EIGHTEEN

Wow! Another year has come and gone … but not without plenty of adventure. The year 2018 was a very exciting one here at BirdTheRock – I was blessed beyond words to share the natural wonders of Newfoundland & Labrador with so many visitors, travel to amazing places both near and far, and experience countless special moments along the way. I have so much to tell … but as they say “a picture is worth a thousand words“, and maybe that’s the best way to share this long overdue summary of the year that was. Below are 18 images from 2018; chosen to represent just a fraction of the many, many highlights from my year.

It’s been difficult to keep my blog updated during this busy year (and even this month — it has taken me weeks to write this post!) – but be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram for more regular highlights and often daily updates from ongoing tours! I’ll continue to update this blog as often as I can 😉

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I started 2018 with a fantastic winter tour for two wonderful clients. Dovekie was, of course, a prime target and they didn’t disappoint — we had several close encounters (some so close we probably could have touched them!), and ended up seeing dozens and dozens following a January windstorm. And so many other other great winter birds …

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Winter is also the best time to enjoy the great numbers and diversity of gulls that St. John’s has to offer. I helped host a “Winter Gull Workshop” for NatureNL in February – and despite less than ideal weather, more than 50 participants showed up to learn and share our passion for birds! It was a lot of fun, and an exciting indicator that the love of birds & birding continues to grow in our province.

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Early spring was a busy time for public engagement – I enjoyed sharing my passion and experience with some very different audiences: a public presentation at our largest library, local tour guides looking to learn more about province’s birds, and many of my tourism partners across the island. I’m always excited to talk about the wonders of birds & birding, and hope to spread the word even further in 2019 😉

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The opportunity to travel and go birding in new places is one of the perks of being a tour leader — and this year was no exception. In May, I co-led an Eagle-Eye Tours trip in southern Ontario, visiting several “bucket-list” places along the way – Point Pelee, Long Point and Algonquin Park among them. It’s a fun and awe-inspiring way to experience the excitement of spring migration!

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The “Point Pelee & Algonquin” tour was also an opportunity to see LOTS of beautiful, often iconic, species — like this Prothonotary Warbler. These brilliant birds are scarce and very restricted breeders in Canada. While I’ve been lucky to see a couple in Newfoundland during fall migration and in the tropics during winter, it was especially rewarding to see them in their typical breeding habitat.

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Without a doubt, this Purple Gallinule was a highlight for Newfoundland birders in 2018. First discovered while I was away in Ontario (on a river just minutes from my house, no less!), I arrived home in time to enjoy this beautiful bird. Although there are a surprising number of records on the island, almost all were immature birds and/or in winter – and most have been found moribund or already dead. Not only was this a stunning adult, but the first that birders have been able to enjoy. Newfoundland can be weird, sometimes 😉 It was seen for weeks and may very well have stayed all summer! (More details here.)

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Early June brought with it an opportunity to explore my province from a different perspective – on an expedition cruise around the island. I was invited to join the crew of the Hebridean Sky as it circumnavigated Newfoundland – visiting beautiful, quaint and often isolated communities along the way. June can still be a volatile time in the waters off northern Newfoundland – and this year was no exception. Arctic ice and rough weather toyed with our plans at every turn, but we didn’t let it stop our adventure! Here I’m standing on the arctic ice floe in the Start of Belle Isle, with Labrador (and our ship) in the background.

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I was honoured once again to lead several exciting trips for Eagle-Eye Tours — a total of four in 2018! The “Grand Newfoundland” tour is always a highlight of my year, and this year it was sold out – a testament to just how popular a birding destination our province is becoming. We had a great 12 days exploring the island and its array of landscapes, birds and other natural wonders … I’m already looking forward to doing it all again later this year!

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It was a very busy summer, with lots of visiting birders and nature-enthusiasts joining me to explore beautiful Newfoundland. We enjoyed visits to spectacular seabird colonies (like Cape St. Mary’s, above), strolled through rich boreal forests full of sweet bird songs, hiked across the coastal tundra to see fossils of some of the world’s oldest complex animals, stopped to appreciate beautiful and unique wildflowers growing in the most unexpected of places, and were treated to surprises and wonderful experiences at every turn. I’m already looking forward to more in 2019!! (Check out your opportunity to join us here.)

