On our last full day of birding we visited the ATLANTIC PUFFIN colony at Elliston, a small town just below Cape Bonavista. The weather was incredible and had amazing views of nesting PUFFINS flying to and from their nesting burrows. Below are some of my favourite pics from the visit.


PUFFIN taking off from burrow

PUFFINS trying to avoid a  marauding Herring Gull

wide shot of the PUFFIN colony at Elliston

visitors enjoying the PUFFINS




I have been to Cape St. Marys on at least five occasions and every single time it has been foggy. This is not unusual at this time of the year as on average the cape is fogged in for 27 out of 31 days in July! Indeed when we visited on July 9th, it had been foggy at the cape for the last 17 days in a row. I prepared Kathi for the inevitable fog that would greet us at the cape even though it was sunny and clear on our drive south. Incredibly when we arrived at the cape, it was stunningly clear and we had incredible views of the ocean, birds and cliffs. Below is a scenic of the gannet colony.

It was a pleasant one km walk along the shoreline to the gannet colony. When we reached the site it was an absolutely spectacular view and the NORTHERN GANNETS were so close it felt like you could touch them.

 Just a few feet from the cliff is a large stack of rock separated from the main cliffs by about a hundred feet. This stack is literally covered with nesting GANNETS.

We spent almost an hour photographing GANNETS, KITTIWAKES, RAZORBILLS, MURRES and other seabirds nesting on the cliffs. I managed to convince Kathi to sit out on the promontory of rocks which were labelled "WARNING UNSTABLE CLIFFS" for this photo. 


My old friend Bruce Mactavish from St. Johns joined us for a foggy but fun day. It was great sharing some birds and a few humorous stories from our youth. He told us to keep an eye out for southern terns, as this was prime time for one to turn up. As luck would have it, the very next day we were scanning through the gull and tern flock at Holyrood Pond (inshore side of St. Vincent's Beach) when I was stunned to see an adult ROYAL TERN sitting on a small rock!! I told Kathi to sit tight in the vehicles until I could get the scope set up and confirm the ID and digiscope a few images. After a few tense moments, the crew slowly got out without flushing the tern and everyone had great views of this exceptional rarity.

ROYAL TERN - one of about a half a dozen records for NF

For me this was a particularly exciting sighting because this was my 500th species for CANADA! There was no cell service here so we had to wait about half an hour until we were near the small town of St. Mary's so I could call Bruce. When I did get through he sounded pretty excited about the find and he promised that "people would be on their way in a few minutes"! Later that evening he emailed me to let me know that he and at least a dozen other birders had managed to find not just one, but TWO ROYAL TERNS! This was a first for his Newfoundland list.


 Kathi and I made the lengthy hike out to Mistaken Point with Julie Cappleman as our guide. This site is along the road to Cape Race just east of Portugal Cove South in the southern Avalon peninsula. It was cool and foggy which helped to reduce the biting insects and make the walk out very pleasant. Julie pointed out a number of flowering plants along the way. To me, the most stunning was this BLUE FLAG.


 The hike to the fossil site was just over three km, with some tricky spots along the way. Here we are just above the fossil beds.

Mistaken Point fossils are among the most signficant anywhere. The were recently dated at 575 million years old, making them the oldest known multicellular fossils known to science! Below is one of the most common fossils at this site. 

As we returned from our hike, we were thrilled to find a SHORT-EARED OWL sitting right beside the side of the road. Three carloads of people stopped and took dozens of photos of the owl before it flew off into the fog. It was a great way to wrap up the day!


Kathi and I spent ten days in Newfoundland exploring the Avalon peninsula. One of the big highlights of the trip was a boat trip with Obriens Boat tours out to the Witless Bay bird islands. Below are a few photo highlights from the morning on the boat.

hundreds of GREATER SHEARWATERS were seen

ATLANTIC PUFFIN in flight - one of thousands seen today

RAZORBILL in flight

a pair of NORTHERN FULMARS nesting on the cliff


In late June, Kathi and I spent several mornings trying to view and photograph songbirds at various sites around southern Michigan. She wanted to try using her new Canon hybrid and I wanted to fill in some gaps in my photo collection. Here are some of the best images from those shoots.

Chestnut-sided Warbler male

Hooded Warbler male

Mourning Warbler male


Rose-breasted Grosbeak male

Yellow-throated Vireo male


During our week in the southern Yukon we tallied a total of 158 species. Given that migrant shorebirds were almost non-existent during our visit, we thought this was a great tally. Highlights of birds seen included a male TUFTED DUCK, 2 YELLOW-BILLED LOONS, 3 SMITH'S LONGSPURS, PARASITIC JAEGER, WILLOW and ROCK PTARMIGAN, EVENING GROSBEAK, THREE-TOED WOODPECKERS and multiple BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS. Below is a pic of one of a group of about six BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS hanging around a small lake near Watson lake.

Much our success in finding a good species tally was due to the incredibly generous help of resident Yukon birders Cameron Eckert and Yukka Juttanen and others. They helped us put together a route for a big day that we conducted on May 27th in the southern Yukon. Full details on the day will be published in the Yukon Warbler and in the 2012 ABA Big Day report. A summary appears below.

Our day began around 2 am in downtown Whitehorse and ended at around 10 pm near Watson Lake. We tallied a record breaking 134 species, setting a new all time ABA big day record. The main areas we visited were Rat Lake, Lake LaBarge, both Whitehorse sewage lagoons, Albert Creek and Watson Lake airport. We had great weather and good luck for most of the day, excepting for a lull in the afternoon when a number of stake outs failed to appear.

Juvenile Gray Jay - we had this species in several areas

 At dawn we were on the road up Mt. McIntyre, hoping to get high enough to see either WILLOW or ROCK PTARMIGAN. Unfortunately just before the tree line the road was impassable due to heavy snow cover. Paul's sharp eyes managed to pick out two different ROCK PTARMIGAN by scoping the rocks along the upper slopes above. Surprisingly we couldn't find WILLOW but below is a photo of one of 38 WILLOW PTARMIGAN we had seen the day before on the BC border near Haines Junction.

One of the best surprises of the big day was a SPRUCE GROUSE that popped up right at the side of the road on the way up Mt. McIntyre. This is a species that is really hard to stake out, and always a wild card on any big day.

 Our day ended on the road north of Watson Lake. Below is a photo taken at 10 pm at night at the end of our big day! We didnt find any new birds here but it was a wonderful way to end our day.


One of the great things about touring the Yukon is the great roadside mammals and birds. In under a week we spotted almost fifty bears! This cinnamon BLACK BEAR was one of several seen grazing along the roadside. 

Black Bear

 Bison and caribou were seen regularly along the Alaska Highway. This individual was part of a family group we watched feeding for about fifteen minutes.

On several occasions we came across small groups of "STONE" SHEEP. This ram had a small harem of about four females. The group was remarkably tame grazing within a few feet of hordes of tourists, cars and RVs. 

The scenery along the Alaska Highway is breathtaking in places. Below is a scenic from the BC part of the route just a few km from the Yuikon border. 



We began our first full day in the Yukon by heading down the road to the Albert Creek bird observatory. Here we met banders Yukka Yuttanen and Ted Murphy-Kelly already hard at work. Both provided us with a wealth of info on where to look for birds in the area. We were really impressed by the activity in the Albert Creek area. It was alive with songbirds. Everywhere we pished there were mobs of ORANGE-CROWNED, YELLOW-RUMPED AND WILSON'S WARBLERS and a smattering of scarcer species like TOWNSEND'S, REDSTART, BLACKPOLL, MAGNOLIA and others. Everywhere we looked there were mobs of birds. To me it seemed like a Pelee of the far north! Below is a photo of Yukka holding a recently captured and banded SOLITARY SANDPIPER.

Both Yukka and Ted suggested we head to nearby Watson Lake airport where several good birds had turned up. The inclement late spring weather had caused a grounding of longspurs and among the hundreds of Laplands were a few Smith's seen the previous day. After a hearty breakfast at Kathy\s Cafe we were off to the airport. Right away we picked up a small group of AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS which were running around on the overgrown grass south of the main airport buildings. 

It was fantastic to see many breeding plumage LAPLAND LONGSPURS in almost all the open areas around town. Below is one male that we managed to approach within about ten feet.

Our first attempt at finding SMITH'S LONGSPURS was unsuccessful but on our return sweep we happened upon two male and one female. This truly is a stunning bird. We were able to walk up to within eight feet of the male SMITHS LONGSPUR below.

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than to be good. I was snapping a series of the male SMITHS when it suddenly took flight as I was still snapping away. The photo below shows the striking white wing patches that SMITHS show in flight. 


YUKON May 2012 Part 1

Paul Pratt and I headed out west to Edmonton in late May. From here our plan was to drive northwest through BC towards the Yukon. This was the only territory or province that I have not visited, and had long been on my list of must visit places. In the Peace River area of BC we stopped to add some birds to our provincial list. Many eastern songbirds reach their western limits here and its a great place to add many species that are not easily seen elsewhere in BC. We were also hoping to find some good migrant shorebirds and were not disappointed. One productive little pond found our first night produced 12 species of shorebirds including two stunning HUDSONIAN GODWITS, a WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER, two STILT SANDPIPERS and a SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER. All in all I think I added nearly 30 species to my provincial list. The group that really dominated were warblers, where I think I added eleven new ticks! The BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER below was one of our key targets.

After a night in Ft. Nelson, we headed on towards Watson Lake in the southeastern Yukon. The scenery and mammal watching along this route were superb, especially in the latter half. Indeed, we saw no fewer than 18 bears along the roadside today! Unlike the zoo like atmosphere of the mountain parks in Alberta, here we basically had the bears to ourselves. They grazed and foraged along the wide margins of the highway corridor and seemed unaffected by our presence. The highlight was finding a mother and two yearling GRIZZLY BEARS right beside the road. We spent almost an hour photographing them at distances down to ten feet! During the entire time, only two cars stopped briefly to watch with us. It was an outstanding experience. Below is a pic of one of the yearling GRIZZLIES which was distinctly blonde rather than dark brown.

 Okay so I have to admit that when he sits on his haunches like that he is incredibly cute. Both of the young bears stayed close to mom most of the time. Here is a closer shot of mom and the young blondie. The difference in pelage colour in the blonde yearling is due to fill flash (it was getting quite dark).

For most of the time the bears foraged about 40 meters from us, and they never seemed concerned with our presence. At one point though the blonde yearling became really curious and walked right up the embankment and up to the driver side door (mine!!!). He started to rear up and I frantically reached for the window power button so he couldn't come in! He did not seem upset - just curious. Nonetheless it was a bit of an adrenaline rush for both of us! Below is a photo I took when he was right at the gravel road edge by the door.

We finally arrived at Watson Lake late in the evening. Seeing as my Yukon list was at well... ZERO, I managed to add about thirty species between 9 pm and getting to bed. Among these were a GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH and a stunning PACIFIC LOON sitting peacefully on a small lake right beside the highway.We stayed at a basic but comfortable and clean motel called the AIR FORCE LODGE. It has shared bathrooms and showers which I normally dont go for, but I would definitely use this place again (and indeed we did twice more on this trip).


Well I am about to head out west after a few days of birding Pelee in May.

As a parting shot I wanted to make a few comments about how far birding has come as a hobby. Back in the eighties Pelee was a crazy place, with much bigger crowds and more than half of the birders here actively involved in going off designated trails (data from a survey in 1986). There were more than 30 km of informal trails and skittish birds were rarely seen for more than a few minutes before they disappeared. This contrast today is dramatic. Crowds are well behaved and aware of their impacts and it is exceptionally rare to see anyone off trail in the park.

Two birds that no doubt benefited this year from these trends are an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL (red morph) that was present on the same perch in Tilden's Woods Trail for almost the whole month. It could have been there for months but it was only discovered in early May. Virtually every visitor that came to the park in May got to see this wonderful little bird, and with only a minimum of disturbance. Photographers and birders both kept to the trails (with some overflow resulting from crowds) and the bird and the crowds were both winners.

Eastern Screech-Owl red morph, Pelee May 2012

Not to be outdone, another EASTERN SCREECH-OWL showed itself regularly at the southernmost bridge on the Woodland Nature Trail. This one was the more typical gray morph. By the way, both of these owl pics were digiscoped through my KOWA TSN833. I was really pleased with the results!

Eastern Screech-Owl gray morph Pelee, May 2012

Lastly, for the umpteenth year in a row, a pair of GREAT HORNED OWLS nested in the north end of the park near the entrance. The park did a nice job last year of putting up a display board and snow fencing to control access to the owl nest site. This year they only raised one chick successfully but the adults seemed to be seen with a lot more regularity around the nest here. Below is a digiscoped image of the female shot early one morning.


Magee Marsh, OH parking lot May, 2012

Well curiosity finally got the better of me. This was the year that I finally had to head to Magee Marsh to see what was going on there. Kathi and I headed down for a quick visit in the first half of May. We bumped into a number of old birding pals while there, several of which were regulars at this site. The two days we spent there were best described as 'slow' at least for birds. On the other hand it was busy, busy, busy when it came to numbers of birders. It brought back memories of the enormous crowds at Pelee back in the mid 80s and THEN SOME!  Pelee today even at its busiest is much less crowded than the choked boardwalk at Crane Creek. Like Pelee I was amazed that there are no firm rules or restrictions on tripods or flash photography. As a photographer and birder these just seem like no brainers to me. At times it was impossible to move at all on the boardwalk, and many people seemed oblivious to the needs of others. It was a combination of birding at its best and worst - all at once! Below are a couple of pics of people on the famous Magee boardwalk.

Despite the huge crowds, Kathi and I had a lot of fun. We enjoyed seeing Magee, and renewing some old friendships and meeting some new birders.

And though it was slow, we got some great birds. No doubt the favourite of these was PROTHONOTARY WARBLER, which was present and easy to see at several sites along the boardwalk. Here are a couple of pics I managed to capture when I wasnt being jostled about!

Prothontary Warblers, Magee marsh, May 2012