Be Gone Similar Crow

Twice a year the International Ornithological Congress (IOC), the adult version of bird taxonomy, issues their world bird list updates. I had a look at the planned July 2020 one and we will be losing a species from North America. For Canadians it matters because it is Northwestern Crow, those in the USA won’t worry too much though, their taxonomy committee can just add some more islands on the other side of the world to the ABA listing area to compensate, perhaps the republican birders (if such a wild notion exists) can persuade the orange idiot to invade Lesbos!

I don’t much like lumping, mostly because it removes protection, such as it is, from distinct populations of a particular species, I’m all for counting and preserving by law every subspecies and form. I also don’t like deleting the tick from my checklists.

The crow is an obvious lump, unlike the proposed Redpoll lump which seems to be rather hasty and should happen, if it happens at all, after I am dead, I may be withering about it otherwise. The crow overlaps in range with American Crow, it does sound different but, if you listen to your local crows there is a dialect, so it is probably one of the more logical lumps, besides, it will give people the opportunity to find reasons to split it again, those nasal passages look slightly longer to me!

Sunday Jul-05 we went off to Pubnico Lake, via the road obviously. The road in and area around the lake parking lot has birds and bugs and we would be looking for both.

The expected Little Bluets, a small bluet that s little, we easy to find. The antehumeral stripe, that is shoulder stripe to you and me, I’m quoting the technical lane from a book, is slightly different in colour from the rest of the blues, a mauve type edge, or maybe purple. At least the ‘plumage’ difference mean you don’t have to mess around with their genitalia, so to speak. They are pretty small too.

During our perambulation we saw a couple of orange bluet types but with blue tail tips. I used to see Orange Bluets all the time in season at my Quebec site, but here I’ve not had one, mainly because they are not found here but, they are quite likely just overlooked – much has changed in the insect world since we started to warm the planet up a bit for them. There is a blue form (females) of Orange Bluet, making the logic of that sentence all wrong logically, but this wasn’t one of them because it was orange and blue and not just blue with no orange, keeping up? Well done!

The only other candidate was Vesper Bluet but did we even get them?

iNat has one record and an Excel spreadsheet I have also lists them but without details, so it is fair to assume an element of rarity about the species, anyway, it was new for my NS odes list and the first time I have photographed the species, they were really tricksy to find in Quebec.

The Vesper is above, a regular and a blue Orange Bluet below.

We also had some nice insects but I missed one of the better ones; a Black-legged Gossamer – a hoverfly – that Sandra photographed but that scarpered before I could see it.

Then we went to Dennis Point where Dennis Point Café fed us a take-out of fish and chips in various guises. You can’t go wrong with a take-out from there, we have never been disappointed.

We ate on wharf #1 while terns bombed the bait fish shoal as it moved around. Six Roseate Terns joined the Common Terns in the frenzy, often giving great views and some photo ops. Dennis Point has to be one of the best places in North America to see and photograph this species.

Anyone interested in a big lens? I’m selling my Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary DG OS HSM I C, Canon fit – no I have no idea what all the detail means, anyway, the lens was bought Jan-2019 for $1200 CAN and is very lightly use. I’ll take $800CAN plus P&P if I have to ship it. I thought I’d try here first before using Kajiji or whatever it is called.

This is one of the few photos I took with it. I bought it mostly for gulling but have since decided I want a bugging lens instead. It is in a carrying bag, has lens caps and a lens hood. I got it from Amazon, so the manufacturers warranty was only one year. I’ve never had any issues with it, like all big lenses, it is a bit soft at 600mm, but snap to 550mm and it is good. It isn’t too heavy but I wouldn’t want to carry it for hours at a time.

Finally, the year list plods along although I seem to be missing a few birds recently. On Cape Island I’m up to 171, so 200 should be possible. In Nova Scotia I have 214 but could do with some luck to see the scarce species that we get, still plenty of time though and 24-260 would seem to be the right ball-park end of year figure with rarities. In the yard, my focus really after I abandoned the idea of a Clam Point list I have 107 and we still have all those lovely shorebirds, ducks, hawks and warblers to come.

Fog Day 23

Since May-1st I’ve been adding a fog day number in my daily notebook entry. I always start with the day, date and weather, as predicted but not necessarily as delivered. I find this data very useful as one of the other things I occasionally do is look back at this day on… Just to see how they compare.

The fog days are not really a problem. We can head inland easily enough and there is the odd window of visibility on the coast if you time it right. At Clam Point it generally starts foggy then quickly clears, rarely does it linger. Out on The Hawk, well, they’ve heard of the sun right enough, but like many things science claims, they hold no truck with it! Great as it is living on Cape Island, I would not want to live on The Hawk.

Since the Acadian Flycatcher (Jun-08) I’ve been busy, birding, bugging and building. Sandra wanted a Greenhouse; we had lumber aside for another project that didn’t work so we slung one up. It has to be tough, withstand weather (our special weather) and be fully functional. It took about five full days to build, now it is done I have the rest of the year to frolic with wildlife.

This is the greenhouse, we needed a $15.00 permit to build it!

I’ve also been putting the finishing touches to my first crime novel, ‘Cold Hearted’. Once published it will be on Kindle, cheap and, according to Sandra, a good read – I think she was surprised by it when I gave her the first draft.

The birding has been mixed. The big dip was a Grey Heron at Miners Marsh, Kentville on Jun-30, the news was out too late for us down here to make it before dark but a few from Halifax and area did. We went Jul-01 but no sign, poot! While the planets failed to align for that one, we did see a fabulous Luna Moth on the way up and had nice views of Vesper Sparrow on the way back.

Luna Moth 7748 Gas Station nr Blarney Stone Jul-01, 2020

When this Bald Eagle flew it picked up a passenger!

I have been mothing when the weather would allow and have cruised past 500 for the yard effortlessly. I’ve also been bugging a lot, I think I’ll tell you all about both.

You will have seen my talk of iNaturalist in past posts. I think I have the hang of it now and so I decided to create a project in iNaturalist for Cape Sable Island (I did one for St-Lazare sand pits too, if you are interested) I have been as busy looking down as much as looking up. The beauty of bugging is that it fits right in with the current plague, you stay close to home and photograph bugs, you edit the photo, put it into iNaturalist and, perhaps 40% of the time with the more obscure stuff, you get an ID.

Lurking in your yard right now are hundreds of insects just waiting to know what they are officially called, they possibly already know what they are called themselves but that is not the point. By compiling photographic data on the insects of Cape Island and elsewhere I’m producing a snap-shot – albeit one with a long exposure, of the state of the insect population. Mostly I bug Cape Island but we also travel to other sites around the area, and one in particular has been quite good, Quinn’s Falls Road, Clyde River. You can park at the end of the road, bug around and see a nice variety of insects, birds too. If you get right into the grass you can even start your own collection of ticks, so we always keep to the gravel road.

One recent visit there had us lunching on a take-out from the nearby restaurant, (illiterate) ‘Anchor’s Away’, where I spent time photographing lots of moths around their light. Post lunch saw us prowling the verges at the end of the road, prowling being the operative word as sudden movement flushes insects, they have vastly superior eyes to us and see in slow motion. Luckily, steadily advancing age has allowed me to perfect the slow prowling technique as a part of my normal locomotion, much to the surprise of the bugs, even they can’t see that slow!

