Friday 26 October 2012

Seven and half ton of Dovekie.

A ton of birds is a lot of individuals.  According to the Sibley Guide a Dovekie weighs 6 oz and I calculated that I saw 7.5 tons of them today. How many did I see? Let me explain....

October 25 on the Avalon Peninsula experienced wicked NW winds and driving rain.  In fact there were 100+ km on shore winds on the entire east coast of the island.  Expecting Conception Bay to be full of seabirds I arranged not to be at work on Friday and arrived at Kelligrews, Conception Bay near sunrise.  I fought driving rain and fog all the way there. But magically it all stopped when I hit Kelligrews. It became immediately obvious there were no Leach's Storm-Petrels. I was expecting many hundreds.  But there were shearwaters out there. Far out there.  With the scope I could see hundreds of Great Shearwaters milling about. There were 50 sitting on the water about 300 m offshore. Suddenly the NW stopped and a patch of blue sky appeared.  This was a signal for the seabirds to move.  Shearwaters got off the water and started flying north.  Reams of kittiwakes flooded out of the inner bay.  Groups of jaegers, mostly adults  closer to winter plumage than breeding plumage, started out as well harrassing kittiwakes along the way.  Then like someone turned on the tap flocks of Dovekies began flying by.  Now I made up my mind to burn the time it would take to get to Cape St. Francis at the lip of of Conception Bay where birds trapped in the bay by overnight winds and poor vis.

One full hour later I was standing behind my scope by the Cape St. Francis lighthouse. Now it was sunny and although there was a brisk North wind, it did not feel like storm conditions. It felt like being in the eye of the storm. There were plenty of birds flying by in a band 700-1000 m off the rocks.  I think the kittiwakes and Dovekie were on migration and concentrated along the shore by the force of the wind.  Using one minute sample counts I estimated 40,000-50,000 Dovekies flew past in the two hour period (09:30-11:30). There were good numbers of kittiwakes and all six species of Newfoundland alcid were present plus a few hundred shearwaters etc but it was the Dovekies that made the day spectacular.

At 700 m the Dovekies are dots on the water in the foreground with kittiwakes farther behind in this photograph.

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