2016: A Year in Review

I’m happy to say that 2016 was a fun, productive and busy year both for BirdTheRock Bird & Nature Tours and for my own birding adventures. I was fortunate to share my province’s amazing birds and nature with more than 70 visiting birders (!), added five new species to my own Newfoundland “life list”, and found myself on an impromptu excursion to Hawaii at the end of the year. Below are a few of the many highlights from 2016:

I always look forward to hosting the annual WINGS winter birding tour, and last year was no exception. A group of four visiting birders from the southern USA enjoyed some great “cold weather” birding and lots of excellent winter birds. An abundance of Dovekie, finches and of course a great selection of northern gulls were all part of a fantastic week! Check out this blog post to see more highlights.

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 first big rarity of 2016 was an unexpected one … an immature Sabine’s Gull discovered at St. Vincent’s on January 31. This species is virtually never recorded in the northern hemisphere during winter, let alone Newfoundland. I had never seen a Sabine’s Gull, so after a few painful days I finally made the trip to see it on February 4 – enjoying it immensely despite some wicked weather! You can read more about my encounter with a “Sabine’s in the Snow” here.

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This Sabine’s Gull was not only unexpected but “off the charts” for January in Newfoundland. It should have been somewhere far, far away from the snow squall I was watching it in!

The winter excitement continued when a Fieldfare was discovered in Lumsden (northeast coast) on February 6. This mega-rare European thrush was a bird I had been waiting to see here (I saw TONS when I lived in Finland in 2005), so I once again braved some nasty and very cold weather to track it down. We worked hard for this one, and the end result was a not only a new “tick” but a lot of time invested for a lone obscure photo of its rear-end. Read more about this eventful chase here.

The business end of a mega-rare Fieldfare that has been hanging out in Lumsden on the northeast coast. While we did get some slightly better looks this morning, this was the only photo I managed to get! "Arse-on", as we might say in Newfoundland.

The business end of a mega-rare (and very elusive!) Fieldfare in Lumsden on the northeast coast. While we did get some slightly better looks, this was the only photo I managed to get! “Arse-on”, as we might say in Newfoundland.

After an unexplained (but not unprecedented) absence, this Yellow-legged Gull showed up in mid-February and was a fixture for local gull-watchers for a few days. It is likely still around.

Mid-February saw me catching up with an old, familiar friend – a Yellow-legged Gull which had been elusive the past few winters.

This female Bullock's Oriole (2nd provincial record) was visiting a private feeder sporadically during late winter 2016. I finally caught up with it on March 23 - a great bird!

This female Bullock’s Oriole (2nd provincial record) was visiting a private feeder sporadically during late winter 2016. I finally caught up with it on March 23 – a great bird!

Spring birding is always a “mixed bag” here in Newfoundland – you never know what you’ll see. I enjoyed one very interesting day of birding with Irish birders Niall Keough and Andrew Power in early May – finding great local birds such as Black-backed Woodpecker and Willow Ptarmigan, as well as rarities such as Purple Martin, Franklin’s Gull and a very unexpected Gyrfalcon! You can check out more the day’s highlights here.

This male Willow Ptarmigan was very cooperative, even if the weather wasn't. The female was spotted sitting on a rock just a few yards further up the road.

This male Willow Ptarmigan was very cooperative, even if the weather wasn’t. The female was spotted sitting on a rock just a few yards further up the road.

This young Beluga Whale was easy to find at Admiral's Beach, where it had been hanging out for several weeks. It turned out to be a huge highlight for my Irish friends, and an excellent end to an awesome day out in the wind & fog!

This young Beluga Whale was easy to find at Admiral’s Beach, where it had been hanging out for several weeks. It turned out to be a huge highlight for my Irish friends, and an excellent end to an awesome day out in the wind & fog!

This Cave Swallow, discovered at Quidi Vidi Lake (St. John's) by Alvan Buckley on May 29, was not only the province's second record but also one of just a few spring records for eastern North America.

This Cave Swallow, discovered at Quidi Vidi Lake (St. John’s) by Alvan Buckley on May 29, was not only the province’s second record but also one of just a few spring records for eastern North America.

In early June, BirdTheRock hosted its first tour to the Codroy Valley. Nestled away in the southwest corner of Newfoundland, this lush valley is easily one of the island’s most beautiful places – and 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! Read more about our very fun tour here (and contact us if you’re interested in the 2017 trip which will be advertised soon).

The Piping Plover has experienced drastic population declines in recent decades, due mostly to habitat disturbance. Unfortunately, human activity on sandy beaches (and especially the use of ATVs on local beaches) has created a lot of problems for these little birds.

The Codroy Valley is one of the last footholds of the endangered Piping Plover in Newfoundland & Labrador. We enjoyed seeing several during the tour – a good sign for this vulnerable species.

The view from our accommodations included not only the internationally recognized Great Codroy estuary, but also rolling fields, lush forests and the majestic Long Range Mountains (a northern extension of the Appalachians!). It was a treat to start and end each day with this beautiful vista.

The view from our accommodations included not only the internationally recognized Great Codroy estuary, but also rolling fields, lush forests and the majestic Long Range Mountains (a northern extension of the Appalachians!). It was a treat to start and end each day with this beautiful vista.

The rest of summer was blocked full of tours and adventures with friends and visitors from all over the world. One of the biggest highlights was the “Grand Newfoundland” tour I designed and hosted for Eagle-Eye Tours. This epic, 11-day tour started in St. John’s and hit many great birding and natural history sites across the province, before ending in Gros Morne National Park. This was hands down one of the best tours and most amazing, fun-loving groups I have ever led – I can’t say enough about the great time and experiences we all had! Read more about this fantastic tour here (and check out the Eagle-Eye Tours website if you’d like to find out more about the upcoming 2017 trip).

While I've always been blessed with excellent groups, this one was especially great - energetic, easy-going and always up for some fun!

While I’ve always been blessed with excellent groups, this one was especially great – energetic, easy-going and always up for some fun!

One obvious highlight was our boat tour to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, where we experienced (not just "saw"!) North America's largest colony of Atlantic Puffins. It never disappoints.

One obvious highlight was our boat tour to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, where we experienced (not just “saw”!) North America’s largest colony of Atlantic Puffins. It never disappoints.

