August 26th-September 2nd
After an absence of a few years, we once again returned to the charming island of Grand Manan. It was once again a memorable experience. Wader migration was productive and in addition to the expected common species we enjoyed sightings of scarcer species such as Baird’s and Pectoral Sandpipers and all three phalarope species. Warbler migration was, as hoped, a major feature with 17 species recorded and unusually large numbers of Cape May and Bay-breasted Warbler being notable. In addition we saw three species of Empidonax Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo and many other interesting land birds. Numbers of large shearwaters were unusually low, but we still enjoyed some close encounters with Great Shearwater, whilst both Leach’s and Wilson’s Storm-petrels provided good views. Whale numbers were also down on my previous tour, but nevertheless we had excellent close views of five Humpback Whales during our pelagic and more distant views of a Fin Whale off Long Eddy Lighthouse. Finally did someone say something about a Burrowing Owl? A gallery of images taken on this tour can be found on our Facebook page here.
August 26th: London to Saint John.
Our small group met up at London's Heathrow airport for our flight to Toronto and then onward connection to the small city of Saint John in the province of New Brunswick. Our arrival at Saint John was right on schedule, and for a small provincial airport it was fairly busy. However, it was not long before we had secured the rental vehicle and had checked into our hotel for the the night, where some much needed rest after the long journey was in order.
August 27th: Saint John - Red Head Marsh & Hanover St. Travel to Blacks Harbour and ferry to Grand Manan.
Weather: Warm and sunny with a very light N breeze becoming SE by late afternoon. 21C.
Our first morning began with a good breakfast in our downtown hotel, before we made the short drive to Red Head Marsh, just outside town. Here we enjoyed an excellent introduction to North American shorebirds as we soon clocked up both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plover, White-rumped, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, and local notables such as Wilson's Phalarope, Baird's Sandpiper (4) and Pectoral Sandpiper (2). Ducks included Black, American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal. A Merlin whizzed past and a Belted Kingfisher was most welcome. Pleased with this start we visited nearby Hanover Street where a Marbled Godwit had been present. Unfortunately we were unable to find that, but more shorebirds included Short-billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper and Grey Plover.
We made a stop to buy provisions and then headed to Blacks Harbour, where we caught an early afternoon ferry to Grand Manan. An immature Bald Eagle flew over as we left the ferry terminal. The seas were flat calm and with almost no wind to disturb the water's surface we were treated to good numbers of Harbour Porpoise (at least 50) and distant brief views of whales that remained unidentified. Seabirds included our first Great Shearwaters (some very close to the ferry), a Sooty Shearwater, a scattering of Wilson's Petrels, a few Puffins, Gannet and some distant flocks of phalaropes. As we neared Grand Manan we noted Black Guillemot and an adult Bald Eagle.
We headed to our accommodation at Castalia and, once we'd checked in, had a wander in the local environs. Black-capped Chickadees were predictably the commonest species, but we also had good views of our first Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finch, Yellow and Black-throated Green Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Blue Jay.
Black-throated Green Warbler
August 28th: Grand Manan - Whistle Road including Long Eddy Lighthouse. The Anchorage, Long Pond. Castalia Marsh.
Weather: Warm and sunny with a very light N breeze. Clear skies. 21C.
Our first morning on Grand Manan was spent exploring the area along the Whistle Road and Long Eddy Lighthouse. As we got out of the car we were greeted by large groups of Cedar Waxwings in the trees and totaling in excess of 200 by the time we had finished our morning here. Warblers were a focus of our attentions and Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, Black-throated Green and Myrtle all noted fairly readily. Alder Flycatchers were present in small numbers, whilst less tricky to identify was Eastern Kingbird and notable others included Red-eyed Vireo, Downy Woodpecker and a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird, all of which showed nicely. An American Redstart was rather less accommodating.
