Getting a Little “Spring” in My Step

Spring rarely comes easy in Newfoundland … most years, it is an uphill battle as it struggles against “old man winter” trying to keep its icy/snowy/slushy grip on our island. This year was no exception, and we saw more total snowfall in April than in any other month this winter! But nature has a way of keeping its balance, and migration chugged on pretty much on schedule. A few mild interludes, and a relatively nice May, has certainly helped put a spring back in the step of most Newfoundlanders (especially the birders!).

Feeling a little stir-crazy after weeks of “office” work, I was looking for an excuse to get out and experience a little spring for myself. So when Irish birders Niall Keough and Andrew Power asked if I could join them for a day of all-out birding in early May, I jumped on it. It was Andrew’s first visit to North America, and one of just a few for Niall — so there were lots of exciting things to look for and see. Heading south from St. John’s, we started with a female Purple Martin in Mobile – a local rarity that was only my third for island. A breeding plumaged Black-headed Gull was sitting on the rocks nearby – ho-hum for my friends, but always a treat to see on this side of the Atlantic. Roadside ponds offered a group of Ring-necked Ducks and a Beaver (which was especially exciting for Andrew). At La Manche we nailed one of the duo’s target species – a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers acting very territorial. Several species of finch and both chickadees flitted around some cabins, and a Ruffed rouse drummed away in the forest cover. We soon found another local rarity – a subadult Franklin’s Gull dip-feeding in Cape Broyle harbour. Totally unexpected, and just my second for the province.

This Purple Martin had been hanging around for several days - recorded less than annually in Newfoundland, but one of a number seen so far this spring.

This Purple Martin had been hanging around for several days – recorded less than annually in Newfoundland, but one of a number seen so far this spring.

Black-headed Gulls are regular (though uncommon) in Newfoundland during winter, but it is always a treat to find one in spring sporting its fine breeding plumage.

Black-headed Gulls are regular (though uncommon) in Newfoundland during winter, but it is always a treat to find one in spring sporting its fine breeding plumage.

An even bigger treat was to find this Franklin's Gull - a rare visitor to Newfoundland and totally unexpected.

An even bigger treat was to find this Franklin’s Gull – a rare visitor to Newfoundland and totally unexpected.

The long drive along Cape Race road was shrouded in fog and very quiet, but the one bird we did bump into was another big target – a pair of Willow Ptarmigan right alongside the road, giving awesome views! Similarly, a Snowy Owl lingering near the road in St. Shott’s was a great highlight, though it soon lifted off an disappeared in the thick fog. At St. Vincent’s beach we spotted more than a dozen Pomarine Jaegers battling the very high winds that had suddenly picked up, and then the biggest surprise of the day — a grey-phased Gyrfalcon coursing the beach. We watched it for several minutes before it disappeared over the seawall and never resurfaced (although I never managed to get my camera locked in it!).

This male Willow Ptarmigan was very cooperative, even if the weather wasn't. The female was spotted sitting on a rock just a few yards further up the road.

This male Willow Ptarmigan was very cooperative, even if the weather wasn’t. The female was spotted sitting on a rock just a few yards further up the road.

The winds were suddenly VERY strong and blowing onshore when we arrived at St. Vincent's beach - so maybe the dozen or so Pomarine Jaegers shouldn't have been such a surprise. But seeing them from land in spring is pretty unusual.

The winds were suddenly VERY strong and blowing onshore when we arrived at St. Vincent’s beach – so maybe the dozen or so Pomarine Jaegers shouldn’t have been such a surprise. But seeing them from land in spring is pretty unusual.

The final highlight was not a bid, but a marine mammal that neither of my Irish friends had even dreamed of seeing in Newfoundland – a young Beluga Whale that had been hanging out near the community wharf in Admiral’s Beach! We also saw two Manx Shearwater in the bay there, although they hardly garnered a second look as the guys fawned over the little whale. It was the start of a great marine adventure for these two – a couple days later they boarded the research vessel RV Celtic Explorer and sailed back to Ireland, seeing lots of other whales and seabirds along the way!

This young Beluga Whale was easy to find at Admiral's Beach, where it had been hanging out for several weeks. It turned out to be a huge highlight for my Irish friends, and an excellent end to an awesome day out in the wind & fog!

This young Beluga Whale was easy to find at Admiral’s Beach, where it had been hanging out for several weeks. It turned out to be a huge highlight for my Irish friends, and an excellent end to an awesome day out in the wind & fog!

