Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Northern Pen Giveth

One week into my 4-week visit to St. Anthony.

Life here revolves around the slob ice:

48 hours ago the slob ice was looming on the horizon and showed no threat of invasion. By this afternoon it had infiltrated the entire coast - the only patch of open water I could find was at Fishing Point, right in St. Anthony.

I arrived at the point in the mid-afternoon and was shocked to see two mega flocks of eiders totalling at least 13000 individuals!

Photos will never do justice to the number of ducks out there today - this photo alone surely includes over 5000 eiders! It was a very dramatic scene as the pack ice was slowly encroaching into this last open area and the eiders were frantically flying from one side to the other not knowing what to do or where to go next.

Eventually they flew out over the ice and ventured further South. The next 3+ days are calling for very windy conditions, including offshore winds which should open up the water again. It will be interesting to see if these eiders return.

The Strait of Belle Isle is totally locked in:
Bring on the polar bears!

The highlight so far has been this Gyrfalcon which was hunting Glaucous Gulls in St. Anthony harbour during the week:

A view of the harbour: 

Pretty spectacular views of the night sky here:

The next main highlight was this male American Three-toed Woodpecker:

A long-awaited lifer!

Slob Gulls are the only gull species in the area:

Weird cloud/shadow formation this afternoon:

Posse of Guillemots:
...still planning to do a write up on last weeks guillemot observation.

Snow Bunting in habitat: 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Road that Travels North

I arrived in St. Anthony yesterday - more or less the Northern tip of Newfoundland.
From a birding perspective, this is where Ivory Gulls and Gyrfalcons are found - but the reality is that they're generally scarce.
My first day of searching the area was a bust. But I have 4 more weeks to go, and a couple tricks up my sleeve.

In the meantime, here are some shots from the road trip North of some classic Northern birds.

Iceland "Kumlien's" Gull:

Pine Grosbeak:

female Barrow's Goldeneye:

The Arches:

Another Willow Ptarmigan:



Snow Bunting:

Labrador in the background!

Belle Isle:

3 King Eiders... can you find them?

And the highlight of the day....

This ghost of a guillemot easily caught my attention when it swam towards me while I was busy photographing the eiders. I've read about the arctic sub-species and knew that we should be seeing them in Newfoundland - but who bothers looking at their guillemots when they're so abundant!

A quick review of the literature I can find online and this individual is looking good for the arctic sub-species of Black Guillemot: mandtii

More to come on this fellow in the next days...

Female King Eider:

Female Common Eider:

First winter male Common Eider:

fairly certain these eiders are of the borealis sub-species. I don't have much practice with sub-species ID of the immatures.

1st winter male King Eider (with female Common Eider)

A remarkable number of Bald Eagles were cruising the sea ice:

Newfoundland Moai:

Lots of wandering across new territory today

Monday, 13 February 2017

Back on the Road

I'm back on the road across Newfoundland.
With five weeks left to my degree I'm leap-frogging across the island. Currently I'm based out of Grand-Falls (right in the middle of the island), and this coming weekend I'm headed up to St. Anthony where I will be for 4 weeks.

These first 10 days have been characterized by a deep freeze. The day before I hit the road, thermometers dipped to their lowest temperatures so far this winter and remained there. The pack ice has moved South at a record pace and is already rounding the Bonavista peninsula. All this meant that freshwater was frozen solid, and the coves were covered in a sheet of ice except in areas of running water.

In Clarenville this meant that all the diving ducks were in one tight pack close to shore offering a great opportunity to study and photograph them. The highlight was several Common Merganser flying in and landing right where I was sitting!

After a work-week at the Grand Falls hospital, I made my way to Stephenville.
This male Red-breasted Merganser was surprisingly approachable:

In the afternoon I did a workshop with the local birders on identifying the local gulls. One of our highlights was seeing all ages of Glaucous Gull. Here is a first cycle:

Everyone loves a Bald Eagle shot...

The absolute highlight though, was hiking up Big Hill (659 meters) in Gros Morne National Park with Darroch Whitaker on Sunday.

Our target was Rock Ptarmigan. A mysterious species that lives out its life on the summits of Newfoundlands barren mountaintops, and some inland rocky outcrops.

We were fortunate to come across one male. Can you see him:

The weather was excellent for Sundays hike: absolutely no wind, and a fresh dusting of snow made it easy to find any tracks in the snow.

In total we saw 3 moose:

 The male Rock Ptarmigan remained in one spot while we observed it. We felt that it was taking advantage of the calm day to check out his breeding territory - the season for singing is only a month away for him!

Darroch checking out some Fomes fomentarius (or some similar species) - a common mushroom that typically grows on birch in our Northern woods.

On the way back down we came across this female ptarmigan. Identification is inconclusive despite the great looks and photos!

In the field we felt it was a Rock Ptarmigan, but upon review we really are not sure.
If you have any thoughts feel free to comment!

The peak of Big Hill: