Spawn­ing caplin means good bird­ing

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - WEEKEND LIFE - Bruce Mac­tavish Bruce Mac­tavish is an en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tant and avid bird­watcher. He can be reached at wingin­gi­tone@ya­hoo.ca

With bated breath we wait for the first news of caplin rolling on the beaches. It hap­pens ev­ery year but un­til its starts we do not know for sure what will hap­pen. Caplin means a lot to the birds, whales and fish. The great gath­er­ing of caplin draws in the preda­tors rang­ing in size from the lit­tle puf­fin to the hump­back whale. A feed­ing bo­nanza com­mences. The bird­watch­ers look for­ward to the event for the bird­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The caplin run changes daily once it starts so what is news to­day could be to­tally dif­fer­ent by the time you have your first chance to read this col­umn. This past week­end I saw caplin spawn­ing in good num­bers at Trepassey and Fer­ry­land. Peo­ple were get­ting their buck­ets full at both lo­ca­tions. Kit­ti­wakes, terns and gulls were ex­cit­edly get­ting their share as well. It was easy pick­ings for the birds. The birds feast while the go­ing is good.

The shear­wa­ters are here. So far they have been seen raft­ing in good size flocks of St. Shotts and Cape Race. They are mov­ing about just off­shore but so far are not com­ing right into the beaches like they usu­ally do at the height of the sea­son. They can dive 10 me­tres or more be­low the sur­face so can feed on the caplin beds hold­ing up a lit­tle way off­shore still mak­ing up their minds about com­ing in the shore to spawn. Shear­wa­ters prob­a­bly do some of their feed­ing at night when the caplin schools may rise up closer to the sur­face. So far there is very lit­tle seabird ac­tion off St. Vin­cent’s Beach but the gull and kit­ti­wake flocks are building and the whales have started up. We are only at the very be­gin­ning of the caplin sea­son. There should be plenty of spec­tac­u­lar shows of na­ture to look for­ward to in the next few weeks.

Bird­watch­ers en­joy the en­tire show. The whales are in­ter­est­ing to watch. The num­bers of shear­wa­ters can be fan­tas­tic. Swirling masses of kit­ti­wakes and terns are worth a care­ful

look. Among these could be a rare gull or rare tern.

A laugh­ing gull seen by Al­van Buck­ley at Trepassey on Sun­day was still there the next day along with an­other of its kind for Jared Clarke. This is a south­ern gull that oc­curs in great num­bers on the At­lantic coast of the United States but is rare in Canada. A few show up ev­ery sum­mer on the pre­vail­ing south­west winds. This is a promis­ing sign for the rare tern hunters. A few species of terns in­habit the same United States coast­line as the laugh­ing gulls and ev­ery so many years one will show up on the New­found­land coast dur­ing the caplin sea­son. There is so much for a birder to look for­ward to dur­ing caplin sea­son. We have only just be­gun. STOP THE PRESS. Just be­fore I send off this col­umn

fan­tas­tic pho­to­graphs of a roseate tern have ap­peared. It was found at Bear Cove, near Cap­pa­hay­den by John Williams and Dave Hawkins. This is the third record for New­found­land. Their North Amer­i­can cen­tre of abun­dance is in coastal Mas­sachusetts and New York. This is what I am talk­ing about!

The state of the sea­son

We are head­long into July. The singing in the woods has died down con­sid­er­ably as it al­ways does once July sets in. The adult song­birds are run ragged feed­ing young in the nest with lit­tle ex­tra time to sing. All seems nor­mal.

Those with ac­tive sum­mer­time bird feed­ers may have no­ticed the Amer­i­can goldfinches have mostly de­parted. There is a good rea­son for this. Be­ing late nesters, they wait un­til real sum­mer weather to nest. In the last two weeks goldfinches have been spread­ing out across the coun­try­side in pairs look­ing for a good place to nest. Food is plen­ti­ful for them now. Dan­de­lion seed is a favourite food source at this time of year. Some other mem­bers of the finch clan also dig into the seed heads of the dan­de­lions. Pine gros­beak is our big­gest finch also eats the tiny seeds of the dan­de­lion. Many re­ports have come in from peo­ple notic­ing

We are only at the very be­gin­ning of the caplin sea­son. There should be plenty of spec­tac­u­lar shows of na­ture to look for­ward to in the next few weeks.

pine gros­beaks on their lawns go­ing af­ter the dan­de­lion seed heads. One per­son used that as an ex­cuse not to mow his lawn un­til the pine gros­beaks had left the area.

There is en­cour­ag­ing news for sum­mer feeder watch­ers about the par­a­site called frounce, also known as tri­chomonas. It ap­peared in New­found­land dur­ing the two pre­vi­ous sum­mers. This un­pleas­ant par­a­site that af­fects mainly finches at bird feed­ers has started off very slow in Nova Scotia with far fewer cases than last year at this time.

If you have a bird feeder go­ing re­main vig­i­lant for sight­ings of sick finches. Fin­gers are crossed it will not reach New­found­land this year.

BRUCE MAC­TAVISH PHOTO

Black-legged kit­ti­wakes dip for caplin com­ing into the beach to spawn.

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