SEVENTEEN

Whoa … does time ever fly?!?! It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone … but not without lots of adventures. The year 2017 was a very exciting one here at BirdTheRock – I was blessed beyond words to share the natural wonders of Newfoundland & Labrador with so many visitors, travel to amazing places both near and far, and experience countless special moments along the way. I have so much to tell … but as they say “a picture is worth a thousand words“, and maybe that’s the best way to share this long overdue summary of the year that was. Below are 17 photos from 2017; chosen to represent just a fraction of the many, many highlights from my year.

I apologize for my lapse in blog posts over the last few months – but be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram for more regular highlights and often daily updates from ongoing tours! I’ll continue to update this blog as often as I can 😉

Like every year, 2017 started off with some excellent winter birding right here in eastern Newfoundland. I had the pleasure of sharing great winter birds such as Dovekie, Thick-billed Murre, White-winged Crossbill, Bohemian Waxwing, Boreal Chickadee and friendly Gray Jays with a number of visiting birders. This photo was taken during the annual WINGS Birding Tour – and you can read more about that in an earlier blog post here.

I also joined Instagram this past winter –  yet another great way to share photos and highlights with people from all over the world. THIS photo of a Dovekie (taken several winters ago) turned out to be my most popular photo of 2017 – not surprising given how much people tend to love these cute little seabirds! Newfoundland is the most reliable place in North America to see Dovekie and a big part of the reason why birders visit here in winter.

I was honoured this year to earn the support of Kowa Optics, and upgraded my worn-out gear with their top quality equipment. I’ve had so much fun using this Prominar TSN-883 spotting scope and Genesis binoculars – and sharing the experience with so many of my guests. The optics are amazing! Stay tuned for an upcoming review of this Kowa swag here on the blog very soon.

In March, I joined Kisserup International Trade Roots and a handful of other Canadian birding and eco-tourism experts on an exploratory “mission” to Honduras (Read the two-part blog series and see LOTS of photos here!!). What I discovered was an incredibly beautiful place with wonderful people, amazing nature and especially birds, and so many opportunities for visiting birders and nature-lovers to soak it all in. Oh … AND we observed more than 250 species of birds along the way! I’m scheming up a Honduras birding tour for the near future – so stay tuned for details!!   (Photo: Spectacled Owl, Rio Santiago Nature Resort, Honduras)

I returned home from Honduras to find Newfoundland in the cold, icy grip of the Arctic. Prolonged northerly winds were pushing Arctic pack ice much further south than usual – encasing the entire northern and eastern coasts, and even wrapping around to fill bays and coves in the southeast. While spring pack ice was a normal part of my childhood growing up on the northeast coast, it rarely reached this far south and some communities were seeing it for the first time in living memory. With the ice came lots of seals (including more northerly Hooded Seals), Polar Bears and even a very wayward Arctic Fox to far-flung places around the island. Birds were impacted too — ducks, loons and other seabirds were corralled into small sections of open water waiting for the ice to move off. The ice lingered so long on parts of the northeast coast that fisheries were delayed or even canceled, adding a very human aspect to this unusual event.

Late winter and early spring can be a challenging time for birding – many of the winter species are beginning to move on, and migration has yet to start. But there are always wonderful things to see, and a mid-March excursion to Cape Race with one group of intrepid clients paid off with this — great looks at one of their “target” birds! This Willow Ptarmigan, sporting transitional plumage, allowed us to get up-close-and-personal right from the car!

Another highlight of early spring was an exceptional few days of gull-watching in St. John’s. Not only did the elusive Yellow-legged Gull (which can be seen here sporadically most winters) become a very regular visitor at Quidi Vidi Lake, but a Slaty-backed Gull was also discovered there. The two images above were captured just minutes (and metres) apart … two very rare gulls entertaining some very happy birders! (March 25, 2017)

The pack ice may have receded as spring wore on, but other visitors from the north took their place. Newfoundland had an excellent iceberg season in 2017 – and one of the early highlights was this mammoth berg that perched itself in Ferryland (an hour south of St. John’s). Photos of this iceberg (including my own) went “viral”, showing up in newsfeeds, newspapers and TV newscasts all over the world. It was just one of many awesome bergs I saw this year … including with many of my clients!

