Distant View

Against all common sense, Sandra and I decided to go for the Pink-footed Goose that had been lingering around Cape John, Pictou County. It is a bit of a trip but, as I was on 298 in Nova Scotia and Sandra has now taken an interest in her life list, we can ask for a little latitude. There was also the opportunity to see a bit of Nova Scotia that we’d not visited before, as much of an excuse to travel as you need really.

We thought to try for Sandhill Cranes on the way, just a short diversion from the highway, but the cranes had wandered and so, after a short circuit of possible spots, we headed on. The route got less simple once we were past Truro, back roads, short cuts and drivers who had probably already died at the wheel but for whom cruise control was giving them another unexpected journey. To add to the whole mix first rain, then sleet with ambition to be snow started to fall. Luckily we had winter tyres, unluckily they were still waiting to go on and so rested serenely in our garage.

Cape John swept into view and is quite lovely. It brought to mind Portland Bill but of course you have had to have been there to appreciate the comparison. As we reached the end it was clear that Canada Geese were feeding in the last fallow field, and that seeing them all well would be a problem. The rain/sleet/snow had abated somewhat and we were able to scope from the road, getting good views from the neck up as most birds fed in a dip! There was no sign of the Pink-footed Goose though and, even when the whole flock flushed onto the ocean and we got some sort of unobstructed view, we didn’t see it.

After a couple of hours and with the light pulling on its nightwear, we headed off, intending to call it a dip. After a few kilometres basic logic reasserted itself and so we overnighted in New Glasgow, successfully getting a room away from the road but close enough to the boiler to enjoy its night-long rumble. Un-refreshed we went back to the scene and were delighted to find most of the Canada Geese patiently sitting on the sea and awaiting inspection. A couple of hours later we’d seen every goose on the cape from every angle and still no Pinky, time to go.

We went off and had a look at nearby Brule Point and while there noticed more geese in the area, with some flying over to Cape John. Backtracking, we again found the geese in the long and lumpy field but this time some ‘weather’ was arriving and it had become quite cold. Scanning through the scope I eventually got the pinky with its head up for brief but diagnostic views, it repeated the performance again and that was enough, can we go home now?

At Truro we stopped at the Tidal Bore Lookout and found a Cackling Goose, nice. Then we headed to Shubenacadie for another swing at the cranes. We had gen but they were not where they had previously been, so we did a little tour of the spots I’d seen them in the previous year. We stopped near Carrol’s Corner (ish), they flew over honking, simple. Three cranes would do for Sandra’s NS tick, and our little mini-break for two had added three to her NS life list, we must do this sort of thing more often.

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While away, a text from Mike told us that there was a Common Redpoll on The Hawk, Cape Sable Island. More in hope than expectation we went for a look this morning (11/27) and there, being jostled on the feeder, was the sole Common Redpoll. CSI life tick 246 and year bird 229. I suspect that it will be the last CSI year bird for 2016, I hope I’m wrong but it just feels that way.

I continue to mess with the new camera, some results below…

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This young Bald Eagle flew past in dull light, came up not too bad though.

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Kumlien’s Gull above and Herring Gull below – soon all my posts will be about gulls again, sorry in advance.

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Above – I can’t think what upset the starlings, unless it is that Merlin!

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Above, a flash at a flying American Pipit, not great but doc.shot quality. Below a Horned Lark – both on The Cape.

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Late dowitchers are usually Long-billed, as in this individual that chose Stumpy Cove, CSI as home for a few days. I used the 1.4 extender on these. The lousy flying away shot is deliberate, just to illustrate how photos are useful even if National Geographic are liable to laugh in your face if you send them for publication there.

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Same Orange-crowned Warbler, different light, Port Latour.

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The Cattle Egret has now gone but at least I got a shot of it with the new camera.

Below, not sure what this is. I saw the bird at range, grabbed a shot, then looked and it was gone. Not a washed out jay I can tell you that, otherwise, not sure just put here for your interest.

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Calavera’s Warbler?

