Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Road that Travels North

I arrived in St. Anthony yesterday - more or less the Northern tip of Newfoundland.
From a birding perspective, this is where Ivory Gulls and Gyrfalcons are found - but the reality is that they're generally scarce.
My first day of searching the area was a bust. But I have 4 more weeks to go, and a couple tricks up my sleeve.

In the meantime, here are some shots from the road trip North of some classic Northern birds.


Iceland "Kumlien's" Gull:


Pine Grosbeak:


female Barrow's Goldeneye:

The Arches:

Another Willow Ptarmigan:


Frigid...

Reindeer:

Snow Bunting:


Labrador in the background!

Belle Isle:

3 King Eiders... can you find them?

And the highlight of the day....

This ghost of a guillemot easily caught my attention when it swam towards me while I was busy photographing the eiders. I've read about the arctic sub-species and knew that we should be seeing them in Newfoundland - but who bothers looking at their guillemots when they're so abundant!


A quick review of the literature I can find online and this individual is looking good for the arctic sub-species of Black Guillemot: mandtii

More to come on this fellow in the next days...


Female King Eider:

Female Common Eider:

First winter male Common Eider:

fairly certain these eiders are of the borealis sub-species. I don't have much practice with sub-species ID of the immatures.

1st winter male King Eider (with female Common Eider)

A remarkable number of Bald Eagles were cruising the sea ice:


Newfoundland Moai:

Lots of wandering across new territory today


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: 


Thursday, 9 February 2017

Compilation of Hurricanes in Newfoundland

Hurricanes are well known for bringing exciting birding opportunities along their paths, and Newfoundland, not surprisingly, has a history of great birds being carried here by hurricanes.

Here's a quick run down of the important (and lesser important) hurricanes that have brought good birds to our island, or had promising tracks with mixed results - starting with the best of them all: Hurricane Helene in 1958!

I've included a map of the track of the hurricane, which also provides details of the strength of the storm throughout its life, and a list of the birds it brought with it. Hopefully in the future this compilation will be handy in terms of predicting what birds might arrive with an approaching storm or something to drool over on a rainy day at home.


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-----------------------------------------Hurricane Helene - 1958-------------------------------------
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Could it have been any better? This was probably the most exciting hurricane to have hit Newfoundland in living memory (not mine).

Developed in the Cape Verde Islands region, came within 10 miles of Cape Fear (North Carolina) on Sept 27, before racing Northwards and hitting Burgeo (Newfoundland) on Sept 29th.

The Birds:
1000+ Laughing Gulls in Burgeo: remarkably, these were the first records for the island!
22+ Black Skimmers: also the first records for the island... and still the ONLY records!

One can only imagine what else would have been found in todays age where anyone can get great photos of these birds, and dedicated birders would tirelessly seek out the last waif.

Laughing Gulls in lee of houses at Burgeo, Newfoundland on September 30, after Hurricane Helene had passed.



The Story (it's painful to read this):
Photos and details taken from here:
Tuck, Leslie. Laughing Gulls and Black Skimmers brought to Newfoundland by Hurricane. Bird Banding, 1968. Volume 39, Issue 3.

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----------------------------------------Hurricane Wilma - 2005--------------------------------------
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Hurricane Wilma was the second strongest hurricane ever in the Atlantic ocean. With peak sustained winds of 295 km/h! It crossed the Yucatan peninsula on the 21st of October, it crossed Florida a couple days later, and passed to the Southeast of Newfoundland around Oct 27th.

The Birds:
Gull-billed Tern (only the second record for Newfoundland)
20+ Laughing Gulls
2 Franklin's Gulls
Arctic Tern
Sandwich Tern
150+ Chimney Swifts
Tree, Bank, & Barn Swallows

See herehere, and here.

Nearby St. Pierre & Miquelon outclassed us with a Magnificent Frigatebird!

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Those two were easily the stand-out events in Newfoundlands birding history of hurricanes.
Below are several others that have brought far less vagrants, or resulted in high numbers of "local" seabirds.

The remaining are listed in reverse chronological order.

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----------------------------------------------------2014---------------------------------------------------
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Hurricane Cristobal:

No waifs came from this storm in late August, but there were good "wrap around" winds that resulted in strong Northerly winds concentrating local seabirds in CBS.
See here and here




Hurricane Gonzalo:
This storm in mid-October brought with it a bit of excitement, but it turned out to be a bust. The eye of the storm passed ~100km East of Cape Race and ended up bringing a Bridled Tern to Britain.... not fair!
See here and here for great shots of angry seas, but no rarities

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----------------------------------------------------2012---------------------------------------------------
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Hurricane Leslie:
This storm in early September brought nothing foreign with it. It did however push local seabirds inland, including 2 Great Skuas!

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----------------------------------------------------2011---------------------------------------------------
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Hurricane Katia:
A miss!


Hurricane Maria:
A few rare warblers in the days that followed this storm included a Cerulean Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, and YB Chat - I would hardly attribute these to Hurricane Maria.


Hurricane Ophelia:
Limited results from this storm. See here for a good movement of seabirds.

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----------------------------------------------------2010---------------------------------------------------
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Hurricane Igor:
This hurricane that hit Cape Race on Sept 21st, was the worst hurricane in Newfoundlands history in terms of property damage. Birders really only combed the Southern shore 2 days later (fair enough considering the need for safety) without finding anything .

Dave Brown put in a days effort, see his summary here.

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----------------------------------------------------2009---------------------------------------------------
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Hurricane Bill:

A LEAST TERN was found in Grand Bank (Burin Peninsula) - the fourth record for Newfoundland. Hard to say if its occurrence was truly related to the storm - however of the 4 documented records, 2 are from storms with this kind of track (a track remaining far offshore for the duration of its life).

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----------------------------------------------------2007---------------------------------------------------
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Tropical Storm Chantal:

This one was associated with a good movement of regular seabird species. See here.


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----------------------------------------------------2006---------------------------------------------------
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Tropical Storm Alberto
Hello?

Hurricane Florence: 
A LEAST TERN (3rd record for the province) was found at St. Shott's.

Hurricane Isaac: 
Nice try!


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----------------------------------------------------2005---------------------------------------------------
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Hurricane Wilma:
See above!

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----------------------------------------------------2002---------------------------------------------------
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Hurricane Gustav:
Don't think any birders checked out the SW area of the province after this one...

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----------------------------------------------------2001---------------------------------------------------
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Hurricane Erin:

Hurricane Gabrielle:


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----------------------------------------------------2000---------------------------------------------------
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Tropical Storm Leslie:

1999:
Hurricane Gert:
See here for a solid list of local seabirds!


1998
Hurricane Bonnie:
An almost legendary track!

1995 - Hurricane Luis:


1966 - Hurricane Celia:

1964- Hurricane Gladys:


1958 - Hurricane Helene
See above!

1955 - Hurricane Lone:
Wow! Time machine anyone?



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There you have it!
A crude review of many of the notable tropical storms that have reached Newfoundland.
Here's hoping for more great storm chases in the future!