This week is the beginning of a busy few months of birding and sharing Newfoundland’s amazing wildlife, nature and scenery with dozens of visitors … and I couldn’t be more excited!! Stay tuned for updates on a busy Bird⋅The⋅Rock summer!

Winds, Waves & Winter Birds

January was a whirlwind of birding. Since the WINGS tour, I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the amazing scenery and wildlife of eastern Newfoundland with visiting birders from Texas (Jan 18-20), Ontario (Jan 23-27) and British Columbia (Jan 29). They all came with slightly different goals and targets, but everyone was keyed up to see the wonderful variety of birds that call this place home in winter.

The weather we experienced during those two weeks was also a whirlwind of sorts, spanning the gamut of the Avalon Peninsula’s infamously variable climate. January 18 was the coldest day of winter so far, and two birders from Texas (John & Tom) and I found ourselves facing very bitter winds on the edge of North America at Cape Spear. The stinging faces and numb fingertips were all worth it though, as we enjoyed watching a lone Dovekie feeding just offshore — a major target in the pocket. Throughout the next few days we enjoyed great views of other sought-after birds like Great Cormorants “sunning” on rock, dozens of Tufted Ducks at point-blank range, Black-headed Gulls bathing in small patches of open water, and beautiful Eurasian Wigeon dabbling with the local ducks. We even managed to relocate three White-winged Crossbill in Ferryland (scarce this year!) and a Snowy Owl keeping watch over the tundra south of Cappahayden.

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Dovekie is among the most sought-after species by visiting birders – and January is prime time to see them.

Eurasian Wigeon are uncommon visitors to Newfoundland, but they sure do add a little spice to our winters!

Eurasian Wigeon are uncommon visitors to Newfoundland, but they sure do add a little spice to our winters!

American Wigeon, the more expected species on this side of the Atlantic, aren't too shabby themselves.

American Wigeon, the more expected species on this side of the Atlantic, aren’t too shabby themselves.

Much of January was punctuated with high winds, including a storm on January 25 that brought gusts of well over 130 km/h and two days of storm surges along the island’s coast. Hoping for a rush of seabirds being blown onshore, visiting birder Judith and I met the storm along the Avalon’s southern shore. Black-legged Kittiwakes, which are usually far offshore in January, glided by and Dovekie zipped past as if it were a perfectly nice afternoon, while small groups of Common Eider bobbed up and down on the breakers. Unfortunately, many of the more pelagic species we were gunning for failed to show up, but the incredible winds, waves and angry seas made for a memorable experience!

Waves_Jan25_3997 Waves_Jan25_4009 Waves_Jan25_4048By month’s end, a mild spell and generous rains had opened up a bit of extra standing water and cleared away most of the snow cover. Testament to that is the fact that we were able to drive all the way to Cape Race several times – very unusual for this time of year. The open road opened a door to some excellent birding – at least two Snowy Owls, rafts of Common Eider, dozens of Red-necked Grebe, all three species of Scoter, and a pair of Harlequin Ducks. Even more interesting was a group of 32 Woodland Caribou traversing the barrens – an encouraging sign for this struggling herd.

It's been another great season for Snowy Owls. As usual, most tend to young ones - so this adult male was a nice surprise!

It’s been another great season for Snowy Owls. As usual, most tend to be young ones – so this adult male was a nice surprise!

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Note the dark barring on this owl, identifying it as either young or female.

The Avalon herd of Woodland Caribou has seen incredible decline over the past few decades, so seeing a group of 32 was very heartwarming. Lovely animals!

The Avalon herd of Woodland Caribou has seen incredible decline over the past few decades, so seeing a group of 32 was very heartwarming. Lovely animals!

Caribou_Jan272015_4139Walking trails had turned to ice, feeling more like skating rinks than paths – but that didn’t stop Fran (from British Columbia) from making the best of our day out. We crept along the north side of Long Pond, stopping to enjoy the company of several Boreal Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches as they took seeds right from my hand. Tufted Ducks, Greater Scaup and even an American Coot entertained at us at several ponds, while a lone Purple Sandpiper, Long-tailed Ducks and dozens of Common Eider were among the highlights at Cape Spear.

Of course, birds aren't the only stars of our show! We also enjoyed seals, otters and even a humpback whale this January.

Of course, birds aren’t the only stars of our show! We also enjoyed seals, otters and even a humpback whale this January.

