Busy Time

Day three of the winter listing period and all that, relax, there will not be a daily post but it has been busy, bird-wise, and I have a few more photos to share, just to keep the decks clear.

Despite a shit night (rain, gales etc.) the Brewer’s Blackbird is now immovable from its chosen rocks at Daniel’s Head. Birders from Halifax and Musquodoboit came and saw and one even did her happy dance.

 

The same gang then found a Northern Shrike as they left the mecca that is the Banana Belt (Barrington and CSI section). It has been quite damp; mist and that rain that soaks you through and so most of the birds we saw today are a little dishevelled.  The shrike showed well with patience although the Black-capped Chickadees showed little enthusiasm for the visitor.

 

We were determined to get to Yarmouth but birds were seen on the way including this rather listless Barred Owl. I think it was because it was such a grey day although no doubt it was hungry too.

 

We finished off birding around Yarmouth. Found a Yellow-breasted Chat and added a few more to the winter list. At the risk of derision here is a Cardinal.

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What!

Day two of winter listing and the tactic is to get the species you have not seen before during the winter period (winter list life ticks but not lifers, that is something else entirely) and the rest will take care of themselves. You need to think about which species will not hang around at the first frost, vagrants that are displaced and lingerers that should be sunning themselves in Cancun. Last year we had Marsh Wrens in Yarmouth County but they legged (or is that winged) it before the winter season began and so a winter tick was lost. It-a-they turned up again, same place in Yarmouth it being Broad Brook Park and so we tried again. Lingering thoughts about whether to stick around Cape Island ‘just in case’ were put aside. The Brewer’s Blackbird, so diligently searched for had surely left, or been eaten or succumbed to whatever dangers may befall a small bird all alone in Nova Scotia, so we could go about the plan. Marsh Wren, Yellow-breasted Chat and Yellowthroat, Vesper Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird and American Coot along with any other fripperies that might be on offer – House Finch for example.

The wren is a chatterbox, literally, and so was easy enough to see. The chat is a bugger and is not easy to see, in fact I’m sure it has moved elsewhere. Having failed on the chat we were just leaving the spot when Johnny called asking where we were? The reason being he’d just found the Brewer’s in the same place, the washout on Daniel’s Head road and it was happily sitting on the rocks once again. Calls were made and Mike got there quickly, gleefully reporting that the bird was there. We were a minimum of 50 minutes away, Alix a touch further and so Mike bravely agreed to babysit the Brewer’s while we made our way there. For once the fellow road users had a healthy disregard for the speed limit and we moved briskly from point A to point B where we rejoiced in the non-descript Brewer’s Blackbird still being in situ. Alix arrived too and so we left him to it, after chipping Mike out of the block of ice he was occupying, and headed home for a warm.

On the way home we chanced upon two Rough-legged Hawks, one roadside and reasonably happy to pose for a snap.

Later Alix said the Brewer’s had flown but been relocated at a feeder c800m away as the blackbird flies, but then it had been flushed by the feeder owner and had vanished once more.

Then the rain came, bring along a guest, a southeasterly of spiteful intent.

After a warming bowl of gruel, it is a fast day, I went back and scattered some corn around the Brewer’s favoured spot in the hope that, if it did return, it would find and ‘all-you-can-eat-so-long-as-it-is-corn’ buffet to keep it interested. And still the rain came.

Brewer’s Blackbird is rare in Nova Scotia and a species that really benefits from documentation via photos, due to its similarity to both Rusty Blackbird and even a runt grackle. Only two of the previous 30 NS records had benefitted from such confirmatory evidence and so this was at least the third ever photo documented record for Nova Scotia. Its rarity naturally elicited an interest from those scholars of vagrancy elsewhere in Nova Scotia and will no doubt continue to do so while it remains. This was the second record for Cape Island after a 1994 bird had spent time in Johnny’s yard, so it was a local goodie too.