Probably not but…

Western and eastern is a misleading term when it comes to many species. Personally I like distinctive names for birds, leaving the scientific name to fill in the other details. In the west our regular Nashville Warbler is slightly different in plumage and habits, it was even called Calavera’s Warbler at one time. The field and specialist guides are rather vague on the specific differences in plumage for ‘western’ Nashville although all agree that it is a regular little tail pumper. Ours doesn’t, so a late season tail-pumping Nashville in Nova Scotia is one to look at twice.

At the end of October 2016 I came across not one but two Nashville Warblers on different parts of Cape Sable Island. The first looked standard and behaved accordingly. The second was a pumper and looked to have more extensive grey on the back and a whiter lower belly, I didn’t get to see the rump. I blogged it at the time but recently read a few things, such as the tail pumping habit of ‘Calaveras” and suspect the bird may have been of, or at least showing the behavioral characteristics of the western form. Ian McLaren in ‘All the birds of Nova Scotia – Status and Critical Identification’ notes four examples of putative western birds here.

Here are two images of the Fish Plant Road, CSI tail-pumper from September 26th 2016. Due to my own stupidity I managed to delete the originals and the doc shots of the other Nashville from the day so all I have is edited versions of the interesting one.

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Below is a map of the respective ranges of eastern and western summer and winter ranges, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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By Cephas – Birds of North America OnlineAmerica-blank-map-01.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12860116

There are some pitfalls in identifying late Nashville Warblers, here is a link to an interesting warbler by Blake Maybank.

http://maybank.tripod.com/images/warbler.htm

Below a few shots of an eastern Nashville from September 6th 2016 near Halifax.

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And another eastern Nashville from Cape Sable Island, September 30th 2016.

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A shot of a bright autumn QC bird from September 9th 2007

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A shot of a known western, taken in Arizona on September 9th 2011. Interesting that the eye-arcs on this bird are broken.

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Lastly an August 26th 2006 Nashville in QC, well sort of, it does look a bit odd, sorry it is not quite up to the regular standard..

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A Few More New Clicks

Reasonable light is a prerequisite for outdoor photography, our light these past few days, and it seems for a good few more, can best be described as mirksome. That new word would best be explained as a cross between murky and irritating and you heard it here first. Despite the light, Sandra and I went a wandering on Saturday (11/19), successfully missing a Pubnico Red-headed Woodpecker, although a bunch of White-winged Crossbills were nice (thanks for the hospitality Ellis) and then later missing Alix’s Red-bellied at Tusket. Just to round off the woodpecker dip we missed also Leah’s Red-bellied at Arcadia.

Undeterred, we moved on to Meteghan (post breakfast at The Sip Café) where the tide was trying to climb into the parking lot, meaning no gulls. We meandered down the coast stopping where we found birds, including Cape St Mary at Mavillette, where the Harlequins performed well. I find Harlequins hard to photograph, they almost always come out ill-defined to me. A young male Black Scoter flew over too.

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Upper image process in Photoshop, lower in Lightroom.

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Further on, this young Red-tailed Hawk was a better practice subject with the light behind me.

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We ended the day back in Arcadia, where the Red-bellied showed but better to the eye than the lens.

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Today it was time for me to tour Cape Sable Island, ignoring the fog and difficult light. The Hawk had a few birds including this Orange-crowned Warbler and a couple of American Tree Sparrows plus a Swamp Sparrow.

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Nearby, on the road to the Plastic Factory (see the FREE CSI birding guide), I had two Orange-crowned Warblers – both still defiant when it comes to showing that allegedly orange crown. The same bunch of birds had Boreal and Black-capped Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Dark-eyed Juncos plus a lone Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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Thanks to those who have offered advice re my new camera, much appreciated.

First Go

After my Canon 70D packed up recently, it was back to the ‘tired’ 50D until Sandra insisted that I buy a 7Dii and, after finding the cheapest around on Amazon.ca, I did just that. That Amazon.ca had it is a miracle in itself as our Amazon is usually like a poorly stocked corner store compared to Amazon.com which is Macy’s. It arrived on 11/16, all set up in Japanese, so that was the first thing to sort out, then I wanted to play but the weather said a firm “no”.

