Too Nice Maybe

On July-16, 2019 Sandra, Rachel and myself did our first whale trip of the season, taking the Petite Passage trip for convenience and sailing out of East Ferry, Digby County. The timing of these trips is quite important, especially as birds and not whales are the main attraction (for me at least). You can only watch a dark blob dozing on the water for so long and I flatly refuse to applaud because a whale is doing what whales do when they dive, fluking their tail. In some ways the trips can be like those awful TV shows where the audience goes wild for no apparent reason but presumably because they are suffering from brain damage.

We picked a day when it was calm, but it was too calm really and the birds were just not around the part of Fundy that we inhabited briefly. Even the yomp from East Ferry down to off Brier where the whales were hiding from the Japs (a cruel people, OK, maybe not all of them but stop whaling FFS!) was quiet. Eventually we did see a very few seabirds and even some rafts, or more likely better termed lilos (a floating thing for one, save you looking it up) of Great Shearwaters. You hope that, when we(I) next go, that the phalaropes will have arrived and that South Polar Skuas will be busy harrying things but, it has been a funny year so you never know.

One unusual aspect of this trip was the group of kids who were running around all the time. Kids will be kids but with these there was always the possibility that one might get hurt running into people. Maybe the whale trip people could have a junior section of the boat for the kids to use only, perhaps a fenced bit with a gate you can lock! Come to think of it you could also have a pen for those people who walk in front of the camera when you are obviously photographing something. Nothing too complicated is needed, a gangplank would do or perhaps just herd them to one spot using a Cattle prod and an electric fence to keep them there.

After the whale trip we went to Dennis Point in Pubnico where the fine fare of Dennis Point Café beckoned. Supper (actually dinner where we come from) was eaten, then we went and spent time on wharf four watching the terns going crazy over a fish shoal as the sun slipped majestically behind the skips. I doubt that there is any better place anywhere to enjoy such great views of Roseate Terns feeding alongside the Common Terns at close range.

Enough I think, here are some photos.

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Some you just get Lucky!

Earlier in July Sandra and I went to Liverpool, well Western Head to be exact. A White-winged Dove had been visiting a feeder there and Sandra had a gap in her Nova Scotia life list for just such a dove. We didn’t manage to see it, it did show up again the next day, and our parting comment was, we’ll get one in the yard one day.

Fast forward now to the afternoon of Jul-13, 2019. I was just de-robing for a shower when a dove flew past the bathroom window. It landed in the Apple Tree and I grabbed the compact bins we keep in the bathroom for just such events. Don’t laugh, they have proved valuable several times in confirming a first glance unusual bird. They proved their worth once again, a White-winged Dove was face-on to me and looking nervous, perhaps more of me was on display than I’d intended!

Making myself decent I fetched Sandra and we had good if brief looks before the dove flapped off with Mourning Doves to do dovey things somewhere. Mike came over and we watched for a while but it didn’t return. Tomorrow is another day though and hopefully it will stick around for a few more people to see it.

Yard tick 190. Self-found NS tick 290. NS year bird. CSI year bird 188. What fun.

The photos were taken through a window so they are not as good as I would have liked.

Out the Other Side

In exactly the same way that a tide clock works, like the rising and falling of the tide, the birding year switched over from spring migration to fall returning migrants in almost an instant. The harbingers, as always, are the Short-billed Dowitchers. From a handful in late June that eBird questioned, not in a doubting way but because the date filters told it too, to over 750 on Jul-09, 2019. That number will continue to rise, how high will depend on how robust the population still is. The cold, prolonged early spring that finally left mid-June will probably have had a deleterious effect on breeding success.

The same date of Jul-09 also brought my first Semipalmated Plovers of the year, nought to 25 overnight, sounds like an early Ford! With the news that the shorebirds are coming back in earnest Ronnie commented ‘and so it begins’ and he’s right, the fall great North American bird migration is now underway. In the meantime it had been very quiet.

I’ve mentioned before the subtle pleasures associated with taking an interest in more than just birds. You generally don’t have to go far to stimulate your inquisitive senses to find things to make your brain work and that is the key thing. Keeping your brain working is important and a failure to do so can see you falling into a soporific stupor, a brain atrophy whereby your days are just populated with things provided for you, rather than things you have sought out yourself. Your observations are also contributing to citizen science provided you place them somewhere accessible, for birds, eBird, for everything else but also including birds, iNaturalist.