As I mooched I saw a stripy fruit-type fly (Hoverfly) doing what they do, I got a couple of shots before it moved on. Most insects do this with monotonous regularity, but then that is their function on this biological machine we inhabit, they pollinate.  Post-editing iNat struggled with it, so I used their suggested genus and left it, not expecting much. John Klymko, the Nova Scotia bug guy to dumb down his role, later contacted me to confirm it as a new species for NS, Spotted Wood Fly Somula decora, which is nice. That is very much how iNat works, experts in their field share their knowledge and expertise and the range of many species gets changed by virtue of Citizen Science, which is like real science but much cheaper, as the universities that run the various recording systems have found.

Looking at the ‘Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America’, Skevington, Locke, Young, Moran, Crins and Marshall, I can see that Spotted Wood Fly gets right to the border, so it must have been overlooked, or maybe it is a climate change indicator, who knows? This is the other thing about bugging and putting your stuff out there, you add to the global database of knowledge. The kudos of finding the first record of a little wood fly in Nova Scotia won’t mean much to any but those with an interest, and yourself of course, but finding firsts is not the thing, adding to the scientific record is.

One of our bugging trips took us to a little gravel road in Yarmouth. We were on our way elsewhere but, as we passed, I turned in and we had a look around. Ervin is a regular there and I suspected that some of the dragonflies he’d been posting were there, they were.

Spotted Wood Fly Quinn’s Falls Road Jun-13, 2020
Odontomyia Cincta Clam Point CSI Jul-03, 2020
Black-footed Globetail Clam Point Jul-04, 2020

On the moth front this was notable”

Marsh Fern Moth – rare in NS

One outing took us to Lilypond Road in Yarmouth County where we saw, amongst other things, Elfin Skimmers, a species I’d only seen a couple of times in Quebec so it was nice to add it to my NS ode list. We also visited the Wilson Road the same day, adding a few year odes to the list.

Elfin Skimmer Lily Pond Road Yarmouth Co Jun-27, 2020
Elfin Skimmer Lily Pond Road Yarmouth Co Jun-27, 2020
Harlequin Darner Wilson Road Jun-27, 2020

Since it is a while since I posted I thought I’d mix this one up a bit and reproduce the story of my Tern rescue taken from my eBook – Park Life, tales of a country park warden at Colwick Park, Nottingham. Just to orient you, here is an aerial view of Colwick, on the right, the International Rowing Course at Holme Pierrepont, in the middle (the long, straight bit) and the lake that was the gravel works, temporary tern home top left. At the bottom is the Netherfield fly-ash lagoon that is now a nature reserve and the setting for one of the murders in my second crime novel, 60% written. Between them these sites have a great record for producing rarities, sadly, these days, Colwick Park barely gets looked at. The tern is a Little Tern, a Notts rarity and sitting on one of the boats I used for the rescue.

Rescue

Although not specifically at Colwick, this little tale does involve Colwick and its trout boats. Across the river at Holme Pierrepont, when the old works site was being excavated and turned into the large lake that the site now houses. Construction was slow, and flooding was due to take place at a time when the gravel nesting species that had temporarily moved in to occupy the lake bed would be hatching. Waders, like Little Ringed Plovers, were pretty mobile and could get away but the several pairs of Common Terns would be doomed to lose their chicks if we didn’t act.

I can’t recall asking permission from anyone specifically, specifically but a friend and I put lots of gravel in one of the park trout boats and drove it over there. The terns had congregated on a few shingle strips that were still exposed but the water was rising fast. We paddled the boat out and then anchored it firmly. We then swam out and collect the young terns, depositing them safely in the boat and on the gravel. Some leapt free, ungrateful imps that they were, but most just cowered in the depths of the boat.

Once we were back on land and all terns had been saved, we waited with baited breath for the reaction of the adults. It was quite a joyous occasion when they started bringing in fish to their relocated young and calling noisily. They had accepted the change of home, in fact taking it very much in their collective strides.

A few days later, the lake bed had gone, the boat bobbed gently in the breeze and the colony was buzzing with adults feeding young. Once the birds fledged, and most did we think, we went back to the site and swam out, collecting the boat, cleaning it out and hauling it home, job done.

Thinking about it, not only would this not pass a modern ‘Elfin Safety’ risk assessment but questions might also be asked about appropriating a trout boat for the task. Thankfully they were simpler times and I was younger and stupider!

Just as an addendum, for years I told the trout anglers not to shout too loud when pushing for more fish, fewer Cormorants, more boats, no tern platform. Their season permits, although costing a couple of hundred UK pounds, were permits to fish and not for fish, they caught what they caught. We put over 10,000 trout in the lake annually, at a price over and above income from the fishing, and that was without factoring in any other costs. A few years ago the austerity imposed by the crooked UK Government saw the trout fishing end, and with it a whole culture. It was perhaps the only place in the county where you could have a day out trout fishing, in comfort and with reasonable expectations.

Same Bush, Same Perch

Back in September 2019 Sandra and I found an empid at Chebogue Point, Yarmouth County which was subsequently identified as a Dusky Flycatcher. The process was both a learning curve and a source of disappointment. If I ever come across a really drab empid again you can be sure that I will not let it go, at least Ronnie did see that bird. The disappointment came about because it wasn’t shared, I like all local birders to get the birds and I like it even better if birds stay long enough for travelling Nova Scotia birders to score as well.

On Jun-08, 2020 we had an appointment in Yarmouth and so naturally called in at Pont du Marais in Lower West Pubnico on the way to see a singing Willow Flycatcher – newly found that morning by Alix. We pulled up, it sang away, then got into a chase with another empid and we left, easy.

After the completion of business in Yarmouth, we decided to do what we usually do and wander to the end of Chebogue Point. In the fine but breezy weather I didn’t really expect much and I certainly didn’t expect the previous days fogged in Yellow-bellied Flycatcher to still be in ‘The Willows’. I was right, it wasn’t; in fact there was nothing at all there. Moving on to the farm, which was busy as usual, we paused by the small patch of shrubs at the entrance, a good spot for a tired, newly arrived migrant – well at least until one of the multitude of farm cats find them it is.

Because the farm was busy we didn’t intend to give it long, it seemed barren, but then some movement from the other side of the shrub caught our attention. Manoeuvering the car into the right position, we got a look at our bird, an empid, oh good!

Just for those reading this who don’t know, an empid is an Empidonax flycatcher of which there four in our bit of the east, Alder, Least, Yellow-bellied and Willow – given in order of NS abundance. There is one other eastern species, Acadian, which is actually rare in NS although probably overlooked. Out west there are a few more empids, and of those, Hammond’s and Dusky have occurred in NS as rare vagrants. There are four others species of empid on the North America north of Mexico list. The likeliest in NS, although they really are unlikely, is Pacific-slope, after that Cordilleran, Grey and then Pine Flycatcher although the latter is a vagrant to the whole area.