The beautiful sunset even provided nice light for a quick game of twilight mini-golf. Here's Jody honing his his other set of skills.

I was happy to be joined by my friend and co-leader Jody Allair – someone who has no trouble finding a way to have fun on every day of every tour!

After the tour, Jody and I joined Darroch Whitaker for a climb to one of Gros Morne National Park's lesser visited summits. Here we found several Rock Ptarmigan - a new species for both of us, and one of just a few breeding species I had left to see in Newfoundland.

After the tour, Jody and I joined Darroch Whitaker for a climb to one of Gros Morne National Park’s lesser visited summits. Here we found several Rock Ptarmigan – a new species for both of us, and one of just a few breeding species I had left to see in Newfoundland.

Two rare terns shows up on the southeast Avalon in late July. Although I missed one (Royal Tern), I did catch up with a Sandwich Tern – my fourth new species of the year! On the way back, Alvan Buckley and I discovered another great and unexpected rarity – a Eurasian Whimbrel! Although not my first, the mid-summer date made it especially notable. You can see more photos of these unusual visitors here.

This SANDWICH TERN was just the sixth record for Newfoundland, and a first for me! There is an ongoing discussion about its origins - is it American or European? (My very instant photo doesn't add much to that conversation - but it sure was great to see!). July 28, 2016, St. Vincent's NL.

This Sandwich Tern was just the sixth record for Newfoundland, and a first for me!

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The European race of Whimbrel (centre) is most easily distinguished from it North American cousin (left and right) by its large white rump.

One iconic Newfoundland species that I had several wonderful encounters with this year was Leach’s Storm-petrel. Despite being very abundant breeders and at sea, it is actually quite unusual to encounter them from land. This year I was fortunate to help several clients see this elusive bird, enjoy hundreds myself during a northeast gale, and even rescue one stranded at Cape Race lighthouse. If you’d like to learn more about these enigmatic little seabirds, check out this blog post I recently wrote about them.

We rescued this Leach's Storm-Petrel after finding it stranded at the base of Cape Race lighthouse on September 25. Although stranded birds may "appear" injured as they sit motionless or sometime flop around on the ground, in most cases they are healthy and simply cannot take off from land. We released this one over the water at nearby Cripple Cove.

We rescued this Leach’s Storm-Petrel after finding it stranded at the base of Cape Race lighthouse on September 25.

Few birds are as legendary in Newfoundland as far-flung western warblers, and Hermit Warbler is one of those gems that I’ve been wishing (though hardly expecting) to see here. But even more surprising than the fact that one was found on November 11, exactly 27 years after the one and only previous record, was that I had virtually conjured it just 12 hours earlier! It was my fifth and final new species for 2016. Read more about this incredible rarity and my wild prediction here.

This HERMIT WARBLER will no doubt be the highlight of November - and maybe of the year. Bruce Mactavish discovered it in Mobile on November 11 Newfoundland's one and only other record (Nov 11 1989)!

This Hermit Warbler was no doubt the highlight of November – and maybe of the year. Bruce Mactavish discovered it in Mobile on November 11.

I wrapped up my birding year with a fun and very impromptu adventure in Hawaii. I had the very great pleasure of helping ABA Big Year birders Laura Keene and John Weigel “clean up” on the amazing birds of Hawaii last month. Although the recent addition of Hawaii to the ABA region didn’t take effect until 2017, these intrepid birders decided to include it in their own big year adventures. We had an amazing time, saw virtually all the species one could expect in December, AND set a strong precedent that future Big Year birders will have a tough time topping! I’ll post a short write-up about that adventure, and its deeper meaning for me, in the very near future – so stay tuned!

Palila is just one of several endemic (and critically endangered!) species we encountered while visiting the Hawaiian islands. This particular bird is among my worldwide favourites, and the time we spent with this one is an experience I'll forever cherish.

Palila is just one of several endemic (and critically endangered!) species we encountered while visiting the Hawaiian islands. This particular bird is among my worldwide favourites, and the time we spent with this one is an experience I’ll forever cherish.

Best wishes for a healthy, happy and adventure-filled 2017!!

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Winter Birding – It’s Here!!

Some years ago, a tradition was started to keep tabs on the species of birds seen during the “official” winter bird season (December 1 – February 28) — now, most Canadian provinces (and many states) keep one. I began keeping a list for Newfoundland ten years ago, and look forward to seeing what awesome birds the coldest, snowiest months will bring each year! Not only do some surprising and very rare things tend to show up in winter, but many of our regular and expected birds are just as cool and exciting.
Newfoundland is one of the few places in North America where you can see Dovekie from land, and in many ways it is a symbol of winter for both local and visiting birders alike.

Newfoundland is one of the few places in North America where you can see Dovekie from land, and in many ways it is a symbol of winter for both local and visiting birders alike.

Sometimes something completely unexpected shows up to brighten the season. This Anna's Hummingbird was one of the amazing records that highlighted the incredible winter of 2010-11! It was a first provincial record and survived frigid temperatures well into February at a feeder in Brownsdale, Trinity Bay.

Sometimes something completely unexpected shows up to brighten the season. This Anna’s Hummingbird was one of the amazing records that highlighted the incredible winter of 2010-11! It was a first provincial record and survived frigid temperatures well into February at a feeder in Brownsdale, Trinity Bay.

Most winters we record ~130-140 species, but a record of 153 was set in 2012-13 when a rash of rarities big and small showed up all over the island. Overall, a grand total of more than 250 species have been recorded in Newfoundland during winter – pretty amazing! You can see a summary of all those records here.

I will keep a running list of of species seen on my website here (also see link in menu bar above). Please send reports to me using one of the methods below, and let me know if you have seen something that isn’t on the list. I’ll post the first reports on December 1 and update as regularly as I can.

Ways to send winter bird reports to me:

– Through the contact page on this website

– Email (jared_jjc AT hotmail.com) using the subject Winter Bird Report

– Post your report on the Newfoundland bird newsgroup (nf.birds)

– Using Facebook or Twitter (tag @birdtherock and/or #NLwinterbirds)

NOTE: I may be traveling outside of the province in early December, so updates could be limited and/or very occasional during that time … but I WILL catch up as soon as I return, so keep the reports coming!

