“Newfoundland Adventure”, June 29 – July 5

Newfoundland is an amazing place at any time of year, but early summer just might take the cake. It certainly did this year! Starting at the end of June, I was fortunate to join another great group of visitors from all over the world for their “Newfoundland Adventure” with Wildland Tours. Here are just a few photo highlights of the many, many things we enjoyed!

Here is our Wildland Tours group at Tickle Cove, Bonavista Bay. What a great bunch!!

Here is our Wildland Tours group at Tickle Cove, Bonavista Bay. What a great bunch!!

Our tour began & ended in North America' oldest city. There's never a lack of things to do in St. John's.

Our tour began & ended in North America’ oldest city. There’s never a lack of things to do in St. John’s.

The whales had arrived en masse in the days before our tour, and they entertained us from day one when we visited Witless Bay Ecological Reserve with O'Brien's Tours.

The whales had arrived en masse in the days before our tour, and they entertained us from day one when we visited Witless Bay Ecological Reserve with O’Brien’s Tours.

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Berry season was still weeks away, but the blossoms were a good sign. These blueberry flowers were at Blackhead.

Berry season was still weeks away, but the blossoms were a good sign. These blueberry flowers were at Blackhead.

This nealy iconic photo of St. John's narrows, an iceberg and a humpback whale was taken from Cape Spear, North America's easternmost point.

This nealy iconic photo of St. John’s narrows, an iceberg and a humpback whale was taken from Cape Spear, North America’s easternmost point.

A pair of Willow Ptarmigan graced us by crossing the road near Newfoundland's southernmost lighthouse, Cape Pine.

A pair of Willow Ptarmigan graced us by crossing the road near Newfoundland’s southernmost lighthouse, Cape Pine.

Cape Pine also produced our first Short-tailed Swallowtails of the trip ... they were plentiful at most headlands during the week.

Cape Pine also produced our first Short-tailed Swallowtails of the trip … they were plentiful at most headlands during the week.

Whales were part of the action every day - like this one at St. Vincent's which was breaching and waving.

Whales were part of the action every day – like this one at St. Vincent’s which was breaching and waving.

No visit to Newfoundland is complete without a visit to Cape St. Mary's. Despite some heavy fog (which, to be honest, is part of the experience there!) we enjoyed amazing views of the Northern Gannet colony.

No visit to Newfoundland is complete without a visit to Cape St. Mary’s. Despite some heavy fog (which, to be honest, is part of the experience there!) we enjoyed amazing views of the Northern Gannet colony.

Our group also enjoyed a zodiac tour of Bonavista Bay with Sea of Whale Adventures ...

Our group also enjoyed a zodiac tour of Bonavista Bay with Sea of Whale Adventures …

... and, of course, icebergs were one of the main attractions.

… and, of course, icebergs were one of the main attractions.

The tour ended in the scenic community of King's Cove.

The tour ended in the scenic community of King’s Cove.

A short hike around King's Cove (while the rest of the group enjoyed the zodiac ride!) included a very confiding Spotted Sandpiper

A short hike around King’s Cove (while the rest of the group enjoyed the zodiac ride!) included a very confiding Spotted Sandpiper.

As well as some confiding dragonflies like this Forcipate Emerald (a new one for me) ...

As well as some confiding dragonflies like this Forcipate Emerald (a new one for me) …

and this Four-spotted Skimmer.

and this Four-spotted Skimmer.

We took advantage of the sunny afternoon to hike the Skerwink Trail. Incredible scenery ...

We took advantage of the sunny afternoon to hike the Skerwink Trail.

Incredible scenery ...

Incredible scenery …

whales ...

whales …

and another stunning iceberg.

and another stunning iceberg.

We also encountered our first caplin of the trip -- masses of them spawning and rolling on a beach as we watched from a cliff high above.

We also encountered our first capelin of the trip — masses of them spawning and rolling on a beach as we watched from a cliff high above.

We also enjoyed a visit to Elliston, where the Atlantic Puffins can be enjoyed comfortably from land.

We also enjoyed a visit to Elliston, where the Atlantic Puffins can be enjoyed comfortably from land.

