WINGS 2016: Winter Birds in Newfoundland

Winter is a fun and special time to go birding in Newfoundland – which is why a group of WINGS tour participants brave the cold weather to visit here every January. This year, four birders (one from Maryland and three friends from California) made the voyage north to explore our rugged island! And I had the pleasure of sharing the wonderful birds & beautiful scenery of the eastern Avalon Peninsula with them. (This is my third year leading this adventure – and it always a great time! Follow these links to read blog posts about the 2014 and 2015 tours.)

WINGS tour participants scan for seabirds at wintery St. Vincent's beach on January 15.

WINGS tour participants scan for seabirds at wintery St. Vincent’s beach on January 15.

The tour is based out of St. John’s – one of the oldest cities in North America and located at its easternmost reaches. A variety of interesting and exciting species can be found around St. John’s during winter, and this year did not disappoint. Among the nine species of gulls found were Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and European Mew (Common) Gulls. Rare anywhere else on the continent, we enjoyed dozens of Tufted Ducks, several Eurasian Wigeon and two beautiful Eurasian (Common) Teal amid an array of the more expected North American waterfowl.

Traveling outside the city on several occasions, we enjoyed more exciting birds and stunning coastal scenery. Dovekie is always a key target during this tour and were present in excellent numbers, including a few cooperative birds that lingered just metres away. We also encountered Black-legged Kittiwakes during strong onshore winds – a species not often seen from shore in winter. Purple Sandpipers and Great Cormorants put in an excellent showing, posing on the coastal rocks. Boreal Chickadees, White-winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks gave us amazing looks, as did at least two Northern Goshawks and a very surprised Willow Ptarmigan. It was a fantastic tour with exciting birds, great people, and a wonderful setting!

We wpent a lot of time along the Avalon's rugged but beautiful coast during the week - lots of birds and stunning scenery!

We spent a lot of time along the Avalon’s rugged but beautiful coast during the week – lots of birds and stunning scenery!

Dovekie were no trouble to find this year, which is not always the case! We saw dozens most days, often flying past but sometimes obliging us with closer looks as they fed close by.

Dovekie were no trouble to find this year, which is not always the case! We saw dozens most days, often flying past but sometimes obliging us with great looks as they fed close by.

This photo, from last year's WINGS tours, shows just how cooperative Dovekie can be. We enjoyed several like this during the week.

This photo, from last year’s WINGS tour, shows just how cooperative Dovekie can be. We enjoyed several like this during the week.

Purple Sandpipers were also stars of this year's tour - we found three flocks of 50+ birds, all of which provided excellent views.

Purple Sandpipers were also stars of this year’s tour – we found three flocks of 50+ birds, all of which provided excellent views.

When not seaside, we enjoyed some beautiful walks in the local boreal forest and along streams and rivers.

When not seaside, we enjoyed some beautiful walks in the local boreal forest and along streams & rivers.

White-winged Crossbills have been arriving on the Avalon this month, and provided to be a crowd-pleaser for our participants.

White-winged Crossbills have been arriving on the Avalon this month, and proved to be a crowd-pleaser for our participants.

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The classy looking Tufted Duck is another popular bird for visitors, and we saw more than 40 this past week!

The classy looking Tufted Duck is another popular bird for visitors, and we saw more than 40 this past week!

This drake Eurasian Green-winged (aka Common) Teal was one of two drakes hanging out along a sheltered brook in St. John's. Maybe one day they will be "split" into separate species, as some authorities currently consider them.

This drake Eurasian Green-winged (aka Common) Teal was one of two drakes hanging out along a sheltered brook in St. John’s. Maybe one day they will be “split” into separate species, as some authorities currently consider them.

Another uncommon duck (though of North American origins) was this drake Barrow's Goldeneye spotted among a flock of Common Goldeneye in Spaniard's Bay (CBN).

Another uncommon duck (though of North American origins) was this drake Barrow’s Goldeneye spotted amid a flock of Common Goldeneye in Spaniard’s Bay (CBN).

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Lovely day for a picnic 😉

We also enjoyed several sightings of three species of seal, including this group of Harp Seals.

We also enjoyed several sightings of three species of seal, including this group of Harp Seals.

Gulls are an integral part of the tour, and we spent some time studying the various flocks around St. John's.

Gulls are an integral part of the tour, and we spent some time studying the various flocks around St. John’s.

This photo includes four of the most common species seen around the city - Herring, "Kumlien's" Iceland, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed (1w, front centre) Gulls.

This photo includes four of the most numerous gull species seen around the city – Herring, “Kumlien’s” Iceland, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed (1w, front centre) Gulls. All in all, we found nine species and several interesting hybrids to enjoy!

Black-headed Gulls have suddenly become less abundant following the closure of a large sewer outflow in St. John's, although we did manage o find some at other locations.

Black-headed Gulls have suddenly become less abundant following the closure of a large sewer outflow in St. John’s, although we had no trouble finding some at other locations.

