Just Keeping Up

Spring migration is always quick-fire and I always end up with a phot backlog so I’m posting as I go along for now. Friday May-10, 2019 was a bit of a write-off day for us really. We were in Halifax in the morning and then heading home in steady rain. The downturn in the weather meant that our birding options would be limited, so we had a wander along Quinn’s Falls Road at Clyde River, on the off-chance of a new arrival. We were fairly lucky in that we found a few birds out and about including first of the season Ovenbird and Magnolia Warbler. Unfortunately the weather was shite for photography.

Today May-11, 2019 dawned still wet, and heavy with fog. Undeterred I headed for Kenney Road again hoping a few of the commoner summer visitors that seemed to have arrived elsewhere. I had some luck, especially with a superb Blackburnian Warbler that followed a few Yellow-rumped Warblers around the small wood on the ocean side. Also in there was a Nashville and Black-and-White Warbler but no sign of the recent Yellow-throated Warbler from the last post.

Over the course of the morning the fog slowly cleared and the skies became blue but the wind also came along, just to take the edge off a nice day, weather-wise.

Blackburnian Warbler Kenney Road CSI May-11, 2019

Black-and-White Warbler Kenney Road CSI May-11, 2019
Yellow-rumped Warbler Kenney Road CSI May-11, 2019

A few days ago the people who are responsible for managing Point Pleasant Park in Halifax announced a wholesale clear out of trees, 80% no less, the work to be a summer job. It subsequently had to be pointed out to them that the Migratory Bird Treaty didn’t allow the wanton destruction of the nests of breeding birds, although pulp seem to get away with it. You’d think that the people with the responsibility for natural spaces like PPP would have some idea that birds would be breeding and how immoral (and illegal) it would be to kill the nestlings. Now that they have had it pointed out to them the work has been deferred until the autumn.

You’d also have thought that the environmental impact assessment that they surely commissioned before announcing such a major project would have helped them out too, or am I being naïve in assuming they did have one? This type of thing is just typical of the way we manage our resources. Mackerel are down 88% so we allow the building of a new Mackerel trap to catch what’s left. Herring are well and truly screwed, so they just advise people that they won’t be able to buy Herring with a little blue symbol on the package saying that they are sourced from a viable population (because there isn’t one) anymore. They should be suspending all Mackerel and Herring fishing until the populations become viable but will they, will they fuck!

As a species we have some very difficult decisions to make in the next ten years, not 50, ten! Precipitating the unviability of any species on economic grounds is not good enough. You know it, they know it but will the management, i.e., the Government, do what is necessary? No, of course not, we are so, so screwed!

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A Different Day

On May-07, 2019 Mike and I slogged around The Cape in expectation but ultimately disappointed that the hoped for arrival of summer migrants simply hadn’t happened. The conditions were good, we’d seen a Field Sparrow on The Hawk before departing and there was even two Palm Warblers in my yard as I left to pick Mike up – a false dawn.

Undeterred, because you have to be with birding, I decided to get down to Kenney Road the next day, always a good first-port-of-call for arriving birds, I was not disappointed this time. The decision to go there was prompted first by a singing yard Hermit Thrush and then by a brief Alder Flycatcher, a bit better sign than two Palms I thought.

Kenney Road is not really a road. True, the sat-navs call is one and many are the tourists who have soon found out that their little saloon is no match for the boulder strewn track. It does get trucks going along it, but mostly it is a nice and quiet place to bird. As soon as I left the car I heard warbler song. Only Yellow-rumped warblers but after 100m I was into a couple Black-throated Green Warblers, then more first of the season (FOS) birds came thick and fast. A male Black-throated Blue Warbler, a surprise Pine Warbler and then two Blue-headed Vireos: and about time too. Enjoying the success, I pushed on to the Oceanside woodlot, often a good spot for migrants. It was dead in there, one Song Sparrow was all I found and it wasn’t as if I didn’t try hard either.

Happy that we were seeing migration underway I went to Daniel’s Head and checked the Alders, a scrub just out from the parking lot on the bend. This spot is also a good one but takes some careful working. The best I managed was a new-in Northern Parula but I was happy with that, another FOS was a couple of Common Terns offshore.

Other spots were diligently examined but I’d peaked and the day was getting into full swing and so the birds were pushing off, eager to complete their spring journey.

Later in the afternoon news came via Facebook that Greg White had found a Yellow-throated Warbler, right where I’d been searching in the morning. Of course I could have missed it but the total lack of birds then as opposed to the Yellow-rumped Warblers there when we got there suggest is may have arrived more recently but I’m jumping forwards here.