Today was a little better, certainly drier, so I went for a wander around and about and took a few frames. I’m still working it out, even reading the manual which is something of a first for me. It is quieter for sure and it has more buttons which has to be a plus. The focusing is much quicker and I can finally use my 1.4 extender with autofocus, at f8 or higher but OK then.

The first few clicks were on a lucky Wilson’s Snipe. I had only stopped by the causeway on the Cape Sable Island side to waft at gulls (still legal in Canada) and found the snipe feeding in a paddock. I’d have done better if not for two twelve-year olds and their souped-up toy cars arriving just as I found it, why do they drill their mufflers and why don’t the Police prosecute them?

Any snipe in Atlantic Canada is worth a careful examination. Common Snipe is now considered a full species and has occurred in our neck of the woods before, see the link. My bird was easily identified by a number of things, all visible in the photos. 1, it was in Nova Scotia pointing strongly to a Wilson’s Snipe. 2, it looked cold in colouration. 3, the underwing pattern was not pale enough for Common, the black barring being thick and dominant. 4, the tail pattern was Wilson’s.

The photos were not great, mainly because I had it on auto ISO and it came out grainy, I prefer to decide these things so that has been reset on the camera. At one point a couple of American Crows pushed it around and it stuck its tail up to make itself look bigger, it didn’t work.

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A rubbish flight shot but it shows enough.

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One of each in the photos below, Wilson’s from QC, Common from UK. Not telling you which is which though.

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Dave Brown tells Common versus Wilson’s Snipe well here: http://birdingnewfoundland.blogspot.ca/2011/02/common-snipe.html

Prior to that and placing the image here to avoid it being on Facebook, Purple Sandpipers (2) were at their favourite rock roost at high tide in Drinking Brook Park, CSI. Nice on eof the rock!

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Despite the grey skies I got a through-the-tangle shot of a Downy Woodpecker.

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Later I got this Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the lens.

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I’ll need to use it some more and to fiddle with the many buttons but I’ll get there. Coupled with the newish lens I have, you should see some improvement in my photography. Now all I need is good light and a cooperative bird, especially one called Townsend!

The regular reader knows I like to make jokes from time to time, please don’t take the following too seriously, it was raining, I was bored.

Recently the American Ornithologists Union revealed a new batch of splits and a surprise move to adopt more populist bird names, here are a few examples.

Mourning Dove is changed to Flying Vacuum. The name change takes into account the evolution of the species’ ability to clear a bird table in minutes.

Northern Cardinal is now called Oh a Red Bird. This change is because cardinals are the most noticed of all birds in digital North America. A late suggestion that it now be called Pixel Parrot was rejected as digital photographs of it on Facebook still lag behind those of domestic ducks.

House Sparrow is now called Box Robber after its inclination to drive Eastern Bluebirds out of their natural habitat. Eastern Bluebirds become Dangerous Stump-bird in homage to all those dead trees removed for aesthetic purposes and thereby robbing them of their original natural habitat.

American Robin is now called It’s-a-Thrush. A rather obvious name, but one that surely is more fitting for a thrush, that is clearly not a robin.

All forms of wildfowl currently on the quarry list are to be lumped under the name Stew Duck. This is likely to be a temporary name change as, when the ‘species’ becomes unviable due to archaic hunting practices, we will revert to the original duck names for the museum collections. Ducks that are not quarry species are all now called ‘I thought it was a Stew Duck’ the standard get-out story when hunters have a boat full of Harlequins/Labrador Ducks.

A move to call all species that are not obvious under the umbrella term ‘ID please’ was rejected as not everyone says please. A small number of species have been given a regional ‘public’ name for use on bird club Facebook pages. The species themselves are very easy to identify, for example in Atlantic Canada a male Common Eider is now publically called ‘you’re kidding’ unless in eclipse. Black-capped Chickadee is called ‘get out more’ and Blue Jay ‘do you even have a bird book’. I’m sure you can think of a few for yourselves.

