We’ve reached the midpoint of summer birding

Bruce Mactavish
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It is the middle of summer. Spring is just as far behind us as the fall season is ahead. The tide is about to turn and summer will slowly begin to ebb.

There is absolutely no reason to panic, however, for the best time of the year in Newfoundland and Labrador is late summer and early fall.

Mid-summer is a bit of a birder’s doldrum. Some birders take up different nature hobbies during the mid-summer peak, such as wildflower photography, dragonfly or butterfly watching.

But the diehards and narrowly focused keep on birding. There are ways to squeeze out some birding jollies in mid-summer.

Birders are commenting on the high numbers of juvenile birds in the woods.

The juveniles just out of the nest are usually heavily streaked or spotted and barely resemble their parents.

Every day they are learning more about what it is like to live in the wild and find their own food.

By the end of summer, they lose their juvenile feathers and grow a new set of body feathers that resembles their parents.

Birders looking for the last of breeding bird action have been visiting LaManche Provincial Park.

The trails there allow easy access into the woods.

Target species have been grey-cheeked thrush, blue-headed vireo and black-throated green warbler.

Up to three blue-headed vireos have been seen together, including one suspected of being a juvenile hatched this year.

Blue-headed vireo is a very uncommon nester on the Avalon Peninsula and welcome mid-summer sight.

No one gets every target bird, but Andrea Dicks got a bonus bird when she found a black-backed woodpecker by the falls.

This woodpecker is around in the woods in low densities, but in the deeper woods where birders do not spend enough time.

The shorebird migrating season is starting to pick up speed. At first it was mainly greater and lesser yellowlegs, whimbrels, semipalmated plovers and least sandpipers. But now the true Arctic breeders are coming through.

The first flocks of ruddy turnstones are appearing, with flocks reaching the double digits in size, from Bear Cove and Long Beach on the southeastern Avalon Peninsula.

They are still in their bright breeding colours when they first get back to Newfoundland and definitely worth a look.

There will be a rapid increase in the Arctic shorebirds during the first 10 days of August as the white-rumped sandpipers, semipalmated sandpipers, black-bellied plovers and various other odds and ends arrive to feed on the marine critters living in the Newfoundland tidal mud.

Interesting records

Maureen Roche has been carefully watching a pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds in Branch. She sees hummingbirds regularly in her garden during spring. But this year both a male and a female have lingered right into summer. It will be excellent news to hear that this pair brings some juveniles to the feeder, confirming what is suspected — that they are nesting in Branch. The Codroy Valley in the southwest corner of Newfoundland is the only place where hummingbirds regularly nest in the province.

John and Ivy Gibbons have found a couple of interesting nesting records on the Northern Peninsula. Three juvenile harlequin ducks at the mouth of Doctors Brook means they nested somewhere up the brook again after a two-year absence.

Harlequin ducks nest in fast-flowing rocky rivers, mostly at inaccessible locations in the Long Range Mountains.

The Gibbons also noted two nests of rough-legged hawk, each with four healthy young, in the Plum Point area. This indicates there is a high population of meadow voles in the area.

John and Ivy have discovered that rough-legged hawks nest in their area only once every four or five years when the vole population cycle peaks.

However, this is the second consecutive year for rough-legged hawks nesting in their area. The high number of healthy young in the nests suggests an excellent vole population.

These hawks have the capability to move about and choose a nest location where there is a good rodent population. In most years, rough-legged hawks move on to Labrador to nest.

It is very unusual to see a snowy owl in the summer months south of the Arctic. There is still a snowy owl hanging out on the barrens just west of Trepassey. The presence of a bird in summer does not mean it has nested here.

Occasionally, a sub-adult snowy owl will linger in the south all summer if the feeding is particularly good.

Perhaps the meadow vole population is also at a high peak on the Trepassey barrens for snowy owls also relish a good feed of meadow voles.

Oddity of the week

Jeannine Winkel, a guide on the tour boat Molly Bawn out of Mobile, got a big surprise while touring the Witless Bay seabird islands. It was white murre.

Any species of bird can show albinism. Partial albinism is not that rare in robins, juncos, crows and starlings, but a white turr is a definite shocker.

Jeannine was able to secure a couple of quick photographs of this striking bird. No sign of it since but it is something to watch out for.

There is lots of good summer left and bird watching is about to get better as the migration of songbirds and shorebirds gets underway. Enjoy it.

Bruce Mactavish is an environmental

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

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Arctic, LaManche Provincial Park Long Beach Southeastern Avalon Peninsula Trepassey Codroy Valley Plum Point Witless Bay

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