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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