Arse On: Tale of an Elusive Fieldfare

Nine hours of driving. Four hours of bitter cold birding. And five minutes of THIS:
The business end of a mega-rare Fieldfare that has been hanging out in Lumsden on the northeast coast. While we did get some slightly better looks this morning, this was the only photo I managed to get! "Arse-on", as we might say in Newfoundland.

The business end of a mega-rare Fieldfare that has been hanging out in Lumsden on the northeast coast. While we did get some slightly better looks this morning, this was the only photo I managed to get! “Arse-on”, as we might say in Newfoundland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sabine’s in the Snow!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Catching Up (with a White-winged Tern!!)

It has been an extremely busy summer … which I guess is a good thing when you’re in the ecotourism business 😉 Between Bird⋅The⋅Rock clients and commercial tours with my friends at Wildland and Eagle Eye Tours, I’ve had many opportunities to share the wonderful birds & nature of Newfoundland with visitors from all over the world, as well as lead a fun birding tour in beautiful New Brunswick! With that in mind, I now have a lot of catching up to do – so expect a full summer’s worth of great stories and photo highlights here on the blog over the next few weeks!!

However, the first “catching up” I had to do this week was with a very rare tern that showed up in Newfoundland while I was away. While leading a birding tour in New Brunswick, I received a series of texts about a WHITE-WINGED TERN that had been discovered in Conception Bay South – just 20 minutes from my home! As painful as it was, I soon learned that it seemed to be settled and had some routine habits – a good sign that it might hang around for a few days. Five days later, after concluding the tour, I was headed home and focused on seeing this beautiful bird for myself … until foggy weather in St. John’s forced the cancellation of my flight! Following an unplanned night in Montreal and a reroute through Toronto (my sixth province that month), I finally arrived home on the evening of Tuesday, August 25.

This breeding plumaged White-winged Tern was a very unexpected find when discovered by local birder Paul Linegar on August 19. It is normally found in southeastn Europe and Asia (wintering in in Africa and Australia), and is a very rare wanderer to North America.

This breeding plumaged White-winged Tern was a very unexpected find when discovered by local birder Paul Linegar on August 19. It is normally found in southeastern Europe and Asia (wintering in Africa and Australia), and is a very rare wanderer to North America.

The next morning, I headed straight to Chamberlain’s Pond where the tern was known to feed regularly throughout the day. I scanned the pond and, seeing nothing, stepped out of the car – when THE tern immediately flew in off the ocean and directly in front of me!! It continued to course around the far side of the pond, flying acrobatics and hawking insects off the water’s surface, for about 10 minutes before flying over my head again and out over the ocean, headed towards the nearby marina where it had been originally discovered. I relocated it there a short while later, but it was too far to enjoy or photograph. After some poking around, I found a public access to the long breakwater/sandbar opposite the marina and made the 15 minute stroll along its length to where I had last seen it. It was nowhere to be found, so I waited patiently – until it suddenly appeared out of nowhere and flew by just metres away! Fortunately I was able to raise my camera and snap off a few photos as it glided past – not perfect, but still precious! What a stunning and graceful bird!

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This beautiful bird represents the first record of White-winged Tern for the province – one that local birders may have dreamed about but never “really” expected to see here.

The black underwing coverts seen in this photo are an important feature, distinguishing this mega rarity from the very similar Black Tern (which while still somewhat rare in Newfoundland is by far the more expected species).

The black underwing coverts seen in this photo are an important feature, distinguishing this mega rarity from the very similar Black Tern (which while still somewhat rare in Newfoundland is by far the more expected species).

Notably, two other exciting birds have been reported recently. A moulting adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL has been spotted in east St. John’s several times over the past two weeks – a virtually annual visitor here but still a huge rarity for North America in general. Far less expected, a highly probably BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS was reported by a fisherman near Cape St. Mary’s on August 29 – a huge rarity that we are hoping will be spotted again!

Stay tuned to the blog for a series of reports on our adventures this past summer!

Lots of amazing birding, whales, scenery and fun this summer ... check back soon for some photo highlights!

Lots of amazing birding, whales, scenery and fun this summer … check back soon for some photo highlights!

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Another teaser from my most recent adventure - an Eagle Eye Tours trip to New Brunswick and the beautiful Bay of Fundy!

Another teaser from my most recent adventure – an Eagle Eye Tours trip to New Brunswick and the beautiful Bay of Fundy!

A Garganey in the Marsh

We’ve been watching the winds for the past two weeks, waiting for some European rarities to show up. Eight European Golden Plovers and even a Hobby were spotted in late April by researchers on the RV Celtic Explorer in the middle of the North Atlantic, suggesting that birds were headed our way. Eventually, a Black-tailed Godwit was found on April 29 in the unlikely location of Deer Lake, raising suspicions that more must be out there. But then … nothing.

