Thursday, October 7, 2010

Weekend Birding Forecast

Well, I'm not really into making bold predictions and maybe this doesn't qualify.However, looking at the current weather maps, I can't help but get a little excited about the possibility of some birds being pushed our way over the next 48 hours.

Currently there is a nice low pressure system that stretches from The Great Lakes to the Carolinas. This has been kinda stalled there for a few days,but will start motoring east, then north east reaching the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland by Friday. See the maps below...

Notice the progression of the low pressure system as it moves from SE of the Great Lakes to Newfoundland. Notice the isobars showing a nice SW flow,off the eastern seaboard, up to the Avalon Peninsula, especially for Thursday night,Friday and Friday night..White-eyed Vireo anyone???

With any luck birds will lift off on the NW wrap around winds that follow the passage of the low pressure system and fly with the NW wind in a SE direction towards the coast. Some will likely get carried out over the sea and may get caught up in the SW flow, then follow these SW winds with the low pressure system until they reach land on the Avalon Peninsula. At least, in a perfect world ( from a birders perspective), this is how it would work. Either way, I'm hoping for some kind of an influx. If you were on the fence as regarding my southern Avalon trip, this weekend,maybe this will serve to entice you a little further. Again,this is all best guess,but the weather maps show the potential exists!!Guess we'll see on Saturday....

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fall Recap- Looking Forward and a Few Photos

Well we're about half way through the fall vagrant season in Newfoundland right now and to this point the birding has probably been about average to slightly below average. There has been a rarity here and there,but no real major events that really get the adrenaline pumping.

The reason for our relatively mundane fall thus far is the lack of any real major weather related bird influxes,or fallouts. Maybe I'm just spoiled from last fall, when there was a nice fallout event on the Cape race Road( extreme SE Avalon Peninsula) in early October that brought a couple of Hooded Warblers, Kentucky, Yellow-breasted Chat,a couple Chestnut-sideds, Prairie Warbler,as well as both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers,Cuckoos and a selection of less rare warblers,such as Ovenbirds. This was a remarkable event and was the result of a low pressure system that generated warm SW winds directly from the Carolina's and even further south directly to the southern Avalon Peninsula.

As I said there have not been any such event to this point, this year,but we're still hopeful!Three weeks ago we were hopeful too as Hurricane Igor rushed ashore,but all it did was carve a path of destruction, not leaving even a single pelagic stray as a consolation. This was disappointing. Since the storm was almost entirely pelagic,never really getting close to land,aside from Bermuda, we knew the possibilities were limited,but similar storm have dropped a White-tailed Tropicbird. We were hoping for a repeat, or maybe even something more significant,but despite lots of searching,nothing was found.

Just before Igor,however, word got out about the rarity of the season, so far in Newfoundland- a FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER. This is a primarily South American species breeding from central Mexico to Argentina,but is an austral migrant( migrates north,instead of south for the winter) and it known for it's wandering habits. The bird that was photographed in Chapels Cove, Conception Bay on the northern Avalon was just the second or third record for the province.

Aside from the FTFL, there has been a smattering of rarities,with a surprising three Kentucky Warblers,all found on the southern Avalon(two at Cape Race,Trepassey. Aside from that there has not really been any other vagrant southern warblers reported aside from Prairie Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat,both of which as expected annually in fall in small numbers.

Photographed at Cape Race Oct, 2009

Photographed in my backyard in late Oct 2007

Things have also been relatively slow on the shorebird front as well,on the Avalon Peninsula at least. By that I mean there have not been any outstanding rarities, or any abnormally large influxes witnessed. Perhaps the best shorebird seen this fall on the Avalon is Hudsonian Godwit,of which there were 5 in St John's just a couple of weeks ago. Below are a couple of photos I managed of the birds during the 5 or so days they were in town.

