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Hog Island Audubon Camp

Hog Island – perhaps an unlovely name for a magical place, National Audubon’s camp on the coast near Bremen, Maine. A more delightful spot could not be found to spend a few days in June in the company of fellow birders and immersed in ornithology with some of the country’s top experts.

This year my husband Marv and I, along with friends Connie and Mark Youngstrom and Carol Ramsayer, attended the Field Ornithology session. Marv and I had attended the Joy of Birding session three years earlier and always knew we would return. Connie and Mark were new to Hog Island and Carol was also a repeat camper.

Hog Island is just a stone’s throw from the mainland. Most of us could probably swim the distance if we had to. But once on the island, you enter a different world where birds and conservation are always the focus in a setting infused with the Maine coastal culture. The history of Hog Island could fill another article. It includes ornithological luminaries such as Roger Tory Peterson and Allan Cruickshank. You can read more about that by clicking here.

early morning bird recordingThe accommodations are rustic, but clean and comfortable. Not that you spend that much time in them. Every minute is packed. Some mornings begin around 4 a.m. for bird banding or bird sound recording - just about the time you hear the lobster boats going out. The long June days, punctuated with delicious meals, are filled with field trips and lectures and end with evening programs on a wide variety of topics. Should anyone be scared off by all this activity, it’s all optional so if you don’t feel up to something you can take a break. The Adirondack chairs placed around the lawn are awfully inviting.

The very best part of Hog Island (and it really is hard to pick one) are the instructors and staff. Our camp director for the week was Scott Weidensaul. Anyone who has picked up a birding magazine or read a book on birding knows Scott. His vast knowledge of birds, nature in general, and his sense of humor set the tone for the week. The instructors do not gather together separately, but spread themselves among the campers during social hours and meals. 

bird banding with Scott WeidensaulInstructors for the week along with Scott included Kevin McGowan from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Sara Morris, Professor of Biology at Canisius College in Buffalo; Angelika Nelson, curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics at Ohio State University; John Kricher, professor at Wheaton College in Massachusetts and author of A Neotropical Companion; Stephen Kress, director of the Seabird Restoration Program; and Anthony Hill, bird bander. The collective knowledge, experience, enthusiasm and humor of the instructors was unequaled.

None of Audubon camp would run smoothly without the Friends of Hog Island led by the very capable Juanita Roushdy. Under her guidance and tireless hard work, the staff and volunteers expertly run the camp.

Our four full days of camp were divided between seminars and field trips. The seminars were long enough to get a good dose of ornithological knowledge, but not long enough to get too antsy to explore the Maine coast. Field trips went to birding hotspots on the mainland including the beautiful Great Salt Bay Farm in Damariscotta. A boat trip to Eastern Egg Rock Island, home of the world’s first restored Atlantic Puffin colony, was another highlight with bald eagles, common eiders, a razorbill, terns and gulls seen along the way. And of course the puffins! The boat trip was especially meaningful after hearing Steven Kress talk about the Seabird Restoration Program on a prior evening.

learning about birds with Kevin McGowanA word about the food: Hog Island could be considered a culinary destination. The chef, aided by an energetic group of assistants and volunteers, provided three healthy, flavorful meals a day with many of the ingredients locally sourced. The final dinner of the week is always special – lobster right out of Muscongus Bay, followed by cream puff puffins, as delicious as they are adorable.

While we were at Field Ornithology this year’s artist-in-residence, Michael Boardman, was in residence. He welcomed visitors to the artist’s cottage he was inhabiting for two weeks and was happy to show us his work. One afternoon we had a sketching session with him. Let’s just say some of us were better than others! But it was fun and instructional.

Atlantic PuffinThe Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens session was held concurrent with Field Ornithology. Although we attended different sessions and field trips, we shared our meals and evening programs. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and knowledge in the next generation of birders and ornithologists. Their presence did not detract, but indeed added to our enjoyment of the week. I have no doubt that in about 10 to 20 years’ time, we’ll be seeing their names pop up in the birding world, whether in leading field trips or publishing ornithological studies.

For anyone remotely thinking about Hog Island, my advice is to go if you can. It’s not inexpensive, but everything is included. Registration for all the Audubon sessions at Hog Island will open on October 18 and the sessions fill quickly. Birders of all skill levels are welcome. No matter your experience, whether you picked up binoculars yesterday or have birded the seven continents, you will gain something from Hog Island. 

