Well, it is February!

Not posted for some time and for good reason, the title says it all. This is the traditional slump time with only the odd morsel to keep us going. For me it has been going through the gulls just about daily, I’m sure the fish plant thinks I am a spy or worse, a factory inspector!

There are a few things to tell you though. I have begun to get involved in the East Cape Sable Island Important Bird Area (IBA), basically Daniel’s Head through The Hawk. I took over as President recently, a grand title but you’ve got to be called something I suppose. I was asked if I had any ideas regarding projects in the IBA, I have so here they are.

We’d like a blind on Daniel’s Head, one side looking seaward, the other over the inlet. We’d like a fence on The Cape adjacent to, but not touching, the Lighthouse. The reason is simple; the light has a history of disorientating night migrants who, in some cases, fall to ground where gulls no doubt feast. When they were painting the light, the paraphernalia associated with the contractors offered migrants shelter. Our little fence would have shrubs inside and maybe a bench so that you can sit quietly and observe. The idea is that the birds fall, hide in the shrubs and the gulls take less of a toll. We’d like the two small tern colonies on The Cape and Green Island to have permanent signs advising visitors to keep out of the tern area between May-August. We’d like to run a Tree Swallow Program at two or more sites around the IBA. We’d like a few directional signs guiding people to the IBAs. Everything we are proposing is low impact and meant to be done in harmony with other area users and avoiding any conflict. I’ll report back as things happen, or not!

I also had a reply from Environment and Climate Change Canada re my questions regarding the hunting of wildfowl (ducks and geese) rare to Nova Scotia. Basically hunters can take all ducks and geese (except Harlequin), birders want rarities excluded from the bag, we have to make our case. Many hunters will appreciate how highly we value the lives of our rarities and they have no need to take them, there are enough common birds to complete their bags. Again we would be looking for a non-confrontational approach with the ‘accidental’ taking of rare wildfowl, if it happened, non-prosecutable. More on this challenge as it develops, I do have a purposeful blog post about the situation that is in prep (still!).

Today (Feb-18, 2019) was a rare snow day here in the Banana Belt. The winter has been pretty benign apart from winds, and the snow now falling will go in a few days. On the wharves, the gull numbers are starting to wind down a little, in part because the birds shift around a lot as they follow boats but also because they are now heading back north. No matter what that idiot rodent said, spring is just around the corner and the gulls know this. That does not mean we don’t have a certain amount of messy weather to come, this is the Maritimes after all, but we can now see ‘the winter hump’ in the rear view mirror receding slowly.

In the absence of much that is not larid to show you (another blog post in progress), I thought I’d stick a few yard birds up from today and the past week. I’ll caption as applicable otherwise I get complaints! The yard is buzzing along nicely for the year. The January stats were quite interesting, 46 species recorded, exactly the same as 2018 and 2017. We just passed 50 for the year, the February effect only offering four list additions, leaving us with perhaps four or five winter species to add before the first grackle and spring proper.

Merlin – it keeps coming after the Mourning Dove, the Blue Jays just laugh at it!
American Crow
One of three Northern Flickers that like the suet feeder. I think the chimney is in for a battering soon.

People call the flying rats but I rather like Eurasian Starlings.

Dark-eyed Junco
Mourning Dove
Blue Jay
One of about 15 White-throated Sparrows that clean up the seed daily.
Song Sparrow
Fox Sparrow – still got two,
Never had a Brown Creeper at the feeders before but this one has become regular.
Downy Woodpecker
The Lincoln’s Sparrow is still with us but super skittish.
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Wharf Side Story

Sitting on the end of the wharf at West Head, as you do, and while sifting through the squabbling gulls and wondering why two Kumlien’s Iceland Gulls never look the same, I noticed a female Common Eider doing what appeared to be aquatic gymnastics. It was spinning and flapping and the reason wasn’t immediately obvious until a dark head appeared above the water firmly attached to its throat, a Mink. Initially the eider had been a good ten metres from the sea wall, one of several eiders that were just milling around, so the Mink had swum out under water, grabbed the eider and started the process that can only end one way.

The eider struggled, naturally, but the Mink held firm, edging the bird towards the weed covered sea wall, a mass of stones with plenty of nooks to hide a Mink in. When it got there the eider gave up, or died, and the Mink edged up under the weed with its duck dinner never to be seen again. I didn’t know that Mink would hunt that way, I’ve seen seals have a go from time to time but never a Mink take a fully-grown eider from open water. I think that if Mink were say the size of a Labrador, we’d all be in serious trouble, still the roads would be a bit quieter and you could get through the MacDonald’s drive-through that bit quicker!

The birding from the wharves recently has varied from good, when the weather is worst and the fishing fleet stays tied up leaving the gulls that came in last time tend to hang around until they follow the boats out next time, to bad, when just a few gulls have lingered and none of them are even trying to be interesting. Out of interest (to myself only probably), I thought I’d look up how many visits I’d made to my two favourite wharves and how many species I’d recorded for each site. I expected differences as Swimm Point has limitations while West Head has marsh and scrub birds to go at in season.

The data I have is only since both sites became hotspots, I really need to go through eBird and shift checklists from the Cape Sable Island hotspot to the relevant and relatively newly created Swimm Point and West Head hotspots. At Swimm Point I’ve done 41 eBird visits, 22 this year along and seeing 41 species. At West Head, a slightly older hotspot, I’ve paid 166 visits, 22 this year, seeing 108 species. Now isn’t that the most interesting thing you have read recently? Well I think so!

I’ve mentioned before how good the wharves are for photography, sometimes species that are usually offshore will drift in and, if you sit tight in the car, will come pretty close. I’ve been practising with the new lens recently (technical detail: Sigma 150-600mm image stabilised F5-6.3 contemporary – whatever that means). While I have been very happy with the older Canon 100-400mm, from the car and at blods inside and off Daniel’s Head I’ve needed a bit more oomph. I’ve been quite pleased with the results so far but it is early days and I have yet to develop the shot-putter’s arm muscle in my right arm that is required to hold it up and even still for any length of time. I could use a tripod but I bet I don’t, too much faf.

Below is a Red-necked Grebe from Swimm Point. Late afternoon is best off the wharf proper, any other time unless the wind is wrong then the ramp to the fish plant off South Street is your spot.

 

At West Head the gulls come close, especially if you chum with a few cat kibbles. The light is usually good throughout the day although northerly winds will freeze your nipples off, still, a small price to pay for good Herring Gull photos I think.

 

Here is a nice Black Guillemot (Tystie, the Shetland name) and a few gulls. The last one is odd, big or bigger than a Herring with a big bill and shading on the primaries. It might be a hybrid I just don’t know, no flight shots unfortunately.

 

January 2019 was way better than January 2018 and the stats bear this out. In January 2018 I saw 93 species in Nova Scotia (and none of them had the prefix ‘Kelp’!). In 2019 I saw 104 species (and one had the prefix ‘Slaty-backed – yay!). On Cape Island I saw 74 species in 2018 as opposed to 86 in 2019. Some years there are just more birds around and, bear in mind that January 2018 was post-fallout so there were some pretty good birds still milling around.

February is normally dire and it only takes one good bird to get you through to the more optimistic March. That bird this year might have been a Varied Thrush. One is in New Germany, in a yard by the main highway but the finder ‘doesn’t want visitors’. So the eight, maybe ten at a pinch, Nova Scotia birders who might park nearby, scan the yard for the bird then slip away are denied the chance of adding this enigmatic thrush to their Nova Scotia list. I can understand people not wanting folk on their property, that is fair enough, but when the bird is possibly visible from the road, all I can say is that it is a very un-Nova Scotian attitude. If we ever get a Varied Thrush in our yard then please text through how you like your coffee and whether you want a breakfast!

Working the Wharves

At this time of year your small bird options in Nova Scotia are limited. Those birds with any sense are in sunny places far, far away. The ones that stay really don’t want to be seen that much although feeders help when it comes to tempting them into view. Our yard has been good this year with the wintering Lincoln’s Sparrow, first seen up the road at Mike and Sandra’s, popping in daily but only very briefly. I have no idea where it goes otherwise. Our other winter guests, the Fox Sparrows, one or two of which appear daily, and our now intermittent Northern Mockingbird, the berries are gone and it is foraging more widely, just add to the pleasure of feeding and enjoying yard birds.

