Monday 27 June 2016

Salmonier River Conservation Area

The Nature Conservancy of Canada recently acquired a beautiful tract of land on the Eastern side of the Salmonier river valley. It is probably one of the richest woodland habitats on the Avalon peninsula thanks to the deep valley, relatively sheltered area from the ocean, and lack of forestation!

To help get a solid baseline on the breeding birds of the area the NCC organized a bird survey for this  past weekend. 11 birders split up into 4 groups to cover all 4 plots that make up this NCC site. I don't have the final species list and numbers to share - but I will share some of many highlights from the site.

The river itself is a well-known Atlantic Salmon river popular for fishing:

Juvenile Gray Jays seem to have an ingrained sense of curiosity, often swooping in quietly out of nowhere and watching our every move:

Mourning Warblers are an uncommon breeder on the Avalon, so I was surprised to come across at least 5 on our plot:

Roundleaf Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) were out in good numbers in the appropriate habitat:

Not sure about this one:

Green Frogs - no amphibian is native to the island. Green Frogs have managed to establish themselves throughout the entire island!

Coral Lichen - very cool looking species!

Wasp sp. 

We accidentally flushed a Hermit Thrush from its nest and were excited to see 3 bright blue eggs - one of which was freshly hatched:

My first bolete mushroom of the year - I couldn't figure out which type though:

After finishing up at the valley Ed and I went on to Cape St. Mary's.
This reserve is famous for its easy to view gannet colony.
It's a great spot to observe them up close while they interact at their nests.
It's also an amazing opportunity for photographing them in flight.

This gannet seems to have a dark outer secondary. I can't quite figure out how this would fit into the moult pattern of these birds. It's not the only individual I've photographed with one or few secondaries that are black in seemingly random locations of the wing.

We had a great opportunity to watch this juvenile Horned Lark as it enjoyed its first days of independence:

A beetle I couldn't figure out the ID of - seemed to be fairly distinctive:

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Recent Rash of Rarities

It is thanks to the eBird hotspot pages that I started visiting Quidi Vidi more regularly this Spring. I was keen to bump up the year list for what is one of the best known hotspots on the island - so have been seeking spring migrants passing by the lake. Consistent with previous years, there seems to be a surprising lack of diversity in warblers around the lake. But it has made up for that with a great list of rarities!

The first bird that started the domino-effect were 2 Purple Martins flying around the Southeast area of the lake. My first self-found PUMAs, and a great addition for my QV list :)

While trying to relocate the martins a few days later I was shocked to hear and briefly see an Eastern Phoebe. This species often goes unrecorded on the Newfoundland year list. It was also another first self-found for me on the island!

Then the real business started! After watching my brother take part in a road race I walked home along the Southside of the lake mostly in hopes of re-finding the phoebe as most people didn't get a chance to see it.

There were a number of swallows flying over the lake. A Cliff Swallow was reported from here the week before so I searched for it. It didn't take long to find a pale-rumped swallow - oddly it didn't have the blazing white forehead despite relatively close looks. I decided to take a few photos and noticed that the photos clearly showed a pale throat....
I quickly pulled up the Sibley app and everything seemed consistent with Cave Swallow... except of course the time of year and location! I wasn't even excited at this point, mostly because I recently learned to be more cautious after embarrassingly identifying an Am. Coot as the eurasian variety :S

I went home and sent the photos around to a few people and headed back to the lake to try and document the bird a little better.

Five hours later the bird was thankfully still flying around the lake allowing Bruce to seal some excellent photos of the bird in flight:

A second record for the island and possibly the first of the Caribbean sub-species which may or may not be a future split.

The patagonia picnic table effect didn't stop there!
A few days later while trying to help some locals get on the swallow a plover flew in and landed on a small field next to the lake. It was a European Golden-Plover!

The bird moved to the other side of the road offering amazing looks from the car: 

Looking forward to the next find at the lake!

Sunday 12 June 2016

Weekend Warrior - June 11-12

A photo dump of some of the birds and scenery I saw over the weekend:

Arctic Terns are back at their breeding site in St. Vincent's. This is probably the best site I know of for studying the differences between Common & Arctic Tern on the ground and in flight. Someone needs to write a book on this difficult group of birds!