In the absence of the Brewer’s I went sea watching, but despite the foul weather little was moving. I was not despondent however as I only need one good bird to pass and was encouraged in my damp vigil by thoughts of a Ross’s Gull that had recently flown past New Hampshire, these are the sort of things we sea watchers mull over when we haul our sorry carcasses out from the warmth of home for another wet and windy vigil. Anyway, as I said, little was moving and so I headed back to ‘the spot’ where Eric and Anne Mills were also getting wet, not seeing the Brewer’s. A passing truck flushed a bird that I saw in the wing mirror, then it landed behind me and Eric and Anne got their tick. After a quick call, so did Paul.

Out on the high seas, Ronnie had been Lobstering and was heading to port. The light was failing but the blackbird was not, despite a hulking Herring Gull that also had a taste for corn. Thirty minutes from dock and Ronnie thought, by text, that it was a no hoper. Two more birders arrived (the Clarences) and saw the bird, the rain got worse. I decided to go home when Ronnie rang; he was now on dry land and heading over. I went back and staked the bird out, not as bad as it sounds; you just watch it to make sure it is there when the twitchee arrives or are at least able to explain which way it went.

So I sat, happy that the bird was mostly showing, at least it was when it was not sheltering in the rocks, I mentioned the rain right? Then a big red truck comes along and me, fearing it was a local beach walker, was already out the car door before it had stopped, ready to explain about the bird, how somebody was rushing to see it and the unlikelihood of their body ever being found if they flushed it. No worries though, it was Ellis, Ronnie’s brother who was also twitching the bird. So now we had the situation of Ronnie’s brother and nephew and most of his birding friends had seen the bird, it was getting dark and the rain had decided to ratchet up the moisture a notch or two just for fun.

Eventually Ronnie appears. The Brewer’s had been out of view for perhaps 6.37 minutes or so, maybe gone to roost or feed the resident Ermine! We peered, it hopped and just after four of the clock all of those Yarmouth and Shelburne birders who wanted it now had a Brewer’s Blackbird. Tomorrow is another day and we all hope that the Brewer’s remembers how easy the corn was to find and decides on a sea view for breakfast and we hope our friends from the big city connect too. After a quick look in the morning we will resume our Yarmouth birding (and shopping but pah! who cares if we run out of cat food?). Maybe the Vesper will stick, the bluebirds wire sit, the chat show, the coot paddle and the store have electricity, unlike the last time we tried.

As ever, big thanks go to Johnny and Sandra for the calls and Mike for freezing his nuts off while keeping an eye on the prize.

Left is a Rusty Blackbird, right the Brewer’s, just so you can see the difference.

Sad news on the Virginia Rail from the previous post, it was reported found dead today.

Brewer’s Droop

Nothing knocks the wind out of your sails more than missing a tick on home turf. Sadly, that very thing happened on Nov-30, 2018 when Johnny and Sandra Nickerson found a Brewer’s Blackbird at Daniel’s Head. Ervin was close by and able to photograph it before it slipped away to who knows where? We were 15 minutes too late to add this rare, western blackbird to our Nova Scotia life lists. Much time has been spent since searching all likely Brewer’s hang-outs but to no avail. It may just be poddling around somewhere locally, as they do, but I think we have to write this one off as just another twist in in the ‘funny’ year. Had our other car not been being re-shod for winter, I’d have been at Daniel’s Head at the time myself, such is life. Here is the eBird checklist with Ervin’s diagnostic photos.

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S50335230

All has not been gloom or even doom. During the search on December-1st I came up with a Cape Island tick, Virginia Rail. I had pulled over on The Guzzle for about the fourth time that morning, looking for a Greater Yellowlegs I’d seen a couple of days prior. Why you may ask, it’s only a greaterlegs! Well we are now into Winter Listing Season. From December-1st to the end of February it is a new list to think about. In Canada winter listing is popular, it is a great motivator for those who might otherwise curl up in front of the fire instead of getting out and getting frostbite on their ass. I only started a few years ago but, through the wonders of eBird, I was able to construct my winter list from checklists entered. Moving to Nova Scotia put a different slant on the thing entirely because we actually have birds!

