A Garganey in the Marsh

We’ve been watching the winds for the past two weeks, waiting for some European rarities to show up. Eight European Golden Plovers and even a Hobby were spotted in late April by researchers on the RV Celtic Explorer in the middle of the North Atlantic, suggesting that birds were headed our way. Eventually, a Black-tailed Godwit was found on April 29 in the unlikely location of Deer Lake, raising suspicions that more must be out there. But then … nothing.

The winds switched to the south last week, bringing in a swath of regular migrants (yay – spring!), and pretty much dashing our hopes for European gold. So when Bruce Mactavish sent me a text on May 7 to report a stunning drake Garganey in a marsh in east St. John’s, I was a little surprised. Had it arrived earlier on the trans-Atlantic winds, or more recently?? There is a pattern of Garganey showing up in May, and often when the winds would least suggest it. This one would be the fifth record for Newfoundland, all of which were spring males!

Somewhere in this very distant photo is a stunning male Garganey. Honest.

Somewhere in this very distant photo is a stunning male Garganey. Honest.

It took a couple hours, but I eventually snuck away from work and family obligations to go take a look. It was hiding in reeds several hundred metres from the viewing platform where I stood, at the back of a marsh surrounded by inaccessible industrial yards. When visible, looks were pretty good through a scope but much too far for photos. A few people saw it in closer parts of the marsh over the next two days and managed some record photos, but for the most part it remained a bit elusive. It has not been reported since May 9.

This drake Garganey (ABA Code 4) was in St. John's on May 15-16, 2009 ... and very cooperative for at least a couple hours!

This drake Garganey (ABA Code 4) was in St. John’s on May 15-16, 2009 … and very cooperative for at least a couple hours!

A single European Golden Plover was reported from Carmanville (Gander Bay) on May 11, but otherwise there have been no reports and the usual window is closing now. Sure — a GarganeyBlack-tailed Godwit and European Golden Plover is in fact a pretty decent few weeks, but it seems a tad anti-climactic. I guess last year’s show spoiled us!!

European Golden Plovers are rare but regular in Newfoundland, with at least one showing up most years. And that's just what we got this year ... one! (These individuals were photographed in 2014).

European Golden Plovers are rare but regular in Newfoundland, with at least one showing up most years. And that’s just what we got this year … one! (These individuals were photographed in 2014).

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Wrapping-up: The “Euro Invasion” of Spring 2014

It has been a crazy three weeks! It all began when we started noticing strong, persistent northeasterly winds setting up across the North Atlantic in late April – a system that Newfoundland birders hope for at this time of year. Spring migration of European birds over the Atlantic, especially to Iceland & Greenland, is peaking in late April and early May and history has shown that these weather systems can bring wayward migrants to our coasts.

This fun photo, showing a mega-rare Common Redshank with an iceberg backdrop, is a nice reflection for how spring has been in Newfoundland. Cold, beautiful, and extremely exciting!!

This fun photo, showing a mega-rare Common Redshank with an iceberg backdrop, is a nice reflection for how spring has been in Newfoundland. Cold, beautiful, and extremely exciting!!

The "event" started with two Black-tailed Godwits discovered in Renews, and just kept growing over the next two weeks.

The “event” started with two Black-tailed Godwits discovered in Renews, and just kept growing over the next two weeks.

It all started coming together on April 25, when two Black-tailed Godwits were photographed in Renews. The next morning, the first European Golden Plover was discovered in a field just 100m from the godwits. When eleven more were reported from three other locations across the province (Cape Race, St. John’s and Gros Morne National Park), the alarm bells started ringing. With the winds still blasting in from the northeast and a forecast for them to stay that way for the foreseeable future, we knew we were in for an exciting event. And the birds just kept coming …

A Summary of the Spring 2014 “Invasion” (April 25 – May 13)

