Oh Carolina

Continuing with my policy of lumping out image laden blog posts, here is what has happened in the past few days.

Dorothy Cameron found a White-winged Dove at her Lower Woods Harbour feeder, quite possibly the one that Johnny found on Cape Sable Island a while ago, but maybe there are two and one remains on CSI – we island year listers live in hope. The dove is skittish and patience is needed to get a look. I saw it briefly the day after she first found it, but I wanted some images. I went back and a couple of days later 8/23/16) and got these, which confirms it as being of the western subspecies.

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You wonder quite why the dove appeared in Nova Scotia, especially as it might be expected that eastern/Caribbean birds would be more likely. It may be that the western birds are responsible for the species’ expansion, the beginning of which we are seeing in the form of sporadic records well north of the known range. The other option is that, at some point, there was an incursion to our region of White-winged Doves for whatever reason and that one or more of those doves are now rattling around the north-east area of North America. Perhaps this dove is a serial rarity, with the same individual/s responsible for the records in multiple areas.

 Today (8/24/16) Ronnie and I visited Cape Island, CSI. Such visits will become part of the birding schedule over the course of fall migration and our visits will hopefully be liberally scattered with rare and scarce birds and even close views of common ones. The island was not exactly alive with birds, it was low tide and most shorebirds were off foraging. Our target was unlikely to be wandering the mud though, Buff-breasted Sandpiper is a grassland species and we usually get a few at the end of August through the first few weeks of September on their way south. We split up and checked different areas, Ronnie came up with the goods as one picked around the parched and heavily grazed inner dunes.

It didn’t stick, a lone bird is more prone to flight without the safety of a support flock and this one launched skywards. We made a note of where it dropped and were pleased that it was still there on the way back to the pick-up point. Close approach was an issue so the photos are essentially doc-shots.

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The next spot to host something of interest was the ‘forest’. The work to replace the fence has not yet happened, it will likely be underway just as we need the least disturbance. The usual Savannah Sparrows were in residence and this very confiding Prairie Warbler gave us great photo ops.

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This Nelson’s checked us out from the top of a lost Lobster trap.

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During the course of our wanderings, a call from Ervin alerted me to the presence of a Carolina Wren at Cape Forchu (hence the post title, I don’t just throw these things together you know!). Armed with explicit directions, Mike and I put some time in and found the bird. The tail seemed longer than that on any Carolina Wren I’ve seen previously, and it uttered an atypical call, not to mention looking scraggy like it had been dragged through a hedge backwards. However scruffy it was, it was a Nova Scotia tick for both of us, in fact three in three days for Mike.

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On the way off Cape Forchu, we stopped to view a shorebird roost right by the roadside. Most were Semipalmated Sandpipers, one was a White-rumped. It’s easy enough to see in the clipped image but can you spot it in the flock.

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A couple of flock shots.

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Last off an empid, you are all experts, I’ll leave it to you to decide on the ID.

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Just Keeping Up

In anticipation of a busy time, photographically speaking, I’m trying to keep up with posting recent images while offering only reduced witty repartee.

Unfortunately I have no images of the following event: We were in Halifax, as we often are these days, well Mondays and Fridays anyway, and Jim Edsall found a Prothonotary Warbler at Hartlen Point, the famous Hartlen Point that is. Sandra normally shows good judgement, I may be the only lapse she will admit to, but this time caution went out of the window and we went for it. We read up on the site and hoped that we had hit the right buttons on the iPod to keep the relevant web page offline, we hadn’t.

Arriving at the golf course that is part of the Hartlen whole, I called Ronnie and asked how to find Jimmy’s Lane, the locale for our grail. The reply was to go to the sixth tee, but where exactly was that? I broached the subject with a probably octogenerian chap who, it transpired, hailed from Boston, the real one in Lincolnshire, England, and not the one that thinks it is Irish because ten generations ago someone had a wild night drinking Guinness. He was a golfer, no not a rodent that lives in burrows, that would be a Gopher. He knew the tee well and would convey us as fast as his golf cart could carry us. Sandra had a seat, I had to be a pseudo golf bag and cling to the rear, I cling well.

We charged headlong across fairways that other golfers were currently using, while all the time sharing a conversation re our common ancestry. My family on my mothers’ side are from Lincolnshire too. My life flashed past at roughly 11kmph, it was interesting but with hindsight I may have been a tad reckless drinking such large amounts of Watneys Red Barrel one eventful evening in 1977. We arrived at the tee and our driver did a sharp u-turn and headed back to his slightly bemused playing partners.

When you are lost, it does not matter if you know where you are if you don’t know where that is. I had already texted Liz and Angela to ask where to go. Liz responded first as Angela was swimming, she had an idea of where we needed to be but Bell™ in their wisdom, could not provide cell service to that particular tee so the phone rang, (Eastern Whip-poor-will for a tone, really makes people sit up), or it bingly-bingly-beep-beeped with a text but then the signal packed up. Liz did send a map which got through and got us off the course, well we joined a four and played our way back to the Clubhouse after a fashion. Once back in the car, Sandra’s sanity returned and a Mango smoothie was called for.

It turned out that we had walked the fabled lane but the warbler had skipped anyway. It didn’t help that it was around 30°C and early afternoon either. By the time we made the parking lot Angela had dried off and showed up while Liz was already crossing the course to go look for the bird. Next time I go to Hartlen Point, and there will be another visit because it looks like a great place to bird and ode, I will be better prepared. Map, compass, water, snacks, GPS, flare-gun and a crash helmet in case I get another lift!

In the evening Sandra and I did a little ride around CSI. It was a lovely tropical evening with swaying trees and dusky maidens emerging from the water, turns out they were demonstrating oil spill control (in an Impotent (sic) Bird Area – are these people truly stupid?) and missed a bit. As we left Daniel’s Head dusk was falling and, by the roadside fish plant we espied an immature Yellow-crowned Night-heron out in the open.

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Earlier in the ride this Merlin proved how confiding they are, unlike those wimpy American Kestrels that spook every time.

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After touring The Hawk, a treat that allowed Sandra to enjoy the spectacle of the red chair before it mysteriously disappears – small treats go a long way – we checked out Stumpy Cove where another Yellow-crowned Night-heron danced the seaweed fandango. Sadly it was just out of range for the camera and the light was iffy anyway.

And now to today 8/20/16 and Sandra and I had to go to the big city, for us that is Yarmouth. Now, if the Big Easy is New Orleans then Yarmouth might be the called Bog Coma. Actually I rather like Yarmouth, it might not fizzle but it is cosy and comfortable. After visiting Canadian Tire and noting that the Snowy Owl was back on display in the hunting section again and thereby suggesting that any dumb f&%$ with a gun can shoot one, we visited Cape Forchu where a Northern Waterthrush did what they do best, skulked.

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Around J30 of highway 103 lots of Common Nighthawks were busy stocking up for the move south.

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Back to the owl business and I reported it to the DNR again and asked that they note that it is not a quarry species, at least then the message might be clearer. Thankfully, most hunters will know that owls are amongst the many species types off limits, so perhaps they too could spread the message to the conscience-lite amongst their number.

Finally – we have had a few complaints from the residents at the corner of New Road and Atwood on The Hawk regarding the use of ‘the call’. If visiting, please give this corner a wide-berth, playback wise – we don’t want to antagonise locals and make birding the area uncomfortable, thanks.

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Juv Bonaparte’s Gull that has been around the deep pond at Daniel’s Head recently.

 

Island Hop

A window in the fog allowed us to go out to The Cape today (8/17/16), filled with optimism that Wednesday’s slightly moist blow mixed things up a little. No wow birds around but quite a good selection of species. Especially fun where the Red-breasted Nuthatches that are now well and truly on the move. The ‘Forest’ had a couple not really hiding in it and we enjoyed a few photo ops before an unheard command lifted both simultaneously into the air and away. A further two were extracting thistle seeds right by the lighthouse working compound.

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Yes, this photo is the right way up!

We knew we were a bit early for Buff-breasted Sandpipers, generally they pop up in the first half of September, but we did get this cracking Dunlin that allowed close approach with patience.

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Generally the shorebird numbers were on the low side. While photographing the Dunlin, these two wandered past, Semipalmated and Least Sandpiper.

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Legal High

Picture for Facebook as the rest are pretty awful!

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I had thought that species #200 in the Cape Sable Island (CSI) would be American Golden Plover, I don’t know why; perhaps I was fixated on shorebirds and not paying enough attention to the warbler possibilities. This is an early year and, if you live in the normal world; that will not mean very much at all. To us birders it means that the historical record gets one of its regular bumps and species turn up earlier than expected, and not just one individual, the migration of the whole starts earlier.

This is a good thing and bad. The good is that you are getting the birds now, a bird on the list means you can spend longer searching for the one in the bush! The bad thing is that it will all be over sooner and the back end of the year will, logically, have fewer opportunities for surprises if everything has already moved. There will always be stragglers, but perhaps those November warbler dumps won’t happen, a parula in November is a treat, in September it is the green veggies (not me, Rabbit food!) you have to get out of the way before tackling dessert.

