Day two of winter listing and the tactic is to get the species you have not seen before during the winter period (winter list life ticks but not lifers, that is something else entirely) and the rest will take care of themselves. You need to think about which species will not hang around at the first frost, vagrants that are displaced and lingerers that should be sunning themselves in Cancun. Last year we had Marsh Wrens in Yarmouth County but they legged (or is that winged) it before the winter season began and so a winter tick was lost. It-a-they turned up again, same place in Yarmouth it being Broad Brook Park and so we tried again. Lingering thoughts about whether to stick around Cape Island ‘just in case’ were put aside. The Brewer’s Blackbird, so diligently searched for had surely left, or been eaten or succumbed to whatever dangers may befall a small bird all alone in Nova Scotia, so we could go about the plan. Marsh Wren, Yellow-breasted Chat and Yellowthroat, Vesper Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird and American Coot along with any other fripperies that might be on offer – House Finch for example.
The wren is a chatterbox, literally, and so was easy enough to see. The chat is a bugger and is not easy to see, in fact I’m sure it has moved elsewhere. Having failed on the chat we were just leaving the spot when Johnny called asking where we were? The reason being he’d just found the Brewer’s in the same place, the washout on Daniel’s Head road and it was happily sitting on the rocks once again. Calls were made and Mike got there quickly, gleefully reporting that the bird was there. We were a minimum of 50 minutes away, Alix a touch further and so Mike bravely agreed to babysit the Brewer’s while we made our way there. For once the fellow road users had a healthy disregard for the speed limit and we moved briskly from point A to point B where we rejoiced in the non-descript Brewer’s Blackbird still being in situ. Alix arrived too and so we left him to it, after chipping Mike out of the block of ice he was occupying, and headed home for a warm.
On the way home we chanced upon two Rough-legged Hawks, one roadside and reasonably happy to pose for a snap.
Later Alix said the Brewer’s had flown but been relocated at a feeder c800m away as the blackbird flies, but then it had been flushed by the feeder owner and had vanished once more.
Then the rain came, bring along a guest, a southeasterly of spiteful intent.
After a warming bowl of gruel, it is a fast day, I went back and scattered some corn around the Brewer’s favoured spot in the hope that, if it did return, it would find and ‘all-you-can-eat-so-long-as-it-is-corn’ buffet to keep it interested. And still the rain came.
Brewer’s Blackbird is rare in Nova Scotia and a species that really benefits from documentation via photos, due to its similarity to both Rusty Blackbird and even a runt grackle. Only two of the previous 30 NS records had benefitted from such confirmatory evidence and so this was at least the third ever photo documented record for Nova Scotia. Its rarity naturally elicited an interest from those scholars of vagrancy elsewhere in Nova Scotia and will no doubt continue to do so while it remains. This was the second record for Cape Island after a 1994 bird had spent time in Johnny’s yard, so it was a local goodie too.
In the absence of the Brewer’s I went sea watching, but despite the foul weather little was moving. I was not despondent however as I only need one good bird to pass and was encouraged in my damp vigil by thoughts of a Ross’s Gull that had recently flown past New Hampshire, these are the sort of things we sea watchers mull over when we haul our sorry carcasses out from the warmth of home for another wet and windy vigil. Anyway, as I said, little was moving and so I headed back to ‘the spot’ where Eric and Anne Mills were also getting wet, not seeing the Brewer’s. A passing truck flushed a bird that I saw in the wing mirror, then it landed behind me and Eric and Anne got their tick. After a quick call, so did Paul.
Out on the high seas, Ronnie had been Lobstering and was heading to port. The light was failing but the blackbird was not, despite a hulking Herring Gull that also had a taste for corn. Thirty minutes from dock and Ronnie thought, by text, that it was a no hoper. Two more birders arrived (the Clarences) and saw the bird, the rain got worse. I decided to go home when Ronnie rang; he was now on dry land and heading over. I went back and staked the bird out, not as bad as it sounds; you just watch it to make sure it is there when the twitchee arrives or are at least able to explain which way it went.
So I sat, happy that the bird was mostly showing, at least it was when it was not sheltering in the rocks, I mentioned the rain right? Then a big red truck comes along and me, fearing it was a local beach walker, was already out the car door before it had stopped, ready to explain about the bird, how somebody was rushing to see it and the unlikelihood of their body ever being found if they flushed it. No worries though, it was Ellis, Ronnie’s brother who was also twitching the bird. So now we had the situation of Ronnie’s brother and nephew and most of his birding friends had seen the bird, it was getting dark and the rain had decided to ratchet up the moisture a notch or two just for fun.
Eventually Ronnie appears. The Brewer’s had been out of view for perhaps 6.37 minutes or so, maybe gone to roost or feed the resident Ermine! We peered, it hopped and just after four of the clock all of those Yarmouth and Shelburne birders who wanted it now had a Brewer’s Blackbird. Tomorrow is another day and we all hope that the Brewer’s remembers how easy the corn was to find and decides on a sea view for breakfast and we hope our friends from the big city connect too. After a quick look in the morning we will resume our Yarmouth birding (and shopping but pah! who cares if we run out of cat food?). Maybe the Vesper will stick, the bluebirds wire sit, the chat show, the coot paddle and the store have electricity, unlike the last time we tried.
As ever, big thanks go to Johnny and Sandra for the calls and Mike for freezing his nuts off while keeping an eye on the prize.
Left is a Rusty Blackbird, right the Brewer’s, just so you can see the difference.
Sad news on the Virginia Rail from the previous post, it was reported found dead today.