Pacific-slope/Cordilleran, as a species pairing, can be referred to as ‘Western’ Flycatcher, given the difficulties in identifying them unless vocalising. An empid in NS in 2015 was a ‘western’ but was never specifically identified.

Pewees can look like empids given a bad view, just ignore them.

So now you are bang up to date on NS empids and empids in general.

The first impression of the Chebogue empid was that it was greeny, I don’t think that there is another way to put it and that is what I said to Sandra as soon as we saw it. It didn’t have a crown peak and it didn’t look ‘big’ although the bill did. Big on a lone bird is subjective and big in this case isn’t duck to a goose big, it is a nominal quarter of an inch on each wing, with variability even there.

Conscious of the farm activity and knowing that the old farmer can be a little grumpy sourpus, we watched and photographed, then we quickly tried playback, a call would be diagnostic. I would record it, we would listen and, hey presto!, you have an ID, but it remained silent. It didn’t take any notice of Willow Flycatcher, positively ignored Alder Flycatcher but became visibly active and was searching the area from a perch as it tried to triangulate the source of the Acadian Flycatcher it could then hear, which was us. Not conclusive for an ID though, maybe it was just a genuine fan of empid songs.

After a couple of minutes, we left the area and I put a photo on our local Facebook Messenger group. I wasn’t going to call it an Acadian but it was different enough for me to suggest that it worth people taking the trouble to look at it. We passed Paul Gould as we left and he got a good look too.

After I’d sent out the image, Alix posted an image of a bird he’d seen in the same place the day before with Kathleen. Their bird looked greeny too, but they had duller light to photograph in than we did and I also had my camera set to over expose a little, making my images a bit washed out.

Back of my camera versus Alix’s photo posted on Messenger suggested that they were the same bird, there was also the news that Alix and Kathleen had got recordings of their bird.

Empid vocalisations are crucial to ID sometimes. On this occasion they have proved, so far, a source of confusion.

On Jun-12 I was wondering whether Alix and Kathleen had posted the empid recordings to eBird, Kathleen had. One song recording was so different to any of our regular empids that I took to Xeno Canto to see whether I could find something similar. I came across a not dissimilar Pacific-slope song but I knew that it wasn’t one of those. I mentioned this similarity to Alix though, and he sent their recordings to Dave Bell in British Columbia. Dave would be well-placed to comment on whether the some calls might be a variation of Pacific-slope vocalisation, although I was sure it wasn’t one visually.

Dave came back with the news that, in his opinion, it was an Acadian. At home I double checked my images against Alix and Kathleen’s and yes; it was the same bird (still!). Then I surfed Xeno Canto again, this time amongst the right species, and there are Acadian Flycatchers on there that match the two-part song in one recording.

Kathleen’s eBird checklist with the recordings and some photos is here:

https://ebird.org/canada/checklist/S70165997

Empids are rightly described as difficult, lone birds especially so. Digital photos are a boon in aiding identification but sometimes it takes a hunch, a ‘that looks green’ moment, the get a conversation going. In hindsight I should have made more of the bird, added the term ‘greeny’ to the image on Facebook which might have allowed more local eyes to get on it. At least this time I did put a photo out though.

With empids like the Chebogue bird, nothing is ever simple and there is a process. Part of that process is exposing the details to a wider, and hopefully more experienced audience. You should never be concerned about doing this as a good record stands and a bad one falls by this process. You should also consider that it is likely that some of the commentators will not know what they are talking about, sift the wheat from the chaff and then some.

Here are the comments on the bird from the Advanced ID Facebook group, I’ve added my comments after, where comments are replies to a different thread or additional they are added after the original:

1 – I listened to the recordings- I’m not an empid expert but I am familiar with Acadians (they nest in my neighborhood) and I don’t think the calls are a good match. They sound weaker and squeakier to my ear than typical ACFL. Not an expert, thanks for the comments though.

2 – Those calls sound fine for Alder to me. No they don’t, one vocalistation is nothing like an Alder.

3 – This bird does not look (primaries too short), or sound like an Acadian Flycatcher to me. I think Alder is a better fit. Judging an empid from a photo is subjective at best, you need to get the ruler out and do the math and then say why in detail.

3.1 – I think that what’s kinda confusing about this bird is the gestalt. It just (at least in these images) does not “present” like an Acadian Flycatcher. In my experience, Acadian is the most pewee-like of the empids, long, with long wings, a bit lanky and with a plain face and most often a hint of bushy crest. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it five thousand times: identifying birds from photographs is often more difficult than having the live bird in front of you.

3 – reply (not me): While Acadian does have long primaries on average, Pyle gives the range of longest primary minus longest secondary for Acadian Flycatcher as 13.3 to 23.5 mm, which overlaps with the other Empids. The short-looking primaries were why we initially discounted Acadian in the field.

There are Alder Flycatcher calls in the audio recording as well.

3 – reply to the reply: That makes sense! Some of the calls were too high pitched for Alder and some were too low pitched for Acadian.

4 – Me, clarifying a few things in the group comments: The images don’t actually do the bird justice in terms of being how green looking it was in the field. My wife and I saw the bird, it stayed silent, but it didn’t look like any Alder I’ve ever seen in terms of plumage and, bear in mind, that I see them almost daily, they breed in our yard and are common around Cape Sable Island where we live. I’ve obviously listened to the vocalisations on the checklist and one in particular I have never heard from an Alder, the two-part one. I don’t have a deal of experience with Acadian but birders who do have been happy with the identification.

5 – I’ve got recordings of confirmed Acadians giving this vocalization type, and the photos certainly look good for Acadian (narrow complete eye ring, long primary extension). I’d say that is the best choice.

https://www.xeno-canto.org/20708

https://www.xeno-canto.org/373653

https://www.xeno-canto.org/319607

An experienced recordist with examples, this is how comments should be, backed up with more details to help make a decision.

6 – To me this bird looks like a typical Alder Flycatcher. While the call is a little Acadian-like it isn’t quite like any I ever heard and I hear hundreds every year. No it doesn’t look like a typical Alder and to say so undermines the fact that the observers asking for comments already know what an Alder looks and sounds like.

7 – The higher-pitched vocalizations in all the recordings are made by Acadian Flycatchers. I hear these call types all the time. Yesterday, today, the previous two weeks when I hiked 70 miles in Acadian habitat, last year, year before…you get the idea. Supportive of Acadian but, to some extent, as subjective as saying it is just an Alder, even though the comment is meant with the best intentions and I don’t doubt the sincerity.

8 – Acadians are the local breeder where I am, and that certainly is not my impression, either by the photo (agree that the primaries look too short) or the audio. I am certainly not an Empidonax expert writ large, but I’ve been spending a lot of concentrated time with a nesting Acadian pair lately, and pretty familiar with them. This checklist wouldn’t hit a review queue here, since ACFL is the expected species – but if it did, it would raise flags among reviewers (myself included). I am not an… Move on.

9 – I’m no empid expert, but Acadians have a curved scimitar winged appearance, which this bird does not. We can read books too, thanks!

