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!

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!

 

Winter 2015-16: Surprises & Usual Suspects

Well – another season of “official” winter birding (Dec 1 – Feb 29) has ended, and another Newfoundland winter bird list is complete. It has been an unusual winter weather-wise, with periodic warm spells and the snow coming and going like the tide in many parts of the island. In fact, looking out my St. John’s window this past week, it looked an awful lot like spring – hardly a patch of snow to be seen anywhere! But despite what the “official” season might say, I’m sure we’re not done with winter just yet – and there are probably more birds to discover before spring actually arrives!

The final tally of 140 species reported across Newfoundland (excluding Labrador) this winter was pretty much right on average. As always, there were lots of exciting surprises and a few (though not many) expected species that failed to make the list. The final list can be found here (while a cumulative list of previous winters can be found here).

Intrepid birder Alvan Buckley produced some of the earliest highlights during a school-related stint on the southwest coast – including the province’s second winter record of Field Sparrow and an equally rare Red-tailed Hawk. A stunning Summer Tanager was frequenting a feeder in nearby Codroy Valley in early December, while a very rare Western Tanager was photographed on the southern Avalon Peninsula on December 6. Unfortunately, the latter was a one-day wonder and disappoint birders who had hoped to connect with it in following days. An Eastern Towhee and Townsend’s Warbler rounded off some locally exciting birds for the first few days of winter birding.

Beverley Hinks shared this photo of a beautiful male Summer Tanager that frequented her yard in late November and early December ... what a stunning winter bird!

Beverley Hinks shared this photo of a beautiful male Summer Tanager that frequented her Codroy Valley yard in late November and early December … what a stunning winter bird!

Around St. John’s, a few dedicated birders managed to keep lingering migrants alive with an incredible effort to keep feeders stocked in strategic locations. A Blue-headed Vireo, Wilson’s Warbler and Yellow Warbler all survived into the cold January weather, while a Pine Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Orange-crowned Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet were still doing well when the end of February rolled by! A Northern Mockingbird and several Baltimore Orioles were also present around the city for parts of the season.

Although rare in Newfoundland, Pine Warbler makes the winter list most years. However, it is unusual for one to make it through the winter. This is the second year in a row that diligent caretakers have helped one survive the coldest season with a generous supply of high-energy food!

Although rare in Newfoundland, Pine Warbler makes the winter list most years. However, it is unusual for one to make it through the winter. This is the second year in a row that diligent caretakers have helped one survive the coldest season with a generous supply of high-energy food!

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This first-winter Sabine’s Gull was a very unexpected surprise … extremely rare anywhere in North America during winter, and pretty much anytime along the coast of Newfoundland.

A Pacific Loon that has been hanging out near St. Vincent’s was relocated several times throughout the winter. Completely off-the-wall was a Sabine’s Gull that was found in the same area on January 31 and lingered for more than a week. This is quite rare from land in Newfoundland, and almost unheard of anywhere along the North American coast in winter! This exciting find was closely followed by a Fieldfare in Lumsden on the island’s northeast coast, and a beautiful Varied Thrush in Rocky Harbour. Both are mega rarities, although the Old World origins of the Fieldfare gave it a slight edge on the excitement scale.

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.

This Fieldfare was discovered enjoying late-season Mountain Ash berries (akak “dogberries”) in Lumsden on February 6. Though elusive, several keen birders were able to refind it over the next few days. And don’t worry – I did enjoy better looks than my one poor photo might suggest!

Darroch Whitaker captured this great photo of a female Varied Thrush that had been frequenting his (and a neighbour's) yard in Rocky Harbour in mid-February.

Darroch Whitaker captured this great photo of a female Varied Thrush that had been visiting his (and a neighbour’s) yard in Rocky Harbour in mid-February.

After being “missing-in-action” since mid-November, a/the Yellow-legged Gull returned to its regular haunts in east St. John’s in mid-February and was seen daily for more than a week. A period of unusually warm weather caused ALL the ice on Quidi Vidi Lake (and many other city ponds) to disappear, making gull-watching a little tough for the last week of February. (Narrowly missing the winter list was an adult Thayer’s Gull discovered on March 1 – such solid-looking candidate are actually quite rare 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.

