Having just returned from an unplanned and exhausting trip to Arkansas, I was longing to get out in the open air. Getting a later start than usual, I headed to Cape Spear. What a difference a week makes. There were very few birds along the way. I did have one dull yellow warbler with no wing bars fly in front of me on Cape Spear Road. I quickly turned around and set out to find it. Try as I might, I could not coax it out.
However, I was pleased to see this lone warbler sitting atop a tree. Closer looks told me it wasn't one I see everyday. I got a few shots and continued to look around. With little else in the area (chickadees and kinglets), I gave up the hunt.
I was pretty sure this was a Blackburnian, but with all of the rare warblers turning up, I checked with Alvan Buckley who confirmed it was, indeed, a Blackburnian. The only other activity I found was at the end of the Bus Shelter trail. There, I found two Baltimore Orioles and a Red-eyed Vireo, one Swamp Sparrow, a Sharp-shinned Hawk that has been in that area for over two weeks and the usual complement of chickadees and kinglets. It certainly looks like fall birding is winding down quickly.
Here I sit, sipping a celebratory glass of wine and enjoying the morning photos of my first-ever Chestnut-sided Warbler. It all happened like this: Soaking wet from traipsing through the alders and not having seen anything but sparrows, I wandered away from the group (Ed Hayden, Alvan Buckley and Ethel Dempsey). It was after 8 a.m. but looking much earlier with the overcast sky and steady drizzle.
I began to meander back toward the car when I spotted a Common Yellowthroat. That was uplifting...just maybe something else was around, too. Well, there was. I soon saw a Palm Warbler, then a Baltimore Oriole, a Blackpoll and more. There ended up being three Palm Warblers in the area.
Then, I got a glimpse of something different, something I had never seen before. I was certain it wasn't a Blackpoll as the breast was just too light. With my ISO cranked up and my shutter speed very low to try to offset the darkness, I got a first shot of a piece of the bird. I knew it was something good but had no idea what it was. With a rush of excitement, I began to wonder how I was going to get the others to see the bird.
I had no idea how far away they might be. The only thing I could do was keep an eye on the bird until they returned to the car. At last, I spotted them up on the road and called out for them to come....QUICK!
Within moments, they were on the bird, and Alvan knew immediately what it was...a Chestnut-sided Warbler! I could hardly believe what I was hearing...a Chestnut-sided Warbler. Awesome!
When I got home and checked my guide, I was surprised how different the fall version of this species is from the breeding bird. We all enjoyed quite a flurry of activity before we pulled ourselves away to the next stop, which by the way was also amazing. (The bird is pulling on a small branch it broke just above him.)
Yesterday while driving to Cape Spear, I was surprised with a Black-throated Green Warbler that flew across the road. I stopped just in time to see it land in an alder right in front of me. (These are not shots of that event as I had to shoot through my front window.)
There seem to have been more of this species along Blackhead Road this year than in previous years.
They often appeared on the trail by the bus shelter. That is where I took these snaps in mid-August....more than a month ago. Where did the summer go?
The one I saw yesterday may well be the last of the season for me. Where will it go when it leaves us? South. It will travel south through the U.S. during migration to reach its winter home in southern Florida, Southern Texas and Central America. Some will carry on until they reach northern South America. No mounds of snow for them! Smart birds!
My first Painted Lady Butterfly of the year was seen last week along the East Coast Trail beyond the Cape Spear lighthouse. The lifespan of the Painted Lady Butterfly is only two to four weeks. While I haven't seen many of them here, they are one of the most widespread species of butterfly in the world.
It made a quick dash in front of me and landed on a rock face where it stayed for a long time.
I tried to get the underwing shot, but this little one was not cooperating.
The Painted Lady is also known by the names Cosmopolitan and Thistle Butterfly.
This underwing shot came from my archives. So far, this is the only butterfly I have seen in Newfoundland to have the eyespots. There are four on the hindwing as seen here.