Board Member Marsha Booker attended Hog Island's Joy of Birding session a few years ago. Click here to read about her experience.



from rutland to big bend – spring birding in texas

A program on birding in Texas, It's Not Just Cactus and Cowboys, will be presented on April 8 at 7 pm at the Brandon Library and again on May 5 at 7 pm at the Rutland Free Library Fox Room.

The following article appeared in the RCAS newsletter in 2007. It highlights some other places to bird in Texas in the spring:

Roseate SpoonbillsTo birders, the lure of a spring trip to Texas is irresistible – warm weather, birds that can be seen nowhere else in the U.S. and the opportunity to observe some of our familiar species up close as they make their way north. In April 2007 Marv and I spent a month there; it was a month well spent. We had visited Texas before, but never just to bird. We had read about places like goose Island, South Padre Island, Falcon Dam, Big Bend National Park and the Davis Mountains so the attraction was great to go back and try our skills (and cross our fingers for luck) at finding the Texas specialties.

We left on March 26, just about the time winter has become about four weeks too long and spring in Vermont is still a ways off. We traveled by car, taking our pop-up camper. This gave us some flexibility in detouring to interesting places along the way. It was also an affordable way to travel and cover a big area over four weeks. We armed ourselves with two guidebooks on birding. Birding Texas by Roland H. Wauer and mark A. Elwonger and Exploring the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail by Mel White. The ABA Birders Guide to the Rio Grand Valley is also a great resource. We also took along one general guidebook, the Moon Handbook to Texas by Joe Cummings, which was invaluable for learning about the local culture and history and, very importantly, the local cuisine.

We arrived at Caddo Lake State Park in east Texas in about four days (we could have made it in three, but stopped to visit relatives along the way). Texas State Parks are wonderful places to stay; besides being affordable, they are often great birding areas as well as good places to meet fellow birders. Texas State Parks are frequently staffed with ‘birding hosts,’ who offer birding trips and can provide hot tips on the best places to bird inside and outside the park. Caddo Lake was no exception. Within minutes of our arrival we had spotted Yellow-throated Warbler and Prothonotary Warbler. As we leaned on the railing of a fishing pier jutting out into the cypress swamp, a Northern Parula landed at our elbows – quite a different view of parulas in Vermont where we crane our necks to catch fleeting glimpses in the treetops!

Crested CaracaraOur next stop was Brazos Bend State Park, just outside of Houston, a great park in itself and a good jumping off point for other birding hotspots such as Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (Roseate Spoonbills!) and San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. The birding at Brazos Bend is great with 26 miles of hiking trails around small lakes that are filled with waterfowl, songbirds and raptors. The Black-bellied Whistling Duck became a favorite, a bird that manages to be comical and beautiful at the same time. White Ibis is also abundant here and was a new species for us. Another new species was alligator! Frequently the trails would be littered with the sunning reptiles so we soon learned to have an alternate route in mind. It was also alligator mating season and their bellowing added to the prehistoric feel of the rich bottomland forest.

Acting on a tip from a local birding expert, we visited Quintana, a tiny woodlot along the gulf that acts as a ‘migrant trap,’ a patch of greenery that is irresistible to travelling songbirds. In one binocular view was a study in red: a Scarlet Tanager, a Summer Tanager and a Northern Cardinal! Worm-eating Warbler was new for us here.

It was hard to leave Brazos Bend, but we had heard a lot about our next stop, Goose Island State Park. It was Easter and Texas State Parks can be quite the madhouses over a spring holiday weekend. Unfortunately for many Texans, the weather was a washout as it was for most of the U.S. as it left the state park virtually empty but for a few birding diehards.  The birding went from great to spectacular over the next few days as we enjoyed Goose Island and other spots in the area. Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Blue Grosbeak and Dickcissel were new for us at Goose Island.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the winter home of the rare and endangered Whooping Crane, is nearby. Although the cranes had already departed, there was still plenty to enjoy. Acres of salt marsh, thick brushy cover and stretches of sandy beaches provide great habitat for migrating and resident birds. Weather that can be a mere annoyance to people can be a big and life-threatening obstacle for birds. At Aransas we saw dozens of Barn Swallows too exhausted to move off the road after the recent storm. As birders we were thrilled to see these birds so closely, but we also recognized the need for protective shelter of places like Aransas where birds can recuperate before continuing north.