The winds switched to the south last week, bringing in a swath of regular migrants (yay – spring!), and pretty much dashing our hopes for European gold. So when Bruce Mactavish sent me a text on May 7 to report a stunning drake Garganey in a marsh in east St. John’s, I was a little surprised. Had it arrived earlier on the trans-Atlantic winds, or more recently?? There is a pattern of Garganey showing up in May, and often when the winds would least suggest it. This one would be the fifth record for Newfoundland, all of which were spring males!

Somewhere in this very distant photo is a stunning male Garganey. Honest.

Somewhere in this very distant photo is a stunning male Garganey. Honest.

It took a couple hours, but I eventually snuck away from work and family obligations to go take a look. It was hiding in reeds several hundred metres from the viewing platform where I stood, at the back of a marsh surrounded by inaccessible industrial yards. When visible, looks were pretty good through a scope but much too far for photos. A few people saw it in closer parts of the marsh over the next two days and managed some record photos, but for the most part it remained a bit elusive. It has not been reported since May 9.

This drake Garganey (ABA Code 4) was in St. John's on May 15-16, 2009 ... and very cooperative for at least a couple hours!

This drake Garganey (ABA Code 4) was in St. John’s on May 15-16, 2009 … and very cooperative for at least a couple hours!

A single European Golden Plover was reported from Carmanville (Gander Bay) on May 11, but otherwise there have been no reports and the usual window is closing now. Sure — a GarganeyBlack-tailed Godwit and European Golden Plover is in fact a pretty decent few weeks, but it seems a tad anti-climactic. I guess last year’s show spoiled us!!

European Golden Plovers are rare but regular in Newfoundland, with at least one showing up most years. And that's just what we got this year ... one! (These individuals were photographed in 2014).

European Golden Plovers are rare but regular in Newfoundland, with at least one showing up most years. And that’s just what we got this year … one! (These individuals were photographed in 2014).

Jaegers in the Fog

I often associate Jaegers with fog. Here in Newfoundland, we most often see them in late summer as they harass the swarms of Black-legged Kittiwake feeding on capelin along our coast – often accompanied by ample fog. In my mind’s eye, I imagine them on their breeding grounds on the sub-arctic tundra, shrouded in moody mist. Heck – I can hardly even picture a jaeger in nice, sunny weather.

So I should not have been surprised to find myself photographing an adult Pomarine Jaeger in the fog this morning. BUT I was surprised … mostly since it was standing just metres away in the middle of a city ballfield, and was the seventh Jaeger I had seen in the city this week!! Very odd, indeed.

This adult Pomarine Jaeger was sitting out the fog in St. John's ballfield, munching on a dead gull. It was one of several around the city and part of much bigger, very odd event taking place the past few days.

This adult Pomarine Jaeger was sitting out the fog in a St. John’s ballfield, munching on a dead gull. It was one of several around the city and part of a much bigger, very odd event taking place the past few days.

It is rare opportunity to see this majestic bird so up close and personal in Newfoundland ... most sightings are distant birds harassing gulls over the ocean.

It is rare opportunity to see this majestic bird so up close and personal in Newfoundland … most sightings are distant birds harassing gulls over the ocean.

The first sign that something unusual was happening came in the form of an email on April 25 … a photograph, taken by Lillian Walsh in St. Lawrence (Burin Peninsula) showing an adult Pomarine Jaeger. It was one of two that she said had been cavorting with gulls in the town harbour that morning. Seeing jaegers at such close range is odd at any time of year in Newfoundland, and especially in early spring when they are usually migrating well out to sea. We have had some moderate onshore (northeasterly) winds this week, but certainly not enough to bother these very seaworthy birds. Maybe this was just one of those strange, one-off occurrences??

Nope. Later that same day we got word of a grounded jaeger in a small green space right in the middle of St. John’s. It must have gotten disoriented in the morning fog and arrived at this unusual location. I relocated the bird an hour or so later … appearing exhausted and possibly with an injured leg. It flew short distances if approached too closely (we attempted to capture it twice, hoping to release it near the ocean), but otherwise seemed unwell. It did fly off on its own accord around dusk, but was unfortunately found dead the next morning.

This unfortunate Pomarine Jaeger appeared exhaisted and/or injured when discovered in a city green space on April 25. It eventually succumbed to its troubles and is now part of Memorial University's ornithology collection.

