Winter 2010-2011


The winter of 2010-2011 is one that will go down in Newfoundland birding history – not just because of the great birds and birding, but also because of the interesting weather that punctuated the season. December and January were unseasonably mild, resulting in little or snow and ice coverage during much of that time. February roared in, with cold temperatures and what seemed like relentless snow during the last four weeks of “official” winter birding. Harsh weather in both western Europe and the northeastern United States in early winter caused massive local bird movements, with an interesting array of winter vagrants showing up here. For a third consecutive year, there was a general lack of finches and berry-eating birds – the cone crop was sporadic throughout Newfoundland, while the berry crop appeared to be sub-par over most of the island. The Avalon Peninsula was nearly devoid of berries, making life tough for the few Robins and Waxwings that did try to eke out a living here.

Still, an incredible tally of 150 species was well over average, and the cast was highlighted with several very exciting birds – including three first records (Anna’s Hummingbird, Common Snipe & Jack Snipe), one second record (Black-tailed Gull) and one third record (Common Chaffinch) for the island.

A Graylag Goose photographed on Dec 3 from a vessel approximately 180 nautical miles east of Bonavista marked the second provincial record of this species (the first being the only accepted record in the ABA area to date).

Drake Gadwall were reported from St. John’s (De 8-9), Arnold’s Cove (long-staying individual; Jan 9) and Conception Bay South (Feb 6). While typical numbers of Eurasian Wigeon  were observed in and around St. John’s for much of the winter, observations of four near Trepassey (Jan 21) and eight at Spaniard’s Bay (Jan 30) were notable and might indicate a larger than usual arrival. Much more striking was the impressive number of Eurasian Green-winged (“Common”) Teal on the Avalon Peninsula. There was a minimum of 31 drakes counted in the city at one location, with more seen at other locations on the same or surrounding days. Others were reported from the Cappahayden barrens (1), Cape Broyle (1), Witless Bay (1), Harbour Grace (1) and Harbour Main (4). In the largest flocks, drake Eurasians outnumbered Americans ##:##. These numbers are completely unprecedented, and seem to be part of a body of evidence indicating a huge arrival of “European” species this winter.

A female Blue-winged Teal spotted on a small pond north of Portugal Cove South on Jan 15 and Feb 21, provided the third winter record for this species.  Barrow’s Goldeneye were found overwintering in Corner Brook (1), Rocky Harbour (1), Traytown (1) and Spaniard’s Bay (2). Female Hooded Mergansers in Trepassey (Dec 14) and Corner Brook (Jan 8) were the only individuals this winter.

A Common Moorhen in Chapel’s Cove, CBS was last seen Feb 5. The question of its subspecies created an interesting dialogue involving “big name” birders on both sides of the Atlantic, with the general consensus leaning toward it being of North American provenance. At least six American Coots were present in St. John’s for part of the winter, while another was observed (and reportedly shot) in Portugal Cove South. This likely sets a new record for this otherwise annual winter visitor.

A Pied-billed Grebe was spotted in Biscay Bay on Feb 7, while up to three Horned Grebe were periodically seen overwintering in the same general location.

A Sooty Shearwater observed offshore in early December was a notable winter record, missed most years. Northern Gannet barely made the list this winter, with just one being reported on Dec 6 just north of Rocky Harbour.

A Northern Harrier (possibly the same individual) was observed near Trepassey several times in December & January. Very few reports of Rough-legged Hawk, Peregrine Falcon and American Kestrel rolled in this winter, and only one Gyrfalcon (white-phase; Portugal Cove South, Feb 13) was observed.