I flirted with iNaturalist for a while, irritated by some of the illogical things it does and annoyed by some of the things it doesn’t but, I’ve pressed on and now put everything thing in that I photograph, especially the moths. One thing you will find, if you start using it, is that people will jump in quickly to confirm a photo of a Northern Cardinal, and there is one of the irritations, like most of us need a ‘confirm’, but they shy away from anything a little more off the radar, so your obscure little crambid, perhaps little known where you are or even in general, will remain outside what they call research grade. I expect it will all come together eventually.

While the fine weather means you can cast off your clouts, and thereby exposing more skin for the insects to visit, it also brings the problem of the ignoranti on our beaches. Piping Plovers are most affected and, personally, I would like to see snipers taking out the people who walk inside the well-marked areas, with body snatch squads retrieving the corpses sensitively (to the plovers’ requirement for remaining undisturbed) and then placing them in steel cages as a more visual warning to others. Any rogue pets would not be shot but found more discriminating owners. A bit radical perhaps but, without action the Piping Plovers are well screwed, 42 pairs left in NS with no leeway to account for a natural disaster, pity.

Anyway, I digress a little.

The season is coming for trips out on the ocean and, if you’ve never tried it I recommend a whale watching trip in the Bay of Fundy. You can take boast from a couple of spots, there are whale operations off Brier or the is the Petite Passage people who go out of East Ferry, an option that means you don’t have to take two ferries to get to Brier. All will get you views of whales, the fucking Japs having killed them all yet, and all will give you some sea birds, especially the shearwaters, Atlantic Puffins and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. Over the next week or so both Red and Red-necked Phalaropes will start to build up in number and you should see both fairly easily.

That is all for now, expect a more regular posting schedule now that the birds are coming back! The majority of the photos are of Common Terns feeding at point-blank range at Dennis Point, Pubnico. Thanks to Ronnie for alerting me to the photographic opportunities.

The next four are Roseate Terns that were just a bit shyer than the commons.

And some bugs…

Harris’s Checkerspot Brass Hill trail NS Jul-11, 2019
Seaside Dragonlet Brass Hill Trail Jul-11, 2019 Male top, female below.

Stream Bluet Barrington Lake NS Jul-11, 2019
Lancet Clubtail Barrington Lake NS Jul-11, 2019
Laurel Sphinx Sphinx kalmiae 7809 Clam Point Jul-10, 2019
Northern Apple Sphinx Sphinx poecila 7810.1 Clam Point Jul-10, 2019
One-eyed Bird Dropping Moth Cerma cora 9061 Clam Point Jul-09, 2019
Blinded Sphinx Paonias excaecata 7824 Clam Point Jun-23, 2019
Small-eyed Sphinx Paonias myops 7825 Clam Point Jul-08, 2019

June Bugged

The combination of much precipitation and occasional warmth has provided ideal conditions for bugs, biting bugs, to proliferate. I’m not complaining, they offer much-needed food for the insectivores that optimistically return to our shores each summer. Interesting how they always seem to find the spot behind your ears though, or is that just me?

The middle weeks of June are to time to draw breath as the rarities have about done for a while and the majority of the birds are too busy breeding to bother with some other animal (us) wandering around their temporary beat. It is at this time of year that I diversify a little and try to do more odeing, mothing and butterfly bothering. The mothing has been moderately successful although a fair proportion of the images collected go into the ‘pending ID’ file. In theory those long, cold days of winter will see me inside, warm and sifting through the images and adding a few more to my year tally.

I’ve said before that moths are something you can do on whatever level you wish and at home. All you need are porch lights and a camera plus the field guide, oh and a computer so you can use the Moth Photography Group (MPG) site for those trickier identifications or for species that were not included in the book.

Here are a few striking species for you to look at.

Straight-lined Plagodis 6842 Clam Point Jun-19, 2019
Horrid Zale Zale horrida 8717 Clam Point Jun-21, 2019
Small Phoenix Ecliptoptera silaceata 7213 Jun-08, 2019 Clam Point
Colourful Zale Zale lunata 8697 Clam Point Jun-18, 2019

The birding has been slow, as expected although a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that we’d dipped previously in the Pubnico area reappeared on Jun-20th and we got good looks at it eventually, thanks to Ellis for the call.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Abbott’s Harbour Jun-20, 2019

Around Cape Island our breeding birds seem to be doing OK. We have 63 nests of Common Tern offshore, thanks to Alix d’Entrement for taking a look and passing on the information. They should be ok with that number and any predator trying it on will get mussed by angry terns.

