Wild optimism … and a HERMIT WARBLER

It was late at night on Thursday November 10, and I was discussing (over text message) my birding plans for the next morning with Bruce Mactavish. I was heading south from St. John’s to look for late season migrants, shorebirds and whatever else might come my way. Bruce, on the other hand, was sticking closer to town to check local hot-spots for November warblers. I’m known for making optimistic (if not wild) predictions, so it probably came as no surprise when he received my text at 11:00PM saying “I’ll come back to town for a Hermit Warbler“. Hermit Warbler is incredibly rare in the east, and had only been recorded in Newfoundland once – on November 11, 1989. As rare as it is, it’s one of those birds that local birders think about at this time of year.

I had been birding for several hours and was as far south as Ferryland when Bruce texted to tell me he was driving to Mobile to check out a probable (but very late and therefore suspicious) Spotted Sandpiper that had been reported there. I had driven through there hours earlier, but told him to keep me updated. A short while later, I noticed a missed call from Bruce on my phone – and promptly received a text message saying “HERMIT WARBLER, MOBILE”. Knowing that Bruce is not one to play tricks, I made near-record time on the way back and found him standing on a trail at the end of a road – Spotted Sandpiper confirmed, and Hermit Warbler “somewhere” in the nearby woods. Other birders soon showed up, and we searched the area for several hours without any further sign. Most people gave up and headed home as the weather and light deteriorated, while I gave it another go and expanded my search to another road up the hill. I soon glimpsed a warbler with a bright yellow face among a big flock of Juncos, Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets – but it dissolved into the trees before I could even get my binoculars on it. It HAD to be the Hermit Warbler! But better looks would have to wait.

I spent the rest of the weekend in Grates Cove – closing up the house for another winter and enjoying some family time. But all the while I felt tortured over this amazing warbler that “got away”. Fortunately other birders were able to refind it in the same area I had glimpsed it on Friday, but always with very brief and fleeting glimpses. Photos were scarce, obscured and out-of-focus but enough to whet my appetite. Anne Hughes and I headed back to Mobile on Monday morning, and within a little while were joined by three others. It was spotted briefly near the road, and then Anne found it again behind a nearby house. This time I saw it too – and really well (for a few seconds!). As it had all weekend, it popped up briefly and disappeared again several times over the next two hours … I likened it to a frustrating game of whack-a-mole. I saw it on three separate occasions for a grand total of less than two minutes, and most of that was distantly in the treetops! I did manage one decent photograph, with most others showing either a blur or a twig where it had been sitting milliseconds earlier. But hey – with a great bird of this rarity level, it’s seeing it that counts!

What do I predict next?!?!

This HERMIT WARBLER will no doubt be the highlight of November - and maybe of the year. Bruce Mactavish discovered it in Mobile on November 11 Newfoundland's one and only other record (Nov 11 1989)!

This HERMIT WARBLER will no doubt be the highlight of November – and maybe of the year. Bruce Mactavish discovered it in Mobile on November 11 – exactly 27 years after Newfoundland’s one and only other record (Nov 11 1989)! The broad wing bars, clean white underparts and oh-so yellow face make this an unmistakable (and unforgettable) bird.

My first looks at this bird on November 14 turned out to be my best, although I bombed on a chance to photograph it. The only time we saw it at eye level, I was able to see the grey back which helps identify this species from similar cousins and rule out the possibility of a hybrid (which do occur, and there is one previous record of a Hermit X Townsend's Warbler hybrid for the island).

My first looks at this bird on November 14 turned out to be my best, although I bombed on a chance to photograph it. The only time we saw it at eye level, I was able to see the grey back which helps distinguish this species from similar cousins and rule out the possibility of a hybrid (which do occur, and there is one record of a  probable Hermit X Townsend’s Warbler hybrid for the island). I have no experience with Hermit Warblers and am not sure if this is an adult female or an immature male.

Just as one might expect from reading the literature, this Hermit Warbler spends a lot of time in the canopy, foraging in the top one-third of the conifers. It seems to show a preference for larch trees, and my longest views of this bird (and the only views lasting more than 5 seconds) were while it fed at the top of several larch trees in the distance.

Just as one might expect from reading the literature, this Hermit Warbler spends a lot of time in the canopy, foraging in the top one-third of the conifers. It seems to show a preference for larch trees, and my longest views of this bird (and the only views lasting more than 5 seconds) were while it fed at the top of several larch trees in the distance.