Think I’m being harsh? Today, December-1st I saw 66 species on Cape Island alone. In seven of the twelve winter seasons (the whole three months) I had in Quebec  I saw below 66 species, often well below. Obviously it is horses for courses and Quebec in winter must have other things to recommend it, although I struggle offhand to think of any.

The day started in the yard with 36 species. I had meant to get on but birds kept popping up, My first yard Evening Grosbeaks, a Northern Mockingbird and a Bohemian Waxwing along with a good channel movement of water birds. After that I did the rounds looking for the Brewer’s and finding stuff for the winter list, very enjoyable and I’m still missing a Northern Cardinal (they always do this, both regulars will be back in the yard tomorrow).

Here are some Virginia Rail shots. Not stunning but good enough.

 

Towards the end of November, a couple of year birds I thought I’d miss showed up. A Dickcissel on Daniel’s Head and an American Coot found by Paul Gould at Yarmouth. The year list remains modest and there is still the possibility of Common Redpoll (missed today), House Wren, Lark Sparrow, a fancy vireo, Yellow-throated Warbler, Short-eared Owl, towhee, Long-billed Dowitcher, Redhead and Ruddy and a shrike so still room for improvement.

Incidentally, the Australia talk went well. If you want to see the shots and maybe even test yourself on Australia birds I uploaded them as three YouTube files. Search for Australian birds ID and you should find them.

Here are the rest of the so-so shots.

Yarmouth Way

Although I am not doing a year list, apart from accumulating one via normal (for me) birding, I’m still inclined to go and see rare and scarce birds. While Sandra and I were away in the UK, Alix and Kathleen found a couple of Marsh Wrens at the very accessible Broad Brook Park in Yarmouth NS. Logic suggests they are returning birds, two were present in the same location at this time last year. Unfortunately the 2017 event ended before the winter listing season (Dec-01 to Feb-28+) kicked off, denying many a good winter tick. This year one still remains late into November and is easy to find, actively feeding and helpfully calling 15m or so from the path. Hopefully it won’t do a bunk before the winter season starts, it would be nice then to have the sort of luck Sandra and I enjoyed today (Nov-26, 2018).

While watching the Marsh Wren a small flock of Evening Grosbeaks bounced over and a distant hawk looked rather Rough-legged but it got lost behind trees before a diagnostic view was allowed. Our success with the wren prompted a look for a Yellow-breasted Chat, found by Ervin yesterday. Normally chats are the awkward side of difficult and you either get them or not. This one had already been looked for that day by Paul to no avail so we had no high hopes. As it happens it took all of two minutes before we got obstructed but good enough views, we were on a roll.

Another bird found during our Nova Scotia absence was a Vesper Sparrow. In NS they have a limited breeding range, the nearest known birds being at Greenwood in ‘The Valley’. As we were in the area it would have been rude not to look so we did. Ervin and Ronnie had furnished directions with the caveat that it tended to disappear after being seen by the first visitor of the day. Driving down the gravel track a little group of sparrows got up into a bush, the Vesper amongst them. Trying to creep up in a two ton car is tricky but we edged close enough for great views and do shots. While watching a bunch of Horned Larks dropped by to see what the fuss was all about.

Finding ourselves three for three is quite unusual, especially this year which is widely acknowledged as being ‘funny’. We thought a good encore would be to head to Butch Hogg’s feeders in Barrington and enjoy the Evening Grosbeak flock (300+ strong to days ago) in good light. Naturally we didn’t see any at all, when they are there they are there together, when they go they are all gone. I’m still hoping they find our feeders at some point; I’ve not had one on Cape Island yet this year.

Tomorrow is Australia talk evening, advert for the talk in the side bar and the previous post. I’m hoping the room is big enough for the Boomerang display – If attending I’d suggest a hard hat. I’m also open to playing requests on the Didgeridoo, so long as the tune requested sounds like and Elephant with an acute bowel problem. Seriously, it would be vaguely pleasant to see people at the talk, 7pm at the museum on Parade, Yarmouth NS. Thanks to John Kearney for setting it up and for running the southern chapter of the Nova Scotia Bird Society.

Home and Shivering!

