Monday 13 February 2017

Back on the Road

I'm back on the road across Newfoundland.
With five weeks left to my degree I'm leap-frogging across the island. Currently I'm based out of Grand-Falls (right in the middle of the island), and this coming weekend I'm headed up to St. Anthony where I will be for 4 weeks.

These first 10 days have been characterized by a deep freeze. The day before I hit the road, thermometers dipped to their lowest temperatures so far this winter and remained there. The pack ice has moved South at a record pace and is already rounding the Bonavista peninsula. All this meant that freshwater was frozen solid, and the coves were covered in a sheet of ice except in areas of running water.

In Clarenville this meant that all the diving ducks were in one tight pack close to shore offering a great opportunity to study and photograph them. The highlight was several Common Merganser flying in and landing right where I was sitting!

After a work-week at the Grand Falls hospital, I made my way to Stephenville.
This male Red-breasted Merganser was surprisingly approachable:

In the afternoon I did a workshop with the local birders on identifying the local gulls. One of our highlights was seeing all ages of Glaucous Gull. Here is a first cycle:

Everyone loves a Bald Eagle shot...

The absolute highlight though, was hiking up Big Hill (659 meters) in Gros Morne National Park with Darroch Whitaker on Sunday.

Our target was Rock Ptarmigan. A mysterious species that lives out its life on the summits of Newfoundlands barren mountaintops, and some inland rocky outcrops.

We were fortunate to come across one male. Can you see him:

The weather was excellent for Sundays hike: absolutely no wind, and a fresh dusting of snow made it easy to find any tracks in the snow.

In total we saw 3 moose:

 The male Rock Ptarmigan remained in one spot while we observed it. We felt that it was taking advantage of the calm day to check out his breeding territory - the season for singing is only a month away for him!

Darroch checking out some Fomes fomentarius (or some similar species) - a common mushroom that typically grows on birch in our Northern woods.

On the way back down we came across this female ptarmigan. Identification is inconclusive despite the great looks and photos!

In the field we felt it was a Rock Ptarmigan, but upon review we really are not sure.
If you have any thoughts feel free to comment!

The peak of Big Hill: