Give me Five

You are probably sick of hearing how good 2019 was for new species for most of us in Nova Scotia, well tough titty. It was an astounding year and many of the species we enjoyed I would not have predicted. Of my own new species, I did include two in my predictions, Black Vulture and Black Skimmer. They were in my ‘wants’ post in January 2019. In previous years when I’d had a punt I’d been less prescient and that may well be the case this time but I thought it worth another go.

Here is a list of species I’d dearly like to see in Nova Scotia in 2020. All the photos are mine from elsewhere. The list is not in any particular order of likelihood or preference, to see all would be greedy but I’m willing to be called a glutton in the event of however, like I said, give me five.

Ross’s Goose – not very common in eastern Canada although somewhat overlooked, rare in NS, really rare. We were not in NS when the province had their last record, April-11, 2015 although we only missed them (two birds) by eight days so I’ll take that as a sign.

Spotted Redshank – rare in North American but quite possible and not unprecedented. With most vagrant shorebirds it is luck you need both to find them and for them to stick long enough for the confirmatory photo and observer support.

Vermilion Flycatcher – maybe left-field but with southern-south-western species turning up in the north east with increasing regularity not impossible.

Greylag Goose – already dipped one in 2019, it may still be in the ‘system’ and might just end up in the southern goose capital of Yarmouth.

Common Ringed Plover – it really is about time!

Long-billed Curlew – one was in New Brunswick a few years ago so the vagrancy potential is there. I fancy one on The Cape during buffy season.

Common Swift – has occurred in the east a few times but almost always just a single observer jobbie. Ideally one would arrive, the weather be dire and it would be forced to hawk a sewage plant for a week.

Varied Thrush – one was not 130km away last winter but the home owner where it was feeding was adamant no visitors so no Varied. This winter the east coast has a few records including one on Grand Manan. Check every robin!

Surfbird – oooh, it could do you know. There have been east coast birds, not multiple observers I don’t think but still evidence of the possibility.

Pacific Slope Flycatcher – we get the others so why not this one, mind you it would have to chirp a bit for us to be happy with it.

 

Neotropic Cormorant – they are coming!

Black-tailed Godwit – one is in the ‘system’ based on one being seen last spring off Pubnico, will it return?

Common Snipe – perhaps more likely to be found taken by a hunter as, bizarrely, they are a valid quarry species in NS despite never having occurred, says it all about the arcane hunting regulations eh?

Anna’s Hummingbird – with records in Quebec in recent years we might be the one to get a lost bird late in the year this time.

Brewer’s Sparrow – a hard ask but sparrows move and with climate change it is hard to argue against anything, especially after the Lewis’s Woodpecker.

Black-chinned Hummingbird – they have history of heading to the north-east, a summer male would do.

Of course you might just have your own ideas of what we will get next.

The Spiral Towards our Inevitable Destruction as a Species Continues but…

The birding has been quite good so far this year. No wow birds yet, although strictly speaking they are all wow, but nice and steady and enjoyable. As you know I keep monthly records of the number of species that I see, not as a listing thing as such but so I can look at trends and to see how well I did previously compared to now and why it was better. The why really is the thing here, is it more effort by me or better (or worse) weather or an unexplained abundance of variety?

The evidence so far is that there are more birds around this January than in 2018. The end of the month will likely see the number of species seen by me surpass those seen in 2019 and perhaps 2017 also. Thinking about this stuff, getting wrapped up in what for many would be meaningless gibberish is my way of not thinking about the billions of life forms burning in Australia (including 23 of the human species) or the destruction of ecosystems by humans for more money for rich people. I don’t have the time or mental capacity at this point in my life for all that stuff, so statistics on birding it is.

Being of English descent, although at a molecular level I am from everywhere, I get asked about the royal family, deliberate lower case used. The queen has done a good job but she is not special as a human like Einstein, Darwin or Terry Jones was, just a jobbing queen. The rest who receive public funding are parasites but they don’t need to be because they have the means within their family to be financially self-sufficient. They represent a time when there was something called ‘your betters’ and they were better because they were bigger, stronger and would kill you if you didn’t do what they said. That feudal system has now gone and instead we choose, through the ballot box, to elect people to do that sort of work. There is no such a thing as royalty, no such thing as royal blood and there never was, just a bully system or survival of the fittest to give it its proper term.

I was thinking that there were not too many days left in January for something to happen. Earlier in the month I found a Snow Goose, a self-found tick, so I’d have settled for that but Jan-25th Mike found a Red-shouldered Hawk on nearby Sherose Island. It gave me the run around for a while but Tony and Angie found it perched up not far from the original well-examined location and it duly became Shelburne tick 304. The last figure I saw for Johnny in Shelburne was 346 so I still have some way to go.