After the balmy, tropical temperatures of the UK (yeah, right!), we returned home to Nova Scotia and some -18°C wind chill, snow and ice. The roads were in fair condition though and so we made good time back to the Banana Belt where, given the temperatures, they too have been refrigerated!

As we came through Barrington, the car made an automatic turn onto Petticoat Lane so we could have a short look at Butch Hogg’s feeders with Evening Grosbeaks on our minds. The finch forecast predicted an arrival and that is what seems to be happening. We were not disappointed, a nice bunch were on the feeders or hanging around in nearby trees. On the ground was a Fox Sparrow and a Pine Siskin in with the expected Purple Finch and American Goldfinch. I had hoped for Common Redpoll too but no luck this time. Once home, and after reassuring the cats that we were going nowhere for the very foreseeable, the feeders got stocked in anticipation of getting some grosbeaks in the yard.

Doing the ‘admin’, our UK trip added 71 to the World list for 2018, which now stands at 667.

Below is the best I could managed of the Daniel’s Head Eastern Meadowlark found just before we went away.

 

Closing Thoughts

When we first moved to Canada, trips to England were not such glad returns. Certainly seeing our friends and some of the family were perfect as ever, but the country itself seemed to be developing a no-neck persona, aggressive, uncomfortable even. Later visits compounded this view, particularly as widespread xenophobia created a divisive atmosphere, it was hard to believe that the country as a whole had surrendered to the Little Englander mentality. Now there is a barely suppressed anger that idiot and self-serving politicians have taken the country where they have with Brexit and all if its implications. There are likely a significant number of people who still think Brexit is right, even after all the garbage served up to them as fact has been debunked. Millions won’t go to the National Health Service, the immigrants won’t ‘go home’ and Europe will no longer have to listen to a UK voice that, at one time, commanded some respect.

It will not end at all well and only those who have money in abundance will benefit from Brexit. Future generations, already saddled with debts before earning a penny in a world that is dropping to bits through greed and selfishness, will also have to live through the effects of leaving Europe, if it happens. There will be no justice, as those who promoted the debacle seek to profit from it, while those who never understood the issues in the first place and followed, sheep-like, the guidance of a manipulative press and public school cabal known as Members of Parliament, find their whole lives affected negatively. There is no Great Britain, there are just the ordinary people of three home nations, divided by class and prosperity from those who will never feel the chill wind of debt or poverty.

Away from the doom and gloom of the ongoing Brexit farce, what else has changed in the UK since we left? Cars have become smaller and much more economical – is this because a policy by previous governments of any doctrine? I very much doubt it, more likely it is an accidental by-product of high fuel taxation and innovative car manufacturers finally hitting their market with some accuracy. The landscape of the UK has changed too. On the down side, new build is everywhere, compounding the feeling that there are too many people for too small a space. Some statistics show a very small person per acre ratio, but statistics in this matter are pure bollocks, Britain has too many people, too many cars, too much barren farmland and not enough wildlife habitat remaining that offers species diversity.

They also do know how to do a pub lunch! Pubs, little hostelries that offer simple fare for reasonable prices abound. Dog friendly, convivial and welcoming we enjoyed a couple of meals out at lunchtime and they were, without exception, exceptional. Yorkshire Pudding full of mash (see last photo!), steak and kidney and fresh carrots, marvellous. Coffee is now freely available in cups of decent size and the little chocolate covered mallow cookies with crumbly a base at Costa Coffee, oh my aching waistband.

Nature reserves have spring up, almost entirely supported with European funds, which not only offer sanctuary for wildlife, but that also include education centres, facilities including snacks and drinks and decent loos. The birds are abundant in the UK too. Everywhere Wood Pigeons decorate the trees, Starlings and Blackbirds are common, jingling flocks of Goldfinches capitalise on the temporary feeding on fallow building plots and even Eurasian Kestrels seem to have rebounded from a slump and are once again not an unfamiliar sight in open country. Common Buzzards live up to their name and, where unmolested by the bird killing industry that is game bird shooting, Red Kites and now Marsh Harriers thrive. For this to continue, the UK Government must supply the funding lost due to Brexit.