So,thus far it seems as though this is a very negative report of birding on the Avalon Peninsula this fall and perhaps hte birding has not been exceptional in terms of rarities,but we still have a lot to look forward too. October and November often bring some of the best rarities,since this is the best time to find rare western strays, i.e. the enigmatic Townsends Warbler.

Hmmm enigmatic Towsends Warbler..what does that even mean? Well, it's an odd thing about TOWA in Newfoundland. I believe that we have about 14 records for this species sin about the last 25 years. This fact alone is somewhat staggering,since this is perhaps close to the combined number of records for the rest of the Maritimes and the NE states, but what's even more bizarre, is that all but two of these have occurred on the same street (Waterfordbridge Rd) in St.John's,and mos tof those within about a 300 m area!! I will not even attempt to offer an explanation for this phenomenon, except to say that we must be missing a s**tload of TOWA's in the rest of Newfoundland!!

Coming soon to the Waterford Valley??!!

Almost sunrise- time to go find birds,rather than just sit here and write about them. To be continued later today...

Ok,so birding today wasn't all that productive,but I did manage to refind a Great Egret and a Common Gull that I had found a few weeks ago. The Common Gull(a 2nd winter bird) was especially cooperative and I was able to get some nice photos.

Record shot of today's Great Egret at Blackhead. It probably arrived during a blast of southerly winds this week. Interestingly another Great Egret was reported on the SW Avalon Peninsula yesterday.

Note the somewhat thin,short bill, with zig zag black markings and steep forehead combining to give the familiar "gentle" expression, as opposed to the more fierce expression of similar ages Ring-billed Gull

Well,since it's been about 20 hours since I started writing this post, I now seem to have lost my place entirely. Since, I mentioned the Common Gull above I guess that's a good place to pick up. We tend to think of winter as being high season for gulls in St.John's,but fall offers exciting opportunities as well. Oue Black-headed Gull numbers are slowly increasing, I've already found two Yellow-legged Gulls ( returnees from last winter?)and now the Common Gull,not too shabby.

However,before we get too ecited about gulls yet,we can't forget there is still a little over a month of prime passerine vagrant hunting left yet. In fact, November often brings some of the most exciting birding in Newfoundland. Think of birds like the afore mentioned Townsend's Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler,Eastern Towhee..then there are the more enticing options such as Cave Swallow and Ash-throated Flycatcher,both of which have occurred in the last 3 years!!

Newfoundland first ever Ash-throated Flycatcher,found by yours truly last November in Ferryland on the southern Avalon Peninsula. This nice photo was taken by Jared Clarke.

Newfoundland's first Cave Swallow,found in November 2008 at Long Beach,near Cape Race on the southern Avalon Peninsula.

So,that's an idea of how things have gone so far this fall and a hint of what might be yet to come. This fall has been relatively unexciting, in that we have not had a major vagrant event,but there has been a fairly steady trickle of good birds and the above two birds prove that there is still time for something exciting to happen!! We

With that I'm going to end this somewhat rambling time look for something more structured..maybe a gull ID article in preparation for gull season and my upcoming workshops.

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! 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!.


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!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Codroy Report...Finally

Well, it's much overdue but I've finally gotten around to posting my Codroy Report. I was having some difficulty with my image processing software and wanted to make sure I could post photos, so that was partly the cause for the delay. Other than that I guess my extraordinary,almost super-human, ability to procrastinate was the cause.

Anyway, on with the report. While I was there this year I spent some time guiding visiting birders, which turned out to be very successful. All of my clients reported that our trips were some of the best birding they had ever experienced in the Codroy Valley. All of my clients we able to see many of their target species, such as the 'budworm warblers', Blackburnian,Bay-breast and Cape May. Aside from that we saw several other of the rarer warblers,such as Northern Parula,Nashville and Chestnut-sided Warblers. I will be releasing the details for nest years tour within the next few weeks and will distribute the information to my mailing list at that time.