Away from the yard there is really only one January/February place to spend time around Cape Sable Island and that is watching the wharves and fish plants – often situated both together for added birding convenience. It may seem samey to some, but checking the wharves as often as I can, which is virtually daily, offers photo opportunities and the chance of something different now and again, the Slaty-backed Gull being a prime example. Incidentally, the gull took me joint top of the Shelburne stats in eBird (Johnny has way more birds in Shelburne but is not on ebird). I say joint top but really top on validated eBird records, the list shows un-validated records too which sort of skews the view. Odd then that the other joint leader suddenly just found two more species to add to their Shelburne lists. I’m not sure how you find another two species to add to an established list, maybe down the back of the sofa or perhaps through the back of the wardrobe and into Narnia.

My regular route is to start either at Swimm Point or West Head Wharf. Swimm Point is the easier of the two as it does not involve getting in anyone’s way. West Head can be a busy place and keeping the harmony between those working on the wharves and birders accessing them to see the birds there is important. On the odd times I am asked what I am doing the inquisitor has ended up telling me all about the birds seen at sea during fishing and I always get the impression that there is a genuine appreciation, if not obsessive interest (I thought I should fess-up to that one). I always impress on folks how interested we would be to see any photos they take of birds they don’t recognise while at sea, nothing has come back directly yet but it will happen.

The way to look at the wharves is from the car. Here you can drive on, park up and watch to your hearts delight. Were you to try this in say the UK you would be arrested and charged with trespass, assuming you got past the gate security to get onto a wharf in the first place! That is one of the great things about birding Nova Scotia, if you are sensible you can go just about anywhere.

You’d think that you would see everything a spot had to offer in five minutes but it is not so. Sitting at the wharf and watching what comes and go it is astonishing how much change over there actually is. Loons, grebes, ducks and alcids paddle in and out all of the time while the gulls are ever changing. Some gulls do hang about and become fairly predictable while others appear briefly, have a look around and maybe grab a morsel and then offski. A good example of this is an Iceland Gull of the nominate race (so not ours) that has been to West Head a few times. Alix and Kathleen had it close enough to get good diagnostic photos of it, see here: https://ebird.org/canada/view/checklist/S52089441

This bird has been in and out briefly at least three times while I have been there but I thought that it had never landed close enough or stayed put long enough to get shots, until I went through my December-30, 2018 checklist and there it is. This is the only validated record of the nominate race in eBird and is a good example of what watching the wharves will bring if you are alert enough.

Naturally, and I am sure some will question the use of the term when it comes to gulls, much time is spent working through the gulls. Those birders in Nova Scotia with an interest know what they are looking for. We wanted a Slaty-backed and got one. We want a California, one was seen in Sydney, Cape Breton recently, and we will get one. Other wants that will take luck and some judgement are the toughies, Yellow-legged Gull and Vega Gull, and the easy to identify ones, Black-tailed, Ivory and Ross’s. We’d also greatly appreciate a photographable Sabine’s and Little Gull, a Short-billed (Mew) Gull and even another (but better behaved) Kelp. Left-field contenders are Caspian and Mediterranean Gull, well I can dream.

I mentioned the toughies, that is because they present an identification challenge. The propensity for gulls to hybridise is legend, the west coast is awash with the things while here in Atlantic Canada we have a few contenders that should be sortable although some you just have to shake your head at. Personally I have been looking for a Glaucous x Great Black-backed. I have seen what I am sure were Herring x Great Black-backs and recently (Jan-30) I saw the gull below which appears to be a Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Despite having seen thousands of gulls here and in Europe, and having done many gull roost watches, I have never come across a Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull. Indeed I have never across many hybrids at all until I moved to North America. Fortunately we have a Facebook group for North American Gulls and, while it gets a good deal of phone-photo garbage posted it also gets plenty of good advice and comment. I posted the shots below speculating Herring x Great Black-backed and it came back as Herring x Lesser Black-backed by those with experience of the things. At least I’m presuming that as, unless you know the individual is an active guller, you assume other commenters also get out too and not just desktop birders. With regard to my gull, Dave Brown in Newfoundland was particularly helpful, these are his comments: ‘ I would agree with HERGxLBBG based on the wing tip pattern. All adult GBBGxHERG adults I have seen had white tipped p10’s and this wing tip fits well within the range I have seen for HERGxLBBGx’

Wharf watching is not always just about gulls. I was sat at West Head recently when everything went up in a panic. In the list of likely candidates for such activity you go Bald Eagle, Peregrine, something more exciting! In this case it was a young Northern Goshawk that powered around the wharf, landed on the Coastguard building briefly then headed off with crows following it. I have seen Goshawks do this sort of thing a few times around Cape Sable Island and always it is the inexperienced immature birds that do it.