A Great Cormorant drying its wings in the heart of historic St. John's.

A Great Cormorant drying its wings in the heart of historic St. John’s.

SNOW_Jan272015_4171What a great month! I wish they all could be like January 😉

Counting – It’s Good for the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LTDUtail_Dec20_1515

Ciao for now. Merry Christmas!!

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

Making the Best of a Wet August

GratesCove_coast_6716

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Presentation: The Snowy Owl Invasion

While the cold weather and heavy snow may have driven many of the Snowy Owls observed in Newfoundland earlier this winter into hiding, signs of this year’s massive invasion are still very evident in other parts of eastern North America. The extraordinary irruption was first noticed here on “the rock”, but it is the unprecedented number of owls reaching further south into the Great Lakes, New England and the midwestern United States that seem to have taken all the headlines. And they are still being seen in big numbers today. In fact, preliminary results for the Great Backyard Bird Count suggest that more than 2500 Snowy Owls were reported across 25 states and 7 provinces this past weekend!!

Photo: Jared Clarke (January 6, 2014)

Photo: Jared Clarke (January 6, 2014)

Join me for a discussion of this incredible incursion at the upcoming public presentation entitled “Arctic Invasion: The Snowy Owl Event of 2013-14” (sponsored by NatureNL).

Date: Thursday, February 20, 2014
Location: SN-2101, Memorial University (Science Building)
Meeting Time: 7:30pm
Note: Parking is available in the Science Building car park.

2013 – A Birding Year in Retrospect

We have been spending the New Year with my family in central Newfoundland – enjoying lots of fun, food and some very wintery weather. The ground is already under several feet of “the white stuff” following a very snowy December and yesterday’s storm. The forests are laden in snow, looking like intricately decorated Christmas trees adorning the countryside. And the record-breaking cold snap that has been going on all week has seen temperatures plunge to well below “frigid”, with windchills well below -30C. Sticking close to home in this cold, snowy weather has given me a chance to reflect on the past year – one that was wonderful in so many ways, including birding.

Townsend's Warbler - while very rare in eastern North America, this was an incredible 14th record for Newfoundland! - Photo: Jared Clarke (January 1, 2013)

Townsend’s Warbler – while very rare in eastern North America, this was an incredible 14th record for Newfoundland!
– Photo: Jared Clarke (January 1, 2013)

The cold, snowy weather of the first few weeks of THIS winter is a stark contrast to the much milder weather this time last year. At least five species of warbler were still kicking around in St. John’s when January 2013 rolled in, compared to just three species seen in December 2013! In fact, one of my birding highlights of last year was spending some quality time with a rare TOWNSEND’S WARBLER (first found on the St. John’s CBC) on New Year’s Day.

Pink-footed Goose. This popular bird marked an impressive eighth record for Newfoundland. - Photo: Jared Clarke (April 20, 2013)

Pink-footed Goose. This popular bird marked an impressive eighth record for Newfoundland.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (April 20, 2013)

One of the highlights as winter continued was the PINK-FOOTED GOOSE that took up residence in a local St. John’s park after being originally discovered in nearby farm fields back in November. It became popular with the many walkers who visit the area daily and was likely one of the most-photographed birds ever in the province. It was the eighth record for Newfoundland, but first in winter.

The immature Gray Heron arrived at Little Heart's Ease in early March, marking the second record for the province. - Photo: Jared Clarke (March 10 2013)

The immature Gray Heron arrived at Little Heart’s Ease in early March, marking the second record for the province.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (March 10 2013)

March, which is often one of the more “boring” months for birders in this province, was punctuated by very exciting news – a mega-rare GRAY HERON was hanging out in an open estuary at Little Heart’s Ease!! It was the second for Newfoundland and only the third or fourth for all of North America! Amazingly, it stuck around for many weeks, and was enjoyed by many birders from all over the continent who trekked out to see it. I also had another personal highlight at the very end of March when I was able to enjoy and photograph an IVORY GULL in my hometown of Lewisporte while visiting my parents for Easter. Such a great bird!

