I would love to harness the winds of Newfoundland and haul them out to sea, forever gone. Probably the worst weather condition for birding is persistent, incessant gale-force winds. For months we have dealt with a blast of multi-directional winds. Even in the summer, it just won't quit. Year-round torment!
Not only are strong winds irritating, the roar drowns out the sounds of birds and dampens their spirit to fly, and if they do fly they only create a blur as they whiz by on an updraft. The turbulence ruffles the waves on the ocean making sea watching impossible....just as well stay home than get blown off the rocks into the rocking swells while seeing nothing.
This morning 100 km gusts are pounding the region...again! Not fit to go out the door!
With the kindness of a family in Witless Bay, I was able to enjoy a few minutes of indoor birding on Sunday. I made a quick trip to the area on Sunday to try to see the visiting Red-bellied Woodpecker reported in the area. From the comfort of a sun room, I was captivated by the warm red head on this great little bird. It seemed more like a pet now than a wild bird.
Even though the calendar says Spring will arrive in about three weeks, that really doesn't apply to Newfoundland. We will continue to see snow, high winds, rain, drizzle, fog and cold temps right through May and possibly into June. You have to be hardy of body and mind to live on this North Atlantic island. Birds that survive here through Winter have to be even stronger and get a little help from their human friends.
While in Pouch Cove on the 16th of this month, I came upon a very odd set of large tracks. I found the tracks in the middle of a clearing with no other tracks leading in or out, just in the middle of the area. Puzzled, I wondered what kind of bird could make such a large track.
Tucked away among my many pictures, I also have this image of a very streaky bird seen in early September. The bird has yet to be identified.
After spending an hour at Quidi Vidi Lake, I took a break. I began to think that if a Gyrfalcon is, indeed in town, it must have flown in through the harbor.
On the off-chance that I might see a Gyrfalcon and the better chance I might see the Black Scoter and the Harlequin, I headed to Cape Spear. Shortly after arriving, this great juvenile eagle made a really close fly-by. Terry J. and Mike and Brenda P. were there to enjoy it with me.
Shortly after, Mike spotted a very large, dark bird flying quite some distance away over a flock of Common Eider. It was flying low over the eider, then swooping upward. I was able to get the camera on it and got these few, poor shots. Nevertheless, they seem to be enough to confirm this is a Gyrfalcon. I hope I don't have to retract this.
Here's why: Terry J. was saying the behaviour was very much like a Gyrfalcon with its stiff wing beats. Also, a Peregrine (I saw two while at the Cape) would fly in close to shore, around the edges of the rock and never consider having eider for lunch.
The wings are much broader than a Peregine, but not so broad as an eagle, nor a Northern Goshawk. To give you a better idea of the distance at which this shot was taken: It was twice the distance of the buoy or more.
The flight feathers are lighter than the coverts. The tail is long, but doesn't seem as long as a goshawk. The wingspan was very wide, more than a goshawk. Considering the distance, this bird was really big for us to be able to see it.
After a minute or so of viewing, the bird flew in the direction of the city dump.
Having the opportunity to see both a juvenile Peregrine and a mature one, there is no question our bird over the water was not a Peregrine. We wouldn't have been able to see its small frame at the distance of our bird.
And so, I build the argument for a Gyrfalcon in town. Given the confidence of Terry Janes about the ID (been birding for 55 years and Cape Spear is his main haunt) I have ticked the Gyrfalcon for 2015. I have confidence in him and his observations of the bird's flight pattern.
On an unusually warm, sunny afternoon, it just seemed right to make a drive to Cape Spear. Margie M. and I made the trip. Shortly after we arrived, we were treated to an amazing flight display by an adult Peregrine Falcon. It flew quite close to us, swooped up and down and then off toward Blackhead. Wow!
After letting that sink in, we walked on toward the lookout. The wind was whipping behind us, and I was dreading the return walk where it would be full-on in the face. Oh well, just pull up the hood and keep walking.
There were a couple of small flocks of Long-tailed Ducks, lots of Black Guillemots, maybe one Dovekie, but no sign of eider....until this flock of about 150 to 200 flew in. I caught sight of at least one King Eider. These two flight images show three.
We watched as the eider landed in the distance off from the cannon. We headed in that direction. Much to our delight, the shape-shifting flock began to work its way toward shore.
Within moments, it was obvious there were multiple male King Eider in the small group. In fact, this photo shows SIX adult, male King Eider. We never counted that many as binocular views were limited, and the birds were moving around and diving a lot.
What was so marvelous about this, is we saw them up close, better than any I have ever seen before. I saw more King Eider yesterday than I have in several years combined.
While we weren't able to identify any female King Eider on the spot, but a close look at my photos revealed at least two in the group.
That makes a total of EIGHT King Eider in one small flock at close range. It seemed we were sheltered from the wind, and we enjoyed every minute of it. That is...until an adult Bald Eagle moved over the waters and upset every bird around. Our flock began to weave away from shore.
We walked around the lower boardwalk to see if we might have missed anything. All of a sudden, we realized the wind had died down. Off came the hats and gloves as it felt like Spring, albeit only 30 minutes. It was wonderful.
There was no sign of the Purple Sandpipers or the scoters, but we had a grand little trip to the Cape. If I had a super-duper lens, I would have walked away with portraits.