June birding in the Codroy Valley

Bruce
Bruce Mactavish
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In the southwest corner of the island of Newfoundland lies a lush green valley in which flows the Grand Codroy River.

The rich soil supports a farming community and a mixed deciduous and coniferous forest, more like that found in Cape Breton Island on the other side of the Cabot Strait then anything in the rest of Newfoundland.

The rich forest is packed full of birds typical of the Newfoundland forest, but also supports a distinctive flavour of mainland birds. Some species common in adjacent Nova Scotia are found routinely in the Codroy Valley, but are rare elsewhere in Newfoundland. This is what lures birdwatchers to the Codroy Valley.

A June trip to the Codroy Valley is a highlight of the birder’s year.

A three or four day stay in the Codroy Valley routinely results in 100 species of bird being seen. The Codroy Valley is a birding gem.

June is a busy month for yours truly, so a June trip to the Codroy Valley rarely gets beyond the dream stage. However, this year an opening in the June work schedule appeared. It was a perfect time for a trip to the Newfoundland’s birding paradise.

All my birding friends able to make such a trip had already done so during the first half of June.

I would be there solo for three full days in the third week of June, still within the peak period of birdsong. There are some comfortable cabins for rent in the valley completing a perfect setup for a birder’s holiday.

There are must visit areas for June birders. Brooms Brooks is a tributary of the Grand Codroy River.

The lowland supports large coniferous and deciduous trees. New and abandoned woods roads allow for easy access on foot into the area.

I went here on the first morning. Right away, I knew I was in a different place when I encountered a Philadelphia vireo singing by the bridge and a couple of grey catbirds chasing each other through the alders. Both these species are difficult to find elsewhere in Newfoundland.

It did not take much walking down the woods road before I heard the wiry high-pitched song of a blackburnian warbler. This is one of the most strikingly coloured members of the warbler clan and a must-get bird in the Codroy Valley.

I was able to entice it down from the tops of the high spruce trees where it prefers to forage by making some pishing sounds.

It was a superb bird with a burning orange face and breast offset with engraved black markings. It is an image that cannot be accurately captured by an artist or a photograph.

Oh yes, I said to myself, this is what I came to the Codroy Valley for.

There was another one singing within earshot a little ways farther down the trail.

Another warbler high on my want list has only become regular in the Codroy Valley within the last decade. It is the chestnut-sided warbler.

It lives in the regenerating deciduous scrub that grows up after an area of woods has been logged out.

There is plenty of this kind of habitat in Newfoundland, so it is a wonder it is not more common here. Maybe some day it will be. For now it is another Codroy specialty.

It was a pleasant surprise when I heard one. It was singing nonstop and loudly, despite a light rain falling.

I had some nice looks at the bird showing the dark chestnut coloured stripe down each side of the white breast and the yellow cap on the head.

Another must visit area is actually not in the Codroy Valley proper, but a 10-minute drive down the Trans-Canada Highway.

An inconspicuous little dirt road leading off the highway, called Red Rocks Road, is excellent for birdwatching.

The woods here are dense and kept short by the infamous Wreckhouse winds.

It is hard to explain the abundance and diversity of bird life along the short stretch of road. Winter wrens sing unseen from the hillsides.

Red-eyed and blue-headed vireos, uncommon anywhere else in Newfoundland, are common sounds in the morning chorus. It is a migrant trap in the spring.

My prize was a singing parula warbler. There is something magic about the caramel coloured band across the lemon yellow breast and the snow white wing bars and deep sky blue back. Only nature could come up with a colour scheme like that and make it look good.

My favourite moment of the trip came on the Starlite trail. This trail starts off the Trans-Canada Highway behind the site of the long gone Starlite Motel.

The well-marked trail takes you up on the barrens of the Long Range Mountains. Not far before you break out of the forest into the barrens, the birch trees take on a new look. The twisted drunken trunks grow about 15 metres in height before leafing out into a dense canopy, nearly blocking out the sun. Beneath is an open air arena and a forest floor thick with ferns.

Here lives a thrush called the veery.

Its song is a burst of ethereal notes cascading like a waterfall and filling the cool air under the canopy of the birches

 I heard four, but never did see one. It was difficult to pinpoint the source of the sound. I stood close — so close to one singing I thought I could hear its feet shifting on the perch, but no way could I get a glimpse of this shy and alert bird.

These are only a few snippets of time from three beautiful days of birdwatching in the Codroy Valley.

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

Organizations: Trans-Canada Highway

Geographic location: Codroy Valley, Newfoundland, Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia Grand Codroy River Philadelphia Red Rocks Road Starlite Long Range Mountains

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