Tuesday 7 January 2020

Hermit Warbler Attempts Wintering in Newfoundland

As outrageous as that sounds, it is fact.  On 7 December Alison Mews and Ethel Dempsey found a Hermit Warbler in St. John's, Newfoundland on the site of the former school for the deaf on Topsail Road. The groves of imported jack pines seemed an ideal pocket of habitat for this western warbler. It was difficult to locate among the pines over the following days but most searchers eventually got their views.  Alison put out a home made suet/peanut butter blog in the pines in the hopes that it would find it. IT WORKED! On the 17 December Hermit Warbler was observed feeding on the suet block along with juncos and Boreal Chickadees. 

The rest is history up to the date of this writing on 7 Jan 2020.  The HEWA is visiting the now several suet  blocks put up for the bird daily.  There is lots of snow. Between Christmas Eve and 7 Jan 100 cm of snow has fallen on St. John's with 69 cm depth of snow currently on the ground. But the temperatures have been relatively mild hovering in the -3C to +1C range.  The Hermit Warbler looks reasonably healthy.  Its plumage is looking less sleek and more ruffled if not a little puffed out.  It sometimes looks wet around the face. Perhaps a combination of the greasy food source and the wet pines.  Will it survive until spring?  It would be a miracle for a species that rarely experiences below freezing temperature or ever sees snow.  It should be in a Central American pine forest in January.

This represents the fourth record of Hermit Warbler for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

  1. Blackhead, Avalon Peninsula, 11-13 November 1989
  2. Mobile, Avalon Peninsula, 11 November to 1 December 2016
  3. Cape Broyle, Avalon Peninsula, 23 October 2017
  4. St. John's, Avalon Peninsula, 7 December 2019 to present 7 January 2020
It should be noted the fall of 2019 saw an unprecedented influx of Townsend's Warblers to the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. There was a staggering total of 18 different individual Townsend's discovered (all photographed).  Most were discovered during November but the earliest was on 23 September. Whether this was related to the occurrence of the Hermit Warbler is not known.

The Hermit Warbler on 7 December -  the day of discovery. A fleeting encounter with a healthy chipper looking warbler. An intensely exciting photo capture moment.  At the time we did not know it was going to become the town pet.

These three pictures above from 21 December after it had found the feeder but before winter had set in. It was still spending considerable time foraging in the pines and only occasionally visiting the suet/peanut butter feeders.

The Boreal Chickadees at first chased the Hermit Warbler off the feeder station but later on accepted its presence  as any other local bird.

Above are four more pics prior to the snow falls of Xmas.

The Hermit Warbler in the pines near the suet feeders after a 23 December snow fall.

The two pictures above taken on the morning of Christmas Day.

The Hermit Warbler wintering in Newfoundland is an ongoing story. At this point we don't know the outcome but very few warblers have ever made it through the winter in St. John's Those that have were a few hardy Pine Warblers, once a Yellow-rumped Warbler and couple of Yellow-breasted Chats. Yellow-throated Warblers have made it to late January and early February a few times.  We will continue to feed it.