Spring (March – May) 2009
Signs of spring came relatively early for much of Newfoundland, especially on the Avalon Peninsula where the snow disappeared and most ponds and lakes were ice-free in mid-March. But spring migrants march to the beat of their own drum, and most showed up right on schedule with just a few arriving earlier than usual. A rash of southern vagrants showed up around the island following some southerly winds in April, and a few European-flavoured visitors added some spice to the season. A stronger than usual birding effort in the southwest corner of the province dug up a few rarities and shed light on some species that are probably otherwise overlooked.
One of the biggest highlights of the season was a male Garganey that was seen in St. John’s over three days (May 15-17) – the third provincial record, all of which have been in May. Two drake Blue-winged Teal were recorded – one in St. John’s (May 17) and one in Codroy (May 23). A notable 5 drake Eurasian Green-winged (Common) Teal were seen together in St. John’s on March 8. Several pairs of Northern Shoveler were spotted around the St. John’s area throughout the period. A pair of Gadwall and a drake Wood Duck in the Codroy Valley were notable spring records, and add to evidence for very limited breeding on the island. (NOTE – Two broods of Gadwall were confirmed in early June, furnishing just the 2nd and 3rd breeding records for the province.)
A single Pied-billed Grebe was seen at its usual breeding location in Loch Lomond, Codroy Valley in late May. Great Blue Herons had returned to the southwest region of the island by April 10, and locals reported at least two rookeries. A Great Egret was spotted several times in the Goulds in mid-May. A Little Egret observed May 29-30 in the Codroy estuary was an exciting find, while a Snowy Egret was observed nearby at Searston just days earlier (May 23). Another was present in Traytown May 14-19. An adult Little Blue Heron was photographed at Eddies Cove on May 31.
European Golden Plovers were observed at Cape Bonavista (April 12 – May 13), with a maximum count of 8 in late April. Ruffs were reported from two locations – one at Stephenville Crossing (May 17) and another at Renews (May 25). A Pectoral Sandpiper in the Goulds on May 8 and a Short-billed Dowitcher at Parson’s Pond on May 18 were unusual spring records. A pair of Willet returned to Renews for the third consecutive spring, and reports of at least four American Woodcock displaying in the Codroy Valley suggest they may be breeding there more commonly than previously thought.
While peak gull season tends to disappear with the snow and ice, spring can still be a great time to check out the famous city flocks. An adult Laughing Gull made an appearance on April 9 and stayed until at least May 3. The over-wintering Common Gull at Quidi Vidi Lake was joined briefly by another adult on March 28. The first migrant Ring-billed Gull arrived notably early on March 14. A Yellow-legged Gull continued to be seen in St. John’s in early March, and an adult Slaty-backed Gull made a lone spring appearance on March 25 (the same individual that was seen twice in February) – the province’s 12th record (likely of 10 different individuals).
At least one Snowy Owl continued to be seen near Cape Race until April 11, while another succumbed to probable starvation and was found in emaciated condition near Mistaken Point. A Chimney Swift made a one-day appearance in St. John’s, cruising Quidi Vidi Lake in the rain on May 10. The Red-bellied Woodpecker that over-wintered in Bishop’s Falls was frequenting a suet feeder into late March.
Numerous Eastern Kingbirds were reported from across the island this spring, including several probable pairs. A Varied Thrush was seen on several occasions in March near Ship Cove, Placentia Bay.
Chestnut-sided Warblers were reported from several locations, including an immature male at False Cape at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve (May 28), a singing bird at Peak Pond near Whitbourne (May 22), and several in the Codroy Valley. The strong effort put in by a few birders in the Codroy Valley produced several unusual spring warblers in the form of Canada Warbler and Nashville Warbler. Excellent numbers of Northern Parula and the bud-worm warblers were also reported from the area.
Strong winds in April and early May brought a number of birds with southern flavour to the province. A Summer Tanager in St. Vincent’s April 9-14 was ~10th record for the province, while a Scarlet Tanager photographed in Gros Morne National Park was the only one this season. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks popped up in what must be record numbers across the province – most reports being of males. A Blue Grosbeak was reported from Lewisporte on April 9, while another visited a feeder in Port aux Choix in early May. Indigo Buntings also showed up in good numbers following southwesterly flows in April and May, with reports from all corners of the island.