Lunenburg Way

Even though southern Nova Scotia can be something of a eBird desert, at the moment, there are still gems to be plucked if you keep your eyes open, subscribe to the daily rarity summary and ae willing to give it a go. Pine Warbler used to breed in our yard in Quebec and for the past twelve years it has been the first warbler of the year, or at least first of the regular warblers – it was usurped once by a Townsends Warbler once.

In Nova Scotia they appear to be a scarce species, scarce enough for eBird to query things. Today Sandra and I decided to explore northwards, in part just to look around but also to slip in a look for the warblers. Miller Point Peace Park is a tidy little site in Bridgewater, a popular place with people exercising their dogs and strollers. Non-birdy people tend to be quite noisy but fortunately Pine Warblers literally rise above it, singing loudly from the tops of the pines, and this lot did just that today. We found two males singing, at least, and a single female in the area near the riverside parking lot – easy but thanks to the finder and subsequent eBird users for reporting them.

Arriving in Lunenburg, a place that had barely a gull around the quay, which is odd, we saw that whale trips were running so booked on to the afternoon jobbie. We’ve done rather a lot of whale trips, all have been different for a variety of reasons, this one was different because it wasn’t very good. It seemed to be a blast out, see a whale, see some seals and home type of situation and, as a birder, you tend to hope that you bag a few birds too.

The attraction for us was to see Atlantic Puffins. We may have seen many hundreds over the years but none in Nova Scotia and none for quite a while, what more do you need to tempt you. The trip bumph strongly suggested that the puffins were part of the itinerary, they weren’t. We did see a few Sooty Shearwaters, close but not photo range, and a lone Great Shearwater sat on the sea. Aside from a few Northern Gannets, that was pretty much it. Not a very birdy trip and, on this evidence, not recommended to birders unless someone else knows better.

The highlight really was a Bald Eagle that barreled into the quay area as we pulled out and snatched lunch from another bird, probably an Osprey as one pursued it for some distance as it fled.

Below a couple of shots of the eagle with fish and a Willet.

Four weeks since arriving in Nova Scotia and the list is going well with the two additions today, plenty to get out and find still and the yard list just hit 40.

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It’s not just about the birds

As June breezes towards July and bird migration becomes less obvious, a birders fancy often moves elsewhere. I’m not talking about anything permanent, just a temporary, opportunistic dalliance in my case, I’m talking odes.

There are people out there with serious beards and faces the colour of a Baboon’s bum (in summer) who will devote all of their time to chasing odes. They catch them and they collect them and they write deep, convoluted notes about the shape of the hamules in difficult whitefaces or mesostigmal plates when figuring out three similar bluets, I’m not one of them but I do see why dragonflies will turn many a young birders head, and so they should.

On this continent I’ve been odeing for about five years. Each year I retain a little bit more on the identification features of the common species and am slowly becoming reasonable as an odeist. That collective term is a made up one by the way, but an apt one, an odeist looks at odes and I do so whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Nova Scotia has a relatively limited list of odes. Not too surprising given the geographical position and the fact that most odes are creatures of every type of fresh water, often specialist to habitats we don’t have here. Having said that, there are some prizes out there, some species of limited range that we get in Nova Scotia and I’m looking forward to digging them all out over the years.

So far my Nova Scotia odeing has been very modest. I’ve found a few common species but then I’ve not really got into gear yet. Last weekend Sandra and I went looking for Eastern Phoebes – a common bird in many places but quite local in our region. The birds were on a quiet little rough road near Quinan and in the same spot we got the ode net out for the first time this year.

I don’t collect, I prefer to catch and release unharmed. They may only be insects but I have no right to kill them and no scientific reason to do so, that is not to say I abhor collecting, it is a personal thing, same with moths and butterflies. I do catch them sometimes though and photograph in-hand, although I usually try to do field shots for preference.

Bluets are a pain sometimes but this Hagan’s Bluet is one of the fairly easy ones. Widespread and common and a bridge camera is ideal for getting those macro shots that help you to identify the species. You don’t have to be too close and the detail you can get is astounding. This photo was taken by Sandra with her Canon SX40HS.


