“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!!

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Grand Newfoundland: An Eagle Eye Tours Adventure!

A unique opportunity to enjoy Newfoundland’s remarkable nature with two of Canada’s leading bird guides!

With a busy spring and summer close at hand, I’m excited about the many birds and adventures ahead – and the many people I will get to share them with! Among those adventures will be one very special tour – Grand Newfoundland with Eagle Eye Tours. We designed this unique, 11-day tour to not only hit the island’s hottest birding locations, but also its most scenic. Since it is being led by a local (me!), we will be visiting some lesser known places and taking time to look for some of the island’s more “difficult” birds as well as lots of other natural highlights. We have lots of great experiences planned for our guests!

I’m equally excited to be welcoming my good friend and one of Canada’s leading bird guides Jody Allair to co-lead this tour! Jody is a biologist and educator with Bird Studies Canada, and a portion of the proceeds from this tour go back to support their great work. Together, Jody and I have led top-ranked tours in New Brunswick, Hawaii and Trinidad & Tobago … and now we get to show off this amazing place I call home!

Be sure to check out all the details and a full itinerary by clicking here (http://www.eagle-eye.com/Newfoundland-Birding-Tour).

Soon, the famous Atlantic Puffin colonies along our coast will look like this again - alive and colourful.

Among the tour highlights will be visits to several spectacular seabird colonies, including North America’s largest Atlantic Puffin colony at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve.

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We will also check out the incredible Northern Gannet colony at Cape St. Mary’s – allowing us not only to get up close and personal with these and other majestic birds, but also to enjoy some of the islands most amazing coastlines.

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Boreal Chickadee

We’ll also be exploring Newfoundland’s lush boreal forests in search northern gems like this and many others.

Mourning Warblers are always fun to see, despite being a little more widespread than some of the other Codroy species. This one was actually photographed in central Newfoundland on the way home.

A wide variety of songbirds breed across the island, and the diversity changes at almost every stop along the way.

Although most were busy gorging on the schools of caplin, a few enetertained us with some beautiful breaches. This one in front of the historic town of Trinity!

And it’s not just birds … we’ll be looking for whales, icebergs, moose, caribou, wildlflowers and many other highlights along the way!

Even when the birds were making themselves scarce, we found lots of amazing things to look at - including beautiful orchids like these Pink Ladyslippers ...

A view over Bonne Bay, in the middle of beautiful Gros Morne National Park.

Heading west from the historic Avalon Peninsula, we’ll also visit two stunning national parks – including Gros Morne National Park which is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also an amazing place for birds and wildlife.

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Don’t miss out on this awesome opportunity — there are TONS of birds and other highlights waiting here just for you!

 

WINGS 2016: Winter Birds in Newfoundland

Winter is a fun and special time to go birding in Newfoundland – which is why a group of WINGS tour participants brave the cold weather to visit here every January. This year, four birders (one from Maryland and three friends from California) made the voyage north to explore our rugged island! And I had the pleasure of sharing the wonderful birds & beautiful scenery of the eastern Avalon Peninsula with them. (This is my third year leading this adventure – and it always a great time! Follow these links to read blog posts about the 2014 and 2015 tours.)

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 tour is based out of St. John’s – one of the oldest cities in North America and located at its easternmost reaches. A variety of interesting and exciting species can be found around St. John’s during winter, and this year did not disappoint. Among the nine species of gulls found were Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and European Mew (Common) Gulls. Rare anywhere else on the continent, we enjoyed dozens of Tufted Ducks, several Eurasian Wigeon and two beautiful Eurasian (Common) Teal amid an array of the more expected North American waterfowl.

Traveling outside the city on several occasions, we enjoyed more exciting birds and stunning coastal scenery. Dovekie is always a key target during this tour and were present in excellent numbers, including a few cooperative birds that lingered just metres away. We also encountered Black-legged Kittiwakes during strong onshore winds – a species not often seen from shore in winter. Purple Sandpipers and Great Cormorants put in an excellent showing, posing on the coastal rocks. Boreal Chickadees, White-winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks gave us amazing looks, as did at least two Northern Goshawks and a very surprised Willow Ptarmigan. It was a fantastic tour with exciting birds, great people, and a wonderful setting!

We wpent a lot of time along the Avalon's rugged but beautiful coast during the week - lots of birds and stunning scenery!

We spent a lot of time along the Avalon’s rugged but beautiful coast during the week – lots of birds and stunning scenery!

Dovekie were no trouble to find this year, which is not always the case! We saw dozens most days, often flying past but sometimes obliging us with closer looks as they fed close by.

