Saturday 30 June 2018

Leach's Galore

The set up for a storm-petrel event at Holyrood on 26 June was good.  Poor vis in rain, drizzle and fog with moderate NE winds overnight.  Such winds usually blow Leach's Storm-Petrels into the bottom of Conception Bay, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland. They are easily swayed by wind direction when they can't see where they are going in the fog.  Holyrood is the cul de sac of Conception Bay. At the mouth of Conception Bay is the largest nesting colony of Leach's Storm-Petrels in the world with about 2 million nesting pairs.

I arrived at Holyrood about 7 am 26 June  The wind was too light and there was too much east in that NE wind. Holyrood harbour was almost calm being sheltered by the hills. There were no storm-petrels in the inner part of the cove but plenty (few hundreds) in the outer part of the bay. After an hour the wind started picking up and turned more proper NE but still relatively light at 30-40 km/hr but it was enough to get some storm-petrels to come right into the harbour and feeding off the beach. The birds were not at all stressed by the weather but were feeding heavily.  As often happens small critters on and near the surface of the water also get bottled up in the Holyrood cul de sac.  The Leach's seemed to be finding plenty to eat.  A concentration of 150 or were feeding by a breakwater at the marina. It was now raining but the birds were TOO CLOSE not to try for photos. I wrapped the camera and lens in water proofs and stood there at point blank range snapping away madly in the rain. As always the conditions are the worst for light and wetness when seabird events happen in Holyrood. Miraculously for 30 minutes the overcast sky turned from blackish gray to whitish gray and the rain more less stopped.  It was the second most amazing photo opt for Leach's storm-petrels I had experienced. The other being at exactly the same breakwater in early August more than five years ago.

Then a wave of increased winds and heavy precipitation and poor visibility drove me back into the car. 45 minutes later when it lessened I saw Holyrood  harbour was now FULL of Leach's Storm-Petrels. And a  Manx Shearwater even.  I had to leave then because I was already 3 hours late for work.

The weather continued miserable all afternoon with winds not that strong 40-50 km/hr but constant rain drizzle and fog. Dave Brown visited Holyrood noon to 2 pm and figured 5000 storm-petrels in the harbour and bay. I was back in Holyrood at 5:30 pm. It was an incredible scene. The cove was full and the bay was full as far as could be seen 300-400 m from various vantage ponits.  It was impossible to estimate numbers but it was in the tens of thousands.  While most of the birds were feeding they were also getting blown around a bit and some were going inland. Probably many never came back out once they lost sight of the water in the heavy drizzle and fog. Surprisingly only two dead ones on the road. The weather was too inclement for picture taking. 

Next morning I was there at 05:20.  The storm had ended sometime after midnight. I was expecting to see many dead ones on the road and especially under the wires that run along the road paralleling the beach.  It was a miracle. The scene had completely changed.  It was completely over. The storm-petrels were completely gone! I found only six dead storm-petrels. There have been much worse causality totals during Sept/Oct storm.  

The tiny piece of gelatinous zooplankton in this bill seemed to be the main food item. Even gulls were swimming in the water picking at these nearly invisible food items. 

Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls were catching some Leach's Storm-Petrels but it wasn't the  massacre that it could have been,  The gulls were only mildly interested in catching them. They were easy enough to catch if they wanted to. The Storm-Petrels hardly recognized the gulls as a danger but would flick out of the way at the last microsecond when a gull would make a pass.  The storm-petrels showed no reaction to their brothers being killed by gulls next to them.

The bird above actually made an escape (see below) after being mouthed by the Herring Gull for about 45 seconds.

The Morning After. There was almost no hint of the 10s of thousands of  Leach's Storm-Petrels trapped in Holyrood just 10 hours earlier.

