iNat

I’ve been aware of iNaturalist for some time but, because eBird serves reasonably well, I’ve not bothered to explore other avenues of wildlife recording. I have a photo database of Odonata, Lepidoptera and other stuff and iNaturalist allows you to enter the sightings, with a photo, to contribute to their database of records from around the world, this much I am fine with. The system utilises identifications from other naturalists to accept your submissions, rather than the generally experienced eBird reviewer system, and I’m not very sure about that yet. After a few submissions, made to check out the system and get started, I thought I’d build a Cape Sable Island project, whereby everything wild found on the island, except perhaps some of the rowdier locals, would be entered and available for naturalists researching the island’s wildlife – perhaps as a precursor to a visit.

It seems that you can’t have a favourite location, like the eBird Hotspot or personal location system, for each submission you have to enter the location into the Google map thing, although I may have got this wrong. When the map opens you get a circle that you can resize to fit your recording area, here I made the error of not reducing the circle to just a dot anywhere on CSI, resulting in many of my submissions scattered around the local area, some as far as Blanche! I had to do a block re-edit which, once I worked out how to do it was easy enough. The locations do not seem to have changed but there may be a time consideration on that.

The other weird thing is, when I’d entered my stuff for CSI, and then visited my project within my account, there was a slew of other people’s photos of the same species I’d logged but from elsewhere in the big, wide world!! Maybe there is a filter I have to set up, but here is the thing, the help files are not much use, in fact I suspect the Californian designers of iNaturalist may be the Grand-children of hippies, and prone to frequent hereditary LSD flashbacks as parts of iNaturalist seem to make little sense at all; remember, California is where the Apple technicians also live and work, you know the ones that designed an iPod that turns on in your pocket and that does other stupid things that no sane person would want it to do. Microsoft may well have an office nearby too.

I soldiered on a while until I could figure out whether it is me or them, and then decided ‘sod it’ so I deleted the project but not the records. I’ll keep adding stuff as I go especially CSI records, if nothing else it makes me label my images properly, I have been a little slack with that at times. If you are interest then I’d recommend going for a browse (link below), search a few species and see what you think. If nothing else iNaturalist is a repository of things other than (but including) birds. Ideally we’d have one big recording agency and I suppose there is a chance that the two universities than run the projects might get together and produce a fertile offspring, for me the facility to enter a field day complete with all of the various things I took an interest in would be great. https://www.inaturalist.org/

There has been a dribble of migration on Cape Sable Island, the American Oystercatchers arrived at about the right time, Piping Plovers started coming in too, let’s hope their breeding efforts are not futile as happens so often because people just do not care. Swamp Sparrows have crept in, a Tree Swallow should not be very far behind and Palm Warblers are probably gagging to get back to their summer home. Clyde did find a Blue-winged Teal, a smart male, but it didn’t linger too long although we’ve not been back over to The Cape recently and they do like to use the pools there. One nice event is the presence of tooting Northern Saw-Whet Owls in Clam Point. We reckon there may be two, each becoming a nice yard-tick for the resident birders – that would be Mike and me.

 Another little yard event has been the digging of a pond. We rented a back-hoe and I dug a reasonable sized hole, a lumpy dig that illustrated well the derivation of the name Stoney Island! As it develops I’ll post a few images and all so I can get a waterthrush in the yard!

Two of the four, maybe five Piping Plovers on Daniel’s Head recently. These were tagged U9 and X3 and were from Daniel’s Head originally.

Above, a dodgy shot of the CSI Blue-winged Teal and below a Red-necked Grebe getting all dressed up for summer. Yes they do look startled.

Above, some of the 300 or so Brant around CSI at the moment, the Clark’s Harbour ball-field is often utilised for grazing. Below a territorial Golden-crowned Kinglet who found me and my pishing offensive so I pished off. Also a “cronking” Raven.

The fangled contraption below is a phonescoping adaptor. I’ve not had much chance to use it yet but it is very simple to use. There is an expanding clip that sits on just about any spotting scope eye-piece and a simple system for aligning you phones camera lens. Good for some doc-shots and probably good for decent images of relatively static items, I see odonatan applications.

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First Cape Trip of the Year

Finally the wind died to the point that the sea was a slicker. We’d mooted a Cape visit for a while but had to wait for the right conditions and this was our chance so me, Ronnie and Mike boarded Warren’s trusty skiff for the short, calm crossing. The tide was rising fast meaning we had to abandon our starting point of Steven’s Point, could be Stephen’s though, and landed on Shell Beach, well, what a job the storms did there.