Each year birding the Codroy is a little different,of course the dates of your trip and weather certainly impact the species you are likely to see. This year we didn't arrive until June 4th, which is a little later,but I don;t think that impacted the diversity or number of species we saw. In the two weeks we spent in the Codroy we saw 136 species, including 21 species of warblers, 8 species of flycatchers,9 species of sparrows etc etc. There is truly no place like the Codroy in Newfoundland,when it comes to bird diversity and abundance.

Among those 21 species of warblers included 5 singing Chestnut-sided Warblers. This species appears to be increasing in the area and actually attempted to nest in Newfoundland for the first time last year in Loch Lomand.When we left on June 20th this year there were still 5 singing territorial males,so it seemed the chances are good that at least one of those has a female and will breed successfully.

Another species that I've heard is on the the increase in eastern North America is Bobolink. The Codroy Valley is the only place in Newfoundland,where this species breeds and this year we saw about 10 birds,most of which were splendid looking black and white singing males.

Everyday of birding presented new birds and new opportunities,especially for a bird photographer. I concentrated the vast majority of my time to birding,but I did take some time to focus on getting shots of certain species. The key to photographing the Codroy area is knowing where to find them and more importantly, knowing how to identify them by song! I'd sat over 90% of all birds seen on the entire trip were first identified by song, then tracked down to get a look or to photograph. Below are some other photos from the trip ( I'll hopefully be adding more soon!)


Also, dates for the upcoming Shorebird Identification workshop will be released tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

European Golden Plover Invasion!!!

In my last post I was predicting a fall of southern vagrants on the southern Avalon Peninsula, following the passage of several low pressure systems that swept from the great lakes to NF in a couple of days. Well, that was pretty much a bust. Aside from a deceased Gray Catbird we never had much. Another birder( Julie Cappleman) was able to find Newfoundland's(4th?) Upland Sandpiper, so maybe my predictions weren't way off afterall.

However, all of this has been overshadowed by a flight of European Golden Plovers into eastern Newfoundland this week. When searching for southern vagrants at Cape Race on May 10th I discovered a single Euro Golden Plover flying high overhead. Then about 1.5 hours later I had a flock of 19!!! flying north, soon to be followed by a flock if 17 flying south!! In addition to this there have been flocks of 7 and 3 seenin St.John's and a flock of 6 currently at Cape Bonavista! All together,this could mean that over 50 have been seen this week so far!!

Perhaps even more unusual then the numbers being seen, are the weather conditions they have arrived in. A quick look back at the last two posts will show the pressure maps for Newfoundland over the last week or so. They are not even close to being "Plover winds". But hey, I'm not complaining. There was,however, a pretty big low that stationed itself between NF and Greenland, I believe May 4th-7th. This is not the type of system we think of as traditionally being good for bringing Euro Golden Plovers,but maybe that's what did it? If that's the case though,where have they been,since the 7th and why are they now arriving into SW winds??

Aside from the Golden Plovers, there have been a bunch of other cool birds,most being hangers on from our previous southern blast. It seems that the numbers of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks continue to climb. This species is generally a spring vagrant to Newfoundland, however this year there have been easily over 50 reports. There must be huge numbers of this species in the province right now. With this many reports of males and females it seems likley that this species will breed somewhere in the province this year and will makes a welcome addition to the islands avifauna,even if ,only temporarily.

For me though,the star attraction this week was an adult female Red-necked Phalarope in the Goulds( farming town on outskirts of St.John's). We see these bird almost exclusively in fall among flocks of Red Phalaropes, well offshore. It is a rare treat to see a breeding female in a small pond. Oh and in case you didn't know,Phalaropes are the deviants of the bird world. In most bird species the males are the flashy ones,while the females are often crypticly colored to blend in with the surrounding habitat. Well the female Phaleropes don't plan second fiddle to their male counterparts, as they are the more colorful of the two. Aside from that,they leave the males to tend the nest after mating!Below is a photo of the stunner and possible 1st inland breeding plumaged RNPH for Newfoundland.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Predicting Another Wave- Cape Race Here I Come!!