On the way to the warbler and while following Mike, we were all stopped by a Snapping Turtle trying to make its way over Stoney Island Road at Baker’s Flats. I’d like to be charitable in though and assume that it would be allowed to cross but there are enough assholes around that wouldn’t think twice about running it over that it had to be helped so, with Mike lifting the back and less snappy end and guiding it onto my waterproof coat we got the beast across and let it go on its way. In the meantime another guy who’d also stopped asked us whether we’d seen the white bird with the buffy head in the field at Bull’s Head Wharf!

I stop at Bull’s Head Wharf daily; all except on May-08 I do, and I always glance over at the pool in case there is an… Egret! When we got there the Cattle Egret was doing what they do but sans Cows. It was an island tick for both of us, I think 2012 might have been the last one on Cape Island. Quite how the Magoo birders (that would be Mike and me) didn’t see it as we hared our way to the site of the Yellow-throated Warbler is unknown, preoccupation I suppose.

Having had CSI ticks Cattle Egret and Snapping Turtle in quick succession, now it was time to look for a year-bird Yellow-throated Warbler. The breeze was fresher than earlier but it was still mild and bright. We had to wait perhaps ten minutes before Sandra saw the warbler, then it showed nicely for the duration, a good Cape Island bird and pretty rare outside of fallouts. On days like this you wonder what else is abroad. The Cape probably had interesting birds, Flat Island certainly would have been worth a check but there just are not enough hours in a day or birders on a weekday.

It is still relatively early in the migration period but already it has been fun. At this time of year birds come thick and fast and just never know whether to go off to say Cape Forchu, a great migration place, or to stick with our island and cover the spots here. I’ll usually default to the latter and rarely will I be disappointed.

With 146 species on Cape Island and now 172 in Nova Scotia I’d say that things are going along very nicely indeed.

Yellow-throated Warbler.

Snapping Turtle, Stoney Island Road May-08, 2019
Cattle Egret
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow Warbler
Northern Parula

White-throated Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
Dark-eyed Junco

Hermit Thrush

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

eBird Global Big Day – May-04, 2019

And lo the weather god did look at those in southern Nova Scotia trying to do an eBird Global Big Day of birding and decided to clear its left nostril in our general direction; that should slow the buggers down, it thought. Gods, of course, are A-sexual, which makes all that son of god stuff an even weirder notion than it already is but there you go.

I’ve been doing big days, or bird races as we in Blighty used to call them, since about 1985. I rather wish I’d kept better records back then, all I have to show for them are the day highlights, sometimes not even a final score. For a while I was part of a team that competed at national level, and we did quite well within the handicap systems devised by others.

Still a record for Nottinghamshire I think.

This year’s event took place on May-04, 2019 – the eBird Global Big Day. Naturally I took part, trying to beat my Cape Sable Island best score of 78 species (2016) but not feeling too optimistic about it. Still, despite heavy rain, thick fog and detouring off island to pick up a Shelburne tick Vesper Sparrow in Upper Woods Harbour, I gave it a good go. My tactic was, and always will be now that I am of advanced age, to have breakfast and start the day with yard birds. Unfortunately the yard birds didn’t get the memo!

Next it was to Mike and Sandra’s yard briefly. Field Sparrow, yes; Indigo Bunting, Chipping Sparrow and Blue Grosbeak; no!

By the time we returned to CSI from the Vesper twitch, the fog had become thicker than a mid-west congregation of creationists but I pressed on. Drinking Brook Park would have birds but they needed to be close to the shore or making a noise out there in the fog. Luckily a few were close and I broke 30 species by the crack of eleven of the clock! To put that in context, I can usually manage 25+ in the first two hours of any fair May day from the study window!

Despite the weather you have to do the spots so I went to Daniel’s Head and worked hard for a few more species, stuff that I knew was there and exactly where to find it. The Hawk came next and it was nice to see that the pair of Blue-winged Teal were still present, a bonus, I had expected them to have realised their mistake and fled to somewhere quieter. Another bonus was a Baltimore Oriole at feeders but that was it for luck in the fog.

As the lunch time was nigh, I headed home via Bull’s Head Wharf, with an apostrophe (depending on which way you approach it, check out all the road sign’s on CSI, the apostrophe frequently wanders off!). Barn Swallow fell and, on the way home, I stopped at Stoney Island Church and got Winter Wren too.

For the after lunch assault it was a case of making a list, checking it twice and then seeing which species would be naughty or nice.

