Counting May birds

Bruce Mactavish
Published on June 7, 2014

One of the games birders like to play is counting up the number of bird species seen in a day, year or over a lifetime.

Bird Studies Canada capitalizes on this sporting side of birders as a method of fundraising to support their projects aimed at protecting birds and bird habitat in Canada. You can check them out on the internet.

The event is called the Baillie Birdathon. Groups across Canada choose a day in May to go for a big day list to raise money for Bird Studies Canada with a portion of the proceeds going to a local nature conservation organization.

The idea is to get sponsored so much money per species tallied within a 24 hours period.

Anne Hughes has been spearheading a team of Avalon birders participating in this event for a good number of years. For the last three years, Anne has combined forces with Catherine Barrett, calling their team The Twillicks. Twillick is a uniquely Newfoundland name used for the greater yellowlegs, one of the most common shorebirds in the province.

The Twillicks usually enlist a third team member who they can count on to help them find birds.

This time they called on the energy of the enthusiastic Lancy Cheng.

On the Avalon Peninsula, one has to wait until late May to ensure most of the bird species have returned. This was particularly important during the extraordinarily cool spring of 2014. The Twillicks picked the last day of May for their big day. Their day was a 24-hour period which encompassed Friday evening to Saturday evening. This allowed them to cover the St. John’s area on Friday and then enjoy the Southern Shore down as far south as Trepassey on Saturday.

They had a good day. Their total of 71 species was near average. They saw a late tufted duck hanging out at Neville’s Pond in Paradise. These should be back in Iceland by now.

The rare eastern phoebe that has taken up residence at Bidgoods Park in Goulds was an easy tick for the day. A red-winged blackbird at Gord Hartery’s birdfeeder in Portugal Cove South was a welcome addition to any bird list on the Avalon Peninsula.

They saw the first willet of the season at Renews. This is a rare breeding shorebird in Newfoundland.

See WARM, page C2

A few pairs nest in the Stephenville Crossing area on the west coast, but the only other nesting site in the province is Renews, where an isolated pair tries each year to bring off a nest. Only on one occasion did they succeed in hatching young. Last spring only one adult showed up. It is good to know that one willet has arrived back on site and we will wait to see if a mate shows up.

The rarest bird of the day showed up at Renews after the team’s first visit to the beach. It was an Icelandic black-tailed godwit found by Alvan Buckley, Peter Shelton and Andrea Dicks. Was this a left over from the invasion of Icelandic birds in early May or a new comer arriving on recent northeast winds? We can only speculate, but any way you try to analyze it, the black-tailed godwit was a spectacular rarity for The Twillicks to pick up on their return trip through Renews.

LaManche provincial park is a must stop site on a big day list in May. It is a good place for some of the scarcer Avalon Peninsula warblers like black-throated green and magnolia warblers, which the group saw, but the more expected American redstart was not even back yet. Has there ever been a May when American redstarts did not arrive in May on the Avalon Peninsula?

The group encountered only one yellow warbler. These should be abundant and widespread in late May. I cannot remember such a late spring for the warblers. Luckily another speciality of the park, the blue-headed vireo, was present singing on territory as it should be.

The team enjoyed the successful day seeing some nice birds while raising a record $1,000 to be shared between Bird Studies Canada and Nature Newfoundland and Labrador. However, little did they know they drove right past what would have been the bird of their day while in Cappahayden.

Beth Ryan photographed a bright red bird out the living room window of her house that Saturday afternoon. Not knowing the identity of the bird, Beth emailed the picture to yours truly. It was a splendid male summer tanager from the United States. They sometimes show up here as a spring migration overshoot. In fact, there was one already seen this May at St. Lawrence by Norman and Gail Wilson. It would have made an exciting addition to the list of the Twillicks. Such is the sporting part of birding. There are no guarantees and there will always be misses and near misses.

As spring struggles into June, the temperatures edge upwards, even if averaging below normal for the season. A little warm spell during the first week of June is bound to open up the freeway of migration for the rest of those warblers and flycatchers planning on spending the summer in the province.

Yes, things will be all right in the end. It has been a long struggle to get to summer. We are not quite there yet, but soon, very soon.

Bruce Mactavish is an environmental

consultant and avid birdwatcher. He can be reached at,

or by phone at 722-0088