The iconic Ivory Gull - one of my favourite birds! - Photo: Jared Clarke (March 31, 2013)

The iconic Ivory Gull – one of my favourite birds!
– Photo: Jared Clarke (March 31, 2013)

A "Greenland" Greater White-fronted Goose that dropped in at Biscay Bay. - Photo: Jared Clarke (April 17, 2013)

A “Greenland” Greater White-fronted Goose that dropped in at Biscay Bay.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (April 17, 2013)

Around the same time, strong northeasterly winds brought two “Greenland” GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE to Twillingate on the northeast coast. While I didn’t get a chance to go see these, I did manage to catch up with another that arrived in Biscay Bay a few days later (early April). Spring continued to heat up, with two LITTLE EGRETS being discovered at Fair Haven, at the northern end of Placentia Bay. While this was the ninth record for this primarily European species, it was the first opportunity I had to see one on this side of the Atlantic.

This Little Egret, one of two that spent some time in Fair Haven this spring, was a great addition to my Newfoundland list. - Photo: Jared Clarke (May 18, 2013)

This Little Egret, one of two that spent some time in Fair Haven this spring, was a great addition to my Newfoundland list.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (May 18, 2013)

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

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

I was very fortunate in June to lead two bird & nature tours in Newfoundland – sharing the incredible beauty and wonder of my province with visitors from across Canada, Europe and the United States. The first excursion, for Eagle Eye Tours, enjoyed great birds in the form of Boreal Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Grey-cheeked Thrush, along with the amazing spectacles of Witless Bay and Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserves (read more here). The second trip, for Massachusetts Audubon, continued all the way across Newfoundland to beautiful Gros Morne National Park, enjoying great birds, whales, and wildflowers along the way (read more here).

KILL_July20_1115Late summer included a fun photography session with a family of Killdeer at a private horse stables in Logy Bay – they have bred there the past few years, and I was kindly invited to spend a morning with them once the young had fledged and were running around the fields. One of the biggest highlights of my entire year was the Eagle Eye tour that I co-led in New Brunswick — visiting great places like Kouchibouguac National Park and Grand Manan Island. Our group soaked in an amazing shorebird spectacle at Johnson Mills, the stunning forests of Acadia, and wonderful seabirds & whales in the Bay of Fundy.

Tens of thousands of Semipalmated Sandpipers were roosting at Johnson Mills at high tide. An estimated three-quarters of the world's population of this small shorebird stop over at the Bay of Fundy during southward migration every year.

Tens of thousands of Semipalmated Sandpipers were roosting at Johnson Mills at high tide. An estimated three-quarters of the world’s population of this small shorebird stop over at the Bay of Fundy during southward migration every year.

This stunning Yellow-throated Vireo was the big highlight of this year's BMI birding. It is quite rare in Newfoundland, with maybe a dozen or so records. Photo: Jared Clarke (Bear Cove, September 21, 2013)

This stunning Yellow-throated Vireo was the big highlight of this year’s BMI birding. It is quite rare in Newfoundland, with maybe a dozen or so records.
Photo: Jared Clarke (Bear Cove, September 21, 2013)

Fall is always an exciting time for birding in Newfoundland, when we spend our time searching for wayward migrants and wanderers that we rarely see. One of my earliest rewards this season was a YELLOW-THROATED VIREO I discovered during our annual “big day” event in late September. This bright little stunner is found less than annually in Newfoundland and was only my second ever, despite lots of time spent looking. Check out this post to see what other gems were found during the day!

This Northern Wheatear was part of mini-invasion into Newfoundland this fall. - Photo: Jared Clarke (October 10, 2013)

This Northern Wheatear was part of mini-invasion into Newfoundland this fall.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (October 10, 2013)

As usual, October turned out to be one of the most happenin’ months of the year. Highlights included at least 10 NORTHERN WHEATEARS that dropped in around the Avalon and northeast coast, a PINK-FOOTED GOOSE photographed in Bonavista, and a long-staying YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON in a Torbay neighbourhood. However, the clear-cut star of the month was a SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER also discovered in Torbay, where it hung out for about ten days and was seen by many birders! Not surprisingly, it was just the second record for Newfoundland.