Around Daniel’s Head I did a little count of the Nelson’s Sparrows, always a late arrival their bacon-sizzling song can now be heard from the road. I counted seven singing males, no doubt a fraction of those present. It may seem like they are in abundance but there are many places where they don’t occur and it is one of those occasions when you need to see the bigger picture, much like with the Piping Plovers. We are very lucky to have both species here in season and we should never take them for granted.

Nelson’s Sparrow Daniel’s Head Jun-18, 2019

Towards the end of June, which is just around the corner now, we should see a smattering of shorebirds, non-breeders or earlier breeders, males mostly who, having contributed their genes sensibly leave the rest of the chick rearing process to the females who are, generally, much more organised in those things. The returning shorebird season really kicks off in July when Short-billed Dowitchers will begin pouring back south, looking forwards to it.

Finally a nod to those people with vast lawns that they mow repeatedly, despite the evidence that our insect pollinators urgently need grasslands uncut to prosper; as do the flowing plants that they serve, as do we who casually use the oxygen they produce without ever making a contribution of our own. Well, if you only cut a bit of your vast lawns and let the rest grow wild, or better still seed it with wild flowers and create a meadow, then you’ll be paying back at least a little bit and rational people won’t think you are not taking this extinction stuff seriously. Worth some thought I’d say!

Into the Light

Judging by the relatively low number of moths coming to our porch lights so far this year, I’d say that there is a shortage of available insects for nocturnal aerial feeders, this might explain why at least fifteen Common Nighthawks were busy over the Clyde River off Quinn’s Falls Road on Jun-14th. Ironically, two days prior, we had driven the Clyde River Road to Nighthawk Ridge (our name) for our year birds and were happy with three quite distant but obviously displaying birds.

Although I have photos of nighthawks down from a visit to Nevada a few years ago, it was nice to up the quality of my Nova Scotian nighthawk shots a notch or two. I still didn’t get quite what I wanted, the birds were very quick flying and the few times that their pose was what I as after, they were a bit too far away for the detail I was looking for, still, not too unhappy with some of the shots.

It took four years to register a Cape Island Cattle Egret, now we have had two in a month. The latest has favoured a Lower Clark’s Harbour yard which is set back and hidden from the road. I missed the bird initially but did see it distantly on The Guzzle where I could see it was not the one we had May-08. A couple of days ago it was back on the lawn and so I took the opportunity to get a few photos before it wandered off around the back of the house.

In Pubnico the Yellow-crowned Nigh-Heron that we had chased once was seen again around Abbott’s Harbour. We went and dipped, it will show up again I’m sure, but we also too advantage of a drive along rut-central, the Pubnico Lake road. We had a nice mix of birds but only this Ovenbird and Chestnut sided Warbler showed for the camera.

After, we went to Dennis Point looking for gulls and terns. This Common Tern came close, showing the translucent triangle at the base of the primaries, a feature which helps pick them out from Arctic Terns which show a wholly translucent wing amongst other things. I thought I’d post one of each so you can see what I mean.

I’ve looked several times for the Kenney Road Purple Gallinule without success, it has either gone or is elsewhere around Baker’s Flats, it might get re-found yet. It was pretty quiet for anything else except this noisy Magnolia Warbler that came to pish.

 

I expect it to be quiet for a while now, at least until early July when the first shorebirds should start to appear. My year list is 222, three ducks in a row and I can’t see it budging much unless we decide to head off to Amherst on the New Brunswick border for Black Tern, Marsh Wren, Common Gallinule and Virginia Rail. I don’t think it likely but Sandra has yet to experience Virginia Rail in NS so we might, at least before June-26 anyway. On Cape Island I’m still 18 off 200 but I do expect a Cory’s and Great Shearwater at some point soon, maybe a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel too, it all depends on the fish.

June Big One

When you browse an avifauna, such as Ian McLaren’s excellent ‘All the Birds of Nova Scotia’, part of the fascination in browsing through is seeing the really outlandish records of species that have inexplicably occurred in the Province and that would seem very unlikely to ever re-occur. Plate 67 illustrates just such a species, Lewis’s Woodpecker. The one, and until recently only, record for Nova Scotia concerned a bird at a suet feeder in Elgin, Pictou Co Jul-01-04, 2004. That changed on Jun-05 (or thereabout) when one was seen by bird-interested home owners in Duncan’s Cove, Halifax.

Immediately the potential for problems was raised. Local people get inundated with hikers and their transport and the unpaved road gets clogged. How would they feel about a small but steady procession of birders visiting their yards? The answer was, they would be fine with it, so we did.