The bird was a tad distant for a good shot but it is not too bad.

Sunday Jan-26 has been pretty moist so far, they reckon 20mm of rain ending in the afternoon. I went out anyway, not much happening but I enjoyed watching this Red-breasted Merganser feeding. The head-shot shows the serrations that give the group the term ‘sawbill’ or at least in Europe they are. The same patch of sheltered ocean at West Head contained the usual compliment of Tysties.

For those that like to know, the Red-shouldered Hawk was year bird 100, later in the afternoon a scarce Cape Island bird in a Northern Shoveler made it 101.

On Form(s)

One of my little house-based projects was to download the International Ornithological Congress’s Excel spreadsheet listing all species and subspecies. The idea being to enter my records into the spreadsheet and to establish how many sub-species I’d seen, which is always useful as taxonomy is in what is generously called a state of flux, in other words they just keep changing their minds. Fair enough.

You can get a copy of the spreadsheet at the link. If you haven’t travelled too much you won’t have a lot to do so now would be the time to get ahead of the game. There is a list of files available (as below), the one shown in bold is the one you want.

https://www.worldbirdnames.org/ioc-lists/master-list-2/

Life List+ (v10.1, Excel File XLSX, 3.3Mb) Updates in red.

Life List+ (v10.1, Excel File XLSX, 3.2Mb)

Master list (v10.1, Excel file XLSX, 1.7Mb)

Multilingual Version (v10.1, Excel file XLSX, 6.4Mb)

Life List+full ssp (v10.1, Excel File XLSX, 2.9Mb)

Comparison of IOC 10.1 with other world lists (XLSX, 6.0Mb)

“But eBird does this for me” you say, well yes it does to some extent, provided you use add species and then subspecies, besides, it is much more fun trying to figure out for yourself which ones you have seen from scribbled notes in a curry (or worse) stained notebook.

“But the American Birding Association do the lists”. Yes they do if you want to follow their taxonomy. Personally I prefer not to and I use the IOC as they represent the world, not just North American (of which Canada is a big bit). This representation level may change when the ABA have expanded their recording area to beyond Neptune. Hawaii, really!

Incidentally, I strongly believe that there should be a Canada list, kept by Canadians and used when referring to birds in Canada. I use Bubo, the listing web site (as you know), and they use the ABA list for Canada containing many species not relevant to us and marking some species rare when they are common in Canada (relatively) but rare in the US.

My next little venture is to add observed forms to the checklist. Forms are not always assigned a scientific name, as in subspecies (think Parasitic and Pomarine Jaeger), but keeping a track of them is equally valid and interesting and it makes you do a bit of research too. One obvious form I’ll be adding is the dark form of Rough-legged Hawk. As striking a hawk as you will see and visually so different from the regular version, but you can’t add it to eBird and then call up all of your dark form records or compare them with regular form birds to see how much of the population they make up. Pity.

After that do I go for the complete list; male, female, immature, subspecies and forms? Nah!

This Rough-legged Hawk was at Davis Cove in Digby Co Jan-23, 2020. A nice bird.

This Ruffed Grouse was on the Pubnico Lake Road on Jan-23, 2020. The light from the snow made it hard to get detail. At one point during a leisurely stroll over the frozen road it coughed up a pellet, I’ve never seen one do that before. Of course it could just be screaming profanities.

At Yarmouth Bar Jan-23, 2020 we came across a few Horned Larks grazing.

Dovekies seem to be a daily occurrence around Cape Island, mostly around the wharves.

We had a couple of Sharpies in the yard.

Grey Catbird in Yarmouth Jan-23, 2020.

Snow Goose in Yarmouth. Tough last year, two in the south this.

Clyde found this White-crowned Sparrow on Kenney Road, Stoney Island end. I had the same or another on Highland Heights road a few days after.

Purple Sandpipers were at Baccaro recently on the rising tide. We seem to have a few around this year.

Always Worth Seeing

While ticking off birds on a list is fun, or it should be unless Sedge Wrens and Kelp Gulls are involved, actually watching the birds doing their thing is what it is all about. A few days ago Ronnie found Short-eared Owls at Sunday Point in Yarmouth. On our recent visits there we’ve managed not to see any of the ‘good’ birds but if you don’t try you don’t see and so when the weather was oddly benign on January-14, Sandra and I wandered over to have a look.