Two paragraphs of waffle later and I’ll tell you that CSI #200 was a Cape May Warbler in our Apple Tree. Such is the nature of these things that, the following day, I found a typically skulking and unreasonable Yellow-breasted Chat on CSI, then I went to Daniel’s Head to sea watch, something of a treat given that the sea had been hugging the fog like a long-lost friend for so long. I was hoping for a flock of Red Phalaropes, there are lots out there, or a jaeger after the terns’ breakfasts. Scope up, scan, swallow! Well offshore was a swallow hawking insects, mites that were being dragged out of their comfort zone by the north-westerly breeze.

The value of a scope cannot be overstated when it comes to sea watching. Expecting this swallow to be barn, I scoped and got flashed by its white looking rump – three options; Cliff Swallow, possible but a CSI tick and year tick. Cave Swallow, early for one and a rare vagrant. Mangrove Swallow, wrong end of the Americas, House Martin – wake up fool! Actually there have been a couple of autumn House Martin records in Quebec so perhaps not such a fool after all.

Never underestimate the capability of digital photographs. The swallow was a distant dot on the horizon but I was able to get enough for an ID, especially after better scope views confirmed it. Imagine if this had been a jaeger or one of the prize skuas, I’d certainly get enough to clinch the specific ID on something that size and who argues with a photo, right? I often optimistically point the camera at distant birds at sea, just to practice for the real thing, and sometimes I get something back but mostly I get shots of the sea.

It was a Cliff Swallow. A common enough bird in some areas but my first on CSI and I do look hard. By luck, Ronnie d’Entremont pulled up, a few quick phone calls later and Mike MacDonald too got his CSI tick, Johnny was out unfortunately. These are a few of the better shots, lousy I know but it is my blog and I can put whatever I like here!

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Later in the day I was browsing eBird, going through the alerts list to check locations for the next time I headed Halifax way and, at the top of the alerts, was a King Eider seen from The Hawk, what! Reading the checklist, Karen O’Hearn (don’t know here, an American birder I think, maybe Massachusetts) had seen a male in a flock of 20 Northern Eiders, presumably from The Hawk beach area, and there was a breeding plumaged male in there. I checked my times and I must have left just after she arrived so I didn’t see the flock come past, to rub further salt in, she also reported a Northern Mockingbird on the same checklist, so it is still around, we’ve just not seen it for months.

Obviously, King Eider is a great bird for Nova Scotia, one or two annually but none on CSI since I’ve lived there. Mike and I hatched a plan, we’d sea watch from Daniel’s Head and wait for the evening roost flight to Barrington Bay and hope for a repeat fly-past. Long story reduced to nothing, the flight didn’t happen so it is back out into this wild and windy day (8/17/1) to check between very welcome showers. We did see an immature Yellow-crowned Night-heron on one of the Sheep Field posts on The Guzzle. The camera ISO was off the scale, hence the doc shots – it looks like a different bird to the one I saw there in July, not sure whether it is Friday’s bird from Daniel’s Head though.

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So now I’m on 202 (legal) species for CSI this year, plus two heard only (Ovenbird, Pine Grosbeak). Barring a meteor strike I should beat last year’s 206, my revised target is 220. The cumulative CSI year list is 214 including the King Eider and pending eBird accepting it.

Here are some details for the proposed pelagic out of Brier, want to go? Let me know.

Brier sea birding trip – September 24th 2016

Plan A is to have enough people (40) to charter one of Mariner Whale and Sea Bird Tours boats for a dedicated birding pelagic and spend a longer than normal duration at sea than you get on their standard whale tour. We would depart 06:30 (to align with ferries), steam out for a couple of hours – birding as we go, then we chum. We should get a good two hours birding in at sea. Whales will not be a central part of the trip but Northern Right, Blue, Sperm Whale and Orca would command attention. Birds we hope to find are:

South Polar Skua

Great Skua

All three jaegers

Sabine’s Gull

We would also expect to see the some of the regular pelagic birds found in the Bay of Fundy as dictated by season.

The boat will have four designated volunteer ‘leaders’ who will be posted around the viewing areas to help locate and identify birds. Volunteers to take a turn at chumming would be most welcome.

We would be looking to photo document all good birds so, if we find them we will try to make sure that we get photo opportunities.

I anticipate that we will be back in dock between 11:00 – 12:00. There is then the option to bird Brier at a time when hawks may be massing and warblers/vireos etc., will be coming through.