This unfortunate Pomarine Jaeger appeared exhausted and/or injured when discovered in a city green space on April 25. It eventually succumbed to its troubles and is now part of Memorial University’s ornithology collection.

Since then, more than two dozen jaegers have been reported at widespread locations all over the island’s northeast coast – and there must be many others unnoticed or unreported. At least five jaegers (3 Pomarine, 2 Parasitic) have been hanging out in St. John’s harbour the past two days, resting on gravel flats near an industrial wharf and occasionally harassing the gulls feeding at a nearby sewer outlet. Another was spotted in a mid-city pond and feeding on a Ring-billed Gull carcass (did it kill it???) at a ballfield across the road. Several (including at least one Parasitic, which is even more unusual than Pomarine in April) were hanging out near a fish plant in Witless Bay, sometime appearing sickly. At least one was killed and eaten there by an otter, while another killed by a mink in Port Union (Trinity Bay North).

At least five jaegers were hanging out in St. John's harbour, including these two conspirators making a fuss with the local gulls.

At least five jaegers were hanging out in St. John’s harbour, including these two conspirators making a fuss with the local gulls.

Most of the birds reported have been Pomarine Jaegers ...

Most of the birds reported have been Pomarine Jaegers …

however, at least three Parasitic Jaegers have been identified. This species is much less expected at this time of year and may even represent the first April records for Newfoundland.

however, at least three Parasitic Jaegers have been identified. This species is much less expected at this time of year and may even represent the first April records for Newfoundland.

Why this is happening remains a mystery. The weather alone cannot explain it, since winds have certainly not been “that” strong, and these birds can easily handle much stronger gales. Pomarine Jaegers are regular migrants at sea in April, but Parasitic are not. There has been no sign of starvation in other seabirds such as Black-legged Kittiwake (which jaegers most often harass to steal food from), so a shortage of food is not obvious. The widespread nature of their arrival does not support the idea of a singular environmental incident (e.g. contamination/poisoning). Some of the birds appear relatively healthy, while others quite sick and/or exhausted. Whatever the cause, it is unprecedented in Newfoundland’s birding history, and will go down in the books as “very odd, indeed”.

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Say “Ahhhhhhh”. After a thorough check-up, I concluded that this bird was much healthier than some of the others I had seen this week. Maybe it was the nutritious gull it was eating!

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Tweets, Terns & Plover Winds

Keen birders are often watching the forecast, especially the winds. And here in Newfoundland, April is a time to be looking east, waiting for trans-Atlantic winds that might deliver wayward migrants from Europe & Iceland. Winds have been excellent for the past 48 hours or so, and are still blowing onshore along the northeast coast as I write this … prime for the arrival of exciting vagrants like European Golden Plover, Northern Wheatear (both nearly annual here) or something even rarer.

Winds like these have been blowing almost directly across the Atlantic the past few days ... perfectly aligned to bring us some wayward European/Iceland migrants (Screenshot: April 22).

Winds like these have been blowing almost directly across the Atlantic the past few days … perfectly aligned to bring us some wayward European/Iceland migrants (Screenshot: April 22).

Earlier today, I was alerted to tweet from Nial Keogh aboard the RV Celtic Explorer (a research vessel), indicating that some Golden Plovers (preumably European) were spotted flying west in the mid-Atlantic this morning … way out to sea and headed in our direction. Despite the fact it was more than 1000km away, Newfoundland was still the closest landfall and they were headed this way. Heads up … check your fields and coastal grasslands!!

European Golden Plover is one of the most expected Icelandic birds to show up in Newfoundland ... almost annual here, but almost unheard of anywhere else in North America. Last spring saw a huge invasion ... could these winds be bringing us a few more??

European Golden Plover is one of the most expected Icelandic birds to show up in Newfoundland … almost annual here, but almost unheard of anywhere else in North America. Last spring saw a huge invasion … could these winds be bringing us a few more??

I also received a text from the unstoppable Alvan Buckley, who had just spotted two Arctic Terns in Renews harbour. This is several weeks early for our usual arrivals, but pretty much on time for those arriving in Iceland. Previous April records (there aren’t many!) have usually coincided with trans-Atlantic winds and were thought to be of European/Icelandic origin, and I expect the same of these.

Arctic Terns don't usually arrive back in Newfoundland until May. Previous April records, including two seen today, are probably Icelandic birds which tend to migrate earlier.

