter, I found myself needing to replace both my binoculars and my trusty scope. What better time for an upgrade to top-of-the-line equipment?!?! After a little research (reading reviews, chatting with a lot of birders in my network), it didn’t take long to decide that Kowa was the way to go. Kowa scopes are consistently rated at or near the top of the market for image and performance, and their new high-end line of binoculars were getting great reviews (although they hadn’t become popular in North American markets yet, so I knew very few birders who had them!). After talking with some of the lovely people at their North American offices, Kowa very generously offered to provide me with the gear I needed at a price I could appreciate. As a guide and tour leader, many birders from all over the world would enjoy an opportunity to try out, and likely be impressed by, their equipment every year.

I was like a kid on Christmas morning when the package arrived last March … and first impressions were everything I knew they would be. The sleek shape and elegant casing on both the scope and binoculars were a treat to look at, and the feel when I first picked them up were a real joy. These optics were made for my hands 😉  They had arrived just in the nick of time … I was leaving for a birding trip to Honduras the very next day, and the brand new Genesis 10.5×44 binoculars were going to get their first real test in that tropical paradise (I left the scope home for that adventure, but it has traveled everywhere with me since).

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I was honoured last year to earn the support of Kowa Optics, and upgraded my worn-out gear with their top quality equipment. I’ve had so much fun using this Prominar TSN-883 spotting scope and Genesis binoculars – and sharing the experience with so many of my guests. The optics are amazing!

I’ve been using my Kowa gear for well over a year now, so it’s time to tell you what I think. And, overall, I think it’s great! My new scope is a Kowa TSN-883 Prominar … an 88mm spotting scope that is often ranked the best in market by professional reviewers. I opted for the angled version – a switch from my old straight scope I loved so much – mostly because of  the flexibility it offers when birding with groups, as I almost always do. Angled scopes can be set up a lower level and still be accessible to people of most heights, and many birders insist that angled scopes are in general more comfortable and result in less neck strain when using it for long periods of time. It did take me a while to get used to the new perspective, but I have to say it’s been a positive change overall. That being said, the TSN scopes are available in both angled and straight models, and it’s really a matter of preference.

Despite the large objective size (88mm), the scope itself is relatively compact and light – making it easier than my previous model for both carrying and traveling. Without the eyepiece, it measures just 13.5 inches and was even able to fit in my carry-on satchel or camera bag when taking a flight (Note that Kowa also makes Prominar models in 77mm and compact 55mm sizes if travel and transport outweigh your need for a large objective). The TSN-883 has a magnesium alloy casing – making it lighter but reportedly just as strong as other brands in its class. The green finish on the casing is quite nice, although the lack of a rubber coating may leave it a little vulnerable to the elements. For added protection, I opted for a Kowa fitted scope cover which does a nice job of shielding the entire scope without making it impractical to use and has a very useful carrying strap. Of course, the scope itself is nitrogen purged and waterproof – like any optics at this end of the market should be.

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Kowa TSN-883 Prominar proudly at work … helping me score an increasingly rare “Newfoundland lifer”. Even the tiny Eared Grebe couldn’t hide on the open ocean with this beauty at my side 😉

All scopes in the Kowa Prominar line have one important thing in common – the objective lens is made of pure fluorite crystal, the standard in optical quality, and has a blend of Kowa’s special coatings to enhance both image and resilience. The result is a wonderful viewing experience – very bright, sharp and excellent colour resolution. Compared to my old scope, and most others that I’ve tried, the brightness of image really stands out when using my TSN-883 — and that matters! I’ve been able to use this scope at dusk and dawn, when many other scopes would have been all but useless. Brightness is also important when looking out over the dark waters of the ocean or on a grey foggy day (things we do a lot in Newfoundland). Birds and details appear very sharp in the scope, and focusing is fast and easy using the dual focusing wheel. Depth of field has been deep (wide?) enough that honing in on a subject isn’t impossible, but narrow enough that foreground and/or background are not too distracting. That sounds simple enough, but not every piece of optics can claim that “sweet spot” in the field of focusing. Notably, the image stays bright and sharp to the very edges of the image – something that can be annoying with lower quality lenses.

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Like all good birding buddies, my Kowa TSN-883 Prominar has been tagging along on all my adventures. Here it is trained on a Red-billed Tropicbird off the verandah of our hotel on Tobago (Trinidad & Tobago 2017)

I love the flexibility of zoom lenses, so I opted for the Kowa 20-60x eyepiece when choosing my gear. The ability to scan an area and look for birds at low magnification but zoom in on a distant target when necessary is a very useful thing – especially when you’re like me and spend a lot of time watching seabirds and shorebirds. Like the scope body, Kowa eyepieces are also nitrogen purged and waterproof – an important feature considering it is one part of the system that is always exposed to the weather when in use. The eyepiece connects easily to the body, but has a push-button release mechanism that keeps it safely in place until you actually “want” it to come off. Zooming occurs smoothly with a twist of the eyepiece, meaning its easier to stay on a target (even a moving one) when doing so. The image of course loses a little brightness at high magnifications, but less than I was used to with my old scope and zoom eyepiece … and sharpness remains surprisingly good even at 60x. I haven’t for a moment regretted my choice of eyepiece – but for those interested, there are several other options including a 30x wide angle and 25x long eye-relief models.