While there was no “huge” influx of European rarities into Newfoundland this spring, there was also no shortage. This European Golden Plover was one of several reported in early May. I was also fortunate to see a Ruff, two Eurasian Whimbrel, and two Common Ringed Plovers this year – AND happy to say that I had clients with me for each and every one! How’s that for good birding?!?!

Perhaps the most exciting bird of the spring (or even year) also came from Europe. This COMMON SWIFT was discovered by Jeannine Winkel and Ian Jones at Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John’s on May 20 – just the second record for Newfoundland and one of only a handful for all of North America. Cool, damp weather worked in our favour throughout the week, with this extremely rare bird sticking around until May 26 and entertaining both local birders and a number of “ABA listers” who flew in from all over North America to see it. Amazing! (Photo: May 23, 2017)

Spring slipped into summer, which of course is the busiest time of year for BirdTheRock Bird & Nature Tours. I was fortunate to host dozens of visiting birders and nature-lovers throughout the summer, sharing the many wonderful sights and spectacles that our province has to offer. This photo of Northern Gannets was taken during the excellent Eagle-Eye Tours “Grand Newfoundland” trip – one of many times I visited Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve this year. This particular tour is a great way to experience the birding and natural highlights of Newfoundland, from St. John’s to Gros Morne National Park and many points in between. I look forward to leading it again in 2018! (Read more about this tour in a blog post from 2016.)

Of course, it’s not “always” just about the birds. During every tour or outing, I make time to stop and enjoy the abundance of other gems that nature has in store. I especially like the wild orchids of mid-summer, and this Showy Ladyslipper was one of nine species we encountered during a fantastic Massachusetts Audubon tour. What an awesome time we had!

Of course, summer can’t be ALL work and no play! (Who am I kidding – my work is always fun!) I made sure to steal some time to explore both new places and old favourites with my family – including the rugged coastlines of Notre Dame Bay where I grew up and my passion for nature first took root!

In August, I had the pleasure of once again leading the Eagle-Eye Tours trip to New Brunswick & Grand Manan. While there are many wonderful places and birding experiences on this tour, one key highlight is seeing the huge gathering of Semipalmated Sandpipers in the world-famous Bay of Fundy. More than 3/4 of the world’s population stop here during migration, and flocks of tens of thousands can often be found roosting on the narrow beach at high tide or swirling over the water. This was my third time leading this tour, and you can read more about it on an earlier blog post here.

As summer fades to fall in Newfoundland, I often turn my attention to migration and the opportunity to find wayward and locally rare species right here on “the rock”. One of the most interesting birds was this very late empidonax flycatcher that showed up in November — well beyond the expected date of normal migrants and reason enough to scrutinize it. Originally found by crack birder Lancy Cheng, I arrived soon after and spent several hours trying to capture diagnostic photos amid the fleeting glimpses it gave. Based on photos from several birders and Lancy’s very important sound recording, this bird was eventually identified as Newfoundland’s first ever Willow Flycatcher! Chalk one up for the perseverance and cooperation of our local birding community!

Winter also started off with a bang, when veteran birder Chris Brown discovered the province’s first Eared Grebe on December 1. Time for birding can be tough to come by for me at this busy time of year – but I managed to sneak in a “chase” to see this mega-rarity. Read more on my blog post here.

My birding year ended on yet another high note: leading my third Eagle-Eye Tours adventure of the year – this time in Trinidad & Tobago! This was my second time leading this amazing tour, and I admit to being totally enamored with this beautiful place. The lush forests, open grasslands, intriguing coastlines … and, of course, the incredible birds and wildlife! This Guianan Trogon was just one of more than 200 species we encountered during the trip – many of which were equally stunning. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post about my most recent trip — but in the meantime you can check out this three-part series from my last adventure in Trinidad & Tobago. And better yet – join me when I return at the end of 2018!

What a fantastic year! Thanks to the many friends and visitors who shared all these special moments (and many more!) with me in 2017. I’m excited for 2018 and can’t imagine what wonderful experiences it might have in store! Why not join me to find out for yourself?!?!

Wishing you all a happy, prosperous and fun-filled 2018!!