Arctic Terns don’t usually arrive back in Newfoundland until May. Previous April records, including two seen today, are probably Icelandic birds which tend to migrate earlier. (This photo, however, is from last summer)

Interesting winds continue for the next few days … maybe we’re in for a few surprises!! I myself could use a Eurasian Oystercatcher or Meadow Pipit to brighten up the month 😉

 

Long Necks & Bills

Winter is still trying to hang on here in Newfoundland, and its icy grip was felt with a little fresh snow, ice and freezing rain during the first two days of April. But signs of spring ARE starting to pop up – the first bright American Robins singing from the treetops, a handful of refreshed-looking Ring-billed Gulls joining the bedraggled few that stayed around for winter, and the arrival of Black-legged Kittiwakes all along the coast.

One unusual, but not unexpected, sign of spring was a Great Egret spotted on Friday (wayward as they are, a few sometimes arrive on April winds – probably wondering where and how they made such a wrong turn!). The location wasn’t too surprising, either … Long Pond, just a few blocks from our house, is one of the few marshy ponds that are partly open this time of year and has probably seen more egrets than most places in Newfoundland. I managed to find an hour in the late afternoon to go check it out …

Ouch! Cccccold feet! How did I end up here??

Ouch! Cccccold feet! How did I end up here??

Despite the ice and snow, this fella seemed to be doing quite fine and catching plenty of small fish. Like most egrets that arrive here in early spring, it will likely make its way back south once the winds cooperate.

Despite the ice and snow, this fella seemed to be doing quite fine and catching plenty of small fish. Like most egrets that arrive here in early spring, it will likely make its way back south once the winds cooperate.

Long Pond, in the centre of St. John's, has seen it's share of wayward egrets. I photographed this one there in mid-April several years ago.

Long Pond, in the centre of St. John’s, has seen it’s share of wayward egrets. I photographed this one there in mid-April several years ago.

My birding time has been limited lately, but I did take some time out last week to go look for a very probable Common Snipe that had been found in Ferryland, hanging out with up to three Wilson’s Snipe. I must have picked the wrong day, since during my four hour stakeout, only two of the four snipe could be found at any of the places I checked – and both were clearly Wilson’s Snipe. The suspicious snipe has been seen since, but remains unconfirmed since confident identification of these two species is complicated and requires photos of underwing details that they are not prone to showing. (Some informative photographs and great discussions about this individual are available on the blogs of Bruce Mactavish and Alvan Buckley, who both spent some time with it.)

Here are the two Wilson's Snipe that made an appearance during my visit to Ferryland last week. A far more interesting snipe failed to show up for the party!

Here are the two Wilson’s Snipe that made an appearance during my visit to Ferryland last week. A far more interesting snipe failed to show up for the party!

Another bird wondering why on earth it decided to spend the winter "here" ...

Another bird wondering why on earth it decided to spend the winter “here” …

I managed to spot two more Wilson’s Snipe on the drive home – one at Tors Cove and another at Bay Bulls. Four snipe on the day, but all of them a tad disappointing!

Common Redpolls have been scarce on the Avalon in recent years, so I was happy to encoutner a few during a recent visit to my parents' house in Notre Dame Bay. I almost forgot how much I like them!

Common Redpolls have been scarce on the Avalon in recent years, so I was happy to encounter a few during a recent visit to my parents’ house in Notre Dame Bay. I almost forgot how much I like them!

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These photos were taken during a lull in a mid-March snowstorm … weather that suits these birds, but not photography.

A “Thrashing” Good Valentine’s Day

With two young children, Valentine’s Day has become yet another busy holiday for us. Susan and I are both madly in love, but also practical people … so after surprising her with chocolates and making a heart-themed breakfast for both her and the kids, I settled in to catch up on some work while she took the girls to a Valentine’s party. Some quiet time to be productive …

Until my cell phone whistled with an incoming text message from unstoppable birder Alvan Buckley: “Brown Thrasher at the fluvarium. Now.” Three minutes later, with my work sitting idle on the desk and a freshly poured cup of tea still steeping on the counter, I was out the door. Productivity be damned!

This Brown Thrasher, hanging out at Long Pond in Pippy Park, is a rare visitor to Newfoundland and the first "gettable" one in more than a decade.

This Brown Thrasher, hanging out at Long Pond in Pippy Park, is a rare visitor to Newfoundland and the first “gettable” one in more than a decade.

Brown Thrasher is a rare visitor to Newfoundland, with only three or four reports in the last ten years … and it was one I have never managed to see here. Luckily, this one was just five minutes of high-speed driving from my house. I arrived to find a few people milling around on the trail near the fluvarium (at the northeast corner of Long Pond). The bird had been seen a few times but had just flown off. A few more people showed up and we spread out in search of what we knew could be a very elusive bird. Thirty minute later, I saw it flying in over the treetops … it landed briefly alongside the trail before slipping into thick cover and disappearing. Just long enough for an identifying look (tick!), but certainly not satisfying. On borrowed time, I had to leave with hopes of coming back later.