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

Several Gyrfalcons were spotted in February – probably the biggest influx in a number of years. Hopefully they continue a bit longer, since it’s been a while for this birder! Snowy Owls were reported in moderate numbers all season, also with an apparent influx in the last half of February.

Plenty of our winter regulars put in great showings this season, too. Tufted Ducks and Eurasian Wigeon were found at their regular locations, while Dovekie were spotted in excellent numbers through most of January. Northern finches such as Common Redpoll and White-winged Crossbill descended on several parts of the island, as did big flocks of Bohemian Waxwings. While resident, Pine Grosbeaks were especially notable as big gatherings were found gorging on late season berries. Missing from the list, but undoubtedly on the island somewhere, were species such as Boreal and Northern Saw-whet Owls, Rock Ptarmigan and Northern Three-toed Woodpecker. One major change from previous years was a huge decrease in the number of Black-headed Gulls wintering in St. John’s – the recent closure of several sewer outflows has had a significant impact on their distribution.

All in all, it was another excellent winter in one of the best places to go winter birding!

Arse On: Tale of an Elusive Fieldfare

Nine hours of driving. Four hours of bitter cold birding. And five minutes of THIS:
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 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.

Trace Stagg noticed an unusual visitor in her Lumsden yard on Saturday, February 6 … it turned out to be a FIELDFARE! This European thrush is a cousin to our familiar American Robin, and a very rare visitor to North America. Newfoundland has more records than most places on this continent, with this one making nine — and all but one of those was “before my time” as a birder. I was itching to go see it, but Lumsden is located on the northeast coast and more than four hours from my home in St. John’s. A handful of birders made the trek on Sunday, but I was busy and had to wait. Oh, that wait!

I made last-minute plans on Sunday evening, and hit the road at 5am Monday morning.  I met up with fellow birder Diane Burton near her home in Glovertown (~2/3 of the way along) at 8am, and we made the rest of our hopeful drive together over snow-covered roads. A handful of other birders had been looking for about 20 minutes when we arrived, with no luck. Despite the cold (-18C windchill), we zipped up our coats and started searching the neighbourhoods on foot – knowing that it had been somewhat elusive and wide-ranging the previous day. We found a few dozen American Robins spread around feeding on frozen dogberries (mountain ash), an incredible number of Pine Grosbeaks, lots of Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, Chickadees, White-winged Crossbills and even some Common Redpolls … but no Fieldfare.

The bumper crop of "dogberries" (mountain ash) this year has been attracting a variety of birds, including big numbers of Pine Grosbeak in some areas. They were everywhere in Lumsden this morning. I would have taken advantage of the many great photo opportunities had I not been hunting for something rarer - and more elusive!

The bumper crop of “dogberries” (mountain ash) this year has been attracting a variety of birds, including big numbers of Pine Grosbeak in some areas. They were everywhere in Lumsden this morning. I would have taken advantage of the many great photo opportunities had I not been hunting for something rarer – and more elusive!

There is also a great crop of White Spruce cones ... a favourite food for White-winged Crossbills.

There is also a great crop of White Spruce cones … a favourite food for White-winged Crossbills.

After an hour, I saw two Robins fly over – then another bird that looked suspicious as it dipped behind some houses and out of sight. I stayed in the area for several minutes, hoping to see the mystery bird again. Suddenly, I saw the Fieldfare flying high overhead and across the road, and heard its distinctive “tchack” call (a sight and sound I was familiar with from my time living in Finland!). Running full speed down the road, I managed to see it drop down behind some houses and called out to the other nearby birders. A few minutes later, Diane spotted the Fieldfare feeding in a large dogberry tree behind one of those houses, and we all had distant but more or less clear looks for several minutes. We walked to the far corner of the unoccupied house, but the Fieldfare remained mostly hidden on the far side of the tree for several minutes – then promptly flew off and out of sight. I had managed to snap just one photograph — of its distinctive rump through a tangle of twigs & branches! It was the only one I’d get all day. Despite another three hours of combing the neighbourhood, we never really saw it again. I “may” have seen it fly over at least once, and am certain I heard it calling about two hours later, but it never gave us another look. Feeling happy (yet somehow a little unsatisfied!), we hit the highway and started the long drive home.