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“Grand Newfoundland” 2016 (Eagle-Eye Tours)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

 

Making the Best of a Wet August

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There’s an old adage in St. John’s that summer ends after Regatta Day (the famous rowing races held here on the first Wednesday of August). While that hasn’t really been my experience, this year it held true. Very true. While July was one of the hottest (and driest) months on record for the city, August turned out to be among the wettest and coolest! The rain started on Regatta Day (Aug 6) and hardly let up for the next few weeks. Temperatures rarely climbed out of the teens and sometimes dipped down to single digits, and there were only 5 days without rain the entire month!

But what odds? A little rain, drizzle & fog hasn’t stopped me from enjoying life before, and neither would it now. I started the month by spending some quality time with my father and two little girls (while all the women in our family were traveling in Ireland!), including a few days in Grates Cove, a visit to beautiful Cape Spear and lots of other fun. In fact, those first few days of August were the hottest days of summer, with temps in the mid-thirties!

CapeSpear_EmmaLeslie_6030 CapeSpear_EmmaLeslie_6059On August 5, I headed off to start my last tour of the season — a Wildland’s “Newfoundland Adventure” Tour that had just one guest, a Canadian currently living abroad in Holland and making her first foray to Newfoundland. It was a great week as we enjoyed amazing scenery, tons of whales, historical walks, and even a close-up moose … all while dodging the fog and rain that had begun its big invasion!

Beautiful flowers, such as these White-fringed (left) and Ragged-fringed (right) Orchids were blooming in roadside bogs during our drives.

Beautiful flowers, such as these White-fringed (left) and Ragged-fringed (right) Orchids were blooming in roadside bogs during our drives.

We encountered a Snowy Owl sitting on the barrens near St. Shott's - an unusual sighting here in mid-summer but one of several known to have lingered after last fall's big invasion.

We encountered a Snowy Owl sitting on the barrens near St. Shott’s – an unusual sighting here in mid-summer but one of several known to have lingered after last fall’s big invasion.

We encountered our first fog at Cape St. Mary's, although it moved off during the morning to reveal a beautiful day.

We encountered our first fog at Cape St. Mary’s, although it moved off during the morning to reveal a beautiful day.

Subalpine flowers, like these Diapensia lapponica, grow on the sub-arctic tundra of Cape St. Mary's.

Subalpine flowers, like these Diapensia lapponica, grow on the sub-arctic tundra of Cape St. Mary’s.

Small Purple-fringed Orchids were also in bloom at Cape St. Mary's - often hiding amongst patches of longer grass.

Small Purple-fringed Orchids were also in bloom at Cape St. Mary’s – often hiding amongst patches of longer grass.

A young bull moose graced us by allowing us to get quite close, although he seemed reluctant to share his lunch ;)

A young bull moose graced us by allowing us to get quite close, although he seemed reluctant to share his lunch 😉

The other moose we enjoyed during the tour was on our plates -- this burger served with delicious partridgeberry ketchup at the Bonavista Social Club.

The other moose we enjoyed during the tour was on our plates — this burger served with delicious partridgeberry ketchup at the Bonavista Social Club.

Icebergs in August are pretty unusual, but this has been an exceptional year. This one in Bonavista Bay was the last one I'll see this year.

Icebergs in August are pretty unusual, but this has been an exceptional year. This one in Bonavista Bay was the last one I’ll see this year.

Whales were plentiful in Trinity Bay, and we enjoyed close encounters with twenty or more Humpbacks during our two zodiac trips with Sea of Whale Adventures.

Whales were plentiful in Trinity Bay, and we enjoyed close encounters with twenty or more Humpbacks during our two zodiac trips with Sea of Whale Adventures.

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!

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

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The last day of the tour was spent exploring the beautiful and historic sites of St. John's, North Americas oldest city.

The last day of the tour was spent exploring the beautiful and historic sites of St. John’s, North Americas oldest city.

The rest of the month was family-time – much of it spent hanging out together in Grates Cove. We are fortunate that my wife’s family has an old home there, at the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula, where we can get back to basics and connect a little with nature, history and each other.

The ruggedness of the sea, coast and barrens at Grates Cove are always a treat. We're fortunate to be able to spend so much time there.