A mixed flock of White-winged & Surf Scoters mostly consisted of 1st summer males:

One of very few 1st summer Gannets I've seen. This age group could easily have something think they have an immature Booby! Brown Booby doesn't show the white-rump as in this bird. But beware of Red-footed Booby! ;)

An adult female Red Phalarope near Portugal Cove South was a treat! We rarely see this plumage, let alone up close looks. This bird was injured explaining why it was walking around in a small marsh.

A Little Blue Heron was an obvious highlight from a days birding yesterday. Lancy first spotted this bird just before it flew away and landed by a small pool of water in someones yard where we had excellent looks at it while it fed on tadpoles!

This was a lifer for me! The dark blue and purple sheen to the neck & head were stunning!

This morning I woke up unusually early so decided to check out Cape Spear for sunrise.
It ended up being one of the most exciting mornings I've experienced out there.

There was a lot of Rose root growing in the cracks of the rocky coastline.

A huge gannet feeding frenzy was just offshore during the early morning sunshine:

There are currently 3 large icebergs very close to shore in this area. They made for great photograph subjects in the early morning light:

A stunning sight along the Cape Spear road:

I've always wanted to get a nice photo of a gannet gliding against an iceberg backdrop. Not quite up to the quality I want, but it'll do for now:

Mourning Warblers - always an exciting bird to come across. It is an uncommon but widespread breeding on the island. This was my 5th one this month - the most I've seen during Spring singing season on the Avalon.

Monday 6 June 2016

Tropical Storm Colin

The official Atlantic Hurricane Season started 6 days ago, but that doesn't mean these things obey the rules! The first storm of the season was in January (the first such storm in January since 1978) and then the second one formed in late May. Yesterday, a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico intensified into an official tropical storm: Colin. This is the 3rd named storm of the calendar year marking the earliest formation on record of the third named storm within the Atlantic Basin [Wiki].

Current forecasts put the eye of the storm just Southeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland at midnight on Wednesday night - 48 hours from now!

Although this storm won't develop into a full blown Hurricane, it is following a very interesting trajectory - crossing over Northern Florida and returning to the sea near North Carolina before heading in our direction. Over the next 24-48 hours we will have a better idea of the exact trajectory, but right now the eye is forecasted to just graze the Southeastern tip of the Avalon. From my experience, updated forecasts seem to place the storm further to the East, maybe this time it will shift the other way ;)

Current forecast:

Variation on predicted trajectory:

Forecasted wind map for midnight on Wednesday night:

The dream:

The reality? 

Saturday 4 June 2016

The Twillicks 2016 Birdathon - Species List

Between 17:30 on Friday May 27th, and 17:30 on Saturday May 28th, Catherine Barrett and I observed (includes seen & heard only) 95 species of bird on the Avalon peninsula.

Check out a summary of our day:
Part I
Part II

Last year, we beat the previous record with 92 species in a 24 hour period. This year we outmatched ourselves with 3 extra species, despite having comparably fewer rarities, and much worse weather conditions. I never thought it would be possible, but 100 species in 24 hours on the Avalon in late May is definitely a possibility and I am already scheming how we can pull it off next year!

So far we've raised ~$1500 with some pledges yet to be collected!
EDIT: $1787 as of 24 Aug, 2016

Species list in taxonomic order with first location observed in the right-side column.
Bolded species are notable, and will include a link to bring you to the corresponding eBird list and extra details.

