Friday 19 June 2020

Codroy Trip 13-16 June - Royal Success

The Codroy Valley at the southwest corner of Newfoundland is our Point Pelee, our High Island  our .... well it is not really like any of those places except that nothing beats it in Newfoundland for lush birding and numerous specialties that are common just across the way in Nova Scotia but have gained a toe hold in Newfoundland here.  It is a different world for the Avalon Peninsula birders that are used to looking eye level at tree top warblers. The Codroy Valley has proper forest and it is saturated with breeding birds.

This year where everyone's spring vacations to a birding destination were cancelled due to C-19, the obvious consolation vacation was the Codroy Valley.  A full 900 km drive one way from St. John's, the travel time makes it a journey.

The majority of birders were present sometime in the period of late May to 12 June.  Being tied up with a car problem  my departure was well delayed. Alison Mews also with a car situation was delayed.  The pain of hearing about the good birding that our friends were having caused Alison's car to be freed up and on short notice we were both streaming down the TCH toward Codroy Valley.

We had four full days 13-16 June. The weather was pretty good every day. Most importantly the winds were near calm each morning making for good dawn choruses. It turned out to be one of the best four day trips ever by anyone over the last 20+ years. We got all the regular Codroy specialties such as 5 Blackburnian Warblers, 9 Bay-breasted Warblers, 3 Cape May Warblers, 8 Northern Parulas, 18 Blue-headed Vireos,1 Philadelphia Vireo, 9 Red-eyed Vireos, 2 Eastern Wood Pewees, 4 Eastern Kingbirds, 2 Sora and 2 Pied-billed Grebes. 

Rarities are actually rarely found on Codroy trips but we had three. The first was the best. A NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW at Loch Lomond on 13 June. This near mythical bird has been reported nearly a handful of times in the province. This includes an individual accidentally caught in a mist net set up for snipe by the Great Legend himself - Dr. Les Tuck sometime in the 1960s and during June in the Codroy Valley.  I held the study skin in my hand. It gave me faith that the species could really occur in NF. It did happen and we photos to prove it.

A singing Scarlet Tanager on Brooms Brook would have been a bigger surprise if an earlier Codroy team hadn't already had one. Ours was quite far away from the first sighting so was likely a different bird. Still a major rarity to hear the species singing in Newfoundland. We get a few in the autumn. No photos. Good sounds recordings.

The biggest surprise of the trip was a singing YELLOW-THROATED VIREO at Red Rocks Road on 15 June. Occurring once every two or three years during fall vagrant hunting season there were no spring records for the province. Alison and I spent two hours with the bird. I never saw it. Alison glimpsed it and got a just barely acceptable record shot. It was well sound recorded. Tried just about everything legal to see the bird. I walked across the brook to get into the thick woods where it was. I was under it singing. In desperation I pished quietly and the bird came down to me calling with its irritated call. It was clearly angry with me. So close I should have been able to touch it. But I could not see it.  The record is documented with recordings of the song and one record shot photo. Sure would have been nice to have seen that bird.

The Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Loch Lomond, Codroy Valley, Newfoundland on 13 June 2020.

The Yellow-throated Vireo 15 June 2020, Red Rocks Road. The only photo.  Taken by Alison Mews. There are good sound recordings.

The male and female Blackburnian warbler - one those Nova Scotia specialties.  

 The male and female Bay-breasted Warbler - another of those Nova Scotia specialties.

Philadelphia Vireo. Always a crowd-pleaser when you can see it. 

The only Northern Parula of eight seen that I managed to get a photo of was this female.

For an Avalon birder where Hermit Thrush is the main thrush, it was a pleasure to endure the abundance of Swainson's Thrush in the Codroy Valley both by sight and by sound.

Eastern wood-Pewee is a regular spring overshoot from Nova Scotia without any suggestion of nesting in Newfoundland.

Bobolink used to be far more regular in Newfoundland. Now there are only a few in spring in the Codroy Valley. We don't know if they are still actually nesting anywhere in the province.

The scenic lush Codroy Valley is a Newfoundland birders heaven in late spring.

Tuesday 9 June 2020

May 2020 - Lots of nice birds.