Usually if I see an alcid around the wharves it is a Black Guillemot, next commonest in real terms is Thick-billed Murre and then Dovekie. Rarely I have seen Common Murre and I’ve never seen a Razorbill inside (as opposed to outside in the open sea) so it was a pleasure to spend a few minutes with one at West Head recently until the Coastguard boats shunted it outside again.

And finally, I have been using a Sigma 150-600mm lens recently, a birthday gift, well an accumulation of many birthday gifts actually, provided I can last to 107 years of age! I’m finding it good and it seems to be fulfilling the need (if not need then desire) for extra magnification when shooting from the car. These are what I have taken with it so far (some of the hybrid gull shots too).

And here are a few shots from various places from earlier in January.

Stuff and Nonsense

As of midday on Friday 25-January, 2019 the Slaty-backed Gull (see previous post) was a one afternoon wonder, being only present at Swimm Point, Cape Sable Island between 2-5pm on Monday 21-January. Anything else you may hear is wrong.

During the daily searching for the bird a number of interesting birds have been found, nothing mega but interesting. For years I’ve spent the winter months slinking around the various CSI wharves looking at gulls, ducks, grebes, loons and alcids. Most of the ducks have been regular winter visitors or residents, Common Eider for instance.

Many species have subspecies, this generally means another form of the nominate form exists elsewhere. The nominate means the main one although the terminology is confusing, species, subspecies, my view is that all forms have equal value and therefore should be treated equally. In Nova Scotia we get Common Eider, also known as American Eider but not really. If you are going to go to sub-specific level then each subspecies needs a name that works, so. The eider most commonly found in Nova Scotia is Dresser’s Eider Somateria mollissima dresseri. Adult males in particular are well marked and easy to identify from the other subspecies that occurs, more on that later. Here is a male Dresser’s Eider. Look at the front processes (lobes) on that!

 

One of the things I look for in winter is a Boreal Eider Somateria mollissima borealis. I’ve not had much luck, a few female types were found but females don’t look so cool, and so it was nice this past week to find two Boreal Eiders, one at Swimm Point, one at West Head. The later bird was a full adult and actually swam towards me for a change so I got the odd photo. Here is one of the Boreal Eiders, the lobes sort of flicking the bird.

 

There is a subspecies of eider found mainly in the Hudson Bay, it is sedentary and so, naturally, its scientific name is Somateria mollissima sedentaria! Hudson Bay Eider will do, we don’t get them so no need to bother with them.

The other eider is Pacific Eider Somateria mollissima v-nigrum. It is quite different to the discerning eye, has never been recorded in NS and I don’t have a photo but, here is a link to Bruce Mactavish’s blog with a great write-up and photographs regarding a recent Newfoundland record.

 http://brucemactavish1.blogspot.com/2018/03/carrot-billed-eider-at-cape-spear.html

Here is a link for more eider race reading. This is a hunter’s blog so if hunting upsets you don’t read it.

http://thedowneastduckhunter.blogspot.com/2008/10/four-subspecies-of-common-eider-in.html

No one seems to mention the European form Somateria mollissima mollissima in a North American context, certainly the Europeans have Dresser’s on their radars, perhaps it is too similar to borealis to bother with or some bright spark will come up with a definitive set of features at some point.

Sandra and I did a trip along Chebogue Point and came across a patient bunch of Turkey Vultures, sitting and posing.

 

Glaucous Gulls are regular around CSI but normally only in ones and twos. On a few days we had up to three, probably more. An adult, a scarce age-range hereabouts, is faithful to Swimm Point and it is tempting to think it is a returning individual, I’ve had them there before. Here is the adult plus a beastly looking immature from West Head, CSI.

Four species of gull at the pipe – knock yourself out! 

House Sparrows have been a bit scarce at times. Likely extirpated from CSI, Yarmouth is the spot where we usually see a few but since winter listing began (Dec-01) they had been absent from their regular bushes by Rudders Pub, Water St. Last time out we did find a few though.

Johnny and Sandra found a very obliging Snowy Owl on Daniel’s Head, Jan-25, almost tame.

The immature gull is an odd one. Nominally a Herring Gull it just does not look right and may have genetic material from another species lurking within. Answers on a postcard as they say.

Fur Coat and No Knickers!