And that I did. After actually accomplishing a little bit of work, I headed back to Long Pond mid-afternoon. Only a few people remained, but they had just located the Thrasher and it was being somewhat cooperative. My first looks were typical of this secretive species – sitting in a tangle of limbs and branches. Eventually it flew in to an area of shoveled deck under the fluvarium, where some feeders had been set up and some seed/mealworms scattered … providing close and wonderful looks. The light was pretty difficult for photography, but over the next hour or so I managed to get some mediocre shots as it came and went. According to a staff member at the fluvarium, it has been around (noticed but unidentified) for a few weeks – so maybe it is settled in and I’ll get another chance for better photos!

BRTH_Feb142015_4229 BRTH_Feb142015_4283 BRTH_Feb142015_4308Maybe not romantic, but still a great treat!  Susan and I ended the day with an impromptu excursion downtown for a hockey game, some live music and a few relaxing drinks with friends. In my books, that all adds up to a wonderful Valentine’s Day.

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2014: Looking Back on a Great Year!

It’s hard to believe that another year has zipped by … and what a year it was! The past twelve months were full of great blessings, highlights and adventures; bringing back some wonderful memories as I sit down now to reflect on them. Amazing birds, extreme weather, fun-filled tours, new friends and even a tropical adventure … 2014 had it all!!

** Be sure to follow the links to earlier blog posts for more details and LOTS more photos!! **

The first bird news for the year was actually a carry-over from 2013 — the invasion of Snowy Owls. Although the large numbers of November and December seemed to have dissipated, reports continued throughout the winter. A few individuals decided to stay, with reports from places like Trepassey, St. Shott’s, Cape Race and Bonavista’s north shore right through the summer. I saw at least one bird in June, July and August! An echo of the 2013 invasion has been taking place this fall/winter, with excellent numbers reported in November and December 2014.

Snowy Owls continued throughout the winter of 2014, following a major invasion the previous fall. This one was photographed in St. John's in early January.

Snowy Owls continued throughout the winter of 2014, following a major invasion the previous fall. This one was photographed in St. John’s in early January.

In January, I was fortunate to host four eager birders on a WINGS Birding tour. We enjoyed prime Newfoundland winter birds like Dovekie, Purple Sandpiper, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Wigeon and thousands of excellent gulls, as well as the very rare COMMON SNIPE that had just been discovered in Ferryland. Several other clients were able to enjoy this bird throughout the winter.

Four enthusiastic birders from across the United States visited St. John's last week as part of the WINGS winter tour. Here they can be seen at Cape Spear, smiling after scoring great looks at two prime targets - Purple Sandpipers and Dovekie!!

Four enthusiastic birders from across the United States visited St. John’s last winter as part of the WINGS winter tour. Here they can be seen at Cape Spear, smiling after scoring great looks at two prime targets – Purple Sandpipers and Dovekie!!

- Photo: Jared Clarke (January 25, 2014)

Equally exciting was the reappearance of our adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL in February … it had been elusive all winter and not seen at all since December. For several weeks it appeared, almost like clockwork, at Quidi Vidi lake to bathe, drink and loaf on the ice with many other gulls. A number of visiting birders were able to capitalize on this, including several of my clients who had come primarily to “tick” this North American mega.

The Yellow-legged Gull is, in my opinion, one of the classiest looking gulls out there (and I do love gulls!). The combination of bright yellow bill and legs, brilliant red gony spot, and that magic shade of grey add up to one beautiful bird. - Photo: Jared Clarke (February 22. 2014)

The Yellow-legged Gull is, in my opinion, one of the classiest looking gulls out there (and I do love gulls!). The combination of bright yellow bill and legs, brilliant red gony spot, and that magic shade of grey add up to one beautiful bird.

Overall, Newfoundland (and most of North America!) found itself in a deep freeze for much of the winter. With the exception of a week-long thaw in mid-January, it was one of the coldest and snowiest winters in a long time. The extensive ice and limited open water resulted in a big movement of waterfowl, as well as some great photo opportunities with local ducks.

Photo opportunities with Common Mergansers are few and far between ,since they usually stick to larger patches of open water and are very wary. A small group making regular visits to Quidi Vidi have been becoming more tolerant of people and allowing some great looks. - Photo: Jared Clarke (February 22. 2014)

Photo opportunities with Common Mergansers are few and far between, since they usually stick to larger patches of open water and are very wary. A small group making regular visits to Quidi Vidi last winter became more tolerant of people and allowed some great looks.