10 – This is absolutely an Acadian Flycatcher. The primary projection is within range, and the call notes are perfect. ALFL has a burry squeak call, not the clean and long call of ACFL.

11 – People focusing on the primary projection need to step back and take a look at the rest of the bird. Bill size, low color contrast, and wing pattern all support Acadian.

12 – I agree this bird looks and sounds great for an Acadian–the recordings really confirming it well. Alders have an equivalent call for both vocalizations given in these recordings, but their long “weew” call is burrier as previously noted and “pip” calls are less squeaky (a lot more like HAFL). Nice work for picking this out and obtaining outstanding documentation!

13 – Never thought the westerners would have to chime in on this — yes, this is an Acadian whether you consider the photos, audio, or both. 

14 – The alula is retained and contrasts with the greater and primary coverts (obvious in the 2nd and 4th photo), which is regular in Acadian but unusual in Alder. I’m not very familiar with their call notes, but this looks like a relatively straightforward Acadian to me even if the primary projection is on the short side. It has a massive bill and low contrast overall, with yellowish green tones throughout.

15 – The (middle) bird’s head is tilted more towards the camera than the other two photos in this composite, which creates a shortening effect and makes it look more like the ALFL pic. That wouldn’t be the case if these pics were all taken from the same angle. Similar effect with the tail facing the camera in the middle pic but away or perpendicular in the other two; this makes the bird look relatively less elongated and therefore less pewee-like. But it’s because of the camera angle, not the shape of the bird.

 16 – Those that band these, is there any merit to the buffy-tips to the lesser (?) coverts visible in the images as pro-Acadian? Do Alder and Yellow-bellied show these. Just curious.

16.1 – You mean the “third wingbar?” I think this can be a trait in other empids, but can be used as a supporting feature for ACFL.

 16.2 – Well over 50% of the Acadians I see show this, while I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Alder with three wingbars. I think I’ve seen a few Yellow-bellied with it, but a tiny percentage.

So, as you can see there are mostly for and but the odd against comments plus one about turn, which is fair enough. I tend to think that when someone begins with “I’m not expert but…” you can ignore them. The issue of empid ID, when input is requested by observers who are not dummies, is one of the ‘hot coals’ of birding and you only want to hear from those with good, broad experience. You also want them to qualify their comments. The problem with such Facebook groups is that there is no data quality unless the commenters have a well-known ‘name’. The comments always require an element detail and should not be a dismissive for or against comment, nobody can learn from that.

I still think the bird is an Acadian Flycatcher, and, although my experience with them is limited, my experience with the other species of empid in the north-east is extensive and  certainly enough to know that the Chebogue bird was not an Alder.

As updates on this debate happen, I’ll update here. For now I have reverted to ‘empid sp.’, in eBird, I hope to be able to confidently revert to Acadian, but sometimes life just isn’t like that.

Oh, and if you want to see how different settings can affect a digital image, ponder this one, a yard Eastern Wood-Pewee, photos taken seconds apart but with the camera set to different things.

On This Day

It had been a long day, May-28, 2015. Up before dawn, still packing, waiting for the men with the truck to come and load the contents of our lives, well those not too precious to be packed into a Grand Caravan and a Hyundai Tucson that is. You probably wonder what might be that precious. Cats, obviously, my birding notebooks, bins, cameras, computers, scope and some basic bits and pieces to tide us over until the truck showed up in our new place.

I offered the loaders a bonus if they could get us packed up quickly, we both helped. They still took their long lunch, their breaks, official, and their smoke breaks, as enshrined in Quebec custom, so we didn’t get away until late afternoon, and even then we had to fight a flolloping mattress called Zem that we’d strapped to the roof. When it started to vollue too, that was enough, and I somehow managed to cram it inside the van, I still don’t know how.

Darkness fell, but we knew every bump in the road as we headed east along highway 20. Along the way a couple of deer tried to make our last day in Quebec more memorable, missing me in the van by millimetres, but miss they did and we pressed on.

Crossing New Brunswick is dull. There is some nice scenery but much of it is a dull plod with no chance to explore the more exciting bits, besides, we were on a mission. We’d been on the road only about eleven hours when we pulled into a dark gas station forecourt and fitfully dozed in the driving seats. The best either of us could manage was cat napping, unlike the wowing buggers in the van, who constantly let me know of their disgust at this change of routine.

Dawn crept over the hills and so we pushed on. It was a relief to get to the border, passing under the ‘Welcome to Nova Scotia’ sign, roughly around mid-morning.

After we’d paid to get in! We pushed on but sleep was constantly reminding us of its urgent attention, so we found another spot near Masstown for an hour or so, the eBird checklist records 30 minutes from 12:30pm, 19 species – you have to take care of the serious stuff.

Crossing Nova Scotia can be boring, there is some nice scenery but much of it is a dull plod with, on this occasion, no chance to explore the more exciting bits. A rough calculation said we’d hit Cape Island around 6pm, with stops for food, drink and caffeine, and short rests.

Energy drinks only work for so long and we were both shattered by the time we got near Lunenburg. Sandra was worse than me, judging by her nodding off at the wheel and the rumble strips jolting her back to life before she met an oncoming semi-trailer. We found another spot to park, just off junction 11 and dozed another half hour. I have to say that Nova Scotia highways are pretty useless when it comes to rest stops, and the further south you go, the less chance there is of there being one.

We pressed on.

Seeing the Shelburne sign gave us encouragement, finally getting to Clyde River even more. When you have been travelling since around 4pm the previous day, the run in to Cape Island via Barrington and Barrington Passage seems endless. We would later find out that it is when you are stuck behind one of the local zombie drivers who stick to 45kmph, even on the 80kmph section. We crossed the causeway, made the left and trundled along Stoney Island Road, mind befuddled through tiredness, too many energy drinks and, possibly, age, desperately trying to remember where we now lived.

The realtor said the house keys would be in the kitchen drawer, which tells you all about the place we now live. After 1600km and about 26 hours, we arrived at 5:30pm, Friday, May-29, 2015. We got there about half an hour earlier than I expected, I know it was that time because my checklist says so (19 species, again).

We’d bought the house for the local church, it was a shithole inside. I rebuilt our Ikea bed while Sandra cleaned throughout. The grass around the house had been cropped short and it is ironic that the church owners went more for the tidy look outside rather than on giving the house a once over for the new people, after four years of neglect. The house we left in Quebec, despite having sold it to someone who screwed us at the last minute, was spotless.

Our houses have all had names and the new one now needed one. It was the pastor’s old residence and it seems that his family majored in drawing pins and nails; the log interior was awash with them. To my atheist mind only one thing would fit, and so eBird got a new contender in the yard list chart – ‘Dunblevin’. To understand the name you have to read it phonetically, Elvis has left the building!

A lot has happened in five years. Nova Scotia seeps into your bones and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You find yourself getting angry when individuals from other, less blessed, provinces (well they aren’t Nova Scotia) diss us. You feel bad when bad things happen elsewhere in the province and glad when we enjoy the good. You start to understand why a ship that blew up over a hundred years ago, still commands the news network for a full week of the anniversary, and you just shrug and accept it when Amazon Prime next day delivery isn’t.