After a long long long hard winter of major snow and a very very very laborious opening to spring, May was like an opening of every birders heart. Those first Yellow-rumped Warblers were Godsends. Every new returnee had its own little pleasure.  It was not a spring for Icelandic vagrants. It is a rare spring when not a single European Golden Plover was seen.  Though a Northern Lapwing at Bonavista in late May was out of pattern for spring weather and for the species' history of occurrence in the province. We figured it was a bird that must have arrived in the fall of 2019 and over wintered somewhere in North America and was on its way back home.  Good luck to that bird.  

This blog is only about the birds that I saw in May. There were other good birds that I would have like to have seen, especially the Little Egret on the Burin Peninsula, just four hours drive one way, but we've had great encounters with that species in recent years. 

In chronological order photo highlights.

Adult Laughing Gull at Tim Horton's on Ropewalk Lane, St John's on 8 May, 2020.

Adult Laughing Gull at St Mary's, St. Mary's Bay on 10 May, 2020.

A Laughing Gull never gets more praise when it is an adult in high breeding plumage landing in a place where birders are recovering from Severe Winter Weather Weariness and Lack of Avian Novelty (SWWWLAN).  The first bird was begging for doughnuts around cars parked out behind a Tim Horton's outlet providing excellent views.  The second bird was waiting for more of my chicken sandwich.  Nice when the gulls come to Newfoundland already trained.

This Northern Wheatear (a 1st spring male?) found on the kelp bed at Bear Cove, Avalon Peninsula on 12 May by Alison Mews was one of about six wheatears reported during May in Newfoundland, On my second visit to the bird I had a lucky 15 minutes when it came to me while I had the beasty lens (840mm) attached to the camera while on tripod and standing over my ankles in a ravine among rotting kelp bed. The angle of the sun was far from ideal but the end result is some of my best wheatear pictures ever and The Photo Session of May 2020 Award.

On 15 May disaster struck. Over night my car parked in front of the house was the victim of a hit and run.  Insurance saved a $$ disaster but there was set back in mobility. I did get a rental car from the insurance but lost a three weekend while waiting for that to happen. And now on 9 June as I type I still don't have the car back which is upsetting early June plans to be part of the birding blitz currently taking place in the Codroy Valley. As you can tell I drive a Corvette - not! --- just a Honda Civic but equipped with Turbo crucial for passing painfully slow cars on winding, hilly Newfoundland roads.

Not so much a rare bird but a beautiful encounter with Red-necked Phalaropes in spring. It happened at Ferryland Head on 17 May.   About 65 equally divided between females and males. They were feeding close to shore. It was a hard shore to get down to the waters' edge. So I sat on a bluff snapping picture with a 400 mm lens while a 840 mm lens was in the trunk of my car 1 km away (DOH!).  I did have my scope and soaked in the fabulous views during my nearly two hour encounter.

A Stilt Sandpiper at a little wet spot on the Back Line, Goulds was a first spring record for the island of Newfoundland 24-25 May. It occurred after a few days of strong far reaching SW and W winds. It is rare enough in the fall being recorded just less than annually. Interestingly there was a small influx of Lesser Yellowlegs at the same time.

This female Ruff took the place of the Stilt Sandpiper at the same little pool of water on the Back Line, Goulds for 26-27 2020. Ruff is a bird I enjoy looking for in the spring at a few attractive looking wet spots suitable for a Ruff.  They never get old whether it is a male or female.

Birders getting bored waiting for a Wood Thrush to sing at Kent's Pond. St John's on 28 May. Such an unusual record being  found at a city park (by Alvan Buckley) and singing.  It was singing sporadically at a cut volume.  I heard and saw it the next morning. This was only about the seventh  record for Newfoundland.

My Favourite Record of May 2020. I was the only person to see this bird on Powles Head Road, Trepassey area on 29 May 2020.  It was unexpected being a first spring record for the province, but the roof blew off the theater when it started to sing!! And it sang and it sang.  

All swallows, but the Tree Swallow, are rare on the Avalon Sensualist. Barn Swallows stray with some volume in May.   Up to 20 were seen at one location during this May. Purple Martins are royalty among the spring swallows. Two were present at the end of may at Bidgoods Park, Goulds. Here is one landing next to a surprised looking Tree Swallow.