Darners can also be tricky but some are in the easy-peasy category, like this Springtime Darner. It is fairly small for a darner, flies in springtime (a dead giveaway really) and the stripes on the side of the sides of the thorax easy to see and simple to match.


This one is a Stream Cruiser, again an easy one to ID. It may look a jumble of complicated bit but if you look right at the end you can see that the things that look like pincers (called claspers) are white, nothing else looking like this has white claspers. These two shots were with my Canon 70D using my ‘birders’ 100-400mm lens.


And so my Nova Scotia odeing has begun. I heartily recommend anyone to have a go at odeing. You’ll be surprised how quickly you get into it although you will get frustrated when the thing just will not land for a view or a snap. At present, field guides are very limited. There is one in production by Ed Lam and it will be superb, until then, if you want to get out odeing and ID your finds I recommend ‘The Dragonflies and Damselflies of Algonquin’. Available by mail from the Friends of Algonquin’ web site. It will have just about every species you will find in it and will do until the new guide is published. If you snap and ode and want an ID, I’ll be happy to give it a go.

Now, where is my Moth ID guide?



Honeymoon Period

Moving somewhere new for a birder is one of those situations that raises the regular birds to a new status, briefly, and tends to sharpen the senses a little, bringing back times when everything truly was new. January 1st is similar in many ways, the birds are all new for the year and so your eyes linger longer on the Black-capped Chickadee, Blue Jay and American Crow, ok, perhaps not so much the American Crow but you can see what I’m getting at. Three weeks in since we moved to Nova Scotia and there are still lots of new, although certainly previously enjoyed, birds to be seen.

Yesterday was a good example. Just after dawn I was trundling up the Clyde River road exploring, although I suspect others had gone that way before, and adding to my embryonic Nova Scotia life list. Three ticks arrived, Swainson’s Thrush – too busy gathering food for hungry beaks to appreciate it being my first. Chestnut-sided Warbler, as common as any in southern Quebec but a prize as a first here and the animated humbug that is Black-and-White Warbler.

The humbug was another one of those species that I first saw during my UK twitching days (the Swainson’s too come to think of it). Twitching is chasing and said to have derived from a couple of hardy birders using a motorcycle to travel around England in search of rarities. The bone rattling of the machine, coupled with the inadequate roads and hypothermia enjoyed in any month outside July resulted in them both standing twitching on arrival at their destination, at least until their equilibrium was restored. So I twitch when I chase and probably always will, that is why, when I chase a local rarity that eBird sees fit to ask “are you sure”, I’ll write ‘twitched’ if I didn’t find it.

The Honeymoon Period will end soon, at least around Shelburne county and I’ll have to start to travel further afield to get my new bird fix. While I happily chase birds, really my thing is to find my own although not at the expense of missing someone else’s find. That is why Sandra and I scurried down to Daniel’s Head last evening to add someone else’s Great Egret to the expanding list. It was easy, looking ‘Persil’ white behind d’Eon’s boat builders yard. I have probably seen thousands of Great Egrets over the years but that one is better than most, this one was the first.

The alert amongst you will note that I mention eBird now and then. If you are an active birder, that is to say you look at birds and identify them, even if only at your feeder, then please use eBird to report them. It is quick, easy and the carrot is that you will get your lists tallied for you and, if you are birding regularly, then you will appear in the county and provincial standings. If you watch a local patch, and your yard can be your patch, you might even make it into the Nova Scotia patch listings.

I put everything I see into eBird, and by that I mean when birding and not just passing a bunch of eiders on the way to the shops although, if it was a big flock I’d stop, count them and then report them. eBird is a great tool for supporting bird conservation, even if our rulers seem dead-set on changing the law to destroy birds and habitats. Cynical me suggests that eBird will allow future generations to plot, accurately, where to put a plaque commemorating the last… (add species name here). Optimistic me says we are damned if we don’t try and eBird is a valuable tool to help us save the birds we cannot live without.

Enough preaching – here are a few recent photos although the camera and monster lens, to quote a certain Mr. Neily, has been largely ballast recently.

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Hermit Thrush at Clam Point – two of the bird proper and an arty one.

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Double-crested Cormorant on its way to eat something, or digest something fishy no doubt – note the extent of the wrap around gular patch, it would be reduced, be a different shape and have some white on the throat if it was a Great Cormorant.