Six species of vireos have been recorded in Newfoundland, and I am happy to say I have now seen all six. Listed in the order of the images here, these include: Blue-headed Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo and the Yellow-throated Vireo. All of these vireos are migratory.
Vireos are similar to warblers but have a larger bill. They are often pale in color and typically have distinctive eye spectacles.
Vireos are big singers, especially the males. It is their song that frequently gives away their location. Three of these six vireos are uncommon breeders in this province. These are: Blue-headed, Philadelphia and Red-eyed Vireo.
It is likely a pair of Blue-headed Vireo bred in the La Manche area for the last two years as they were spotted in Spring and reported several weeks later. Occasionally, a Red-eyed Vireo has been reported on the Avalon during spring or summer. For instance, there was a Spring Red-eyed Vireo reported regularly in the Waterford River area, and this last summer one was seen in the Rennie's River/Kelly's Brook area.
Right now, mid-September, is the best opportunity to see the Red-eyed Vireo. A couple have been spotted already on Blackhead Road. They tend to stay low in the alders and are relatively responsive to phishing. The last reporting of a Philadelphis Vireo on the Avalon via eBird was on Bear Cove Pt. Road on Sept. 24, 2011. Aside from the recent report of a Warbling Vireo in Blackhead, it has been reported a number of times since 1983 in and around St. John's. All but one sighting occurred in September.
The White-eyed Vireo arrives, when it arrives, later than the other vagrants. Fewer sighting of this bird have been reported, and they took place in mid to late October or nearly November. The only reported sighting of a White-eyed Vireo in the St. John's area was my personal-best find on November 7, 2010 on Pouch Cove Line.
Check eBird to track all of the sightings of the rare vireos. Keep in mind not everyone uses eBird, but it does show a number of locations where one is most likely to find the different species. So far, it is shaping up to be a good vireo year. Will the White-eyed Vireo show up again?
Lucky Shoes + Dave Brown = One Worm-eating Warbler and one Yellow-throated Vireo! Dave and I left town at 4:30 on a wing and a prayer to find the Worm-eating Warbler found the day before by Bruce Mactavish in Cappahayden. We encountered one moose on the side of the road and another when we arrived in Cappahayden. As you can see, it was still quite early when we reached our destination, so we waited a while to give the birds a chance to wake up. At around 6:30 Dave led the way through the track trail.
Along the way, we picked up a small flock of chickadees and warblers that moved ahead of us. Stopped at the flag Bruce left, Dave became one with the alders and tried to draw the Worm-eating Warbler in. Nothing. He led the way again. About thirty yards up the trail, he announced - he had it! The bird stayed low and in the tangle. I managed to get only one blurry shot of its face, missing the only 2-second opportunity when it was in the open. Dave got much better shots. Unbelievable! This bird is known to be not only rare but almost impossible to re-find. It stayed in the area for about 10 minutes, but never really made it easy for us. Nevertheless, we saw it. Very exciting!
With a glow on, we set out to enjoy the rest of the day. Checking areas in Cappahayden, there was nothing out of the ordinary. Dave walked about 60 yards up the road at the end of Cappahayden. Soon, I heard him calling me. I thought he found the chat, but he seemed really animated. "Hurry, hurry," he said. I ran!
When I reached his side, a bird flew across the road. There it goes... When he told me he had heard the Yellow-throated Vireo and had it in his sights, I was elated. This is one lovely bird I always wanted to see.
We focused on the tree where it landed, and there it was! At last...!
It flitted around quite a bit but stayed in the vicinity for about ten minutes.
These shots were taken from a long, long distance. We were standing on the road shooting up, way up, into the tree, but it was a darned sight easier to see this Yellow-throated Vireo than the Worm-eating Warbler. Unbelievable: Two amazing birds within 30 minutes!