As I've stated in earlier posts choosing a time and location to go birding is often not a random decision. For many experienced birders, there is much forethought,analysis and planning behind the scenes prior to any birding trip,especially in times of heavy bird migration migration. This is especially true for regions such as Point Pelee,Ontario, High Island ,Texas, Cape May,New Jersey and various other hotspots.

These locations are often referred to as 'migrant traps". A migrant trap is a strategically situated piece of land, often an island or Peninsula. It could also be a particularly luch area in a very arid region, or a heavily wooded sector in a heavily urbanized area,such as Central Park in New York City. Migrant trap don't actually trap birds of course,but they act as a falling out point for birds that might be stressed after a long migration.They are appealing because they are the first point of land available to tireed migrants or because they have some ecological component that makse them superior to the surrounding environment.

For us in Newfoundland we are often at the end of a birds migratory route, we get very few transients other than late summer and fall shorebirds. In short, if your a bird that makes it this far to the north east, you don't intend on going any further, and even if you did,where would you go? We do however have a few locations that have proven to have the ability to concentrate birds after the appropriate weather conditions and Cape Race is one such area.

Cape Race is the most south easterly point of land in Newfoundland. The Cape itself is a barren area,with a few buildings,tundra and some short grassy areas. There aren't any trees at the Cape itself so vagrants settle in the grass and are often found sheltering around man made structures- under steps,parked cars anything that provides shelter. Cape Race is situated at the end of an approximately 20km dirt road that trails along the coast from the community of Portugal Cove South. Along this road there again is little cover aside from scatted patches of stunted spruce,referred to locally as tuckamoor. The tuckamoor and various parts of the road has shown a remarkable ability to hold vagrant songbirds. It consists of extremely dense,often tangled spruce tress that have been battered for perhaps a decades or perhaps even hundreds of years by the often fierce and unrelenting winds,blowing off the northern Atlantic Ocean. At first glance, this habitat doesn't look like much,but imagine your a tiny 6 once bird that has just flown 1000 km's during a storm out over the Atlantic, in 80km winds and it starts to look exponentially more appealing!

So,why am I even talking about all of this? Well, I've been looking at the upcoming weather maps for the next couple of days and they're looking really really good for potentially bringing a pile of birds to the southern Avalon Peninsula. It has only been two weeks since the last fallout at Cape Race,which brought Cattle Egret, Hooded Warbler, Scarlet Tanager and a pile of Thrushes. This next system looks every bit as good as that one to me and shares a lot of features as the previous system. Looking below you can see the system I'm talking about.

Saturday May 8th- Notice the system centered around the Great Lakes Region

Sunday May 9th- System is further east and generating winds from the SW dirctly to the Avalon Peninsula.

Monday, May 10th. A continuation from the previous day,still giving S winds to the southern Avalon Peninsula

Notice the movement of the low pressure system from the Great Lakes to the Maritimes. Notice especially, how the isobars(lines on the map) in the maps for Sunday and Monday are tightly packed(indicating strong winds)blowing out over the Atlantic Ocean and straight to southern Newfoundland( the winds flow parallel to the isobars.) Now look back at the weather maps from the Cape Race fallout a couple of weeks ago and notice the similarities. This low pressure system actually originated in the Midwest near the Texas panhandle then started to rapidly move to the North East.As well, system happens to coincide with the main migration of warblers into the Great Lakes and the NE US.

If things play out like just right,there could be some legendary birding coming our way in the next few days. if you have sick days banked I'd suggest you use them. Make sure you have a full tank of gas and have your bins and camera within reach.Good birding and stay tuned!

Friday, May 7, 2010

More NF Spring Birding Craziness

Ok, I'm not even sure where to start with this one. Things are happening here, we're getting hit by vagrants from all sides,every other day there seems to be some sort of mini-fallout of some sort, in short some really exciting birding these days and I'm glad to be a part of it. This is Nirvana for Newfoundland birders,with each trip proving to out do the next.