Dovekie were no trouble to find this year, which is not always the case! We saw dozens most days, often flying past but sometimes obliging us with great looks as they fed close by.

This photo, from last year's WINGS tours, shows just how cooperative Dovekie can be. We enjoyed several like this during the week.

This photo, from last year’s WINGS tour, shows just how cooperative Dovekie can be. We enjoyed several like this during the week.

Purple Sandpipers were also stars of this year's tour - we found three flocks of 50+ birds, all of which provided excellent views.

Purple Sandpipers were also stars of this year’s tour – we found three flocks of 50+ birds, all of which provided excellent views.

When not seaside, we enjoyed some beautiful walks in the local boreal forest and along streams and rivers.

When not seaside, we enjoyed some beautiful walks in the local boreal forest and along streams & rivers.

White-winged Crossbills have been arriving on the Avalon this month, and provided to be a crowd-pleaser for our participants.

White-winged Crossbills have been arriving on the Avalon this month, and proved to be a crowd-pleaser for our participants.

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The classy looking Tufted Duck is another popular bird for visitors, and we saw more than 40 this past week!

The classy looking Tufted Duck is another popular bird for visitors, and we saw more than 40 this past week!

This drake Eurasian Green-winged (aka Common) Teal was one of two drakes hanging out along a sheltered brook in St. John's. Maybe one day they will be "split" into separate species, as some authorities currently consider them.

This drake Eurasian Green-winged (aka Common) Teal was one of two drakes hanging out along a sheltered brook in St. John’s. Maybe one day they will be “split” into separate species, as some authorities currently consider them.

Another uncommon duck (though of North American origins) was this drake Barrow's Goldeneye spotted among a flock of Common Goldeneye in Spaniard's Bay (CBN).

Another uncommon duck (though of North American origins) was this drake Barrow’s Goldeneye spotted amid a flock of Common Goldeneye in Spaniard’s Bay (CBN).

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Lovely day for a picnic 😉

We also enjoyed several sightings of three species of seal, including this group of Harp Seals.

We also enjoyed several sightings of three species of seal, including this group of Harp Seals.

Gulls are an integral part of the tour, and we spent some time studying the various flocks around St. John's.

Gulls are an integral part of the tour, and we spent some time studying the various flocks around St. John’s.

This photo includes four of the most common species seen around the city - Herring, "Kumlien's" Iceland, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed (1w, front centre) Gulls.

This photo includes four of the most numerous gull species seen around the city – Herring, “Kumlien’s” Iceland, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed (1w, front centre) Gulls. All in all, we found nine species and several interesting hybrids to enjoy!

Black-headed Gulls have suddenly become less abundant following the closure of a large sewer outflow in St. John's, although we did manage o find some at other locations.

Black-headed Gulls have suddenly become less abundant following the closure of a large sewer outflow in St. John’s, although we had no trouble finding some at other locations.

We also relocated an adult Common (European Mew) Gull at a sewer outfall in Conception Bay South - it had been missing from its regular haunts in the city for several days.

We also rediscovered an adult Common (European Mew) Gull at a sewer outfall in Conception Bay South – it had been missing from its regular haunts in the city for several days.

While Great Cormorants are far more abundant here during winter, we managed to find a couple Double-crested Cormorants lingering around the region.

While Great Cormorants are far more abundant here during winter, we also managed to find a couple Double-crested Cormorants lingering around the region.

It was a wonderful week full of great birds, interesting weather, beautiful scenery and (most importantly) a fantastic group of people. I'm already looking forward to next year's WINGS Tour!

It was a wonderful week filled with great birds, interesting weather, beautiful scenery and (most importantly) a fantastic group of people. I’m already looking forward to next year’s WINGS Tour!

 

Counting – It’s Good for the Soul

This time of year can be hectic … family activities, shopping, crowded places. A guy can use a little fresh air & solitude, and sometimes a good Christmas Bird Count (CBC) can deliver just that.

This past weekend saw the resurrection of a great count that hasn’t taken place for several years now – the Cape St. Mary’s CBC. The count circle takes in some very isolated areas, especially in winter when tourists are not exactly swarming to this beautiful ecological reserve. My team (consisting of John Wells, Ed Hayden and I) were tasked with checking Cape St. Mary’s itself, the road leading to it, and the nearby communities of St. Bride’s and Cuslett. After a 2.5 hours drive from “town”, we met a rising sun at the lighthouse – overlooking some stunning coastline, rugged cliffs and a flock of ~600 Common Eider on the water below. What a great, peaceful way to start our day!

A beautiful sight to start our morning - the breathtaking cliffs and coastline of Placentia Bay, looking west from the lighthouse.