The weather was especially dismal at Padre Island National Seashore, but we had the opportunity to see more Upland Sandpipers than we could ever hope to see in a lifetime in Vermont along with a good variety of other shorebirds and terns. We were also treated to the improbably sight of seven Orchard Orioles huddle din the only shrub visible for miles.

For some South Padre Island conjures up images of wild college students on spring break, but for birders it’s a different story. As we pulled into the private campground that was to be our home for the next few days, we spotted several Hooded Warblers. Our campsite by the Laguna Madre gave us up-close views of Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron and Reddish Egret as well as vivid sunsets. The small shrub in front of our camper frequently held Tennessee Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart and Common Yellowthroat.

From South Padre we easily drove to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. With 45,000 acres it is also an invaluable bird oasis among all the development of coastal Texas. We spent the day, hiking and taking the auto route and tallying 70 species. Plain Chachalaca, Least Grebe, Crested Caracara, Great Kiskadee, Green Jay and Bronzed Cowbird were highlights here.

The Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary is also an easy drive from South Padre Island. Sabal Palm, as Texas’s only native palm tree, is an important component of an ecosystem that once stretched 80 miles along the coast, but is now reduced to a remnant. Here we saw a Least Grebe sitting on its floating nest and watched a graceful Swallow-tailed Kite in flight. Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Great Kiskadees and Black-crested Titmice were carrying nesting material.

Before we left South Padre Island, we visited the Convention Center. We were skeptical at first, especially as we found the center being set up for a motorcycle gathering. But we quickly saw the attraction – a small grove of trees, literally dripping with birds. Two particular birds were noteworthy. First, was a Painted Bunting, which we had wanted to see for ages. Wow! And second, was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The cuckoo was perched in a small tree, about five feet from the ‘bird paparazzi’ armed with the latest and largest in photographic equipment. The bird, although healthy looking, was probably exhausted from migration and hungry. It dropped to ground to pick up a caterpillar. Flying back to its perch, it promptly dropped it and the crow let out a collective ‘Awww…’

Falcon State Park was next on the schedule. It is a 570-acre park on the Mexican border. You know you’re in the desert. Our car thermometer registered 102 degrees and all signs of the tropical coastal environment were gone. Texas is known for its extremes of habitat and weather and here was another taste of it. Chihuahuan Raven, Cactus Wren and Pyrrhuloxia reflected this change. The heat was too much for us after two days so it was time to move on. Before we left, though, we experienced a treat. A neighboring camper offered us a look at a Greater Roadrunner in her campsite – it was sitting on a nest!

Eager for the shade of trees and some cooler weather, we packed up. But before leaving the desert, we stopped to the see the White-collared Seedeater in San Ygnacia, a tiny speck of a bird in a tiny speck of a town. This species is seen in only a couple of spots north of the Rio Grande. We have to confess we barely knew of this bird’s existence until we were tipped off by fellow travelers, birders, who are always generous in sharing their knowledge.

Golden-cheeked WarblerLocated in the Hill Country, Lost Maples State Natural Area is a delightful campground. It is home to the Uvalde Bigtooth Maple, a remnant of the Pleistocene Era. Its brilliant colors attract tourists in autumns the way our sugar maples in Vermont attract leaf peepers. Spring is the time to be here, however, for birders. The main attraction is the Golden-checked Warbler, a bird that can be found in the breeding season in the juniper-oak woodlands of Texas. It is not a hard bird to locate; its song  (and its appearance) are similar to our Black-throated Green Warbler. We were fortunate to have several close up looks. We were also lucky to see the Black-throated Vireo, another specialty of the area. Lost Maples offers a good opportunity to hike and bird. The Hill Country is beautiful and, even if you didn’t see a single bird, the wildflowers along would make the trip worthwhile.

