Sunday 22 September 2013

Cake Race - Saturday, Sept 21

Yesterday was the annual BMI - a one day event where birders scour the Avalon peninsula for rare birds. 6 teams of 13 people searched the Southern shore, with 1 other team around the St. John's area.

I was with Paul Barrett & Lancy Cheng. Last time I birded with them was on the St. John's CBC on December 26, last year. That day we saw a Nashville Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Yellow-breasted Chat, Northern Mockingbird, and a Hermit Thrush! Our luck as a group continued yesterday: we managed to find 70 species of birds, including 11 lifers among the 3 of us (4 for Lancy, 6 for Paul, and 1 for me)! Amazingly, we also saw 3 year birds for me (within a 30 minute period) bringing me to my goal of 350 for the year in Canada :)

The day started early at 4:30am, even though we were less than a 20 minute drive from our starting point in Biscay Bay. From 5 - 6am we listened for owls and along the road hoping to at least hear 1 species of owl. At our last stop we were excited to hear the first bird of the day, a Great Horned Owl! This was my first taste of owling on the island. The conditions were perfect: no wind, no clouds, and near full moon. Hopefully I'll have time to do some more owling in other areas of the province over the next 6 months.

Upon arriving at Biscay Bay it was still dark, but things brightened quickly. We didn't find much of interest here, so we continued to Trepassey where there seemed to be flocks of birds at every bend in the road. We made it to the Northwest area of the town by 8:15 and soon found a Blackburnian Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak - both are regular vagrants to this part of the island.

By 10am we arrived at St. Shott's for high tide, I was hoping that the tide would drive birds away from the beaches and to the sod farm. Getting to the sod farm wasn't straightforward. The bridge was under construction making it impassible, but thanks to 4 wheel drive technology and our bold driver we didn't need the bridge:

At the sod farm we scored 2 somewhat expected Buff-breasted Sandpipers, 12 American Golden Plovers, 2 Pectoral Sandpipers, and 3 Wilson's Snipe. Far fewer shorebirds than I expected to see here. When we returned to the St. Shott's community we checked out the beach where there were several shorebirds, including 1 juv. Baird's Sandpiper, and several juv. White-rumped Sandpipers.

2 Buff-breasted Sandpipers - Lancy's 200th ever species! And one of my favourite species :)

It was now time to head for the Cape Race road. Not surprisingly, 4 of the other 5 teams were already there or arrived at the same time as us. This 20+km gravel road is known for turning up rarities at many spots along the way. At the end of the road is the lighthouse, and, currently, Cliff Doran (the lighthouse keeper) is living there. He happens to have an interest in birds and often photographs crazy birds in the area. Just this week he had a beautiful adult male Blue Grosbeak and 2 Lark Sparrows at his 'feeders'!! To make things better, he likes to bake cakes... I've visited his place 4 times since August 31st and have enjoyed cake every time. Recently, I've noticed that some birders seem to head for Cape Race more for the cake than the birds! In fact, yesterday it seemed like a Cape Race Cake Race to get to the cake before everyone else ate it all! There were rumours that some birders spent over an hour eating at his place rather than birding... not us though!

Our plan was to head straight for the cake, but the good birds kept slowing us down. In Portugal Cove South we found a Brown-headed Cowbird at a feeder with House Sparrows (NL is probably the only province/state in North America where cowbirds are rare!)

The cowbird was well disguised in this flock of House Sparrows (it's the 2nd bird from the right):

A short stop in the Drook revealed a Dickcissel that had no tail:

Finally, our best bird of the day appeared about 1km before reaching the cake. The bird was standing in the middle of the road staring at our approach, amazingly none of us saw it until the last second when I shouted "STOP, that's a Northern Wheatear!" The bird flew up from under our hood and landed on the side of the road allowing us to get a few pictures:

After the wheatear we enjoyed our cake with up close views of the Blue Grosbeak and 2 Lark Sparrows (the sparrow was an overdue lifer for me!)

At Long Beach we saw yet another Lark Sparrow (already found that morning by others) - amazing that I can get a lifer at this stage and then see 2 more of the same species within 30 minutes!

Later in the day we found another Rose-breasted Grosbeak in Cappahayden, and our 70th species of the day at Renews: 3 Black-bellied Plovers.

Wednesday 11 September 2013


Kendall is a Hudsonian Godwit that I helped trap and put a satellite transmitter on in June of this year in the Mackenzie Delta, of the Northwest Territories.

