Three at once!

I mentioned in the last post that I’d been stuck on 198 for CSI for a while, well the dam broke today when three species fell in short order. I suppose it could be down to persistence or just dumb luck but it was the last day of November and I was determined to look everywhere for a Lesser Scaup seen by Mike MacDonald yesterday.

Mike’s bird was on a small barachois pool requiring a trek along the beach, a nice option normally but in -5°C with a brisk wind chill I opted for an easier path. Driving to the end of Stoney Island Road I was encouraged by a White-breasted Nuthatch, species #199 and something I have been half expecting in the yard. The pool had nothing but I worked back and scoped up Baker’s Flats with the sun behind me. The scaup types were feeding along the near shore so I got closer and confirmed my suspicions, they were Lesser Scaup and the magic species #200.

Heading towards West Head I passed the north end of Baker’s Flats and there was a scruffy male Ring-necked Duck, species #201, easy this island listing!

After pausing at several spots, mostly quays now quiet with the regular occupants out dumping their Lobster Traps for the new season, I wound up at Daniel’s Head. Nothing stops the wind there so it was just a cursory look. I scanned the dodgy pontoons for yesterday’s Snowy Owl but no sign. I looked on the fish plant roofs from distance seeing few gulls but a pale shape low down caught my eye, the Snowy Owl.

Driving over to the plant parking lot the owl was sat on steel pallets looking nervous. It wasn’t me, I was just a big red blob (the car, not me) but behind the guys in the plant were busy moving pallets. The owls headed id a fair bit of bobbing, looking this way and that before deciding he was not that brave and he flew. For some reason this owl likes boats and he quickly pitched down onto one of the boats outside the main quay, just behind me.

While I watched he stretched, fluffed and pooped but it will wash off. Then he strutted across the cabin roof and plonked down amongst various bits intending to stay the rest of the day. Quite why he doesn’t go out into the saltmarsh and find a dry hollow is beyond me.

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On the way

In my last blog post I presented a few cover options for a Cape Sable Island (CSI) birding guide that I’m putting together. I’m at about 75% with the text, Sandra will do the maps and I have yet to decide whether to include species photos. I may get the thing out quickly and then do a revise later, that is the beauty of eBooks, they can be intentionally fluid. The general consensus is that the cover should be of a typical CSI bird and so I’ve gone with a Nelson’s Sparrow with a nice, neutral background for the book’s title. I’m still open to opinions if anyone wants to comment.

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The book will be a free download from Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/

there will be no hard copy available but you could download it as a pdf. and then print your own (I think). When it is ready I’ll do a blog post with instructions as to where to get it and a bit about eReader software for devices, PCs etc. (also free) assuming that the NSBS hierarchy don’t mind me mentioning it here. In the eBook format I use, I can easily add to and subtract from it as required. I will be the author and any contributors will go on the title page as project collaborators.

The eBook guides you around Cape Sable Island, highlight important places to bird and make you aware of spots you might not know about. I’ll cover food options, local accommodation and other practical requirements. I’m also writing an annotated checklist that will give you some idea of what is rare, scarce or common. It will be as comprehensive as I can make it but there are bound to be a few errors in the earlier versions.

And now to the birding. After yesterday’s rain it was a pleasure to be able to get out on a dry, crisp morning today (11/29). I birded the southern end of Kenny Road, Southside CSI and found a good flock containing a Grey Catbird, two Orange-crowned Warblers both kinglets and a good mix of sparrows, http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S26041601

I was looking for White-breasted Nuthatch for my CSI list which has stalled at 198 for the year, despite there being some birds around recently. I moved on to Daniel’s Head where a Snowy Owl sitting on one of the more rickety of boat moorings greeted me. For fun I took photos of the owl with the Canon 70D and 100×400 image stabilised lens. Then I got the scope out and did some digiscoping from the same spot, using my piece of rubber tube glued to a cheap camera and slotted over the scope eyepiece. Can you tell which image is which?

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On the NSBS Facebook page there has been and interesting discussion regarding the recent Mountain Bluebird which is still at Mavillette and hopefully will make it onto many winter lists on Tuesday. The bird can look quite different depending on the light, here are the shots I have already posted along with a couple of unpublished ones showing the difference. The first two were late in the afternoon with nil sun. The others in good light at different angles. The last photo has only been cropped, no lightening, followed by the same photo lightened and colour hue adjusted. I believe this is the same bird we originally saw but it seems that there may be a much bluer individual around so back we go.