A beautiful sight to start our morning – the breathtaking cliffs and coastline of Placentia Bay, looking west from the lighthouse.

We birded around the lighthouse and entrance to Placentia Bay (west side of the cape), picking up more Common Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks, Common Loons, Dovekie and a few other odds & ends, including three Black-legged Kittiwake which are scarce in winter. The barrens just north of the lighthouse were hosting several Snowy Owls – not too unexpected given reports from around the island recently, although they ended up being the only owls reported all day!

It's been another good year for Snowy Owls, and were were greeted by several as we arrived at Cape St. Mary's for dawn.

It’s been another good year for Snowy Owls, and were were greeted by several as we arrived at Cape St. Mary’s for dawn.

SNOW_Dec202014_1283 Hiking east to Bird Rock (one of the world’s largest Northern Gannet colonies) was a surreal experience. In contrast to summer when the entire coast and surrounding waters are teeming with tens of thousands of breeding seabirds, it was virtually devoid of life. The cliffs were eerily quiet and  abandoned, the upland tundra was completely still and the crunch of the rocky path under feet was often the only sound. A few dozen Common Eider and Long-tailed Duck dotted the waters below and six Great Cormorants stood watch on a rocky outcrop, but otherwise there were very few birds. But the cold salty air and moments of solitude did my soul a world of good.

It is surreal to see Bird Rock (left) completely devoid of birds this time of year, when it is bustling with thousands of gannets during spring and summer. Here, John & Ed enjoy a mid-morning seawatch while I hiked over the eastern ridge.

It is surreal to see Bird Rock (left) completely devoid of birds this time of year, when it is bustling with thousands of gannets during spring and summer. Here, John & Ed enjoy a mid-morning seawatch while I hiked over the eastern ridge.

Scanning over the barrens, I located a couple Snowy Owls, an adult Bald Eagle and a lone American Kestrel hunting over the tundra (a very good bird for this count, actually!). While John & Ed did another seawatch from Bird Rock overlook (scoring four Starlings for their trouble!), I hiked over the eastern ridge for a view of Golden Bay, flushing two Northern Pintail (first records for this count) along the way. This area, and especially this bay, is an important wintering area for Harlequin Duck. While we didn’t see any in our assigned area, a record number of 374 individuals were spotted along more eastern parts of the coastline – an uplifting sign for this threatened species!

A view over Golden Bay, which lies just east of Cape St. Mary's. It is an important wintering area for the threatened Harlequin Duck.

A view over Golden Bay, which lies just east of Cape St. Mary’s. It is an important wintering area for the threatened Harlequin Duck.

The rest of the day was relatively uneventful as we birded St. Bride’s and Cuslett – two beautiful little communities on the Placentia Bay side of the peninsula. Dark-eyed Juncos were seen in excellent numbers, but few other passerines were recorded. In fact, we came up with ZERO sparrows (uncommon in winter, but a few are usually expected) and nothing out of the ordinary. A Red-necked Grebe was a decent find, while three Purple Sandpipers and a somewhat cooperative drake Long-tailed Duck gave me a short photography break.

Purple Sandpipers are among my favourite shorebirds ... they eke out their winters here in some of the most unforgiving habitats you can imagine.

Purple Sandpipers are among my favourite shorebirds … they eke out their winters here in some of the most unforgiving habitats you can imagine.

This drake Long-tailed Duck (locally called "hounds") was feeding at the end of a breakwater in St. Bride's. Between dives, I managed to sneak up quite close by edging along on the piled boulders.

This drake Long-tailed Duck (locally called a “hound”) was feeding at the end of a breakwater in St. Bride’s. Between dives, I managed to sneak up quite close by edging along on the piled boulders.

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Ciao for now. Merry Christmas!!

All in all it was a great day, spent with some great people and at one of my favourite places on the island. And the break from the holiday hustle was the best part of it all! You can see a summary of the entire count here.

“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!

bird-AND-rock (and whales & wildflowers, too!)

It’s been a busy three weeks, as I recently finished leading two back-to-back bird & nature tours. The second tour, chartered by Massachusetts Audubon and organized by Wildland Tours, was a ten-day excursion that worked its way across the island from St. John’s to Gros Morne National Park and hit a lot of hot spots along the way. We lucked out on weather, with only one wet morning and enjoying sunshine on west coast while the rest of the island languished in the rain.

If the fourteen participants from MASS Audubon enjoyed the tour half as much as I did, it was a staggering success. We saw/hear more than 80 species of birds; basked in the spectacle of some of the world’s most amazing seabird colonies; had up close and personal experiences with several Sperm Whales (a life mammal for all hands!); soaked in the amazing scenery of cliffs, forests, fjords and the Long Range Mountains; and relished in lots of wonderful food. (Yes – it’s a tough, grueling job but someone has to do it!)