There were some shorebirds to greet us, a flock of Dunlin and Sanderling but the main talking point was the washing away of 400m of dune system leaving a exposed, but very Piping Plover friendly beach, something to keep an eye on (photo later).

Brant were everywhere and we soon came across the first Ipswich Sparrow, keeping company with three Horned Larks.

 

This trip was also an opportunity to plant the area inside The Forest fence, namely the bit on the eastward side which is always wet and should be good for Willows. I’d been out earlier and clipped some, with permission from Debbie the owner and Postmistress, and we dipped the cutting in rooting juice and pushed maybe 60 in. If we get 5% that is some cover for the tired migrants to utilise.

We walked to the light, finding a Killdeer and then this late Snowy Owl. The shingle ridge was a beast after the storm, loose and hard to traverse but traverse we did. It used to be a bit better when we could use the sheep tracks; untold numbers of ungulate ambles had previously compacted the stones but now the winter storms had performed a reset, time to get working you sheep.

 

We came across another Ipswich Sparrow and a few Harlequins but time ran short and we had to get back to the beach for pick up. Nobody was disappointed with our avian haul and we all enjoyed getting back on the fabled Cape. I’m particularly inspired to get there more often having read all of Sid and Betty-June’s reporting in the Nova Scotia Bird Society bulletins recently, that place gets birds, we just have to be there at the same time.

On the way home I checked a little spot I have for Boreal Chickadee and was not disappointed, great little birds.

Get on with it!

We are officially into spring now and so, as per the label, the spring birds should be dribbling through. Grackles at least should be making some sort of effort to keep the side up, but as it is, we have had a very few here on Cape Sable Island, perhaps the stupid wind is putting them and their friends off. Basically we are just waiting for migration to get on with it, so we can add hope to expectation when we head out into the great outdoors looking for the breath of fresh air brought about by a change in the birds. It doesn’t help that the weather conditions have dumped some summer herons and stuff well north of us, how dare they overshoot! Birders in the Halifax region have enjoyed Tricoloured and Little Blue Herons and a Tufted Duck, a nice purple patch indeed.

Locally (well Shelburne) we do have a Great Egret and Sandra and I did manage to see it when we did a tour of east Shelburne County, somewhere we just don’t visit often enough. The egret was found at the second attempt of the day on the falling tide, just outside the main town. It was very preoccupied with gulping down minnows to both about us, nice to find a tolerant one every now and then.

 

The same ride out (29-March) took us to Hemeon’s Head where a bunch of 34 Harlequins were being bounced around by lively surf. We didn’t try to get too close and so failed to get the whole, strung out group in one shot, this will have to do. We also had our first Ruffed Grouse of the year on the way down the head.

 

Nearby we’d had lunch looking at the sea at Lockeport beach. Gulls soon saw that we had food and so lingered and were duly rewarded. Surprisingly one turned out to be a Lesser Black-backed Gull, how many slip past unnoticed I wonder.

 

This was our second try for the egret, the first one was a bust but we did find a Chipping Sparrow near the entranced to the cemetery, no White-breasted Nuthatch though in fact pretty dead there otherwise, so to speak.

 

On CSI Turkey Vultures have lingered all winter, even in the harshest of conditions. This was one of a bunch performing a rough autopsy on a dead Great Black-backed Gull on Daniel’s Head.

 

In the yard we’ve had a Fox Sparrow a couple of times too.

 

I saved the best for last; yes I know it is a gull! Despite there being a raging snow storm on 22-March I ventured out, just to check out West Head CSI for the leucistic Glaucous Gull (now gone). I saw a couple of gulls on one of the pallets between the wharves and, from my distant spot, one looked to be a Lesser Black-backed Gull (the smaller one, it’s in the name!). I drove around in very poor visibility and it was still there, so I grabbed a snap from the car despite barely being able to see the birds for snow. It looked a bit off for LBBG so I got out and tried to get something better. I’m not sure what it is but LBBG does not fit and not just because the pink legs (should be yellow to orange) are not that commonly found in the species. Have a look at the shots and see what you think.

 

I keep going back to it; this is all the photo reference I got as the bird flew off the pallet and over me and away and has not come back since, stupid bird! It could be a runty Great Black-backed or it could be a hybrid GBBG X Herring, I don’t really know as I didn’t see the open wings at all. There is some size difference between the sexes of large gulls but I would say this is not the factor here, thoughts anyone?

