Thursday, May 31, 2018

Mesmerizing Holyrood Spectacle

 Every now and then a simple birding trip turns into an adventure or a misadventure. Yesterday rose to the criteria of both. It was a dark, blustery, rain-driven morning when I headed out to Holyrood. When that niggling little voice in the back of my mind about how foolish such a trip was in these conditions, a stronger voice in the frontal lobe of my brain won out. I went. Floating on the water-filled trenches on the highway, I quickly decided to get off the Trans-Canada Highway and take the slower, safer-in-these-conditions, coastal road.
 I stopped at several locations along the way and found Leach's Storm Petrels skirting around the shoreline. I was sure Holyrood would be full. On through the darkness I drove.
 When I arrived at Holyrood, I drove up the old refinery road where I maneuvered my car four times to position it in such a way to face into the wind and driving rain and to keep it from hindering my view of the thousands of petrels swooping around the harbout. This would prove significant later in the morning.
 I adjusted my window several times to close it just enough to reduce the amount of rain coming in and still be able to get a good view of the amazing sight. I guessed about 2000 storm petrels were swirling around the harbout. By 8:30 a.m. the gulls got hungry and began picking off the vulnerable little birds.
 It was around that time the other action picked up. Artic Terns (about two dozen) began floating by. Northern Gannets (about a dozen) began dive-bombing right beside my vantage point. What a show!
 A few kittiwakes appeared in the middle of the harbour fighting the winds. Most birds were staying low.
 Then about 15 Razorbill Murres followed. "Variety is the spice...."
 Then, I was really surprised to see a steady stream of Red Phalaropes fly by. They were in full breeding plumage. I had never seen this before. I was totally captivated. Taking a breather from all of my gawking, I realized the weather was getting even worse. The waves below had grown to high levels sending spray up on my car. The wind sent the rain lashing across my windshield.
 At 9:30 I thought I should head back home before the conditions worsened even more. Buckling up and taking a deep breath, I reluctantly turned the key on the ignition. What? I had left it on! My battery was as dead as it could possibly be. Ugh! I got out of the car and fought the elements to walk to the guard house to see if anyone could help me with a boost. The house was empty. Ran back to my car, now soaking wet.
 Glad to be out of the wind, I sat for a minute to decide whether to call my Autoclub or to try to stop someone to help me. The conditions were too bad for me to ask anyone to take on the elements. Before calling, I took one last look out over the water. It was then, I sighted a different gull flying North. Oh, oh... I grabbed my camera and was able to snap these three shots.
 Once it was gone, I grabbed my phone only to notice there was little battery left on it, and I had no way to charge it. This just gets better and better. I made the call and a service man was coming from Bay Roberts. That was a long way for someone to come for a boost, but that's just the way it was. When they called me back to verify my location, I couldn't remember the name of the road. I described what I could see and directions from the beach.
The serviceman was worried about driving in the conditions and said it might take a while. I wouldn't scroll through my camera shots because I didn't want to waste the remaining battery on it. That left me unsure of the species of the gull I had seen. Saving my last phone charge, just in case the helper couldn't find me when he got to Holyrood, I returned to my binoculars. Good job they don't need batteries!
I decided to hunker down and wait. Taking a blanket from the trunk, opening a package of hand warmers, drinking my last bit of hot coffee and having a snack (all things good to have in the car,) I waited and watched. The bird show continued to entertain me. I needed a distraction because I was getting pretty cold, and there was no putting the window up. It took nearly an hour and a half for the tow truck to arrive. During that time, I did not see the gull again.

Because I had a good emergency kit in the car, I didn't get stressed, but I was really glad when help arrived. I wasted no time heading straight to the near Irving to visit their facilities. Finally relieved, I started the long and winding trip home. Home never looked so good!

There was an element of misadventure in this story, but anyone who has done any birding has experienced similar challenges. The adventure of seeing the beautiful breeding-plumaged Sabine's Gull and all of the other birds in this storm event far outweighed the trials and tribulations.

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