Monday, 22 June 2015

Not all about birds!

Ed Hayden and I did a small hike on Sunday in search of Gray-cheeked Thrush - an endangered species in Newfoundland. I had found a colony of this species in the same area last year and was hopeful we could hear them again. Sure enough, at around 7:15 we heard the distinctive thin raspy song nearby. It continued singing for another 15 minutes when we left.

Despite ideal listening conditions, there were significantly fewer along this trail than last year. That may be explained by the later date (1 week), mere chance, that the birds have moved to a new breeding area, or evidence that the population continues to decline. I'll have to monitor the area again over the next years.


There were plenty of beautiful flowers along the trail.

Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) are particularly abundant on the island:

Cornus canadensis - Bunchberry/Crackerberry.
This species has 4 white leaves that function as fake petals:

In fact, the flowers are tiny and consist of single petal that springs open, when touched by an insect, to release pollen!


Kalmia polifolia - Bog Laurel.
A toxin in this plant, Grayanotoxin, lowers blood pressure (among other things) - but only when concentrated, which can happen in the honey of bees that use it for nectar!


This nest was surprisingly close to the main trail. It belongs to a Spotted Sandpiper:




Short-tailed Swallowtail are only found in the Atlantic provinces of Canada (and NE USA). One of their favoured plants is Scots Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum) - which I think is what this one is on. This plant is tolerant of salt water spray - so can be readily found on our coastlines.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Port-aux-Basques - Days 1 - 10

I arrived in this town on the SW corner of the island on Saturday June 6 for a 2-week rural placement as part of my degree at MUN.

Thankfully the weekends have had great weather and I've been able to squeeze in a few hours of birding during the evenings on weekdays.

So far I've seen about 104+ species in this bird rich area, including several new ones for my Newfoundland list.

Olive-sided Flycatcher - a very rare species on the Avalon peninsula, but uncommon in this area:

Gray Catbirds are regularly seen in the Codroy Valley in the Spring:

Tri-colored Bumble Bee - a new one for me in Newfoundland. They're also common around this part of the island:

Blackburnian Warblers breed in the valley in small numbers:

Capelin Cove:

This Boreal Carrion Beetle has a few mites on its back:

Diapensia lapponica.... Pincushion Plant on top of the Table Mountains:

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher:

A breeding plumaged White-rumped Sandpiper - an unusual species for the island in June:

Yellow Birch trees - perhaps the largest stand of this species on the island?

Trientalis borealis - Northern Starflower also on top of the Table Mountains:

American Toad:

The town of Port-aux-Basques - with the local Anglican Church prominently situated:

One of several Piping Plovers in the area - this male was banded just 5 days before I saw him:

The aftermath of what must have been a dramatic event:

A Short-tailed Stoat with a vole - both motionless. Presumably the stoat was intent on killing the vole, but they must have both simultaneously delivered a fatal blow.

Sanderling in breeding colours - a plumage not often seen in Newfoundland:

Monday, 1 June 2015

Part 2 of our Birdathon

The alarm clock went off at 3:45am and the smell of a freshly made omelette filled the house. To help kick start our day, Paul Barrett made us an amazing breakfast and we were ready to bird hard for the remaining 13 hours in our effort to reach 75 species, and raise funds for Bird Studies Canada & Nature NL. Check out our fundraising page here.

During the first half of our birdathon we had tallied 45 species, including several totally unexpected rarities. Would our luck continue for the second half of the birdathon!?

Our view of Second pond when we woke up


We arrived in La Manche park at 4:45am where it was slightly misty and completely still. Any day without wind is great in Newfoundland, and this was sure to make listening for singing birds much easier.

We quickly tallied up the expected breeding birds, including 10 species of warbler. We spent some time listening to Wilson's Warblers as their song can be difficult to distinguish from YR Warblers and other species.
Wilson's Warbler

We also came across an exceptionally tame Common Loon before moving on to our next location:


As we passed through Ferryland on our way South we came across a small flock of 30-40 gulls. All were Herring Gulls except the last one - it was a Lesser Black-backed Gull. Another hard bird to see on this late date!

The next big stop was Renews. We spent a good hour searching the bay and began to expand the search into the town. As we pulled into one of the productive feeders in town we found Anne Hughes & Todd Boland already there. Little did we know that just 2 minutes before, Todd had sent us a text message about a Dickcissel at the feeder. Thankfully it was still around and we got great looks at this surprisingly regular Autumn vagrant to Newfoundland - but a much rarer Spring vagrant!