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A Barn Swallow soaking up the morning sun.

Now, where can I find an Eastern Phoebe?

On the Wings of a Dove

I was beginning to think that Cape Sable Island’s reputation as a rarity hub was a myth, been here two weeks and nothing unusual to report, cue Johnny Nickerson and his bird feeders and wow, a White-winged Dove. The dove demanded a fair bit of patience on my part, only giving itself up after about three minutes of waiting, Larry Neily noticing it pottering about under the feeders. Such good fortune rather makes up for the many hours I spent looking for one in Quebec a few years ago, all without reward so, a Canada tick true, but more importantly a Nova Scotia and CSI tick. Thanks to Johnny Nickerson for finding and letting us all know.

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An excellent Monday followed a fun Sunday when we gave up on the house fixing and unpacking for a while and went for a wander. We ‘did’ the Ohio – Weymouth road, finding the hoped for Ovenbirds easily enough. Our main destination was to be Belleisle Marsh in the Annapolis Valley where several freshwater wetland species awaited. The day turned into a tick fest featuring birds and also those nasty little beasts that want your blood and no, I’m not talking about tax collectors but Deer Ticks, we got loads of them on us but, so far none have become attached.

We didn’t find Willow Flycatcher at Belleisle despite locating a couple of empids and one calling “wit” or something similar once but not enough to convince. The Soras were great and very noisy and a good range of wildfowl plus a grumpy American Bittern were all welcome. One great feature of the marsh, well the surrounding grasslands at least, is the presence of a healthy looking population of Bobolinks. It is a pretty common bird back in Quebec but the Bellisle birds were our first in Nova Scotia.

The trip home to Clam Point down the 101 was lively, not least because we kept finding, or more often feeling, tick after tick on us and having to pull off to locate and then send it to oblivion. The inevitable itch that you get after such an infestation won’t go away until you have dumped the clothes in the washer and showered, even then one came out of the washer kicking and doing whatever ticks do to vocalize, briefly!

Sandra has said “never again” but she’ll soften as the memory of the unwelcome passengers abates. For me, well I saw a Bear cross the road somewhere north of Yarmouth, albeit in the rear-view mirror, ticks, what ticks?

Another incidentally – if you have an eBook reader or eBook reading software on your device, I have a number of free eBooks about birds and birding sites available, see the sidebar for details. Free ones are the bottom five, the top four are birding eBooks.

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Be Bop Parula

The early June extreme rarity period seems to be slipping past unnoticed, nothing stands out so far and the summer slump beckons. For me, there is plenty to look for this summer plus I add odonata to my list of things to see, so expect to see a few odes here from time to time. There are lots of breeding species that I have yet to enjoy here, plus pelagic birds from whale trips, I feel a trip down Digby Neck coming on quickly.

Today I had to take Sandra’s car for its inspection before we can get plated and stop being from Quebec, so it seemed silly not to carry on to Sand Hills Beach Provincial Park, besides, it had the potential to fill a few gaps in the Nova Scotia life list. The only downside today was leaving my hat in the other car, my head has enough bumps to keep a Phrenology Conference going for a week! Biting bugs aside, the entrance road to the park made for pleasant birding and I did indeed track down two species I’ve been keeping my eyes open for.

All birds are special, but some hold a place in individual affections more than others. Your first sighting is often a mixed emotion. Unbridled joy at seeing a new species, but also a sense of relief too, especially if your new species has made you work hard for it. For my first Northern Parula I have to go back to October-14th 1985 and a trip to the Isles of Scilly in the UK. The small group of islands off south-west England can produce very rare birds in a UK context and the year 1985 was truly exceptional. In one October weekend in 1985 I saw the following Nearctic vagrants to the UK: Spotted Sandpiper, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Bobolink, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and, of course, Northern Parula. The parula was the hardest to find and we got it the last day of a three day weekend, not that we could have complained had we missed it.

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This is Sandra’s illustration of the parula from my eBook ‘Twitching Times’.

This morning I had another encounter with a parula, one of many that I’ve enjoyed since living this side of the pond for the last 12 years. Today’s bird was the usual bundle of energy and colour as it zipped everywhere gleaning insects where it could. I did manage a couple of shots when it landed right side for the light, but I am always torn between watching and snapping, I managed an acceptable mix this time. A little later on I saw a Black-throated Green Warbler but that one was not stopping to pose.