I didn’t know how good the birding was in Nova Scotia and I really didn’t know how good the people were. True, we have a few shits around (not birders), you have to have them though, so that you have a baseline for your own decency and true, a lot of people here don’t understand their lives in the context of their position as just another species on Earth, not my problem now.

I hope I have a lot more years to enjoy living in Nova Scotia, even though, in automotive terms, my body needs some new joints and swivels and a paint job to look anything like. Looking forward five years is a lifetime; looking back it is the blink of an eye. I’d like to think that I’ll still be blinking in another five years.

Please don’t mind me recounting this day again, it is important to us and will always remain so.

And now some photos.

Kathleen found a male Wilson’s Phalarope at Chebogue, a great local find. We couldn’t get there on the first day but it stuck around and we enjoyed it in the fog the next. We also had a Bobolink jingly-jangling along the road.

On May-23, 2020 we had a few birds drop into The Hawk in the afternoon. Sitting quietly by the yard at the end of Hawk Point Road, I waited while the birds worked their way to me, which they did, eventually.

As this is the end of May it seems reasonable to assess the migration. Most of the birds in spring arrive directly into their summer habitat, meaning that Cape Island can be quiet, while roads inland hop with summer visitors. We eventually catch up in the autumn although we do have a few of our own summer birds to enjoy. I think that the numbers of everything (except Starlings) are well down on previous years. I think that Dorian knocked most local trees back two weeks and I hope that migration has some built-in device that delays the arrival of species needing tree cover and bugs. The bugs have literally just started, maybe we’ll see more migration into June, I do hope so.

Finally, mowing season is also upon us. If you didn’t cut your grass to nothing three times a week last year, and have clumps, check them before you turn on the destroyer of worlds. This is a Song Sparrow nest, it is in my front meadow; others would call it an uncut lawn. Anyone with a yard has a responsibility to the wildlife that uses it. By all means cut a small bit to sit on, amenity grass, but leave the rest and don’t even think of the look of it. Look doesn’t matter, content does.

You Never Forget The First One

Sandra and I were out birding along Pope’s Road, Upper Woods Harbour, when this male American Redstart popped out. It was my first of the year and it posed, which is nice. It also gives me the chance to reminisce about the first one I saw in somewhat different conditions.

American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla

Lincolnshire, Gibraltar Point, 1stW, present between 7th-November and 5th-December 1982.

14th-November 1982: I wasn’t really very sure what an American Redstart looked like, it was not in the AA book of British Birds, even the back bit where the rarities were, as far as I remember. I did know that it was very rare and from America. I sort of presumed that it would have a red tail like ours, I hadn’t bargained for the creative naming of Nearctic species by the settlers, names that reminded them of home while the summer mosquitoes feasted on them and they got surprised by Black Bears, briefly. I don’t think I even had a North American field guide at that point, and I certainly never expected to go there, live there eventually and to get American Redstarts along with their mosquito snacks in the yard (mustn’t call it a garden).

I was up early and collected Sandy Aitkin from his digs in Attenborough, Nottingham. Once I’d roused him from his Shipstones Beer-inspired slumber, he was ready to go and eager to see our target. We set out for Gibraltar Point in my blue Ford Escort van, a van that didn’t go very fast at all and one that made the trip similar, in terms of actual time spent rattling along, to a trip to Dorset in a real car. The van cost pennies from a colleague, literally, and it was our best option for the trip as Sandy’s Triumph was a thirsty beast, expensive for just the two of us.

Gibraltar Point is at the back end of Skegness, that easy-on-the-eye Lincolnshire seaside town with its low key amusements. These amusements largely consist of annoying the donkeys that have to spend their life trudging along the beach, with kids dribbling ice creams all over them. The area that the redstart had chosen to frequent was a small wood by the main entrance to the reserve, a wood that was normally out-of-bounds to the common birder but a special dispensation had been granted in order to allow twitchers (like me) to see the bird without the need for trespassing. It was at a time when anti-twitcher feeling was quite high, and so the gesture was a welcome change from the policy of some observatories.

There were not many twitchers around, the bird had been there seven days already and the hard-core bunch had already been. We arrived in pouring rain but, it being mid-November on the east coast of England, it was quite mild! We found our way into the wood and followed the path to the place where the bird had been seen most frequently. It was there alright, dancing through the soggy branches of a Sycamore, the tree that allows its leaves to rot on the branches and therefore the one that keeps its insects the longest too, much to the delight of insectivorous birds. Despite being a foreigner, the American Redstart had just followed the lead of the Goldcrest flock, and was able to keep itself healthy and fed for the duration of its stay.

We spent a fair time on the bird, new for both of us (no, really), and I was pretty happy that I’d seen my first American wood warbler, I’d definitely buy a book with some in, now. Eventually Sandy had had enough of being wet, so he sloped off back to the van (which wasn’t locked, it had no locks)! I stayed in the woods a while, and wandered a bit more widely. Word was that there was also a Firecrest in there, too, and here I must confess, I added American Redstart to my life and UK list before Firecrest. I did find one, but I was pretty wet by then, and perhaps didn’t spend as long with it as I should. My alternative route back to the van took me through a section of small evergreens, a wetter route, true, but quicker.

As I brushed through the foliage, I couldn’t actually get wetter at this point, I suddenly found myself staring at two large and very orange eyes. They were inset into a facial disc that was topped off by two tufty ears, similar to those found on my first girlfriend (well, a bit). It was a Long-eared Owl. If you thought adding Firecrest to your life-list before American Redstart was bad, then you will be suitably appalled to know that the Long-eared Owl became lifer number three.

It was quite a trudge home, once we’d pushed the van to start it, another little quirk, but the remaining wiper kept the screen fairly opaque and we got home before the need for headlights, handy really. I must admit to flooring the accelerator most of the way back. It didn’t make any real difference to the speed, but I felt I was trying a bit harder; it was the van’s one and only twitch and I was sad to let it go, but quickly got over it.

American Redstart turned out to be something of a blocker for a few years, and many who joined the twitching ranks in the 80s upsurge were made to wait until they were able to claw back the tick. It is a real mega and will remain so, as all North American wood warblers must. On top of that, it is a really delightful bird and one I’m always happy to recall on those autumn evenings when I’m sat on the stoop, surrounded by them.

On The Hawk recently, Murray found a couple of Scarlet Tanagers attending a feeder near the church. Usually spring tanagers don’t linger long, but this duo have been faithful to the same set of oranges for a few days now.

Warbler migration has been bitty, at best, but by being busy around and about I’ve gradually found most of the regular species. On May-22, 2020 the day was breezy and bright, not normally a set of conditions to engender optimism regarding migration but, when a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak appeared at our yard feeders, I decided to take a punt on Kenney Road, again. Kenney Road is really a rough track that truck drivers like to bounce around on for reasons unknown. It is also, sometimes, a spot where warblers arrive, feed for a while and then push on. That is what happened today and I got Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Magnolia, Blackpoll, Wilson’s, Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

I also saw many Lucia Azure butterflies.