So – get out there and check those ponds and woods roads and keep your feeders filled. Winter birding is here

 

Happy birding!

Wild optimism … and a HERMIT WARBLER

It was late at night on Thursday November 10, and I was discussing (over text message) my birding plans for the next morning with Bruce Mactavish. I was heading south from St. John’s to look for late season migrants, shorebirds and whatever else might come my way. Bruce, on the other hand, was sticking closer to town to check local hot-spots for November warblers. I’m known for making optimistic (if not wild) predictions, so it probably came as no surprise when he received my text at 11:00PM saying “I’ll come back to town for a Hermit Warbler“. Hermit Warbler is incredibly rare in the east, and had only been recorded in Newfoundland once – on November 11, 1989. As rare as it is, it’s one of those birds that local birders think about at this time of year.

I had been birding for several hours and was as far south as Ferryland when Bruce texted to tell me he was driving to Mobile to check out a probable (but very late and therefore suspicious) Spotted Sandpiper that had been reported there. I had driven through there hours earlier, but told him to keep me updated. A short while later, I noticed a missed call from Bruce on my phone – and promptly received a text message saying “HERMIT WARBLER, MOBILE”. Knowing that Bruce is not one to play tricks, I made near-record time on the way back and found him standing on a trail at the end of a road – Spotted Sandpiper confirmed, and Hermit Warbler “somewhere” in the nearby woods. Other birders soon showed up, and we searched the area for several hours without any further sign. Most people gave up and headed home as the weather and light deteriorated, while I gave it another go and expanded my search to another road up the hill. I soon glimpsed a warbler with a bright yellow face among a big flock of Juncos, Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets – but it dissolved into the trees before I could even get my binoculars on it. It HAD to be the Hermit Warbler! But better looks would have to wait.

I spent the rest of the weekend in Grates Cove – closing up the house for another winter and enjoying some family time. But all the while I felt tortured over this amazing warbler that “got away”. Fortunately other birders were able to refind it in the same area I had glimpsed it on Friday, but always with very brief and fleeting glimpses. Photos were scarce, obscured and out-of-focus but enough to whet my appetite. Anne Hughes and I headed back to Mobile on Monday morning, and within a little while were joined by three others. It was spotted briefly near the road, and then Anne found it again behind a nearby house. This time I saw it too – and really well (for a few seconds!). As it had all weekend, it popped up briefly and disappeared again several times over the next two hours … I likened it to a frustrating game of whack-a-mole. I saw it on three separate occasions for a grand total of less than two minutes, and most of that was distantly in the treetops! I did manage one decent photograph, with most others showing either a blur or a twig where it had been sitting milliseconds earlier. But hey – with a great bird of this rarity level, it’s seeing it that counts!

What do I predict next?!?!

This HERMIT WARBLER will no doubt be the highlight of November - and maybe of the year. Bruce Mactavish discovered it in Mobile on November 11 Newfoundland's one and only other record (Nov 11 1989)!

This HERMIT WARBLER will no doubt be the highlight of November – and maybe of the year. Bruce Mactavish discovered it in Mobile on November 11 – exactly 27 years after Newfoundland’s one and only other record (Nov 11 1989)! The broad wing bars, clean white underparts and oh-so yellow face make this an unmistakable (and unforgettable) bird.

My first looks at this bird on November 14 turned out to be my best, although I bombed on a chance to photograph it. The only time we saw it at eye level, I was able to see the grey back which helps identify this species from similar cousins and rule out the possibility of a hybrid (which do occur, and there is one previous record of a Hermit X Townsend's Warbler hybrid for the island).

My first looks at this bird on November 14 turned out to be my best, although I bombed on a chance to photograph it. The only time we saw it at eye level, I was able to see the grey back which helps distinguish this species from similar cousins and rule out the possibility of a hybrid (which do occur, and there is one record of a  probable Hermit X Townsend’s Warbler hybrid for the island). I have no experience with Hermit Warblers and am not sure if this is an adult female or an immature male.

Just as one might expect from reading the literature, this Hermit Warbler spends a lot of time in the canopy, foraging in the top one-third of the conifers. It seems to show a preference for larch trees, and my longest views of this bird (and the only views lasting more than 5 seconds) were while it fed at the top of several larch trees in the distance.

Just as one might expect from reading the literature, this Hermit Warbler spends a lot of time in the canopy, foraging in the top one-third of the conifers. It seems to show a preference for larch trees, and my longest views of this bird (and the only views lasting more than 5 seconds) were while it fed at the top of several larch trees in the distance.

I also spent a little time with these two Cattle Egrets in Ferryland, just before getting

I also spent a little time with these two Cattle Egrets in Ferryland, just before getting “the call”. Cattle Egrets are rare but annual in Newfoundland, and two together was a bit of treat.

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Spending the weekend in beautiful Grates Cove, I had to distract myself from thoughts of the Hermit Warbler that other birders were seeing back in Mobile. The lovely

Spending the weekend in beautiful Grates Cove, I had to distract myself from thoughts of the Hermit Warbler that other birders were seeing back in Mobile. The lovely “supermoon” that graced us on November 14 was a nice help!

Mother Carey’s Chicks

For a place that boasts the world’s largest colonies of Leach’s Storm-Petrels, it is surprising how rarely most Newfoundland birders get to enjoy them. More than 3 million pairs (yes – pairs!) are estimated to breed on Baccalieu Island at the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula and 600,000+ pairs in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve alone! However, Leach’s Storm-Petrels spend the daylight hours far out to sea, feeding on plankton and small fish. Storm-petrels themselves are perfect meals for larger predatory birds like gulls, so they prefer the extra safety that comes with staying far away from land. Only at night, under the cover of darkness, do these robin-sized seabirds come back to their island abode and sneak into the safety of their underground burrows.

The best times to catch a glimpse of these mysterious birds are during strong onshore winds, when some get blown closer to shore than they would usually bother coming. Occasionally, during a really good windstorm, large numbers get driven onto shore or into large bays. Late last week, a night of northerly gales did just that – and I headed out the next morning to check for seabirds at bottom of Conception Bay. Arriving at Holyrood, I immediately saw dozens of Leach’s Storm-Petrels flying around offshore, mostly into the wind (which by this point had lessened a bit, with gusts of ~70km/h). Setting up my scope, I began to see hundreds of them coursing over the water further out in the bay. Although these winds sometimes bring in other seabirds such as jaegers and shearwaters, I saw nothing else unusual in my two hours of scanning. But it was still an awesome chance to watch, learn and appreciate the enigmatic little Storm-petrel.