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As I said earlier, winter listing season starts December 1st and I’ll be looking to add to my modest 142, accrued almost entirely in Quebec and quite incidentally until the past few years when I’ve had a bit more time. As encouragement to get out it is an excellent concept, not that I need much encouragement (according to Sandra!). There are also the Christmas Bird Counts to look forwards to and we will be doing them on CSI and in Yarmouth. We did them a few times in Quebec but it was always horrible, freezing and, when one area (St-Lazare) counts sometime after the main area (Montreal) and tends to freeze up, ridding it of birds, it is largely pointless.

The day started…

With a racket from the Apple Tree out back. The Blue Jays were going ballistic, rather default state to be honest, and the growing flock of White-throated Sparrows were nowhere to be seen. We keep bins in the loo too, little ones, cheap compacts but you know how it works, you glance out of a window and see a bird, dash for the bins and it’s gone, not anymore.

Sat in the middle of the tree was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, case solved and calm down. The loo window is a sash type with a half mossie grill, still in place but not for long. By contorting myself into the gap I could wave the camera at the hawk, result!

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We were off out for a day of birding anyway so I went around the back to see whether I could get a less painful shot. The hawk skipped the tree but perched and pauses, gotcha!

We took the long wat to Yarmouth, not seeing a Rusty Blackbird on the way but enjoying listening to the ever excellent BBC radio 4 comedy podcast. Once in Yarmouth we headed directly for Chebogue Road and a yard which had hosted a Northern Mockingbird a few days ago. We have looked for mockingbirds regularly around Yarmouth County, we didn’t see it. We drove to Chebogue Point, the light was great, the tide was high but the birding was quiet. On the way back I again stopped at the mockingbird spot and there it sat.

The light was behind it, a fierce sun causing much shielding of the eyes. The mocker landed on the utility wire, I casually wandered past effecting extreme disinterest and it sat, result number two.

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The intention was to go shopping, always a delight and best savoured by leaving as late as possible, so we hit the highway north for twenty minutes to repay our respects to the Mountain Bluebird at Mavillette. It was where we’d left it, flycatching and jumping on ground-based bugs. The fierce light had now moderated and the bird was a true rhapsody in blue.

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Hoping that the planets were truly aligned we headed off to Cape St Mary’s. Our luck was part in, the Harlequins were there but still distant. For reasons that only they knew went through their pretty little head, some of the flock flew closer and distant but not awful shots were obtained.

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The rest of the day was spent searching for Rough-legged Hawks, we didn’t find any. We did see lots of Turkey Vultures, gulls and even a very few ducks but we were done. All that remained was to go home, drive to Daniel’s Head and not see a Snowy Owl found earlier by Ervin. It was a good day out with birds, a nice lunch and all with my best gal as they say, and no photos of gulls!

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And I was doing so well!

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What do people think of the cover?

Alternatives.

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Gulling 2

November 21st I had a call from Alix d’Entremont, he had found a Glaucous Gull at West Head Quay, a ‘need’ for me CSI. Typically, it chose to skip town before I got there but another bird he’d found was much more intriguing. Herring Gulls get streaked heads in winter, fact of life, but this bird glowed amongst a carpet of streak-headed American Herring Gulls. Not just because the head was stand-out white (with just a soupçon of neck streaking) but also because the structure and even the bill dimensions and colour were so different.

Here is the broader view of the bird sat amidst the mass, tell me you can see it!

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Before I ramble on, a word about Herring Gulls – that word would be confusing! The species found in North America is genetically different from its European counterpart, different enough for it to qualify for full species status unless you move at the glacial pace of the American Ornithologists Union. Most authorities do split American Herring Gull from European Herring Gull but the latter species has no part in this conversation (I don’t think). Large gull taxonomy is far from simple and there are doubtless some surprises yet to come.

Few this side of the pond would be aware that Caspian Gull, a species now featuring in all good gull books, was only ‘discovered’ within the last 15 years or so. It had formerly been considered a form of Yellow-legged Gull, a species that only really gained traction itself as a full species a few years before and, following the Yellow-legged Gull split, European birders came to realise that Caspian Gulls moved amongst them. It may seem to border on lunacy but, in the UK, there is a dedicated group of gull roost watchers – I confess that I was one – and we were seeing these gulls (without any real idea of their significance), irregularly, in the vast roosts that find the gravel pits system there so attractive. The publication of a paper detailing how to identify Caspian Gull, and reliably separate it from the relative new species of Yellow-legged Gull broke new ground, here was a species living under our noses and ornithologists had largely missed it.

What if a similar situation exists in North America?

Although I can find no reference, there has been some discussion on large, white headed gulls being seen in north-east North America, principally Newfoundland, it may be that the gull at West Head is one of those. Here, for you larophiles, are the shots.

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Side by side with a standard American Herring Gull (better name required, Smith’s Gull?) the West Head bird can be seen to be bulkier looking with the white head and the position of the eye not quite the same giving it a confused look. The bill is clearly bulkier but being richer in colour has no real significance. The mantle looks the same colour as American Herring Gull, the legs the same. The wing pattern is right for American Herring Gull but it looks bulky, even short-necked a little perhaps.

Could it be a hybrid?

The large gulls do have a tendency to get it together from time to time. Some brief partnerships produce weird looking things while others show a remarkably consistent suite of characters making them (relatively) easy to pick in the field. The West Head gull has hints of Glaucous about the structure but I’d expect there to be some influence on the primary pattern which remains stubbornly American Herring Gull.

It should be noted that not all gulls with white heads engender such interest. Below is an individual from the same site with a white head, although it is showing signs of streaking. This is because it is in delayed moult, a detail obvious from the open wings where p10 (amongst others) is still growing.

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Conclusions – don’t be silly, I have no idea, but if it lingers and sheds a feather or poops and we can get it the DNA might be very interesting, if, that is, the head sticks out like a gleaming lantern amongst the scruffs.

Comments are very welcome and I’ll update if good stuff comes in. If nothing else, at least this bird is more out there than before.

Gulling part 1

This is a post of mostly gulls so if they are not for you I won’t be offended if you wander off.

On Friday I called in a West Head Quay, Between Newellton and Clark’s Harbour on Cape Sable Island (CSI) to sift through the gulls. As I arrived I noticed an adult Great Black-backed Gull rolling around in the water. A closer look revealed a Mink locked onto its throat and determined not to let go. Great Black-backed Gulls are murderous creatures and will swallow several tern chicks or ducklings in a sitting, so what goes around comes around. It was quite remarkable though that the Mink could take such prey. If asked beforehand, in a straight fight, I think I’d fancy the gull as a winner every time.

The drama took about ten minutes to conclude and I was joined by a fisherman to watch the gull’s last kick. Once it had shuffled off this mortal coil, the Mink let go and swam to the bank then slipped of in that Minky way that they do. I saw the fisherman a couple of days later and he’d recovered the gull corpse. He said the throat had been completely torn out and the head scalped – remind me never to upset a Mink!

The following day the quay had a lot of gulls, 30x more than the day before. This was because quayside activity was providing food from a pipe to squabble about and the gulls were going for it. In the mix there were at least 16 Iceland Gulls of various ages.

Being a European and from an inland area, my regular winter gulls would have been, in order of abundance: Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, European Herring Gull, Common (Mew) Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Caspian Gull. The species second on the list is not without its complications, being currently three versions perhaps best listed as dark grey, darker grey black. Dark grey is the one we’d expect here, Larus fuscus graellsii and it is the western European form. L. f. intermedius has it all in the name and is the darker grey mainland Europe form. L. f. fuscus is more interesting as it is readily identifiable and is treated by many as Baltic Gull, it might get here, it may already have done so. It regarded as rare in the UK but perhaps as much as records committees would have you believe.

All this rambling on just to show you photos of a gull in a sub-adult or third winter plumage or third cycle. Not only are the gulls confusing, so is the language of ageing them. First winter/first cycle is an immature, second winter or second cycle is a bird that lived past its birthday and got a nice new set of plumage as a present. Lesser Black-backed is a three year gull, meaning it takes three full years to get adult plumage, so third winter or third cycle hasn’t reached the adult plumage point, sub-adult means the same, clear?

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The photo side-by-side with a Great Black-backed Gull shows how easy they are to ID, you don’t need to rely on the legs.

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And here is a Great Black-backed Gull just to make the set.

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And why not have an adult American Herring Gull to admire too?

And now Iceland Gull, did I mention that it was confusing? Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides kumlieni in North America means Kumlien’s Gull really, as the nominate Iceland Gull Larus g. glaucoides, is a European bird but hang on you say, glaucoides, isn’t that Glaucous Gull. No silly, that would be Larus hyperboreus, tsk! Although some of the Kumlien’s Gulls we see here (I’ll stick with Kumlien’s for N. America) have very white wing tips they should all be L. g. kumlieni although L. g. glaucoides might be expected as an uncommon to rare visitor.

Now that we are virtual experts on race and age, here are some shots of Kumlien’s Gull from the quay. You should note that some gulls hybridise with near or not so near relatives. This is all part of the fun and you should never consider lobbying anyone for all gulls to be called ‘Seagull’, that is just defeatist talk and gets you no nearer your bird spotting badge, OK?

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First-winter, first-cycle Kumlien’s Gulls

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Second-winter, second-cycle Kumlien’s Gull

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Adult Kumlien’s Gull.

If you got this far, very well done, now a proper bird! Not long ago I bumped into Simon d’Entremont and we were chatting prospects. I suggested Mavillette as an area to try as there had been some close Harlequins and it is truly under watched. He gave it a go and his little trip there proved fruitful, with the Harlequins posing nicely and a couple of Eastern Bluebirds found. A couple of days ago David Bell and Dominic Cormier went out and found a Mountain Bluebird (and Western Kingbird) at Freeport in Digby Co, more or less opposite Mavillette, geographically. For fun they then went to Mavillette and found another Mountain Bluebird, Some might call it greedy, I’d say 10/10 for effort.

On the strength of the first Mountain Bluebird, I was at The Hawk not finding one when Alix d’Entremont called about the Mavillette bird. Inside thirty minutes Sandra and I were picking up Ronnie d’Entremont and we were burning rubber. We made good time but the need to beat the light meant that we couldn’t stop to look at a large flycatcher on wires that I noticed as we passed through some road construction. We got to the bluebird site in time and it was performing very well. It moved around a fairly small area but didn’t want anyone too close. At one point it settled on some wires by a cabin so I crept around the back with the stealth of a Cougar and managed a few shots in the fading light.

Job done we went off to look for a Western Kingbird on the route we’d just taken. Alix and Paul Gould had seen one earlier but not where I’d seen the flycatcher. We tried his site while they went to the construction area and they saw, you guessed it, a Western Kingbird – were we being invaded? We saw nothing so dashed along to the construction site but the kingbird had turned in for the night. Surely the following day would see more western birds being found, well no actually.

Once home, Alix browsed Simon’s shots from the earlier Mavillette trip and surprise, one of the bluebirds was the Mountain Bluebird. A very informative Facebook discussion followed and it was established that it was a young male. The Good Book (All the Birds of Nova Scotia, Ian McLaren) tells us that perhaps only ten Mountain Bluebirds have made it to NS before, making this bird (and the now forgotten earlier one at Freeport) a very welcome guest indeed.

Here are the shots, hope you enjoyed the post and comments are always welcome.

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Just to round off, my last post did get adverse comments so to clarify: Self-found birds are more satisfying as ticks than seeing someone else’s (by varying margins) but any bird is worth seeing and chasing someone else’s bird is logical.

A list doesn’t have to be written down, if you see a species and know you have not seen it before but claim not to keep lists, a bit of self-deception is going on there I’m afraid.

The number of birds you self-find correlates to the extent of your experience. People can argue all they like but it is a simple fact, the more you actually bird, the more experienced you are and the more you are likely to find.

A Measure of Endeavour

Anyone can have a big list. Got transport, bins, Wi-Fi, then off you go tick, tick ticking. Lots of people start this way, they find birding by accident or a friend introduces them to it and for a few years they find it occupies their every free weekend and they naturally accumulate ticks. A few people continue this way their whole birding lives and while some eventually burn out and go back to basket weaving or whatever. Eventually most listers like to go a bit deeper and there are many avenues to be explored, whether though participating in breeding bird surveys, banding or field recording via eBird. Listing is not a sin and you won’t go to birding hell where all the ticks are Rock Dove variants*, but it is a measure of the individual if listing, just chasing a bird found by someone else, is as far as you get.