We carried on with our day, happy as a lark. It really didn't matter we didn't see anything else particularly unusual during the day. We just enjoyed seeing several flocks of the usual warblers and sparrows. There were an unusual number of Magnolia Warblers around, one of the nicest warblers of the season...to me.
What an amazing experience and who better to enjoy it with than Dave who has been pursuing good "looks" at a Worm-eating Warbler for a long time.
Morning dawned, and I was out the door by 6:15. I knew by the time I reached Blackhead Crescent it was going to be a good birding day. Birds flitted all along the road.
I just had no idea how good a day it was going to be. When I first saw this Canada Warbler, I thought it must be a Magnolia. It stuck around long enough for me to realize it wasn't.
You see...I bother the seasoned birders a lot, and most of the time my hopes are dashed by identifications of Blackpoll Warblers or Magnolia Warblers. Not this time! The birds were real and amazing.
It would be easy to give up looking, but I carry on like the good soldier I am.
Feeling my cup was already full with one good bird under my belt, you can imagine how stunned I was when I saw another.
Once again, my first thought when I saw the brilliant yellow of the Prairie Warbler was, "oh, here is my Magnolia Warbler." Not this time.
It stayed around and actually came out in the open, unlike the very secretive Canada Warbler that simply would not show itself.
Once I had a good look, I actually knew what this bird was on the spot. However, that little niggling was going on in the back of my mind. I couldn't wait to get to the car to check my guide. There is was...large as life...a Prairie Warbler!
This little Blackburnian Warbler and the Warbling Vireo came out of nowhere.
I saw some bird activity along the side of Blackhead Road. I stopped for the fourth time on the way to Blackhead.
Yellow-rumped Warblers and Juncos were flipping back and forth across the road. Unable the resist the action, I just sat in the car and watched it all unfold.
I phished a couple of times and out popped the Blackburnian. It stayed for all of 5 seconds. I didn't even have my camera in hand. I grabbed it from the seat beside me and was able to take one shot.
I looked and looked but could see no sign of it. Then, a bird looking really white underneath in the bright sunlight appeared. Knowing Dave Brown had found one the day before, I assumed this must be the Warbling Vireo. It stuck around a little longer and I was able to get a few snaps. No time to adjust anything as I feared this bird might disappear as fast as the other. I was so surprised to see the bird so far away from Blackhead Village....totally unexpectedly. That's the best kind.
Blackhead was alive with birds, mostly sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers. I parked by the school and walked toward the bus turnaround. Just as I reached the last house, sparrows and Juncos were everywhere. Then, I noticed the branch of the tree near me flick. That had to be a warbler, I inched my way up, and the bird stayed hidden and moved as I did. I waited and finally made a move that I thought would expose the bird. It did. It bolted! I got this one shot of a Palm Warbler as it made its escape. I must thank Jared C., Bruce M., and Alvan B. for helping me with the ID of this and the Blackburnian Warbler.
Well, I was in a state of euphoria. What was happening? Then, I got really optimistic and began to take snaps of almost everything for fear I might miss something good. In the process, I captured this shot of a Swamp Sparrow that has the biggest eye ring ever.
Then, I had a thrush that looked different from the Hermit and Grey-cheeked Thrushes I have been seeing all summer. I had high hopes that maybe it was a Swainson's. Not to be. It is probably a Hermit. It was about 20 feet from me in the mix of branches, leaves and shade. I was lucky to get any shots at all.
Speaking of luck...let me tell you about my lucky shoes. Every year I wear out a pair of hiking shoes, literally wearing away the tread because I walk so much. A little over a week ago, I took a bad fall by slipping on a rock. Injuring my shoulder was a minor inconvenience as I saved my binoculars and camera. Reflecting on the fall, I thought it shouldn't have happened.
I checked the bottom of my shoes and decided they needed to be replaced. Yesterday, I tried on several pairs and laboured over making a choice. I picked a pair and wore them today. Well, after the day that I had, these shoes have now been deemed my "lucky" shoes. What will I do when I wear them out?