Atlantic Region: Fall 2019

Fall 2019: 1 Aug–30 Nov

Alvan Buckley

Recommended citation:

Buckley, A. 2021. Fall 2019: Atlantic Region and St. Pierre and Miquelon. <> North American Birds.

The major birding event of the decade, for the Atlantic provinces, occurred with the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in early to mid-September. The eye of Dorian struck the coast of Nova Scotia, near Halifax, late in the day on 7 Sep, then crossed the province and met the eastern edge of Prince Edward Island, and finally exited through the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland and Labrador. It delivered thousands of displaced birds (and insects), many of which remained in the region for the subsequent weeks and months. Otherwise, weather was average for the season, with no further major weather systems. In late September a number of earlier-than-expected western species were detected in the region, and more continued to arrive as the season progressed. The highlight was no fewer than 18 Townsend’s Warblers on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. A few theories for this event were proposed but none very convincing; the author welcomes any ideas to explain the arrival of these birds.


Lucas Berrigan, David Brown, Vernon Buckle, Roger Burrows, Lancy Cheng, Jared Clarke, Dominic Cormier, David Currie, Alex d’Entremont, Jason Dain, Barry Day, Joël Detcheverry, Andrea Dicks, Roger Etcheberry, Andy Horn, Ken Knowles, Dianna Leblanc, Bruce Mactavish, Donna Martin, Ken McKenna, Carmella Melanson, Dwaine Oakley, David Seeler, Richard Thomas

Waterfowl through Gallinules

A Graylag Goose was discovered with a flock of Canada Geese on 19 Nov at Grove’s Point, Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia (m.ob.). Records of this species have slowly increased in the last decade, with a total of three being found over that time in Nova Scotia. Previously there was some doubt as to the origin of these sightings, but the growing number and diversity of European geese in eastern North America at the “right” time of year strongly suggests they are true vagrants from Greenland or farther. No fewer than seven Pink-footed Geese were reported from the region (three each in NB and NS, and one in NL). The NL bird was first found approximately 300 km offshore in late October on an industrial ship and remained on board until the ship came to St. John’s Harbour. This individual was aged as a hatch-year bird and remained in the city a full year later! Two Barnacle Geese in the region rounded out the European goose tally, one each in NB and NS. Up to five Cackling Geese in Saint Peter’s Bay, PEI (DM) were notable for the region and may have been the first record for the province. The only other two seen this fall in the region were individuals from Saint John, NB 12 Oct and Fredericton 19 Oct.

Other European waterfowl included Eurasian Wigeon and Tufted Duck, which were found in typical abundance across the region. At least 50 Tufted Ducks in the St. John’s, NL region represented the expected tally, while a female on 23 Oct in Gander, NL (BD) was the first for that area of the province. Nova Scotia had a further two 13–29 Oct in Antigonish and 18 Oct–1 Nov on Cape Breton Island.

White-winged Doves continue to be reported in increasing numbers across the region, with at least five found in the autumn of 2019: White Head Island, NB 21 Sept (CM); Halifax, NS 27 Oct 27–5 Nov (AH); Flemish Cap, NL 11 Aug; Conception Bay South, NL 2 Sep; and Cappahayden, NL 10 Nov (MP). An unexpected arrival of Common Nighthawks was detected in Newfoundland, with one each in St. Andrew’s 9 Sep (AB), Long Point 14 Sep (AB), Portland Creek 14 Sep (JG), and St. John’s 16–24 Sep (AD). A flock of four seen in the Codroy Valley on 20 Sep (JF) was the highest count ever for the island. St. Pierre also had a single record on 14 Sep (PH). A Rufous Hummingbird in Melvern Square, NS found in early October remained for over a week (m.ob.). An immature Common Gallinule in Chapel’s Cove, NL 22 Nov was seen by many and remained into the New Year. A Purple Gallinule in Mary’s Harbour, Labrador 1 Nov was one of the most northerly records ever for this species.

Shorebirds through Gulls

Hurricane Dorian resulted in the displacement of several shorebirds from North Carolina to the Atlantic provinces. The vast majority of these vagrants were found near where the eye of Dorian landed (Halifax, NS). An estimated seven Black-necked Stilts were found in Nova Scotia in the days following Dorian, most in the area around Halifax; singles were at Wolfville 20–27 Sep (JB), Big Island 8 Sep (KM, FM), and Morien Bay 9–11 Sep (SM). A handful of American Avocets were found after the storm, at least four near Halifax. Two avocets found on 25 Oct 25 in Saint John, NB may have been moving back south after being displaced by Hurricane Dorian. An adult Common Ringed Plover 28 Aug–1 Sep in Trepassey, NL (RT) was the only one for the year in the region; the species is expected about once a year in that province. A Black-tailed Godwit was seen by two observers on Whitehead Island, NS (AD, KA) on the unexpected date of 14 Aug, providing a second record for that province. Two Marbled Godwits in Moncton, NB 15–28 Aug were enjoyed by many, while another one 12–18 Aug near Brackley Beach, PEI was seen by several local birders. Three provinces reported Marbled Godwits in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. The biggest concentration was around Halifax, with at least six individuals in the area; one stayed as late as 26 Sep. Newfoundland’s first record of Marbled Godwit was found at Stephenville Crossing 9 Sep (DB) and remained until 15 Sep. Another was in Tracadie Harbour, PEI 16 Sep (RP). A Ruff was observed in Yarmouth, NS 10 Aug (AD), another at Hay Island, NB 5 Sep, and a third in Goulds, NL 17–18 Sep. A Western Sandpiper at Ketch Harbour, NS 8 Sep (DL) was an excellent observation and likely related to Hurricane Dorian. Over 10 Willets of the western subspecies (inornata) were displaced by Hurricane Dorian and found throughout Nova Scotia, with a further 2 in Saint John, NB 18 Sep (JC) and 1 on White Head Island, NB 28 Sep (RB).