I managed to find one place where Leach's Storm-Petrels were filing by occasionally within camera range, but bright sunshine and strong winds made photography difficult.

I managed to find one place where Leach’s Storm-Petrels were filing by occasionally within camera range, but bright sunshine and strong winds made photography difficult.

The bright sun and strong shadows ruined would otherwise have been a great photo opportunity.

The bright sun and strong shadows ruined would otherwise have been a great photo opportunity.

Thousands of Lach's Storm Petrels fluttered over Conception Bay, driven there by the strong wrap-around winds from Tropical Storm Cristobal (August 29).

This photo was taken at the same location two years ago, during strong wrap-around winds from Tropical Storm Cristobal (August 29, 2014). Winds like these make for interesting birding in September and October.

Leach’s Storm-Petrels are more familiar to fishermen and sailors who also spend much of their lives on the open ocean, and are known by many as “Mother Carey’s chicks”. I have always wondered the origins of this colourful name, which seemed nearly as mysterious as the birds themselves. I recently saw an intriguing old drawing of a witch flying on a broomstick, surrounded by storm petrels and overlooking a sailing ship in a raging storm. It turns out that, according to some folklore, Mother Carey is a name attributed to an old hag that brings about cruel and dangerous seas. Some even claim she is the wife of “Davy Jones”, the mythological figure who is blamed for causing shipwrecks and claiming the bodies of drowned sailors. It is no surprise, then, that such an otherwise innocent-sounding name has been given to a seabird that is often associated with stormy winds and weather.

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“Mother Carey and Her Chickens” (JG Keulemans, 1877)

Leach’s Storm-Petrels are also well known for getting stranded on land at this time of year. With millions of young birds fledging for the first time, and parents following suit to abandon their burrows until next year, there are lots of opportunity for mishaps. Storm-Petrels can get disoriented by the bright, artificial lights that are so common around our communities – especially on damp, foggy nights when visibility is limited. Like many seabirds, Storm-Petrels are unable to take flight from flat land (they usually launch off their sloped burrow entrance), and are easily stranded if they land. If you find one, gently pick it up, place it in a dark ventilated space (a small box works well) and release it over the water that evening. Doing so after sunset is best, since there is far less chance it will get predated on by larger birds.

We rescued this Leach's Storm-Petrel after finding it stranded at the base of Cape Race lighthouse on September 25. Although stranded birds may "appear" injured as they sit motionless or sometime flop around on the ground, in most cases they are healthy and simply cannot take off from land. We released this one over the water at nearby Cripple Cove.

We rescued this Leach’s Storm-Petrel after finding it stranded at the base of Cape Race lighthouse on September 25. Although stranded birds may “appear” injured as they sit motionless or sometime flop around on the ground, in most cases they are healthy and simply cannot take off from land. We released this one over the water at nearby Cripple Cove.

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“Grand Newfoundland” 2016 (Eagle-Eye Tours)

It’s been a very busy summer, and I’m finally getting around to sorting through my photos and memories of all the great adventures I shared with people from all over. A huge highlight on my calendar was the “Grand Newfoundland” tour with Eagle-Eye Tours (a great Canadian tour company that runs bird and nature tours all over the world – check them out! I’m scheduled to lead three tours in Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Trinidad & Tobago with them in 2017.)

This was a brand new, cross-island tour that I helped develop from the ground up, so I was even more excited than usual to welcome guests for this adventure. Adding to the fun, I was joined by my good friend, top-notch birding guide and Bird Studies Canada biologist/educator Jody Allair. We’ve shared adventures while guiding tours together in some pretty amazing places, but being able to show him the incredible birds, wildlife and scenery of my home was just as special. (Check out these blog posts about other adventures that Jody and I have led together: New Brunswick 2013; Hawaii 2014; and Trinidad & Tobago 2015).

Our tour started in St. John’s on June 22 and took us to birding hot spots, incredible vistas, and some of my own (often less traveled) favourite places across the island – culminating with a few days in the stunning Gros Morne National Park. We explored coastal islands and towering cliffs, boreal forests, wide-open tundra, wetlands, and even a desolate chunk of the earth’s mantle during our adventure! We ended up observing 108 species of birds, lots of other wildlife and interesting wildflowers, enjoying awesome scenery and having loads of fun!

While I've always been blessed with excellent groups, this one was especially great - energetic, easy-going and always up for some fun!

While Jody & I have always been blessed with excellent groups, this one was especially great – energetic, easy-going and always up for some fun! Here they pose in front of the iconic “battery” in St. John’s.

One of our first stops was at Cape Spear National Historic Site = not only the easternmost point of land in North America, but also a great place to look for birds. We were rewarded with four Sooty Shearwaters - some of the first reported this summer!

One of our first stops was at Cape Spear National Historic Site – not only the easternmost point of land in North America, but also a great place to look for birds. We were rewarded with four Sooty Shearwaters – some of the first reported this summer!

It turned out or group shared a wide range of interests, including wildlflowers. This Pink Ladyslipper was the first of eight orchid species we discovered during our travels.

It turned out our group shared a wide range of interests, including wildflowers. This Pink Ladyslipper was the first of eight orchid species we discovered during our travels.

One obvious highlight was our boat tour to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, where we experienced (not just "saw"!) North America's largest colony of Atlantic Puffins. It never disappoints.

One obvious highlight was our boat tour to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, where we experienced (not just “saw”!) North America’s largest colony of Atlantic Puffins. It never disappoints.

However, Puffins only account for some of the 4.5 million seabirds that nest in the reserve during the summer. A huge part of this spectacle is the incredible swarms of Common Murre that make their home on the islands' rocky cliffs.

However, Puffins only account for some of the 4.5 million seabirds that nest in the reserve during the summer. A huge part of this spectacle is the incredible swarms of Common Murre that make their home on the islands’ rocky cliffs.

