Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Day off in Newfoundland.

Unexpected day off to actually bird in Newfoundland.

So after the easy hits (and epic birding day) on Monday.  I found myself with a totally free day on Tuesday and planned to simply, well just go birding.  I'd asked Jared Clarke for some suggestions and he kindly gave me some locations so I got up early, hit a Tim Hortons, and headed out for my favorite sort of day ... no plans, limited cell-phone reception, unfamiliar place ... and birds .....

First stop was Cape Spear, which as cold and birdless, so I soon retreated to the boreal forests around the settlement at Blackhead (I presume this was named after a geographic feature, not a skin problem) and spent a happy couple of hours slowly working thought 'boreal' (black spruce) forest.  I wanted Pine Grosebeaks and Boreal Chickadees and got both relatively easily, along with a supporting coast of Pine Siskins, both Kinglets, Fox and White-throated Sparrows, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  The dawn chorus was also supplemented by 'drumming' Ruffed Grouse and 'winnowing' Wilson's Snipe ... a very happy couple of hours for a 'lowland' birder.

Pine Grosbeak and Boreal Chickadee ... rare treats for a largely coastal birder. 

Then back along scenic coasts to the Goulds area where I'd really hoped to get photos of yesterday's Black-tailed Godwit.  No luck with that, although I spent a fair amount of time looking and did luck-out with great views of a River Otter that swam around in the marsh, came up on to the bank (do otters do anything that doesn't look like they're playing) and was so preposterously photogenic I completely forgot to pick up me camera.  Sometimes you just have to look and not worry about the optics, it was a special moment.

Next was Bidgood Park (on Jared's suggestion) where I planned to kill a few hours in what seemed like a pleasant, but not necessarily birdy, local park.  While I was getting out out the car though, and before I was set up, I heard a crane bugling.  "Nice" I thought, "didn't realize they had Sandhill Cranes here".  The bird called a few more times and I looked up, got brief binocular views and got back to business, getting set up to to birding.  It was only after a few steps that I thought to check the range map .... Sandhill Crane it tuns out was rare and accidental in Newfoundland.  With all these East winds and Eurasian vagrants, did I overlook a Common Crane?  Did I see a black neck?  No ... surely I would have noticed that, right?  Yes, it wasn't that high ... I would have noticed.  So Sandhill it was, but it turns out that even that was a rare bird (Alvan Buckley still needs it for Newfoundland) so a good find nevertheless.

The other rare bird I found at Bidgood Park was a bit of an oddity, but in a similar vein.  At the far end of the marsh I heard and saw an Eastern Phoebe.  Again after the fact I sort of had a vague recollection of the locals talking about a vagrant phoebe somewhere and I took photos just in case this was a different bird (they are very rare here apparently).  As none of the locals have since commented on this bird, I'm guessing it was the one that they'd already found.  Rarity is a function of geography it turns out ....

Eastern Phoebe ... garden bird in New York, rare in Newfoundland ...
Next stop was back to look for the European Golden-Plovers in the hope of getting better photos.  The birds were not on the field when I pulled up but just as I was leaving I saw a flock flying by and was able to get a few more shots (not all that much better) and an accurate count ... 58 (Jared's ~60 was pretty good it turns out).

European Golden-Plovers (two more shots)

After that, and chilled to the bone, I sort of gave up for the day, ran back to St. John's and checked the  ponds for ducks, adding 4 TUFTED DUCKS at Kent's Pond and intending to go back to the hotel.  I thought I was done for the day, but the time in the car had warmed me up and, as it was still early, I though better of it and returned to Goulds for another crack at the godwit.  No godwit, but while I was there I met some local birders who (were jealous of my crane but) gave me directions to another Northern Wheatear.  By this time I was getting really cold and chilled but decided I'd like to end on a high note so headed over to Ruby Line Pond (farm?) to the "shit pile" to try to add one more good bird before I gave in.  Sure enough, when I got there, there was a male Northern Wheatear on top of said pile, and I was happy to end my weekend on a high note with a good bird.

Northern Wheatear on a 'shit pile' ... the local term, not mine ...
In the end I had 70 species for the trip, 3 ABA birds and numerous year-birds.  It was a really great adventure and I'm sure I'll be back.  Keep finding those European vagrants and I'll book a flight.  Great trip ...

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