Fall (September – November) 2009
Overall, it was an interesting fall for birds in Newfoundland, with a good smattering of vagrants popping up throughout the season. September and November proved to be relatively good weather-wise … seasonal temperatures and plenty of nice birding days. October, however, was wet and windy for the majority of the month – possibly dampening some of the birding effort. However, the silver lining to the dark clouds of October may have been the spectacle of jaegers and storm petrels that were corralled into Conception Bay by several days of strong NW winds.
Several stories top the list of fall highlights … but no doubt the biggest were also bittersweet. A first winter Common Shelduck – potentially the first bona fide record for North America – was seen in St. John’s by just two birders for just twenty-five minutes before flying off into the abyss. Similarly, the province’s first Ash-throated Flycatcher proved disappointing for most – it too was seen and photographed in Ferryland for less than thirty minutes and never relocated.
A first winter plumaged Common Shelduck discovered at Quidi Vidi Lake on the morning of November 17 sent minor shockwaves through the birding community, but unfortunately flew off and disappeared before most people had the chance to enjoy it. While this species is reported periodically in North America, all previous cases have been dismissed as probable escapes. There is a strong case for this particular bird to be a wild vagrant, possibly from Iceland where its numbers have been increasing dramatically over the past decade, and if accepted could be the first official record for the continent.
Admittedly less exciting, a male Wood Duck that spent the summer at Bowring Park, St. John’s was reported as late as September 10. Meanwhile, a drake Gadwall was photographed in Seal Cove, Conception Bay September 12-15. The more expected European waterfowl arrived in St. John’s more or less on schedule, although peak numbers seemed a little later than average. Eurasian Wigeon began appearing in late October, and once again are outnumbering American Wigeon. An immature male Tufted Duck observed at Forest Pond on September 1 was unusually early, and raises the question as to whether it spent the summer somewhere in the province or was simply a vanguard for the others, which were somewhat late arriving to local ponds around the city. Hooded Merganser put in a good showing around the capital region this fall, with six (probably) different birds being reported (one female/immature at Forest Pond September 1; one male at Forest Pond September 24-29; two males at Long Pond on October 5, and a male and female together at Middle Cove October 3-6). Female Blue-winged Teal were reported from two locations on September 20 – Gambo and Ruby Line Pond in Goulds. The latter stayed around for several weeks.
Two Horned Grebe were seen at their regular wintering location in Biscay Bay as early as October 16.
A flight of more than a hundred Sooty Shearwaters and at least one Manx Shearwater flying past Cape Race on October 31 was notably late for these species. Several consecutive days of strong NW winds October 9-16 brought thousands of Leach’s Storm Petrels into Conception Bay, creating quite the spectacle for those that braved the nasty weather to see the show.
Several species of heron made brief appearances this fall. A Great Blue Heron, while breeding more commonly in the southwest portion of the province, was unexpected at Point LaHaye on September 5. A Great Egret seen over the course of five days (October 18-22) near Cape Race may have been the same bird reported later from Trepassey (November 2). A Cattle Egret was photographed at Lord’s Cove on the Burin Peninsula (DATE?) but was reported late. An adult Little Blue Heron observed September 3-5 in Frenchman’s Cove would have drawn a crowd had it been less of a drive for most birders. A Yellow-crowned Night Heron observed briefly near Quidi Vidi on October 16 was the only fall record this year, but followed several seen in late summer.
The only raptor of note, a dark-phased Gyrfalcon was photographed at Bear Cove on October 6, while another probable one was seen briefly just north of Portugal Cove South on November 20. A small falcon showing some features consistent with adult Eurasian Hobby was reported from St. Shott’s on September 8, but distant photos did not allow for solid identification.
Two Sandhill Cranes were reported in the province this autumn – one at the Corner Brook Christmas Tree Farm on September 3, and another near Bonavista on September 6. The latter bird was likely present since late summer, accounting for an unidentified bird that was reported matching that description.
