On 30 May, I left cozy Philadelphia in my (also) cozy Volkswagon for an epic roadtrip to the Atlantic maritimes! It has been a wonderful trip so far, full of extraordinary landscapes, way too much rain, and interesting people with even more interesting accents. I will be periodically updating this blog with pictures and stories, for the benefit of my family and whoever might stop by to take a look.
I was hired by Memorial University of Newfoundland to lead a crew of biologists for the next five weeks in surveying and collecting blood samples of Gray-cheeked Thrushes (Catharus minimus) on the island of Newfoundland. My colleague Alyssa Fitzgerald will be examining said samples to determine whether the NL populations differ genetically from mainland populations, and to use our survey data to figure out what habitat types these secretive birds are using on the island. This will help us get a better idea of how to prioritize conservation efforts for the species in NL, where they are uncommon and apparently in decline.
On the trip north, I have been accompanied by my dear friend, the birder-in-chief himself, Tony Croasdale, and his friend Liz Arnold. They will be flying back from St. John’s in eastern NL later this week, after which I will remain for an additional 5 weeks to complete my assignment. Over the last few days, we have driven north through Maine, across the border into New Brunswick, and across Nova Scotia to Cape Breton Highlands National Park (where we had an exceptional close encounter with a Moose Alces alces). Then we took a ferry from North Sydney, NS, to Channel-Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland, where we arrived this morning at 7:00.
We drove north and spent several hours watching wildlife in Gros Morne National Park, where the geology of North America was on full display. The mountains constitute the northernmost section of the Appalachian range, which used to form the central spine of the supercontinent Pangaea, and some 1.2 billion years of geologic history are visible, including physical evidence of continental drift. Stunted spruce trees abound and a whole host of bird species that are normally only seen in Pennsylvania (where I live) in winter can be seen here on their breeding grounds, including White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis), Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis), and American Black Duck (Anas rubripes). Along the coast, we watched a Common Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) surface while a variety of shorebirds flew overhead, including some that I saw for the first time (e.g., Arctic Terns Sterna paradisaea). Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) displayed overhead as we watched the sun descend.