I also spent a little time with these two Cattle Egrets in Ferryland, just before getting

I also spent a little time with these two Cattle Egrets in Ferryland, just before getting “the call”. Cattle Egrets are rare but annual in Newfoundland, and two together was a bit of treat.

caeg_nov112016_4651 caeg_nov112016_4720

Spending the weekend in beautiful Grates Cove, I had to distract myself from thoughts of the Hermit Warbler that other birders were seeing back in Mobile. The lovely

Spending the weekend in beautiful Grates Cove, I had to distract myself from thoughts of the Hermit Warbler that other birders were seeing back in Mobile. The lovely “supermoon” that graced us on November 14 was a nice help!

Mother Carey’s Chicks

For a place that boasts the world’s largest colonies of Leach’s Storm-Petrels, it is surprising how rarely most Newfoundland birders get to enjoy them. More than 3 million pairs (yes – pairs!) are estimated to breed on Baccalieu Island at the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula and 600,000+ pairs in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve alone! However, Leach’s Storm-Petrels spend the daylight hours far out to sea, feeding on plankton and small fish. Storm-petrels themselves are perfect meals for larger predatory birds like gulls, so they prefer the extra safety that comes with staying far away from land. Only at night, under the cover of darkness, do these robin-sized seabirds come back to their island abode and sneak into the safety of their underground burrows.

The best times to catch a glimpse of these mysterious birds are during strong onshore winds, when some get blown closer to shore than they would usually bother coming. Occasionally, during a really good windstorm, large numbers get driven onto shore or into large bays. Late last week, a night of northerly gales did just that – and I headed out the next morning to check for seabirds at bottom of Conception Bay. Arriving at Holyrood, I immediately saw dozens of Leach’s Storm-Petrels flying around offshore, mostly into the wind (which by this point had lessened a bit, with gusts of ~70km/h). Setting up my scope, I began to see hundreds of them coursing over the water further out in the bay. Although these winds sometimes bring in other seabirds such as jaegers and shearwaters, I saw nothing else unusual in my two hours of scanning. But it was still an awesome chance to watch, learn and appreciate the enigmatic little Storm-petrel.

I managed to find one place where Leach's Storm-Petrels were filing by occasionally within camera range, but bright sunshine and strong winds made photography difficult.

I managed to find one place where Leach’s Storm-Petrels were filing by occasionally within camera range, but bright sunshine and strong winds made photography difficult.

The bright sun and strong shadows ruined would otherwise have been a great photo opportunity.

The bright sun and strong shadows ruined would otherwise have been a great photo opportunity.

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

This photo was taken at the same location two years ago, during strong wrap-around winds from Tropical Storm Cristobal (August 29, 2014). Winds like these make for interesting birding in September and October.

Leach’s Storm-Petrels are more familiar to fishermen and sailors who also spend much of their lives on the open ocean, and are known by many as “Mother Carey’s chicks”. I have always wondered the origins of this colourful name, which seemed nearly as mysterious as the birds themselves. I recently saw an intriguing old drawing of a witch flying on a broomstick, surrounded by storm petrels and overlooking a sailing ship in a raging storm. It turns out that, according to some folklore, Mother Carey is a name attributed to an old hag that brings about cruel and dangerous seas. Some even claim she is the wife of “Davy Jones”, the mythological figure who is blamed for causing shipwrecks and claiming the bodies of drowned sailors. It is no surprise, then, that such an otherwise innocent-sounding name has been given to a seabird that is often associated with stormy winds and weather.

mother_carey_and_her_chickens_by_j_g_keulemans_1877

“Mother Carey and Her Chickens” (JG Keulemans, 1877)

Leach’s Storm-Petrels are also well known for getting stranded on land at this time of year. With millions of young birds fledging for the first time, and parents following suit to abandon their burrows until next year, there are lots of opportunity for mishaps. Storm-Petrels can get disoriented by the bright, artificial lights that are so common around our communities – especially on damp, foggy nights when visibility is limited. Like many seabirds, Storm-Petrels are unable to take flight from flat land (they usually launch off their sloped burrow entrance), and are easily stranded if they land. If you find one, gently pick it up, place it in a dark ventilated space (a small box works well) and release it over the water that evening. Doing so after sunset is best, since there is far less chance it will get predated on by larger birds.

We rescued this Leach's Storm-Petrel after finding it stranded at the base of Cape Race lighthouse on September 25. Although stranded birds may "appear" injured as they sit motionless or sometime flop around on the ground, in most cases they are healthy and simply cannot take off from land. We released this one over the water at nearby Cripple Cove.

