Friday, July 19, 2019

Birding Western Newfoundland from Howley to Port-aux-Basques

We began our three year #hike4birds across Canada on the Great Trail on June 1st, 2019 at Cape Spear, NL. On the east coast of the island we had a chance to see many different species of gulls and seabirds, including Atlantic Puffins, Northern Gannets, and Common Murres, as well as Boreal songbirds typically associated with conifers, such as Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows. You can find our summary of birding the Avalon Peninsula here. From Clarenville to Grand-Falls Windsor we had a chance to see Rock and Willow Ptarmigan, and the songbird community expanded to include species typically associated with deciduous trees, such as Wood Thrush, and Ovenbirds. Here is our summary of birding Central Newfoundland.

Birding along the Great Trail in western Newfoundland from Howley to Port-aux-Basques has been very exciting!

During the river crossing out of Howley we had a chance to see several waterfowl and shorebird species in the mirror-like water, and we were able to add Red-breasted Mergansers to our species list.

From Deer Lake we took a detour up to Gros Morne National Park, which is also an Important Bird Area. Gros Morne was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, and it is internationally known for its stunning scenery, unique and fascinating geology, rich cultural history, wildlife viewing opportunities, and world class hiking trails. Its varied landscape supports 207 bird species, as well as populations of three limited-range sub- species: Rock Ptarmigans, Red Crossbills, and Ovenbirds. We had cold rainy weather while in the park, but our birding highlights included a Black-backed Woodpecker on the Baker's Brook Trail, and a Great Horned Owl near our campsite!

Back on the trail between Deer Lake and Corner Brook we walked through Boreal forest, often on the shores of lakes and rivers. We were lucky enough to see many different warblers on this stretch, as well as Pine Grosbeaks and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Just before we reached Corner Brook the trail took us to a lovely protected marsh in the resort town of Steadybook, at the foot of Marble Mountain. The cattail marsh is where the Steady Brook and Humber Rivers merge, and it provides important habitat for several bird species, including Common Goldeneyes, Cedar Waxwings, Pine Siskins, Belted Kingfishers, and American Bitterns. We spotted several American Goldfinches, Red-winged Blackbirds, Black Ducks, a Song Sparrow, and a Hairy Woodpecker during our short visit.

Around Corner Brook we again had a chance to see some gulls, including Herring, Ring-billed, and Black-backed gulls, as well as a group of Double-crested Cormorants in the harbour. The trail continued as a forested track from there to Stephenville Crossing, beginning as a well-used walking and jogging trail around the harbour, then climbing high up into the Appalachian Mountains, and finally following the magnificent Harry River around Gallants. New species we observed in this section included Cedar Waxwings, House Finches, and an abundance of White-winged Crossbills. Flycatcher and Ruffed Grouse were also abundant there.

In Stephenville Crossing we had a chance to visit the Stephenville Crossing Estuary, which is located just behind the sand dunes bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Birding highlights in this area included watching a Common Loon fishing only a few feet off shore, and getting a close-up view of a pair of Willets defending their nest. In total we saw 21 species in the estuary as we walked through.

Between Stephenville Crossing and Doyles the trail crossed many shallow, wide, rushing, salmon rivers, as well as forested areas, open bogs, wet meadows, and lakes. Birding highlights here included flushing an American Woodcock from the side of the trail, getting close-up views of Common Yellowthroats and Magnolia Warblers foraging, watching Tree Swallows catching insects above the rivers in the evenings, finding a group of Common Mergansers, and hearing several Boreal Owls.

Near Doyles are two Important Bird Areas - the Codroy Valley Estuary and the Codroy Valley. The Codroy Valley Estuary is a RAMSAR wetland, and it provides breeding habitat for nineteen species of waterfowl, including Wood Duck, Green-winged Teal, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Lesser and Greater scaup, and Common and Red-breasted merganser. Rare ducks, such as Eurasian Wigeon and Tufted Duck, have also been sighted there. We visited the Wetland Interpretation Center, walked the short trail along the estuary, and were able to add American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, and Northern Pintails to our species list. We also enjoyed watching Black-and-White and Yellow Warblers along the trail, as well as Ruby-crowned Kinglets and brightly coloured and energetic American Goldfinches.

The Codroy Valley Important Bird Area borders the Codroy Valley IBA, and is known for its diversity of forest birds, including two restricted-range forest birds, the Red Crossbill (subspecies ) and the Ovenbird (subspecies furvoir). Other birds found here but not commonly seen elsewhere on the island include the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Gray Catbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Bobolink. Magnolia, Black-throated Green , Bay-breasted, Cape May and Blackburnian Warblers can also be found there. We observed lots of Warblers along the trail, but highlights included observing a pair of Mourning Warblers feeding their fledglings long the trail side, and watching a glimpse of a Northern Harrier diving across our path.

Between Doyles and Port-aux-Basques the trail took us along cliff tops and sand dunes on the edge of the gulf of St. Lawrence. As we hiked along the windy, exposed, and incredibly beautiful coast, we were able to watch Bald Eagles and Northern Gannets soaring in the high winds off shore, flocks of Black Guillemots riding the waves below us, and large groups of Double-crested Cormorants perching atop offshore rocks. There were also many Savannah and Song Sparrows hunkered down in the coastal shrubs.


Just before reaching Port-aux-Basques the trail took us to Cheeseman Provincial Park. The miles of sandy beaches in this Important Bird Area provide nesting habitat for the endangered Piping Plover, although we weren't lucky enough to spot any on our way through. We watched a Great Blue Heron fishing in a small tidal flat, along with a group of six Greater Yellowlegs in the area.

In western Newfoundland the Great Trail took us through coastal habitat, along beaches and cliff tops, beside inland lakes and over many wide salmon rivers, through the Appalachian Mountains, past several incredible estuaries, and through Boreal forest, open bogs and wet meadows. This varied habitat provided interesting and diverse birding opportunities, coupled with stunning scenery, friendly people, and many recreational opportunities.

We are leaving Newfoundland having seen 93 of species of birds along the Great Trail. It has been an incredible journey. Leaving this beautiful island is bittersweet - we look forward to the amazing birds and adventures Nova Scotia has in store for us, but we are very sad to leave The Rock!

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