We really looked forward to our next destination, Big Bend National Park, one of the most remote parks in the system, and a summer home for the Colima Warbler. We had visited Big Bend before, but had been too early to see the Colima. Located in the southwest area of Texas where the Rio Grande River makes a big turn, the park contains both mountains and desert and contains a wide variety of plants and animals that have had to adapt to some tough conditions. We steeled ourselves for the hike into Laguna Meadows and Boot Canyon, where the warbler is found. We set out early to avoid the hot weather and within two miles had seen our first Colima Warbler! We ended up hiking ten miles that day, seeing some wonderful scenery, and lots of great birds such as White-throated Swift, Mexican Jay, Violet-green Swallow and Scott’s Oriole.

Despite sore muscles, the next day we hike the Window Trail. Its only drawback is that the return trip is uphill! Nevertheless we were treated to Golden Eagle, Lucifer Hummingbird, Crissal Thrasher and Varied Bunting. It was a nice way to end our stay at Big Bend before heading off to our last Texas stop, the Davis Mountains.

Western Scrub-JayDavis State Park is a 2,700-acre park in the middle of the West Texas panhandle, and was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, to which many Texas state parks owe their existence. Western Kingbird, Western Scrub-Jay, Black-headed Grosbeak and Lesser Goldfinch showed us we were now truly in the west. An unsatisfying look at a pair of retreating Montezuma Quail (which gave us yet another reason to plan another trip to Texas), was offset by another experience that more than made up for it. Alerted by fellow birders, we learned of an Elf Owl residing in a utility pole between campsites 2 and 3. Each evening a crown would gather at said location and at the appointed time of 8:45, the owl would appear in the hole for several minutes before flying off into the night. Such a small bird, but what a thrill!

The habitat of the Davis Mountains provided a dramatic contrast to the beginning of our trip in the east Texas bayous and served as a reminder of how far we had traveled (almost 5,000) miles and how much we had seen (256 species). We had traveled from the bayous of east Texas to the mountain desert of west Texas. Although we were sad to be leaving, we had learned a lot, including the fact there is a lot more to see in Texas!



audubon camp at hog island, maine

Atlantic PuffinMy husband Larry and I attended Audubon Camp on Hog Island, Maine, in June. The session we attended was called The Joy of Birding. Mid-afternoon on Sunday, June 9th, we boarded a boat along with some of the other campers. It took us the ¼ mile trip to Hog Island. After getting settled in our room, we went down to the main gathering spot, and what was the first thing that happened? A porcupine strolled leisurely around the dining building, oblivious to everyone, climbed an apple tree, ate some leaves, and promptly went to sleep. The next thing that happened was hearing and seeing a very cooperative Northern Parula, a warbler and a life bird for me, which turned out to be the first of many that live on the Island. This was a great beginning to the adventure of the next few days. We then all gathered in a circle in the Fish House and introduced ourselves. There were almost 60 campers from states all over the country (Texas, California, Virginia, New Mexico, Florida and Pennsylvania, to name a few) as well as Canada. We also were introduced to the camp leaders for that week:  Chris Lewey, Rich Eakin, Wayne Petersen, John Pumilio, Sue Schubel, Pete Salmansohn, Clay and Pat Sutton, and Juanita Roushdy, who is also the president of Friends of Hog Island.

At dinner at 6:00 we learned all the procedures for the week. Everyone was responsible for making the dining area run smoothly. If you sat in a particular seat, you were the “hopper” that day and were the one who took all the dirty dishes to the dishwashing crew. Everyone had a cloth napkin that was hung with a personalized clothespin on a line after using and was your napkin for the week.  There was no waste – all uneaten food left in serving dishes was returned and reappeared later in a different guise. There was a compost bin. Each leader sat at the head of a different table so campers were able to chat with them, ask questions, and just get to know them on a more personal basis. I was impressed.

Immediately after dinner, we reconvened in the Fish House. Pete Salmansohn, who is involved with Project Puffin, gave a presentation on the history of Hog Island, and Chris Lewey presented Maine Coastal Ecology. This turned out to be a nightly pattern:  dinner at 6:00 followed by a presentation at 7:15 by one of the leaders or a guest. We were treated to Hawks by Clay Sutton, Island Birds by Rich Eakin, Migration by Scott Weidensaul, and Puffins by Steve Kress, who has directed the Puffin Project since 1973. After the presentations, the schedule for the following day was announced. Each morning there was an early bird walk at 5:45, breakfast at 7:00, and 8:15 the time to meet your group for the daily field trip. The campers had been divided into groups named after birds. On Monday, our first full day of camp, the Loons and the Parulas were going on the boat trip to Eastern Egg Rock to see Puffins. The other two groups (Gulls and Terns, I think) would be going on a mainland birding trip. Since Larry and I were Loons, our first day would be exciting. 