Nothing Worse than Wind

You know that pain you get, tight stomach, discomfort and listlessness, then you realise yes, it is very windy out again and the day will be one of chills but few thrills. That sums up March 2018 so far. Every day the wind has called to see how we are and stayed on like an unwelcome relative who does not take the hint to go. Today (21-Mar, 2018) we celebrate the start of spring and ready ourselves for the fourth nor’easter of the month, the trees are already jigging about in anticipation. We don’t expect snow on CSI from this one, the weather people just say rain, so I’ll keep the snow shovel handy, they have been known to miss slightly before (and they actually get paid to forecast the weather, amazing).

Because of the uninspiring conditions, and a touch of post-traumatic-dip-disorder (PTDD, yes it’s a real complaint, think Kelp Gull and Mistle Thrush) we have not been far, certainly not as far as the waste site at Arichat where a Black Vulture has been in residence since 2017. Having seen very many of the species elsewhere, it is hard to drag one’s weary limbs on another cross-country hike even though the chances of seeing it are reasonable. Were the Black-headed Grosbeak and Bullock’s Oriole still on the board in Sydney and Glace Bay, then we would probably have gone. For now the far flung reaches of Cape Breton will just have to wait a bit although the thought of seeing new places in NS always appeals. After all, I don’t want to just go off on an ego trip, although I would like to join the cabal who have Black Vulture on their Nova Scotia life list.

The lead photo on this post may be a Long-tailed Duck, but herein lies the deception for this post is mostly about gulls, quite possibly for the last time this winter although don’t hold me to that.

 

Last year, and the year before that I was past 100 species on CSI inside the first five weeks of the year, not an ego thing, just the statistics of birding daily, actually I just passed 600 consecutive eBird days of checklists, I must try harder. This year I languish on 84 for CSI for no less effort but certainly way fewer bird species than I had averaged previously, around 20 less species actually. Why? because there has been very little variety in the bird life of CSI this year and even Shelburne as a county. This is also borne out by the fact that the county sits fourth in the eBird year list, a situation that may well change as migration kicks in, if we get a normal spring migration. The county year list figures are skewed by the fact that eBird contributors are few in Shelburne, Yarmouth too, whereas much of the active Halifax area birding contingent are contributing to eBird, although every county probably has its non-eBirding birders that see stuff that never makes the database.

For the record, this year the table of counties recording over 100 species reads (as at 21-Mar, 2018): Hfx, 134; Yar, 113; Kin, 108; Shl, 105; Lun, 101.

The all-time  eBird list of counties is probably more reflective of both location and birder population: Hfx, 377; Yar, 363; Shl. 361. Only eight of Nova Scotia’s counties have recorded more than 300 species although this may change as historical records are uploaded to the database. If you are interested in this sort of stuff, go and look at eBird and, if you don’t contribute, please think about doing so.

Speaking of records, I have been compiling (slowly) a Cape Sable Island database, perusing each of the Nova Scotia Bird Society bulletins and then adding the relevant records to my database. As I said, it is slow going but both interesting and frustrating in equal measure. Interesting as there are batches of Nova Scotia records that even I with limited experience of the Province look at and think, no, a misidentification there (think Arctic Loon). Then there is the frustration of past newsletter editors giving me a page on Great Blue Herons and Song Sparrows but, when having made statement that Northern Cardinals had arrived in NS in unprecedented numbers, only supplying a few lines of general information. Similarly, where a species is actually rare at a location, and obviously this information may not be within the scope of the editor/account writers knowledge, details are lacking while, once again, Song Sparrow (as an example) is well covered but say Pied-billed Grebe is not.

Reading the historical CSI records is encouraging, for some species there is no reason why they will not show up from time to time. Others that were formerly regular now have much reduced populations and have shifted from annual too rare, that too is interesting to plot. Thankfully we had Sid and Betty-June Smith out on The Cape and their observations are the backbone of CSI records for many years. It would be very interesting to see their actual notes rather than the condensed and occasionally eclectic data presented in bulletins.

I appear to have digressed slightly. Back to the gulls (yay!). As I mentioned in the previous post, Glaucous started to pop up at both Swimm Point and West Head. I have been working both sites regularly as gulls gather there, while at West Head there are various dead things on the shore (a Bear!) and, hopefully, any passing Ivory Gulls will find something nicely gamey and hang around waiting to be found, although I have to accept that, this year at least, my luck is such that I will visit the sites 100 times apiece and then someone from Halifax popping in on their annual visit to CSI will actually be the finder, if it happens.