Price T.B.A but roughly between $50-60 pp as decided by Mariner based on numbers. The final trip price is a simple division of the charter rate so may be less.

Plan B is a reduced time trip again dictated by numbers. We would still follow plan A to some extent but would it would only be a regular three or so hour trip that Mariner normally runs, not getting quite so far out but still birding and not looking for whales.

Advice for the trip – dress in layers to be comfortable. Bring water and any snacks you require, saltine crackers are useful for settling the stomach, as is Ginger Ale. Avoid alcohol the night before, eat before boarding. If you think you might get queasy, Scopolamine patches work, as does Dramamine, a half dose should suffice but in both cases, follow the manufacturers instructions. Gravol Ginger is also effective in some cases.

On board follow all directions from the crew. When birding the boat we will use a clock face as our bearing. The bow (front) is 12 o’clock, the stern (rear) six. If you see a bird and want to get people on it use this orientation to give directions, for example, frigate bird at four o’clock would be right side of the boat, slightly towards the rear. DO NOT be afraid to shout out anything, we would rather see the bird than see the photos or hear about it later. What happens on board, stays on board.

If we get a great bird showing on one side of the boat, please try to loosely rotate with those behind after getting your looks/shots.

Tips for the Mariner crew post trip are at your own discretion.

As at 8/17/16, I have 23 people who definitely want to go. Everyone is welcome and levels of knowledge regarding sea bird identification are irrelevant, this is supposed to be fun.

Getting to Brier requires some timing as the ferries run at specific times. Digby to East Ferry is 42km and the ferry from East Ferry goes on the half hour. The run to Freeport is roughly fifteen minutes or so and the ferry to Brier goes on the hour. If you miss one you will be out of sync and the boat cannot wait. The ferry fee is $7 per ferry out, free coming back.

There is a lodge on Brier which has comfortable rooms and good food, so an overnight stop is perhaps a good plan. Yes it adds to the cost but you do get to bird Brier a bit more too.

Please contact me at therealmarkdennis@gmail.com if you want to go.

If you are one of the spammers that keep contacting me via this blog, please use this email address: stickyourspamupyourwazoo@getlost.com

 

Manxie

The day before this year’s Pubnico pelagic the weather well and truly sucked. Thick fog shrouded the south and stopped birders seeing their birds. The weather people, normally lying snakes in the grass – or at least moderately inaccurate, suggested that the weather would change and the visibility would be great for the day, yeah right, well it was.

Non-birding people wonder why we go out to sea looking for birds, sometimes frequently, when the viewing conditions make it something of a challenge. The boat pitches and rolls and the birds almost always chose the side the sun is coming from to do their thing in. They are also very mobile too, the best ones go zipping past at a rate of knots which, as you know, can fly pretty fast themselves. We go out for the chance of the unexpected, the wandering, rare, shearwater, jaeger, petrel, gull, albatross, frigatebird, tropicbird and skuas. The hope and anticipation is the spice of sea birding, you just never know what you might find out there.

We do get a regular fare of expected species, Great and Sooty Shearwater, Wilson’s and Leach’s Storm Petrels, Northern Fulmars and Norther Gannets. We hope, if we can’t get one of the goodies previously mentioned, that we get a Cory’s and Manx Shearwater, and this time we did. Both these latter species are now just about expected on a pelagic, the former usually glides past gracefully with an air of insouciance before buggering off, the latter bats past like its running from a Bear, so it was a highlight for all aboard when a psycho Manxie showed up and did a diving-petrel-like performance, often right by the back of the boat.

Manx Shearwater got its name after being found as a breeding bird in 1835 on the Isle of Man, an island between Britain and Ireland that is also famous for cutting the tails off its cats, it must be very quiet there to invent such a hobby. It used to be called Manks Puffin, the puffin bit coming from the Anglo-Saxon name for their cured carcasses, a delicacy then apparently, but please don’t tell gourmands or they’ll start eating them. The oldest known bird in the world was once a Manx Shearwater that managed to avoid the perils of the open ocean for 55 years and covered an estimated eight million kilometres while wandering.

Without further prattle, waffle and yawping, in fact no prevarication of any sort, here are some photos, first the Manxie.

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A few of the Cory’s.

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Odd photos here, but since I’ve recently stuffed the blog with seabirds you can go back to your word puzzle or whatever, nothing new to see here.

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We had a 2cy Lesser Black-backed Gull.

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And a Black-legged Kittiwake.