It is not a big area and, if the owls were abroad, we’d likely see one sooner or later. As it transpired it was sooner and we were soon watching from the comfort of the car three performing about 450m away and against the light. I took a few photos anyway and waited. Slowly the light changed into what photographers (I don’t Include myself in that description, birder first) call ‘the golden hour’. Our angle was such that we were slightly side-on with the light unless they swung past to our right, which one eventually did.

We saw one bird catch two rodents in quick succession, chomping them down quickly before setting off quartering the area. The three had occasional spats but nothing serious, and there was also a bit of calling going on too, something else to enjoy. As the light turned from golden to more pyrites the birds dispersed, making forays further away and beyond even a long lens.

Our little sit also netted a dark form Rough-legged Hawk, two Northern Harriers, two Black-bellied Plovers, and an American Kestrel pushing the year list up to, if not nosebleed heights then slight congestion. The phone then pinged with a message on our local group messenger, Tony and Angie had found five Red Knots on the other side of Yarmouth Harbour. Twas just the task of a moment to nip around to procure them for both the year and the winter lists.

A few days ago Dovekies arrived in numbers. Off headlands on Cape Island small groups were passing, sometimes even overland behind you. The passage petered out late-morning as storm-blown birds got their shit together. One or two ended up as pavement pizzas and the crows and Ravens did the tidying up, a few were also pretty whacked out and have hung around. Daniel’s Head wharf is a regular spot for such birds and, sure enough, one was bobbing cork-like right off the wharf when I had a look. If it avoids the digestive tract of the bigger gulls it should perk up and head off back out to sea.

 

Nearby, on The Hawk, Clyde had seen Boreal Chickadee and Orange-crowned Warbler the day before so I took a look. No chickadees were to be found but the Orange-crowned was there. It was an eBird add but not unexpected down here in the Banana Belt.

It looks like we have a bit of weather on the horizon which will mix up the birds again and likely result in the first Thick-billed Murres of the winter. There are still a few more species to dig out before January is done but I somehow doubt I’ll see anywhere near the 104 species I managed in January 2016. Subsequent years produced 90, 74 and 87 on Cape Island, I have 66 so far so certainly work to do.

For those interested, I put a few of the images of rare birds from NS onto YouTube, link below, no sodding annoying music because I don’t know where to get it from, I may have to compose my own!

https://youtu.be/Ba01ZPz4uks

 

And the cover for the updated CSI guide, hopefully out February-2020

 

Scratching Around

Although the New Year was expected to be low-key, you sort of hope to be wrong and that a good bird will show up (nearby) to get things started. It hasn’t happened yet and the year has been pedestrian for me at best. To be fair the weather has been very mixed. Cold spells with snow then hot, well 11°C, and wet and windy, in fact almost continuously windy so far. It is not quite half-way through January and I’m on 76 species, all casually accrued for the year.

January is rarely a great month for me and photos, the light is patchy and the subject matter usually limited to gulls, which, as you know, I don’t mind at all. The feeling is that winter will be later and then knock-on into spring, again, so we have perhaps 2.5 months more of this to endure before spring tickles our fancies, so to speak. We are also having to deal with post-trip blues, a normal thing you have when you have been over-stimulated by fancy flora and fauna and then come back to same-old, but it passes and you get your appreciation of Starlings and Crows back quickly.

I think the naughty little Sedge Wren was last evident on January-04. If it survives this spell and it milds up in the Halifax area, and if it is seen again, we may well do a shopping trip for art supplies. Sandra has a couple of gift cards for some art place she wants to waste. We might strike lucky next time and pick up a few of the region’s specialities, wren permitting.

One good thing about January is that the duck hunting ends and we start to get a few more ducks hanging around CSI. It is off-putting to go out birding around Daniel’s Head only to have some guy sat in the marsh bothering ducks. Still done for another year soon and things can get back to civilised.

I’m currently working on updating the CSI site guide, it is about time as a few things have changed. Sandra is doing me a nice cover painting and I may even get some print copies done this year. If you want a print copy you can message me using the details under contacts, not a commitment, just a guide for me to know if there is any demand. I might also revamp the blog if I can find the right template. I think many people only see it on phones or tablets, so all the side bar stuff gets missed. You’ll notice if I do it!

Not much by way of photos to entertain you with, sorry about that.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black Guillemot (Tystie), Iceland Gulls (Kumlien’s), Dovekie and Black Scoter.

A Sense of Purpose

WARNING contains the language used when you have dipped for the third time, oh and opinions.