This Mustard White was at Elliston was a bit of a surprise for me ... I see them so rarely in eastern Newfoundland, though they may be more common than I realize in other areas.

This Mustard White was at Elliston was a bit of a surprise for me … I see them so rarely in eastern Newfoundland, though they may be more common than I realize in other areas.

These Beach-head Irises were blooming in many locations. Here, the town of Elliston lingers in the background.

These Beach-head Irises were blooming in many locations. Here, the town of Elliston lingers in the background.

Northern Blue butterflies were abundant at the tip of the Bonavista Peninsula ... I spent a fair bit of time chasing them around the barrens trying to catch a decent photo!

Northern Blue butterflies were abundant at the tip of the Bonavista Peninsula … I spent a fair bit of time chasing them around the barrens trying in vain to catch a decent photo!

Food is a big part of any tour, and this one didn't disappoint. This delicious mooseburger (complete with partridgeberry ketchup and homemade chips) was a popular choice at the Bonavista Social Club.

Food is a big part of any tour, and this one didn’t disappoint. This delicious mooseburger (complete with partridgeberry ketchup and homemade chips) was a popular choice at the Bonavista Social Club.

Another brilliant iceberg was grounded just off the scenic little outport of Red Cliff, Bonavista Bay.

Another brilliant iceberg was grounded just off the scenic little outport of Red Cliff, Bonavista Bay.

The sea arch at nearby Tickle Cove is always a beautiful sight, but especially when you can spot a massive iceberg through it!

The sea arch at nearby Tickle Cove is always a beautiful sight, but especially so when you can spot a massive iceberg through it!

A shot of Tickle Cove with an iris in the foreground.

A shot of Tickle Cove with an iris in the foreground.

Beach Pea is another lovely but often overlooked flower that blossoms on our beaches.

Beach Pea is another lovely but often overlooked flower that blossoms on our beaches.

We ended the week with a wonderful day back in St. John's.

We ended the week with a wonderful day back in St. John’s.

Our final day of the tour began with a boat tour out of St. John's harbour ... passing the iconic Battery along the way.

Our final day of the tour began with a boat tour … passing the iconic Battery along the way.

Not surprisingly, the highlight was getting up close and personal with more icebergs. Here we could see St. John's in the distance between two bergs.

Not surprisingly, the highlight was getting up close and personal with more icebergs. Here we could see St. John’s in the distance between two bergs.

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A view of St. John's harbour as we entered the narrows.

A view of St. John’s harbour as we entered the narrows.

We also hiked from Signal Hill to the qualit Quidi Vidi village, stopping to enjoy some Bald Eagle chicks along the way.

We also hiked from Signal Hill to the quaint Quidi Vidi village, stopping to enjoy some Bald Eagle chicks along the way.

Our last stop was Middle Cove Beach, just north of the city ...

Our last stop was Middle Cove Beach, just north of the city …

...where we found a small run of capelin "rolling" on the beach.

…where we found a small run of capelin “rolling” on the beach.

Capelin require coarse sandy beaches in order to spawn ... huge schools "roll" in with the tide, with the females depositing as many as 50,000 eggs each!

Capelin require coarse sandy beaches in order to spawn … huge schools “roll” in with the tide, with the females depositing as many as 50,000 eggs each!

Caplin_MCVJuly5_4141It was another awesome week, filled with lots of fun, beautiful weather, and all the trimmings of a real Newfoundland adventure! Icebergs, whales, seabirds, moose, excellent food … and a great group of people to share it with. Thanks to everyone for joining me on this Wildland Tours excursion. I’m looking forward to leading another one in August!

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Bergs, birds, whales & history …

June has been a hectic month … hence the lack of blog updates. I have been busy leading a number of tours – private bookings and for folks like Wildland Tours and Eagle Eye Tours/Adventure Canada. The excursions have ranged from one to seven days and involved birds, bergs, whales, and even a little history! It’s nice to be making use of more than just my birding knowledge for a change!

I begin yet another week-long tour in just a few hours, so no time for a detailed post — but here are some photo highlights from the past few weeks. It has been fun!!

Icebergs have been everywhere this spring - including one we enjoyed right alongside the huge seabird colonies of Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (Wildland Tours/Adventure Canada/O'Briens Boat Tours)

Icebergs have been everywhere this spring – including one we enjoyed right alongside the huge seabird colonies of Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (Wildland Tours/Adventure Canada/O’Briens Boat Tours)

The massive colonies of Common Murre in Witless Bay Ecological Reserve are always awe-inspiring! (Wildland Tours/Adventure Canada/O'Brien's Boat Tours)

The massive colonies of Common Murre in Witless Bay Ecological Reserve are always awe-inspiring!

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Atlantic Puffin, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (Wildland Tours/Adventure Canada/O'Brien's Boat Tours)

Atlantic Puffin, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Common Murre, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (Wildland Tours/Adventure Canada/O'Brien's Boat Tours)

Common Murre, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Razorbills, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (Wildland Tours/Adventure Canada/O'Brien's Boat Tours)

Razorbills, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Cape Pine is the southernmost point of land in Newfoundland ...

Cape Pine is the southernmost point of land in Newfoundland …

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… and an excellent place to see Short-tailed Swallowtail, which has a very restricted range and is more or less an island specialty.

Nearby St. Shott's is the island's southernmost community, and beautifully rugged. (Wildland Tours)

Nearby St. Shott’s is the island’s southernmost community, and beautifully rugged.

Following on this theme, North America's southernmost herd of Woodland Caribou can often be seen in this area, too.

Following on this theme, North America’s southernmost herd of Woodland Caribou can often be seen in this area, too. These ones were near Sam’s River.

Arctic Tern have been nesting on the bach at St. Vincent's for a number of years now, allowing for unusually close encounters with these often shy birds.

Arctic Tern have been nesting on the bach at St. Vincent’s for a number of years now, allowing for unusually close encounters with these often shy birds.

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Castle Hill provides not only a great look at an important part of Newfoundland's history, but also a fantastic view over Placentia, which was once the "French capital" of our island.

Castle Hill provides not only a great look at an important part of Newfoundland’s history, but also a fantastic view over Placentia, which was once the “French capital” of our island.

We enjoyed a visit by a pair of inquisitive Gray Jays while visiting Castle Hill.

We enjoyed a visit by a pair of inquisitive Gray Jays while visiting Castle Hill.

I enjoyed some stunning evening light and scenery at the beautiful boat harbour in St. Bride's ...

I enjoyed some stunning evening light and scenery at the beautiful boat harbour in St. Bride’s …

... some of it a sad reminder of the struggle that these communities have had to face since the closure of the cod fishery.

… some of it a sad reminder of the struggle that these communities have had to face since the closure of the cod fishery.

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The sunset at St. Bride's was amazing.

The sunset at St. Bride’s was amazing.

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Cape St. Mary's and its Northern Gannets are always a crowd pleaser - and all my groups had fantastic days there, with or without the fog!

Cape St. Mary’s and its Northern Gannets are always a crowd pleaser – and all my groups had fantastic days there, with or without the fog!

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The icebergs in Bonavista & Trinity Bays were incredible - in number, size and sheer beauty. Some dramatic skies added to the scene at times.

The icebergs in Bonavista & Trinity Bays were incredible – in number, size and sheer beauty. Some dramatic skies added to the scene at times.

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Sometimes, a whale or two even got in the way of the iceberg viewing  ;)

Sometimes, a whale or two even got in the way of the iceberg viewing 😉

A visit to historic Trinity was also a highlight.

A visit to historic Trinity was also a highlight.

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Our tour of "Cape Random" (near New Bonaventure) was fun, and included yet another iceberg right in the cove.

Our tour of “Cape Random” (near New Bonaventure) was fun, and included yet another iceberg right in the cove.

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We also enjoyed a short visit with the Atlantic Puffins at Elliston, where the colony can be viewed comfortably from land.

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A boat tour out of St. John's harbour give a new perspective on Cape Spear, North America's easternmost point - this time with a rainstorm brewing in the background.

A boat tour out of St. John’s harbour gives a new perspective on Cape Spear, North America’s easternmost point – this time with a rainstorm brewing in the background.

And, of course, more icebergs. There were some mammoths outside the narrows this month!