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Nemesis down!! I’m always thrilled to help a client find a “target” bird when leading a tour, especially here in Newfoundland. However, it is extra exciting when that same bird is a target of my own. Northern Three-toed Woodpecker has been a so-called “nemesis bird” for me – one of just three breeding species on the island that have managed to elude me since I started birding ~18 years ago (the other two being American Woodcock and Northern Hawk Owl – both scarce and local breeders in the province that I just haven’t connected with yet). We found this male attending (or maybe just prospecting?) a potential nesting site while hiking a trail in Terra Nova National Park. I’m not sure who was more ecstatic – my guests or me!

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Once again, August was punctuated by the Eagle-Eye Tours “New Brunswick & Grand Manan” trip. Joined by co-leader Kyle Horner (Wild Ontario), we explored this beautiful part of Atlantic Canada. As always, a major highlight of this tour was the incredible flocks of Semipalmated Sandpiper migrating through the Bay of Fundy. We had point blank views of 35,000+ as they roosted on a narrow strip of beach at high tide. (To read more about previous tours I’ve led in New Brunswick, check out this blog post.)

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Another highlight of this trip is our visit to Grand Manan island and the wonderful birding there. I have a special fondness for seabirds, and the pelagic trip into the rich waters of the Bay of Fundy never disappoints. We has a gorgeous day for this year’s trip, encountering hundreds of shearwaters, storm-petrels, phalaropes and other pelagic species along the way – often right alongside the boat!

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In October, I was invited to join the team at Adventure Canada as their expedition ship “Ocean Endeavour” circumnavigated Newfoundland. It was an exciting opportunity to explore my home province from a unique perspective – often calling in to small, remote communities. I even got to see a few places I’d never been before, including Little Bay Islands (above) which neighbours my late grandfather’s childhood home. I was honoured to work with the incredible team at Adventure Canada, and to spend ten days with their fun and interesting guests … and I look forward to doing it again in the future.

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Sailing around Newfoundland also gave me a chance to get reacquainted with one of Newfoundland’s most enigmatic birds – Leach’s Storm-Petrel. These tiny seabirds nest in huge numbers along our coast, but usually stay far out at sea and out of sight (coming and going from their burrows only under cover of darkness). They are often attracted to the lights of ocean vessels, so it is not unusual to find them stranded on the decks during the night or early morning and in need of “rescue” (a gentle toss over the side to get them airborne). I was able to use this phenomena to educate guests and other staff not only about seabirds in general, but also the impact that our activities can have on them. After making some changes to reduce our light emissions, we saw a dramatic decrease (to nearly zero) in stranded birds during the course of our travels.

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The busyness of fall 2018 didn’t leave me with much time for birding on my own time (something I love to do in fall), but when I did I was thrilled to be joined by my oldest daughter, Emma. She seems to have caught the birding “bug” this year, and nothing could make me happier than see my kids connecting with nature. In this photo, Emma is “digiscoping” a Gray Heron in Renews – a mega rarity not only for Newfoundland, but all of North America. (Notably, Emma is using my trusty Kowa TSN-883 scope in this photo – for a detailed review of my Kowa optics check out this blog post from a few months ago).

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December snuck up on me quickly – along with a happy return to Trinidad & Tobago, leading my third Eagle-Eye Tours trip to this awesome destination. We had a great time – enjoying the amazing birding at Asa Wright Nature Centre, across the varied habitats of Trinidad, and then to more relaxed but equally bird-filled Tobago. This Guianan Trogon was just one of many many highlights! (You can find many more photos and stories from my earlier trips here and here.)

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A personal highlight from Trinidad & Tobago 2018 was an encounter with four American Flamingos (lifers!). Somewhat unusual in recent years, these were part of a group that had been hanging out around the famous Caroni Swamp, and may have arrived from Venezuela following an earthquake earlier in the year.

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Although it’s been challenging to keep this blog updated during a busy 2018, I did post lots of updates on other social media channels (see above). These were my most popular Instagram photos throughout the year (note that not all photos were actually taken in 2018). Be sure to follow along for more stories and photos this year!!

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Winter Bird Photography (A Guest Post!)

