Rearview Mirror II: Looking Back on a Busy Summer

Here is a second installment of photo highlights from Summer 2015! It was a busy few months leading adventures for Eagle Eye Tours, Wildland Tours, and lots of Bird-The-Rock clients!

Black-backed Woodpeckers are regular but somewhat uncommon in Newfoundland ... we were fortunate to bump into several during our hikes through older growth forest.

Black-backed Woodpeckers are regular but somewhat uncommon in Newfoundland … we were fortunate to bump into several during our hikes through older growth forest.

The sheer number of seabirds, including Common Murre, can overwhelm visitors to Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. Here a small flurry zip past our boat.

The sheer number of seabirds, including Common Murre, can overwhelm visitors to Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. Here a small flurry zip past our boat.

A Humpback Whale cruises past some beautiful sea stacks in Trinity Bay.

A Humpback Whale cruises past some beautiful sea stacks in Trinity Bay.

Check out the white upperside on those big fins ... one of the feautres that separates Atlantic Humpback Whales from their cousins in the Pacific.

Check out the white upperside on those big fins … one of the features that separates Atlantic Humpback Whales from their cousins in the Pacific.

A Razorbill stands stoic on Gull Island (part of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve). This is one of the best places to see this very classy-looking bird.

A Razorbill stands stoic on Gull Island (part of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve). This is one of the best places to see this very classy-looking bird.

Visiting the historic town of Trinity is a highlight for many tours, and it lso makes a great backdrop for a boat tour!

Visiting the historic town of Trinity is a highlight for many tours, and it also makes a great backdrop for a boat tour!

Blue Flag Irises flank a cannon that still stands guard at the entrance to Trinity's storied harbour.

Blue Flag Irises flank a cannon that still stands guard at the entrance to Trinity’s storied harbour.

The Newfoundland race of Red Crossbill (percna) is considered enedmic to the island, and is currently considered a "species at risk" in the province.

The Newfoundland race of Red Crossbill (percna) is considered endemic to the island, and is currently considered a “species at risk” in the province.

Pine Siskins are among my favourite birds -- understated but beautiful and fun to watch.

Pine Siskins are among my favourite birds — understated but beautiful and fun to watch.

Some very classy butterflies also made the highlight list, including the small but brilliant Northern Blue.

Some very classy butterflies also made the highlight list, including the small but brilliant Northern Blue.

Atlantic Puffins, our provincial bird, can be found at several colonies along the coast.

Atlantic Puffins, our provincial bird, can be found at several colonies along the coast.

An Otter stakes claim to his little piece of shoreline.

An Otter stakes claim to his little piece of shoreline.

Arctic Terns sit on the beach at Holyrood Pond, showing off their catch.

Arctic Terns sit on the beach at Holyrood Pond, showing off their catch.

A female Mourning Warbler was spotted carrying food. This is a very scarce breeder on the Avalon Peninsula, but becomes more common further west on the island.

A female Mourning Warbler was spotted carrying food. This is a very scarce breeder on the Avalon Peninsula, but becomes more common further west on the island.

This rare yellow form of Pitcher Plant (our provincial flower) was found near Fort Point, Trinity Bay.

This rare yellow form of Pitcher Plant (our provincial flower) was found near Fort Point, Trinity Bay.

Sometimes we got up close and personal with a curious whale!

Sometimes we got up close and personal with a curious whale!

A tranquil moment along the Salmonier River.

A tranquil moment along the Salmonier River.

Caribou were a bit elusive this summer, but we did run into a few on the barrens of the southern Avalon.

Caribou were a bit elusive this summer, but we did run into a few on the barrens of the southern Avalon.

While Tufted Ducks are common during winter, summer sightings are few and far between. We were fortunate to see this immature male hanging out at a city pond.

While Tufted Ducks are common during winter, summer sightings are few and far between. We were fortunate to see this immature male hanging out at a city pond.

This Common (Eurasian Green-winged) Teal (left) was another summer surprise. It was hanging out with a regular Green-winged Teal in a small pond in St. Mary's Bay.

This Common (Eurasian Green-winged) Teal (left) was another summer surprise. It was hanging out with a regular Green-winged Teal in a small pond in St. Mary’s Bay.

The archaeological dig at the Colony of Avalon (Ferryland) showcases one of North America's earliest European settlements.

The archaeological dig at the Colony of Avalon (Ferryland) showcases one of North America’s earliest European settlements.

Magnolia Warblers make for colourful additions to any day of birding on the island.

Magnolia Warblers make for colourful additions to any day of birding on the island.

A male Yellow-rumped Warbler checks out his territory.

A male Yellow-rumped Warbler checks out his territory.

It was an awesome summer with some many highlights … many of which could never be captured with a camera!

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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