Mostly the Glaucs were 1stW or 2ndW, there was one adult, an age class we don’t get too many off. Then there was the beast! More shots below of the West Head Glauc took up station for a few days and was so white as to be visible from the International Space Station (ISS). It clearly has pigmentation problems, the feathers are too white and the legs and bill lack much colouration too. This bird is very distinctive and might have been reasonably expected to have been found wherever it may have put own, thereby allowing us to track it a bit, but nobody on the Facebook North American Gulls has flagged as having seen it, and now it appear to be gone.

 

Adult Glauc below.

A 2cy Glauc at Swimm Point.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls are annual in varying numbers, one September we had 17 at Daniel’s Head on the same day. This year we had more chance of adding Rocking Horse poo to our roses until one, then another showed up at the two tepid spots mentioned earlier.

Thick-billed Murres have had a crap vacation this winter. The wind has given them a very hard time, then they come to CSI and the big gulls all want to give them a tour of their intestinal tract, not fair. After having previously only had seen the odd one, my best day this winter was four (live ones), some still linger.

 

An interesting, messy Iceland Gull.

 

Lastly, here are two female Eiders, very different to look at but a bit too distant to show the difference in their processes (the fronds from the bill onto their foreheads).

 

Well, back to the NSBS bulletins for another session, I’m up to 1974. I do hope they stop shooting specimens for the record soon, it is getting a bit samey.

Winter is Done (in Southern NS)

Maybe a bold statement but when the gulls are on the move there can be no argument; we are done with winter for another year. The change has been subtle, numbers of gulls dropping, those still around looking very crisp in their new and temporary breeding plumage, of course gulls dress for the prom, why would you think otherwise!

This past couple of days I’ve done more or less the same circuit of Cape Sable Island, mostly on the lookout for a Lesser Black-backed Gull, a puzzling absentee on my CSI year list that I am definitely not doing this year. I got one at West Head on March-10th and saw the same bird at Swimm Point today. I also saw a wierd looking Glaucous Gull at West Head on March-10th, very washed out, I aged it as three years old (3cy) which is probably about right. Today I found two adults at Swimm Point and I’m tempted to speculate that they are the same two we had there last winter. Adult Glaucs are not at all common in southern Nova Scotia, in fact Glaucs in general represent 1/100 or rarer around here, and so three this weekend in spots regularly checked and where we have barely had a Glauc on CSI this winter tells me migration is on.

West Head has been pretty good recently, the storms have dumped a lot of Thick-billed Murres into our waters and one or two are always there, pottering about like miserable old folks. Also there are a few Red-necked Grebes. I’ve noticed that, since the storms, both Red-necked Grebes and Common Loons have been in places where I’ve never seen them before, Bakers’ Flats for example. Now that the seas are calm, well at least for now, they are all heading back to the open ocean, it tells you how rough it has been though when these hardy birds have to seek refuge inside.

For people who have and interest in these things, Bruce Mactavish in Newfoundland writes a good piece on Thayer’s Gull on his blog. I 100% agree with him but, as I’ve said before, I suspect other elements were at play in lumping Thayer’s with Iceland. Read Bruce’s views here: http://brucemactavish1.blogspot.ca/

And now a few photos, gulls last!

Shiver me Timbers!

When the east wind blows, any east wind, it is always colder than when your snot freezes in a calm -30°C. The house is drafty, work to be done on windows later in the year, and the heat pump gets all grumpy and obstreperous at the thought of a draft up the tubes, well who wouldn’t be, you can sympathise. The birds don’t like it either, some needing legs like a Russian Shot Putter to cling to the feeders. Such inclement weather rather knocks the enthusiasm for getting out there and each circuit of CSI becomes more a tour of duty rather than the normal voyage of excited anticipation, or is that only me!

We now have a window of calm, a chance to assess the damage the vengeful storms brought. Beachside trails are smashed up, rocks the size of Buffalo have been playfully tossed around at Daniel’s Head and debris is even more widespread than normal, should have biodegraded in a couple of thousand years though so no worries. Obvious victims of the storm have been Thick-billed Murres and Black Guillemots. The former are being seen regularly around CSI, I even added the one below to my Clam Point ego list I think it’s called. I also saw three earlier the same afternoon at Daniel’s Head, thankfully all looking spry. Earlier ones were not so vital and some went on a short visit of the digestive system of a Great Black-backed Gull. Black Guillemots are always around here but not in such numbers as now or so obviously knackered. I even saw one get predated by a big gull, not something that they normally suffer despite their being in regular proximity to hungry gulls.