I’d like to thank our always upbeat and quick-thinking driver Jim Isaacs, MASS Audubon’s extremely knowledgeable travel guide Carol Decker and a wonderful group of participants for a great ten days! Below are some pictorial highlights of our adventure.

Despite seeing dozens of Humpback Whales off Cape Spear, we were surprised at a lack of whales during our boat trip at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. However, we were far from disappointed since our extended tour of the seabird colonies took us to Green Island, where tens of thousands of birds were circling around the cliffs and over our heads. Truly awe-inspiring!

Despite seeing dozens of Humpback Whales off Cape Spear, we were surprised at a lack of whales during our boat trip at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. However, we were far from disappointed since our extended tour of the seabird colonies took us to Green Island, where tens of thousands of birds were circling around the cliffs and over our heads. Truly awe-inspiring!

We "lucked out" with a beautiful, clear day at Cape St. Mary's where the Northern Gannets never let us down. We also had great looks at dozens of Thick-billed Murres at their southernmost breeding location in North America and several Great Cormorants, among lots of other great birds!

We “lucked out” with a beautiful, clear day at Cape St. Mary’s where the Northern Gannets never let us down. We also had great looks at dozens of Thick-billed Murres at their southernmost breeding location in North America and several Great Cormorants, among lots of other great birds!

Even when the birds were making themselves scarce, we found lots of amazing things to look at - including beautiful orchids like these Pink Ladyslippers ...

Even when the birds were making themselves scarce, we found lots of amazing things to look at – including beautiful orchids like these Pink Ladyslippers …

Another beautiful orchid found at location in both Terra Nova and Gros Morne National Parks was the Dragon's Mouth Orchid.

Another beautiful orchid found at location in both Terra Nova and Gros Morne National Parks was the Dragon’s Mouth Orchid.

Pine Grosbeaks were especially obliging at several locations during our tour, including this stunning male at Gros Morne National Park.

Pine Grosbeaks were especially obliging at several locations during our tour, including this stunning male at Gros Morne National Park.

One of the hands-down highlights for everyone was a zodiac adventure in Bonavista Bay on a beautiful, calm day.

One of the hands-down highlights for everyone was a zodiac adventure in Bonavista Bay on a beautiful, calm day. Sea of Whale Adventures gave us a real treat …

We had amazing experiences with five Sperm Whales during the trip ... a life whale for me, and an incredible beast to get to know.

We had amazing experiences with five Sperm Whales during the trip … a life whale for me, and an incredible beast to get to know.

Sperm Whales are unique in that their blowhole is located on the left side of their head, producing a distinctively angled spout.

Sperm Whales are unique in that their blowhole is located on the left side of their head, producing a distinctively angled spout.

Here's a close-up of the blowhole ... pretty neat!

Here’s a close-up of the blowhole … pretty neat!

Awesome!

Awesome!

Sperm Whales are the largest of the toothed whales. Males like the ones that hang out around Newfoundland can be more than 50 feet in length, with their huge heads making up for most of that bulk.

Sperm Whales are the largest of the toothed whales. Males like the ones that hang out around Newfoundland can be more than 50 feet in length, with their huge heads making up for most of that bulk.

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Spectacular! What more can I say?!?!

Spectacular! What more can I say?!?!

Striped Coralroot is a very rare orchid in Newfoundland, with less than five known locations. This one was just coming in to bloom near Lomond, Gros Morne National Park on June 27. More than two dozen stems were found at this site, but this was the most advanced at the time.

Striped Coralroot is a very rare orchid in Newfoundland, with less than five known locations. This one was just coming in to bloom near Lomond, Gros Morne National Park on June 27. More than two dozen stems were found at this site, but this was the most advanced at the time.

A slightly more common orchid (though still far from widespread) was this Showy Ladyslipper - also just coming in to bloom.

A slightly more common orchid (though still far from widespread) was this Showy Ladyslipper – also just coming in to bloom.

The amazing scenery and geology pf Gros Morne National Park, like the Tablelands pictured here, is enough to justify its very own tour.

The amazing scenery and geology of Gros Morne National Park, like the Tablelands pictured here, is enough to justify its very own tour.

One of many little gems during the tour was this beautiful Trilobite fossil, tucked away in an obscure location. These extinct marine animals lived more than 250 million years ago!

One of many little gems during the tour was this beautiful Trilobite fossil, tucked away in an obscure location. These extinct marine animals lived more than 250 million years ago!

T'was a fantastic tour from start to finish!!

T’was a fantastic tour from start to finish!!