We rescued this Leach’s Storm-Petrel after finding it stranded at the base of Cape Race lighthouse on September 25. Although stranded birds may “appear” injured as they sit motionless or sometime flop around on the ground, in most cases they are healthy and simply cannot take off from land. We released this one over the water at nearby Cripple Cove.

lhsp_jc_sept252016_2749

“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.

comu_june232016_4213

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.

Minke_0929

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.

codstew_june25_4854

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.

exploitsriver_june302016_5598

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!

eetgroup_tnnp_5476

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!!

One Good “Tern” Deserves a … Whimbrel?

It’s been a very busy summer, and I apologize for the lack of blog updates. There’ll be lots to come in just a few weeks … promise!

In the meantime, here’s a quickie. Last week (July 27), two rare southern terns showed up in Renews. The first was a Royal Tern (presumably the same one that had been seen by Bruce Mactavish at Cape Race a few days earlier – Newfoundland’s sixth record!). While looking for that, Alvan Buckley found an equally rare cousin in the form a Sandwich Tern. Both were seen roosting together in Renews inner harbour for a short while before flying off into the fog. Fortunately, Alvan refound the Sandwich Tern again the following day – ~100km of coastline away in St. Vincent’s! Since I was heading that way anyways, I managed to see it that afternoon … a Newfoundland lifer! (However, Royal Tern is my new nemesis bird since I also missed two in 2012.)

This SANDWICH TERN was just the sixth record for Newfoundland, and a first for me! There is an ongoing discussion about its origins - is it American or European? (My very instant photo doesn't add much to that conversation - but it sure was great to see!). July 28, 2016, St. Vincent's NL.

This SANDWICH TERN was just the sixth record for Newfoundland, and an island first for me! There is an ongoing discussion about its origins – is it American or European? (My very distant photo doesn’t add much to that conversation – but it sure was great to see!). July 28, 2016, St. Vincent’s NL.

Heading back to St. John’s later that day, Alvan, Alison Mews, my guests and I stopped in at Renews one more time. This time, three Whimbrel were sitting on a grassy island along the river just inland from the highway – an unexpected sight in its own right. Even more unexpected was the obvious paler underparts, white belly and underwings and white rump of one of those birds when they lifted off and flew back over the river! It was a EURASIAN WHIMBREL!! Although this Old World race of Whimbrel is almost annual in Newfoundland, most records come from spring – not mid-summer. In fact, it was only the second I’ve been lucky enough to see and a completely unexpected end to a great day of birding!

WHIM_Euro_July282016_8855

These three Whimbrel were sitting on the inland side of the river. The paler underparts of the centre bird are subtle but evident in this photo.

WHIM_Euro_July282016_8856

As soon as they took flight, Alvan Buckley and I both noticed the obvious white belly and underwings of one bird. Something was very different about this one …

WHIM_Euro_July282016_8858

This photo won’t be winning any awards, but it does show the obvious white underwings and belly of the Eurasian Whimbrel (left) compared to the more expected American (Hudsonian) Whimbrel on the right.

WHIM_Euro_July282016_8894

Another photo showing the whiter underparts, and especially the underwing, of the Eurasian Whimbrel (centre).

WHIM_Euro_July282016_8878

Nailing the identification is the large white rump patch on the Eurasian Whimbrel (centre). Compare that the the plain brown rumps of the two American Whimbrel on either side.

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.

COTE_June52016_2824

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!

PIPL_June52016_2982

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!

MillvilleBeach_sunset_2207

 

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.

NOGA_CSM_1665

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.

csm_hdr_7825.jpg

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.

COMUflock_WBERJune12_0829


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!

SAGU_Feb42016_6940

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!

Island Hopping: Trinidad & Tobago (Part 3)

** This is the third (and final) installment about the recent Eagle Eye Tours trip I co-led in Trinidad & Tobago (December 2015). Follow these links to read the first and second posts. **

Following an amazing week in Trinidad (see previous posts), we continued our adventure with a quick flight to the neighbouring island of Tobago. Despite its small size, Tobago offers an awesome array of great birding. And, despite its proximity to Trinidad, Tobago also offers a suite of birds that are either absent from or more difficult to find there. These last three days of our tour were a wonderful mix of ocean, wetland, forest edge and rainforest birding!

An iconic seabird, this Red-billed Tropicbird was one of many that we enjoyed during our visit to Tobago. Seeing hundreds of them was one of the major highlights for our entire group!

An iconic seabird, this Red-billed Tropicbird was one of many that we enjoyed during our visit to Tobago. Seeing hundreds of them was one of the major highlights for our entire group!