Canada GooseGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
American WigeonSt. John's--Quidi Vidi Lake
American Black DuckGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
MallardGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Northern ShovelerSt. John's--Lundrigan's Marsh
Northern PintailGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Green-winged TealSt. John's--Lundrigan's Marsh
Ring-necked DuckNL--Hwy 10--Grassy Ponds
Greater ScaupSt. John's--Kenny's Pond
King EiderNL--St. Shott's
Common EiderNL--St. Shott's
Surf ScoterNL--Cape Race
White-winged ScoterNL--Cape Race
Black ScoterNL--St. Shott's
Long-tailed DuckNL--Long Beach
Ruffed GrouseNL--La Manche PP
Willow PtarmiganNL--Cape Race
Common LoonNL--La Manche PP
Northern FulmarNL--St. Michael's
Northern GannetNL--Bear Cove
Double-crested CormorantNL--Cape Broyle
Great CormorantNL--Bear Cove
American BitternSt. John's--Lundrigan's Marsh
OspreyGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Northern HarrierNL--Highway btw PCS and Chance Cove PP
Bald EagleNL--Renews--beach & bay
SoraSt. John's--Lundrigan's Marsh
American CootSt. John's--Lundrigan's Marsh
Black-bellied PloverNL--Renews--beach & bay
European Golden-PloverNL--Biscay Bay
Spotted SandpiperNL--La Manche PP
Greater YellowlegsNL--Cape Broyle
WilletNL--Renews--beach & bay
Wilson's SnipeGoulds--Murphy's Pond area
DovekieNL--St. Shott's
Common MurreNL--Cape Race
RazorbillNL--Cape Pine
Black GuillemotNL--Ferryland
Atlantic PuffinNL--St. Michael's
Black-legged KittiwakeNL--St. Michael's
Ring-billed GullNL--Cape Broyle
Herring GullSt. John's--Lundrigan's Marsh
Iceland GullNL--Portugal Cove South
Great Black-backed GullSt. John's--Lundrigan's Marsh
Common TernGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Arctic TernNL--Aquaforte
Rock PigeonGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Mourning DoveGoulds--Second Pond & Donovans Rd. area
Great Horned OwlNL--Hwy 10--Grassy Ponds
Short-eared OwlNL--Cape Race
Belted KingfisherNL--La Manche PP
Downy woodpeckerNL--La Manche PP
Hairy WoodpeckerNL--La Manche PP
Black-backed WoodpeckerNL--La Manche PP--btw campground & cabin road
Northern FlickerGoulds--Murphy's Pond area
American KestrelNL--St. Shott's
MerlinNL--Cape Broyle
Gray JayGoulds--Murphy's Pond area
Blue JayGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
American CrowGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Common RavenSt. John's--Lundrigan's Marsh
Horned LarkNL--Cape Race Rd.--btw the Drook & Long Beach
Tree SwallowGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Bank SwallowGoulds--Dairy farm
Black-capped ChickadeeNL--Hwy 10--Grassy Ponds
Boreal ChickadeeNL--Hwy 10--Grassy Ponds
Red-breasted NuthatchNL--La Manche PP--btw campground & cabin road
Brown CreeperNL--La Manche PP
Golden-crowned KingletNL--Hwy 10--Grassy Ponds
Ruby-crowned KingletGoulds--Murphy's Pond area
Hermit ThrushGoulds--Murphy's Pond area
American RobinGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
European StarlingGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
American PipitNL--St. Shott's
Northern WaterthrushGoulds--Murphy's Pond area
Black-and-white WarblerGoulds--Murphy's Pond area
American RedstartNL--La Manche PP
Yellow WarblerGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Blackpoll WarblerGoulds--Murphy's Pond area
Yellow-rumped WarblerGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Black-throated Green WarblerNL--La Manche PP
Wilson's WarblerGoulds--Murphy's Pond area
Fox SparrowGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Dark-eyed JuncoGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
White-throated SparrowGoulds--Murphy's Pond area
Savannah SparrowGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Song SparrowGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Swamp SparrowGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Common GrackleNL--Renews (townsite)
Purple FinchGoulds--Murphy's Pond area
Red CrossbillNL--Renews (townsite)
White-winged CrossbillGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
Pine SiskinNL--La Manche PP
American GoldfinchGoulds--Third Pond ("Horsetrack pond")
House SparrowNL--Portugal Cove South

Thursday 2 June 2016

The Twillicks 2016 Birdathon - Part II

Check out Part I of our birdathon here.

The alarm clock was set for the unearthly hour of 3:30am but we were welcomed out of bed by the smell of a fresh omelette waiting to give us a solid start to the day. Thanks to Paul Barrett for making such a great breakfast yet again!! This was the kickstart we needed to get us birding hard for the next 13 hours in hopes of seeing over 75 species and raising funds for Bird Studies Canada & Nature NL. Check out our fundraising page here.

During the first half of our birdathon we tallied 47 species. So we needed only 30 more species to reach our goal, or 45 species to tie the record!

As we were getting our gear into the car we were shocked to hear a Mourning Dove singing at 4am (about 1.5 hours before official sunrise!!)