The storm came and went and, like the title suggests, it was all fur coat and no knickers, an old phrase that describes something that is all show but without substance (currently a president related expression). Around the wharves today (Jan-21) there was a marked absence of tired alcids, gasping frigatebirds or even slightly annoyed scoters. It may take another day or two for the alcids to appear but appear they will. My checks of the sites around Cape Island included Swimm Point near Clark’s Harbour. It is always worth a sit and scan, blessed as it is by a fish waste outfall that calls in gulls, in the right conditions.

Yesterday I’d done much the same run, once the snow and sleet had taken a breather, seeing some interesting things at Swimm Point. An adult Glaucous Gull was there, always enjoyable, and a small duck was in with some Greater and Lesser Scaup. Once home, I found that my shots of the duck were inconclusive, but I suspected it to be something other than a scaup species. Today the conditions were a bit better and the duck melange slightly nearer so I committed them to pixels and then made my way home. On the PC, the smaller duck looked to have a vestigial crest, the flank patch differed from the scaup and the upper wing pattern was entirely wrong for Lesser Scaup, I reckoned Tufted Duck.

I’ve seen the odd Tufted Duck before, even found them on Cape Island before but it still remains a ‘good’ bird although perhaps not something to salivate over. Sandra fancied a ride out to see it so, after a refreshing cup of tea, we braved the squally snow showers. I’d already given Mike a heads-up on the bird so he was out and about too, it was still present although it was getting more distant as the tide fell.

Once in place we scanned the bay and there was the Tufted Duck, distant but easy to pick out from the Scaups. The morning visit had been pretty poor for gulls but the now exposed rocks and mud were gaining a gull following and another handful were stood on a pile of waste fish meal by the fish plant, supplementing their diets. A quick scan revealed the Glaucous Gull, a second scan looked closer at the gulls on the fish meal, one was a Slaty-backed Gull or something very similar.

Having come across many an odd gull in the past caution set in. It looked like a Slaty-backed but did it have the essential bits required to confirm the identification. A wing flap and a click of the camera froze the action, it looked good. We had no slaty reference in the car so I sent photos to Alix and Ronnie for another opinion, we are all incurable larophiles so double-checking was the obvious thing to do. In the meantime I’d called Mike, who was nearby, just saying to get to Swimm Point, you’ll be told why when you get there, very mysterious. Another look, another flap and I knew then it was a Slaty-backed. Mike arrived and agreed, Alix and Ronnie replied to the texts too and so the twitch began.

The word was spread further and soon all those who could make it were enjoying the bird in a snow storm. Nobody had any dissenting thoughts on this one, Nova Scotia’s second record and the first since 2004. The Tufted Duck and Glaucous Gull took a back seat as all eyes stayed glued to the Slaty-Backed Gull. It’s a long way from Japan and it would be discourteous not to give it our fullest attention. I hope it sticks and that everyone who wants to see it gets there. Cape Island birds are all about sharing.

The last word on the gull comes from Ronnie who commented something like “mitigates missing the Kelp Gull”, it certainly does.

 

Going back to the previous day, here are shots of the Glaucous Gull, a beauty, if a beast, in its own right. There was also a Thayer’s Iceland Gull that I got shots of actually on the floor!

 

Also here is a shot of Herring Gulls with a monster of an immature amidst the regular looking ones.

Shelburne Tick

There are eighteen counties in Nova Scotia and, using the eBird statistics, Shelburne County is the third best for birds. Statistics can be misleading though and, per the number of submitted checklists against species total, some of the less well covered counties actually stand up quite well. Below are the eBird stats, counties one through eighteen with the number of species first, followed by the number of eBird checklists (as at Jan-19, 2019).

1 – Halifax – 381 species from 44378 checklists.

2 – Yarmouth – 373 species from 10559 checklists.

3 – Shelburne – 364 species from 11129 checklists.

4 – Digby – 333 species from 5878 checklists.

5 – Lunenburg – 320 species from 16952 checklists.

6 – Kings – 318 species from 18995 checklists.

7 – Cape Breton – 310 species from 8162 checklists.

8 – Pictou – 304 species from 15891 checklists.

9 – Cumberland – 278 species from 5012 checklists.

10 – Annapolis – 373 species from 4550 checklists.

11 – Queens – 272 species from 2152 checklists.

12 – Guysborough – 271 species from 1772 checklists.

13 – Victoria – 254 species from 3567 checklists.

14 – Colchester – 243 species from 2702 checklists.