We also relocated an adult Common (European Mew) Gull at a sewer outfall in Conception Bay South - it had been missing from its regular haunts in the city for several days.

We also rediscovered an adult Common (European Mew) Gull at a sewer outfall in Conception Bay South – it had been missing from its regular haunts in the city for several days.

While Great Cormorants are far more abundant here during winter, we managed to find a couple Double-crested Cormorants lingering around the region.

While Great Cormorants are far more abundant here during winter, we also managed to find a couple Double-crested Cormorants lingering around the region.

It was a wonderful week full of great birds, interesting weather, beautiful scenery and (most importantly) a fantastic group of people. I'm already looking forward to next year's WINGS Tour!

It was a wonderful week filled with great birds, interesting weather, beautiful scenery and (most importantly) a fantastic group of people. I’m already looking forward to next year’s WINGS Tour!

 

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WINGS: Winter in Newfoundland

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 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!!

It’s become an annual tradition that a group of WINGS tour participants descend on St. John’s in January, excited to get out and enjoy the wonderful birds of “Newfoundland in Winter” (if not the weather!). This year, I had the distinct pleasure of leading four eager visitors on a five-day birding bonanza around the city and parts of the eastern Avalon Peninsula.

We started the tour with a bang – heading straight to Ferryland on the very first morning where we were rewarded with amazing looks at a COMMON SNIPE that had been discovered two days earlier. It was just the third confirmed record for the province (including one from Labrador) and eastern North America! To sweeten the deal even further, a Wilson’s Snipe was also hanging out just a few metres away, allowing for a great comparison of these formerly conspecific cousins.

A comparison of the mega-rare COMMON SNIPE and the more expected Wilson's Snipe, it's North American cousin. Both were seen and photographed just metres apart in Ferryland on the very first morning of the tour! - Photos: Jared Clarke (January 13, 2014)

We spent the remainder of the first four days birding in and around St. John’s, enjoying some unusually mild weather and ignoring periods rain, wind and fog. The group’s spirits refused to be dampened as we enjoyed stunning views of great birds, including record-high numbers of Tufted Ducks, both Eurasian & American Wigeon, and some very confiding Great Cormorants. Even a northern River Otter got in on the action, posing for us amidst the quaint scenery of the Quidi Vidi’s famous fishing village.

Great, close-up views at thousands of gulls were just part of the fun during this tour. Ten species were seen, including well over 2000 of these stunning "Kumlien's" Iceland Gulls. - Photo: Jared Clarke

Great, close-up views of thousands of gulls were just part of the fun during this tour. Ten species were seen, including well over 2000 of these stunning “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gulls.
– Photo: Jared Clarke

An important part of winter birding in St. John’s, the massive gull flocks showed off an array of birds – thousands of Herring, Great Black-backed and “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gulls, several hundred Glaucous Gulls, dozens of Black-headed Gulls (a key target for the tour!), a handful of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and three Common (aka European Mew) Gulls! Everyone learned a lot about these often “under-appreciated” birds 😉

Purple Sandpipers were a prime target for all four participants ... and they did not disappoint! - Photo: Jared Clarke

Purple Sandpipers were a prime target for all four participants … and they did not disappoint!
– Photo: Jared Clarke

Bald Eagles regularly dropped in to show off, while a Northern Goshawk buzzed our heads during a morning walk in Pippy Park.

A major highlight of the tour was a visit to Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America. It was one of the most beautiful January mornings I have ever experienced there, with mild temperatures, light wind and perfectly clear viewing. We were thrilled with killer views of two key targets for the tour – dozens of Purple Sandpipers resting and feeding among the rocks, and eight Dovekie putting on a show in the foamy white water right off the tip!On our fifth & final day, we headed south along the “Irish Loop”, enjoying the amazing scenery, historic communities and many great birds. Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Eiders entertained us at several stops, while a female King Eider at Bear Cove was an unexpected highlight for everyone. A family group of five Gray Jays were apparently entertained by us, dropping in along the roadside to check us out. Common & Red-throated Loons and Red-necked Grebes were found in excellent numbers, often in sheltered coves buffeted by stark, beautiful cliffs. And several Boreal Chickadees finally made an appearance, after proving elusive all week.

Common Loons winter along the coast of Newfoundland - we saw many of them during our week. - Photo: Jared Clarke

Common Loons winter along the coast of Newfoundland – we saw many of them during our week.
– Photo: Jared Clarke

Tufted Duck are a regular part of the winter in St. John's, likely originating in Iceland. - Jared Clarke

Tufted Duck are a regular part of the winter in St. John’s, likely originating in Iceland.
– Photo: Jared Clarke

Great Cormorants were seen daily, often at very close range. - Photo: Jared Clarke

Great Cormorants were seen daily, often at very close range.
– Photo: Jared Clarke

Cape Spear - the easternmost point in North America.

Cape Spear – the easternmost point in North America.

It was a fantastic week spent enjoying great birds with some great people. And, needless to say, amidst some truly great scenery.