Humans are intrinsically lazy. We tend not to do things we don’t want to and yet for many of us we spend our entire working lives doing just that. When working, the motivation is simple, get money to live. In the real world, job satisfaction, a fulfilling career, doing something to ‘make a difference’ are secondary to making a living, they have to be but, granted, there are a few people out there who make personal comfort sacrifices to follow their idealistic motivation. We’d certainly be poorer, as a species, without them. Their actions help tip the balance a bit, in a small way making up for all of the crap things humans do such as wars, greed, intolerance and killing as a leisure activity. The point I’m making is that we need motivation to do anything.

Once you’ve done your life’s work, and if you were reasonably smart, you get to live out your remaining years doing what you want to within whatever budget you’ve ended up with. This leisure time was paid for with the blood of previous generations, literally. Time was when most of the people reading this would have been tied to a job, had only Sunday off after working a six day week in the truest sense, and then they had to go to church, it was compulsory. Now church is a choice, or a habit, but at least what we fill our leisure time with is our own choice.

I frequently ask myself what my motivation to bird like I do is, and I think, after careful consideration, it is because I can.

Having said that, each year I like to give myself a bit of a challenge, something to keep it fresh, or at least stop it wilting due to lack of stimulation. Last year I decided to do a photographic big year, which really just means taking photos of every species I saw in Nova Scotia. It went fairly well, out of 297 for the year I got 283 species in pixels, it could have been four higher had I remembered what I was supposed to be doing! My other ‘mission’ was to do a self-found year. This can be slightly more complicated but I settled on having found 259 of my year birds taking my overall NS self-found to 301.

I think in 2020 my motivation needs to be fairly undemanding in terms of expense, blowing a tank of gas for no good reason makes no sense ecologically or when it comes to wanting to do a proper trip. I do a Cape Island year list anyway by virtue of living and birding here, a county and Nova Scotia one too, using the same criteria. This narrows the field somewhat but I think I have it, I’m doing a Clam Point year list. No sharp intake of breath then! Actually it makes sense and it will motivate me to explore just around where we live more.

Obviously this has not just popped into my head; there is little enough room there anyway what with all the wildlife stuff, pop trivia and Football irrelevance. When we were trying to get close to the recent Pacific Loon here we went onto two properties, welcomed on by the owners I should add, and both had habitat and birds, which got me thinking just how much shows up on the best bit of Cape Island without being seen? We also have a nice trail out to Clam Point which I walk occasionally but not often enough.

More coverage of Clam Point will not only see me finding more birds but also might help skim off some of the lard that still lingers from the 2018 Australian pies!

That doesn’t mean that I won’t go for NS ticks in 2020 but the boundary has been drawn. ‘ll go no further than Dartmouth for an NS regular that I haven’t seen so far. No further than Canso for a good NS bird unless it is really, really good then no further than Sydney. I’ll go anywhere in NS for a lifer and maybe even into New Brunswick, but not that far in.

Following this rule we, that is Mike, Ronnie and myself went off to look for the Sedge Wren on Jan-03. The day before was the first time it had been seen in a few days but it had been calling and showing so we were confident. We had actually planned to go on Jan-2 but put it off for better (milder) weather, thinking t more likely to be active. Well, we spent four chilly hours there, it never called once, it never showed either, little bastard! Today, Jan-04, it has been nicely photographed, WTF is going on?

I don’t want this to turn into another Kelp Gull (dipped six times, bigger bastard!), but if you ‘go’ for birds then you will know that I am looking at the weather in Halifax hourly and wondering whether to sacrifice a local virgin (there must be one somewhere) to any god willing to guarantee me seeing the wren (legal under arcane NS hunting regulations or so I understand). Snow is predicted in the area tonight, we have the weather warning from the people who can’t even get the wind direction right, so we might find travel a bit tricky, not that travel around Dartmouth and Halifax isn’t tricky, especially when twats saunter over the road in front of you talking into their cell phones, man he could jump high!

But seriously, what to do? On the last dip we did see a Tufted Duck (whoopee-doo) and the Lark Bunting but can I justify another trip for the Sedge Wren, miss it for a fourth time and then have the RBA tell me it has been seen the next day dancing the can-can around the parking lot for people who only bird through a digital camera and don’t own a field guide (he skillfully casts the bait and waits for a bite). My veneer of ticking confidence is wearing thin!

And Finally the Stats – 2019

I know this is the bit of the end of year review that most people enjoy most; that is why I barely add an image, not that a spanking image would drag your attention from the meat of the year!

