Cool Cape Morning

Saturday afternoon the wind was cool and mostly northerly so I had a late afternoon sea watch off Baccaro, it was well worth it. Great Shearwaters were always in view, Northern Gannets abundant and even six Cory’s Shearwaters, an eBird query species, were close enough to pick out over a leaden sea. The Common Eiders are all starting to cheer up a bit now that their new suits are ready, flexing those wings that will hopefully take them well-away from the shotgun sights that loom next week.

I hoped for Skua and all I got were these lousy jaegers the T-shirt could say, although no jaeger is lousy. Pomarine beat Parasitic four to three although the more distant jaeger-blobs would, had they been identifiable, probably have made it a Pomarine drubbing. No skuas though, they all danced off Seal Island instead but, as Dick Dastardly might have said (were he a birder), “I’ll get you Great and South Polar Skua”.

At home the yard Dickcissel continues to eat thrice it’s bodyweight in seed daily and has so far managed to avoid the regular Sharp-shinned Hawk that so livens everything up. I dare say the hawk would spit it out if caught anyway, they are not much up on muesli.

I went to Cape Island/Light/The Cape (delete to leave your name preference) with Ronnie and Alix this morning. It was big coat time, hat and gloves too – time to start training for winter although, after the past twelve Quebec ones, it’ll probably turn out to be just a girlie chill here in the Banana Belt. The island was good, with well-seen Ipswich Sparrow (so big you are more likely to think it a sheep than a Savannah Sparrow – split it!) and with The Forest holding a few birds. Within lay my fourth Clay-coloured Sparrow of the autumn and a smart White-crowned Sparrow, both kept us at arm’s length in the gusty breeze.

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Towards the light, two Lapland Longspurs foraged allowing the athletic Alix and Ronnie to crawl on their bellies in the sheep dung for that ‘perfect’ shot. My knees don’t do crawl too well so I just had to settle for shots obtained while upright. A little further on an immature Peregrine arrived and shuttled along the bank looking for a bite. It flew right over Ronnie, had a good look but probably didn’t fancy the taste of the dung, wise choice.

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The sea was disappointing in that the birds were well out into the haze so that was soon abandoned. A walk on the wet side (Lou Reed missed a trick not recording that one) got me Nova Scotia lifer #232, Wilson’s Snipe, to add to the longspurs and later my CSI tick Ruby-crowned Kinglet would cling hopefully to a weed below the beach line, wondering what it was doing so far away from the woods.

It was a bit choppy on the way back but Leslie, at 87, is getting the hang of the trip and got us to the slipway with only marginal dampness of clothing. I’m planning to go out yet again later in the week (if you are reading this Mike, you on?) as, the more times you go somewhere with such a good record of uncommon and rare birds as Cape Island, the more you are likely to see them.

And now another extract from one of my birding eBooks, this time ‘Park Life’ and from when I was a Countryside Ranger, new readers enjoy…

Burial at Sea

Some odd things tend to pop up when you have 250 acres of park and the public are allowed a free run. One of the oddest was quite sad really, especially for the dead woman involved. Now that sounds a bit macabre but let me reassure you that she didn’t feel a thing at the stage when she reached us.

We had a message from one of the patrolling wardens that there was a body in the main Colwick Lake. We got the odd body from time to time and so we prepared to do the necessary – contact the Police and secure the corpse until it could be taken away. Then the warden strolled into the Fishing Lodge and plonked a box on the table, “there she is” he said. The box was actually a casket containing the remains of a cremated lady, and it had been bobbing about in the lake for some time, judging by the wear the wave action had exerted on it.

The scant details were passed to the Police and they investigated. The Lady of the Lake was placed on a shelf pending collection, and we awaited the story. The Police managed to find the deceased’s husband and he showed up, looking rather sheepish, one afternoon with plastic shopping bag at the ready. It transpired that, before his lady wife had passed away, she’d expressed a wish to be buried, or at least scattered, at sea. Not having the wherewithal to grant her wish, what with the sea being a good couple of hours drive away, he did the next best thing and chucked her in the lake.

Had he just emptied the casket then it might not have been quite so incongruous, but to toss the whole caboodle in was a bit unthinking and we may have mentioned this to him. He went on his way, loved one in bag, and promising never to return with any further deceased relatives. He said that he intended to visit Skegness at some point soon to complete the request and soothe her restless soul. We did point out that the sea rarely visits Skegness, even at high tide, but he was out the door sharpish and, for us, it was a case of casket closed.


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