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Not all the birds are so easy to see. Thick-billed Murre are like a needle in the haystack of their far more numerous cousins, but we were fortunate to get very close looks at one pair. Note the "blacker" plumage and white line along the length of the bill compared to Common Murres.

Not all the birds are so easy to see. Thick-billed Murre are like a needle in the haystack of their far more numerous cousins, but we were fortunate to get very close looks at one pair. Note the blacker plumage and white gape-line compared to Common Murres.

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The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve is also a great place to look for whales, and we were treated to great views of a Minke Whale at Bay Bulls.

Northern Fulmar are a scarce breeder along our coast, but we found one pair checking out the cliffs on Gull Island. What a treat!

Northern Fulmar are a scarce breeder along our coast, but we found one pair checking out the cliffs on Gull Island. What a treat to have one of them circle around behind our boat!

For a special treat, we joined Cod Sounds (Lori McCarthy) for a guided foraging walk and a traditional Newfoundland "boil up" on the beach.

For a special treat, some of the group joined Cod Sounds (Lori McCarthy) for a guided foraging walk and a traditional Newfoundland “boil up” on the beach.

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We even snuck in a little birding along the way, with Common Loons flying over and both Common & Arctic Terns patrolling the sheltered bay.

We even snuck in a little birding along the way, with Common Loons flying over and both Common & Arctic Terns patrolling the sheltered bay.

It was a beautiful evening, culminating in a feast of delicious cod stew, sunset on the beach, and ven a couple seals popping in to check us out. No wonder it was listed as a trip highlight by several of our guests!

It was a beautiful evening, culminating in a feast of delicious cod stew, sunset on the beach, and even a couple seals popping in to check us out. No wonder it was listed as a trip highlight by several of our guests!

The sheltered inlet of Biscay Bay proved very productive, including very close looks at all three species of Scoter (Surf and Black pictured above) and Long-tailed Duck among other great birds.

The sheltered inlet of Biscay Bay proved very productive, including very close looks at all three species of Scoter (Surf and Black pictured above) and Long-tailed Duck among other great birds.

We spent a full morning exploring the world's southernmost sub-arctic tundra. Not only was the beauitufl, stark landscape a big hit with our group but so were our encounters with Willow Ptarmigan, Rough-legged Hawk, and several Woodland Caribou! Guests especially enjoyed watching two Short-eared Owls hunting right alongside the road.

We spent a full morning exploring the world’s southernmost sub-arctic tundra. Not only was the beautiful, stark landscape a big hit with our group but so were our encounters with Willow Ptarmigan, Rough-legged Hawk, and several Woodland Caribou! Guests especially enjoyed watching two Short-eared Owls hunting right alongside the road.

Not to be overlooked, we also soaked in incredible views of several Short-tailed Swallowtails. These stunning butterflies have a very restricted range, with Newfoundland being one of the only places you can expect to find them. And find them, we did.

Not to be overlooked, we also had great views of several Short-tailed Swallowtails. These stunning butterflies have a very restricted range, with Newfoundland being one of the only places you can expect to find them. And find them, we did.

Another favourite landscape for our group was the vast bogs that Newfoundland has in spades.

Another favourite landscape for our group was the vast bogs that Newfoundland has in spades. Whether its birds, bugs or wildflowers, a good bog always has a few surprises in store.

The crowd pleaser on this particular "bog slog" was Dragonsmouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa). Beautiful, as always.

The crowd pleaser on this particular “bog slog” was Dragonsmouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa). Beautiful, as always.

While ee were blessed with great weather throughout the tour, we did encounter a little fog at Cape St. Mary's. Fog is a regular part of the climate in Newfoundland, especially here. But that didn't stop us from enjoying the thousands of Northern Gannets that call this sea stack and surrounding cliffs home during the summer, nor the incredible atmosphere of this very special place.

While we were blessed with great weather throughout the tour, we did encounter a little fog at Cape St. Mary’s. Fog is a regular part of the climate in Newfoundland, especially here. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying the thousands of Northern Gannets that call this sea stack and surrounding cliffs home during the summer, nor the incredible atmosphere of this very special place.

Nearby St. Bride's, at the mouth of Placentia Bay, is one of those magical places where you can watch the sun set over the ocean on a nice evening. And it didn't disappoint.

Nearby St. Bride’s, at the mouth of Placentia Bay, is one of those magical places where you can watch the sun set over the ocean on a nice evening. And it didn’t disappoint.

The beautiful sunset even provided nice light for a quick game of twilight mini-golf. Here's Jody honing his his other set of skills.

The beautiful sunset even provided nice light for a quick game of twilight mini-golf. Here’s Jody honing his lesser known set of skills.

Leaving the Avalon Peninsula behind, we started west across the island. Our first stop was in Terra Nova National Park, where we explored the sheltered coves, thick boreal forests and abundant wetlands that the park is famous for.

Gray Jay is often associated with northern boreal forests - a habitat that is well represented in Terra Nova National Park. We encountered these curious jays at several places during our tour, including a family group in an old burn here in the park.

Gray Jay is often associated with northern boreal forests – a habitat that is well represented in Terra Nova National Park. We encountered these curious birds at several places during our tour, including a family group in an old burn here in the park.

We also enjoyed the antics of several unusually cooperative Hermit Thrush during our hikes. This one was clearly feeding young near the trail and gave great, prolonged views.

We also enjoyed the antics of several unusually cooperative Hermit Thrush during our hikes. This one was clearly feeding young near the trail and gave great, prolonged views.

One of our most interesting hikes was around a large pond and adjoining bog. Here we found great birds such as Palm Warbler, Lincoln Sparrow, Olive-sided Flycatcher and even a Spruce Grouse that almost walked between my legs before sauntering back off the trail. (Unfortunately, I only managed an overexposed photo of its butt!)

One of our most interesting hikes was around a large pond and adjoining bog. Here we found great birds such as Palm Warbler, Lincoln Sparrow, Olive-sided Flycatcher and even a Spruce Grouse that almost walked between my legs before sauntering back off the trail. (Unfortunately, I only managed an overexposed photo of its butt!)

One of our most exciting discoveries was several Jutta Arctic butterflies at two locations in the park. This species is not widely known in Newfoundland, and the thrill of finding them was more than evident in both guides!