A Little Gull on Hampden, NL 10 Aug was a nice find (JT). A few were seen in Nova Scotia after the passage of Hurricane Dorian: at Hirtle’s Beach 10 Sep (EM), Three Fathom Harbour 11 Sep (SM), and Aulds Cove 26–28 Sep (CP). Laughing Gulls were displaced en masse by Hurricane Dorian with well over 3,000 throughout Nova Scotia, and scattered individuals in the other three provinces. Significantly more Lesser Black-backed Gulls were noted among the gull flocks in the 48 hours after Hurricane Dorian, but they soon disappeared again, probably returning offshore or migrating further south, providing an insight into the evolving natural history and migratory patterns of this species in the Atlantic provinces.

Terns through Pelicans

Southern terns were also displaced by the hundreds with Hurricane Dorian. One of the most dramatic observations was a Bridled Tern that succumbed to the large waves at Lawrencetown Beach Provincial Park, NS 7 Sep (KB, BC, EG). Another three Bridled Terns were seen at the nearby McCormacks Beach Provincial Park 7 Sep (DC). At least 20 Gull-billed Terns were reported across Nova Scotia, with the furthest north coming from Schooner Pond 9–10 Sep. A Gull-billed Tern near Mace’s Bay, NB 15–17 Sep was seen by many, another was near Shediac, NB 11–13 Sep, and seven were found across southwestern Newfoundland where there had been only three prior records. Over 150 Black Terns were reported in the wake of Dorian, with at least 15 making it to Newfoundland and providing one of only a handful of Dorian-related vagrants seen on the Avalon peninsula of that province. A Roseate Tern in Trepassey, NL 3–5 Sep was seen by several local birders, but surprisingly there were none displaced by Hurricane Dorian. Over 200 Forster’s Terns, 20 Royal Terns, and 10 Sandwich Terns were reported in the region after Dorian, with the farthest-displaced individual found at Witless Bay, NL 11–15 Sep (CB). Over 400 Black Skimmers were found around the Halifax region. Sightings of this species from other parts of the region came only several days to weeks after Dorian’s passage, suggesting that these birds were strictly associated with the eye of the hurricane before spreading out. One was found as late as 27–30 Oct at Waterside, PEI (DO), providing a first record for that province. A pelagic trip from Pubnico, NS to the continental shelf on 3 Aug was wildly successful and resulted in the second and third records of Red-billed Tropicbird for NS.

Two Pacific Loons migrating past Baccaro Point, NS 12 Oct were remarkable (AD). Another was widely seen at nearby Cape Sable Island, NS 24 Oct–14 Nov. A single Pacific Loon has been reported from St. Vincent’s, NL since 2014 and was found again 12 Nov at that same location (BM). Two White-faced Storm-Petrels found dead on 11 and 12 Sep on an inland lake on Cape Sable Island, NS were very unexpected, but certainly associated with Hurricane Dorian. Up to nine White-faced Storm-Petrels and a single Audubon’s Shearwater were observed on the same 3 Aug pelagic trip as the tropicbirds, at the continental shelf. An immature Brown Booby was seen 200 km south of the Avalon Peninsula, NL 14 Aug and an adult was seen 30 km east of Halifax, NS 21 Aug (BC). The only chaseable Brown Booby was an individual seen in St. John’s Harbour 7 Sep for a few short hours. A scattering of Brown Pelican sightings came from locations across Nova Scotia, with a couple seen before Hurricane Dorian at West Jeddore 1 Sep and another at Sandy Point 5 Sep. Following Hurricane Dorian, another five juvenile Brown Pelicans were reported from the province.

Egrets through Wrens

A Little Egret was observed on Cape Sable Island, NS 17–24 Nov (m.ob.). Several egrets and herons were reported across Nova Scotia following Hurricane Dorian, including Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons. Up to 10 Glossy Ibises were seen around Halifax following Dorian. Two were seen 300 km east of St. John’s, NL on an oil rig 13 Sep, another was on Ramea Island, NL 28 Sep (BM), and one was seen by several local birders at Cow Head, NL 27 Oct–2 Nov (m.ob.).