 

For various reasons I went to Pubnico on three consecutive days recently. I took advantage of the visits seeing the Greater White-fronted Geese which obstinately refuse to do the sensible thing and fly into Shelburne County. The fish plant was not active and so the gulls were erratic and mostly ‘wrong side’. I had hoped to catch up with both Thayer’s Gulls that had been around. One is the returning bird but Alix had found another and seeing them is always an education, plus they are sightings to be banked for when they become a full species once again. I did get to wave the camera at common stuff though, results below.

 

Above, Glaucous Gull at Dennis Pt, Lower West Pubnico, below the same bird with an Iceland Gull.

Common birds may be common but they often present good photo opportunities, practice for the real stuff I suppose. Sandra and I were in Yarmouth topping up Wal-Mart’s profits and stopped by a parking lot to look-see. This 1stW moulting to 2ndS (1st winter (post fledging) to 2nd summer (a year old) made a nice subject, as did a bunch of House Sparrows nearby, we don’t see them too often these days.

The Canvasback finally realised the error of its ways and headed back to the prairies, we enjoyed it while it remained and wish it a safe journey home.

 

At Swimm Point this Brant posed one afternoon. If you creep up (as best you can in a one ton, red Minivan), they become quite relaxed and pose.

Now we are up to date. I don’t expect too much to occur over the next week or so, the weather will again dictate the pace and probably prevent a ride to Arichat, Cape Breton where a Black Vulture awaits our attention, a fair way to go true but also a chance to push on and bird areas we’ve not been to yet. There might be an Ivory Gull with our name on somewhere!

Big Gull Fun

It is winter and so there have to be some posts about gulls, it is an unwritten law! Following the personal disaster with the gull species whose name we will not speak of but begins with K, I’ve been checking gulls whenever I can in the desperate hope of finding it somewhere within my bailiwick. I’ve not had a deal of success really but you live in hope and just keep on checking. On March-1st, 2018 I casually scanned some distant gulls at Daniel’s Head and picked out a grey backed one that was slightly facing me and at around 200m range. It was a big gull, that is to say that it was not one of the little ones, I’m keeping it simple in case a non-guller has made it this far in error.

The views showed a very white headed gull with a slate grey back and, in size at least, no bigger than the largest Herring Gull in the same loafing group. I went and fetched the scope, having done the decent thing and walked the wharf rather than driving and getting any fisherpersons way. The gull changed my policy and so I drove and scoped, getting some side on views. Dark backed gulls that don’t conform to a regular species are almost always going to be a hybrid, because the dirty little devils are at it with each other with nil regard for the birders who have to figure out the puzzle they produce later!

I called Sandra, Johnny and Mike so that they could see the bird and didn’t rule anything out, even Western Gull however unlikely. My first thoughts are always to get others onto any interesting bird first and, if it is a teaser, worry about getting it right later. Although I have seen a number of Western Gulls it is a species you don’t really learn in the truest sense, learning a species comes with regular familiarity (for me at least) and, although the bird was a beast and the field views checked a few of the western boxes, I felt it was one (another one) to examine on the computer, where I could zoom and edit and then post on Facebook for those interested.

The images are not great, they were taken at range as I said but there is quite a bit of salient detail to be gleaned. A shot of the wings would have been helpful, with gulls it always is, but it steadfastly refused to join just about every other gull present in doing synchronised stretching! I did get a poor image of part of the underwing when it preened, they spend so long preening, and on the PC screen it showed a large mirror on p10 and a smaller one on p9 so there went the western conjecture. In the field the bill looked heavier than in the images too, but nowhere near as heavy as Western (see image later). So a hybrid it was, probably Herring x Great Black-backed, very probably actually.

 

I did go back later and re-found it? It was in another spot, one with the sun behind me although at a range of 250+m. In these different conditions the mantle was slightly paler, the legs pinker and the bird more akin in size and structure to the many adjacent Great Black-backed Gulls. I assume it to be the same bird but I can’t be 100% for the reasons mentioned. Here are the photos of the main protagonist, followed by the doc-shot of the later bird and then followed by another hybrid from the same location January 2016. Later there is a real Western Gull from California. Quite why they have such a hefty bill is a mystery as they seem to exist solely on fries!