As I drove the west side of CSI it was pleasing to see, yes to actually see, the fog had rolled offshore and there was a chance to get birds off Oscar Street in Clark’s Harbour. This vantage point gives a view of Green Island and, in the right conditions; you can see the odd Atlantic Puffin in with the Black Guillemots, especially when they have a ‘dread’. As the Lobster boats are frantic at the moment there were dreads on May-03 but none on May-04. So no Black Guillemot even, although I did see Northern Gannet.

Then it was on to The Hawk where I caught up with the bunch of shorebirds that I knew were there, but not the American Oystercatchers and this year-bird White-crowned Sparrow (CSI year species # 134). My last throw of the dice was to scan a clear Baker’s Flats where there were two Ring-necked Ducks but my Greater Scaup had moved on.

The day closed with 58 species, not bad considering but with easy to fill gaps had there been any visibility from shore. We didn’t have any migration as such, small birds were just absent and some of the long-stayers didn’t! Just to put the score in context, I had 69 species the day before, without even attempting to fill those gaps that I could have done with minimal effort, indeed I had seven species on May-04 not seen on May-03.

The next big day is in October so pencil in fog, rain, snow, hail, a tornado, whatever. It seems that, be it Global Big Day or Christmas Bird Count, the weather god keeps a full nostril back for those special events, every single time.

For those interested the day list is below. Shelburne as a county scored 66 species but we are better than that, it just takes a bit of collective effort to prove it.

So my year list is now 160 in NS. 134 on CSI and 139 Self-found. The yard list stands at 69 and is more than ready for spring take off!

eBird Global Big Day CSI list: Brant, Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Common Eider, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Dunlin, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Loon, Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, European Starling, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, Myrtle Warbler, American Tree Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole.

Knee Deep

Following a ride to the airport take our friend Larry to catch his plane back to Florida, Sandra and I thought we’d take the time to visit a few year birds that were, more or less, on our route home. Having driven the 103 in we decide to go the slightly longer way back, a route that would take in French Basin at Annapolis Royal, always a nice stop.

First up was a Greater White-fronted Goose at Snide’s Lake off Junction 10 of highway 102. On arrival there was a small group of geese but nothing different. We could see that geese were commuting to a field opposite and, in the traditional of these things, there was a dip hiding most of the geese. A short walk soon had us looking at our target but geese being geese, when one panics the whole lot go bonkers and they all flew off back to Snide’s Lake. Driving back to the viewing spot on the lake we had distance views of the Greater White-front before heading off. Pity there area is up for development, perhaps the owners and developers will die before this happens and the place will be left as it is.

Greater White-fronted Goose Snides Lake Apr-30, 2019

After driving over through Rawdon we dropped into Windsor Sewage Farm and had lunch, always a scenic spot for a picnic. Sometimes little sites like this will turn up a good bird, today it didn’t and we can be sure that we saw everything because the guy mowing the grass to death kept shunting the birds up. Just think how awful the sewage farm might look with long, unkempt grass full of insects, terrible!

Next we drove the pothole highway 101 to see a Eurasian Collared Dove at Malvern Cross. It has been there forever now but last time we had crappy views and, despite this once being a yard bird for us, this time was much better.

Collared-Dove Malvern Square May-01, 2019

Now we found we had plenty of time so we added Bellisle Marsh to our list of sites to look at. All went pretty well there, sticking to the good track. It was only when we went up a less than good track that we got stuck in the mud! Our car is supposed to have four-wheel drive at the push of a button, well it didn’t work and I ended up walking back to the main road and getting a tow out from a very nice man and his very nice truck.
Despite not really seeing the funny side of stinking like a swamp with the car covered in mud, Sandra agreed that a walk around French Basin was allowed. It turned out to be a good decision, unlike my driving a muddy track. We were able to walk the circuit and see a few more year bird including some really great views of a pair of Pied-billed Grebes.

Pied-billed Grebe French Basin Apr-30, 2019

Double-crested Cormorant French Basin Apr-30, 2019
Red-winged Blackbird French Basin Apr-30, 2019
Ring-necked Duck French Basin Apr-30, 2019

That was it, our busy day was over and we rolled in after 9pm. We had seven year birds for the list I’m not keeping and managed to no get a single tick on us plus we made maybe 30kg of fresh mud, stuck in various orifices around the car – fun indeed.

White-breasted Nuthatch The Hawk Apr-28, 2019

Blue-winged Teal The Cape May-01, 2019

On the Way

Somewhere out there, in this driving rain, fog and wind are thousands of 9cm long birds weighing 3.5 grams fighting to get north – Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. As of Apr-26, 2019 they were nudging New Hampshire on the eBird range map. There have been odd reports for Nova Scotia already but a photo would be needed to confirm the identification, there are confusion species. It is mind boggling that such a tiny species can be so much better than us humans at travelling quickly unaided. Plus the fact that they have more sense than to winter where winter even exists! Unfortunately they are also smart enough never to stand for public office and so we end up with politicians with less intrinsic value than a 3.5g bird.