Our search of the bay didn't turn up any unexpected species, so we continued South to Cape Race, the Southeast corner of the island. Here, with the help of Anne & Todd, we managed to see 4 species of alcid, Northern Gannet, and 4 late Common Eider in the thick fog. By this time we had already reached our goal of 75 species and we still had 6 hours to go!!

As we were driving into Biscay Bay I got a call from Gerard Hickey, one of the local birders. He was calling to let me know that Dave Shepherd had seen photos of a SUMMER TANAGER photographed an hour before in nearby Portugal Cove South. We made a quick turn around and arrived at the spot within 5 minutes of the phone call. Anne & Todd arrived at the same time. With 4 pairs of boots on the ground it was safe to assume that we could re-find the bird in this tiny town of about 50 houses.

After 10 minutes of searching we re-found it at the exact same location where it was originally seen and we all had great looks at what was a lifer for Catherine, and a Newfoundland lifer for me!


After a round of high fives to celebrate this amazing bird we moved on to Biscay Bay with 76 species  on the list! With 4 hours to go we made the decision to update our goal to 90 species - a goal that would require a lot of luck in the remaining hours!

In Biscay Bay we quickly tallied White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, and 7 lingering Iceland Gulls.

One of the expected species that we hadn't yet seen was Northern Harrier so we were happy to get a single male at the last bit of appropriate habitat - it was working the roadside for something to eat: 

In Trepassey we made the mandatory stop at Cliff's Diner. Before going into the house we checked out his feeder where there was a small flock of American Goldfinch. There was one different bird on the far side of the bushes that at first looked like a Pine Siskin. When it turned around I was shocked to see that it had a bright red forehead!!! 

It was a Common Redpoll! Believe it or not, this arctic species is quite rare on the Avalon peninsula. This was only my 3rd sighting of this species on the island, ever! Yet another great bird for our birdathon.

After chatting with Cliff we checked out the Northwest river area where we saw many migrant warblers. Including this male Black-and-white Warbler:

It didn't take Cliff long to have us speeding back to his place - he had seen a Chipping Sparrow at his feeder! There it was at the feeder right where the redpoll had been less than 30 minutes before!
This species shows up about once per year on the Avalon

Cliff Doran - our eyes in the South

With the Chipping Sparrow we were stuck at 89 species and had 1.5 hours before time would run out. The only easy bird for us to see that was within reach were Arctic Terns in Renews. We had missed them in Renews earlier in the day! So we headed for Renews knowing we had a good chance of reaching 90 - a number I would have thought impossible had someone asked before we started our count!

On the way back through Cappahayden Catherine spotted an Evening Grosbeak! We had reached 90 species with an hour to go!

At Renews it didn't take us long to find the local flock of terns. Among them were several Arctic Terns. This photo has a Common Tern at the back, and an Arctic Tern in front. Note that the white cheek is more prominent on the Arctic Tern - I find this feature to be quite helpful in identifying standing terns at a distance. 

With 91 species on our list and 15 minutes left to the count we were feeling ecstatic with our results, so we began the drive back to town. With 5 minutes left we stopped at the Ferryland delta - a small marsh that is a regular stop for birders. When we arrived I could see a few swallows flying around so I decided to step out and get a closer look at them. As soon as I opened the door I heard the unmistakable song of a BOBOLINK! I couldn't believe it!

I quickly sent a message to Anne & Todd who arrived less than a minute later. We spent the next 15 minutes trying to find the bird, and eventually found it at the furthest corner of the delta.

A stunning bird to finish off our whirlwind birdathon!

Time was officially up! With 92 species in 24 hours, we were two very happy birders!

It was time to head home and celebrate!

Big thank you to Anne & Todd who we leap-frogged with throughout Saturday. With all the amazing birds we were finding we were doing a lot of backtracking and rushing ahead to see each others birds. 92 species wouldn't have been possible without them scouting out birds ahead of our arrival!

And, an even bigger thank you to everyone who has donated to our birdathon. We've almost doubled our goal of $750!

Until next year! (only problem is that 92 species will be extremely difficult to beat!)


Check out the full species list here!

And if you missed it, here's part 1