Was it worth it? Every single second! What an amazing bird.

Sabine’s in the Snow!

It was Sunday morning (Jan 31) when I got the news … Alvan Buckley called to tell me he had found a SABINE’S GULL off St. Vincent’s beach, about 1.5 hrs south of St. John’s. This enigmatic gull is a rarity (from shore) here at any time of year, but finding one in winter?!?! The odds are like winning the lottery! Sabine’s Gulls are regular migrants well offshore, but they head south of the equator in winter, and mostly off the coast of Africa. What was one doing here in late January?? I’ve learned to trust Alvan’s cautious and skilled identifications, but he still must have sensed some incredulity in my voice since the call was immediately followed by a grainy, but undeniable, photograph to confirm his claim.

I thought long and hard about heading down, but decided to follow through on some family commitments while others made the “chase”. As my good friend Bruce Mactavish later reminded me, I’m often “too responsible for my own good”. A dozen or so local birders saw the bird that afternoon, and Bruce tortured me with photos that night. Totally expecting this bird to disappear (virtually all other records here have been one-day wonders), I was surprised to hear reports that it was still being seen a few days later. I went to bed last night with an insatiable itch, and woke up early having already decided to go. I hit the road an hour before sunrise and headed south, coffee in hand. I knew some light snow was in the forecast for later in the morning, but was not expecting the driving snow and strong onshore winds facing me when I arrived at St. Vincent’s at 8:00am. Visibility was in the toilet, and the sting of snow and ice pellets as I stared into the winds and over the water was nearly enough to turn me back. Nearly.

The winds were strong enough that on a couple occasions I saw Dovekie flying over the beach – behind me as I searched the water! After scanning nothing but a handful of Iceland and Great Black-backed Gulls for the first few minutes, I nearly fell over when the Sabine’s Gull fluttered out of the snow squall, over the breakers and plopped down in the water not far offshore! I lost it fumbling for my optics, but found it again shortly after. It put on a great show, doing laps along the beach and feeding in the surf – often quite close. I almost forgot about the driving snow and hail pounding my face! Who knew that heaven could feel so cold …

This 1w Sabine's Gull emerged out of a snow squall ... not exactly the way I expected to see my first of this species  in Newfoundland! Sabine's Gulls are almost unheard of in North America during winter - so how this one ended up off our coast in late January is a bit of a mystery.

This 1w Sabine’s Gull emerged out of a snow squall … not exactly the way I expected to see my first of this species in Newfoundland! Sabine’s Gulls are almost unheard of in North America during winter – so how this one ended up off our coast in late January is a bit of a mystery.

 

The gull moved on after about an hour, around the same time that the snow and ice pellets had changed to freezing rain. Felt like a good time to go home anyways … a very happy birder!!

 

Despite being quite close at times, the conditions were really tough for photography. However, it was an amazing bird putting on a great show, so I'll live with these!

Despite being quite close at times, the conditions were really tough for photography. However, it was an amazing bird putting on a great show, so I’ll live with these and not complain!

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An immature Black-legged Kittiwake was also present, sometimes feeding alongside the Sabine's Gull. This made for a great comparison, since from a distance these two birds could prove an identification challenge. Note the different pattern on the upperside of the wings and mantle.

An immature Black-legged Kittiwake was also present, sometimes feeding alongside the Sabine’s Gull. This made for a great comparison, since from a distance these two birds could prove an identification challenge. Note the different pattern on the upperside of the wings and mantle.

The pied wing pattrn of an immature Sabine's Gull can superficially resemble the more distinct "M" visible on the immature Kittiwake above.

The pied wing pattern of this immature Sabine’s Gull can superficially resemble the more distinct “M” visible on the immature Kittiwake above.

Even the seals couldn't help grabbing a few looks at this beautiful gull!

Even the seals couldn’t help grabbing a few looks at this beautiful gull!

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Codroy Valley – A New & Exciting Tour!

It’s the middle of winter & a storm is wailing outside … What better time to start planning for SPRING?!?! Here’s a fresh and exciting birding tour to help you get started! This tour is designed just as much for local Newfoundland birders as it is for visitors, and takes us to one of the richest and most beautiful birding locations our island has to offer! But register soon – spaces are limited!!