He just finished a non-stop, 6-day flight from James Bay to Venezuela!! Non-stop.... 6300 km


Here is Kendall's mate (aka XY):

Monday 9 September 2013

An eye on Humberto & Weekend update

Getting super impatient for a hurricane! We need some strong winds to drive birds towards us from the US coast, or pelagics from the Grand Banks...

There's a tropical storm, Humberto, wandering around far to the South and East of us and may make its way here sometime next week:


Weekend birding was pretty good! Went down the shore both days - with high hopes of high concentrations of vagrants.
Saturday didn't quite reach expectations, but a Bobolink, 5 (!!) Tennessee Warblers, at least 4 Red-eyed Vireos, 1 Mourning Warbler, and some somewhat late Tree Swallows were all nice to see. Very different from Ontario!

I returned to the same area on Sunday. It was raining in the morning, so our motivation to step out the door was fairly low. Once we arrived in Trepassey, we split off into groups. Birds were active and everywhere in the deciduous trees. It wasn't long before we were seeing species that I didn't come across the previous day: Wilson's Warbler, Northern Waterthrush... Hermit Thrush.
Then the major surprise of the day was found,. Anne Hughes rushed over to Lancy and I to say that she saw a Prothonotary Warbler. We rushed back and a tense 5 minutes later I re-found it feeding from the tree tops. There's no mistaking the stunning head and underside colouration. We all got great looks at the bird before it disappeared into the alders.

This was about the 14th record for the island. The latest record was on July 31 of this year on a ship 300km offshore. The last one seen by birders was in 2009...

Later in the arvo, at Long Beach, just as we were leaving 2 shorebirds flew right past me. One of them looked odd so I followed it back to the beach and quickly noticed the long wings, long bill, and more attenuated look of a juvenile peep. A Baird's Sandpiper!

Anyway, with the other vagrants being seen on the Avalon it's obvious that there's many great birds to be found. Just got to get out!

PROW from Pelee:

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Weather Lookout for NL

Following in the footsteps of BH, here's my predictions & speculation for bird movement in the near future (a few days) geared towards Newfoundland, and also applicable to the maritimes!

Best way to learn how to predict bird movements is to make predictions, learn from the inevitable mistakes, and refine them - if possible! So this is very much a work in progress...

First, I like to check the weather for locations in Eastern Newfoundland. The winds are forecasted to be consistently from the South. The Marine forecast is similar, but has more of a Southwest component to it - meaning that the winds will be coming more directly from Nova Scotia and the Northeastern US.

The question then is, how far reaching are those winds. That's when the surface maps come in handy:

Both surface maps clearly show a lot of wind headed straight for Newfoundland from further South. However, the wind isn't all coming from the desired areas - it seems that the winds from the NE US, and offshore locations are converging towards the island - which isn't optimal.

This animation pretty well sums it up & shows a different & exciting dimension. There's a huge cold front headed SE down through Ontario & Quebec. This front will certainly see birds moving South towards the Northeastern US in big numbers. These birds (and birds already on the coast) have a natural tendency to fly off the coast with the intention of flying offshore and straight to Central & South America. However, my speculation/hope is that some of these birds will be caught up in the air that is moving towards NL & Nova Scotia.

Anyway, this is a mere prediction with no credible background on my part. We'll just have to wait to see what's reported from NS & NL over the next few days. Unfortunately, I'll be busy until the weekend - which will be a regular excuse/complaint of mine for the next 4 years!

Species to watch out for, that are unusual for the Atlantic provinces, are: Canada Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blue-winged & Golden-winged Warblers, Hooded Warbler, Red-eyed, Philadelphia, & Yellow-throated Vireos, Scarlet Tanager, Cliff Swallows, Cuckoos, Baird's Sandpiper... and hopefully more!
(in no particular order, btw...)

Monday 2 September 2013

Back Home

I've been back in Newfoundland for 2 weeks now, and will remain here for another 4 years, at least! I'm starting a new degree at MUN, which I'm pretty excited for (classes start tomorrow!) Unfortunately, it may mean that I won't have much time for birding... We'll see

Over the last 2 weeks I have done a bit of birding, highlights so far have been: 3 Leach's Storm-Petrels, 12 Red Phalaropes, a Cliff Swallow... and the mere presence of the ocean.

Black-legged Kittiwake

Awesome scenery:

I've also been paying a bit of attention to the dragonflies & damselflies around town. So far, I'm up to 9 species... I'll write more about those another time!