One of the best places to see the Willow Ptarmigan in Newfoundland is on Cape Race road. However, it is a hit-and-miss situation.
They can often be seen briefly by the road as they flush at the arrival of the car. Typically, if you see one, it is only their backside as they fly away. That was the case with the first pair Catherine Barrett and I saw on Saturday. Our burst of excitement was dampened by the quick disappearance of the birds.
That less-than-satisfying experience was soon replaced by another pair that opted to freeze on the spot in the hope we wouldn't see them. Wrong! Did we ever see them!
We looked till our heart's content. It was us that left the scene first.
Then, to our delight, another pair appeared and tried the "freeze" defense as well.
This time we watched how they seemed to communicate about the situation. They looked at us; they looked at each other; they gradually moved closer to each other; and then, the male seemed to have given the word.
After five minutes of planning their escape, they leaped into the air and flew into the distance. What beautiful birds! Our timing was right. Maybe we were the first to drive down the road, and the birds felt safe near the road. Whatever it was, we were really lucky. On the drive out, we didn't see even one.