One of our first stops on Tobago was at a series of settling ponds at a local golf course, where we enjoyed a variety of waders and waterfowl - including our best looks at several Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

One of our first stops on Tobago was at a series of settling ponds at a local golf course, where we enjoyed a variety of waders and waterfowl – including our best looks at several Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

A number of Southern Lapwings were also present, taking advantage of the abundant short grass they like so much.

A number of Southern Lapwings were also present, taking advantage of the abundant short grass they like so much.

We also visited a private farm with an beautiful feeder set-up (and the best mango smoothies you can imagine!). Among the many hummingbirds were several classy-looking White-necked Jacobins.

We also visited a private farm with an beautiful feeder set-up (and the best mango smoothies you can imagine!). Among the many hummingbirds were several classy-looking White-necked Jacobins.

However, the clear highlight (and our main target) was the brilliant Ruby Topaz. I found it impossible to get a photo that truly captured the amazing colours of this bird, but this one comes the closest.

However, the clear highlight (and our main target) was the brilliant Ruby Topaz. I found it impossible to get a photo that truly captured the amazing colours of this bird, but this one comes the closest. The throat absolutely glowed when it caught the sunlight!

The feeders and offering of fresh fruit attracted a variety of visitors - including a pair of Barred Antshrikes. Here, the male enjoys some easy-picking banana.

The feeders and offering of fresh fruit attracted a variety of visitors – including a pair of Barred Antshrikes. Here, the male enjoys some easy-picking banana.

Personally, I found the female Barred Antshrikes to be just as (if not more) attractive than the males. This one seemed to be checking me out, although I doubt I came across as quite so interesting!

Personally, I found female Barred Antshrikes to be just as (if not more) attractive than the males. This one seemed to be checking me out, although I doubt I came across as quite so interesting!

Another interesting hummingbird that we had not seen on Trinidad was the Black-throated Mango.

Another interesting hummingbird that we had not seen on Trinidad was the Black-throated Mango.

A Blue-gray Tanager also dropped in for a visit ... always a crowd pleaser.

A Blue-gray Tanager also dropped in for a visit … always a crowd pleaser.

Equally intriguing were several very large caterpillars we encountered on the property. One even made its way on the bus by catching a ride on a participant's shirt! It appears to be a Frangipani Hawk Moth (Pseudosphinx tetrio) Caterpillar.

Equally intriguing were several very large caterpillars we encountered on the property. One even made its way on the bus by catching a ride on a participant’s shirt! It appears to be a
Frangipani Hawk Moth (Pseudosphinx tetrio) Caterpillar.

Our "base of operations" on Tobago was a small beach resort at the island's northeast corner. Here, a child plays on the beach in the nearby village of Speyside.

Our “base of operations” on Tobago was a small beach resort at the island’s northeast corner. Here, a child plays on the beach in the nearby village of Speyside.

Our motel property offered plenty of great birding. This Tropical Mockingbird was sitting across from our room door almost every time I went outside.

Our motel property offered plenty of great birding. This Tropical Mockingbird was sitting across from our room door almost every time I went outside.

Though a tad noisy at times, it was still fun to see Rufous-vented Chachalacas roaming around the area. Plus, it's just plain fun to say "chachalaca"!

Though a tad noisy at times, it was still neat to see Rufous-vented Chachalacas roaming around the area. Plus, it’s just plain fun to say “chachalaca”!

House Wrens were fairly common in both Trinidad & Tobago, but this tropical race often comes across quite different to the North American race that many of us are familiar with.

House Wrens were fairly common in both Trinidad & Tobago, but this tropical race often comes across as quite different from the North American race that many of us are familiar with.

Richard's Anole were easy to spot around the property. Males like this one were fairly large.

Richard’s Anole were easy to spot around the property. Males like this one were fairly large …

... however the slightly smaller females were arguably nicer looking.

… however the slightly smaller females were arguably nicer looking.

We also enjoyed some really great looks at a Brown-crested Flycatcher on the property. An absolutely fun bird to watch!

We also enjoyed some really great looks at a Brown-crested Flycatcher on the property. An absolutely great bird to watch!

Red-crowned Woodpecker is fairly widespread on Tobago, but absent in larger Trinidad. We were fortunate to see several during our visit.

Red-crowned Woodpecker is fairly widespread on Tobago, but absent in larger Trinidad. We were fortunate to see several during our visit.

One of the biggest highlights of the tour was a visit to the island of Little Tobago (seen here from a hilltop at Speyside). Tons of great birding awaited us after a short boat ride and somewhat adventurous landing!

One of the biggest highlights of the tour was a visit to the island of Little Tobago (seen here from a hilltop at Speyside). Tons of great birding awaited us after a short boat ride and somewhat adventurous landing!