One of our most exciting discoveries was several Jutta Arctic butterflies at two locations in the park. This species is not widely known in Newfoundland and its population has been listed as “sensitive”. The thrill of finding them was more than evident in both guides!

Central Newfoundland is often treated as a “waystop” during bird & nature tours – somewhere to rest on the way to somewhere else. But I grew up in central Newfoundland and know firsthand the great birds, wildlife and scenery it has to offer. So not on my watch! We spent a full day exploring the forests, wetlands and rivers in Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor.

A little taste of rain in central Newfoundland didn't slow us down, and we made the most of some beautiful walking trails in Grand Falls-Windsor. This Ovenbird was one of several new species we saw as we headed west across the province and encountered new habitats and forest types.

A little taste of rain in central Newfoundland didn’t slow us down, and we made the most of some beautiful walking trails in Grand Falls-Windsor. This Ovenbird was one of several new species we saw as we headed west across the province and encountered new habitats and forest types.

Taking a little break from the birding, we also visited the Salmonid Interpretation Centre in Grand Falls-Windsor. It was great opportunity to learn about the amazing Atlantic Salmon and get to see some as they traversed the might Exploits River.

Taking a little break from the birding, we also visited the Salmonid Interpretation Centre in Grand Falls-Windsor. It was great opportunity to learn about Atlantic Salmon and get to see some of these amazing fish as they traversed the might Exploits River.

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Another interesting butterfly was this Arctic Skipper that posed nicely for our cameras during bird walk in Gander. It was actually a new one for my Newfoundland list!

Another interesting butterfly was this Arctic Skipper that posed nicely for our cameras during a bird walk in Gander. It was actually a new one for my Newfoundland list!

Gros Morne National Park offers not only great birding but an opportunity to explore world-famous geological features and lush wilderness. The beautiful landscapes, more varied forests, and stunning Long Range Mountains provide a very different setting than we had experienced anywhere else on the island thus far.

The last few days of our adventure were spent in Gros Morne National Park - an incredibly beautiful and wild place, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The last few days of our adventure were spent in Gros Morne National Park – an incredibly beautiful and wild place, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of our first stops was to admire a treasure of time hiding in plain sight. This ancient critter lived here more than 450 million years ago - long long before birds took to the skies.

One of our first stops was to admire a treasure of time hiding in plain sight. This trilobite lived here more than 450 million years ago – long long before birds ever took to the skies.

Western Broom Pond, an ancient landlocked fjord, is a pinnacle of the park's amazing scenery. Our hike took us through forests and over bogs to this beautiful place - with lots of birds and wildflowers along the way.

Western Brook Pond, an ancient landlocked fjord, is a pinnacle of the park’s amazing scenery. Our hike took us through forests and over bogs to this beautiful place – with lots of birds and wildflowers along the way.

Tall Northern Green Orchids (Platanthera huronensis) were one of several orchid species found blooming along the trail.

Tall Northern Green Orchids (Platanthera huronensis) were one of several orchid species found blooming along the trail.

Our boat cruise through the fjord was a hands-down highlight for the group. The low cloud made for a surreal scene and we even picked up a few new bird species along the way!

Our boat cruise through the fjord was a hands-down highlight for the group. The low cloud made for a surreal scene and we even picked up a few new bird species along the way!

The northernmost stop on the tour was at The Arches Provincial Park, where we explored the rugged coastline and unique rock formations that give the place its name. In this area we encountered Caspian Terns, Common Eider families, both Double-crested and Great Cormorants, and even a big flock of White-winged Crossbill.

The northernmost stop on the tour was at The Arches Provincial Park, where we explored the rugged coastline and unique rock formations that give the place its name. In this area we encountered Caspian Terns, Common Eider families, both Double-crested and Great Cormorants, and even a big flock of White-winged Crossbill.

This year seemed to be an especially good one for some orchids, including these stunning Showy Ladyslippers (Cypripedium reginae). We were fortunate to find them in full bloom and glory.

This year seemed to be an especially good one for some orchids, including these stunning Showy Ladyslippers (Cypripedium reginae). We were fortunate to find them in full bloom and glory.

Less "showy", but eqully notable were these clusters of Striped Coralroot (Corallorhiza striata). These orchids are rare in Newfoundland and listed as endangered since they are only found in a few locations.

Less “showy” but equally notable were these clusters of Vreeland’s Striped Coralroot (Corallorhiza striata vreelandii). These orchids are only found in a few locations on the island and protected under the province’s Endangered Species Act.

Our last full day of exploring included a visit to the Tablelands - a vast outcrop of ultramafic rock that originated in the earth's mantle and was thrust to the surface during a plate collision hundreds of millions of years ago. This rust-coloured moutain lacks most essential nutrients, resulting in very little plant life. It looks more like a chunk of Mars fell and planted itself in the middle of Newfoundland!

Our last full day of exploring included a visit to the Tablelands – a vast outcrop of ultramafic rock that originated in the earth’s mantle and was thrust to the surface during a plate collision hundreds of millions of years ago. This rust-coloured mountain lacks most essential nutrients, resulting in very little plant life. It looks like a chunk of Mars fell and planted itself in the middle of Newfoundland!

One of the signs of life we did see here was Common Butterwort - one of four carnivorous plants we found during the tour!

One of the signs of life we did see here was Common Butterwort – one of four carnivorous plants we found during the tour!

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It was a fantastic tour with fantastic people, and the reviews rolling in have been nothing but stellar! Check out the Eagle-Eye Tours website if you’d like to join us for Grand Newfoundland 2017!!

Codroy Valley & Central Newfoundland – A Birding Excursion!

Early June is a great time to enjoy birds in Newfoundland – and nowhere is that more true than the southwest coast. Not only is the Codroy Valley one of the island’s most beautiful places, it is also home to its 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!

Bird⋅The⋅Rock just wrapped up its first Codroy Valley & Central Newfoundland Tour (June 1-6), where we enjoyed more than 100 species of birds and other wildlife, incredible scenery, and even some local events associated with the Feather & Folk Nature Festival. Leaving St. John’s, we spent one day/night in central Newfoundland along the way – taking in a short hike in Terra Nova National Park and some beautiful walking trails in Grand Falls-Windsor. We also made two visits to the unique estuary at Stephenville Crossing, and spent three full days exploring the mixed forests, wetlands, meadows, beaches and rugged coastlines of the Codroy Valley and surrounding areas. Below are just some of the many highlights … enjoy, and be sure to save the dates (first week of June) to join us for your own adventure in this beautiful part of the province!