A juvenile Common Ringed Plover was convincingly photographed at the Drook (near Cape Race) on September 15, marking the province’s 7th confirmed record. A late-staying Spotted Sandpiper was observed at St. Shott’s on October 24. At least four Baird’s Sandpipers were recorded this season, with individuals at St. Shott’s on September 8, the Drook September 15, Long Beach October 3, and possibly two at Renews October 16-18. It was a banner year for Buff-breasted Sandpipers on the southeast Avalon Peninsula, with a record number of ~20 observed at one time at the St. Shott’s sod farm from September 4-7, two at Renews September 11, one near Long Beach September 15, and a lone straggler at St. Shott’s on September 28. An American Woodcock at Cape Race on October 6 was especially unusual for the Avalon Peninsula.
The number of Black-headed Gulls began building in St. John’s in mid October, while several were reported from elsewhere around the province. A lone Bonaparte’s Gull was seen sporadically around St. John’s in late October and November. The only Laughing Gull of the season was an adult seen flying past Bear Cove Point on September 15. Four Common Gulls appeared in St. John’s this fall, starting with a first winter bird on October 20, followed by a second winter on October 26, and adult on November 1 and finally another first winter individual on November 16. Yellow-legged Gull continues to be regular in St. John’s, with an adult first observed this fall on September 4. As of the end of November, there appears to be three (possibly four) distinct individuals in the city. Lesser Black-backed Gulls also appear to be growing more common in the region, with a record 35 tallied around St. John’s on October 27. An adult Slaty-backed Gull observed in St. John’s October 24-27 appears to be a returning individual that has over-wintered here at least twice.
A winter-plumaged adult Least Tern seen briefly at Daley’s Cove, near Cape Race, furnished the 4th provincial record and second this year.
The strong NW winds of October brought excellent numbers of jaegers (Pomarine and Parasitic) into Conception Bay, allowing for close looks – albeit often through heavy rain. A juvenile Long-Tailed Jaeger was seen flying over Bear Cove Point on September 3, while another was seen near shore at Cape Pine on September 4. The following day, September 5, a very obliging juvenile was seen and photographed foraging near the road to St. Shott’s.
A White-winged Dove was discovered cavorting with the pigeons at Bowring Park in St. John’s Sept 5-6 – providing the third record this year and more than ten in total. Several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were reported in late September, including three in the Bonne Bay region and one at the more out-of-range location of St. Mary’s. A hummingbird observed briefly at Cape Race on October 6 apparently showed some features of Rufous Hummingbird, but escaped confirmation.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s first Ash-throated Flycatcher was photographed in Ferryland on November 14. Unfortunately, it disappeared minutes before other birders arrived and was never relocated. This likely represents the most northeastern record for this species, which has a tendency to wander widely in the fall. An Eastern Kingbird observed at Cape Spear on September 6 flew south over the water, possibly heading for warmer climes.
A Yellow-throated Vireo at Bear Cove on September 21 was the rarest of five vireo species observed in the area that day (Red-eyed, Philadelphia, Blue-headed and Warbling Vireo rounding out the rest of the pack). A Warbling Vireo was reported from the same vicinity a week later on September 28, possibly the same bird.
Late swallows were reported into mid-October, with 3 Cliff Swallows at Long Beach on October 7, and one more in the company of a Bank Swallow at Cape Spear on October 11. A Barn Swallow was observed at Trepassey on October 16.
The province’s 10th record of Marsh Wren was of a bird observed at Long Beach on October 24. A Winter Wren, notable on the Avalon Peninsula in any season, was seen in the alders of Powle’s Head, Trepassey on October 18. The only Blue-grey Gnatcatcher of the fall was found hanging out at Bear Cove from October 16-18.
Three Northern Wheatear were reported from the Avalon Peninsula in October – one at Cape Race October 6-12, one at Cape Pine October 12-18, and one at Cape Spear October 13-16. One Grey Catbird was observed at Bear Cove on September 28. A Northern Mockingbird appeared in a Port Kirwin backyard on November 16 and stayed for several weeks.
Late September and early October proved to be exciting in terms of fall warblers, with 17 species reported from the southern Avalon Peninsula during the first week of October. However, numbers dropped of quickly and very few November warblers were reported. Two Chestnut-sided Warblers were observed near Cripple Cove on October 3. A female “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler (western form) discovered in the tuckamore of Cape Race road on October 6 was studied at some length – one of only a handful of records for the province. Right on schedule, one (possibly two) Townsend’s Warbler was photographed in the Waterford Valley in St. John’s on November 7 – the 14th record for the province and (amazingly) the 11th for that general location. A Yellow-throated Warbler was stumbled on along the roadside north of Portugal Cove South on October 10 – a random but fortuitous stop. A notably late Blackpoll Warbler lingered at Cape Pine on October 18. A bright male Pine Warbler was seen on November 14 at the north end of Ferryland. Three Prairie Warblers were reported this season – one at Cappahayden on September 7, one near Cape Race on October 3, and one at Renews on October 16. At least two, and possibly three, Prothonotary Warblers graced the southern Avalon Peninsula this fall, with one at Bear Cove Point on September 3, one (a probably immature male) at Bear Cove on September 5 and another (possibly the same) near Cappahayden on September 21. A Worm-eating Warbler observed briefly in the alders on Bear Cove Point road September 15 was exceptionally rare. An unusual fallout of Ovenbirds took place in early October, with several (up to four) reported near Cape Race October 3-6, and another at Cape Pine on October 12. Two were unusually tame and enjoyed visiting the small museum at Cape Race. Arguably the best bird found on the “BMI” this year was a Kentucky Warbler on Bear Cove Point road October 4, while an immature male was reported from Cape Race road on October 16. Hooded Warbler was another rare vagrant reported in relatively good numbers this fall, with an immature male observed at Bear Cove on September 21 and two adult males on the Cape Race road October 4-6. Yellow-breasted Chats were reported at Bear Cove on September 21 and October 4, and Cape Race road on October 6.
Orange-crowned Warbler: 2 near Renews on November 2; Bear Cove on November 8; Calvert on November 14
Yellow-rumped Warbler: Trepassey on November 8; St. John’s on November 10; Mount Pearl on November 12
Townsend’s Warbler: St. John’s on November 7
Pine Warbler: Ferryland on November 14
Black & White Warbler: Rocky Harbour on November 6; Mount Pearl on November 12; St. John’s on November 19
A Field Sparrow discovered with Juncos at Bear Cove Point on November 2 was ~5th provincial record and the first documented with photographs. Two Clay-coloured Sparrows were reported – one at Trepassey on November 8 and another in St. John’s on November 27. The latter hung around until at least early December to grace the winter list. Several Lark Sparrows made an appearance – one at a feeder in Whitbourne September 21-22, one at Cappahayden September 28, and at least one at Cape Race over the period of October 2-24. The only Grasshopper Sparrow of the fall was a bird observed roadside near Cape Race on October 4.
A female Summer Tanager was photographed at Cape Race on October 2 by the lighthouse keeper. Two female Scarlet Tanagers were discovered on October 4 – one near Cape Race, and the other in Trepassey. A Blue Grosbeak was seen and photographed at Bear Cove on October 4. The only Indigo Buntings of the season were at Bear Cove on October 4 and Trepassey on November 8. Numerous reports of Dickcissel came from all over, from Cape Race to Plum Point.
A Bobolink was observed near Cape Race on October 4. A good total of three Yellow-headed Blackbirds were discovered around the province this fall – immature males at Portugal Cove South from September 17-18 and St. John’s (Mundy Pond) on October 13, and an adult female at Sandy Cove on the Eastport Peninsula October 11-16.