We went back to our cozy, but small, room. Since our accommodations in the Queen Mary building held 18 campers, but only two bathrooms and two showers, getting ready for bed involved some waiting in line. This was something new for me. I had never gone to camp as a kid. But everyone was patient and nice, so it worked out. 

Monday morning, I awoke at 3:30a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. I guess I was eager to get going.  Every morning there, I woke up by 4:30. I think it was the sun shining in our east facing window. I literally woke up with the birds. So that first day, I went on the early morning bird walk – heard more Parulas, and Juncos were trilling. Right behind the dining building there was an Osprey sitting on a nest that had two chicks in it (we later got to see this on a birdcam in the dining room).

The weather was absolutely perfect for our boat ride. The sun was shining and the sea was calm. Along the way to Eastern Egg Island, which is about 8 miles from Hog Island, we saw Bald Eagles, Ospreys (sometimes in conflict with each other), Eiders, Black Guillemots, and many gulls. Sue Schubel, another veteran of Project Puffin, provided a running commentary of what we were seeing as well as the history of puffins on Eastern Egg Island. We stopped to look into the water to see how abundant the fish were and why that area in the Gulf of Maine draws so many birds to it. When we finally reached the island, we were not disappointed. There were many puffins, some as close as ten feet from the boat (no need for binoculars). There also were more guillemots, two Razorbills, cormorants, and Roseate, Common, and Arctic terns. 

When we all had had our fill of puffins (if that’s possible!), we sailed to Harbor Island to have lunch and for some afternoon field trips. Since I had trouble getting on and off the boat and into a motorboat to get onto the island, I opted for the easy field trip, a walk in a typical low, shrubby habitat, where we encountered many Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers, Song Sparrows, a few Gray Catbirds, and an Alder Flycatcher, among others. One of the two other groups had gone on a challenging geology walk, and the other walked a moderate trail, the highlight of which was a Great Horned Owl and her owlets nesting behind the property of the one family that had a home on the island.

Back on Hog Island in late afternoon, we then had dinner and a presentation on hawks by Clay Sutton. The schedule for the next day involved a major change to Plan B since the weather report was forecasting a bad storm. The Gulls and Terns would not be able to do the trip to Eastern Egg Island as scheduled.   

Plan B on Tuesday consisted first of a panel discussion with the leaders about how to become a better birder. The discussion was interesting. We spent a good deal of time discussing the use of audio playback when bird watching. After that campers could choose from presentations given by each of the leaders. These ran the gamut of topics from painting birds to the first year of life of a passerine, storytelling, how to spot owls, gardening for birds and birds asleep. One of the two I chose to attend was called Unfamiliar Facts, Familiar Faces given by Wayne Petersen. I learned that, while most birds learn their songs from their dads, tyrant flycatchers, like our Willow, Alder, Phoebe, Kingbird, etc., are genetically programmed and know their song inherently.  I really wanted to see the Birds Asleep presentation, but decided that I needed some sleep myself by that time. Larry had been snoozing most of the day, which had turned out to be pretty stormy, with a lot of rain and a chilly wind. For most of the week it was cool with temperatures in the 60s. I was glad I had packed mostly warm clothing, and most days wore three layers.

Wednesday’s weather was considerably better, but still cloudy and drizzly. The Gulls and Terns groups got to go see puffins, while our group did the mainland birding trip. We stopped at several roadside places where we heard Brown Creeper, Canada Warbler, and Hermit Thrush singing, but they wouldn’t show their faces. At a wonderful place managed by the Damariscotta River Association, we heard a Sora and got good looks at it and a family of Pied-billed Grebes. There were also many swallows and Bobolinks in an adjacent field. Next we visited a blueberry barren, where I got to see another life bird, Vesper Sparrow. An American Kestrel was there also. 

The leaders were excellent. They knew where the birds were, were very judicious in their use of playback, and they all knew so much about the plants, flowers, trees, and ferns that we were seeing. They answered our questions with knowledge and clarity. 