Shorebirds made up a bulk of the exciting sightings this winter, with several excellent records. A lone Black-belled Plover once again overwinter in Renews. An unprecedented influx of Killdeer occurred in late December and early January, following a series of winter storms in the northeastern USA. What must have been hundreds of birds were seen – most on the more heavily birded Avalon Peninsula, but others from as far away as Rose Blanche and Traytown. High counts of 56 and 64 were recorded on the Cape Race and Ferryland Christmas Bird Counts, respectively. At least one individual was still eking out an existence on patches of open lawn at Portugal Cove South on February 21, often in the company of starling! A number of Northern Lapwings were also reported in the same period, following relatively heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures in the British Isles. While it is unclear just how many individuals were involved, at least six “likely” different birds were reported. The first report was of an individual in Carmanville (Gander Bay) on Dec 3, followed shortly by others in Portugal Cove South and near Whitbourne on Dec 4. Yet another was spotted flying over Trepassey on Dec 11, and then two together in Biscay Bay on the same date. Two individuals (the same?) frequented grassy areas in Portugal Cove South until Dec 19. A notable bird with a longer than average crest was present in Biscay Bay until late December, and then was present in Renews from Dec 31 to Jan 14. Possibly the same individual was then spotted at Long Beach (near Cape Race) on Jan 15 and the showed up in Trepassey, where it was regular until at least Jan 31. Yet another individual was spotted periodically in Torbay from Jan 19 to Feb 2, and two were photographed together in Dildo, Trinity Bay on Jan 3. Can you do the math??

Incredibly, an Upland Sandpiper, rare anywhere in North America in winter, was photographed on a lawn in Trepassey on December 18, but managed to disappear before birders converged on the spot the following day. Not surprisingly, this was the first winter record for this species. A Greater Yellowlegs at Chance Cove Provincial Park on Dec 30 was just the second winter record for this otherwise common shorebird. A handful of Sanderling were spotted throughout the winter period on the southeastern Avalon, while an injured White-rumped Sandpiper was last spotted at Long Beach on December 15.

Birders began noticing a larger than usual number of snipe this winter – many on the Avalon but individuals also reported from elsewhere. Some of these may have been lingering due to the unusually warm weather in December and January, and others may have arrived in the same movement that brought in large numbers of Killdeer (see above). While most of these birds were clearly Wilson’s Snipe, some local birders began speculating (dreaming) about the possibility of European species in the area. Indeed, a snipe spotted near Portugal Cove South on ## showed several features consistent with Common Snipe, but could not be confirmed with photos. Another pale, buffy-looking snipe originally observed on February 13 in Tors Cove was well photographed over the following days, and with its identity confirmed on February 18 provided the first record of Common Snipe for insular Newfoundland. Two more individuals matching this identification were photographed in Ferryland in the following days, and a photograph of another from Torbay in late January also surfaced. How many of the 15 (!!) snipe seen in Torbay in late January might have originated in Europe?!?!

Incredibly, another snipe photographed in Ferryland on the evening of February 14 was subsequently identified as Newfoundland’s first record of Jack Snipe! Unfortunately, the photo went unidentified for six days, and the bird was never relocated. Painful! (NOTE: There are previous specimen records of both Common and Jack Snipe from Labrador in 1927.)

As usual, gulls put in a great showing this winter … this time with a whopping 14 species recorded during the season. (Notably, all of these species were observed on the very first day of official winter birding, December 1!). Black-headed Gulls were recorded in typical locations and numbers, with the largest congregation of well over one hundred in St. John’s. A handful of Bonaparte’s Gulls were recorded, with two in St. John’s for much of the winter and three at Bellevue on January 9. One of the superstars this winter was an adult Black-tailed Gull found in St. John’s on December 1. This bird, a second provincial record, proved elusive for a few days after its discovery but eventually became a regular at Quidi Vidi Lake and spent the entire winter (disappearing in late April). Record highs of seven Ring-billed and Common Gulls (three 1st winters, two 2nd winters and two adults) were in St. John’s by the end of winter.

