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.