That evening, we had a real treat. Scott Weidensaul was the guest speaker. He gave a passionate talk on bird migration, in which he described some of the amazing things that have been learned about bird migration in the past several years with the use of geolocators. Some birds are traveling much greater distances during migration than had been thought, and their bodies undergo incredible physiological changes that enable them to do this. He ended with a call for people who care about birds to drink shade-grown coffee, plant their gardens with flowers that attract birds, keep their cats indoors, and work toward educating people to do this, and support organizations that advocate for birds. 

The following morning (Thursday, which was our last full day of camp) began bright and early. Several mist nets had been set up around the area, and we watched as Scott Weidensaul banded birds that had been caught including a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. It had an incredibly tiny band placed around its leg. 

After breakfast, the groups split up, half doing a mainland Medomak bird walk, and the others taking a boat to Ross Island to see nesting gulls and chicks. Our group did the Medomak walk first, which was a loop trail around private land whose owners allow Audubon access to it. We heard more parulas, had good looks at a Black-billed Cuckoo, and explored a wetland area that was part of the property. Larry and I passed on the afternoon boat trip to Ross Island because it would involve walking on slippery rocks and I would have had to stay on the boat.  But we heard from others that it was a great trip, and some even got to hold gull chicks in their hands. 

The last evening at Hog Island was a treat. Those who chose were served freshly cooked lobster. Dessert was cream “puffins,” homemade cream puffs embellished to look like puffins! Steve Kress presented a talk on Project Puffin, which he has headed up for forty years. It was amazing to learn of the dedication and perseverance of the people who singlehandedly managed to bring puffins back to Eastern Egg Island.  Afterward, awards were given out for best “hopper” in the dining room and winner of the Mystery Quiz, which involved answering a bird-related question from a different leader, posted each day in the lab. Needless to say, I didn’t win either prize, but I had fun researching the answers to the quiz in the small amount of spare time that we had. Finally, good-byes were said, and everyone scurried back to their rooms to pack for a very early Friday morning boat ride to the mainland and to catch flights or pick up cars to carry us home. All in all, Larry and I had a wonderful time. We were glad we had made the trip to Hog Island. We now have some very happy memories of our time there.   

For more information about Audubon/Hog Island, click here.


a new found place to bird (continued from September 4)

We were sorry to leave Gros Morne National Park, but it was time to head to the eastern side of the island. The next four days were spent at Terra Nova National Park, where boreal forest Boreal Chickadeemeets the Atlantic Ocean. The park has numerous trails where various warblers including Palm, Northern Waterthrush and Wilson’s warblers can be seen. Boreal Chickadees are easy to spot. We had a close encounter with a Northern Goshawk and also saw a Merlin.

The nearby Bonavista Peninsula made a great day trip. Our first stop there was Elliston, which has a nesting colony of 300+ Atlantic Puffins. Atlantic PuffinsVery close up and personal – some were only a few feet away. It was hard to tear ourselves away. Common Murre, Thick-billed Murre, Black-legged Kittiwake, new birds for us, were also present. And we enjoyed the Black Guillemots, with their bright red feet and red mouth-linings, as much as the puffins. Black Guillemot

The nearby town of Bonavista offered another opportunity to observe puffins and other seabirds. It also has a striking red and white lighthouse. The pride Newfoundlanders take in their towns and villages was evident when we ran across the mayor and a group of young people picking up debris along the shore (just as we do here on Bonavista LighthouseGreen-up Day).

Back on the west coast we spent two nights at Blow Me Down Provincial Park (it’s not windy; that was the exclamation of a sea captain when he saw the area). Local trails led us to isolated coves and along the way we saw American Tree Sparrow and White-winged Crossbills, winter visitors for us, as well as Fox Sparrow seen in Vermont only during migration.

L’Anse aux Meadows, on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula, is the site of a Viking settlement 1,000 years ago and a fascinating and beautiful spot in itself. After a tour of the national historic site (and World Heritage Site), we took a stroll and saw more Common Eider with young, a pair of White-winged Scoters and a Common Redpoll. Our accommodations on the Northern Peninsula were at Pistolet Bay Provincial Park, where moose were frequent visitors to our campsite. Tours of nearby Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve are available for aficionados of arctic plants.

