Chapter 3- The Quiet July Forest: Birding the Upper Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland
Leaving Grates Cove heading south, we spied two Black Guillemot in a roadside cove among the usual crowds of massed Black-legged Kittiwakes, Great Black-backed Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls feasting on Capelin.
We had decided to bird Butter Pot Provincial Park on the way to Bareneed and in no time at all, we were a turning off the Trans Canada Highway (TCH) into Butter Pot.
The park at Butter Pot covers about 28 km² and is located about 35 km west of St. John’s. Named for Butter Pot Hill a 303 m rounded hill inside the park, Butter Pot is the most-visited park in the Newfoundland provincial park system, we suspect it is a magnet for nature-loving St. John’s residents and visitors alike.
The park is dominated by a Boreal Forest, a dense growing coniferous forest of mostly balsam fir and black spruce.
On the Avalon Peninsula, because of the maritime climate and fierce winter winds, forest growth rarely exceeds 12 m in height.
White birch grows well on Butter Pot’s north-facing slopes. Geologically, the park is composed of a mix of sedimentary and volcanic rocks dating back to the Precambrian period nearly 600 million years ago.
Exposure, and a severe forest fire in 1889, formed abundant, shallow-soiled barrens within Butter Pot, but the park also contains much peatland, shrub and heathlands.
The diversity of Butter Pot’s habitats influences the 230 plant species found and identified and the over 200 species of birds recorded at Butter Pot.
Moose, lynx, black bear, red fox, and caribou, are the park’s typical wildlife species.
Cathy and I hiked and birded the Peter’s Pond Trail, a 6.2 km hike, which was mostly lake-side and boggy spruce, balsam and alder forest.
In the bogs, our ears and eyes were filled with ever-present Savannah Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows.
Mallards and American Black Ducks shepherded their families in the coves of Peter’s Pond and we turned our first Newfoundland Osprey pair nesting in a snag overlooking Peter’s Pond…Newfoundlander birders love and track their Ospreys like we love and track Mississippi Kites.
The forest was very, very quiet, as most of the nesting birds were parenting and secreting in their nests, but we did turn a few interesting birds including the Golden-crowned Kinglet, Black and White Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Red Crossbills, and of course, Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, American Crows and Common Ravens.
The highlight of the hike was an elusive Black-backed Woodpecker, who announced herself with a some sharp “cheks” and rattles as she foraged in the dead spruce at the edge of a spruce bog, but mostly hid herself and mocked us with her “cheks!”
We saw the white face stripe and black crown but no yellow on the crown.
This was an uncommon Newfoundland bird, but had been earlier reported on the trail.
After about a half hour positioning, we still had to drive to Bareneed, so we threw our cards in and sadly departed Butterpot without catching the Black-backed in the photographic open.
On the way up the west side of Conception Bay, we were able to catch a Great Cormorant sunning on a rock and saw hundreds more of the trip’s ubiquitous American Robins.
Understanding that shorebird migration opportunities might be slim-to-none in Newfoundland in July, we had still picked visiting Bareneed because we wanted to see and appreciate the Sheartown Estuary, where the Sheartown River flows into Conception Bay at Spaniard’s Bay and what the residents had banded together to do there.
Together the people of Bay Roberts and Spaniard’s Bay in 1997 signed a “Municipal Habitat Stewardship Agreement” with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, committing to the enhancement of wildlife habitat within the towns’ planning boundaries and within the larger stewardship zone, they made a joint stewardship agreement between the towns designating in perpetuity 192 acres of wetlands and associated uplands in the Shearstown Estuary as protection management units.
Then they set to work cleaning and restoring the habitat for shorebirds and other wildlife. They still do so today and it’s treasure.
Sheartown Estuary yields hundreds of Common Terns and thousands of Great Black-backed, Herring and Ring-billed Gulls, two large groups of American Black and Mallard Ducks, a big crowd of a Greater Yellowlegs and six Spotted Sandpipers…one father minding five downy chicks.
These days, we know that spotted sandpiper dads do most of the incubating and tending to the young, as the moms are too busy laying clutches of eggs with other dads to help out.
Was nice to see the scurrying chicks regrouping and mustering with dad every time he called.
In the afternoon, we traveled to Salmonier Nature Park. The park is a 3,595-acre center for environmental education, wildlife rehabilitation, research and environmental monitoring.
Outside of the 111-acres of the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Rehabilitation Program, a project catering to solely native Newfoundland and Labrador native wildlife, we were able to observe White-throated and Song Sparrows, our first Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (a Life Bird for Cathy), Pine Siskins, and one free and wild, un-rehabilitated Bald Eagle.
While inside Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Rehabilitation Program enclosures we saw a recovering or not-suitable for release into the wild Snowy Owl, Great Horned Owl, two orphaned adult moose, several caribou, Spruce Grouse, Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles.
After a fine two-night stay at the Bayview Bed and Breakfast, perched high on a cliff overlooking the arcing eagles and Northern Gannets of Conception Bay, we turned south toward the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve For our first visits to Gull and Green Islands and the scheduled meet-up for birding Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula with Jared Clarke, our most expert birding guide.
That all will be shared in Chapter 4: Seabirds and Songbirds: More Life Birds For Cathy Brower!
To be published right here on FMWAudubon.org .
By Michael Brower