Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Gullsville, Canada


After a very successful few days in Nova Scotia we set off at an indecently early hour on Monday January 9th for St. John’s, Newfoundland and the second half of this first trip of the year to Atlantic Canada. Our early start allowed us to be on site at our first stop (Long Pond) by late morning and we were rewarded almost immediately with fine views of a male Tufted Duck!

Tufted Duck (m+f)
 We had five key target birds in mind for our time in Newfoundland; the above mentioned Tufted Duck, a Dovekie, and three particular gull species (Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull and Slaty-backed Gull). We knew the challenge would be to pick these out from amongst a few tens of thousands of other gulls that seem to love St. John’s in winter! We were delighted when later that first afternoon we spotted two Lesser Black-backed Gulls!
Lesser Black-backed Gull
We wrapped up that first day with a drive up to Signal Hill, the prominent landmark for which St John’s is well known. The view from the top is magnificent!

View of St. John's harbour from Signal Hill

Signal Hill was an important part of St. John’s defenses in days of old when the French and British navies did battle in these parts. Lots of canons on display.

The punishment for missing a bird can be harsh in this group!

Our early birding success that first day was entirely the result of good advice we received in advance from Anne Hughes, a local birding enthusiast. Even better for us, Anne was able and willing to accompany us throughout our stay here and she seemed to have the magic touch because almost every bird we went looking for showed up at some point! Those readers of this blog who have taken visitors out birding in their home territory will know that this is not always the way things turn out!

One of the highlights of our time here with Anne was an early morning visit to Cape Spear, the eastern most point of North America. This is a great sea-watching spot and our fervent hope was for Dovekies. A fellow we met in Nova Scotia told us he’d eat his socks if we didn’t see Dovekies during our time here in St. John’s. Happily he will not have to do so! We saw a number of them and had a pretty good view of them too, despite the blowing wet snow we had to put up with that morning! Oh yes! The Dovekie was our 100th species on this Fur and Feathers 500 adventure! How fitting is that! We also saw about 70 Purple Sandpipers at Cape Spear, a species we saw only once in Nova Scotia and at a considerable distance too.

Cape Spear - Canada's eastern-most point

Cape Spear is a great spot and we could easily have spent more time there but alas, those tens of thousands of gulls were still waiting for us back in St John’s. We had a few white knuckle moments driving back into town and realized we would need to trade in our rental van for one with snow tires! First however we stopped at the famous Quidi Vidi Lake which we soon learned is known simply as “the lake” in birding circles here. Our good luck continued! Within minutes of our arrival, Anne picked out the very rare Yellow-legged Gull! This was a great bird to get, especially so early in our stay here, and had us all beginning to wonder what we were going to do for the next two days.

Yellow-legged Gull

Later that morning we went looking for a Cape May Warbler and a Sora, neither of which had any business being here in winter. We found both of them.

Cape May Warbler
We all know however that good birds don’t always appear on demand! We spent several hours over the balance of that day and again today, looking for the Slaty-backed Gull that’s been reported here, but so far without success. This search has tested our hardiness, particularly this morning. We had wet blowing snow, heavy at times and increasingly windy as we approached lunchtime. As my wife says, we must all be crazy!

Who says we are crazy?!
Along the way mind you, we’ve found a few other unusual winter birds such as Double-crested Cormorant, Common Teal and even a Red-bellied Woodpecker. This latter species was of particular interest because this winter there’s been one loitering around our home territory back in Alberta and we were all afraid it might have disappeared by the time we get back to Calgary.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Tomorrow will be our last day here however and we’ll be honing our gull recognition skills once again, trying to find that Slaty-backed! And Anne tells us there might even be a Blue Grosbeak in the area. That would be a great addition to an already very good birding trip. And even if we don’t get that Slaty-backed tomorrow, we’d like to thank Anne Hughes for being such a fine and friendly companion and guide during our time here. Hopefully we’ll see her again this summer!

And for those who’ve been asking...........our team total of mammals plus birds so far stands at 106 species so we’re well on our way!


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