In my last post I spoke of a combination of southern and European vagrants, well this has just continued and has gotten even stranger. Maybe someone can explain this to me. How is it possible to get a fallout of Neotropical migrants such as Grey-cheeks Thrush( a month early!!!) and European Golden Plovers at the same location, on the same day??? It just doesn't make any sense does it? Winds that carry us European Golden Plovers should push northbounds Neotripical migrants away from Newfoundland and vice versa. Well I guess anything is possible at Cape Race. if you have never been there,do yourself a favor and make a visit. It's a mainstay on all my southern Avalon tours and for good reason- it rarely dissappoints. If your not impressed with the birds then you'll surely be impressed with the awesome coastal scenery.

Anyway, getting back to the exciting stuff. Here is a list of birds I saw during an leisurly afternoon birding outing from Ferryland to Cape Race on Wednesday May 5th. Note all of these birds are classified as vagrants to Newfoundland.

CHIMNEY SWIFT,CLIFF SWALLOW,PURPLE MARTIN,INDIGO BUNTING,ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK,SCARLET TANAGER,HOODED WARBLER,VEERY,RUFF,CATTLE EGRET...I think there are a few more,but this is enoguh to give you an idea of what the birding is like right now. All of these birds have been carries north by low pressure systems moving up the eastern seaboard and across to Newfoundland from the Great Lakes Region.On May 6th I made the same trip again with my fiancee,Jen,so she could cash in on a few lifers that we missed on a previous trip. We had most of the birds listed above but also witness a pretty extraordinary event, a fallout of Grey-cheeked Thrushes,Hermit Thrush and White-throated Sparrows!! The Hermit Thrush and White-throated Sparrows aren't that unusual,but the Grey-cheeks...really weird,almost a full month early. A birding friend told me that Point Pelee got the first grey-cheeked yesterday and it was deemed early. If that bird was early the Newfoundland birds are..well insanely early. It is likley the birds arrived here on the fast moving southerly winds. Many of the arriving birds appear stressed and this is eveidenced by two emaciated carcasses that I collected (note you need a permit to collect birds carcasses- I have one.

So the Thrush eent was quite exciting,but combine that with the sudden arrival of 9 European Golden Plovers at three locations on the southern Avalon Peninsula and you have a total mind bender..WTF??? I knw that after the last low pressure system passed it sat of the north east coast of the Newfoundland gicing us wrap around NW winds that almost reached southern Greenland. I guess it's possible that there were some Euro Golden Plovers that were already off track and got whipped around to southern Newfoundland.

Notice the low pressure system off NE Newfoundland. This originated in the Great lakes moved to this position in a couple days. It could have carries a bunch of swallows erc with it,pushed them off the eaast coast of NF,then slingshotted them back with the wrap around NW winds that followed the passage of the system. Thjis same winds could have pushed Euro Golden Plover to SE NF.

So getting back to that list of birds I mentioned earlier,below are some photos that I took. Thsee photos are mostly just record shot quality. I never had the luxury of spending the time rewuired with these birds to get great photos,but for the record here are some of the birds I've seen recently.

Purple Martin(female)- Ferryland May 5th

Cliff Swallow Ferryland May 5th

Chimney Swift- Ferryland May 5th

Scarlet Tanager- The Drook, Cape Race May 5th

Indigo Bunting- Renews May 5th

Cattle Egret- Portugal Cove South, May 5th

Ruff- Renews, May 5th

I'm planning a couple of more southern Avalon trips in the next two weeks, before I leave for the Codroy Valley for a month. If you are interested in attending one of these trips you can pre book your spot by contacting me @ After the excitement of the last week I'm sure these trips will book quickly.

PS: excuse the typos that undoubtedly plague this post, I'll edit them out when I get time, just wanted to get this out there.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spring Birding,Newfoundland Style!!

Sorry again that there has been some along time between posts, at least the interval has been reduced! Anyway,things have really gotten exciting on the Newfoundland birding scene over the last week,with a combination of mini fallout of southern vagrants and a mini European invasion, as odd combination that would never happen anywhere else on earth! This odd combination of vagrant birds is what makes Newfoundland such a unique and exciting birding destination. We may not have 300+ breeding species,but when things are"happening" in Newfoundland, there is really no place I would rather be birding.

The events that I speak of above were likely precipitated by a couple of weather events. One a nice low pressure system sitting south of Iceland that generated winds directly to Newfoundland and a series of low pressure systems that quickly moved up the eastern seaboard that generated offshore winds from the Carolinas directly to southern Newfoundland. Below are a series of images showing the surface pressure maps for April 27th-May 3rd.

April 27th

April 28th

April 29th

April 30th

Birds likely started arriving in Newfoundland on Thursday April 29th. On that day there were a few Veeries reported from Cape Race and Trepassey and a Cattle Egret from nearby Portugal Cove South. Over the following days the true breadth of the event would be realized,when reports of southern vagrants poured in from all over the Avalon Peninsula and the entire south coast of the province. it is interesting to note that there have not been similar reports in other parts of Atlantic Canada and the NE US,indicating that the winds that blew offshore from the Carolinas carried birds from there or points south,directly to the shores of Newfoundland. The bird that has been reported the most has been Rose-breasted Grosbeak. This species beeds in the Canadian Martimes,but is still considered a vagrant in Newfoundland. There are a few reports each spring,but nothing like the influx of the last week. So far there have been over the 30+ reports of this species from birders and feeder watchers. One can only guess how many have gone unseen,perhaps hundreds! Other birds included in this even are Indigo Buntings, a few Scarlet Tanagers, A few Baltimore Orioles, Veeries, Swainson's Thrush, Grey Cheeked Thrush( a month early!!),Gray Catbird,Purple Martin,Eastern Phoebe,HOODED WARBLER,PROTHONOTARY WARBLER,Snowy Egret, Great Egret(several) and Cattle Egret. Who knows what else is lurking out there waiting to be discovered.

Well, if the above even was not extraordinary enough, we managed to find a few "decent" European birds to round out the week. The juxtaposition of the European and North American rarities is what makes Newfoundland bird so great and yet so unique. Where else in the world could you see a Garganey, Ruff and Hooded Warbler in the same day? What about Northern Lapwing and Cattle Egret?Yes, in the past Newfoundland had been referred ot as Attu east and it is times like this that the name is so rightly deserved.

I mentioned in the my previous post that Euro Golden Plovers might be on the way,due to a nice weather system that was generating winds from Iceland to Newfounldand. Well, we didn;t quite get an influx of Euro Golden Plovers,but we have gotten two this week, which is more than the rest of North American can say ;)Along with the Plovers,are the aforementioned Northern Lapwing,Garganey, Ruff and throw in a Northern Wheatear and you have yourself a nice little mix of European birds,not bad for a weeks birding in North America's most easterly province.

So what's next? Well spring is just getting started. There is still plenty of time for more European bird and southern US vagrants,not to mention that our own breeding birds will be arriving en masse over the next month. This is an exciting time to be a birder in Newfoundland and not a bad time to visiting birder on our shores either!


The songbird workshop starts this Saturday- still some room left,details in the workshops section of my blog. Also, I will be leaving for the Codroy valley in SW Newfoundland ina few weeks. I hope to be there for a minimum of three weeks. This is the most bird rich area of our province,but can be difficult to bird if you don't know your way around. If your planning on birding in the area, I'm booking day trips ( and more) now. Why waste time stumbling around trying to find the best birding spots when you can have an experienced birder,out you on the great birds? If you into photography,this is even more important. Please contact me at to book your day trip or vacation today. I'm only allowing a small percentage of my time there for guiding so space is limited.

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