It has been reported that over 200,000 people visit Cape Spear every year. For those living in densely populated areas, this may not sound like much. However, in Newfoundland and Labrador where the total population is just over 500,000, two hundred thousand is a lot!
It is understandable why this location is a huge draw for tourist and locals alike. One never knows what will show up there. Last week when the whales were in, I went to the Cape on two consecutive days. On the first day, I met a lady from Switzerland who was camping in a sister camper to the first one shown above. Both "blocky," wind-powered machines were quite different from what we typically see here. It seems the couple from Switzerland have been travelling the world for 13 years, staying long enough in each location to really learn about the area. Think about that: Thirteen years of travelling, looking, learning, and just drinking in the natural wonders of the world! Then, the next day, I came upon this bus/camper from Alaska. Once again, I saw a unique travel rig like I had never seen before.
While walking down to the water to see the whales, I found several murre sitting on the rocks. I have never seen them in on land at this location before.
When leaving the Cape on that day, I hit the brakes when I spotted this bear and wolf poking around. What great costumes! By now, you may have figured out that I was at the Cape on the Discovery Day weekend. June 22nd is also National Aboriginal Day, and some of the participants decided to go to the Cape for pictures - my good fortune.
Then, on the morning of the 23rd when Cape Spear celebrated it third annual Whale Watching Day, I returned to the Cape to see if the whales were going to cooperate. What I found was, again, a first. There was a very strange hue hanging over the area. The sun was trying to break through, but there was layer of cloud making it difficult.
Yes, the whales were around and people were beginning to gather. However, the talk of the day was the eerie pink atmosphere.
Was it caused by smoke from a distant fire? It didn't seem to be smoke.
Having grown up in the tornado belt, I am accustomed to the strange, greenish tornadic atmosphere that occurs just before the funnel sweeps through an area. However, never before have I seen this peculiar pink haze. It can be seen in all of these pictures shared here.
Once again when leaving the area, I caught sight of yet another participant in the National Aboriginal Day. I often leave Cape Spear absolutely awed by the unexpected encounters I have at the most northeast land point in North America.
There are several spots on Power's Road in Goulds that at different times of the year offer up great views of a variety of birds. It is a sure-shot to see raptors in the spring. Ring-necked Ducks commonly frequent Murphy's Pond. Wilson's Warbler are always in abundance in the same area in early spring.
Hairy Woodpeckers nest along the road. Yellow-bellied and Alder Flycatchers can often be seen and heard at this time of the year. Rusty Blackbirds nest near one of the larger ponds off Power's Road - year after year.
Last year, there was a Hermit Thrush singing along the road. Sparrow song can be heard at every stopping point. I have seen Canada Geese fly over, flocks of shorebirds in flight, gulls feeding in the fields, Pine Grosbeaks mowing the weeds, and every variety of common warblers that breed here.
This area of Goulds offers the widest variety of local birds. It is so easy to burn up four or five hours birding this area alone because of the constant flutter of wings and the chorus of songs. However, if a birder wants to get the most out of this experience, avoid the weekends when the road is filled with ATVs.
Over time, I have discovered trails that are best for birding when the high winds are ripping from different directions. It seems when there is a strong Southwest wind, Cuckhold's Cove is fairly-well sheltered, making it an ideal spot on blustery days.
This trail not only offers shelter, but there always seem to be a good variety of birds in the area. This week I found my first female Blackpoll. She and a male were busily collecting flies, so it is likely there are babies in a nest there.
As Bruce M. mentioned in his Telegram article last week, Cedar Waxwings can be very quiet and obscure. This is certainly the case with a small flock that has gathered in the area of the trail. There is no indication they are there; and then, they just appear.
Sparrows of all the common species sing loudly along the trail. Look hard enough, and it is possible to find a Fox or a White-throated Sparrow sitting high atop a tree bellowing out its favorite tune. The Swamp Sparrow stays much lower and is not as easy to spot.
Yellow Warbler are the most abundant species in this area for now. With time, this will shift and another type of warbler will take center stage. There has been a Minke Whale swimming in the cove just below the first lookout. In the same area, I have seen Black Guillemot flying to and from the cliff face. Perhaps, they are nesting there. Then, of course, there is the nesting Bald Eagle. Along the trail, there is frog song from a hidden pond. There is always something to see in this area, and my granddaughter and I were richly rewarded during our long climb up!