I’m citing the amazing annual marvel that is the arrival of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, it’s not a miracle as there is no such thing, to illustrate that this time of year the weather is only a part of the migration story. We look to the winds and the weather patterns hoping for the conditions to create a migrant push, even a benign spring fall-out but in truth, birds are now arriving daily. We did have spring push back on April-16 which brought, amongst other things, a splurge of Blue Grosbeaks to the south shore at least.

Whether the unusual (for the period) species that showed up in the few days after April-16 were from that push or are new in is open to question. It may just be that it took a few days to find the birds, but as some spots were well covered, it is likely that the April-16 arrival was the start of what has been a continuous period of migration despite the weather, in fact, the weather limiting the ability of observers to actually find the birds has probably been the only limiting factor.

Now through to about the third week of May we get into the real meat of spring migration. Roughly by the end of May everything will be ‘in’ although the traditional late arriving species will continue to ‘back-fill’. Some vagrants will appear at well-watched coastal sites but the majority of summer visitors will simply appear in their territories overnight. The last week of May and the first two of June are the extreme rarity weeks when most overshoots show up. The message there is don’t relax, don’t think we are done just because spring migration seems done and the summer stuff is everywhere that it should be, or at least where we have deigned to leave habitat for them. Once July looms then you can relax, for a week or two, then it gets interesting!

Spring on Cape Sable Island can be a period of elation and disappointment, very much in the way that Maritime weather can include all elements in one hour as the wind blows from three or more directions at once. In terms of physics it is illegal, but we get used to it. We may have peaked on CSI with the Worm-eating Warbler, or May might pitch something western down, Black Phoebe will do. We are also usually late in getting the regular birds back. The back-fill I mentioned earlier is easily seen here as the woods to the north of us might fill up with parulas and palms but they might remain scarce on CSI until there is no more room in the optimum habitat, then the back-fill happens.

As this is usually a time of photographic opportunity plenty, I’ll just post bunches of photos captioned with name and species. If anything more is needed I’ll add it to the caption.

Upland Sandpiper The Hawk Apr-27, 2019
Swamp Sparrow Daniel’s Head Apr-26, 2019
Summer Tanager Upper Woods Harbour Apr-26, 2019
Rose-breasted Grosbeak yard Apr-25, 2019
Rose-breasted Grosbeak The Hawk Apr-27, 2019
Mourning Dove yard Apr-25, 2019
Indigo Bunting Clam Point Apr-24, 2019
Field Sparrow Clam Point Apr-27, 2019 (2)
Eastern Phoebe Pubnico Point Apr-26, 2019
Cattle Egret Salmon River Apr-23, 2019
Brown Thrasher Daniel’s Head Apr-26, 2019
Brown Creeper St-Alphonse Apr-23, 2019
Blue Grosbeak yard Apr-27, 2019

Odd Spot for a Boreal

Migration continues on Cape Sable Island as birds force their way north. The weather since the Worm-eating Warbler had deteriorated and we’ve had strong, onshore winds bringing fog and unpleasant conditions. Now we are having a rain event, as the Weather Network calls it, complete with a dire warning that rain is wet!

I’ve been out daily but not had a deal of luck with anything unusual. It seems that Southside is the current hotspot but these things do tend to move around and no doubt some of these early birds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings will find their way to Clam Point eventually. While checking for migrants on The Hawk recently I attracted a couple of Black-capped Chickadees, a species that will sometimes have a warbler or two on tow. The spot I was looking at was right at the end of Fish Plant Road before the fish plant itself, just stunted Alder scrub but frequently productive. With the chickadees and much to my surprise was a Boreal Chickadee.

Boreal Chickadee is a declining species but we have a few around Cape Island and it is the sort of thing you might bump into not infrequently, I suppose we should enjoy that while it lasts as, every time a bit more of the island habitat gets nibbled away for a place to park a trailer or a new home or even cut for firewood so a bit more of the Boreal Chickadee’s habitat goes with it until the woodlots sizes just can’t support them. Obviously this isn’t confined to Cape Island and everywhere in the world little bits of habitat get snipped away and with it go the species it supported. Best get used to it, it’s what we humans do. Lots of shots of the Boreal Chickadee, enjoy.

We have Great Egret around at present. I’ve not seen it particularly close but they are always nice to encounter.

