A Snowstorm for the Ages

In December 2019, I went to Niagara for the Gull Weekend with Robert Paul, Jeff and Richard Skevington and it was a good time but the weather didn’t co-operate, so we had lots of time to talk bird trips.

Jeff and Richard were going to Newfoundland, mid January and depending what was being seen I thought I might join them.

A few weeks passed and a crazy assortment of birds began showing up in St. Johns.  Numerous Townsends Warblers, Wilson’s Warblers, Hermit Warbler and a Pink-footed Goose were spotted and seemed to be staying but the bird that caught my eye was a Dark-eyed Junco/White-throated Sparrow hybrid, photographed by Dave Brown.

Dark-eyed Junco / White-throated Sparrow Hybrid

I knew I had to go at least see this bird, if possible get a photo.  What a beauty

Jeff and Richard were arriving in St. John’s on January 11th but because of medical appointments, family commitments and tickets to a Ottawa Sens game, I just couldn’t leave until January 15th.  That would give us 3 day overlap and I’d go north to Lumsden to try for the Redwing.

The next morning I checked the weather and saw a big storm headed for the Avalon Coast and debated staying home but only for a second.  We in Canada aren’t afraid of a little snow but I did decide to only bring my point and shoot Sony instead of my Nikon.

Jeff and his Dad picked me up at the airport and we left immediately for the Hermit Warbler,  met up with Dave Brown at the site.  The warbler came in frequently while we were there,  it was feeding heavily on meal worms.

After a feeding it would retreat to the warmth of a local pine tree.

We left to go to try and find the Pink-footed Goose,  Dave Brown had just seen it, so we didn’t have to go searching for it, GPS  directions entered, we found it within 15 minutes.

Then on to Quidi Vidi Lake, many of the usual suspects Greater Black Backed, Glaucous, Lesser Black-backed, many Iceland,  Herring Gull.  Many Tufted Ducks, American Wigeon, Mallards and a smattering of others.

We went to our last place for the day, we checked Kelly Brook for the Wilson Warbler, where we found this Eurasian Green-winged Teal.

By this time it was getting fairly dark and I had to get my car from Enterprise and the Skevington’s had a long trip back home, we decided it was time to call it a night.  We headed to Montana’s for supper and talked about what we’d do tomorrow.

Next morning we first went to Cape Spear, took a side road through Maddox Cove and Petty Harbour, then on to Highway 10 South  and slowly birded our way to Ferryland.  We stopped frequently and checked out each feeder.

Here are a few of the highlights from the trip

Dovkie

Jeff On The Lookout

White-winged and Red Crossbill

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Pine Grosbeak

Dark-eyed Junco

Composite Photo

Gorgeous Day

By now it was time to turn around and head for home, we had an hour to my hotel and storm was coming.  We decided to see how bad the storm would be and would make plans accordingly the next day.

Well the next day came and in my 67 years I’ve never seen anything like it.  Yes there was lots of snow but the wind was incredible.  Gusts to 150km in some areas but it never stopped blowing all day into the next.  I never believed I’d be spending the next 72 hours in the hotel, and incredibly about 100 of the next 120 hour in my room.

A crazy 24 hours that saw between 73-93cm of snow fall which would have been messy if that’s all the snow they had to contend with but over 150cm had fallen since Christmas 2019.  There was just nowhere for the snow to go, it had to be carted away.

During the night the winds were the fiercest I’ve ever seen, this video should show how windy it was

Next morning I had a great traditional breakfast, the storm was over but the winds were still fierce, then we heard the bad news.  The mayor had declared a state of emergency, businesses would be forced to close, no cars would be allowed on the roads in St. John’s, drivers could be fined $800-1000, if caught driving.

I was invited over to the Newhook-Clarke home for a great home cooked meal and a competitive game of cards afterwards.  This family shows just how hospitable the Newfoundlander’s can be, they treated me like one of their own.

I even managed to photograph a few birds on the way over.  Lots of snow

I would really like to thank Verna, Sue, Jared and the girls, for their hospitality, had great food, a few nips and epic card games.  I never won a game but had a blast.