The main stat is my Nova Scotia year list. I said right up until Dorian paid us a visit that I was not doing a year list and, to be fair I wasn’t. Dorian shifted the goal posts somewhat and so I part-embraced a year list, not really intending to go outside the Tri-Counties for a year tick, and I pretty much stuck to that. My score of 297 has a number of significant misses, some were just bad luck, others not enough effort was put in while some were probably fated. Here are my misses, as in could have got, a * means I tried and dipped.

Pink-footed Goose* – shot when we there but we didn’t see it first. Graylag Goose*. Cackling Goose* we were there earlier in the day. Canvasback* not missed by much but missed nevertheless. King Eider* a simple dip. Ruddy Duck. Spruce Grouse**, just not lucky. Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Virginia Rail, Common Gallinule – not a sniff of a cuckoo. Ruff. Little Gull – too far for a year tick. Mew Gull* Same dip as the King Eider. Bridled Tern – didn’t know about it and drove right past! Tricolored Heron. Red-shouldered Hawk******************************* I think we were unlucky! Golden Eagle – there is probably one wintering out Canso way. Long-eared Owl – too lazy to try. Northern Saw-whet Owl – expected one in the yard but it never happened. Black-backed Woodpecker****. Hammond’s Flycatcher. Great Crested Flycatcher. Say’s Phoebe** – Let’s just say that there were security issues where the bird was! Tropical Kingbird* – not missed by much, in fact, I am quite sure it flew over us all and was called an American Robin. Seeing them daily by the dozen recently only reinforced my suspicions. Northern Shrike. House Wren – few and far between. Sedge Wren** – not quite in the right place first time, too bloody cold the second. I hope it is still extant. Grey-cheeked Thrush. Pine Grosbeak. White-winged Crossbill* – I looked in lots of places. Louisiana Waterthrush – perhaps not really available. Golden-winged Warbler* – my annual dip, I have seen the undertail coverts of one in NS before but you need a bit more for the tick. Eastern Towhee** – been scarce our way, a bit lazy with the school one. Lark Sparrow – a surprise we never got one. Grasshopper Sparrow. Harris’s Sparrow* – had only one go, same dip as Mew Gull and King Eider.

Despite this litany of failure year list-wise I still managed to see 25 new species for my Nova Scotia list including two new lifers, White-faced Storm-Petrel and Red-billed Tropicbird. My Nova Scotia list is now 352. At the end of May this year we will have resided in Nova Scotia for five years.

If you are still reading this then you will know that my Cape Island list is every bit as important to me as my NS, Canada or even life list. It was a good year for ticks, I got 13, taking me to 293. My year list was 234, At least 19 species went missing or I dipped including Eastern Bluebird and Sora. I’d say it was about an average year in terms of number of species recorded on CSI.

For Shelburne County I went past 300, reaching 304. I think that is a pretty reasonable county list and, obviously, I hope to keep adding to it.

My World list went up by 16 species. I had hoped it would go a bit higher but some crucial parts of our December trip to Costa Rica were severely hampered by bad weather. The eBird total is 2971, my own count using the IOC list is 3011.

At home our yard is birdy and in 2019 it continued to be so. Dorian gave us a few birds including Black Skimmer and a Pacific Loon kindly chose to show well from our front deck, one of seven additions and taking the total to 177. The year total was 136.

All of these birds were not seen without a bit of leg work. Such effort is defined in eBird by checklist and in 2019 I had 1241 checklists, making 14939 total. Also significant for me was passing 10,000 bird days. This I did while in Costa Rica, this represents days when I physically went looking for birds, incidentally, my checklist streak in eBird was 1699 at close of play, December-31, 2019’

And finally for the bird stats, my list of species photographed was boosted by a few from Costa Rica and is now 1411 species.
So there we have it, my stats such as they are. If you want to look at lists of lists, if that is your thing, you can see my lists for everywhere and when on Bubo.org, a free listing website and not, like eBird, a recording web site.

And there’s more. I like to photograph moths in the yard, I can give up at any time but chose not to, and I have had some pretty good ones in 2019. The yard list stands at 475 species, I had 412 species in 2019 including 215 new species. The best, well certainly the rarest in Canada, was the Palmetto Borer I photographed on Aug-12, 2019. I know it is the rarest because it is the first ever recorded, you can’t really get any rarer! For that reason that is the post illustration.

If you got this far, well done! My January 01, 2020 is a quiet one. For now just the yard and Drinking Brook Park but I’ll wander later when the duck killers have gone. For the record I will not be doing a year list in Nova Scotia, on Cape Island yes, but anything else will be a by-product of birding with the occasional twitches. I hope you enjoyed your year as much as I enjoyed most of mine!