Monday, December 30, 2013

Overview of 2013 - Warblers and Wading Birds Top the Chart

 As another year comes to a close, I enjoy reflecting on how the birding year shaped up. When 2013 began, I had 234 birds on NL my life list. At that time, I set a goal to see one new bird per month. There certainly were times during the year when I didn't think that would happen. Then, without fanfare, rare birds began to appear in the city or within travelling distance from St. John's. As the year ends, I am happy to report I exceeded my goal and saw 20 new species this year, bringing my life list for Newfoundland to 254, far beyond my expectation.
 During the year, I added three new warblers (my favorites), including a Blackburnian, Virginia's and a Canada Warbler (the only one I found.) The rarest and most unexpected of these was the Virginia's Warbler (found by Dave Brown) which set the birding community on fire.
 In no proper order, I have uploaded a series of pictures of some of my new birds for
the year. Actually, the first one was this Ivory Gull that showed up at QV Lake on February 27. This one was my find. I chased a lot of other great birds found by others, but there is nothing quite to satisfying as locating a really good bird on my own. This bird also set off a good chase by the birding community who were able to locate more at Topsail Beach and around.
 Areas outside of St. John's hosted a number of great birds (new for me.) This Sandwich Tern was found by a bird tour group in Renews. A Franklin's Gull was found by Chris Ryan in Witless Bay. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures as I viewed it through Chris Brown's scope when he relocated the bird.
 With appreciation extended to Bruce Mactavish, I was able to sweep up three new species at Holyrood during a really rough storm in late September. These included Parasitic Jaeger, Pomarine Jaeger and  Red Phalarope. These birds were not even on my radar.
 Having only seen one phalarope (a Red-necked Phalarope found by Les Sweetapple in Ruby Line Pond a few years back,) I really enjoyed watching these Red Phalaropes in action. There was plenty to take in on that day, better than a 3D movie.
 This Common Ringed Plover was first found by Ken Knowles in Renews. It was a tricky bird to re-find as it blended in so well with all of the Semipalmated Plovers. Locating this bird in the crowd was almost as rewarding as finding a new bird on by own.
 Portugal Cove South is always good for a rare bird or two each year. This Greater White-fronted Goose managed to stay around long enough for most birders to see. On the other hand, a Tundra Swan was just a tease. It would show itself and then disappear over the ridge and not return for hours. Three trips to Portugal Cove South did not net the swan.
 There were a couple of other places that managed to lure in a number of good birds. One of these was the community of Fairhaven where two Little Egrets were reported in May and  stayed around for quite a while.
 However, no birds seemed to stay around as long as this rare Gray Heron. It would move in and around the area making it a little more difficult to locate, but it would always reappear. This great bird stayed in Little Heart's Ease for months. Aside: Birding is a great way to travel around this beautiful province. I have visited so many communities as a result of a rare bird visit.
 Back to Renews... it was here the Tricolored Heron put in an appearance. It only stayed around for a couple of days, so I felt quite lucky to see it. However, it did not come easy: John Wells, Anne Hughes and I waited this one out. After several hours, it was John that sounded the alarm the bird had appeared. Staying only about ten minutes, it flew off again.
Torbay gave us two great birds this year. There was a Yellow-crowned Night Heron that stayed in the area for about six weeks. It was likely the heron that lured more birders than usual to the area which led to the discovery of this Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (by Dave Brown). However, it took a couple of looks to actually identify this unexpected, rare bird. There were exciting times during the year, for sure. Other species I saw for the first time (in NL) this year include the Brown-headed Cowbird, Chimney Swift (out of the blue, two flew across Kent Pond,) Gyrfalcon, Harlequin Duck, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

While not a new species for me, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the extreme influx of Snowy Owls this year. Anyone who wanted to see one had many opportunities.

According to eBird there were 18 less species reported across Newfoundland and Labrador in 2013 than in 2012. I think this is a result of sweeping up birds seen by birders who don't use e-bird and reporting them in the 2012 count. It would be really good if all species were reported on eBird by the birder who found it during the coming year. E-bird has the capacity to be a great reference tool, easily accessible and usable, to document the many species seen throughout all time. It is never too late to start using it.

What does 2014 hold in store for us? So many of the rarities that appeared this year were totally off the chart. Is it possible that could happen again? I really hope so.

Oh yes, I experienced my first night owling trip this year. While  I came up empty-handed, I loved the experience will try again this year.

Notable: There are some locations like Renews, Portugal Cove South and Trepassey that just keep on giving. Then, there are many little, unexpected areas of this province where a good number of rare birds just appear. (Check Bruce Mactavish's weekend report in The Telegram.) Credit is also warranted for the many non-birders who have reported sightings of unusual birds. With their help, we have been able to enjoy so many exciting birds.

The new year is only a few hours away, and I can hardly wait to get out there to see what I can find!