  • COMMON REDSHANK 2 !! A single bird present at Renews from May 3-13 was joined briefly by a second on May 4.
  • ROSS’S GULL – an adult at Torbay (April 29-30) was completely unexpected and may have caused more local excitement than any other bird this spring.
  • BLACK-TAILED GODWIT – a total of 12 (!!) reported at six locations island-wide.
  • EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVER200+ individuals reported from two dozen locations all over the island & SE Labrador … not quite a record invasion, but very very impressive.
  • NORTHERN WHEATEARDozens reported from locations island-wide – and clearly many more went unnoticed.
  • (EURASIAN) WHIMBREL 1 at Cape Spear (May 3)
  • DUNLIN (Icelandic/Greenland race) 1 at Cape Spear (May 3). This may be of the schinzii subspecies which has very few, if any, previous records in North America.
The breadth of the invasion was evident not only in the number of European Golden Plover reported in early May, but also the geographic distribution across the entire east/northeast coast of Newfoundland and southeastern Labrador.

The breadth of the invasion was evident not only in the number of European Golden Plover reported in early May, but also the geographic distribution across the entire east/northeast coast of Newfoundland and southeastern Labrador.

The largest single flock of European Golden Plovers occurred in Goulds (St. John's), where an initial handful of birds swelled to at least 90 in just a few days!

The largest single flock of European Golden Plovers occurred in Goulds (St. John’s), where an initial handful of birds swelled to at least 90 in just a few days!

These European Golden Plovers, part of a flock of nine, were in an unassuming backyard at Old Perlican on the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula.

These European Golden Plovers, part of a flock of nine, were in an unassuming backyard at Old Perlican on the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula.

During that time, I have been able to enjoy seeing many of these amazing birds, visit some of my favourite birding locations, and share the experience with many other birders from near & far. I have especially enjoyed birding with a number of keen birders who visited from all over North America to see these incredible ABA rarities … people from Ontario, Maine, New York, Massachussetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas & California!!

I was fortunate enough to see six Black-tailed Godwits in four far-flung locations during  the past few weeks - including two at Renews, two in St. Paul's Inlet, one in Goulds and this one at Old Perlican.

I was fortunate enough to see six Black-tailed Godwits in four far-flung locations during the past few weeks – including two at Renews, two in St. Paul’s Inlet, one in Goulds and this one at Old Perlican.

BTGO_May4OldPerlican_9022After a long, cold but very thrilling three weeks, the winds have finally turned southerly and many of our lingering visitors appear to have moved on – hopefully back to their intended destinations of Iceland & Greenland. Regular spring migration is rearing its head now, with a flood of more expected arrivals from down south being reported in the past few days. While the “Euro Invasion” of spring 2014 is winding down, the awesome birds & birding of these past few weeks will remain fresh in our memories for a long time to come … and we’ll always be keeping an eye on the winds!

Northern Wheatears are rare but expected in Newfoundland most springs. However, these winds brought dozens of reports, likely of birds that would have been destined for breeding grounds in Iceland or Greenland rather than northern Labrador.

Northern Wheatears are rare but expected in Newfoundland most springs. However, these winds brought dozens of reports, likely of birds that would have been destined for breeding grounds in Iceland or Greenland rather than northern Labrador.

NOWH_Ma22014Ferryland_8531a

However, the real star of the Euro Inasion was a Common Redshank at Renews from May 3-13. Since it represented just the third record (and sixth individual) for both Newfoundland and North America, many birder came from near and far to see it. A second individual presnt at the same location on May 4 was chased off by the first and never seen again!

However, the real star of the Euro Invasion was a Common Redshank at Renews from May 3-13. Since it represented just the third record (and seventh individual) for both Newfoundland and North America, many birder came from near and far to see it. A second individual presnt at the same location on May 4 was chased off by the first and never seen again!

RedshankFlight_9610

The striking wing and rump pattern of Common Redshank is very different than the familiar Greater Yellowlegs that were also hanging out at Renews.

