Dovekies can often be watched at close range as they feed just offshore. Photo: Bruce Mactavish
Newfoundland may seem like an unlikely winter birding locale but in fact it’s brilliant. With Greenland to the northeast, Iceland and the rest of Europe to the east, mainland North America to the west and South America to the south, Newfoundland is the first or last land that many wayward birds see. Regardless of season, there’s almost always something interesting about, and in winter such wanderers are merely the frosting on a delectable mix of alcids, gulls, and boreal forest birds.
The city of St. John’s, population 150,000, is at the eastern extremity of the province. It’s a charming place to spend a few days and serves well as a base from which to see the region’s birds.
Day 1: Our tour begins this evening in St. John’s. Night in St. John’s.
Days 2-6: Based in a comfortable hotel in downtown St. John’s, we’ll spend most of our time in and around the city and the adjacent parts of the Avalon Peninsula, venturing a bit farther afield should we hear of a stray within driving distance (as often happens).
We’ll visit Cape Spear, the easternmost point of North America, and other scenic locations along the coastline looking for Great Cormorant, Common Eider, Purple Sandpiper, Dovekie, Thick-billed Murre, and Black Guillemot. January is the best month of the year to see numbers of the charismatic little Dovekie feeding close to shore, often just a few feet off the rocks or next to a wharf where it is possible to watch them swimming underwater in pursuit of tiny crustaceans.
St. John’s is unsurpassed in North America for the large number and rich diversity of gulls observed in comfort at close range. There are nine species present daily in winter, including moderate numbers of Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls plus one or two European Mew (Common) Gulls. Glaucous Gulls occur in the hundreds and “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gulls in the thousands in the harbor and at adjacent Quidi Vidi Lake. In most winters there are also one or two Yellow-legged Gulls, and there is a possibility of Slaty-backed or European Herring Gull.
The St. John’s city ponds annually host significant numbers of wintering Eurasian Wigeon, “Eurasian” Green-winged Teal, and Tufted Ducks among the hundreds of Northern Pintails and American Black Ducks, while the boreal forest around St. John’s is home to resident Boreal Chickadees and northern finches including Pine Grosbeak and White-winged Crossbill. Bohemian Waxwing is abundant within the St. John’s city limits in most winters, and Gyrfalcon and Snowy Owl are always possible. Winter weather in St. John’s is similar to that of the Great Lakes. We can drive to all the good birding locations and will usually be birding near the van.
On another day, weather permitting, we will visit the southern portion of the Avalon Peninsula, searching carefully for alcids like Thick-billed Murre and Razorbill. Among the large Common Eider flocks, mostly of the northern subspecies borealis, we’ll hope to pick out a King. We’ll pass by several feeding stations that have in the past harbored rarities, mostly from farther south and west, but very occasionally from Europe.
St. John’s, the easternmost city in North America and some would say the oldest in Canada, has considerable Old World charm. Perched on the granite edge of the harbor, it is known for its winding streets lined with colorful houses and its excellent restaurants and pubs. Given the shortness of the days at this season, those who wish will have ample opportunity to sample town pleasures. The city of St. John’s website is http://www.stjohns.ca/.
Nights in St. John’s.
Day 7: The tour concludes this morning in St. John’s.
Updated: 01 March 2013
- 2014 Tour Price : $2,100
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $320
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
Maximum group size 5 with 1 leader.