Co-leader Jody Allair and one of our participants check out an Audubon's Shearwater, cozy in it burrow. We were very fortunatr since they are just arriving back to their breeding sites at this time of year, and this was the first report of the season!

Co-leader Jody Allair and one of our participants check out an Audubon’s Shearwater, cozy in it burrow. We were very fortunate since they are just arriving back to their breeding sites at this time of year, and this was the first report of the season!

Another great treat was this Trinidad Motomot. This beautiful species is endemic to Trinidad & Tobago, and can be quite secretive as they sit quietly in the shady rainforest.

Another great treat was this Trinidad Motomot. This beautiful species is endemic to Trinidad & Tobago, and can be quite secretive as they sit quietly in the shady rainforest. It was a major target for the tour, and this time everyone got a good look.

Another endemic and very special critter is the Ocellated Gecko. In fact, it is thought that this species occurs ONLY on the tiny of Little Tobago! What a great looking lizard.

Another endemic and very special critter is the Ocellated Gecko. In fact, it is thought that this species occurs ONLY on the tiny island of Little Tobago! What a great looking (though small) lizard.

However, the obvious highlight (and our main reason for visiting Little Tobago) was the incredible seabird colony. While seeing hundreds of Red-billed Tropicbirds like this one was amazing, the colony also included both Red-footed and Brown Boobies.

However, the obvious highlight (and our main reason for visiting Little Tobago) was the incredible seabird colony. While seeing hundreds of Red-billed Tropicbirds like this one was amazing, the colony also included both Red-footed and Brown Boobies.

Nearby islands are also home to large colonies of Magnificent Frigatebird, and they could always be found patrolling around Little Tobago looking for a meal to steal!

Nearby islands are also home to large colonies of Magnificent Frigatebird, and they could always be found patrolling around Little Tobago looking for a meal to steal!

Co-leader Jody Allair looks back at the village of Speyside and our lodgings from an overlook on Little Tobago.

Co-leader Jody Allair looks back at the village of Speyside and our lodgings from an overlook on Little Tobago.

Back at our motel, a short hike up a nearby trail produced lots of great birds. Among the new ones was a pair of Black-faced Grassquits (male pictured here).

Back at our motel, a short hike up a nearby trail produced lots of great birds. Among the new ones was a pair of Black-faced Grassquits (male pictured here).

More secretive, though a little more flashy when seen, were several White-flanked Antwrens that we encountered during our walks. This one was unusually cooperative, though still difficult to see in the open for more than a few seconds.

More secretive, though a little more flashy when seen, were several White-flanked Antwrens that we encountered during our walks. This one was unusually cooperative, though still difficult to see in the open for more than a few seconds.

One of my favourite encounters was with this beautiful Tropical Ratsnake (Spilotes pullatus). It easily measured in at over four feet long (and possibly more) ... a stunning animal.

One of my favourite encounters was with this beautiful Tropical Ratsnake (Spilotes pullatus). It easily measured in at over four feet long (and possibly more) … a stunning animal.

It was awesome to watch this snake actively hunting, expertly maneuvering through the tangled branches with ease and surprising speed. No wonder it can sneak up on prey!

It was awesome to watch this snake actively hunting, expertly maneuvering through the tangled branches with ease and surprising speed. No wonder it can sneak up on prey!

At the other end of the spectrum was this very small Shiny Lizard (Gymnophthalmus underwoodi). It seems this species is rarely spotted on Tobago, which is not surprising considering it how tiny it was ... no more than a few inches long and no bigger than a large earthworm. We were very lucky to see it scamper across the trail and try to hid behind some small rocks. At one point, it even took shelter under my shoe!

At the other end of the spectrum was this very small Shiny Lizard (Gymnophthalmus underwoodi). It seems this species is rarely spotted on Tobago, which is not surprising considering how tiny it was … no more than a few inches long and no bigger than an earthworm. We were very lucky to see it scamper across the trail and try to hide behind some small rocks. At one point, it even took shelter under my shoe!

Yet another species found on Tobago, but not Trinidad, is the rather plain-looking Scrub Greenlet. It is part of the vireo family.

Yet another species found on Tobago, but not Trinidad, is the rather plain-looking Scrub Greenlet. It is part of the vireo family.

One hot afternoon when the birding was slow, Jody and I made the short trek to Speyside. Along the way we saw the remnant of several old mills that spoke to some of the area's economic and cultural past.

One hot afternoon when the birding was slow, Jody and I made the short trek to Speyside. Along the way we saw the remnant of several old mills that spoke to some of the area’s economic and cultural past.