After a stop for provisions and lunch we spent much of the afternoon at The Anchorage, and the vicinity of Long Pond. American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck and Hooded Merganser were all on the pond. The adjacent woodland edge and trail provided some good birding with Cape May Warbler, Myrtle Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler and all too brief American Redstart and Magnolia Warblers all being seen. On the nearby beach was a flock of Sanderling and offshore a drake White-winged Scoter. To end the afternoon we visited Castalia Marsh where it was impossible to miss the local celebrity - a Burrowing Owl. A rarity in New Brunswick and proving a popular attraction. Offshore there were rafts of Eider with Red-necked Grebe and a distant Red-throated Diver new. A return visit after dinner failed to find the hoped for Black-crowned Night-herons, but did add a distant Knot and a few insect bites.
August 29th: Castalia, Whistle Road, Crabbe Road, Thoroughfare, Ingall's Head, Castalia Marsh.
Weather: Calm and sunny with clear skies in the morning, clouding over during the afternoon with a freshening SW breeze. 22C.
A brief spell of birding around our accommodation proved to be a worthwhile start to the day with Myrtle, Cape May and Magnolia Warbler plus Red-eyed Vireo all noted close to our cabins. A little belatedly we saw our first American Robins and then departed for the Whistle Road. Our first productive stop yielded a very brief Northern Flicker, smart Philadelphia Vireo, plus several Black-throated Green, a couple of Bay-breasted, plus Yellow, Magnolia and Myrtle Warblers. Downy Woodpecker showed very nicely, whilst an American Redstart continued the run of brief sightings of this species. At the Long Eddy Lighthouse a Black-and-White Warbler popped up briefly before slipping away prior to adequate views having been secured by all. Similarly brief, although at least seen by everyone was a Baltimore Oriole with further notables including a Chestnut-sided Warbler, a Bonaparte's Gull on the rocks and a tantalisingly distant Fin Whale.
With things quietening down we shifted location and ended up in the interior of the island. Initially quiet we eventually found a good mix of species along the Crabbe Road. As we got out of the vehicle a Bald Eagle and Broad-winged Hawk were noted. Good numbers of Black-throated Green Warblers were accompanied by several Bay-breasted Warblers and Red-eyed Vireos (including one still being fed by its parent), plus Magnolia and Yellow Warblers, and new species in the form of Blue-headed Vireo and Golden-crowned Kinglet. A leader-only Nashville Warbler did not linger.
After a lunch stop we changed tack and visited the Thoroughfare, with little success, then out to Ingall's Head where we enjoyed some nice views of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers. A return visit to Castalia Marsh yielded a Common Loon (Great Northern Diver), Great Blue Heron, stunning views of adult Bald Eagle feeding on a young American Herring Gull, a smart juvenile Northern Harrier and a small flock of Savannah Sparrows. Out on the marsh a couple of White-rumped Sandpipers were unfortunately distant, but more satisfying were nice views of two Pectoral Sandpipers, four Short-billed Dowitchers and a small group of Lesser Yellowlegs plus a Greater.
August 30th: White Head Island, Red Point.
Weather: Overcast, mild with very light winds. 16C.
We spent most of the morning and early afternoon on White Head Island. We began with a ferry crossing from Ingall's Head, where Cape May Warbler and American Redstart were noted in the alders and pines close to the harbour. The crossing was fairly quiet with a few Black Guillemots and a Great Northern Diver the main birds of note. On the island we explored a small cove and adjacent woodland edge. This was pretty productive with obliging Great Northern Diver close inshore and flock of Black Scoter also present. The woodland edge hosted a couple of feeding flocks with Dark-eyed Junco, Black-and-white, Magnolia, Bay-breasted, several Cape May and Wilson's Warbler all seen nicely.
After a bit more effort we eventually found Boreal Chickadee as well. Gull Cove was the next stop, but this was quiet and even lacked more than a handful of gulls! Further exploration generated further encounters with warblers; Black-throated Green and Common Yellowthroat affording very nice views. We had lunch overlooking a small marsh where Great Blue Heron, Short-billed Dowitchers, Semipalmated and Grey Plovers and Savannah Sparrow were the main birds of note. Our post lunch explorations were largely unsuccessful, so we headed back to Grand Manan and then walked the trail at Red Point. This was excellent with the warbler list here including Yellow, Black-throated Green, Parula, Black-and-white and Cape May. A Red-eyed Vireo was also in attendance, whilst we heard a calling Brown Creeper. Golden-crowned Kinglets, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Red-necked Grebe were further nice sightings before we headed back to base.