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Lots of Red Phalaropes, a few Red-necked, all flying or distant.

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Both storm petrels – lousy photos though.

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A bit of a melee.

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If you got this far then you are a true seabird aficionado. The Brier trip looks like it will run so get in touch if you want to go. September 24th, contact me for more details.

We also had this come to the boat a few times and the view was that it was a cowbird, you presume Brown-headed but nobody called it straight away as you would expect. The images are rubbish so I’m just going to call it cowbird sp. Can’t rule out Shiny, after all, it does show a very straight culmen!

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200 – more or less

If May was a crucial month in the CSI big year, then the next three take it to another level as species which bypassed us in spring come by and linger a while. Vagrants too make up a sizeable slice of the action and, given the geographical position of Cape Sable Island, a true rarity or two more might be eagerly anticipated. The protracted passage has no green light to start it, you just notice the odd warbler lurking and before you know it, bam, pow and even kerpow! It is suddenly time to be on your toes and ready.

This morning 8/9/16 I had a hunch that cooler overnight temperatures might just result in some passage and it did, albeit in a modest way. One local spot I like to check regularly is Stoney Island Beach Road. It is right on the sea, has the last set of bushes before the ocean and pretty easy to work, although the whole road can hold birds. Today it was just my first Chestnut-sided Warbler and Least Flycatcher that showed up for the CSI big year list, that gave me species 196 & 197, although I can technically add two heard only species to the unofficial total (only birds seen count for the official), so 199, more or less.

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I’d expected that to be that for the day but in the evening Mike MacDonald was checking for the birds when he came across a Prairie Warbler, the first of the year in Nova Scotia in eBird.

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Here are a few other photos from the day.

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This Broad-winged Hawk came over late morning.

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Additional – managed to find a couple of Common Nighthawks 8/11. A ‘legal’ 199 and counting.

The Quest Continues

Throughout history, humans have gone to great lengths chasing their dreams and desires, birders are no different. Wednesday August 3rd saw another attempt at the Skua quest, the thankless task of seeing at least one of the two (or three) skua species in Nova Scotia, or off, as the case may be. Trekking many leagues, Ronnie, Ervin and I braved expenditure, steep ramps, hippies and wildly erratic driving before taking to the open ocean with only a fully equipped boat to carry us. The sea heaved and the winds roared but that must have been somewhere else because it was flat-calm off Brier Island.

Mariner Cruises offer excellent sea birding opportunities as they take camera-phone laden folk to capture their Facebook fodder whale photos out to sea, and also birders to do the more serious stuff. The Bay of Fundy is awash with birds at this time of year, phalaropes bob and skitter while Great and Sooty Shearwaters careen about. The abundance of feeding birds attracts even more and, sometimes, jaegers and skuas join in the melee, if you are lucky.

After ensuring that the whaleistas had gorged themselves on the plankton of cetacean surfeit, Mariner Cruises cruised the waves looking for our quarry too, but once again it was not to be. The absent skuas had thwarted a most cunning plan, still we did see a ton of birds out there. Here are a load of photos, enjoy:

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This Red-breasted Nuthatch joined us 4.2 miles offshore, they are moving.

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An obligatory Humpbacked Whales tail. Lots of Humpbacks out there.

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Sooty Shearwaters plus a side-by-side with a Great Shearwater.

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Enough images of Great Shearwater I think.

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Most of the phalaropes were Reds and in almost winter dress.

While on-board, I chatted to Penny from the whale watching company regarding the possibility of running a birding trip out early one September morning. If anyone in Nova Scotia fancies such a trip, let me know and I’ll organise it. I’m thinking September-24th, cost t.b.a and dependant on numbers. Email me at therealmarkdennis@gmail.com

There is another Mark Dennis in the Shelburne area, he is not the real one, nor is the ex-Soccer player in the UK, for those who remember him.

And finally, just like on real news shows. While on-board, we chatted with various people. Ronnie heard an English accent, he is quite the expert on them nowadays, and asked whence the owner had come from? She replied Nottingham. I was immediately summoned. What strange tides had pitched two Nottingham folk upon the briny but skua-less waters of The Bay of Fundy on this very day, well it turned out that a relative had married a Canadian and they were visiting, but then it got really weird. I asked where she lived in Nottingham, she replied “Underwood”. I lived in Underwood at one time! I mentioned my former address, 93 Palmerston St, she lived at 101! What are the odds, I can’t even guess.

The quest continues on August 13th.

Additional – found the Cory’s Shearwater shot I knew I’d taken, crap but ok to ID.

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