Redshank_May102014_9434

We seem to have said “Good-bye” to this popular visitor, with no reports since May 13 despite plenty of looking. And so winds down this amazing event that has dominated Newfoundland (and North American) birding so far this spring!

(Pl)overload – the invasion continues

The invasion of Icelandic vagrants into Newfoundland continues to grow … both in terms of geography and species. More than 130 European Golden Plovers, 7 Black-tailed Godwits, a handful of Northern Wheatear and an incredible Ross’s Gull have been reported across Newfoundland and southern Labrador in the past seven days. And now, this morning, news has broken that a COMMON REDSHANK has been discovered in Renews (more about that later).

St. Paul's Inlet, GMNP

St. Paul’s Inlet, GMNP

Since I had to travel to western Newfoundland this week for meetings, I decided to make the most of it and tag on a day of birding. On April 30, I joined my friend and biologist Darroch Whitaker for a day of birding in Gros Morne National Park. It was an awesome day in an amazing setting – hiking for kilometres across vast tidal flats in St. Paul’s Inlet with the beautiful Long Range Mountains looming in the background. After a good walk, we managed to refind the two Black-tailed Godwits that he had discovered a few days earlier. They were distant and wary, but it still felt great to see and made the trek all the more rewarding. While birds were scarce (the only other shorebirds were one Greater Yellowlegs and a pair of Killdeer), we did come across a recently dead Snowy Owl and a European Green Crab. And the scenery was hard to ignore! We also checked out a dead Blue Whale which has washed ashore in Rocky Harbour, hoping for (but not finding) some arctic gulls. Later, we also refound two European Golden Plovers that Darroch had discovered several days prior while biking through Sally’s Cove. They proved very amicable, at times approaching the car so close that it was difficult to photograph them!

EGPL_Apr302014_GMNP_7478EGPL_Apr30GMNP_7868 EGPL_Apr30GMNP_7912 EGPL_Apr30GMNP_7947DW_deadSNOW_7387 GreenCrab_GMNP_7364Iceberg_BearCove_8298After returning to St. John’s, I spent yesterday (May 2) rarity-hunting with a birder from Texas. Barrett has visited Newfoundland several times before in search of Eurasian rarities, and is back again in the wake of this recent invasion. We had an excellent day, seeing a total of 66 European Golden Plover at three locations (Goulds, Bay Bulls and Renews) and finding a stunning male Northern Wheatear in Ferryland.

EGPL_May22014Renews_8065 EGPL_May22014Renews_8214 EGPL_May22014Renews_8255 EGPL_May22014Renews_8267EGPL_May22014Renews_8163NOWH_May22014Ferryland_8545 NOWH_Ma22014Ferryland_8531bNo doubt we’ll be chasing the Common  Redshank in a few hours, once we finish a short hike I am committed to leading (talk about harsh timing!!).

 

The invasion is coming! European Golden Plovers + Black-tailed Godwits

Alvan Buckley & I were among a handful of hopeful birders headed south from St. John’s Saturday morning, following Friday evening’s revelation that two BLACK-TAILED GODWITS had been seen in Renews (found & photographed by local Tony Dunne). As mentioned in my last post, the winds have been lining up for a potential invasion of European/Icelandic vagrants, caught up in the airflows during their trans-Atlantic migration … and we were excited by the possibility of finding even more rarities.

Photo: Jared Clarke (April 26, 2014)

Photo: Jared Clarke (April 26, 2014)

It didn’t take long to find the Black-tailed Godwits feeding in a freshwater pool alongside the road in Renews – both (apparently males) in bright breeding plumage. Immediately upon arriving, we got word from Bruce Mactavish that he and two others had discovered a European Golden Plover on a field just 100m down the road (a field, by the way, that is already known in local birding circles for having hosted a Northern Lapwing a few years ago). Being the gluttons we are, we headed over and soaked up views of this great bird (also in nice breeding plumage) with the imprint of those amazing godwits still fresh on the back of our eyeballs! European Golden Plover are nearly annual in Newfoundland, although a “big” invasion hasn’t really happened in recent years (and, surprisingly, there were no reports at all last spring). Things were (and are!) building up to an event of sorts.