And, of course, more icebergs. There were some mammoths outside the narrows this month!

Humpback Whales have been showing up in the past two weeks, following the capelin inshore. I expect to see a lot more of them this week!

Humpback Whales have been showing up in the past two weeks, following the capelin inshore. I expect to see a lot more of them this week!

Ash-throated Flycatcher in Newfoundland …

News of a Myiarchus flycatcher in Bonavista surfaced yesterday (October 31), when local birder Jon Joy sent photos of an odd flycatcher that had been frequenting his yard since the day before. While any of those species would be very rare in Newfoundland, the date immediately suggested that Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens) must be considered. Although this species breeds only as close as the southwestern United States, it is well-known for its habit of wandering far afield during fall migration, sometimes well out of its normal range. After consulting some out-of-province birders with more experience separating this species from the more regular Great-crested Flycatcher (which itself is only recorded in Newfoundland every few years), the bird was deemed a “slam-dunk Ash-throated” – just the second record for the province!!

This striking Ash-throated Flycatcher was discovered at Bonavista on October 29, marking just the second record of the southwestern species for the province. It was an exciting find, and so far has hung around for at least a few birders to make the trek.
– Photo: Ken Knowles, November 1 2012

Three St. John’s birder made the 3+ hour trek early this morning, arriving in Bonavista around sunrise and soon (much to their relief) found the bird hanging out around the same house – often hiding in some raspberry plants at the back of the property. And with that, the number of Newfoundland birders who can claim Ash-throated Flycatcher for their provincial list had doubled. More birders will make the trip tomorrow, hoping the bird is planning to stick around for at least one more day.

Fortunately, I happen to be one of the three lucky birders who saw the first and only other record for Ash-throated Flycatcher – a far less cooperative bird that was seen in Ferryland (southeast Avalon) for less than an hour, never to be found again. Here’s the story …

It was November 14, 2009. Dave Brown, Chris Ryan and I had been birding some small communities and generally under-birded spots along the Avalon’s east coast – a late fall tradition I started a few years earlier and dubbed the “off-the-beaten-track tour”. We were already having a good morning, having found a Dickcissel, Indigo Bunting, Orange-crowned Warbler, a few late shorebirds and (most recently) a bright Pine Warbler. It was about 11:00am as we rolled into the “pig farm delta” area of Trepassey and spread out to look for birds. Suddenly, I heard Dave shout something from the top of a long driveway which leads to a house and feeder we always check. It took a second for the words to sink in and make sense, but then it struck me. “ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER!!” I ran as fast as my clunky rubber boots would carry me, making it there just in time to see a drab Myiarchus flycatcher drop down from a treetop.  We scanned the area for several minutes, but the bird never popped up again. By now Chris had caught up to us, and we decided to start searching nearby properties. Amazingly, Chris managed to reach another team of birders that had been birding Cape Race, a good hour south of us (where cell phone coverage is notoriously patchy). We could almost hear their tires screeching as they sped north.

This Ash-throated Flycatcher, photographed in Ferryland on November 14, 2009, was the first record for Newfoundland. However, it was far less cooperative and only stayed for a matter of minutes after first being spotted.
– Photo: Jared Clarke

We immediately got permission to search a neighbouring property (and some quizzical looks as we explained what we were looking for!). After a few minutes poking around, I rounded the back of a woodshed to find Dave and Chris staring intently at some bushes just yards away. There, sitting eye-level and quite contentedly, was the bird. After studying it through my binoculars for a few short moments, I was able to get some mediocre but very important photos. Then the bird flew up to a nearby conifer, sat for another minute or so, and darted around the corner of the house. We decided as a group not to try for better looks or more photographs, so as not to scare it off. I managed to spot the bird momentarily further down the driveway and tried to keep an eye on it from a distance, but it eventually flew down and disappeared. The other team of birders arrived twenty minutes later, and still more over the next hour or so – but the bird itself was never refound. A painful moment for some, since Ash-throated Flycatcher had been a long-awaited addition to the Newfoundland checklist.

Hopefully the Bonavista bird is a bit more confiding and can heal a few more wounds from that November day. Me?? I’m just happy I don’t have to make that 3+ hour trek in order to find out!!