Our last big outing of the tour was to go birding in the lush rainforests of Tobago's main ridge. These high elevation forests represent the world's oldest legally protected forest reserves, established for conservation in 1776! We encountered an incredible variety of birds here (most of which were impossible to photograph in the tall, thick and shady surroundings!).

Our last big outing of the tour was to go birding in the lush rainforests of Tobago’s Main Ridge. These high elevation forests represent the world’s oldest legally protected forest reserves, established for conservation in 1776! We encountered an incredible variety of birds here (most of which were impossible to photograph in the tall, thick and shady surroundings!). Blue-backed Mannikins, Yellow-legged Thrush, White-tailed Sabrewing, and even the very rare (and unexpected) White-throated Spadebill!

This was one amazing tour, shared with an equally amazing group of people. All said, we encountered a tour-record 223 species of birds, an incredible variety of other critters, wonderful people, and tons of stunning scenery. I'm looking forward to an opportunity to go back again soon!

This was one amazing tour, shared with an equally amazing group of people. All said, we encountered a tour-record 223 species of birds, an incredible variety of other critters, wonderful people, and tons of stunning scenery. I’m looking forward to an opportunity to go back again soon!

For your chance to enjoy this (or any other) incredible adventure, check out the Eagle Eye Tours website!

 

Island Hopping: Trinidad & Tobago (Part 2)

** This is the second installment about the recent Eagle Eye Tours trip I co-led in Trinidad & Tobago (December 2015). Click HERE to read the first post **

As mentioned in my previous post, much of our time on the island of Trinidad was spent on and around the beautiful (and very birdy!) Asa Wright Nature Centre. We thoroughly enjoyed the large property, incredible veranda, and wonderful trails that were available to us while staying there.

Long-billed Starthroat was one of the more uncommon hummingbirds on the island, although several could be found frequenting the feeders at Asa Wright Nature Centre.

Long-billed Starthroat was one of the more uncommon hummingbirds on the island, although several could be found frequenting the feeders at Asa Wright Nature Centre.

Crested Oropendola was one of the most abundant and conspicuous birds around the estate, and their raucous calls and behaviour became the backdrop for lots of amazing birding!

Crested Oropendola was one of the most abundant and conspicuous birds around the estate, and their raucous calls and behaviour became the backdrop for lots of amazing birding!

Despite being abundant throughout the property, and lots of other places we visited, it was impossible to overlook the beautiful Purple Honeycreeper. Centre staff said they were in larger than normal numbers this year.

Despite being abundant throughout the property, and lots of other places we visited, it was impossible to overlook the beautiful Purple Honeycreeper. Centre staff said they were in larger than normal numbers this year.

Not all the birds we enjoyed were as gaudy, easy to find or possible to photograph. Gray-throated Leaftosser is very dull, skulky and secretive - and not always seen on our tours. Not only were we able to get the entire group on one such bird, but several of us had multiple encounters and Jody & I even found a nest!

Not all the birds we enjoyed were as gaudy, easy to find or possible to photograph. Gray-throated Leaftosser is very dull, skulky and secretive – and not always seen on tours. Not only were we able to get the entire group on one such bird, but several of us had multiple encounters and Jody & I even found a nest!

And neither was the brilliance restricted to the birds. We enjoyed many beautiful butterflies, not the least of which was this amazing Blue Transparent (Ithomeia pellucida).

And neither was the brilliance restricted to the birds. We enjoyed many beautiful butterflies, not the least of which was this amazing Blue Transparent (Ithomeia pellucida).

Less endearing to some, this endemic Trinidad Chevron Tarantula (Psalmopoeus cambridgei) was making itself at home in the centre's main house. We saw it every day, although I never quite got used to the idea that it could be anywhere.

Less endearing to some, this endemic Trinidad Chevron Tarantula (Psalmopoeus cambridgei) was making itself at home in the centre’s main house. We saw it every day, although I never quite got used to the idea that it could be anywhere.

Another view of the Long-billed Starthroat. The hummingbird feeders and their many patrons never got boring!

Another view of the Long-billed Starthroat. The hummingbird feeders and their many patrons never got boring!

Though less colourful overall, I always enjoyed seeing a Spectacled Thrush and its permanently "surprised" look!

Though less colourful overall, I always enjoyed seeing a Spectacled Thrush and its permanently “surprised” look!

Going out after dark also produced some very interesting creatures, including the Trinidad Mountain Crab (Pseudotelphusa garmani). For a boy that grew up beside the ocean, there was just something strange about seeing crabs away from water and well up in the mountains!

Going out after dark also produced some very interesting creatures, including the Trinidad Mountain Crab (Pseudotelphusa garmani). For a boy that grew up beside the ocean, there was just something strange about seeing crabs away from water and well up in the mountains!