Photo: Jared Clarke (April 26, 2014)

Photo: Jared Clarke (April 26, 2014)

Throughout the day, a cool dozen European Golden Plover were reported from four locations across the island (1 in Renews, 3 at Cape Race, 6 in St. John’s and 2 in Gros Morne National Park). The breadth of these reports, spanning almost the entire northeast facing portion of the island, suggests there are many more out there — and some of the best places along that coast remain unchecked. The winds are still developing, looking like arrivals of these (and hopefully other!!!) Icelandic migrants could continue over the next few days. LOOK OUT!!

BTGO_Apr262014_6587 BTGO_Apr262014_6726 BTGO_Apr262014_6914BTGO_Apr262014_6788 BTGO_Apr262014_6793 BTGO_Apr262014_6811 BTGO_Apr262014_6821 BTGO_Apr262014_6879 BTGO_Apr262014_6969 EGPL_Apr262014_6337

BLACK-TAILED GODWITS!! Has a Euro fallout begun?!?!

Email chatter between Newfoundland birders the past few days has been about one thing — the winds. They have been lining up nicely across the North Atlantic for several days now – just the way we want to see them in late April. This is THE time for European vagrants to show up on our shores, and a low pressure system churning over the ocean between us and Iceland is a recipe for birds migrating there to get flung in our direction.

One of two Black-tailed Godwits photographed in Renews today. - Photo: Tony Dunne (April 25, 2014)

One of two Black-tailed Godwits photographed in Renews today.
– Photo: Tony Dunne (April 25, 2014)

I was expecting to hear a report of European Golden Plovers (almost annual in Newfoundland) any day now, but was shocked when I opened my email this evening and saw photos of TWO breeding plumaged BLACK-TAILED GODWITS from Renews today (found and photographed by Tony Dunne). This species occurs in Newfoundland every few years, but considering there are two (just the second record of multiple birds) combined with the persistent easterly winds of the past few days … well my excitement level is spiraling! There are likely more birds out there – and more to come since the winds are forecast not only to continue but to improve over the next 72 hours!!

Plenty of European rarities have been recorded here in late April, including Common Redshank, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Garganey and Redwing … and plenty more could be on the menu based on species that are migrating to Iceland right now. We haven’t seen a real “fallout” of European birds since a similar system in late April 1995 brought dozens of European Golden Plover, five Pink-footed Geese, and four Common Redshanks (North America’s first record, with the only subsequent record occurring here four years later). Numerous Northern Wheatear and as many as three “Eurasian” Whimbrel were also recorded during that time. What was missed?!?! Could we be in for another fallout?!?!

STAY TUNED!!!

This map shows the winds as they currently are (Friday evening, April 25) ... looking awesome!!

This map shows the winds as they currently are (Friday evening, April 25) … looking awesome!!

Another map showing the winds forecast for Sunday afternoon -- things only get better!!

Another map showing the winds forecast for Sunday afternoon — things only get better!!

The potential arrival of European Golden Plovers are a much anticipated thing for Newfoundland birders, who keep an eye on the trans-Atlantic weather and and scour fields and barrens along the northeast coast. - Photo: Jared Clarke

The potential arrival of European Golden Plovers are a much anticipated thing for Newfoundland birders, who keep an eye on the trans-Atlantic weather and and scour fields and barrens along the northeast coast.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (May 16, 2010)

These two Black-tailed Godwits, which showed up on the Bonavista peninsula in May 2011, mark the only other record of multiple birds in Newfoundland.  - Photo: Jared Clarke (May 25, 2011)

These two Black-tailed Godwits, which showed up on the Bonavista peninsula in May 2011, mark the only other record of multiple birds in Newfoundland.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (May 25, 2011)