We spent a morning exploring the lovely Corduroy Brook Trails in Grand Falls-Windsor. Traversing a mix if habitats from wetlands to boreal and deciduous forests, we enjoyed a great variety of birds.

We spent a morning exploring the lovely Corduroy Brook Trails in Grand Falls-Windsor. Traversing a mix if habitats from wetlands to boreal and deciduous forests, we enjoyed a great variety of birds.

Among the highlights were a number of Tennessee Warblers - an endearing little bird that was more abundant here than in later parts of the tour.

Among the highlights were a number of Tennessee Warblers – an endearing little bird that was more abundant here than in later parts of the tour.

We also enjoyed great looks and the interesting song of this Ovenbird, as it sang from open perches right above the trail.

We also enjoyed great looks and the interesting song of this Ovenbird, as it sang from open perches right above the trail.

A short detour to Stephenville Crossing was very productive, and included several Black-headed Gulls. This European species has barely colonized North America, and this estuary is the only known place where it regularly breeds. They look stunning in their summer plumage!

A short detour to Stephenville Crossing was very productive, and included several Black-headed Gulls. This European species has barely colonized North America, and this estuary is the only known place where it regularly breeds. They look stunning in their summer plumage!

We also encountered this American Golden Plover. While a regular fall migrant, they are rare in spring and this was just the fourth spring record for the province! Documenting it required a walk across the wet, mucky mudflats.

We also encountered this American Golden Plover. While a regular fall migrant, they are rare in spring and this was just the fourth spring record for the province! Documenting it required a walk across the wet, mucky mudflats.

The view from our accommodations included not only the internationally recognized Great Codroy estuary, but also rolling fields, lush forests and the majestic Long Range Mountains (a northern extension of the Appalachians!). It was a treat to start and end each day with this beautiful vista.

The view from our accommodations included not only the internationally recognized Great Codroy estuary, but also rolling fields, lush forests and the majestic Long Range Mountains (a northern extension of the Appalachians!). It was a treat to start and end each day with this beautiful vista.

Gray Catbirds are one of those species that is very uncommon anywhere else in Newfoundland, but is often found in the southwest region. At least four individuals were found during our stay, including this one that was singing away on the Red Rocks Road.

Gray Catbirds are one of those species that is very uncommon anywhere else in Newfoundland, but is often found in the southwest region. At least four individuals were found during our stay, including this one that was singing away on the Red Rocks Road.

The mouth of the Grand Codroy estuary consists of a large, sandy barachois. Birding along both the inner and outer beaches can produce some great birds, as well as some great scenery.

The mouth of the Grand Codroy estuary consists of a large, sandy barachois. Birding along both the inner and outer beaches can produce some great birds, as well as some great scenery.

The sand dunes provide important nesting habitat for a variety of birds.

The sand dunes provide important nesting habitat for a variety of birds.

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Both Common (pictured above) and Arctic Terns nest along the barachois, and can cause quite a ruckus when a walker gets a little too close.

The Piping Plover has experienced drastic population declines in recent decades, due mostly to habitat disturbance. Unfortunately, human activity on sandy beaches (and especially the use of ATVs on local beaches) has created a lot of problems for these little birds.

The Piping Plover has experienced drastic population declines in recent decades, due mostly to habitat disturbance. Unfortunately, human activity on sandy beaches (and especially the use of ATVs on local beaches) has created a lot of problems for these little birds.

Although numbers seem to be improving, they are still absent from much of their traditional range in Newfoundland. We were fortunate to encounter at least five individuals in the Codroy Valley - good vibes on so many levels!

Although numbers seem to be improving, they are still absent from much of their traditional range in Newfoundland. We were fortunate to encounter at least five individuals in the Codroy Valley – good vibes on so many levels!

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Just a few kilometres south, the Little Codroy River also flows into the sea at St. Andrew's. The rich estuary, sandy banks and barrend grasslands of this area provide a stunning foreground to the Long Range Mountains.

Just a few kilometres south, the Little Codroy River also flows into the sea at St. Andrew’s. The rich estuary, sandy banks and barren grasslands of this area provide a stunning foreground to the Long Range Mountains.

We also spotted two Semipalmated Sandpipers on the beach one evening. This species does not breed in Newfoundland, and are rather unexpected in spring (though common during fall migration).

We also spotted two Semipalmated Sandpipers on the beach one evening. This species does not breed in Newfoundland, and are rather unexpected in spring (though common during fall migration).

A pair of Pied-billed Grebe surfaced from the grass in Loch Lomond - the only place in Newfoundland they have been known to breed. We saw another in a nearby pond, suggesting that this scarce species may still be breeding in this little pocket of the island.

A pair of Pied-billed Grebe surfaced from the grass in Loch Lomond – the only place in Newfoundland they have been known to breed. We saw another in a nearby pond, suggesting that this scarce species may still be breeding in this little pocket of the island.

We saw several moose during the tour, including this young bull that was enjoying some tasty bog offerings.

We saw several moose during the tour, including this young bull that was enjoying some tasty bog offerings.

Another highlight was an early morning hike up the Starlite Trail. Under an open canopy of birch trees halfway up, we encountered several great birds. Both Veery and Least Flycatchers are scarce breeders in Newfoundland, and this location may be the most reliable place to find them on the island.

Another highlight was an early morning hike up the Starlite Trail. Under an open canopy of birch trees halfway up, we encountered several great birds. Both Veery and Least Flycatchers are scarce breeders in Newfoundland, and this location may be the most reliable place to find them on the island. Ovenbird are also common on these slopes – moreso than anywhere else in the valley region.

A number of Least Flycatchers were "singing" here, and with a little patience we were able to get nice looks.

A number of Least Flycatchers were “singing” here, and with a little patience we were able to get nice looks.

We also bumped into this American Toad along the trail. Newfoundland has no native amphibians, but these were introduced several decades ago and are now widespread through much of the island.