* Don’t just take my word for it … Many of my tour guests over the past year have commented on the clear, sharp and bright views they enjoyed while using my scope; including experienced birders who own or have used other top brands. Sometimes, it was as much a conversation piece as it was a piece of equipment 😉

As much as I use and enjoy my scope, it should come as no surprise that I (along with most birders) use my binoculars far more often. Binoculars are the essential, if not diagnostic, trademark of a birder — the one piece of equipment that makes us recognizable in the outdoors world, and allows us to enjoy our sport to its fullest. I “need” a quality pair of binoculars, and my new Kowa Genesis XD 10.5×44 did not disappoint.

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My Kowa Genesis 10.5x44s got their baptism by fire — joining me on a birding trip to Honduras just 24 hrs after they arrived. They performed exceptionally well in the humid climate and often dull understories we explored. And the birds we enjoyed together?? Wow.

The key feature of the Genesis XD binoculars is that they use the same extra low dispersion glass as the Prominar scopes, resulting in a very sharp, bright and colour-correct image. The improved viewing compared to my old binoculars was amazing – and easily compared to my experiences looking through similar high-end binoculars belonging to friends and colleagues (including Swarovski and Zeiss). I chose to go with the 10.5×44 model since I was already using 10x binoculars, and prefer the higher magnification for the amount of seawtaching I tend to do. That being said, many birders prefer 8x models for various reasons (wider field of view, less visible shake, etc.) and the Genesis 8.5×44 are equally well reviewed.

Another notable feature of these binoculars is the 44mm objective lenses (vs 42mm in most similar models). The difference may seem minimal, but is actually quite significant – the additional light produces a brighter image that really adds to the overall viewing experience and makes the binoculars usable in slightly dimmer situations (dawn, dusk and foul weather) than they might otherwise be. Interestingly, the objective lenses are threaded to allow the use of 46mm filters – not something that birders tend to do, but could very useful for those who (also?) use their binoculars for viewing the night sky. Combined with the larger magnification and objective size, I imagine these are ideal binoculars for people who dabble in both birding and stargazing.

The one down-side of the increased magnification and objective lenses is that it results in a somewhat larger, heavier pair of binoculars – in fact, they are notably heavier than most similar models. To be honest, I knew this before choosing them and was expecting it to be an issue (if minor), but have to admit that it has not. Even though I still use a traditional neckstrap, I have not noticed any neck strain from long period of use (note that I use an off-brand, cushioned strap that I have loved for years, and have not actually tried the Kowa strap that came with the binoculars). They do feel a bit heavy after holding them up for long periods, but they are so well shaped and comfortable to hold that the weight becomes an after-thought. All that beings said, the additional weight might be consideration for those who prefer lightweight optics, have strength/endurance issues with their arms, or tend to experience some shaking when using binoculars (I don’t like to say it, but especially “older” birders). Like the Kowa scopes and most high-end brands, the binoculars themselves are nitrogen purged and fully water/fog-proof for use in the real world.

Focusing with these binoculars is impressively smooth and comfortable – the central focusing wheel is large, well textured for gripping your finger, and adjusts both quickly and easily. Fine adjustments are easily made, but at the same time I don’t find it “too” sensitive – which can sometimes lead to frustration as you try to get the focus just right. As a birder with interests in broader aspects of nature, I often use my binoculars to look at wildflowers, butterflies and other things during my explorations — things that are sometimes relatively close. I have been very impressed with the “close focus” of these binoculars – coming in at well under 6ft (5.5ft in the specs) and as good as any binoculars I’ve used. In my opinion, this is a very important (and often under-rated) feature that helps set the best binoculars apart from others. If you’ve never enjoyed a colourful spring warbler at full frame in your binoculars, you’re missing out!

The Genesis binoculars have sturdy twist-up eye cups, which I have found to be very useful and stay in place when I’ve set them (an issue I have had with other pairs, when I would sometimes raise them to my eyes and discover one eye cup in the wrong position – occasionally making me miss a flitting bird!). The diopter (used for individually focusing each eye) also has a locking system that prevent it from changing unexpectedly – an issue I have also had with many other pairs. The reported eye relief on this model is 16mm – just on the verge of what most manufacturers/users would consider to be “long eye relief”. This makes them quite comfortable to use with the eye cups fully extended (which I prefer to block out peripheral light), and should be fine for users wearing eyeglasses (something I’ll learn more about over the next few months as I have just started wearing my first pair).