Most of the time I spent in the Ramada was with stranded customers and employees alike.  Lots of good food was eaten along with many beers, wines and ryes, the staff of the Ramada did their best during the state of emergency.

We were all in the same boat, wanting to get out but no where to go.

I spent over 8 hours on hold with Air Canada’s new system, the operators dealing with the constant cancellations, were very helpful but they need more of them.

On Monday night we heard that the diving ban would be lifted on Tuesday from 10am to 6pm.  We knew that downtown would be off limits so we decided to head for Renew.  We picked up a few new birds.

Black-headed Gull

Tufted Duck

Willow Ptarmigan

Jeff and Richard ended up delayed and left 4 days late, I left 2 days late and got on the same flight as them to Halifax so next day I left for the airport. A little dissapointed on missing the Junco but happy to be going home.

I love Newfoundland, its people, birds and weather, sometimes.

Ciao til next time

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Berylline Hummingbird and Common Crane Have Arizona on My Mind

Back on August 23rd I checked the airlines to see how expensive it would be to go to Arizona in early September.  First I went to the Air Canada site and the cheapest flight was $700 and I would have to spend a week.  Next I checked with United Airlines and found a seat left for $265 US ($345 Cdn), so I just had to book it.  This was a bargain considering what I have paid for other birding trips.  A long staying Berylline Hummingbird and a Common Crane were two birds I have wanted to see and photograph for a long time.

So off I went for a last minute 4 day trip.  After landing at 11 p.m.,  I picked up my car for the 4 hour drive to Portal, Arizona.  After 2 hours of driving I knew I would never be able to stay awake, so I pulled off at a truck stop and slept for three hours.

I arrived at the Berylline Hummingbird stakeout at 9 a.m., after a brief breakfast at the Portal Peak Lodge, Store and Café.  I wasn’t sure which way to go on the trail, so of course I went the wrong way.  After 15 minutes of walking I figured it out so turned around and finally found the single feeder.  Sure enough within 5 minutes the Berylline showed up for a few seconds but was immediately chased off by a Blue-throated Mountain Gem.

I spent the next few hours getting glimpses of the Berrylline as it tried to get a sip at the feeder with people coming and going during my time there.  A group came back to tell us that another feeder had been placed near the parking area and the Berylline was now coming to that feeder constantly.  I went over to that feeder and the hummingbird would even buzz us coming to within two feet, taking a look and then going on to the feeder.

This was the first Beryliine I had seen since I visited Portal in May 1992 but at that time I wasn’t taking photos or birding as seriously or even keeping a list.  I didn’t even have it on my life list then, but it is on there now.

I then drove back to the Southwestern Research Station and while having a coffee struck up a conversation with retired Professor Brock Fenton and his wife who were in the area to photograph nectar feeding bats.  They invited me back to join them that evening. While talking to them some I saw a couple walking towards me and recognized them right away as Mike and Libby Chamberlain, who I’ve run into many times in the last few years.  If there is a rare bird they are usually going for it.

Killed a bit of time photographing Hummingbirds coming to feeders, waiting for evening.

Blue-throated Hummingbird

Female Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Female Rivoli’s Hummingbird

Female Black-chinned Hummingbird

Male Blue-throated Mountain Gem

Violet-Crowned Hummingbird

The odd land birds came to the area of the feeders too

Blue Grosbeak

Yellow-eyed Junco

Yellow Warbler but not sure?

The evening was spent with the Fentons and Chamberlains watching these bats come in to feed.  This was a new experience that I would like to try again and I even managed a few photos once I learned the procedure.

Mexican Long-Tongued Bat

I also learned something else.  Even though it is nighttime you should always put insect repellant on your shoes when standing in grass.  Chiggers did a good job on my ankles and sadly I didn’t feel anything until the next day.  Talk about horrible itching!

I stayed at the Cave Creek Ranch a birder friendly resort with plenty of feeders, Reed Peters really works to get the birds and birders together.  These are just a sampling of the birds I saw in the morning.

Male Broad-billed Hummingbird

Acorn Woodpecker

Black-headed Grosbeak

Female Western Tanager

Mexican Jay

Female Cardinal

White-winged Dove

Juvenile Gambel’s Quail

Brilliant House Finch

One of my favourite trip photos…

Brown Creeper

Leaving Cave Creek, I went up to Rustler Park to pick up a few year birds and look for insects.