This moulting adult Scissor-tailed Flycatcher marked the second record for the province, but the first that was able to be enjoyed by birders. And enjoyed, it was! - Photo: Jared Clarke (Torbay; October 10, 2013)

This moulting adult Scissor-tailed Flycatcher marked the second record for the province, but the first that was able to be enjoyed by birders. And enjoyed, it was!
– Photo: Jared Clarke (Torbay; October 10, 2013)

This Virginia's Warbler, originally discovered on November 14, 2013 marked the first (and very exciting) record for the island if Newfoundland. It remained elusive during the first few days, frustrating a number of birders - myself included! - Photo: Jared Clarke (November 16, 2013)

This Virginia’s Warbler, originally discovered on November 14, 2013 marked the first (and very exciting) record for the island if Newfoundland. It remained elusive during the first few days, frustrating a number of birders – myself included!
– Photo: Jared Clarke (November 16, 2013)

Possibly the most exciting bird of 2013 was discovered in mid-November – the island’s first VIRGINIA’S WARBLER. Despite hanging out in a relatively small area, this very unexpected visitor from across the continent was very elusive and it took me three stressful days to finally catch up with it! It braved some very cool temperatures until at least December 2, furnishing an excellent record for the winter list. I also caught up with another elusive bird – the YELLOW-LEGGED GULL that has been sneaking around St. John’s since late October. I was happy to see this Newfoundland specialty after nearly two years absence!

November also brought with it the first signs of what would turn out to be a massive invasion of SNOWY OWLS. These majestic, almost mythical birds from the north descended on much of eastern North America in late November and early December – but nowhere like the southeast Avalon, where as many as 300 were counted in a single day! I was fortunate enough to enjoy an intimate photo session with one of the beautiful owls at Cape Spear in early December.

- Photo: Jared Clarke (December 7, 2013)

– Photo: Jared Clarke (December 7, 2013)

And while 2013 was also peppered with some major dips and misses (Tundra Swan? Sandwich Tern?!?! Tricolored Heron!!!), I can easily look back at it as a year filled to the brim with exciting birds, wonderful experiences and even a few great adventures. I shared many of those birds and adventures with some equally great people – birders from near and far! And what more can I ask?? Only that 2014 is just as fun and rewarding …

Happy New Year!

The “First Day of Winter”

Is the relatively early onset of winter weather this year a harbinger of a long, snowy season ahead??

Is the relatively early onset of winter weather this year a harbinger of a long, snowy season ahead??

Today may traditionally be known as the “first day of winter”, but winter truly descended on Newfoundland weeks ago. Cold weather moved in during the first three days of December, and temperatures have been at or below freezing most of the time since. We have had several significant snowfalls in the first three weeks of December, and the entire island is blanketed in snow – even in relatively milder St. John’s which has seen plenty of green Christmases since I moved here sixteen years ago. In fact, this has been the snowiest December (most snow on the ground) since the winter of 2000-2001, which saw record-smashing snowfalls here on the Avalon peninsula.

An early morning with snow and ice on North America's easternmost rocks at Cape Spear.

An early morning with snow and ice on North America’s easternmost rocks at Cape Spear.

And while the Newfoundland winter bird list is almost on par with other years, actual bird reports for most of the month have been more like February than December when compared to recent years. Frigid weather has resulted in very few lingering migrants, especially warblers, that often get recorded in early winter. Early snow has blocked access to some locations including Cape Race and Cape St. Mary’s, forcing the cancellation of two key Christmas Bird Counts.

SNOW_Dec7_8284In true winter fashion, the biggest birding news so far has been the incredible invasion of Snowy Owls, with as many as 300 having been reported on the southeast Avalon in a single weekend. Newfoundland’s first Virginia’s Warbler survived long enough to make the winter list (last reported December 2), while a lingering Great Egret in northeast St. John’s braved freezing temperatures until at least December 11. And a Purple Gallinule found recently dead in a Clarenville backyard was about as close to southern flavour as we’ve gotten so far this season … and its untimely arrival was likely due to wintery weather in its own backyard. A Forster’s Tern at Renews on December 7 was only the seventh for Newfoundland, and just the second winter record. Despite being fairly elusive, the Yellow-legged Gull has been seen twice the past few weeks and should become more reliable now as the local ponds have frozen over and snow has covered other regular loafing locations for the huge flocks of gulls.

So, as the hustle and bustle of the season continues and we head into Christmas, winter birding trudges on. Despite the cold weather and snow, there is plenty of hope and potential for exciting rarities yet to be discovered, the joy of winter birds returning to spice up our days, and the unwavering beauty of Newfoundland’s spectacular scenery to keep us smiling. Here’s to the magic of the season ahead!!

Winter brings with it the return of some spectacular birds - including one of my favourites, the Bohemian Waxwing. - Photo: Jared Clarke (February 14, 2011)

Winter brings with it the return of some spectacular birds – including one of my favourites, the Bohemian Waxwing.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (February 14, 2011)