We usually start the second part of our count at La Manche, but this year with the 0 degrees temps we felt confident missing the crack of dawn at the park in order to check the nearby Witless Bay Ecological Reserve for a known Northern Fulmar breeding site. Sure enough we could just pick out a few sitting in their spots waiting for the sun to rise.

Back in the park we made a brief stop to listen for Great Horned Owl at a location I heard them over a month ago. Amazingly one was singing as soon as we got out of the car! Two big ticks and the sun hadn't even risen!!

We then descended into the La Manche Prov. Park valley. This is a great spot for dawn chorus and we were expecting to tally a good number of day birds here.

The two highlights included a probable nest site for Am. Bittern & Black-backed Woodpeckers:

The Black-backed Woodpeckers were especially nice as it was a species we missed last year, and the 4th species of woodpecker for our count :)

Onwards to Renews - one of the best rarity hotspots of the province. It didn't disappoint with a rare spring migrant Black-bellied Plover:

Also at Renews we managed to locate "the" Willet, 2 Common Grackles, a small flock of Red Crossbills and several other new species for the count:

By 11:30 we were approaching Cape Race where lighthouse keeper - turned-birder - was waiting with a plate full of warm hotdogs, and freshly baked chocolate cake. We sunk into his couch for at least an hour but managed to scope out a couple Surf Scoter from his living room!

After getting all the hot tips on the local birds we set out to find them ourselves.
Amazingly we found the Short-eared Owl he had seen on 2 or 3 occasions - only my second sighting of this species for the province!!

Just as we were leaving he mentioned a possible nest site for Willow Ptarmigan - sure enough we saw one exactly where he said it would be!! Thanks Cliff!

Another species thanks to Cliff's local knowledge of the cape - Horned Lark:

By the time we were leaving the cape we were at 86 species! Realizing that we only needed 6 more species to tie the record we decided to give it our best shot and gun it for St. Shott's where there had been some recent Common Eider and Snowy Owls.

A brief stop in Biscay Bay revealed 300+ Long-tailed Ducks - every spring/early summer there seems to be huge numbers of these ducks in this bay. Who knows why? It must be a social event in preparation for breeding further North!

We decided to try Northwest Trepassey for possible migrants. We hoped that the cold weather and rain would force and migrants to stay low to the ground and respond well to pishing. That they did but we didn't manage to find any of local breeders missing from our list.

Feeling a bit deflated and realizing we had another 5 species to find in the next 2-3 hours without many leads made me give up hope a bit. Not to mention the incessant rain we were trudging through!

Nevertheless, we continued on to St. Shott's. While passing through the town we were excited to find an American Kestrel chasing a Northern Harrier. At the lighthouse we immediately found hundreds of eiders. Being lazy, I decided to let Catherine check "Ken's kabbages" (a very dangerous decision because it's only too easy to find a rare migrant there that easily flushes never to be seen again...).
While scanning through the eiders I was shocked to find an adult female King Eider swimming next to a female Black Scoter. Two species we still needed and tying the record for 92 species seen in 24 hours on the Avalon!!!

Catherine soon returned and while trying to get her on both of those rare late May birds we spotted a tiny alcid swimming on the far side of the eider flock. Our attention turned to this bird for the next 15 minutes. Not only was it the record breaking species, but we thought it might be an auklet/murrelet. After some study we agreed that it was a non-breeding plumaged Dovekie - another rarity for the time of year (and my first since February of this year!)

the dark underwings were the clincher for me. Among Atlantic alcids, this is a unique feature to Dovekies & Atlantic Puffins.

Feeling excited about our find we rushed over to Cape Pine to tick Razorbill on our day list. There is a small breeding colony at this location:

Satisfied with our 24-hour count of 94 species we turned back towards St. John's, clothes drenched to the skin, and very little time left:

While passing through Biscay Bay, and literally 2 minutes left before the 24-hour clock buzzed we spotted a single shorebird along the road. As luck would have it, we turned around and to our shock it was a European Golden-Plover!! The days best bird and our 95th species for the count!

An amazing day and I'm already excited for next years birdathon!
Check out our fundraising page if you haven't already!

Thanks everyone for your support :)
In total we've raised ~$1500 so far!