Lumping has officially been consigned to the bin of taxonomic disasters and thousands of birds that laboured under the weight of being only a subspecies are now full species. In an effort to simplify the listing system, listers can now tick adult male and female and hatch-year males and females and after Hatch-year males and females plus those who look at Fry-robbers, the new name for parking lot gulls, get extra ticks for both sexes if they take more than two years to become adults. It is also worth noting that, while leucistic birds only count as half, albino and melanistic forms are full ticks.

When asked to comment, a spokesperson for the ABA said “where’s Canada?”

Cattle Egret is still in Barrington (11/17).

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Eclectic Month so Far

This is a long post where I wander off, get on a soap box and then get off it again. Stop after the photos if you like or read on and wince. Apogolies for any spelling errors, Sandra, my word checker, is busy.

It makes no sense, going to the Halifax area and seeing most of the rare birds that were being seen (including the drunken Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Apples for most meals, it wasn’t sick it had a hangover!), but then missing the four big birds in our own area. To refresh your memory, the four big birds in order of disappearance were Calliope Hummingbird (West Pubnico), Townsend’s Solitaire (Argyle), Gyrfalcon (Cape Sable Island) and now Townsend’s Warbler (Barrington).

The first was not gettable, a chance encounter of a great bird for Yarmouth County. The second was possibly gettable but circumstance ganged up on us, just one of those things and no blame suggested or attached. The Gyr, well that was different because I probably saw it on Wednesday November 2nd, it was flying away from me down The Hawk putting up gulls as it went. I drove carefully to the end (in about 45 seconds) but couldn’t see it anywhere. A few days later (November 5th) Johnny had a dark form Gyr over the same area and heading towards the church, he called me. I was at Daniel’s Head, so looked for it coming my way, it didn’t. I was watching a distant blob on the sea and waiting for Mike to show up to see it too, when the Gyr went back over The Hawk and out to The Cape. Subsequent vigils failed to deliver and it must be assumed to have headed off.

Now we come to the Townsend’s Warbler, I am assuming that you know what one is. Ervin, Mike and I went out to The Cape on Wednesday November 9th hoping for the Gyr and anything else that might have south the peace of the island. We peaked with Wilson’s Snipe and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet below. After disembarkation from our transport, Mike and I headed home and Ervin wandered around CSI looking for butterflies. He called me, we had a chat and I suggested, as an option on the way home, Butch Hogg’s Feeders on Petticoat Lane Barrington where a sizeable flock of Evening Grosbeaks had been bankrupting him of Black Sunflower seed.

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Ervin called me at 2:35 to tell me that he had seen a Black-throated Green Warbler, a good November bird and he was going to send me a back-of-the-camera image, it never came. He also sent one to Alix who identified it as a Townsend’s Warbler. Ervin called me back with the news and we were off, me driving, Sandra calling the news out. The warbler and other birds had been flushed by a Sharp-shinned Hawk but we were optimistic it would be seen, it wasn’t to dusk. The next day we searched for nearly 6.5 hours, no sign, it has been looked for today (November 11th), no sign.

We did get a Pine Warbler and the Evening Grosbeaks on the 10th, although only 10. This rather dull Baltimore Oriole was also around and had been the original target of Ervin’s lens before the warbler appeared. The plot thickens when we hear that another birder visiting the feeders had seen a Black-throated Green Warbler there about two weeks prior, right at the time when the other western warblers had showed up in the big city.

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So has the warbler gone? My gut feeling is no. We saw the Pine once for a few minutes, we also had a singing Red-eyed Vireo that we never saw nor heard again, there are birds there but they are moving in a big and largely inaccessible area. Due diligence demands regular checks, at least until the next ice age, but spending the whole day there is unlikely so we will resort to birder serendipity. The other option is to kidnap ‘lucky’ Ervin and stake him to the ground until it shows up, thinking about it this option seems more appealing by the minute, even if we don’t see it!

Some small compensation for the lack of warbler was the continued presence of the two, but now one Cattle Egret/s on nearby Factory Road. The remaining one is the original, the other one with a buffier crown has wandered elsewhere (and hopefully CSI).