A shorter than average period of ice coverage on local lakes and ponds, combined with limited access to the local landfill, made it difficult to keep tabs on some of the larger gulls in St. John’s this winter, but overall impressions were that numbers were slightly low during the earlier (milder) part of winter and built quickly as colder temperatures set in. On the rarity side, two adult Yellow-legged Gulls were confirmed in December, and at least one spent the winter. An adult Slaty-backed Gull first discovered on December 1 was also seen regularly throughout the winter (until the ice disappeared, at least) and based on a combination of features was likely an individual not seen here before (at least not as an adult).  Two probably adult Thayer’s Gulls were photographed, with one being seen regularly at the harbour or much of the season. At least two 1st winter gulls fitting the description of that species were also seen regularly at Quidi Vidi lake.

While numbers of Dovekie seemed closer to normal this year after a near-absence last winter, larger alcids were somewhat scarce.

A White-winged Dove in St. John’s continued into mid December, providing the second winter record province. This species is now annual on the island. Small owls put in a strong appearance in the latter half of winter, with several Boreal and Saw-whet Owls reports coming from St. John’s and other communities. A Saw-whet Owl was even spotted at the very unlikely location Cape Race in early February. Short-eared Owl was also reported from the Portugal Cove – Cape Race area several times that month, while the province’s third record of Long-eared Owl was spotted briefly at dusk in Ferryland on February 12.

Possibly the biggest star of the winter, and the most unexpected (especially in the dead of winter) was a female Anna’s Hummingbird that was first reported in Brownsville, Trinity Bay on January 21, but had been visiting the feeder since sometime in the fall. Due to the remarkable care of the local homeowners, the bird managed to survive until February 7 when very cold weather set in and it stopped appearing at the feeder. Not surprisingly, this was the first provincial record for this species.

Despite a sub-par showing of American Robins this winter, three Redwings managed to make the winter list … all of them elusive, however. Two individual were observed together on a small kelp-laden beach in Portugal Cove South on February 7 – the first multiple-bird record for the province. At least one individual was spotted periodically over the next few weeks, but always elusive and likely feeding on the snow-free barrens much of the time. Interestingly, another Redwing was discovered at Cape Spear by a visiting birder on the same date (Feb 7) and relocated very briefly the following day. It is unclear whether these were new arrivals or birds that had been here for a while and coincidentally discovered on the same date.

The only Northern Mockingbird reported this winter was frequenting bushes outside a St. John’s residence for several days in early February. Bohemian Waxwings put in a late appearance this winter, arriving in numbers in early February but generally not staying in any location for long due to a lack of edible berries. Cedar Waxwings were similarly scattered and not commonly reported.

Seven species of warbler were reported in December, including individual Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, and Black & White Warblers. Notably, a Wilson’s Warbler was present in St. John’s (Kelly’s Brook) until December 7, while a Yellow Warbler survived until at least January 12 at the same location. A Yellow-throated Warbler was attending a feeder along the Waterford River until January 23 – a record late date for this species. Two Yellow-breasted Chats were reported – one in St. John’s on December 26 and another at a feeder in Grand Bank until ????.

The only unusual sparrow of the season was a Clay-coloured Sparrow on Fogo Island in February. Two Dickcissels managed to successfully overwinter at Lumsden, while another was frequenting a feeder in Fermeuse for several weeks. This same feeder hosted a Baltimore Oriole during the same period.

Relatively low numbers of most finches were present on the eastern Avalon this winter, although larger numbers were seen elsewhere. A photograph of a Common Chaffinch attending a feeder in Freshwater, Placentia Bay on February 3 caused quite a stir, and many birders from near and far were able to see this bird until it became infrequent and elusive in late February. However, the homeowners were able to confirm its continuing visits until at least mid-April. This was the second record for the province and widely considered a bona fide wild vagrant. Common Redpolls made a minor incursion to the southern Avalon in February, bringing with them a few Hoary Redpolls.