On June 19th, I hiked up Cuckhold's Cove Trail to see for the first time the baby eagle in the nest. It was bright, happy and moving around a lot.
These shots were taken from quite some distance, and the pictures were heavily cropped. However, I was amazed to see even the eye.
Only one parent is standing guard over the nest and doing all of the fishing. Several times, I have seen the adult swimming over the cove to find a suitable meal.
On June 23rd, I returned to the nest for another look. I was surprised how much the eaglet had changed in just a few days. It was now much darker, sitting upright and moving around the nest freely.
In short order, a fish was delivered for breakfast. The hungry bird moved in and began to devour the fish.
Several minutes later, this foreign object appeared in the nest. It appears to be a metal bracket of some sort. It was not in the nest before as the fourth photo from the top shows. How did it get there? I was watching the area the whole time. Was it in the fish? I wonder if the adult will remove the foreign object from the nest.
Based on my first impression, extensive searching of photos on the "net," Bruce's insight, and Dave's, it is decided: This is a Lapland Longspur in the wrong place at the wrong time. According to Dave, this is a common crouched position of a Longspur. According to Bruce, this is the third June sighting of this species this year in and around Newfoundland.
It is not uncommon to see loons in bays and inland ponds at this time of the year. What is uncommon is for one to stay close to shore for some picture taking.
Last week I came upon two loons at Fourth Pond. I pulled up close with my car and expected to see them quickly dive and reappear some distance away.
These two loons broke the mould - they stayed close. So, too, did a pair at Renews last week.
The Renews pair unleashed their haunting call right before my eyes. As dusk settled in, the two began to call for about 30 minutes and then lifted off to fly elsewhere for the night.
There is something about that call that makes me think of wilderness settings like Algonquin Park in Ontario where the sound echoes through the quiet air. I wonder if the loons are beginning to settle in to nest, and that may be keeping them close to shore. Whatever the reason, this seems to be a great time to get a really good look.
Interesting: The Common Loon appears on the Canadian $1.00 coin and has taken on the moniker of "Lucky Loonie." The story goes that in 2002 during the Winter Olympics, a loonie was buried at center ice so as to provide a clear target to drop the puck. Both the Canadian men's and women's team won gold. In 2006, two Lucky Loonies were buried under the ice at each end of the curling sheet, and as we all know, Brad Gushue and rink came home with the gold. This tradition has been replicated several times with the same gold-standard outcome.
So when I see a loon on the water now, I think "lucky!"
Yesterday, was an ideal birding day. The sun was out, the wind was not, and the birds were about. It was the kind of day I enjoy taking my time to see all that I can see. There were numerous warblers about, but seemed quiet and gathered in specific locations. On Powers Road alone I saw 30 different species of all kinds of birds. One of the best factors affecting birding yesterday, was there was not a single vehicle on the road but me for the entire time I was there.
The biggest surprise of the day was the Rusty Blackbirds. I share this story because it happens to me a lot. Maybe, I am not the only one.
I was riding up Power's Road on a "high" after just seeing three Magnolia Warblers and two Morning Warblers. While these two species aren't rare here, they are not wide spread.
With my windows down, I was driving very slowly. Scanning and listening, and in a mindset totally removed from the sometimes-maddening world. Bliss!
All of a sudden a blackbird flew up out of the ditch, banked and disappeared into the trees. Wow! I was 100% sure it was a blackbird. I stopped, turned off the engine and began to scan the area and listen some more. Nothing! I got out of the car and began to look.
I looked and looked, but nothing but a few sparrows and a scattered warbler appeared. After ten minutes or so, several American Robins appeared. Now my 100%-sure stance was waning. Now, I was "pretty sure" I had seen a blackbird.
Another ten minutes or so passed, I started questioning myself. Did I imagine that bird? Was it wishful thinking, even though blackbirds were not even on my radar. Could it have been the back of a robin I saw that just looked black? I often find myself in a fog of doubt when I see a bird only once and can't relocate it.