I expect it to be some time before we go back again and, while it may seem like an exotic trip if you’ve never been, for us it tends to be a bit different as we try to visit people we’ve not seen for a while and places that have changed and need to be looked at. Time is always of the essence and it is disappointing to miss someone out but such is life. On our last day we got bogged down with traffic and weather and lingered too long here and there so as to make visits in Nottinghamshire limited to family. Sometimes that is how it is.

This is the last batch of photos from the trip. We managed 112 species which I think is quite respectable given the circumstances. The weather was less kind for the last few days but I snapped away anyway. Now we are back home, well in Nova Scotia at least and I’m looking forwards to getting the feeders stocked, the fire lit and the cats reminded who we are, it’s been a funny year so far.

Eurasian Nuthatch, Goosander (Common Merganser – split by some), Greylag Goose, Common Moorhen, Stock Down Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Kestrel, Blackbird (female), Common Pochard (male and female), Black-headed Gull an two shots of a Mistle Thrush.

Probably the one and only time I’ll post a photo of food!

Easterlies

At one time I used to look at the weather forecast and positively salivate at the thought of easterly airflow off a big continental low. Easterlies brought birds, almost always, and so there were probably the favourite winds of all inland birds like myself. Easterlies in November are another thing, bloody cold, particularly cutting but still laden with birds. Unfortunately my observing of them was limited to a short visit to the east coast seaside town of Bridlington.

The trip from our temporary base with friends in Tingley, West Yorkshire went through the type of rolling English countryside you take for granted when you see daily but that seemed so wide open for us residents of southern Nova Scotia, used instead to tree-lined highways and an endless vista of trees as far as the eye can see (until the pulp bastards show up). It took perhaps a couple of hours, along highways at first, think downtown Halifax at its busiest for say 100km and then a bit busier still. Arriving at Brid (shortened in the British manner) the sea was a demon, rolling and roiling, crashing into the promenade in the teeth of an onshore gale determined to do a brass monkey job on those so equipped.

Birds were out there when you could get shelter and look. Gannets way off, Dark-bellied Brent Geese, odd Red-throated Loons flying past and one Arctic Loon, close inshore making it even more interesting. Black-legged Kittiwakes took on the gale and won with ease, as they always do, while odd flocks of duck scooted past, Common Scoter, Common Goldeneye and Eurasian Wigeon.

Around the parking lot busy little Ruddy Turnstones strutted about, inspecting everything for a morsel, while on Rock Pipit browsed a sheltered part of the harbour, hunkering down out of the worst of the wind. Had I been better equipped and in a comfortable spot, offshore there were other birds I’d have like to see, I know because I took a look at the sea birds logged going past nearby Flamborough Head that day. Many Northern Fulmars, a couple of Manx Shearwaters and seven Great Skuas. It was an east coast sea watch day for sure, but not for me.

Today (Nov-20) the rain forecast to join the easterly gale arrived and made it somewhat tricky to get out, but we managed. Near Leeds is Towten battle site where 10,000 died over a couple of days during the War of the Roses in 1461. There is a trail over farm land and plaques, Sandra has to read the plaques. I birded it and enjoyed the flock of European Golden Plover that came over, a distant pair of Red Kites and a Corn Bunting that sat long enough for doc-shots. Nearby a Peregrine came through and a couple of Dunnocks, accentors by family, scuffed around on the floor like a big scrubwren – not that that helps if you’ve never seen either.

Eventually the rain stopped play and we repaired to the pub for warmth and a Yorkshire Pudding each that you could use as a coracle! Tomorrow we move south ending at our Oxford hotel, just an hour from the airport and our flight home. This trip has been fun so far. The people and the birds, the landscapes and even the death race 2018 highways have combined to make it memorable. There is a tiny bit of birding left to enjoy but most of the time will be spent seeing people where we can and likely apologising where we can’t – or I might just bird all day and live with the fall-out, such as it might be!

Sorry about the photos, it was tricky conditions on both days and opportunities were few and very far between.