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Graylag Goose
  3. Wood Duck
  4. Gadwall
  5. Eurasian Wigeon
  6. American Wigeon
  7. American Black Duck
  8. Mallard
  9. Northern Pintail
  10. Blue-winged Teal 
  11. Green-winged Teal (American & Eurasian)
  12. Tufted Duck
  13. Greater Scaup
  14. Lesser Scaup
  15. Ring-necked Duck
  16. Common Eider
  17. King Eider
  18. Harlequin Duck
  19. White-winged Scoter
  20. Black Scoter
  21. Surf Scoter
  22. Long-tailed Duck
  23. Bufflehead
  24. Common Goldeneye
  25. Barrow’s Goldeneye
  26. Hooded Merganser
  27. Red-breasted Merganser
  28. Common Merganser
  29. Common Moorhen
  30. American Coot
  31. Willow Ptarmigan
  32. Rock Ptarmigan
  33. Spruce Grouse
  34. Ruffed Grouse
  35. Common Loon
  36. Red-throated Loon
  37. Pied-billed Grebe
  38. Red-necked Grebe
  39. Horned Grebe
  40. Northern Fulmar
  41. Sooty Shearwater
  42. Northern Gannet
  43. Double-crested Cormorant
  44. Great Cormorant
  45. Bald Eagle
  46. Northern Harrier
  47. Rough-legged Hawk
  48. Northern Goshawk
  49. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  50. Gyrfalcon
  51. Peregrine Falcon
  52. Merlin
  53. American Kestrel
  54. Black-bellied Plover
  55. Killdeer
  56. Northern Lapwing
  57. Upland Sandpiper
  58. Ruddy Turnstone
  59. Greater Yellowlegs 
  60. Sanderling
  61. White-rumped Sandpiper
  62. Purple Sandpiper
  63. Wilson’s Snipe
  64. Common Snipe 
  65. Jack Snipe
  66. Black-headed Gull
  67. Bonaparte’s Gull
  68. Ring-billed Gull
  69. Black-tailed Gull
  70. Common Gull
  71. Herring Gull
  72. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  73. Yellow-legged Gull 
  74. Iceland Gull
  75. Thayer’s Gull
  76. Glaucous Gull
  77. Great Black-backed Gull
  78. Slaty-backed Gull
  79. Black-legged Kittiwake
  80. Dovekie
  81. Razorbill
  82. Common Murre
  83. Thick-billed Murre
  84. Black Guillemot
  85. Rock Pigeon
  86. Mourning Dove
  87. White-winged Dove
  88. Boreal Owl
  89. Northern Saw-whet Owl
  90. Great Horned Owl
  91. Short-eared Owl
  92. Long-eared Owl 
  93. Anna’s Hummingbird 
  94. Belted Kingfisher
  95. Black-backed Woodpecker
  96. Downy Woodpecker
  97. Hairy Woodpecker
  98. Northern Flicker
  99. Northern Shrike
  100. Grey Jay
  101. Blue Jay
  102. American Crow
  103. Common Raven
  104. Horned Lark
  105. Black-capped Chickadee
  106. Boreal Chickadee
  107. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  108. Brown Creeper
  109. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  110. American Robin
  111. Redwing
  112. Northern Mockingbird
  113. European Starling
  114. American Pipit
  115. Bohemian Waxwing
  116. Cedar Waxwing
  117. Yellow-throated Warbler
  118. Orange-crowned Warbler
  119. Yellow Warbler
  120. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  121. Black & White Warbler
  122. Wilson’s Warbler
  123. Yellow-breasted Chat
  124. American Tree Sparrow
  125. Chipping Sparrow
  126. Clay-coloured Sparrow
  127. Savannah Sparrow
  128. White-throated Sparrow
  129. Fox Sparrow
  130. Song Sparrow
  131. Lincoln’s Sparrow
  132. Swamp Sparrow
  133. Dark-eyed Junco
  134. Lapland Longspur
  135. Snow Bunting
  136. Red-winged Blackbird
  137. Common Grackle
  138. Baltimore Oriole
  139. Dickcissel
  140. Common Chaffinch
  141. Pine Grosbeak
  142. Purple Finch
  143. White-winged Crossbill
  144. Red Crossbill
  145. Common Redpoll
  146. Hoary Redpoll
  147. Pine Siskin
  148. American Goldfinch
  149. Evening Grosbeak
  150. House Sparrow

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