The weekend of October 20-21 2012 was rewarding for those that got out. Saturday morning was rare in being clear and calm. Good weather is half the job of finding rare birds on the Avalon. Saturday morning Ken Knowles and John Wells started at Cape Race, Anne Hughes and Todd Boland started at Renews and I started at south side of Renews and roadside to Bear Cove. Finding rare passerines in October is all about finding flocks of juncos, chickadees and robins. With these bird is often where the rare birds are found. Having a calm, clear and warm morning in October is going to make it easy to find active feeding flocks of common birds and increase the odds of finding a goodie. And so it was.
The Cape Race crew knew something had happened over night for they were finding Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers in the tuck. An immature Pine Warbler was in Ken's Forest just north of the lighthouse. A stray Bohemian Waxwing sat on the wires at Cripple Cove. A couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets were unusual for late October on the Avalon.
In Renews AH and TB found a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Dickcissel, Indigo Bunting and Red-winged Blackbird. On the other side of Renews I started with the first Northern Shrike of the fall giving an Indigo Bunting a serious chase through the alders. A late imm male American Redstart was among the juncos. I checked a few alder patches along the road toward Bear Cove without finding anything but Golden-crowned Kinglets, chickadees and a few juncos. Walked into the Bear Cove gravel pit. There was a little junco activity. I could hear chickadees but couldn't see them. Pishing was working only so-so on the juncos. Then I saw something yellow in a half dead larch at eye level. For some reason Palm Warbler came to mind, but when I saw black stripes, Prairie Warbler was next in the train of thought. When I got binoculars on it and it popped out into the open and I saw the trade mark blackish cheek on a bright yellow face I realized I was looking at a TOWNSEND'S WARBLER! While we look for these in November in the city, the species was hardly on the radar for late October at Bear Cove. A genuine surprise. I allowed myself a several second view before grabbing the camera. Lost valuable seconds before I realized the AF had been accidentally turned off. The warbler flew into the alders. I could see it through binos but it was too far in the nearly leafless branches for photos. Pishing had no effect. The warbler worked its way into the open feeding on alders on the gravel pit bank. It was a dot in the camera but I cracked off as many shots as I could. It went back into the thicker alders and followed the juncos up over the ridge and out of sight. Quickly I checked the photo results on the back of the camera. The light setting was correct. I could see the bird and it looked in focus. It was captured for the record. Then I realize the ISO setting was 3200! Whoops. I had forgotten to reset it to something more sensible after taking indoor shots two nights earlier. In hindsight it was a lucky mistake for the bird was in the deep shade and even with the crazy high ISO I was getting just 1/250 second for speed.
I followed the route of the bird up the hill. Over on the other side there were a number of chickadees and juncos. Birds were everywhere. Bottom line is - It was never found it again. It might have been one of the birds that flew across the road. AH and TB came by adding to the search effort but no luck during the two hours after the 9 am sighting. More searching in the late afternoon did not turn it up again. It could easily still be in the area. It was looking very frisky and alive. I am sure it will do well finding food in the fir and spruce trees with the chickadees and kinglets.
This was the 14th or 15th (probably 15th) record of Townsend's Warbler for Newfoundland. It was the earliest by 10 days. Most are first discovered in the second week of November. There are about 10 records for the Waterford Valley in St. John's, one in Rennies River St. John's, one in White Hills, St. John's, one for Cape Spear road near the 'blue shack', one for roadside north of Renews and now one for Bear Cove. Where and when will be the next? One thing for sure is there will be more Townsend's Warblers on the Avalon.
Other birds on Saturday. Four Cliff Swallows over Bear Cove. An interesting flycatcher in the form of an empidonax and looking like an Alder Flycatcher was found on the south side of Renews by AH and TB. I also saw and photographed. The eye ring is faint but there is probably no way to separate a silent Alder/Willow Flycatcher in October. Still the latest record of an Alder type Flycatcher for the province.