Springwater Dancer

Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard

Emma’s Dancer

Arizona Sister Butterfly

Hutton’s Vireo

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Spotted Towhee

For the rest of the day, I had two choices.  I could go for the local White-eared Hummingbird or head over to Ash Canyon B & B, where they had seen a White-eared Humming bird and where I would also get to see other species including the Lucifer Hummingbird.  I chose the latter so headed along the road to Douglas and then to Hereford. Along the way there are always great birds to see.

Grasshopper Sparrow with what else a grasshopper

Lark Bunting

Greater Roadrunner

There were many birds at Ash Canyon but unfortunately the White-eared was a no show but did have a great variety of birds.

Lesser Goldfinch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Anna’s Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Juvenile Black-billed Hummingbird

Lucifer Hummingbird

Violet-crowned head shot

Anna’s Hummingbird coming in for a look

Bewicks Wren

Lesser Goldfinch

Lucifer Hummingbird Close-up

Gambel’s Quail overseeing his domain

I left that area and went to Green Valley and where I would bird the Florida, Madera and Box Canyons the next day.  That night I was out like a light…

The next morning, while driving the road into the area, I was happy to see that many birds were out.

Phainopepla

Verdin

Black-throated Sparrow

Curve-billed Thrasher

Cactus Wren

Orange Variant House Sparrow

Cactus Wren

Rufous-winged Sparrow

Botteri’s Sparrow

Cacti were in full bloom

Fishhook Barrel Cactus

Cane Cholla

My first stop was Florida Canyon which is a leisurely walk of 30 minutes to get up to the Rufous-capped Warbler area.  I had seen the warbler before but wanted to get a better photo.  Unfortunately, this was not to be today but I did see a few good birds, including a brief glance at the warbler, and also many insects were coming to the water.

White-Lined Sphinx Moth

Horse’s Paper Wasp

Pygmy Grasshopper paratetti

Western Red-Bellied Tiger Beetle

Very Tiny Spider

Western Honey Bee

Bordered Patch

Queen Butterfly

Giant Agave Bug

NO idea Yet!

I then headed to Box Canyon to look for a Five-striped Sparrow but after an hour gave up.

My next stop was at the feeders at Madera Canyon’s Santa Rita Lodge and Madera Kubo B & B, where I spent the afternoon.  This was not because it was so great but the local police had closed the road out because of a bicycle and auto accident,  which unfortunately must have been serious as measurements and photos were being taken.

Cassin’s Kingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Female Broad-billed?

Rufous Hummingbird

Hepatic Tanager

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Wild Turkey

After leaving Madera which is one of my favourite places to bird, I drove up to Red Rock along the highway and while there weren’t many birds, there were insects, reptiles and mammals to keep me entertained.

Red-tailed Hawk

Great-tailed Grackle

Zebra-tailed Lizard

Round-tailed Ground Squirrel

Thistle Down Velvet Ant

After that it was time to get the lead out and head to Mormon Lake up near Flagstaff to look for another lifer, the Common Crane.  Arriving by 11 p.m. at the spot, pitch black outside and having no idea what the area looked like, I checked my GPS and phone and found the nearest hotel was miles away, so the “Hotel Du Enterprise Rent-a-Car” would have to be my room for the night.  It was comfortable enough but damn did it turn cold.  I woke up at 3 a.m. and it was a chilly 45 F with me in shorts and a tee shirt.  I had to dig into my suitcase and put on jeans and a hoodie and then slept until morning.

When I woke up I realized how hard it was going to be to spot the crane as I was looking out over a meadow of about 3 miles by 8 miles where even the elk looked like dots.

After glassing what felt like forever I finally found the bird but it was impossible to get a photo from my location.  After driving around to the other side of the spot I did manage to get within a half kilometer of the bird, allowing me to get photos but nothing great.

The rest of the day was spent killing time before my flight left that night, visiting Costco and a Drug Store to buy a new pair of shoes (threw the old ones out because I kept getting new bites) and anti itch medication for my itchy feet.

Great trip, lots of good birds and photos.

Until the next time, Ciao for now.

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