Winter in Newfoundland offers some incredible opportunities for bird photography — a passion enjoyed by more and more birders. Newfoundland also has its share of great wildlife photographers, not the least of which is my good friend Brad James. Brad has been kind enough to write a guest post for Bird⋅The⋅Rock about some of his favourite winter subjects. (Be sure to check out his website, at the bottom of this post, to see more of his amazing work!!)

** I’m excited to say that Bird⋅The⋅Rock and Brad James Wildlife Photography are planning some joint birding/photography tours (winter & summer) in the near future!!! These tours will include some great birding, lots of photography opportunities, along with tips, instructions and field lessons from Brad himself! I know I’m excited!! Let me know if you’re interested in hearing more!

Winters in Newfoundland  by Brad James

Winters in Newfoundland can be nasty. Growing up in Gander (central Newfoundland) it seemed the snow would pile up as high as skyscrapers; people would drive up and down the streets on skidoo since there was so much snow and vehicle access on side roads was near impossible. Times have changed, or maybe I’ve grown up and my childhood imagination has diminished but winters here on the island don’t seem as bad…well until last year. Last year’s winter froze every body of water basically solid. Conception Bay behind my house was like a large ice cube. It was the first time since moving home five years ago that the bay had frozen over. Even though our winters can be nasty, they bring with it some amazing photo opportunities! One of my favourite subjects during the winter months are the diving ducks. They can be found throughout the various ponds around St. John’s but once the temperatures drop and those ponds freeze over they move to the remaining open waters of Quidi Vidi lake. This provides some amazing photo opportunities. Our mix of divers is comprised of Tufted, Greater & Lesser Scaup, and Ring necked ducks. Here are a few of my images from the past few years.

Tufted Duck Tufted1As you can see, we can get really close to our diving ducks here. 2014_TuftedDuck_March_3Greater Scaup GreaterScaup1Ring-necked Duck RingNeckDuckDuring last year’s freeze we were lucky to have a small group of seven Common Mergansers that moved into the lake and provided many birders and bird photographers with some excellent sightings.

Common Merganser CommonMerganser1 CommonMerganser2Winter months might also bring other waterfowl like Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, Northern Shovelers, etc. to our waters and with little remaining water for them to feed in they usually end up at Quidi Vidi or small open pockets of water near streams and rivers. This allows for some wonderful photos!

Bufflehead BuffleHeadPied-billed Grebe 2013_PiedGrebe_Nov_3Over the past few years we have been lucky to have a Peregrine Falcon take up residence along the waters edge of Quidi Vidi. He can be seen hanging out in his usual tree scanning the lake for food.

Peregrine Falcon PeregrineFalconThe peregrine isn’t the only raptor on the lake as many Bald Eagles can be seen trying to make a meal out of the thousands of gulls that roost on the frozen waters.

Bald Eagle 2014_Eagle_Mar_3I rarely spend much time photographing gulls, despite the large number of Gulls species on the island (I should be shamed of myself!). However, over the past year my interest has begun to grow. One gull in particular that we are lucky to have is the Yellow-legged Gull which is sought after by many birders. Here are a few of the gulls I’ve photographed at Quidi Vidi during winter.

Black headed Gull BlackHeadGullLesser Black-backed Gull LesserBlackbackGullAnother species which gets a lot of my attention during winter are Dovekies. These tiny seabirds aren’t always easy to find near shore but when you do its a real treat and a great bird to study.

Dovekie Dovekie1 Dovekie2Another photogenic bird during winter is the Purple Sandpiper. There is a group of about 80 – 100 that show up each year at Cape Spear and feed along the rocks near the ocean.

Purples Sandpiper Purple_Sandpiper1 Purple_Sandpiper2These are only a few of the many species you can see on the island during the winter. If you’re really lucky you might get to see an Ivory Gull, Gyrfalcon and many other uncommon species that have shown up to the island and have even been spotted right here in the city! Newfoundland is an amazing place with friendly people and a warm welcoming atmosphere (even in the dead of winter). The island has much to offer during the winter months and provides some unique photo opportunities.

Check out more of Brad James’ amazing photography on his website & Facebook page below:
Website: http://www.bradjameswildlifephotography.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/bradjameswildlifephotography