Ring-necked Ducks breed in Newfoundland, but are rarely easy to photograph. This drake has been hanging out in the relatively small patches of open water at Quidi Vidi since early February. - Photo: Jared Clarke (February 22. 2014)

Ring-necked Ducks breed in Newfoundland, but are rarely easy to photograph. This drake was hanging out in the relatively small patches of open water at Quidi Vidi in early February.

The frigid temperatures and deep snow also resulted in a handful of small owl reports in residential areas. I even caught sight of a Northern Saw-whet Owl as it flew up from a nearby yard and landed on the wires directly in front of my house – unfortunately it only stayed for a moment. Much more cooperative was a Boreal Owl that showed up in a neighbourhood following a big storm in early February … definitely one of my photo highlights of 2014!

Boreal Owls are definitely one of my favourite birds. They are known for visiting residential neighbourhoods in mid-winter, when deep snow has impacted their traditional hunting areas in "the bush".

Boreal Owls are definitely one of my favourite birds. They are known for visiting residential neighbourhoods in mid-winter, when deep snow has impacted their traditional hunting areas in “the bush”.

March brought with it one of the highlights of my entire year – an escape to Hawaii!! I joined my good friend Jody Allair as co-leader for an Eagle Eye birding tour, where we visited three islands with a great group of birders, saw some of the coolest and rarest birds on earth, swam with sea turtles, and hiked on volcanoes. It was genuinely awesome adventure in one of the most amazing and unique ecosystems in the world. (Be sure to read my earlier blog posts – they are jam-packed with photos!).

This male Akiapola'au, one of Big Island's rarest and most special birds, graced us for almost an hour. Check out that crazy bill!!

This male Akiapola’au, one of Hawaii’s rarest and most special birds, graced us for almost an hour. Check out that crazy bill!! It may have been my favourite birding experience of the entire year!

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Green Sea Turtles are quite common along the Hawaiian coasts, but seeing them was still very special.

Redtailed Tropicbirds also nest on the cliffs at Kilauea Point, and were often seen floating by or engaging in their acrobatic courtships displays.

Red-tailed Tropicbirds were one of many (many!) highlights during the tour!

April can be an exciting time in Newfoundland, especially if we get the right winds … and this year we got them in spades. Prolonged northeasterly, trans-Atlatnic winds in late April and early May brought with them an invasion of European/Icelandic birds … including two COMMON REDSHANKS (only the third North American record), a dozen Black-tailed Godwits, several hundred European Golden Plovers, scores of Northern Wheatear, and a Eurasian Whimbrel.

However, the real star of the Euro Inasion was a Common Redshank at Renews from May 3-13. Since it represented just the third record (and sixth individual) for both Newfoundland and North America, many birder came from near and far to see it. A second individual presnt at the same location on May 4 was chased off by the first and never seen again!

This Common Redshank at Renews from May 3-13 was (in my opinion) Newfoundland’s best bird of 2014. Since it represented just the third record (and sixth individual) for both Newfoundland and North America, many birders came from near and far to see it.

More than 300 European Golden Plovers were reported across Newfoundland in early May - a huge (though not quite record!) invasion of this nearly annual rarity.

More than 300 European Golden Plovers were reported across Newfoundland in early May – a huge (though not quite record!) invasion of this nearly annual rarity.

Photo: Jared Clarke (April 26, 2014)

The “invasion” was first detected by the arrival of two Black-tailed Godwits at Renews in late April. Over the next 2-3 weeks, a record total of twelve were recorded around the island. Incredibly, I was able to see six of them at four locations!

To make things even more exciting, an adult ROSS’S GULL showed up for two days – considered by many to have been the most exciting bird of the entire year!

Summer was busy with tours and visiting birders … all of whom couldn’t have picked a better year to visit! We had great weather, an incredible showing of icebergs, and lots of interesting nature and wildlife experiences! I had the pleasure of leading four tours with my good friends at Wildland Tours, as well as several private clients throughout the summer – all of whom enjoyed great birds, whales, scenery, wildflowers and, of course, icebergs! And no one enjoyed it more than I did!

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

The icebergs along ghe northeast coast this year were incredible – in number, size and sheer beauty. Some dramatic skies added to the scene at times.

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We enjoyed “lots” of great seabirds during the various tours – including the awe-inspiring frenzy of murres and puffins at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve.

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A couple tours lucked into the amazing scene of caplin “rolling” as they spawned on our beaches. In the North Atlantic, these small fish are a big cog in the wheel of life.

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

Short-tailed Swallowtails are always a highlight on my tours … this beautiful little butterfly is limited to very small range, mostly on the island of Newfoundland.

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!

Whales put on a great show throughout the summer – like this one breaching in front of the historic town of Trinity!