Another nocturnal creature I enjoyed seeing was the Tailless Whip Scorpion. Thee are harmless, of course, and not even a real scorpion - but a tad creepy just the same!

Another nocturnal creature I enjoyed seeing was the Tailless Whip Scorpion. These are harmless, of course, and not even a real scorpion – but a tad creepy just the same!

Asa Wright Nature Centre was also an excellent base from which to do day-trips, taking us to a range of habitats and amazing birding areas throughout northern and central Trinidad. We explored montane rainforests, grasslands, wetlands and even coastal swamps and fishing harbours – finding lots of great birds and other wildlife everywhere! And the scenery.

Birding in the rainforests and higher elevations of the Northern Range was definitely a highlight. We got to see some amazing vistas and lots of great birds along the winding mountain roads.

Birding in the rainforests and higher elevations of the Northern Range was definitely a highlight. We got to see some amazing vistas and lots of great birds along the winding mountain roads.

We regularly saw Common Black Hawks soaring overhead or down in the valley, but seeing them perched gave them an even more majestic look. Surveying his kingdom!

We regularly saw Common Black Hawks soaring overhead or down in the valley, but seeing them perched gave them an even more majestic look. Surveying his kingdom!

An unfortunate case of "Stellar bird, crappy photo"! This male Guianan Trogon obliged us by sitting right out in the open - amazing looks, but hard light for photography. Ah well ...

An unfortunate case of “Stellar bird, crappy photo”! This male Guianan Trogon obliged us by sitting right out in the open – amazing looks, but hard light for photography. Ah well …

Palm Tanagers were abundant and easily overlooked ... but this bright male was quite entertaining after taking a bath.

Palm Tanagers were abundant and easily overlooked … but this bright male was quite entertaining after taking a bath.

The lush rainforests of the Northern Range were full of life, though it was often hard to spot. Birding here was a tangled mess of fun and frustration - but mostly fun. We scored a lot of great birds!

The lush rainforests of the Northern Range were full of life, though it was often hard to spot. Birding here was a tangled mess of fun and frustration – but mostly fun. We scored a lot of great birds!

One of my favourite trees that we encounterd (though luckily never fell against!) is the Sandbox Tree. It is covered in thick, very sharp spikes, contains poisonous sap, and produces a fruit that actually "explodes" when ripe to disperse its seed! Trees can be cool.

One of my favourite trees that we encountered (though luckily never fell against!) is the Sandbox Tree. It is covered in thick, very sharp spikes, contains poisonous sap, and produces a fruit that actually “explodes” when ripe to disperse its seed! Trees can be cool.

We found this well-camouflaged Streaked Flycatcher while birding along the Blanchisseuse road. Amazingly, everyone got great looks!

We found this well-camouflaged Streaked Flycatcher while birding along the Blanchisseuse road. Amazingly, everyone got great looks!

Another striking butterfly, the White Lycid (Arawacus aetolus) has very differeny patterning above (white) and below (beautifully and colourfully striped).

Another striking butterfly, the White Lycid (Arawacus aetolus) has very different patterning above (white) and below (beautifully and colourfully striped).

While all of our excursions were exciting, there is always something special about night birding. We visited an agricultural centre one evening to look for nocturnal species and were not disappointed. The first birds we found were a pair of Tropical Screech Owls - one of which sat obligingly for a few minutes before heading off to hunt. We also spotted a Barn Owl nearby.

While all of our excursions were exciting, there is always something special about night birding. We visited an agricultural centre one evening to look for nocturnal species and were not disappointed. The first birds we found were a pair of Tropical Screech Owls – one of which sat obligingly for a few minutes before heading off to hunt. We also spotted a Barn Owl nearby.

We also found a number of Common Pauraque (above), White-tailed Nightjars and one Common Potoo hunting and sitting on various perches.

We also found a number of Common Pauraque (above), White-tailed Nightjars and one Common Potoo hunting and sitting on various perches.

A daytime visit to the same area produced a good variety of grassland and wetland species, including the very classy-looking Southern Lapwing.

A daytime visit to the same area produced a good variety of grassland and wetland species, including the very classy-looking Southern Lapwing.

We found a pair of Pied Water-Tyrants in the wet, muddy fields of the agricultural centre. The male looked quite dapper, I thought!

We found a pair of Pied Water-Tyrants in the wet, muddy fields of the agricultural centre. The male looked quite dapper, I thought!

Cattle Egrets were abundant in the wet open fields of Nariva Swamp. What do you think that one egret is looking at?