The day before Sandra and I also went to Frotton Road, a very birdy spot in Yarmouth county. We did OK but no pewee yet, nor any of the scarcer warblers. We did get many Juvenal’s Duskywing butterflies and our first ode of the year, a Uhler’s Sundragon.

We probably have another ten days or so of migration to enjoy before things settle into the summer rhythm of nests and young being destroyed by mowers and tree cutting, and the majority of our species being indifferent towards all wildlife if it inconveniences them, such as by requiring them to keep their dogs on a leash on a Piping Plover beach. If we are very lucky, then the much more destructive second wave of Coronovirus won’t start before autumn migration has ended. After that, well, I think we should see how many of us remain before making any predictions regarding winter birding, don’t you?

I just re-read that last paragraph, I suspect I am sinking into a pit of cynicism! Actually, this is the third go at a post but the previous two seemed to start with a deal of negativity, still, not being one to discard creative writing, here they are – enjoy and be glad I stopped writing them, I may have ended up being rude about people!

‘Fine weather is shunting most migrants directly into their summer haunts, bypassing Cape Island for the most part. That is fine, I’d rather they all bred successfully and then made enough young to keep the species going. Some are going to find their winter habitat gone, especially in Brazil where the gobshite running the shit-show really does need a good dose of the virus, a fatal one by preference.’

‘It seems that we lurch from disaster to disaster. The climate change issues that a 16 year-old was doing a great job of making more people aware of, have been totally swamped by the coronavirus, despite climate change threatening to kill very many more people – their deaths are just not very visible.

It may be that our lives won’t get back to normal. One thing is for sure, it will be the regular people who pay for all of this in the long run, not the rich and definitely not the super-rich.’

Brian Freeze

Sometimes you have to take note of what your subconscious is telling you.

I went to look for a Canada Warbler at Daniel’s Head on May-18th in atypical habitat, the fence that separates the fish plant from the parking lot down by the wharf. I’d been looking for twenty or so minutes when Johnny and Sandra, who had seen the Canada earlier, beckoned me over to the far end of the fence where a couple of warblers where appearing occasionally. One was a Nashville, the other a yellow warbler with a dark necklace.

I tried to take photos through the fence, when I really should have been using the bins. Then, later, I did get shots, nice shots. At the back of my mind something kept saying ‘yellow rump and other stuff’ but I ignored it. I went back later with Sandra, without looking at my shots other than a cursory glance and Luke was there. “Where was the Canada?” he said. “It’s there,” I said. “That’s a Magnolia,” he said. “Oh, F%$#” I said.

Looking at my shots now, I don’t know what I was thinking, apart from expecting a Canada Warbler and being more interested in getting a photo than a view. It could have been worse; at least I wasn’t confusing a warbler for a duck! I’m most angry with myself than anything for not paying closer attention. You need those life-lessons from time to time though. I like to think that, once I put the images on the computer, I’d have seen my mistake, meanwhile thanks to Luke for being objective and accurate.

Brian Freezes happen, you just have to shrug them off and keep going. Now I have to go out again and look for the Canada Warbler which is probably being true to its nature and not sitting out on pallets or chain-link fences. I remember back in the 1980s in the UK when a rare warbler was seen, a twitch ensued, and a very large number of people (not me!) ticked a Chiffchaff off as the rarity in an interesting example of mass hallucination. This is not quite on that scale but bloody annoying.

Moving on – migration has gone back to being patchy after a couple of good days. I also had a male Cape May Warbler on The Hawk – or was it? Actually, yes it was.

On May-17, 2020 Sandra and I went to Chebogue where The Willows had once again attracted migrants. It really is a cracking micro-habitat and the first water and snack buffet that birds find when they arrive. A Sandhill Crane, recently found by Ronnie, was still present. In The Willows we were entertained by Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes plus a Veery. Warblers were few but Nashville and Yellow-rumped plus a Parula and Common Yellowthroat bounced around.

The day before, The Hawk had begun to produce migrants as a result of wet weather and a front passing through. In short order we saw Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Wilson’s, Blackpoll, Magnolia and Nashville Warblers, Alder and Least Flycatcher. We also had a shy Warbling Vireo along with commoner migrants. It was one of those days you wait all spring for.

Monochrome and Technicolour

Technically spring has been here for a while but the birds have tended to ignore the fact. Monday May-11 was less windy than the previous few days, and by less windy I mean a bit less, it was still windy. Unperturbed I decided to walk Kenney Road again; it is a first-fall sort of place, one of many along the coast here but one of the most easily accessible.

The first part of the ‘road’ is wooded, but, apart from the obligatory Yellow-rumped Warbler singing away, it was quiet. Unlike previous years around this time, the morning was not going to be one of the those busy days that you get when you might not get a rare bird, but you’ll get a few first of the years (foy).

For those who don’t know the site, most of you I expect, Kenney Road is a road that is marked on Google Maps and appears on sat-navs, much to the amusement of us when people try to take it in their low-slung coupes. It is a bit undulated, in much the same way as the Rockies are a bit hilly.

After about 150m it opens out into scrub and these is a shallow pool to the right, Baker’s Flats, a large lake, is to the left. You follow the route through the scrub then veer right, taking in first, the ocean with a beach view and another small pool, then you go into Worm-eating Woods.

Locals call this place something else, possibly referring to someone who lived there a couple of centuries ago. Recent arrivals, like me, named the wood after last year’s Worm-eating Warbler, a more relevant reference.

The wood took a battering from Dorian, but it still offer good cover for small birds arriving from the open ocean. It can be hopping in there, or it can be pants. Yesterday it seemed to be nearer the clothing option, at first.

After a fair bit of pishing and the like, I managed to tease out a Blue-headed Vireo (foy). Then a Black-and-White warbler showed up, and even posed, here is it.

Now, before I carry on with my eloquent recounting of the morning, here is the story of my first, ever, Black-and-White Warbler taken from my eBook, ‘Twitching Times.’

Black-and-White Warbler Mniotilta varia

Norfolk How Hill, Ludham, 3rd to 15th-December 1985, (8/1)

 

5th-December 1985: Like a mint humbug crossed with a nuthatch – a very British way to describe what a Black-and-White Warbler looks and acts like, but unerringly accurate. It is a bird with character, active, always moving and often overlooked until it sings or calls, and that is just in Canada. Now imagine such a tiny bird inhabiting a tangle of a local nature reserve, a reserve designed for, and used to, very little foot traffic. Factor in heavy rain, making glue-pots of the trails, and an energetic tit flock that the warbler had adopted loosely and you have a recipe for potential disappointment.

After about three hours of slogging through the mud and seeing only fleeting glimpses of birds, I was getting fed up. Black-and-White Warbler or not, there are only so many circuits of a deepening mud-bath of a path that you can do before you start to question your sanity. The reserve may have been relatively small, but the searchers were well spread and the bloody birds would insist on flying about. Several times I’d seen Blue Tits, Great Tits and, the one species that the warbler seemed to have taken a shine to, Long-tailed Tit. More often than not, just as a set of long tails bouncing away off to another part of the reserve. This was becoming a test of my mettle and, thanks to the conditions; it was starting to suffer from corrosion!