When Ronnie, Mike, Sandra and I got there, having waited for news before setting off, the woodpecker had been showing frequently but had not been seen for a short while. Patience was the order of the day and so, in between making a point of meeting the home owner and thanking him for access, we duly scanned its frequent perches and waited. After perhaps fifteen minutes we started to wander a few metres along his trail, which gave a view of his neighbours roof better and there it was, perched on top.

For the next forty five minutes it came and went, usually backlit, and we enjoyed each brief appearance of the corvid like shape of the woodpecker in flight and on posts. For Sandra and I it had been 19 years since we’d seen the species, a colony in California where they filled the skies as they sallied for insects and glide around butterfly-like.

Eventually it came to the nearest utility pole to us and we got the view and photos we were waiting for, mostly. I never expected to see a Lewis’s in Nova Scotia but there it was. The small crowd went off happy and we set off home. On the way we took the opportunity to re-visit the Black-bellied Whistling Duck near Bridgewater. It was still on its favoured pool and although still a beauty, it was eclipsed by a pair of Evening Grosbeaks!

June often brings something out of left-field and the Lewis’s Woodpecker was certainly that. I have a feeling we have not quite done with the vagrant birds yet and hopefully the next will be a bit nearer. Hopefully the superb woodpecker will stick around for a few more to catch up with it. Perhaps this will be the last one for a long while, or maybe we’ll see another really soon. That is the beauty of birding, you just never know.

Many thanks again to the people of Duncan’s Cove who put up with our eccentricities and allowed us onto their properties to see the fabulous bird. To me that was a real Nova Scotian welcome, something we have enjoyed so many times since we moved here four years ago. We’ve never regretted it for a moment.

The year list that I am not doing stands at 220 in NS now including eight new species for my NS life list. On Cape Island, although I have some surprising gaps, I am quite happy with my 182 so far.

50 Days of April!

­As spring eases towards summer you expect balmy, not barmy days to be the norm, but this year we seem to have had April for two months with only very infrequent fair days to enjoy. Not only has it been wet but it has been cold, unseasonable and the breeding birds, especially the insectivores, must be struggling to fill their crops. Sandra and I recently saw evidence of the problems our hirundines are having while we were driving a paved back road. At one spot there was a bunch of mostly Barn Swallows running around on the road feeding on insects downed by the heavy rain.

Today (Jun-05) it is pouring and has been for much of the day but that didn’t stop me getting to Baccaro and doing a two-hour sea watch. Visibility was 1-2km, variable really and the rain never stopped but, there were birds to be seen, sea birds.

My system is to watch from the Grand Caravan with the scope set and redy for action, jammed between the seat and door but out of the way enough to allow me to swing the camera into action for that passing Yellow-nosed Albatross or Fea’s Petrel that will surely happen one day!

Sea watching set up Baccaro Jun-06, 2019

Today it was the first land-based shearwaters of the year with Sooty predominating and closest in. Further out were Great Shearwaters and even further out were three unidentified, one probably a Cory’s and one a small, skittering thing that had Manxie written all over it. Unfortunately, at range, I couldn’t read it clearly so shearwater sp., it is.

Sooty Shearwater No Really! Baccaro Jun-06, 2019

The shearwaters were fairly regular, going past in singles and clumps. I did get onto four, or the same Wilson’s Storm-Petrel as it danced in the troughs and a few Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills and a single Common Murre also came past. I expect to see all of these species again this year and much closer too, but the first of the year are always welcome.

In general, what with the weather and such, the birding has been patchy. A few nice birds have appeared though, nothing as rare as the late May quartet but enjoyable all the same. In Clark’s Harbour we had a female type Summer Tanager, only my second on CSI. On The Hawk beach we had a nice Laughing Gull, a bird born last year (making it a 2nd calendar year birds 2CY). It gave me the chance to greatly improve my CSI Laughing Gull shots, the previous ones were very much dots.

Summer Tanager Clark’s Harbour CSI May-30, 2019
2cy Laughing Gull The Hawk beach CSI Jun-04, 2019

Here are a bunch of images, labelled where necessary. Hopefully the weather will settle down a bit soon and out summer visitors can give up wondering why they bothered coming back at all!

Eastern Kingbird Southside Beach CSI Jun-04, 2019

Eastern Wood-Pewee Worm-eating woods, CSI May-30, 2019
Hermit Thrush Pope’s Road May-28, 2019
Spotted Sandpiper Southside Beach My-30, 2019
Least Flycatcher Popes Rd Woods Harbour May-28, 2019

Snowy Egret The Guzzle CSI Jn-05, 2019