Cattle Egrets were abundant in the wet open fields of Nariva Swamp. What do you think that one egret is looking at?

We also encountered a few Spectacled Caimen, including this fella chilling out near the road in Nariva. The name comes from a bony ridge between the eyes, which can give a spectacled appearance.

We also encountered a few Spectacled Caiman, including this fella chilling out near the road in Nariva. The name comes from a bony ridge between the eyes, which can give a spectacled appearance.

While Pinnated Bittern was one of our prime targets in the Nariva Swamp, finding one can be a real challenge. We were fortunate to spy this one sticking its head up out of the tall grass.

While Pinnated Bittern was one of our prime targets in the Nariva Swamp, finding one can be a real challenge. We were fortunate to spy this one sticking its head up out of the tall grass.

Equally exciting, though much less expected, was this Rufous Crab-Hawk sitting in the open. What a beautiful bird, and very uncommon to see!

Equally exciting, though much less expected, was this Rufous Crab-Hawk sitting in the open. What a beautiful bird, and very uncommon to see!

Another beautiful raptor of the lowlands, and much more common, is the Yellow-headed Caracara. We spotted this one having lunch on an ocean breakwater.

Another beautiful raptor of the lowlands, and much more common, is the Yellow-headed Caracara. We spotted this one having lunch on an ocean breakwater.

We were lucky to have great looks at several Great Antshrikes during our time on Trinidad, including a pair that could often be found near the parking area at Asa Wright.

We were lucky to have great looks at several Great Antshrikes during our time on Trinidad, including a pair that could often be found near the parking area at Asa Wright.

Woodpeckers run the gamut from drab & boring to bold & colourful. This Golden-Olive Woodpecker is definitely among the latter - what a looker!

Woodpeckers run the gamut from drab & boring to bold & colourful. This Golden-Olive Woodpecker is definitely among the latter – what a looker!

A visit to the west coast of Trinidad gave us an opportunity not only to find some great birds, but also check out some cultural and scenic sites. The "Temple in the Sea" at Waterloo is a beautiful spot, and a real monument to both human spirit and the country's rich Hindu culture.

A visit to the west coast of Trinidad gave us an opportunity not only to find some great birds, but also check out some cultural and scenic sites. The “Temple in the Sea” at Waterloo is a beautiful spot, and a real monument to both human spirit and the country’s rich Hindu culture.

The coastal scenery was also dotted with birds - many of which we wouldn't see elsewhere. Here, a Brown Pelican sits on a local fishing boat moored in the bay.

The coastal scenery was also dotted with birds – many of which we wouldn’t see elsewhere. Here, a Brown Pelican sits on a local fishing boat moored in the bay.

We also enjoyed watching a flock of Black Skimmers working cooperatively to find and catch food. Notice the outskirts of Port-of-Spain (Trinidad's capital city) in the background.

We also enjoyed watching a flock of Black Skimmers working cooperatively to find and catch food. Notice the outskirts of Port-of-Spain (Trinidad’s capital city) in the background.

We also took time to visit the nearby Dattareya temple, which is home to an 85ft Hanuman murti (statue) - the largest outside of India.

We also took time to visit the nearby Dattareya temple, which is home to this 85ft Hanuman murti (statue) – the largest outside of India.

A late afternoon boat tour into Caroni Swamp proved to be both fun and birdy. Among highlights were our only Green-throated Mango, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, and Masked Cardinals. We also spotted this large Tree Boa (Corallus ruschenbergerii) taking a nap in the mangroves.

A late afternoon boat tour into Caroni Swamp proved to be both fun and birdy. Among highlights were our only Green-throated Mango, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, and Masked Cardinals. We also spotted this large Tree Boa (Corallus ruschenbergerii) taking a nap in the mangroves.

The climax of this boat trip, and a major highlight of the entire tour, was seeing hundreds of Scarlet Ibis (and many other herons/egrets) flying into roost on a single island before dusk. What an amazing, colourful spectacle!

The climax of this boat trip, and a major highlight of the entire tour, was seeing hundreds of Scarlet Ibis (and many other herons/egrets) flying into roost on a single island before dusk. What an amazing, colourful spectacle!

 

What a great way to end the Trinidad portion of our tour! Stay tuned for the next installment and our visit to Tobago!

What a great way to end the Trinidad portion of our tour! Stay tuned for the next installment and our visit to Tobago!

 

 Click here to read Part 3 of our adventure in Trinidad & Tobago!

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!

SAGU_Feb42016_6635SAGU_Feb42016_7369SAGU_Feb42016_7430

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!

SAGU_Feb42016_6940