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 Newfoundland and are one of many interesting wildflowers seen throughout the summer.

A Little Gull showed up in late July, hanging around for many local birders to catch up with it.

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Little Gulls are quite rare in Newfoundland, and it is especially unusual for one to cooperate and hang around for several days like this one did!

August was very wet in Newfoundland, but I managed to make the most of it – including a great Wildland Tour and lots of family adventures. A major windstorm at the end of August drove thousands of Leach’s Storm Petrels (and other birds) to the bottom of Conception Bay, making for quite a show!

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

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Our family loves ot spend time together and travel in Newfoundland during the summer. One of our favourite destinations in beautiful Grate’s Cove, where my mother-in-law grew up and she still has an old family home that we love!

One of the most exciting events of the entire year for me had nothing to do with birds – but instead a mammal. In early September, I managed to catch up with a WALRUS that was discovered hanging out on a rocky outcrop at Bay Bulls! I have always wanted to see one of these magnificent animals, and this one did not disappoint! My story of this encounter turned out the be the most popular post on my blog, my photos were shared across the internet and picked up by various media, and the sighting was published in a local journal.

Walrus_Sept22014_7948 Walrus_Sept22014_7866An intriguing Common Gull also showed up in September – one that gave the distinct impressions of the kamchatka race originating from eastern Asia. Bruce Mactavish and I had a great experience after relocating it on a field in Goulds, and its difficult to come to any conclusion except that it was indeed a “Kamchatka Gull“. Unfortunately, it has not been seen since.

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This Common Gull which showed up in and around St. John’s in early fall was unlike any other seen here before. Could it really have been a “Kamchatka Gull” from eastern Asia?? Crazier things have happened.

A very rare Canvasback appeared in St. John’s in October … only the second record for the province and the first in more than 40 years! I managed to see it a couple times before it disappeared a couple weeks later.

This immature Canvasback provides just the second record for Newfoundland, with the last one having been more than 40 years ago!

This immature Canvasback provided just the second record for Newfoundland, with the last one having been seen in the early 1970’s!

Later that month, all eyes were on Hurricane Gonzalo as it churned north over the Atlantic ocean towards us. With dreams of tropical seabirds dancing in our heads, three of us met this huge storm at Cape Race just minutes after the eye had passed a few miles east of us. The rare birds didn’t materialize, but the incredible wave action over the next few hours was more than worth the trip!

IMG_9677 IMG_9607 IMG_9531November turned out to be an important month for Bird⋅The⋅Rock … I launched a new website and Facebook page, heralding a big step into the field of eco- and birding tourism. We also hosted an online contest, with Newfoundland birder Diane Burton winning a beautiful canvas print featuring one of my favourite bird photos! A big THANK YOU to everyone who has supported & encouraged me in this new venture!!

CBNT_CSMNovember is also an interesting time for birds in Newfoundland, and this year was no different. The “star” of the month may have been a Meadowlark that showed up in St. John’s – not necessarily because of its rarity (although it was), but because of its ambiguity. Initial photos seemed to indicate that it “could” be a Western Meadowlark, although lengthy discussions and research proved inconclusive. These species are very cryptic at the best of times, and it seems the lines between them are still quite blurry. Other good birds during the month included a Western Kingbird, Northern Mockingbird and several cool warblers (for which November is best known!).

Terrible Photo(s) #1 - A Meadowlark (Eastern? Western?) that was discovered in St. John's on November 7. It was seen over the next few days, but the cryptic nature of this bird and its plumage means we may never know which species it was!

A Meadowlark (Eastern? Western?) that was discovered in St. John’s on November 7. It was seen over the next few days, but the cryptic nature of this bird and its plumage means we may never know which species it was!

This Pine Warbler, photographed in St. Shott's a few years ago, was making good use of the late fall flies. Pine Warblers are another hardy warbler that get reported more often in November than any other month in Newfoundland.

Pine Warblers are a hardy warbler that get reported more often in November than any other month in Newfoundland.

December was relatively mild across the province, which led to some comfortable (and interesting!) birding during the first few weeks of Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season. I was fortunate to take part in the Cape St. Mary’s and St. John’s CBCs … read the blog posts for more details!

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

Cape St. Mary’s looks very different in winter (like during this Christmas Bird Count) compared to summer when it is bustling with life.

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

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

And so ended another year … we said a fond farewell to 2014 and toasted the arrival of 2015 while visiting my family in Lewisporte (central Newfoundland). So, from me and my family to you & yours

Happy New Year!

May the next twelve months bring you lots of joy, peace and outdoor enjoyment – wherever they find you!