The ruggedness of the sea, coast and barrens at Grates Cove are always a treat. We’re fortunate to be able to spend so much time there.

It was nice to see the first Partridgeberries turning red on the barrens, although it was the blueberries that got most of our attention in August.

It was nice to see the first Partridgeberries turning red on the barrens, although it was the blueberries that got most of our attention in August.

It was interesting come upon some Burying Beetles (Nicrophorus sp) at work alongside one of my favourite walking trails.

It was interesting to come upon some Burying Beetles (Nicrophorus sp) at work alongside one of my favourite walking trails.

The last of our orchids to flower, Hooded Ladies Tresses, were popping into bloom in mid-August.

The last of our orchids to flower, Hooded Ladies Tresses, were popping into bloom in mid-August.

More abundant, but less splendid, was Gall of the Earth - an odd flower that looks sickly even when its in full bloom!

More abundant, but less splendid, was Gall of the Earth – an odd flower that looks sickly even when its in full bloom!

We also visited the Mini Aquarium at Petty Harbour. Although the girls have been there twice with their aunt (my sister), it was my first time … and it was fun. I’ll include some more photos and details in another post …MiniAquarium_Emma_6933 MiniAquarium_Leslie_6935Finally, August ended with more rain as Tropical Storm Cristobal passed south of Newfoundland. More importantly, the wrap-around winds produced by this storm came from the northeast, blowing thousands of Leach’s Storm Petrels into the bottom of Conception Bay. I arrived at Holyrood late in the day, finding the bay alive with fluttering petrels, and a steady stream of them buzzing by at close range as the blasting winds forced them right in over the beach and road. (I’ll do a separate post on this event soon!)

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

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

A Few Days in July

This past July was one to remember in Newfoundland … one that was great not only for the tourists who soaked in the great weather, massive icebergs, and frolicking whales but also for us locals who got to enjoy it ALL in our own backyard (literally, for some!). July was packed with amazing weather from start to finish – sometimes a little too amazing. It turned out to be the hottest month on record for much of the island, including here on the northeast Avalon.

LIGU_July312014_5831July ended with a bang for local birders, when Bruce Mactavish discovered an immature Little Gull hanging out in a sheltered bay at Mobile (just 30 minutes south of St. John’s). I was among the first on the scene, enjoying great looks at a bird that has always managed to elude me on this side of the Atlantic. They are only recorded every few years in Newfoundland, usually at some far-flung location and/or on the move, never to be seen again. The fact that this one stayed around for several days, feasting on the plentiful capelin and entertaining birders, was both surprising and appreciated!

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My two inquisitive daughters check out what's lurking in the tidal pools at Fox's Dock, near Lewisporte.

My two inquisitive daughters check out what’s lurking in the tidal pools at Fox’s Dock, near Lewisporte.

But, let me take a few steps back and recap some of the other wonderful moments I was able to enjoy out in nature. After finishing up a busy few weeks of nature tours and bird guiding, I took much of July to hang out with my family. One of our my first adventures was to pack up and take my two little girls to visit my parents in Lewisporte (Notre Dame Bay) – the first time I’ve really done something like that without my incredible wife, who was incredibly busy taking classes for her Master’s program and needed the break from parenting! During out little vacation, we visited relatives, went exploring at a local beach, and had lots of fun doing family stuff. I even took advantage of having “Grandma & Poppy” around to sneak out and do a little exploring on my own.

We must have missed the capelin spawn by just a few hours -- although there was no sign of any fish at Fox's Dock, the beach itself was completely covered in eggs!

We must have missed the capelin spawn by just a few hours — although there was no sign of any fish at Fox’s Dock, the beach itself was completely covered in eggs!

A close-up of the capelin eggs. Huge schools of these amazing fish "roll" in with the tide and deposit thousands of eggs each - a spectacle that takes place on rocky/sandy beaches all over Newfoundland.

A close-up of the capelin eggs. Huge schools of these amazing fish “roll” in with the tide and deposit thousands of eggs each – a spectacle that takes place on rocky/sandy beaches all over Newfoundland.

A hot afternoon walk around a local pond helped me find a few early blossoms of Small Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes) hiding amongst the grass.

A hot afternoon walk around a local pond helped me find a few early blossoms of Small Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes) hiding amongst the grass.