We also bumped into this American Toad along the trail. Newfoundland has no native amphibians, but these were introduced several decades ago and are now widespread through much of the island.

Chipping Sparrow is another species that seems at home in the Codroy Valley, but very uncommon in other parts of the island. We saw and heard several during our rounds, including this very photogenic one in a local camping area.

Chipping Sparrow is another species that seems at home in the Codroy Valley, but very uncommon in other parts of the island. We saw and heard several during our rounds, including this very photogenic one in a local camping area.

Olive-sided Flycatchers have suffered significant population declines and are considered threatened in Newfoundland, as they are throughout most of their range. We encountered this one on our last evening in the valley - a great cap to our wonderful visit.

Olive-sided Flycatchers have suffered significant population declines and are considered threatened in Newfoundland, as they are throughout most of their range. We encountered this one on our last evening in the valley – a great cap to our wonderful visit.

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

We also took in several social and food events at the Feather & Folk Nature Festival. This festival, much like our tour, is scheduled to coincide with the end of migration and peak songbird season in the Codroy Valley (Photo from 2015).

Stopping in at Stephenville Crossing on the way home, we found a single Willet foraging on the shoreline. Another scarce breeder on the island, this is one of its most regular haunts.

Stopping in at Stephenville Crossing on the way home, we found a single Willet foraging on the shoreline. Another scarce breeder on the island, this is one of its most regular haunts.

We also enjoyed two Gray Jays, hopping around and catching insects in a small bog in a small bog. These birds are never short on entertainment!

We also enjoyed two Gray Jays, hopping around and catching insects in a small bog in a small bog. These birds are never short on entertainment!

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Getting a Little “Spring” in My Step

Spring rarely comes easy in Newfoundland … most years, it is an uphill battle as it struggles against “old man winter” trying to keep its icy/snowy/slushy grip on our island. This year was no exception, and we saw more total snowfall in April than in any other month this winter! But nature has a way of keeping its balance, and migration chugged on pretty much on schedule. A few mild interludes, and a relatively nice May, has certainly helped put a spring back in the step of most Newfoundlanders (especially the birders!).

Feeling a little stir-crazy after weeks of “office” work, I was looking for an excuse to get out and experience a little spring for myself. So when Irish birders Niall Keough and Andrew Power asked if I could join them for a day of all-out birding in early May, I jumped on it. It was Andrew’s first visit to North America, and one of just a few for Niall — so there were lots of exciting things to look for and see. Heading south from St. John’s, we started with a female Purple Martin in Mobile – a local rarity that was only my third for island. A breeding plumaged Black-headed Gull was sitting on the rocks nearby – ho-hum for my friends, but always a treat to see on this side of the Atlantic. Roadside ponds offered a group of Ring-necked Ducks and a Beaver (which was especially exciting for Andrew). At La Manche we nailed one of the duo’s target species – a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers acting very territorial. Several species of finch and both chickadees flitted around some cabins, and a Ruffed rouse drummed away in the forest cover. We soon found another local rarity – a subadult Franklin’s Gull dip-feeding in Cape Broyle harbour. Totally unexpected, and just my second for the province.

This Purple Martin had been hanging around for several days - recorded less than annually in Newfoundland, but one of a number seen so far this spring.

This Purple Martin had been hanging around for several days – recorded less than annually in Newfoundland, but one of a number seen so far this spring.

Black-headed Gulls are regular (though uncommon) in Newfoundland during winter, but it is always a treat to find one in spring sporting its fine breeding plumage.

Black-headed Gulls are regular (though uncommon) in Newfoundland during winter, but it is always a treat to find one in spring sporting its fine breeding plumage.

An even bigger treat was to find this Franklin's Gull - a rare visitor to Newfoundland and totally unexpected.

An even bigger treat was to find this Franklin’s Gull – a rare visitor to Newfoundland and totally unexpected.

The long drive along Cape Race road was shrouded in fog and very quiet, but the one bird we did bump into was another big target – a pair of Willow Ptarmigan right alongside the road, giving awesome views! Similarly, a Snowy Owl lingering near the road in St. Shott’s was a great highlight, though it soon lifted off an disappeared in the thick fog. At St. Vincent’s beach we spotted more than a dozen Pomarine Jaegers battling the very high winds that had suddenly picked up, and then the biggest surprise of the day — a grey-phased Gyrfalcon coursing the beach. We watched it for several minutes before it disappeared over the seawall and never resurfaced (although I never managed to get my camera locked in it!).

This male Willow Ptarmigan was very cooperative, even if the weather wasn't. The female was spotted sitting on a rock just a few yards further up the road.

This male Willow Ptarmigan was very cooperative, even if the weather wasn’t. The female was spotted sitting on a rock just a few yards further up the road.

The winds were suddenly VERY strong and blowing onshore when we arrived at St. Vincent's beach - so maybe the dozen or so Pomarine Jaegers shouldn't have been such a surprise. But seeing them from land in spring is pretty unusual.

The winds were suddenly VERY strong and blowing onshore when we arrived at St. Vincent’s beach – so maybe the dozen or so Pomarine Jaegers shouldn’t have been such a surprise. But seeing them from land in spring is pretty unusual.

The final highlight was not a bid, but a marine mammal that neither of my Irish friends had even dreamed of seeing in Newfoundland – a young Beluga Whale that had been hanging out near the community wharf in Admiral’s Beach! We also saw two Manx Shearwater in the bay there, although they hardly garnered a second look as the guys fawned over the little whale. It was the start of a great marine adventure for these two – a couple days later they boarded the research vessel RV Celtic Explorer and sailed back to Ireland, seeing lots of other whales and seabirds along the way!

This young Beluga Whale was easy to find at Admiral's Beach, where it had been hanging out for several weeks. It turned out to be a huge highlight for my Irish friends, and an excellent end to an awesome day out in the wind & fog!

This young Beluga Whale was easy to find at Admiral’s Beach, where it had been hanging out for several weeks. It turned out to be a huge highlight for my Irish friends, and an excellent end to an awesome day out in the wind & fog!

This week is the beginning of a busy few months of birding and sharing Newfoundland’s amazing wildlife, nature and scenery with dozens of visitors … and I couldn’t be more excited!! Stay tuned for updates on a busy Bird⋅The⋅Rock summer!