Codroy Valley & Central Newfoundland (June 1-7, 2016)

CodroyCollage2CodroyCollageNestled away in the southwest corner of Newfoundland, the Codroy Valley is easily one of the island’s most beautiful places. Being much closer to the Maritime provinces both geographically (it’s a mere 150 km from Cape Breton) and ecologically, 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!

This tour will lead us through the Codroy Valley’s lush forests, sandy beaches, and rich estuaries – all while the beautiful Long Range Mountains loom in the distance. Our visit also coincides with the region’s Feather & Folk Nature Festival, and we will include time in our schedule to take in some of the social and educational events.

Starting and ending in St. John’s, we will spend some time in beautiful central Newfoundland to enjoy local birds and break up our travel. If time and weather allow, we will also visit nearby Stephenville Crossing to seek out its unique habitats and bounty of birds.

Highlights:

  • Leisurely birding in some of Newfoundland’s most scenic locations.
  • A variety of settings that include forests, wetlands, and seaside habitats.
  • An opportunity to enjoy Newfoundland’s richest diversity of songbirds, many of which have just arrived and provide a tremendous morning chorus.
  • Several of the provinces “species at risk”, including the endangered Piping Plover and some of the island’s last remaining Bobolink.
  • A number of “Codroy Valley specialties” – uncommon birds that might include several colourful warblers, vireos, and flycatchers among others.
  • Opportunities to meet local birders and participate in Feather & Folk Nature Festival events.

* A typical day will include an early morning start. Birding will be at a leisurely pace and may require short walks (up to several kilometers) that will be done very slowly. A more arduous, uphill hike may be offered as an optional outing.
* Weather is generally nice but cool in early June (especially in the mornings), so participants should pack accordingly … layering works. Waterproof coat and boots are advisable. We may continue to go birding outside in light showers, but plan for alternative birding or activities in more challenging weather.
* Each evening, a list of the birds and other wildlife encountered will be reviewed and discussed.
* Accommodations will include shared two-bedroom cabins in Codroy Valley (4 nights) and double-occupancy hotel rooms in central Newfoundland (2 nights). * See single occupancy supplement below regarding one-bedroom cabins and private hotel rooms.

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 Itinerary at a Glance:

Day 1 (June 1): Our tour begins at noon as we depart St. John’s and head west across the TransCanada Highway, arriving in central Newfoundland for the evening. We will make some brief birding stops along the way and/or take an evening bird stroll.    Overnight: Central Newfoundland (exact location TBD).

Day 2 (June 2): After a morning of birding in central Newfoundland’s rich forests, we continue west to our destination in beautiful Codroy Valley. Weather depending, we will make some birding stops along the way, including Stephenville Crossing to look for local specialties.    Overnight: Codroy Valley

Days 3-5 (June 3-5): We will spend three full days exploring one of Newfoundland’s best birding regions. Mornings will usually focus on the rich variety of songbirds that occur in the area, while other outings will take us to other great locations for strolls on the beach, coastal seawatches and a variety of wetland habitats. Afternoon breaks and opportunities to participate in festival events will be included in the schedule. Optional outings may be offered on nice evenings.    Overnight: Codroy Valley

Day 6 (June 6): After a final morning birding the Codroy Valley, we head east for another evening in central Newfoundland. We will make birding stops along the way.    Overnight: Central Newfoundland (exact location TBD)

Day 7 (June 7): After a morning birding in central Newfoundland, we will head back to St. John’s for a mid-afternoon arrival.

Price
$1395 /person; $2250/couple (taxes included)
Single occupancy supplement (private hotel room and one-bedroom cabin): $350

Includes:

  • 6 nights accommodations (4 nights at cabin in Codroy Valley; 2 nights at hotel in central Newfoundland)
  • 6 breakfasts and 6 lunches (may include picnic lunches)
  • Transportation throughout the tour, starting and ending in St. John’s (we can make alternate arrangements if you require pick-up at another point between).
  • Expert guiding services

Does not include:

  • Evening meals (you may choose to dine separately or as a group; cabins in Codroy Valley will include kitchenette and BBQ if desired).
  • Items of a personal nature

Contact Bird⋅The⋅Rock for more information or to REGISTER FOR THIS TOUR now!