Friday, September 10, 2010

Predicting Some Good Birds

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 :)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fall Birding at Cape Spear

Wow,look at me,blog updates on back to back days!! Well,not that I have anything new and exciting to talk about personally,since I haven't been birding for days. For the last two days I've been considering birding the Cape Spear Rd but have been unable to find the motivation when the alarm sounds at 6:00!

Having said that,the purposes of this entry are twofold. Firstly it will serve as an introduction to birding Cape Spear for those unfamiliar with the area and secondly and selfishly, it will hopefully remind me, of how fantastic the birding can be there at times, if you only drag yourself out of bed and get out and look!

While much is said by myself and others about the fantastic birding of the southern Avalon, there is some great birding right around St.John's, particularly at Cape Spear. Cape Spear is the the most easterly point of land in North America and scores of people visit each year just to stand there and feel like they are standing on the edge of the earth. It is this feature(the geography,not the scores of tourists) that is responsible for the good birding at this location.

If you look at a map of the Avalon Peninsula you will notice a piece of land jutting out near St. John's, this is the Cape Spear headland. Under the right conditions( N,NE, or SE winds) the Cape can offering some spectacular sea birding,if you can find shelter from the wind and often accompanying rain or snow. During summer and early fall, on any given day, you can see Gannets and a variety of Alcids,but it is during strong NE winds,particularly those following the passage of tropical storms or intense cold fronts, that the real show starts. At times, under these conditions it is possible to see thousands of Shearwaters,along with Northern Fulmars, Leach's Storm Petrels, Jaegers and Alcids. In winter I have seen over 10,000 Dovekies flying past the Cape!!

Aside from the sea birding possibilities, the barrens surrounding the Cape and the deciduous growth bordering the roadsides offer great birding and serve as an attractive landing point for weary migrants that have reached land after a long oversea flight. Practically, every North American breeding warbler from Hermit to Worm-eating, has been seen on the roadsides from Cape Spear to the community of Blackhead over the years. Finding rare birds at this area is sometimes as simple as locating a flock of Yellow-rumps, or even a couple of Black-capped Chickadees or Kinglets and just watching every bird in the flock until you see something unusual,therefore knowing the common birds is essential,cause you can't know what's rare if you don't the common stuff!

Birding this area is basically as easy as walking the roadside and pishing. We generally do a cursory walk around the Cape itself if you get there early enough before hitting the alders. It's best to tackle the area by parting on the roadside just as the deciduous growth starts are birding up the road a ways,then back, then moving your car up a beat and repeating. It is often a good idea to get off the roadside and actually get under the cover of the alders and pish,this often attracts more birds and makes then easier to see then just birding from the shoulder of the road. Those people who participate in my fall birding trips will see this method in practice!.


UPDATE

I decided to hit Cape Spear this morning and see if the strong SE winds triggered a seabird movement. I birded there from 7:45-9:00 when I was forced to leave by non stop heavy rain making birding impossible.During the time I was there I saw,

Atlantic Puffin- 1000's
Leach's Storm Petrel- 1000's
Northern Gannet- 200+
Northern Flumar- 3
Sooty Shearwater- 10
Manx Shearwater-3
Ruddy Turnstone-1
BAIRD'S SANDPIPER- flew in off ocean with a Semipalmated Plover and
sheltered only 20 ft from me.
Phalarope sp-1
Semipalmated Plover-1

Just another good old fashioned Leache's Storm Petrel wreck at Cape Spear!



Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fall Birding Trips

After a long,long hiatus from updating this thing, I've finally decided to commit myself to regular updates. There likley will not be updates every day,but I can guarantee something on at least a weekley basis moving forward. I'm actually currently working on several things, including an article on the relationship between weather and birds in Newfoundland, as well as a article discussing the separation of juvenile Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. I hope to have both of these finished and up on the blog within the next week.