Then, at last, (30 minutes into the search) on a very distant tree, I saw a possible blackbird sitting atop a tree. It didn't seem rotund enough to be a robin, not long enough to be a crow. Could this be it? I began to work my way to the area, managing to keep out of the bird's line-of-sight. Snapping distant shots along the way in order to have a record of this elusive bird. I finally got close enough to see it was a blackbird. Then, in flew another one and landed on the opposite side of the road: One very far away and one sitting in the direct back light. What was I to do? I knew they were going to fly any minute. The female began to call, and the male flew over. Once together, they both lifted off and flew far into the woods on the side where there are several ponds.
It was something of a personal relief that the birds appeared to confirm that I had not seen some phantom bird that was going to linger in my thoughts and continue to generate self-doubt.
Yesterday morning turned out to be fairly warm, with not-so-high winds - a great day for a walk. I walked several ponds and trails and had a somewhat ho-hum experience with the birds I found. However, by the time the day ended, it was by no means, ho-hum.
I had just returned from my walk and was about to have lunch when the phone rang. "There is a Tricolored Heron in Renews!" That is a "drop-everything-kind-of-bird and just go." That's what I did. Stung by driving to Portugal Cove South TWICE and never seeing the Tundra Swan taught me a BIG lesson. I was going and going to stay as long as necessary to see this bird.
I thought I was quick getting to Renews, but there were those who were quicker. When I arrived, there were ten birders spinning around this small town looking up and down, but no Tricolored Heron was to be seen. That was 1:15 p.m.
Thinking was that the bird would return in the evening to feed. Hoping was that it would show up any minute. I whiled away my time looking for the Eastern Kingbird and checking a few known "hot spots." No kingbird, nothing in the usual places, but I did get the surprise of the day when a hummingbird practically buzzed me.
Time was passing slowly. I sat and waited when a local resident told me where the heron had been seen for the last two evenings. It was 3:30 when I parked my car overseeing the spot and waited and waited.
Dark clouds moved in and out. Rain showers came and went. Strong gusts of wind occasionally created ripples across the water. One lone fisherman stood in the same spot for hours, catching not one fish.
I sat long enough to have the Killdeer fly in right in front of me. Much later in the day the Willet flew in. Two loons moved between the open waters and the inner pool. Spotted Sandpiper dotted the water scape and a Belted Kingfisher added variety to the scene. The Common Terns fluttered, dove and fluttered and dove over and over. A cormorant flew in. As the day waned, more birds were moving about.
It was 7 p.m., prime time, but no Tricolored Heron. I was by now second guessing whether it was a good idea to just sit in one spot and hope. It helped to ease my mind a bit that there were other birders still cruising around the area.
At last, around 7:30 p.m., I heard John Wells shout, "I got it! Got it!" I scrambled to grab my binoculars and camera and try to get out of my car without falling on my face. Anne Hughes was sitting nearby, but her window was up. However, I'm sure there was no doubt that the message was clearly "the bird is here" when she saw me loping down the lane to the road. The chain reaction continued. She, too, hopped out of the car and rushed to extract her scope from the back seat and off we went.
Within minutes, we could see the small outline of a bird sitting in a distant tree. Chris Ryan was parked closer. We stopped and Anne began setting up the scope. The bird flew. Chris waved us on, so we scurried like robin down the road to try to see it again.
The first picture in this series shows what we saw. We all had the opportunity to look at it closely. By this time Gerard Hickey arrived, and we were all focused on the tree.
The heron started to wiggle a bit, and it was clear it was going to lift off. My rapid-fire shutter captured the trip from one tree to another. Awesome!
This southern bird (Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico area) was now sitting atop a tree in the most northeast land mass in North America. What an amazing feat and treat!
Once balanced on the tree top, he looked around and saw six of us standing on the road staring at him (YIKES) and plenty of people fishing around the area and decided he wouldn't stay. This adult bird in full breeding plumage lifted off one last time, circled around the pond and went back to the safety of the river where it had probably roosted for the day.
With more than nine hours invested in this sighting (including the drive), the sighting was all over in under ten minutes. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
Note: There is something strange going on with the blog site that has superimposed a picture on top of the first shot:(