Our last two nights on the island were spent at J. T. Cheeseman Provincial Park in the south near where the ferry departs. It has a great variety of birds. Red-throated Loon, Black-bellied Plover (still in breeding plumage), Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper and juvenile Sanderling were present as well as nine species of warblers. Piping Plovers breed here. Piping Plover chickAt nearby Codroy Valley Provincial Park we were fortunate to see Piping Plover chicks – big oohs and aahs.

Newfoundland is an easy and comfortable place to travel. Campgrounds, particularly the provincial parks, and a plethora of bed and breakfasts are the best way to get to know the people and the geography. We learned about many a side trip or hiking trail in conversations with local Newfoundlanders, park staff, and fellow travelers.

If you’re traveling with non-birders, there is plenty to do. Everywhere the scenery is beautiful and many villages and towns have their own hiking trails to take advantage of it. A whale watch trip is never far off and, if you’re early enough in the season, there is always the potential to see an iceberg. We were a little late and saw the remaining ice cube of a ‘berg as it floated into oblivion.

I’ll end here and resist the temptation to say we only saw the tip of the iceberg, but there was a lot we didn’t have time to see in Newfoundland. There could be another trip in our future. Lots of good information on traveling to Newfoundland can be found at the Newfoundland tourism website.


a new found place to bird

Marv and I usually choose our vacation destinations with birding in mind so Newfoundland seemed like just the place for this summer’s adventure. A place whose provincial bird is the Atlantic Puffin had to be good. Besides the provincial flower is the carnivorous pitcher plant, it has geographical features called Atlantic Puffintickles and bights, food items such as bakeapples and cod cheeks, place names like Ha Ha Bay, Cow Head, and Happy Adventure, and a quirky time zone. It was intriguing. Newfoundland doesn’t rival Texas or southeast Arizona in number of species, but it does have a number of seabirds not found in southern locations. It also provides the opportunity to see those birds and other species in their breeding habitats.  Even without birds, we would have enjoyed Newfoundland immensely. And the birds were wonderful.

Newfoundland can be reached by air or ferry, but by arriving by water you get the sense of arriving at a “New Founde Lande,” an island known as “The Rock.” It also gives you the opportunity for a little pelagic birding. We were fortunate to run into a group from the Brookline Bird Club in Massachusetts and spent a good portion of the trip on the bow taking advantage of their seabird expertise. New birds for us on the 100-miles crossing of the Cabot Strait from North Sidney, Nova Scotia to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland included Common and Manx shearwaters, Northern Fulmar, and Leach’s Storm-petrel. At 8 inches the storm-petrel seems a surprisingly small bird for such a large expanse of water. Northern Gannets were also present in good numbers and their plunge diving is fun to watch. Any feelings of seasickness were quickly dissipated!

We spent the first seven days on the west coast of Newfoundland at Gros Morne National Park. TSpruce Grousehe park consists of rocky coastline, stunted spruce forest called tuckamore, bogs, and high elevation arctic-alpine habitat. Something for everyone and every bird!  There we saw Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse and Black-backed Woodpecker. Other northern species included Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler and Lincoln’s Sparrow. Shorebirds included Ruddy Turnstone and Semipalmated Plover. We saw Arctic Terns for the first time and saw female Common Eiders snoozing on rocks with their young.

Gray JayBird behavior is always fun to watch. While waiting on a dock for a boat tour, we were greeted by Gray Jays. The Canadian Gray Jays are as comical and sometimes bad mannered as their U.S. counterparts, systematically making the begging rounds as new passengers arrived, with occasional stops to peer into trash barrels.

The highlight of the week was a trip to the top of Gros Morne Mountain. A friend of ours will be receiving the “Understatement of the Year Award.” When asked about the hike, he replied, “It wasn’t too bad.” At 806 meters (that’s 2,644 feet for the climbing Gros Mornemetrically-challenged), the grueling hike of 16 kilometers, which sounds more impressive than ten miles, resulted in magnificent views and a life bird. The Rock Ptarmigan, usually found much further north on the rocky arctic tundra, is the birders’ target at Gros Morne. We had excellent views of three females and seven soon-to-be teenagers. Good thing because after that hike we weren't about to descend without seeing one! A digital disaster has prevented us showing you a photo so here is one of Roy Pilcher’s so you get the idea.Rock Ptarmigan (male)

Stay tuned for more including the puffins....