15 – Hants – 240 species from 3165 checklists.

16 – Inverness – 240 species from 2508 checklists.

17 – Richmond – 235 species from 1042 checklists.

18 – Antigonish – 233 species from 1401 checklists.

It looks very black and white. Halifax is best, Antigonish is worst but you need to factor in that the ‘lesser’ counties don’t have many active eBirders and it would be true to say that they don’t quite get the annual sub-rarities and rare vagrants annually that the top five are blessed with.

Another factor is the available migrant traps, and by that I mean off-islands. The Nova Scotia coast is littered with hundreds of islands but those in the south are the most accessible and best covered, especially when birders are present from Acadia. The most accessible is Brier in Digby County with its long history of migration observation and banding operation – even though banders, for whatever reason, don’t have their data as part of the eBird set up, and I mean their overall data not the observations of some of the banders.

Next is Bon Portage, one of the Acadia University sites and in Shelburne. It is only a relatively short way offshore but the species mix and the regular presence of rarities compliments nearby Cape Sable Island (species list c393) which is treated as mainland here due to the causeway. The factors for BPs prominence are that it has, in recent years, had birders present during the migration seasons.

Out on a limb and in Yarmouth County, Seal Island is a jewel and really should be bought by the province and maintained as a national nature reserve, allowing those seasonal residents to continue their traditional lifestyle while ensuring that the island remains available for public visitation. If a private buyer gets it we could lose it altogether.

Way offshore from Halifax is Sable Island. Hard to get to unless you are wealthy and rightly legend in terms of birding, Sable is 380+km off Halifax, almost six times further away than Grand Manan from Nova Scotia. Geographically it should be a part of Lunenburg County, I’m sure they’d appreciate the extra birds on their county list.

For interest I thought I’d look at what the eBird bird list is for the four islands. I know that there are some historical records yet to be added for all counties but, for now, it is interesting to see the sort of impact these offshore islands have on county lists. I’d have liked to include Grand Manan too, but eBird has yet to devise a way of lumping all personal sites and hotspots into one geographical area (when required) that is accessible.

Seal Island – 332; Bon Portage – 299; Brier Island – 287 (some species missing thanks to eBird’s Hotspot system); Sable Island – 251.

The title of the piece is Shelburne Tick, so I’d better talk about that now. My Shelburne tick #291 (and a very long way behind Johnny) was a Redhead. Robert Turner found the bird in Lockeport Harbour and we were able to get good views on Jan-18 as it sat on Lobster Cars with Greater Scaup. The weather was pretty good and we had a nice explore around the area, a part of Shelburne we don’t get to nearly enough. After seeing the Redhead, we went off to Hemeon’s Head to pay our respects to the regular winter flock of Harlequin, 32 of the bouncy beggars riding a choppy sea.

 

Following up on a report of an owl species being seen around Baker’s Flats on Cape Sable Island, I deliberately made a late afternoon trip to Daniel’s Head, returning late afternoon through the area more in hope than expectation. A previous search had resulted in a Red-tailed Hawk being seen there, nice but not the prize – Barred Owl being something of an island rarity. This time (again, Jan-18) my luck was in as the owl sat on a roadside wire (images below), oblivious to the light traffic and the waggling lens. There was time to put the word out and nip home to fetch Sandra so she could add it to her burgeoning island list too. Later the same evening my daily shufti (look around) of the prominent perches in the yard were rewarded; our resident but at times elusive Great Horned Owl was sat on the front yard utility pole and Sandra and I both had good looks at it.

With just nine species to go for the big 3-0-0 in Shelburne, I jotted down wants list of species that are, potentially, realistic. In no particular order they are: Vesper Sparrow; Long-eared Owl; Red-shouldered Hawk; Sora; Ruddy Duck; Eurasian Wigeon; Wilson’s Phalarope; Mew Gull; Spruce Grouse and Black-backed Woodpecker. Two of the species are actually Nova Scotia ticks, all ten would be very much wishful thinking and I didn’t even try to factor in the potential rarities but, if we ever get a hurricane again…

Trouble Coming

It looks like a pretty good storm is going to rattle through Atlantic Canada from Sunday Jan-20 through Monday. It will be wet, or snowing or be sleety, that is about as accurate as the weather people can get when so many parts of our area live in their own, ocean affected micro-climate. For us on Cape Island it will probably be pretty wet and windy and the aftermath will be of most interest, what will the storm dump on us?