I think I was flirting with the ‘now or never’ part of the twitch, or at least I was considering taking a break. I was not so far from the entrance when I heard, and then saw again the Long-tailed Tits approaching. This time I got them in my bins and this time I was able to scan properly. No distractions now; keep checking and then, bang, there was the Black-and-White Warbler working a tree trunk. I stayed on it; muttering directions as best I could and those nearest heard me and also found it. Had a lamb been present, apart from it making even more of a mess of the paths, then it might have managed two shakes of its tail before the tits and the warbler had gone, it was that quick. I reckoned I’d managed about 30 seconds of full viewing, perhaps a smidge less; I was too engrossed to count.

I was now in a quandary. Should I try for more prolonged views or should I accept what I’d had. More views are always better but I thought ‘stuff that for a game of soldiers’ and we left. Luckily there were some more birds fairly close by that wouldn’t hide and would offer good views.

For the past few days, Pomarine Skuas had been seen on Benacre Beach in Suffolk. If that wasn’t enough of an attraction, factor in a White-tailed Eagle, too, and it was the remedy the warbler dance begged for.

As we’d hoped, the Poms were sat there on the beach allowing great views. The little group included an adult, complete with tail spoons, unusual that late in the season, perhaps it had just been careful where it sat so as not to lose them. There was also a male Hen Harrier hunting the fields and a Slavonian Grebe on Benacre Broad, all good stuff, but we had to wait a good five minutes before the sky went dark and the eagle deigned to show. What with the constant trauma of not seeing the warbler and the ridiculous ease with which we saw the eagle, the day reflected just how diametrically opposed birding fortunes can be.

There, wasn’t that fascinating.

While in Worm-eating Wood, a Grey Catbird popped up, not a year bird but a Cape Island year bird so better. So far I’d had the sort of success that it was fair to label as ‘a modicum.’

Generally, the route back won’t hold any surprises. The birds move around quickly and are usually more visible the earlier you are there. I was about 100m from the car when Ervin rang. I answered and, as he spoke, I caught a movement in dense cover, not far away, the bird looked greeny-yellow. Birders are used to telephone conversations that end abruptly, the bird moves, the caller is still there later. Luckily, Ervin had said what he wanted to and had gone just as I saw the bird again. I got the bins on it, White-eyed Vireo.

Now I wanted a photo, because photos are nice, and because they help eBird reviewers see what you saw, usually. So I fired up the iPod with the chatter call of the vireo, played subtly, so it would feel the need to edge out for a look. At this point I had met nobody else in the area, not one individual, but this is normal here.

The bird was moving towards me in thick cover. The camera was set, high ISO, a bit of over-exposure and pointed in the right direction, one of the photography tips that some people who label their work with their name, followed by the word ‘photography’ seem to miss. My finger was poised, ready to slightly depress the shutter release to focus, when a voice behind me said “this weather, you just don’t know what to wear.” The bird didn’t like that much at all.

Behind me was a little old fella, who I see there occasionally dragging a small dog around. He was dressed, head to toe, in cammo, the same cammo I see him in whether it is -10 or +20, so I’m not sure quite what his temperature related wardrobe quandary was that he felt he had to elaborate loudly to me.

Once he’d gone, and I was polite and agreed with him, I tried all manner of devious tactics to get the vireo to show again for that elusive photo but it was having none of it. I did get it calling but it stopped as soon as I pulled the phone out to record it, this was going to be one of those difficult birds. I did get a Chipping Sparrow to come and look, but, to be honest; they are an anti-climax when competing with a White-Eyed Vireo.

In the afternoon, Sandra and I revisited the Fort St-Louis Prothonotary Warbler, and Julie’s bird showed very nicely in the afternoon sun. The little park was alive with birds, including an Indigo Bunting and some Cedar Waxwings. Nearby, at Baccaro a Black-bellied Plover didn’t fly away as soon as it saw us!

So the year presses on, one way or another. The virus restrictions will affect numbers, but they are only numbers, besides, it is an opportunity to realise the potential of local spots more and I will only travel for a lifer or NS tick, as long as I can conform to the distancing requirements, my choice.

My Nova Scotia year stands at 164 species. To give that context, my best May only count is 180 species in 2018. My Cape Island year is 128. Context again, the May-2017 total was 152. The yard, and here we have a nice little competition developing in NS this year, is 77 species. May birds, as they arrive, will add to that total, all I need is patience.

Quite a long post, well done if you got this far.

Dancing Trees!

When the trees stop wafting about like cotton grass, there might be a few small birds out there to enjoy. The past few days have been a mite breezy, especially yesterday. Naturally such shitty weather was always going to coincide with the eBird Global Big Day. It was tough going on Cape Island and species that I’d normally pluck with ease, eluded me, also I really did not want to freeze and get drenched just to ‘get’ a Swamp Sparrow, so I didn’t. More on the results later.

So far the net result of the ‘weather’ has been another dump of Red-necked Phalaropes. Johnny called as I was heading head-wards this morning (May-10) with lots along the beach at Daniel’s Head. With the beaches being shut, it was tricky, but I got a few shots. Later Sandra and I checked The Hawk, where Johnny had also seen phalaropes. I’d say the island total today was in excess of 150 birds, and all feeding close, in the surf.

The strong winds tend to keep aerial feeders hawking low and taking shelter. That probably explains why we haven’t had a kingbird yet. At Bull’s Head Wharf, (other spellings are available), forty seven Tree Swallows were huddled in bushes by the small pool; a few Barn Swallows joined them. Naturally I diligently sifted the flock, but no treat Bank or Northern Rough-winged.

A non-avian delight recently was a Short-tailed Weasel (Ermine) that appeared in the yard for a few minutes. They never sit still, so I was pleased with this through-the-window shot.

Going back to the Global Big Day and by having a synchronised global event, you get a nice snapshot of the state of the birding nation. For us Canadians, a week later would be better, well in the east it would, but you make the best of it. The results (as at May-10), which are available in eBird, make interesting reading. The provincial total was 132 although several species may be missing and the one or two creative birders in our ranks will no doubt have slung in something dodgy, they can’t seem to help it.

Results:

County                                                 Species                                                Checklists

Pictou                                                   84                                           46

Kings                                                    82                                           40

Halifax                                                  70                                           63

Lunenburg                                            61                                           35

Shelburne                                             54                                           12

Antigonish                                            50                                           9

Cape Breton                                         50                                           13

Victoria                                                 48                                           21

Yarmouth                                             44                                           17

Richmond                                            43                                           6

Hants                                                   42                                           7

Inverness                                             35                                           5

Annapolis                                            30                                           7

Colchester                                           24                                           6

Digby                                                   24                                           2

Cumberland                                        11                                            1

Queens                                                4                                              1

Guysborough                                      0                                              0

 

What these results mainly tell us is that there are some good birders out there who don’t use eBird. The results were also affected by birders chasing a rarity in Lunenburg County, which resulted in more checklists, if not species, than you might expect there.

 

I suspect that if you did the same exercise next week, and on a fine day, the picture would be very different.