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The fact that Ervin photographed the Townsend’s Warbler means he fulfilled the requirement of the three little words that you can expect to hear if you find a good bird, ‘got a photo’. Good means rare, although rare can mean just not that common where the bird was claimed, as opposed to truly rare, a mega. The boon of digital photography has made the answer to the question almost unnecessary as claims, whether eBird submissions, Facebook posts or the old, traditional record submission will inevitably be supported by the ‘evidence’. It gets a bit heavier when the photo then has to pass deeper scrutiny. The card has to be submitted and experts check the validity of the data capture, just to be sure that the species you claim wasn’t snapped where they are common but who would do such a thing, well, every interest has its nut jobs, birding is no different.

There are some pros and cons. The pros are the visual evidence of what you say you saw. The evidence does not have to be great and just about anyone with a cell phone has a camera option, this is why the old U.F.O chestnut has been firmly put to bed. With many millions of devices out there capable of capturing a range of photographic evidence, the presence of extra-terrestrial visitors would, by now, be well-documented, as are most rare birds. A con is that the camera will capture what you say you saw, so you are hide-bound by the digital image that you present, even if it doesn’t quite show what think you know you saw, but this is rare.

As birders we love to see other people’s bird photos, especially the rarities. Our vicarious enjoyment of these photos actually sounds like a form of voyeurism that should have a specialist, dedicated magazine, shrink wrapped and placed on the top shelf with other perv mags (like Guns and Ammo or Trumptasic S & M or… add your own here). We also love to pull to bits the claim when the shot falls short, it is human nature whatever the subject. The question is, are we, as birders, right to place such importance on supporting records with visible evidence over those without, or have we heaved the baby out with the bath water without realising it?

My birding schooling included keeping a notebook and writing descriptions (still do the former, rarely the latter). It would be churlish to insist that nothing but old school works, but I do feel that the absence of notebooks and a reliance on the image has removed a skill that we think we still have, that is field observation. Our world currently breeds short attention spans, a symptom of media education to expect more and then to move on to the next big thing, we get bored. This is why rare birds pique our interest, they are new, different, fresh. With the loss of the writing skills associated with a pen and ink description goes the broader capability to elaborate of what we have seen, namely the rare bird, so we mostly now rely on the image. There is another problem though, the Elephant in the birding room.

Everyone makes mistakes while birding, if you don’t then you are a deity and we all bow to your superiority. Some people are incompetent, this is not a crime either, incompetence as a word is harsh, inexperienced is a bit too far the other way, the PC term would probably be avianly challenged, whatever, mistakes will be made. Then there are two other types of deceivers, self and deliberate. Self-deceivers convince themselves of an identification, often with only the slightest of evidence and their self-deception almost always involves an actual bird, just not the bird they say it is. The others are much more sinister, as they set out to deliberately deceive and they deserve no mercy.

Over what now seems like a lot of years of birding I have known a few selfies. They are usually decent, skilled people sharing the same love of birding as everyone else, but they just don’t quite get where the line is, when to let something go. We’ve all had the same problem, a tail disappearing into a bush never to return, or a fly-over against the light or with just distant views. With experience, the ability to call these birds correctly increases, the same experiences also increases the chance of a successful self-delusion. In truth the odd self-deception is harmless, repeat offending however does skew the ornithological record, and that is the point, the maintenance of a robust ornithological record, but why?

In Montreal recently a group of experienced birders tried to stop a development to protect some vulnerable breeding species and to maintain what has become a very good birding area. A judge heard the case and decided for the developer, no surprise there as our legal system is as crooked as our business sector. What rather shook the senses was the assertion by the legal representatives of the developers that the testimony regarding the status of the birds at the site was flawed because the lead birder was not an expert, when in fact he was, whereas the testimony of the developers ‘expert’ was valid because they had a qualification, a degree. This is not unusual and most such developer legal teams can rent a tame ecologist, everything is for sale. I highlight this case particularly as it used evidence of bird populations as recorded in eBird.

