Winter months in the northern part of the northern hemisphere can be a little dreary. The light is mainly grey, the scenery mainly devoid of vibrant leaf and the temperatures all too often frigid. If you’ve never known any better for the season then you are probably acclimated to it, if you’ve spent any time during our winter in the tropics then you, like me, are probably pining for the experience of finding a Cecropia tree full of roaming birds. That is not to say that our winters do not have their own delights, they do, but the greyness can get to you and, to quote a friend, cause you to lose your birding mojo, albeit briefly.
Any caring society would address these serious social issues and, for those tropical residents who crave cool air as respite from the heat and humidity, set up and fund an exchange programme whereby we could all translocate for a few weeks, after all, a change is as good as a rest. Our birds know this, which is why many go away for the winter to tropical climes, or is it the other way around, do they leave the tropics, their home, for a brief summer visit to the temperate zones?
What brought this mild melancholy on is all Jason Dain’s fault. He had the great idea of a Facebook group that shows Nova Scotian (and honorary Nova Scotian’s I hope, is the badge in the mail?) photos of birds taken on their travels. It is a great showcase where you can not only post your own shots but also enjoy those of others, especially where they have seen something you have not, or have an exceptional capture of something you’ve previously enjoyed. For me this is one of the more positive aspects of Facebook, no grouchy remarks or spite, just the pleasure of sharing and enjoying.
So, as I sit watching the grey skies bring the rain that sends farmers into a state of delirium, my thoughts turn to those days past when, for rarely more than a week per year, Sandra and I trod the path of the Leafcutter Ants, carefully, and enjoyed the aural confusion that is a multi-species flock moving at all levels through a Panamanian rain forest. It may happen again for us in the tropics, it may not. Forrest Gump’s Mother got it right, you just never know what you are going to get.
The tropics are full of all sorts of birds, this gaudy and particularly noisy ones like this Keel-billed Toucan is emblematic of our trips (Sandra’s photo).
When you bird every day you take for granted the accumulated knowledge of experience and so, when you see emails or Facebook comments about seeing things such as Turkey Vulture in Nova Scotia, you think, well yes, they are common. They are in the south but, for someone out of the zone they are something noteworthy. This disparity of distribution even within a relatively small space such as NS is interesting, as is the trend for Black Vultures to be found in the northern part always, or at least since we’ve lived in NS. Clearly Black Vulture is genuinely rare in NS, one real record per year maybe, whereas Turkey Vultures are increasing in number and, as they say, coming to your neighbourhood soon!
On Cape Sable Island we see TVs regularly but, 12 together over the house recently was almost worth an email or Facebook comment, almost.
It still amazes me how relaxed everyone is around Nova Scotia when it comes to access to wharves. In the UK, Elfin Safety rules and you can go nowhere industrial without some jobsworth chucking you off on safety grounds. The gift from lawyers, litigation for not taking responsibility for your own actions, is now so entrenched in European culture as to make it nigh on impossible to get permits for sewage plants, quarries, nuclear waste dumps and the like. In NS the reverse appears to be true and we wander respectfully but regardless around our wharves, especially in winter when looking for alcids.
This winter so far has been alcid-lite with even quite lively storms failing to produce much. At one point I was wondering whether we’d get a Thick-billed Murre (Brunnich’s Guillemot) at all, but now we have so all is good with the world. There appears to me to be differences in attitude amongst visiting alcids. Black Guillemots live here, rarely get bothered by the big gulls and possibly have aggressive Scottish accents which may go some way in keeping the grunts at bay. Thick-billeds on the other hand potter around like confused pensioners in a computer store, only for the hard-sell Great Black-backed Gulls to pounce on them, devouring them without mercy.
Above, Black Guillemot – “see you Jimmy”!
The same happens to Common Murres, but Dovekies, being small and sparky, seem to get away with it even though evolution has resulted in them being handily bite-sized. The alcids are our source of winter joy, especially now as we enter the end of February, beginning of March dead-zone. It may be that there will be some birds to enjoy during this dark period, but more likely it is anticipation of what is to come that will restore mojos and, once again we will be able to stroll our Blackfly ridden lanes enjoying the song of the seasonal visitors. Can’t wait!