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!