Also hiding amongst the grass were some Green Frogs.

Also hiding amongst the grass were some Green Frogs …

 ... and lots of lovely dragonflies, most of which I had no chance of identifying!

… and lots of lovely dragonflies, most of which I had no chance of identifying!

Butterflies were also plentiful, including a few White Admirals. I found these to be more plentiful than in most years, but not nearly as abundant as Milbert's Tortoiseshells which were by far the most common butterfly on the wing that week.

Butterflies were also plentiful, including a few White Admirals. I found these to be more plentiful than in most years, but not nearly as abundant as Milbert’s Tortoiseshells which were by far the most common butterfly on the wing that week.

Another solitary stroll took me to a local bog which I had found to be full of orchids late last summer. This year, visiting a full month earlier, I found an abundance of beautiful Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides).

Another solitary stroll took me to a local bog which I had found to be full of orchids late last summer. This year, visiting a full month earlier, I found an abundance of beautiful Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides).

Far less common in that bog were Clubspur Orchids, understated and easily overlooked in the tall vegetation.

Far less common in that bog were Clubspur Orchids (Platanthera clavellata), understated and easily overlooked in the tall vegetation.

Common Ringlets were also plentiful around Lewisporte ...

Common Ringlets were also plentiful around Lewisporte …

... as were European Skippers. These were my "first of the season".

… as were European Skippers. These were my “first of the season”.

Evening light at one of our favourite picnic spots.

Evening light at one of our favourite picnic spots.

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Family fun continued after we headed back to St. John’s — even when it meant convincing them all to join me on yet another nature walk 😉  We all headed to MUN Botanical Gardens, where we (somewhat) escaped the heat with a stroll through the shaded forest. The girls had a great time solving a series of animal riddles posted along the trail, while I managed to track down a single stem of an orchid I had been searching for.

Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata)

Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata)

GratesCoveWash_5128Once Susan finished her classes, we headed out to Grate’s Cove for a few days.  Whales were busy feeding all around the cove, even breaching occasionally. Harebells were in full bloom all over the barren landscape, and the first Whimbrel of the summer were sailing overhead – a harbinger of fall shorebird migration. I even managed to sneak away for a few hours to hike a short trail and explore some local bogs that I’ve been eying curiously for some time now.

A hoard of young warblers, including this Black & White Warbler, was gathered at the entrance of a walking trail in Old Perlican. It was nice to see so much activity in one small area - a sign of things to come as the birds gear up for fall migration.

A hoard of young warblers, including this Black & White Warbler, was gathered at the entrance of a walking trail in Old Perlican. It was nice to see so much activity in one small area – a sign of things to come as the birds gear up for fall migration.

Pitcher Plants were in full glory, dotting the landscape and every wet patch in the area.

Pitcher Plants were in full glory, dotting the landscape and every wet patch in the area.

Dragonsmouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa) was fairly common on the bog I trekked across between Old Perlican and Grates Cove.

Dragonsmouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa) was fairly common on the bog I trekked across between Old Perlican and Grates Cove.

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Grasspink (Calopogon tuberosus) was far less obvious – I only found two while wandering around in a large bog where I might have expected far more.

Dragonsmouth_July20_4920 Grasspink_July20_4955 Grasspink_July20_4948

Bog Coppers are beautiful little butterflies that I often overlook (or mistake for something else) ... this one posed nicely beside a pond in Old Perlican.

Bog Coppers are beautiful little butterflies that I often overlook (or mistake for something else) … this one posed nicely beside a pond in Old Perlican.

A nice patch of Water Lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) was growing along the sandy edge of a pond in Lower Island Cove, where we stopped for a picnic on the way back home.

A nice patch of Water Lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) was growing along the sandy edge of a pond in Lower Island Cove, where we stopped for a picnic on the way back home.

WaterLobelia_July22_5206As I said – definitely a July to remember.

Newfoundland Orchids

Since cluing up the two bird & nature tours last month, I’ve been taking a bit of time to do some family stuff and make some progress on some contract work with the university. Not much birding. However, those tours did reawaken my interest in wildflowers – something I haven’t taken as seriously as birds in the past, but always found very interesting. I stole a couple hours earlier this week and went to a local hotspot for orchids, where I found seven species in various stages of bloom.

