The fall birding season in Newfoundland has gotten off to a pretty slow start,with a just a few relatively minor rarities being reported thus far. As is usually the case very little of the island has been birded, or if other parts are being birded I'm not hearing about it. There are of course a few brave souls outside St.John's, on the west coast a couple in central and the Northern Peninsula,but as usual, the lion share of the birders,birding, and by extension, the rare birds, have been found on the Avalon Peninsula.
The shorebirding season has now reached his peak. Our main influxes of shorebirds doesn't really get going until the beginning of August and so far there have been few highlights but nothing really out of the ordinary. A Common Ringed Plover found on a St Shotts beach in mid August would be cause for great excitement anywhere else in North America, but this species has been annual in on the Avalon Peninsula over the last 5 years,with about 7 records,all between mid August and Mid September.
Last weekend my fiancee Jen and I witnessed the a new provincial high count for Buff-Breasted Sandpipers,which was pretty cool to see,but it still feels like something is lacking. We've only had a couple of Baird's Sandpipers reported and still not Hudsonian Godwits or Stilt Sandpipers,the later of which has become pretty rare in recent years. Also we're still waiting for some European flare alah, Ruffs or Curlew Sandpipers etc.But,there is still lots of time left to find all kinds of good stuff,especially southern passerines!
If you were to visit Newfoundland you might be surprised to be able to walk done a dirt road that has hosted Prothonotary,Kentucky, Blue-winged and Hooded Warblers on the same day!..in mid September! We spend a considerable amount of time each fall especially in September and October trying to uncover these rare southern gems. We generally accomplish this, one of two ways, alder bashing, or pishing the Tuck.
First off Alder bashing. The layman reading this must think that us birders have some deep seated hatred for alder trees and for a couple months each year, we let them feel our wrath....well that's not the case. You see coastal NF is not blessed with deciduous habitat that looks familiar to southern passerines,but we are blessed with an abundance of alder bushes,which, compared to stunted conifers, seem to look pretty appealing to wayward Cerulean Warblers etc!
So basically the technique consists of finding a break in the alders, or creating on of your own, if needed. You then get low,below the 7 foot canopy,so your often kneeling,and you pish and squeak madly!! Sometimes this tales a while before you get any reason,but then you get a chickadee,then kinglet,then a Blackpool and Common Yellowthroat,then you catch a flash pf rich yellow low down in the alders,30 ft away. You struggle to focus through the branches, the bird just feels like something good because of the richness of the yellow and it`s skulky habits. The it comes a little close,,the adrenaline starts to surge,,you see the black crown,with the slight hint of laper grey on top of the hea, the black face pattern reveals itself and you know you`ve found what you were looking for...KENTUCKY WARBLER!!! It often happens like this way down,deep in the dark alders. A few years ago I saw a photo of a Blue-winged Warbler taken in the alder on the southern Avalon and it was captioned ``The Essence of Aldering`` and I couldn't`t agree more!
So, now that you have an introduction to aldering, we can move on to pishing the tuck. Well to grasp this cogent is it imperative that you first understand two important terms, pish and tuck. If you don`t understand tuck, you are partially forgiven,since it may be a Newfoundland colloquialism.However, if you don`t know what pish means.....!!! then you need to find out. Type pish in google and see what you get0 you`ll get a hit in wikipedia.
So,pishing the tuck..what is it anyway.. Well when we use the word tuck we are referring to tuckamoor,which are the stunted conifers found at coastal locations around our province. One destination famous for it`s tuck is Cape Race. Cape Race consists basically of jagged rocky cliffs and coastal barrens,essentially there are no real tracts of forest of any kind. However, there are scattered patches of stunted conifers that provide excellent protection for weakened passerines. As well, we have seen some of the vagrant passerines take up shop in the tuck and stay up to two weeks, indicating the feeding can be pretty good in there as well.
So,you might be wondering how one might go about pishing this tuck.Well you be happy to know that it usually doesn`t involved diving in. Pishing the tuck can usually be done without actually having to enter the tuck itself. In fact I find those squeakers used to immiate chip notes to be very effective. These are available at most wild bird stores and are especially good for getting sparrows all riled up!.
Anyway,I was talking about the fall so far,almost lamenting the lack of really rare birds. There have been a couple of nice ones found, Yellow-breasted Chat,Prairie Warbler, a few Canada Warbler, a couple Nashvilles,a couple Orioles and few other odds and ends. We`re still waiting for te nice warbler event....couls this happen tomorrow?I think it's possible!
There are two reasons i tihn we are in for some good birding this weekend.
1) Cape May and surrounding area are reporting tremendous in and out migration between there and New York over the last 3 days. That means lots of birds heading south on NW winds following cold fronts that pass their areas.
2)Well, as it turns out for the past three days we have been getting warm humid south west winds from the southern US, between the Carolinas and Cape Cod.Now it isn' too much of a stretch to think that some of those birds heading towards the east cost riding NW winds could get pushed out over the Atlantic. In fact, we know this happens quite a bit. Once blown off the eastern US coast that may get picked up by these SW winds, therebyu depositing them directly on the Avalon Peninsula. Sounds crazy?? It happens!Will it happen this weekend...well we'll just have to waut and see.
Edit:It turns out I was right,partially. There were a number of goof birds found this weekend, including,a number of Prairie Warblers,Chestnut-sided,Canada Warbler and what do you know a KENTUCKY!!..kinda prophetic,if I do say so :)