August 31st: Castalia Marsh, Red Point, Pelagic out of Seal Cove.
Weather: Clear skies with sunshine becoming cloudier in the afternoon. Winds light then fresh SW during the afternoon veering NW by mid-evening. 18C.
We began with a morning visit to Castalia Marsh where a few Savannah Sparrows were in evidence, but not the hoped for Nelson's. Waders included both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and a bunch of Black Ducks were noted along with an adult Bald Eagle. Moving down the island a quiet walk at Red Point yielded a couple of Black-and-White and a single Cape May Warbler and Common Yellowthroat, but it was much quieter than the previous afternoon.
The main business of the day however was a trip out to sea in search of whales and seabirds. Although the numbers of seabirds were a little disappointing, we still had very nice views of Great Shearwaters, many Wilson's Petrels, a couple of Leach's Petrels, a nice flock of Grey Phalaropes, two Red-necked Phalaropes and an adult Pomarine Skua complete with 'spoons'. Stars of the show however were the Humpback Whales which performed very nicely for us, with a group of three and later two more. The latter showed nicely alongside a Ruby-throated Hummingbird - an amazing comparison! As we headed back to the island a bat flew over and further less exciting additions to the tour list were Lesser Black-backed Gull and Great Cormorant.
September 1st: Whistle Road, Swallowtail Lighthouse, Ferry to Blacks Harbour, Travel to Saint John.
Weather: Moderate NW wind overnight becoming W. Largely sunny but showers at Blacks Harbour.
Our final day on Grand Manan dawned with a brisk NW wind and sunny conditions. A promising setup for an arrival of migrants and we were not disappointed. We headed up to the Whistle Road where our first stop produced our first Tennessee and Blackpoll Warblers, along with the usual suspects in the form of Black-throated Green, Bay-breasted and Cape May Warblers plus Common Yellowthroat, Red-eyed Vireo and a juvenile Chipping Sparrow. At Long Eddy Lighthouse things were strangely quiet, but returning back along the road we enjoyed a wonderful couple of hours at a clearing where a nice variety of warblers moved through, with in addition to those already noted, we saw Chestnut-sided, Black-and-White, Magnolia, Nashville, American Redstart plus Philadelphia Vireo and a flyover Broad-winged Hawk. The nearby woodland trail added Ovenbird and disappointingly a leader only glimpsed Canada Warbler. By the car we added a juvenile Indigo Bunting before going in search of something to eat for lunch. After lunch we had a wander around the Swallowtail Lighthouse, but added nothing of note in the warm and windy conditions.
At 1530 we were in the ferry back to Blacks Harbour. The crossing was breezy with a few white caps on the sea. Although tricky to hold the bins still, we saw Great and Sooty Shearwaters, Arctic Skua, seven Arctic Terns, some Grey Phalaropes and a Puffin. The journey to Saint John took a little under an hour and we enjoyed a very pleasant final nights meal in the hotel.
September 2nd: Irving Nature Park. Saint John to Toronto and onwards to London.
Weather: Rather windy with a chilly NW wind. 12C.
We had a few hours before our flight home, so we visited the mixture of wooded and marshland habitats at Irving Nature Park. Our first stop was not too productive, although Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler and Ruby-throated Hummingbird were all noted. Another couple of quite stops followed but walking into the edge of the woodland produced a nice flock with Black-and-White, Bay-breasted, Myrtle and Black-throated Green Warblers, Northern Parula, Downy Woodpecker and a Brown Creeper all performing nicely. A walk along the edge of the woodland and out on a boardwalk across the saltmarsh yielded nice sightings of Northern Harrier, Merlin, Least Sandpiper and Ring-billed Gull. Finally some water treatment ponds hosted a nice selection of ducks with list additions in the form of Shoveler, Mallard, Ruddy Duck and Lesser Scaup.
The trip back to the airport and onwards to Toronto passed off smoothly and we caught our onward flight to Heathrow with no issues, arriving on time early in the morning of 3rd September.