A Black Vulture was seen for one day at Tracadie-Sheila, NB 21 Oct and another was briefly at Hampton, NB 7 Nov (EB). Turkey Vultures are very rare on the island of Newfoundland so the arrival of at least three individuals there was unexpected. One was seen at Marystown 3–4 Sep, another at St. John’s 5 Nov–10 Dec, and finally one was inadvertently captured by a fur trapper near Clarenville, NL 14 Nov! A Broad-winged Hawk at Forteau, Labrador 19–21 Sep (VB) was a long-overdue first record for the province. An adult Red-shouldered Hawk at Franey Corner, NS 14 Oct was notable (GM). Northern Hawk-Owls were found in higher-than-usual abundance in southeastern Canada in the fall of 2019, and at least three were reported in the Atlantic provinces.

A Red-headed Woodpecker at River Hebert, NS 23–24 Sep was notable, while another one was seen by a single observer on Grand Manan Island, NB 28 Sep (RF). Nova Scotia continued to score western empids, and tallied its fifth and sixth records of Hammond’s Flycatcher at Bon Portage 12 Sep (LZ) and Acadia University 14–24 Nov (m.ob.). The fifth record of Dusky Flycatcher for NS was found at Cheboque Point 11 Sep (MD). Other rare flycatchers included a Say’s Phoebe at Blanche Peninsula, NS 20–22 Sep (m.ob.) and another on Grand Manan Island, NB 17–19 Sep (m.ob.). A second provincial record of Tropical Kingbird was at Port LaTour, NS 2 Nov (JD). Another Tropical Kingbird was at Cambridge-Narrows, NB 27 Oct–3 Nov (m.ob.), providing the fourth record for that province.

Up to five White-eyed Vireos were reported from locations across Nova Scotia 25 Sep–20 Nov. Four Yellow-throated Vireos were found in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in the Halifax region 9–16 Sep. Swallows displaced by Hurricane Dorian included at least 2 Northern Rough-winged Swallows and over 200 Purple Martins—with some making it as far as eastern NL. Tree, Barn, Bank, and Cliff Swallows were also noted across the region after Hurricane Dorian. A single House Wren at Renews, NL 9 Oct (DB) was the easternmost record this fall. A Sedge Wren was observed by many birders from 24 Nov into the New Year at Cole Harbour, NS. Four Northern Wheatears were reported in the region this season: one at Mosher’s Corner, NS 31 Aug–2 Sep (m.ob.), one at Beaver River on the NS/NB border on 3 Sep (JC), and two at Ferryland, NL 17–22 Sep (m.ob.).

Sparrows through Buntings

A Grasshopper Sparrow at Cape Race, NL 31 Oct (RT) was an excellent rarity but not seen again. Another was seen in Halifax, NS 4–5 Nov. The most exciting sparrow of the season was a Seaside Sparrow at Hortonville, NS from 24 Nov until the New Year (m.ob.). Newfoundland’s third record of Bullock’s Oriole was seen by many 20 Nov–8 Dec in a suburb of Conception Bay South, NL. A Redwing was photographed on a ship 300 km east of St. John’s, NL 5 Nov.

The arrival of warblers after Hurricane Dorian was unexpected and only fully appreciated 48–72 hours after the storm had passed. Before Dorian there was a single Worm-eating Warbler 1 Sep at Bayside, NB (TW). There were an astonishing six Worm-eating Warblers at Hartlen Point, NS 9–15 Sep. Up to four Prothonotary Warblers were also reported from the Halifax region. The rarest of all warblers seen in the region, a Swainson’s Warbler, was discovered at Hartlen Point, NS 11 Sep (LB), providing a fifth record for the province. At least two Kentucky Warblers, eight Hooded Warblers, three Cerulean Warblers, seven Yellow-throated Warblers, and five Prairie Warblers were all found in the Halifax region in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. Several remarkably late warblers were reported in eastern Newfoundland in October and November, highlighted by a Blue-winged Warbler at Witless Bay 17 Nov (BM), a Hooded Warbler at St. Lawrence 18 Oct, a Bay-breasted Warbler at Cappahayden 11 Nov (BM), and a Chestnut-sided Warbler at Red Cliff 23 Oct (KK). A mind-boggling 18 Townsend’s Warblers were found on the Avalon Peninsula of NL, the earliest on 22 Sep (BM). Before 2019 there were about 30 records of this species for the province, far outnumbering any other eastern province or state. The arrival of 18 in 2019 only adds to this growing mystery.

Four Summer Tanagers on the Avalon Peninsula of NL was a total well above average for that province 28 Sep–17 Nov. A single Summer Tanager in NB for the season was at White Head Island 2 Sep (RB), while five were found around Halifax region after Hurricane Dorian 8–13 Sep, and another was found near Antigonish, NS 10 Nov (KM). Above-average numbers of Scarlet Tanagers were reported from locations across the region starting in mid-October and lasting into November, including an individual seen by many in St. John’s, NL 9–17 Nov. An exciting but often elusive Painted Bunting was seen at South Head, NS 22–23 Sep.

Report processed by Joshua Malbin 8 Mar 2021.

Photos–Atlantic Region: Fall 2019

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