So, here’s a whole post NOT devoted to birds. Instead, I’ll share a few photos of some orchids taken in Newfoundland over the past few summers. There are about three dozen species of orchids found across Newfoundland – some common, some very rare. I’ve included fourteen below, plus a hybrid.

The Bog Candle (Platanthera dilatata; left) is a common white orchid that grows in bogs and wetlands across the island. Hooded Lady's-tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana; right) are unique among Newfoundland orchids due to their tight, spiraling flowers. It also exudes an almond-like aroma.

The Bog Candle (Platanthera dilatata; left) is a common white orchid that grows in bogs and wetlands across the island. Hooded Lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana; right) are unique among Newfoundland orchids due to their tight, spiraling flowers. It also exudes an almond-like aroma.

Ragged Fringed Orchid (Platanthera lacera) is an uncommon orchid that occurs throughout much of Newfoundland. Its greenish-white flowers have a more ragged fringe than its relatives below.

Ragged Fringed Orchid (Platanthera lacera) is an uncommon orchid that occurs throughout much of Newfoundland. Its greenish-white flowers have a more ragged fringe than its relatives below.

Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes) is a beautiful flower that growd in wet meadows and bogs. "Andrew's Orchid" (Platanthera x andrewsii) is a stunning hybrid between Purple-fringed and Ragged Fringed Orchids.

Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes; left) is a beautiful flower that grows in wet meadows and bogs. “Andrew’s Orchid” (Platanthera x andrewsii; right) is a stunning hybrid between Purple-fringed and Ragged Fringed Orchids.

White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera blephariglottis) is locally common, while Marsh Leopard Orchid (Dactylorhiza majalis) is found only in a few select locations around St. John's.

White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera blephariglottis; left) is locally common, while Marsh Leopard Orchid (Dactylorhiza majalis; right) is found only in a few select locations around St. John’s.

A small, understated flower, the Clubspur Orchid (Platanthera clavellata) is common across most of the island.

A small, understated flower, the Clubspur Orchid (Platanthera clavellata) is common across most of the island.

The beautiful Dragon's Mouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa) occurs in a range of colours from the common pink form (left) to the much more uncommon white form (right).

The beautiful Dragon’s Mouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa) occurs in a range of colours from the common pink form (left) to the much more uncommon white form (right).

Both Grasspink (Calopogon tuberosus) and Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) can be found across most of Newfoundland, though not typically on the Great Northern Peninsula.

Both Grasspink (Calopogon tuberosus) and Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) can be found across most of Newfoundland, though not typically on the Great Northern Peninsula.

 Pink Lady Slippers (Cypripedium acaule; right) are among the most well known orchids, growing among low shrubs and clearings woods across the island. Showy Lady Slippers (Cypripedium reginae; left) is much less common, bordering on rare. This one was growing near Lomond in Gros Morne National Park.

Pink Lady Slippers (Cypripedium acaule; right) are among the most well known orchids, growing among low shrubs, clearings and open woods across the island. Showy Lady Slippers (Cypripedium reginae; left) is much less common, bordering on rare. This one was growing near Lomond in Gros Morne National Park.

Tall Northern Green Orchid (Platanthera huronensis) is a locally common orchid on the Great Northern Peninsula. Its dense, greenish-white flowers grow in large spikes, making it quite noticeable where it occurs.

Tall Northern Green Orchid (Platanthera huronensis) is a locally common orchid on the Great Northern Peninsula. Its dense, greenish-white flowers grow in large spikes, making it quite noticeable where it occurs.

A very tiny orchid, Green Adder's Mouth Orchid (Malaxia unifolia) is easily overlooked. It is relatively rare even where it occurs, including on the Avalon Peninsula where these were photographed.

A very tiny orchid, Green Adder’s Mouth Orchid (Malaxia unifolia) is easily overlooked. It is relatively rare even where it occurs, including on the Avalon Peninsula where these were photographed.

You can find more orchid and wildflower photos on my Flickr age.

OK – I promise the next post will include some birds. Honest.

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.

SpermWhaleTail_June22_8863 SpermWhaleTail_June22_8720 SpermWhaleTail_June22_8718

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!!