Sea birds are the obvious choice, recently Thick-billed murres, a Common Murre and a Dovekie have appeared around the wharves, expect more of the same with ardent sea watchers also having the chance of Northern Gannet, Black-legged Kittiwake and I wouldn’t rule out Atlantic Puffin, Northern Fulmar and perhaps even Red Phalarope. There are probably jaegers out there too and they might appear but don’t hold your breath.

This year, January has been more giving than 2018s, we’ve had a few nice birds here and there and the numbers stack up much better so far. Last year I managed a paltry 93 species, this year I have 95 (Jan-17) with space for quite a few more. I doubt I’ll reach the heights of 2016 (117 species) but I should top 100 and I’ll be happy with that. I’d be there already if we’d not missed some nice birds in Halifax/Dartmouth recently but that can’t be helped, at least that bloody Kelp Gull has not come back to tease me!

I am still working on my hunting thing. Basically the premise is this. Rarities in Nova Scotia are important to birders and should not be allowed to be hunted. They are our birds and their significance as rare birds here should not be overlooked. It seems that nobody has ever talked to the hunting legislators so now is the time. To be fair, neither they nor the hunters themselves are aware of the number of birders out there and it this information I’m looking to get to the relevant people in order for them to include our requirements in future hunting season rules and regulations. I’m not saying stop hunting, just don’t shoot rarities, it’s not as though it is something unreasonable now is it?

And so to a few birds. The yard has been pretty good this year with a lingering Lincoln’s Sparrow (scarce on Cape Island), two Fox Sparrows and a Northern Mockingbird. Today (Jan-17) it looks like the mockingbird has tired of fighting Blue Jays and American Robins for the berry bush and has pushed off. We’ve been quite lucky locally in that there have been three mockingbirds between Cape Island and Barrington where usually we are pleased just to see one. Below are shots of the three main guests.

 

Around the wharves is the place where we tend to bird a lot in winter. Gulls come and go with the Lobster fishing fleet and so there is quite an interchange between southern sites although I’ve not found either of the Pubnico Thayer’s Gulls on Cape Island, yet. Iceland Gulls are as common as normal, the odd Glaucous appears too but mostly, when wharf birding, we are looking for alcids. Black Guillemots are a constant. Thick-billed Murres, also known as Brünnich’s Guillemot elsewhere, are now to be found bobbing around in their dejected way. Still, I suppose anyone would be miserable if their fate were almost certainly to involve being supper for a Great Black-backed Gull. We did have a Common Murre briefly but it was murder to see, let alone photograph. We’ve also just had a Dovekie (a better name than Little Auk), a species that I’d not seen since Feb-22, 2018, so well overdue. Below are the best shots I could manage.

 

We’ve had a couple of runs to Yarmouth this year, having mixed results in picking up year birds, usually looked for on shopping trips. Today was a prime example when we again missed out on seeing one of the Pleasant Lake Red-shouldered Hawks (maybe on the immature left, I imagine the adult brought it to show it where to go, with the “one day all of this will be yours” speech). Bluebirds were steadfastly absent from Chebogue Point road and House Sparrows seem to flee as we enter the town limits, still, we did see a few Evening Grosbeaks which were nice. One bird we also saw nicely was the Yarmouth Harbour Barrow’s Goldeneye. Genuinely rare in Southern Nova Scotia which is why, I suppose, that duck hunters are only allowed to take one!

That is about it really. We poddle on while a third of the Spectacled Fruit-Bats in Cairns, Australia are killed over two days of extreme heat in November 2018, a third! It really hits home when you have been watching and very much enjoying them a couple of months before. If severe weather can do that sort of population damage over two days, then completely losing a species at viability level cannot be far behind. Climate change is the one thing that we should not be discussing, just doing our damned best to fix. And all those people who even dare to mention the cost should think about the fate of the fruit bats, there but for the grace of whatever you chose to believe in, go you.

One other thing; I was fiddling with photos when I had the idea to compare images of a Western Sandpiper versus a long billed Semipalmated. I’m specifically thinking of the one I photographed at West Head, CSI on Aug-01, 2018. I posted the picture at the time but thought I’d paste two together for effect. Also I thought I’d re-post one of a Western Sandpiper that I took at Daniel’s Head on Sept-20, 2015 which also emphasises the shape differences. The photo quality is not great but the Western is obvious.