 

 

 

 

November = Extreme Warbler Time

Most Newfoundlanders, and Canadians, think of November as the vanguard of winter. Temperatures plummet, trees lose the last of their summer leaves, and even a little snow can be expected before the month is out. Sure seems like a strange time to be looking for warblers – but here on “the rock”, November warblers are an integral part of the fall birding scene.

Orange-crowned Warblers, which breed in southern Labrador yet not the island, are one of our routine November warblers. There have been a healthy handful reported so far this month.

Orange-crowned Warblers, which breed in southern Labrador yet not the island, are one of our routine November warblers. There have been a healthy handful reported so far this month.

Granted, warblers are scarce this late in the year. A few late and lingering individuals can be found, often in the company of tougher, year-round species like Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. That just makes the otherwise “expected” ones a tad more exciting. And of course there are the vagrants – warblers that do not normally breed in or migrate through Newfoundland but have somehow gotten off-track and ended up here anyways. By November, some of those vagrants may have traveled a long way from home. This is the month when most western warblers, such as Black-throated Gray, Hermit and Virginia’s Warbler, have been discovered here. All in all, nearly 30 species of warbler have been recorded in Newfoundland during November – many, like those listed above, are the rarest ones on our checklist having been seen only once or twice in our storied birding history.

This Virginia's Warbler, the only one ever recorded in Newfoundland, was discovered on November 14, 2013. It was an exciting day for local birders!

This Virginia’s Warbler, the only one ever recorded in Newfoundland, was discovered on November 14, 2013. It was an exciting day for local birders!

Yellow-throated Warblers have a funny habit of showing up in Newfoundland in late fall and early winter, despite the fact their normal range is much further south. During cold weather, these beautiful birds will sometimes visit suet feeders, delighting backyard birders lucky enough to find one in their neighbourhood!

Yellow-throated Warblers have a funny habit of showing up in Newfoundland in late fall and early winter, despite the fact their normal range is much further south. During cold weather, these beautiful birds will sometimes visit suet feeders, delighting backyard birders lucky enough to find one in their neighbourhood! (This one was photographed in Cape Broyle a few years ago)

Townsend’s Warbler, an enigmatic little critter from west of the Rockies, has an unusual history of showing up here in late fall and early winter. With 17 individuals (the latest just last week!), Newfoundland has more records than almost any other province or state in eastern North America! More amazing still, almost all of those have been in St. John’s. And a total of eleven records come from one small river valley spanning just a few square kilometres! Odd things happen in the easternmost reaches of the continent.

Townsend's Warbler - while very rare in eastern North America, has been recorded an incredible 17 times in eastern Newfoundland! (This one, photographed on January 1 2013, was the 16th.)

Townsend’s Warbler – while very rare in eastern North America, has been recorded an incredible 17 times in eastern Newfoundland! (This one, photographed on January 1 2013, was the 16th.)

This "mystery bird" was photographed by Cliff Doran on November 14th. Can you guess what it is?

This “mystery bird” was photographed by Cliff Doran on November 12th. Can you guess what it is?

In November, every flash of yellow in the bushes or non-descript warbler needs to be scrutinized. This is the month when almost anything can happen. Cliff Doran, lighthouse keeper and rare bird magnet, photographed a dull looking bird in a pile of spruce boughs at Cape Race on November 12. Not knowing exactly what it was, he posted the photos online and piqued the interest of several birders – yours truly included. The initial suggestion of Common Yellowthroat just didn’t seem right, and thoughts of several much rarer candidates began to dance in our heads. Something about the bird, though, seemed familiar …

The photos showed only the head and extreme upper breast of the bird – the rest obscured by branches. It showed a dull olive brown head, bright white eye-arcs and apparent pale yellow wash on the breast. The bill was on the large end for a warbler (prompting some people to consider a very rare vireo), but didn’t appear to be hooked. After a few minutes pondering the possibilities, and then confirming my suspicions with Bruce Mactavish (who is currently at sea and craving terrestrial distractions) and Alvan Buckley, the conclusion became clear … Pine Warbler! An excellent, but fairly regular, visitor to Newfoundland at this time of year. Identifying dull fall warblers can be a challenge, but its often worth the effort!

PIWA head comparison

This Pine Warbler, photographed in St. Shott's a few years ago, was making good use of the late fall flies. Pine Warblers are another hardy warbler that get reported more often in November than any other month in Newfoundland.

This Pine Warbler, photographed in St. Shott’s a few years ago, was making good use of the late fall flies. Pine Warblers are another hardy warbler that get reported more often in November than any other month in Newfoundland.

Keep an eye out for November Warblers in your own backyard! The next rarity is just around the corner …