I would say, in terms of qualification, that an eBird record is as watertight as it can be, it needs to be because it may be used to defend against dollar-hungry developers but, eBird has its share of the deceivers, so what can be done about it? The obvious answer is rigorous review of all records, every time, but then the possibility is that the aforementioned baby does fly poor kid. eBird wants, no needs those records, and this is why they have a team of regional reviewers, most highly competent (ours in NS), some not (no comment), some blindly parochial (how many states are there in the US?). So what does a reviewer do when a contributor clearly deceives?

The human answer is to give some slack, sift the wheat from the chaff and be inclusive. The real answer is to bar the deceiver from the eBird party, for good. If you are going to use data as a defence then there can be no chink in the armour, no loose thread for a lawyer to pick at, no room for complacency. I don’t envy those tasked with dealing with this issue, noses and more will be put severely out of joint, but it has to be done and not just for the validity of eBird. There are very many birders out there who see these deceptions and know them for what they are, and they will lose confidence in the system. When that happens strange things can occur, just look at the recent election just over the wall (when it gets finished).

 

 

Finally, I trust everyone is studying the new systematic list that will presumably be implemented on eBird at some point. I am working on a blog post about it and about the possible splits (not lumps, we don’t talk about them) and their relationship with the current Nova Scotia bird list, as documented in a recent American Birding Association publication. It may take a while and some research but it should be fun to do and, hopefully, a good read.

Cool November Day

Although a cold north-easterly wind blew all day, the birding was good, even surprising at times. Around Cape Sable Island the usual suspects were to be found but not an elusive Gyrfalcon that was seen around The Cape and The Hawk a couple of days ago. I’ll keep looking and hoping and, if is still around, I’ll bump into it at some point.

Sandra has decided to enter the birding world properly. After years of birding with me, but leaving me to fill in the eBird details, she now has her own account and I’m in the process of sharing our joint checklists. It will be interesting to see where that puts her, she even has some species over me, I was too windy to go up onto the canopy walkway in Ecuador, she did go up and got an extra six canopy huggers. She also has a Fire-throated Fruit-eater from earlier in the trip and when everyone ignored her when she tried to point it out to us, girls eh!

With her new-found gusto for listing she decided we needed to go and see Evening Grosbeaks in Barrington, only a year tick but she now has the bit between her teeth. The grosbeaks were badly behaved but the nearby Cattle Egrets were some compensation, even though we have previously enjoyed them. A bingly-beep-beep of the phone announced a text from Mike MacDonald, he’d found a roadside Blue Grosbeak at Port Latour. We were only going to shop for essentials so we abandoned that and we for a look-see.

For the second time in a day a grosbeak treated us shoddily, so we decided to visit Blanche hoping to find something else. Until our last visit down the Blanche Peninsula we had successfully avoided seeing Grey Jay there, then one popped up briefly and the duck was well and truly broken. Today two were hopping around the roadside and perching up nicely. I took a slew of photographs, then I noticed that my camera, a Canon 70D, seemed to be acting up. Several of the shots had a white band across them, like the image had been cleanly erased. Much poking and resetting didn’t resolve the problem and this with the camera is not quite two years old. We live in an age of ridiculous unnecessary obsolescence, when better design and manufacture should see a 2000CAN camera last five years minimum. Repairs will cost upwards of 50 percent of a new one, so it is out with the old one again for the time being.

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At the end of Blanche we finally came across a few small birds, at first they just seemed to be Black-capped Chickadees but then a vireo came into view. You assume Blue-headed because that is what we have here, but I think this one sits on the fence between Blue-headed and Cassin’s. In favour of the former is location, Cassin’s is a western species. Perhaps as a pointer to the possibility of Cassin’s might be the presence of various western species in Nova Scotia, such as the much enjoyed, if only briefly, MacGillivray’s in Dartmouth. The two vireos are a tough call to split, very tough and only recently discussed on the Facebook group pages of Atlantic Canada Birding.

On-line reference is mixed and nobody seems to have produced anything definitive for solving the issue of brighter Cassin’s versus Blue-headed, although there is some suggestion that a lore darker than the head is indicative of Cassin’s. I don’t really know, few do, but the discoverer of this field mark is confident in it, more here:

http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/sovi-id-comm.html

Which brings me to the photographs, and I make no assumptions either way except to present the images here. I should also say that the lighting was bright and so some colour was flooded.