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Incidentally, I have a stack of the ABA magazine ‘Birding’ to give away if anyone wants them. Collect or meet on CSI somewhere. My contact details are on a tab at the top of the page.


Ticks and ticks

We twitched our first bird as Nova Scotia residents this past weekend, thanks to the wonder of FaceBook and the bird finding skills of Alix d’Entrement. Our first bash was a miss all round, the bird, a Little Blue Heron had moved out into the channels and we missed it Saturday afternoon, however, a return Sunday morning found it pottering about way out on the marsh, scope a must, photo impossible. Also well-enjoyed was Nelson’s Sparrow. I’ve seen quite a few Little Blue Herons but only a handful of Nelson’s Sparrows, so one showing off in the scope and then coming closer was excellent.

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As is often the case with this type of sparrow it played peek-a-boo once it got within lens range.

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An Osprey did a nice fly=past too, it gave me a good stare but realised I was not piscine in any way so lost interest

Next up was a trip to view the Brothers off Lower, West Pubnico, again scope required.  In perfect conditions we watched lots of Common Terns and several each of Arctic and Roseate Terns, the latter the target bird. On a roll, we decided to take a look at Goose Creek Marsh and try to find a few wetland species. The short stroll through the woodland to a boardwalk was OK, I found my first Nova Scotia ode, dragonfly (well damselfly) to the uninitiated, a Fragile Forktail.

The marsh was pretty quiet but the usual Common Yellowthroats made it bearable, then a Swamp Sparrow dropped by to show us its new hairdo.

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As we left an Eastern Wood-Pewee started to sing, if you could call it a song, then it landed overhead, showing off its spadebill.

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The new house has a nice yard and the list there is coming along. Our last yard had a list of just under 150 species, we have a bit to go here but these Cedar Waxwings scoffing the petals on the Apple Tree were great to watch.

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Settling down to supper, we both felt a bit ‘itchy’, the culprits being a tick apiece wandering a bit looking for some prime feeding spot. We have a fair bit of experience of having ticks finding us worth forming an attachment with, unfortunately for the ticks it always ends the same way for them, badly.

Getting to grips

We’ve been in Nova Scotia a week now and it has flown by, it’s only the mass of boxes in the basement that never seems to dwindle that reminds me that I can really only squeeze a bit of birding in at the moment. Mostly I’ve been birding around Cape Sable Island, exploring Clam Point and the general area although, as I said, only in little slices and nothing thorough, yet.

I’ve looked for a couple of special species previously, we were in Nova Scotia in April for a while, but had no luck, then, one visit to the south side of CSI got me Piping Plover and American Oystercatcher in the space of 20 minutes, since then I seem to be seeing Piping Plovers all over the place, here’s one from the Baccaro Peninsula.

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Part of my personal birding ethos is to adopt a local patch. My previous two patches have seen me rack up a ridiculous number of visits to each, although my UK patch, Colwick Country Park, was also my work place. I was a countryside warden there for fifteen years and working day on day with the birds was as good as it gets. My Quebec patch was a rather unassuming sand quarry at St-Lazare, in fact there is a free guide to it if you are interested, see the side bar for the St-Lazare sand pits site guide.

So far I haven’t settled on anywhere here yet. The obvious patch is CSI but it is well covered, or at least the hotspot areas are, so I’ll probably opt for the Clam Point area and see how it goes. I explored a local trail that seems to go to what might have been a trash dump, possibly. It isn’t a large area but a couple of visits have been encouraging, this Palm Warbler is in territory there and today, 5th-June, there was some passage with Eastern Wood-Pewee and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher present.

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One thing I am enjoying is seeing Willets every day, very characterful. This one has been at Daniel’s Head beach feeding on the same bit of tideline flotsam each time I’ve dropped by.

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Finally, thanks to everyone who has welcomed us to Nova Scotia, I think we are both pinching ourselves to have been able to move to such an outstandingly scenic part of the world. We hope to bump in to everyone out there sometime although Sandra has here head in the house at the moment while mine is in the woods.