Kowa has also put a lot of thought and effort into the field of “digiscoping” (i.e. using their high-end scopes in combination with digital cameras and phones for photography and/or video). I hope to experiment with this more in the future!

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My Kowa gear has made a huge difference not only to my birding experience, but especially to that of my many clients throughout the past year. Many dozens of birders and nature-lovers enjoyed seeing some pretty fantastic things through my scope & binoculars — including life birds & spectacular displays of nature! A huge thanks to my friends at Kowa for helping me provide them with a top-notch experience.

Finally, a quick comment on customer service with Kowa – which I’ve had opportunity to experience twice since receiving my new optics. Although they have no Canadian offices (a slight inconvenience for us Canadian customers), folks working at their North American offices in California were quick to answer my questions and help in any way. After realizing a small piece (diopter ring) on my new binoculars arrived broken, they expedited a replacement piece to me that arrived within a few days. I also had a very unfortunate incident with my scope, causing the mount to break (due to a significant impact, and not due to any defect or shortfall in the scope itself). The service department at Kowa took care of it quickly, receiving and returning the perfectly repaired scope in excellent time (considering it had to go all the way to California). They have been wonderful to deal with when I need to (although I always hope I don’t!).

 

 

 

SEVENTEEN

Whoa … does time ever fly?!?! It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone … but not without lots of adventures. The year 2017 was a very exciting one here at 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. I have so much to tell … but as they say “a picture is worth a thousand words“, and maybe that’s the best way to share this long overdue summary of the year that was. Below are 17 photos from 2017; chosen to represent just a fraction of the many, many highlights from my year.

I apologize for my lapse in blog posts over the last few months – but be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram for more regular highlights and often daily updates from ongoing tours! I’ll continue to update this blog as often as I can 😉

Like every year, 2017 started off with some excellent winter birding right here in eastern Newfoundland. I had the pleasure of sharing great winter birds such as Dovekie, Thick-billed Murre, White-winged Crossbill, Bohemian Waxwing, Boreal Chickadee and friendly Gray Jays with a number of visiting birders. This photo was taken during the annual WINGS Birding Tour – and you can read more about that in an earlier blog post here.

I also joined Instagram this past winter –  yet another great way to share photos and highlights with people from all over the world. THIS photo of a Dovekie (taken several winters ago) turned out to be my most popular photo of 2017 – not surprising given how much people tend to love these cute little seabirds! Newfoundland is the most reliable place in North America to see Dovekie and a big part of the reason why birders visit here in winter.

I was honoured this year to earn the support of Kowa Optics, and upgraded my worn-out gear with their top quality equipment. I’ve had so much fun using this Prominar TSN-883 spotting scope and Genesis binoculars – and sharing the experience with so many of my guests. The optics are amazing! Stay tuned for an upcoming review of this Kowa swag here on the blog very soon.

In March, I joined Kisserup International Trade Roots and a handful of other Canadian birding and eco-tourism experts on an exploratory “mission” to Honduras (Read the two-part blog series and see LOTS of photos here!!). What I discovered was an incredibly beautiful place with wonderful people, amazing nature and especially birds, and so many opportunities for visiting birders and nature-lovers to soak it all in. Oh … AND we observed more than 250 species of birds along the way! I’m scheming up a Honduras birding tour for the near future – so stay tuned for details!!   (Photo: Spectacled Owl, Rio Santiago Nature Resort, Honduras)

I returned home from Honduras to find Newfoundland in the cold, icy grip of the Arctic. Prolonged northerly winds were pushing Arctic pack ice much further south than usual – encasing the entire northern and eastern coasts, and even wrapping around to fill bays and coves in the southeast. While spring pack ice was a normal part of my childhood growing up on the northeast coast, it rarely reached this far south and some communities were seeing it for the first time in living memory. With the ice came lots of seals (including more northerly Hooded Seals), Polar Bears and even a very wayward Arctic Fox to far-flung places around the island. Birds were impacted too — ducks, loons and other seabirds were corralled into small sections of open water waiting for the ice to move off. The ice lingered so long on parts of the northeast coast that fisheries were delayed or even canceled, adding a very human aspect to this unusual event.

Late winter and early spring can be a challenging time for birding – many of the winter species are beginning to move on, and migration has yet to start. But there are always wonderful things to see, and a mid-March excursion to Cape Race with one group of intrepid clients paid off with this — great looks at one of their “target” birds! This Willow Ptarmigan, sporting transitional plumage, allowed us to get up-close-and-personal right from the car!