Saturday 23 June 2018

Codroy Valley 2-8 June 2018 - Newfoundland's mini Pelee

About February birders in St. John's start asking around who is going to the Codroy this spring.  It is a spring heaven at the end of a long winter and painful spring.  Birds regular include some of those species who's nesting range sort of stops at Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.  A few individuals of some of these as we call them "Nova Scotia birds" are trying to make inroads into the Newfoundland breeding market. There is so much real estate available. Maybe too much for two rare warblers of opposite sex to hook up. Bottom line is that a nice selection of NS type birds are easier in the Codroy Valley at the SW tip of Newfoundland than elsewhere in the province.

The very end of spring migration and the start of breeding season is considered best bang-for-your-buck season.  This means early June.  Besides all the birds the place is beautiful.  The lush Codroy Valley with a backdrop of the Long Range Mountains is scenery you can't buy.  

Birders gravitate to the Codroy Cottage Country Cabins. These are not the only cabins to stay at in the valley but they are more or less perfect for birders. Claudelle, the owner is turning into a birder and photographer and is very birder friendly to say the least.

SPRING 2018 was one for the record books. It was a spring where legends and stories germinate. It was a combination of big surge of warm weather and migrants in NB and NS and a sudden and prolonged cold front.  A really cold front. I arrived on the evening of 2 June as the cold front hit hard. On 3rd June the temperature never rose about +3C. And it didn't get much warmer for the next four days. Yellow-bellied Flycatchers and Swainson's Thrush were everywhere !!! We were seeing 100-200+ of each every day on the ground. Warblers were hopping on the ground. Desperation City.  In the first four days I saw several hundred of both YBFL and SWTH before I heard one sing. They were in survival mode.  YBFL were being hit by cars since they were so low to the ground and frequently flew low across roads. It was even colder in the rest of Newfoundland.  How can we tell what effects this extra cold first two weeks of June 2018 had on breeding birds of Newfoundland?

The birding and birder atmosphere was still good. We enjoyed the birds  The following are some pictures from my time in the Codroy Valley 2-8 June.

Bay-breasted Warbler is one of those warblers not widespread in Newfoundland but does have a secure foothold as a breeder in the southwestern chunk of Newfoundland.  I watched this one for an embarrassingly long time - 2+ hours - feeding on the ground at Cheeseman Prov Park. A stonking encounter with one of the most amazingly coloured warblers.


Blackburnian Warbler is an established breeder in the extreme SW corner of NF but goes no further.  This one found by Todd Boland was walking on the ground in a random location. Incredible views of a ridiculously coloured warbler hopping about in the grass. We had to go around stomping out grass fires it was starting when its throat accidently ignited the grass. It seemed to be getting lots to eat but normally would be higher in the trees.

A Blackburnian Warbler in a more natural habitat on a day when the weather warmed up a little on Brooms Brook.


Cape May Warbler can be a  SOB to see in the tops of the white spruce forests that they prefer yet they are not that rare. During the cold this one descended to near ground levels for a photograph.  This one at our go-to-spot at Brooms Brook for Cape May, Bay-breasted and Blackburnian.

Northern Parula is certainly breeding in the SW corner of the province but it has yet to be confirmed. It is easier than Cape May or Bay breasted to find. Two different birds photographed.

This Eastern Wood Pewee at Cape Ray was suffering from the cold while desperately looking for insect life on 3 June. This is an overshoot species that is not suspected of breeding NF but it could and perhaps has.

Seven Eastern Kingbirds on the ground at Cape Ray on 3 June really showed the grounding effects of the wickedly cold weather. Insects were not easy to find. I hope they made it. Eastern Kingbird is an overshoot from Nova Scotia. It has nested at least once in NF but is generally considered a routine late spring over shoot.

Ok this is a over kill on the Olive-sided Flycatcher feeding along the fence line by our Cottage Country Cabin. It was catching sluggish bees that I was disturbing while walking on the lawn. It followed me as much as I was following it. 

Swanson's Thrush was my second most looked at species during my week in the Codroy.  I learned a lot..

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was bird of the trip because of the pure abundance and numbers of sightings per unit of time.  After a couple days of the very cold late spring weather they became fearless. They were more focused on finding food than being aware of  dangers in seemed. Twice a  YBFL landed on my car while I was inside of it.