For now, I'd like to discuss my fall birding trips, that will be running about every two weeks until mid November and then I'll probably switch to monthly winter trips. All of these trips will take place on the famous southern Avalon. The southern Avalon, deservedly has the repautation for the most exciting birding locale in Newfoundland and for good reason. What other birding location in North America can claim birds such as European Golden Plover, Corn Crake,Common Redshank,Eurasian Oystercatcher, Eurasian Curlew,Northern Lapwing,Yellow-legged Gull,Common-ringed Plover,Curlew Sandpiper adn those are just the European rarities. Looking within our own continent we've found Pacific Golden Plover,Cave Swallow,American Avocet,Black-necked Stilt,Sooty Tern,Least TernGull-billed Tern,Ivory Gull,, Swainson's Hawk,Clapper Rail,Ash-throated Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler,Kentucky Warbler,Worm-eating Warbler etc. Are you salivating yet? I could go on and on listing the fanastic rarities that have been found over the last dacade on this 200 km strip of coastline,but surely this gives you an idea of the potential of the location.

As mentioned I am running trips down the southern shore at least every 2nd week and possibly more often, depending on demand. The first trip in this installment went on Auguest 29th. The trip sold out in just over a day, which was not surprising given the amazing birding at this time of year. There were 7 participants,including myself and we birded from Cape Broyle to Cape Race and back again. The two main objectives of the day were fall "warblering" and shorebirding.

We hit Bear Cove Pt Rd in Renews around 8:00 and stayed there for about 3.5 hours. During that time we saw 10+ species of warbler including a Canada and a Nashville Warbler,both being rare in the province. Aside from that, we saw lots of our more common breeding species,such as Common Yellowthroat,Blackpoll, Black and White, Wilsons etc. After we had out fill of warblers, we headed for Renews beach to check out the shorebird scene.

There was a decent diversity of shorebirds present on the each,despite the high tide and among them were several Lesser Yellowlegs(resaonably uncommon)a Short-billed Dowitcher and a juvie Red Knot. One participant,who shall remain nameless, was left feeling underwhelmed with his life encounter with Red Knot,lamenting the fact that it was in fact not red at all and better yet seemed devoid of any remarkable features! Personally, I think Juvie Red Knots in their frosted, scaly plumage, are quite attractive in a subdued way!I think this particular participant had come to see my way of thinking after point blank views at 60X!! That one of the great things about these trips, you WILL have the opportunity to see many different species of shorebirds at very close range,allowing for careful study of all their intricate details.

After the Renews shorebirding experience, we headed for Cape Race in search of Whimbrels and whatever else might come our way. We did in fact find several flocks of Whimbrels and had some amazing views,especially when a couple of birds circled our heads repeatedly. Aside from the Whimbrels, we had some great encounters with a number of raptors, including Merlin,Sharp-shinned Hawk,Northern Goshawk, Bald Eagle,Northern Harrier(many) and a Peregrine Falcon. I should also mention a nice look at two Moose,that seemd to look out of place on the Cape Race barrens.

We decided to head back towards St.John's after Cape Race since points west seemed to be cloaked in fog. We ended the day with some more study of the Renews shorebird flock and some leisurly scope views of a Beaver eating lilly pads.Overall, it was a great day,with some great birds and good time was had by all.

The second installement in my southern shore birding series happens this Sunday September 12th. Unfortunately, that trip is completely booked and has been for some time.It also promises to be a spectacular trip, with even more promise for exciting rarities.

Following the above trip I have a tour scheduled for either Sat September 25th or Sunday September 26th. This trip will be more focused on finding Newfoundland rarities.Of course, we will stop for whatever crosses our path,but our objective will be digging out some of the more difficult to find species. We'll be hitting all the major vagrant hot spots along the southern shore and I'll be doing a lot of talking about how, when and where to find rare birds on the Avalon Peninsula. If this trip sounds like it might be of interest you, I'd suggest you contact me asap, as there are only 2 of 5 spots remaining and it was sold out until I had a couple of cancellations yesterday.Below is the schedule for some upcoming fall birding trips,

August 29th- Southern Shore(Full)- Completed

Spetember 12th Southern Shore: Warbler, Raptors and Shorebirds-(Full)

September 25 or 26th- Southern Shore Vagrant Blitz! (2/5 places open)

October 11th- Southern Shore- Dunlins,Ducks and Sparrows( lots of potential for vagrant warblers and vireos as well!)5/5 places open

I will be announcing additional dates soon, as well as, my ever popular Gull Identification Workshops!