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


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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