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The top five are the Blanche bird, the rest are known Blue-headed Vireos from the autumn period, the tail seems to confirm the bird is a Blue-headed Vireo.

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Having exhausted the virtues of Blanche we decided to go back via the absent Blue Grosbeak and there it was, an adult female taking grit and seeds on the verge. Naturally the road became busy, not just with passing cars (well trucks!) but with a school bus that stopped opposite it, lights and all, sending the bird reeling into the scrub. A patient wait got us good views and a few photo opportunities, limited by having to manually focus and place the bird at the bottom of the frame.

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Comments welcome on the vireo, if you do comment I’ll put them on here.

 

Big City Birding

It has been a while since my good lady wife Sandra and I went twitching together. We’ve previously been on some great jaunts, seeing some great birds and on November 1st 2016 we did it again. This blasted year has seen us visit Halifax too many times, not that there is anything wrong with Halifax you understand, but our visits have generally been less than cheerful.

For some reason, the Halifax/Dartmouth area has been host to some pretty rare birds for Nova Scotia. Quite why there is such a concentration is something of a mystery, or perhaps these birds are everywhere (except Cape Sable Island at the moment) but are just only being seen in the Halifax Metropolitan area because that is where the birders are. I’d already enjoyed a slice of the pie at the end of October in the form of the Bell’s Vireo, now our targets were a Grasshopper Sparrow and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The latter not so rare but it, along with Ibisbill, is my Nova Scotia nemesis bird, the latter may be unrealistic but aim high, that is what I say.

Our first venue was Point Pleasant Park on the Halifax waterfront. Grasshopper Sparrows think they are mice, they run along the floor and are not that keen of perching up. This one was behaving true to form since ever it had been discovered, although it did break cover occasionally and posed for the camera. It had originally been found, then lost and now was found again, having been ferreted out by Diane LeBlanc who graciously agreed to meet us and show us just the spot. She spotted it again and we had good looks before it sloped off. The search continued and, just when we’d decided it was a last quick look before departing for a newly found MacGillivrays Warbler, up it popped.

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MacGillivray must have been lucky when he found, and named his warbler as they are real skulkers. We have seen them in the west and in a couple of other countries but a Nova Scotia one was unexpected. The tangle it favoured was empty when we arrived and it had probably wandered off a good few metres, refusing to show. Admitting a temporary defeat we moved on to look for a nearby, showy Yellow-billed Cuckoo. When we got there the cuckoo was not in view so we dug in and waited while a couple of photographers stalked the area. Later we mentioned the rare warbler to them and they went off to try while we made a concerted attempt at the cuckoo before resuming the MacGillivray’s search.

 A Wilson’s Warbler put in a brief appearance before the cuckoo finally graced us. It was the best and most agreeable Yellow-billed Cuckoo ever.

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Back at the warbler we heard from Jim Edsall that it had showed briefly, and we later saw one of the photographers collection of images and there was a shot of the star, there really is no justice! We searched a good while and I actually saw the belly, back and tail of the bird as it flew over Jim’s head and into cover. I’d also heard it call several times so technically tickable but not for me, not until I see the whites over (and under) its eyes.

The day had been great fun, two Nova Scotia ticks and a good day out with the missus. The next day it was back on the CSI beat where I lucked in on a Barred Owl on Kenney Road (photo below), a CSI tick and I was able to get Mike on it too. Later I checked on the two Cattle Egrets at nearby Barrington, yes two, the one had been joined by another.

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Today (11/3/16) I finally got to see the Evening Grosbeaks on Petticoat Lane, Barrington. I saw around 60 perched up waiting for Butch to re-stock the feeders. Not great shots but the light was not up to it.

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A little addendum. Mike, Ervin and I went uptown once again on November 4th. We got the MacGillivray’s, saw the cuckoo again, missed the Bell’s, got a Yellow-throated there though (NS tick), missed the sparrow and failed to find any Red-bellied Woodpeckers despite the help of B, a good day though.

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