Territorial cries are music to our ears

Bruce Mactavish
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You miss a lot being away for 10 days in late spring, as I was when on an offshore supply vessel. It was nice to get back in out of the fog and see how things had greened up on land in the time I was gone.

When I left, there were still some species of warblers and flycatchers that had not yet arrived on their breeding grounds. To catch up on the changes in the bird scene, I took June 9 for a day to travel around the Irish Loop on the Avalon Peninsula.

The start of the 350-kilometre drive was delayed by a visit to Cape Spear to look for the Eurasian whimbrel found there a few days earlier by Dave Brown. This bird looks nearly identical to the North American whimbrel, which is a common migrant through Newfoundland and Labrador in late summer on its route south from Arctic nesting grounds. The obvious difference is only obvious when the bird flies or parts the wings across its back, revealing a striking white lower back.

This bird was presumably part of the grand influx of Icelandic birds to the province during the northeast winds of May. I located the bird feeding on the barrens not far off the road just before the main parking lot at Cape Spear. The brown plumage blended in with the brown terrain of Cape Spear. I am sure the people that drove past noticing my big camera lens pointed out the car window thought I was taking pictures of the iceberg, because they could not see the rare bird.

With its long curved bill, the Eurasian whimbrel daintily picked items from the ground. I could not tell if it was old berries or insect life. It seemed to be faring quite well. It even had time to stop for a little preening at which time it revealed its telltale white lower back that brands this bird as the rare Eurasian whimbrel from Iceland.

This was a good start to my day. It was the only rare bird of the day, but it was the common birds I was most interested in checking out.

I stopped at Father Duffy’s Well site on the Salmonier Line for a sample of the birds singing. I heard the yellow-bellied flycatcher. This is the last songbird to arrive back in the province during spring migration. It was the first of several heard at various stops during the morning. The woods were rich with bird song from various species of warblers, sparrows, thrushes, kinglet flycatchers and others.

A northern waterthrush sang loudly from its perch on one side of the road while its rival sang just as loudly from the other side. The two birds had probably agreed that the road would be their territorial boundary.

Without a fence or flagging tape to mark the area, birds have to use the continuous presence of song to stake out their land. Countless faceoffs between birds of the same species drawing territorial lines are taking place across the land. All this bird song is music to our ears.

It is difficult to find the nests of woodland songbirds. However, other birds are easier to see while sitting on nests. In St. Mary’s Bay, a mixed colony of ring-billed gulls and common terns on a gravel bar was relatively quiet as the birds were sitting tight incubating nests full of eggs. Some birds are already out of the nests. I saw several groups of young ravens being led around by their parents. The big gangly birds all slick in their shining new black feathers were learning how to find food.

Goose chase

On the Trepassey barrens, I noticed the black neck of a Canada goose sticking up high from the brown terrain. I stopped the car and looked with binoculars and, sure enough, there were two adult geese with four bright yellow downy goslings. I was surprised to see them on the ground far from the nearest pond, but grazing on new grass shoots is what geese do in the spring.

The parents would be more than a match to fend off any fox that thought it could make an easy meal of out the goslings.

Canada geese seem to be increasing as nesters on the barrens of the southern Avalon Peninsula. Maybe they are just a little less wary than they used to be allowing themselves to be seen more often.

While looking at the geese, I heard the yodelling of a greater yellowlegs.

This reminded me that I was not seeing this ubiquitous bird in the saltwater coves. That’s because they are all busy nesting inland on the barrens and bogs.

A little further down the road, a white blob on top of telephone pole proved to be a snowy owl. Normally snowy owls are not present during the summer on the island of Newfoundland. After last fall’s exceptionally large influx of snowy owls it appears a small number of them have decided to stay with us for the summer.

These are probably one-year birds not yet sexually mature enough to nest. The barrens of the southern Avalon Peninsula look like the Arctic and the recent temperatures are not too far off, either!

The osprey nest near the road north of Fermeuse had a bird sitting on it. Many people are noticing this nest, now in occupancy for the second summer.

I arrived home feeling good that the spring migration phase of birds has been completed and we are now solidly into the nesting season of summer. A few warm days and it will also feel like summer.

Bruce Mactavish is an environmental

consultant and avid birdwatcher. He can be reached at wingingitone@yahoo.ca, or by phone at 722-0088.

Organizations: North American, Salmonier Line

Geographic location: Arctic, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Southern Avalon Peninsula Trepassey Island of Newfoundland Fermeuse

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