Here are a couple of shots of one of the Southside Blue Grosbeak. The warbler may have gone but the grosbeak was lingering last time I looked.

This is the time of year when year lists get a boost. My effort in that department had been largely around Cape Island and at 136 so far that would seem to be about right. By the end of May I’ll probably be much nearer two hundred, hopefully with a few nice rarities, you just never know what the spring rush might bring. Every day on Cape Island is an adventure, even the quiet ones.
I’ve also resumed photographing moths again and just reached 250 species for the yard since I started last June. This year I just left the outside light on overnight bagging one species per night but each one being a ‘good’ moth for NS and lifers too. At some point I’ll put a better organised page up for those interested.

A Big Island

It would be nice to think that we see most of the ‘good’ birds that show up on Cape Island but the truth is we don’t come anywhere near. There are beaches and kelp piles, wood lots and yards that birds can hide in and so many people have little idea that a bird is different from the ones they regularly ignore. There are, of course, regular spots where the ‘good’ birds do get seen though, that it because that is where birders go looking, not necessarily because they are better than places we don’t look.

Even covering somewhere like The Hawk or Daniel’s Head properly is a monumental task but we seem to do OK. Peripheral sites, like Southside Beach and the adjacent scrub and woodlots don’t get a lot of attention. True we might go that way during a fall-out or if there has been a minor arrival and we are trying to cover as many spots as possible but, again, the coverage is only at incidental level. That is why, when Greg White found a superb Worm-eating Warbler at the south end of Southside Beach it was not only a new bird for most but a new site too.

Thanks to Social Media and Greg’s willingness to post images, the news about the warbler and its location were quickly disseminated. The pile of wave-washed kelp was producing many flies and the migrant warblers, recent arrivals from their winter quarters, w taking advantage of the feeding opportunity. A couple of days prior Greg had also found two male Blue Grosbeaks in the same spot.

Full of optimism we all (not that many actually) headed over for a look. It was actually a bit galling for Mike and I as we’d been on The Cape in the morning and had stopped and walked part of Kenney Road. Had we realised that the beach by the woodlot was where the Blue Grosbeaks had been then we’d have walked on and maybe seen the Worm-eating Warbler in a much more stress-free way, as it was it took some effort.

We were on-site for about a couple of hours and he bird didn’t show. There were other birds around and feeding in the same place, the kelp pile. One Blue Grosbeak remained and several each of Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers. The weather was fine, good departure weather and Sandra and I thought that surely, with all the other warbler activity, the rarity would have shown too. We left Alix, Paul and Laurel waiting in hope. We’d just got in and had lunch cracking when Alix called, ‘it was back.

We shot down with Mike in tow, his Sandra had decided enough was enough, and plodded to the site, wondering whether it would be there this time, to miss it would be a bit of a blow now. Luckily it as still there and showed magnificently until two minutes before Ronnie and Sharron showed up. Then it kept them on tenterhooks for 45 minutes before taking centre stage once again.

Worm-eating Warbler is rare in Nova Scotia and much sought after. As a breeding bird it scrapes up into Massachusetts but only occurs as a rarity in Canada. I don’t know exactly how many have been on Cape Island before, perhaps six including three during a fall-out. The last one I have on records, although I am still researching the new century, was on Apr-18, 2002, seventeen years to the day before we had this one.
Big thanks are due to Greg for both finding and sharing the bird.

As I said, Mike and I went to The Cape earlier the same day (Apr-18, 2019). It was pretty good but also frustrating too. The frustration centred around a meadowlark sp. That Mike saw briefly but that we couldn’t re-find. Welcome sightings were a couple of Piping Plovers, 2 Black-bellied Plovers, seven lingering Harlequin and an Eastern Phoebe, a Cape tick for us. Savannah Sparrows sang everywhere and offshore large numbers of sea ducks were gathering. The real surprise was that we didn’t come up with a warbler at all, in fact, apart from the phoebe and meadowlark, nothing unexpected.

As I was making the last post, added Apr-16, birds were arriving Mike and Sandra had one, then two Blue Grosbeak in their yard. Males too, not looking like the messy female and immature types we sometimes get.

The next day we had Piping Plovers on Daniel’s Head Beach, an American Oystercatcher came over too. On the beach there was three Ipswich Sparrows one of which had colour bands marking it as having been banded on Sable Island in Sept-2018. Despite having seen many Ipswich Sparrows since colour banding began, this is the first I’ve had here from the project.

On April-19, the day after the Worm-eating warbler, we suffered strong onshore winds and the warbler was not seen in the morning at least but a Green Heron, found in West Pubnico did oblige, allowing us to pop over to add it to our year lists.