Another highlight of early spring was an exceptional few days of gull-watching in St. John’s. Not only did the elusive Yellow-legged Gull (which can be seen here sporadically most winters) become a very regular visitor at Quidi Vidi Lake, but a Slaty-backed Gull was also discovered there. The two images above were captured just minutes (and metres) apart … two very rare gulls entertaining some very happy birders! (March 25, 2017)

The pack ice may have receded as spring wore on, but other visitors from the north took their place. Newfoundland had an excellent iceberg season in 2017 – and one of the early highlights was this mammoth berg that perched itself in Ferryland (an hour south of St. John’s). Photos of this iceberg (including my own) went “viral”, showing up in newsfeeds, newspapers and TV newscasts all over the world. It was just one of many awesome bergs I saw this year … including with many of my clients!

While there was no “huge” influx of European rarities into Newfoundland this spring, there was also no shortage. This European Golden Plover was one of several reported in early May. I was also fortunate to see a Ruff, two Eurasian Whimbrel, and two Common Ringed Plovers this year – AND happy to say that I had clients with me for each and every one! How’s that for good birding?!?!

Perhaps the most exciting bird of the spring (or even year) also came from Europe. This COMMON SWIFT was discovered by Jeannine Winkel and Ian Jones at Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John’s on May 20 – just the second record for Newfoundland and one of only a handful for all of North America. Cool, damp weather worked in our favour throughout the week, with this extremely rare bird sticking around until May 26 and entertaining both local birders and a number of “ABA listers” who flew in from all over North America to see it. Amazing! (Photo: May 23, 2017)

Spring slipped into summer, which of course is the busiest time of year for BirdTheRock Bird & Nature Tours. I was fortunate to host dozens of visiting birders and nature-lovers throughout the summer, sharing the many wonderful sights and spectacles that our province has to offer. This photo of Northern Gannets was taken during the excellent Eagle-Eye Tours “Grand Newfoundland” trip – one of many times I visited Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve this year. This particular tour is a great way to experience the birding and natural highlights of Newfoundland, from St. John’s to Gros Morne National Park and many points in between. I look forward to leading it again in 2018! (Read more about this tour in a blog post from 2016.)

Of course, it’s not “always” just about the birds. During every tour or outing, I make time to stop and enjoy the abundance of other gems that nature has in store. I especially like the wild orchids of mid-summer, and this Showy Ladyslipper was one of nine species we encountered during a fantastic Massachusetts Audubon tour. What an awesome time we had!

Of course, summer can’t be ALL work and no play! (Who am I kidding – my work is always fun!) I made sure to steal some time to explore both new places and old favourites with my family – including the rugged coastlines of Notre Dame Bay where I grew up and my passion for nature first took root!

In August, I had the pleasure of once again leading the Eagle-Eye Tours trip to New Brunswick & Grand Manan. While there are many wonderful places and birding experiences on this tour, one key highlight is seeing the huge gathering of Semipalmated Sandpipers in the world-famous Bay of Fundy. More than 3/4 of the world’s population stop here during migration, and flocks of tens of thousands can often be found roosting on the narrow beach at high tide or swirling over the water. This was my third time leading this tour, and you can read more about it on an earlier blog post here.

As summer fades to fall in Newfoundland, I often turn my attention to migration and the opportunity to find wayward and locally rare species right here on “the rock”. One of the most interesting birds was this very late empidonax flycatcher that showed up in November — well beyond the expected date of normal migrants and reason enough to scrutinize it. Originally found by crack birder Lancy Cheng, I arrived soon after and spent several hours trying to capture diagnostic photos amid the fleeting glimpses it gave. Based on photos from several birders and Lancy’s very important sound recording, this bird was eventually identified as Newfoundland’s first ever Willow Flycatcher! Chalk one up for the perseverance and cooperation of our local birding community!

Winter also started off with a bang, when veteran birder Chris Brown discovered the province’s first Eared Grebe on December 1. Time for birding can be tough to come by for me at this busy time of year – but I managed to sneak in a “chase” to see this mega-rarity. Read more on my blog post here.

My birding year ended on yet another high note: leading my third Eagle-Eye Tours adventure of the year – this time in Trinidad & Tobago! This was my second time leading this amazing tour, and I admit to being totally enamored with this beautiful place. The lush forests, open grasslands, intriguing coastlines … and, of course, the incredible birds and wildlife! This Guianan Trogon was just one of more than 200 species we encountered during the trip – many of which were equally stunning. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post about my most recent trip — but in the meantime you can check out this three-part series from my last adventure in Trinidad & Tobago. And better yet – join me when I return at the end of 2018!

What a fantastic year! Thanks to the many friends and visitors who shared all these special moments (and many more!) with me in 2017. I’m excited for 2018 and can’t imagine what wonderful experiences it might have in store! Why not join me to find out for yourself?!?!

Wishing you all a happy, prosperous and fun-filled 2018!!