Blessed Delight

Every day now brings one or two year birds to our doorsteps, as the ‘stock’ birds arrive to fill up the shelves. It is also a time of oddities, although the little batch of strays that were reported in Nova Scotia a couple of days ago, were restricted to Sable Island off Halifax, a long way off Halifax, and Cape Forchu north to Kentville. On Cape Island, nothing unusual was apparent.

Back on Apr-19, Julie Smith had a Prothonotory Warbler attend her suet feeder in her Port Latour yard. Yesterday, following a slight easing of the rules meaning that parks were now ok to visit, she found what must be the same bird just down the road at Fort St-Louis. Her prompt reporting allowed local to get out on a lovely afternoon, once you were out of the blasted wind it was, to enjoy this superb bird.

The site was very birdy, we saw our first of the year Baltimore Oriole there too, and the Prothonotory spent most of the time in view catching flies. Here are the photos. The sun was a bit hard to get right but they aren’t too bad.

The species appears to be named after some sort of church bod from one of those religions where they dress men up in fancy frocks so that the (male) poor people know who the boss is (women don’t count, as in most religions). Oddly, these people don’t wear the colours of a Prothonotory Warbler but wear ‘the purple choir cassock (with surplice) for liturgical services, the black cassock with red piping and purple sash at other times, may add the purple ferraiuolo’. From Wiki – see I told you they were weird!

The Coronovirus continues to restrict what we can do, well that is not entirely true, we restrict what we can do in the hope that we don’t move the thing around, passing it to the vulnerable in our society (except for selected presidents of course) and also that we don’t get killed by it. In our area, we are lucky. We’ve had few cases, so far, and none at all for 14 days at the last count. I hope it stays that way. When it is done, expect the dead to be quantified in your local currency, and not as the people they once were.

On Clark’s Harbour ball field we get Brant. They graze the grass, sometimes numbering over a hundred, and it is a good place to check for banded birds. A couple of years ago we had one which also had a data logger. It had been banded in Nunavut. At least two this year are from the same source, interesting for us to see exactly where they go to and come from every year. I reported the bands an got a certificate back for one.

Willets are back and yapping all of the time, I still love them and will never tire of them. Other shorebirds have been slipping through, including Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher and both pretty legs. Common Terns are around now too, now they would be interesting to track back to their wintering grounds.

In the yard it had been pedestrian until Mike found a Cliff Swallow at his place, which then, thankfully, flew around ours, a yard tick taking the yard list up to the maximum dart score of 180. Small birds have been lacking so far but a White-crowned Sparrow was a cheery sight, they always are.

One last word on the virus – apparently, according to a piece of shit called ‘The Epoch Times’ that I had in my mail box recently, the virus was created in a Chinese lab by a Doctor Bruce Banner, who tried it out on himself, it sent him green. Later he developed super powers, meaning that he had to find a tailor who could work spandex. Unfortunately he was allergic to a type of rock, but mutated to allow his skeleton to be replaced with one made from a steel from an off-world planet where they mine Unobtainium. No matter how he tried to use his powers for good, he found that catching flies in a web and shitting on windows wasn’t helping people. Later, despite being a monumental piece of idiocy, he was elected president of a country where they misread the meaning of democracy. Whoops, sorry, my creative writers mind is thinking impossible scenarios again.

The Epoch Times thing is true though. It seems that Canada Post have to legally deliver this right-wing, racist garbage, aiming for the connected-of-brow in Canada. Luckily, even though any Ford got elected in Ontario, we don’t generally fall for this crap like they do in the US. It does have value though; it fits the litter tray perfectly!

Welcome May

April can bugger off. True we had a few birds down here on Cape Sable Island, but events elsewhere and the virus dominated the month, there was precious little joy in it. Hopefully May will be better. It happens tomorrow and I, for one, am glad to see it arrive.

Aside from nut-jobs and their unfathomable actions, the virus has been the thing, preventing us from going about our little lives. We are fortunate in the south; or the west as Nova Scotia classifies us in the virus stakes. We’ve not had many cases, the Halifax area had been the hotspot unfortunately. Hopefully our voluntary actions will help ‘flatten the curve’ as they say and we can all get back to normal.

Birding within the restrictions, or at least the spirit of the restrictions, has meant no Cape trips, no beach walks, no trails in parks explored. Everything is done locally and from the isolation of your vehicle although we can walk Kenney Road, which is something. Car birding is the reality for most birders at the moment, how long it will be that way we don’t know, we just have to go with the flow.

May is THE spring month when you do want to do trails; check spots, get out in the field as much as possible. Even have the opportunity to travel, if a good bird demands it. It will be frustrating for everyone, well most, but this is the new reality.

The eBird big day is May-09. I will be birding Cape Island as usual, well as currently usual. I’d like to think that 55+ species is possible, more with luck and a few migrants next to roads! For those not lucky enough to have at least a degree of mobility; and I admit that we are very lucky on Cape Island, there is a garden event; I’ll post a link later if I find it. You can also enter a lock-down list on Bubo if you like; they’ve set up a special category.

The last week of April here has seen a trickle feed of birds. Our American Oystercatchers are back, four, with what looks like a pair and two singles. Willets are sneaking in quietly, that won’t last long, soon people will be wishing for a snooze button on them! We’ve had up to ten Ruddy Turnstones around, eBird has them as ‘out of season’ at the moment, but they are here. Luckily you can scan The Hawk flats from the car, which is something.

Flocks of Double-crested Cormorants have also been pouring in almost daily. On guy told me they were ‘fish thieves’, but when I asked who owned the fish, I thought they were wild, it confused him. As I sat and watched a Double-crested Cormorant yesterday I paid close attention. It looked innocent of all crimes to me!

The star bird, since the brief Red-necked Phalaropes of the last post, has been a smart Snowy Egret. I got lucky with it when it came close enough for a few photos on Apr-29. It was a bit heat-hazy but they came out reasonable enough.

I’ve been paying close attention to the yard trees. After Dorian stripped the trees bare, I was worried that they might not come back this year. From what I can see they are all budding up nicely, ready for the leaf-explosion that turns the yard green. With that green I usually start to see Grey Catbirds, Common Yellowthroats and, a little bit later, Alder Flycatchers – they all breed in the yard.

My stats for April are understandably low, although they are also a bit confusing. On Cape Island I am going to finish on 83 species for the month. My previous lowest total was 98 species; that was last year. My best is 105 species from 2018. Filtering the Excel spreadsheets I am missing perhaps twenty species that, had you asked on April-01, I would have said I’d expect to see them; and this in an ‘early’ spring.

Given the restrictions I think Jason’s excellent 307, a record eBird total for NS, will go untroubled, after all, only a complete and utter idiots (sic) would chase year birds all over the province while we are in this tricky situation.

Atlantic Puffin by Sandra. This and many other original pieces of bird art are for sale. Check out https://sandradenniswildlifeart.wordpress.com for details.

I’m still working on this (above), although I have been side-tracked by my writing a murder-mystery which seems to have taken over my time. This is the new cover for the updated guide, when I finish it. In the meantime, if you want to get a copy of the current guide to Birding Cap Sable Island, there are links all over this blog or you can just Google it.