There is no real correlation between a big list and reliability and there are people out there who have big lists but low degrees of experience, having seen just one of each, they never go on to be birders (and go birding) but just list. Incidentally, is it a coincidence that the original big lister Noah, who supposedly saw two of each species at least once (review that eBird report why don’t you) plus some albino Rock Dove variant and the current year-list holder (Noah Stryker) have the same first name? I think we should be told.

Perhaps the only list that does offer any sort of yardstick of experience is the one that is composed entirely of self-found birds. Now you might think that such a thing is easy to attain but think on, common birds yes, they can be found easily but how many less common birds can put your finger on at will, and what is common anyway? Here in southern Nova Scotia some birds are rare for all but a few weeks of the year, but are numerically common in Canada, they are therefore both common and rare for us. A self-found list is something that you acquire over a period of time, it has common and rare birds and those rarities will have been found because you went out and looked, a lot.

Before I ramble on you might wonder what self-found means exactly, well there are various explanations on various blogs and the like but really it is self-explanatory to a point. If you find a bird yourself it is obviously self-found unless there are complications. If you go to an area where a particular species is found and find one, without being told exactly which bush to look in, you can have it. If you find a rarity, identify it (and tell others, supress it while chasing other people’s birds and you are lower than a Salamander’s belly) and it’s yours too. Now we get to the tricky bit, you might not like all of this!

If you are part of a group of birders and one calls a rarity (correctly) I don’t think you can have it, you didn’t find it they did but, if you corrected the identification you can have it. The answer here is always try to go birding with sharp-eyed, keen-eared folk who are lousy birders, its self-found ticks in the bank. You can have somebody else’s rarity as a selfie if you find it independently and had no prior knowledge of it. Can you have a rarity that you relocated though? Here is where we call in the lawyers. I think for example, if you go to Daniel’s Head and relocate a Little Egret seen previously at Baccaro, then yes it’s OK, but if it was at The Hawk, then the site is contiguous with Daniel’s Head and you just saw the bird at different ends of a site, you can’t have it, however, if you found it at Clam Point, Newellton or Northeast Point, tick it because the sites are significantly defined from the original.

Don’t think I’m casting aspersions at people who chase other people’s birds, I’m not, I do it all the time, but there is a measure of pleasure attached to finding a bird yourself, working it out, getting it right. All this waffle leads me to the main point of this post, I found my own House Wren this past week at The Hawk. It was significantly after the last one/s were found and was probably a new arrival, or at least a recent one. Here are the shots.

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I suppose I can’t get away without revealing my current self-found Nova Scotia list, even though I’ve only been here for a short while so there is little context by which to judge. My current NS list is 250, I’ve self-found 231 of them so I owe 19, I’m working on it.

Not much reaction to the suggestion regarding county year listing in my last blog. Perhaps the main competitors to Yarmouth and Shelburne aren’t interested. Maybe a year of intense birding only appeals to a very few, fair enough. Anyone not interested in participating is welcome to live their birding lives vicariously around the big years done down here, it is just for fun after all.

*Just to note, I actually like Rock Pigeons but only real ones with white rumps and that live on rock faces as isolated as they can be from the variants which have been produced via selective breeding by pigeon fondlers who hate Peregrines and in fact any falcon that might munch their little pets (no punctuation intended). Just thought I’d clarify here before I get a message about not being rude to anyone. At least I didn’t call them pigeon perverts, very restrained I thought!

And now, I recently went to an owl banding session where a Northern Saw-whet was caught, banded and fitted with a transmitter, interesting stuff. The whole experience took me back to an occasion when we had a very public saw-whet in Quebec. I stood a while watching and it started to become animated, if you are familiar with a cat being sick you get the idea. It didn’t katchunka-kachunka exactly but did boff up a large ball of indigestible items. Then, having cleared its tubes so to speak, it took the remnants of a mouse it had been holding and woofed the thing down. Here, for your edification, is the whole process.

   

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The owl was not fussed by people, all of whom were respectful of it. If non-field birders tell you that you must never enjoy owls take just ignore them. Behave considerately and most wildlife will not mind your ogling at all.

 

Tales of Wind and Ice

Winters coming and the white-wingers are leaving their snowy wastes and heading our way.

Today at Daniel’s Head started promising but the wind god did a body swerve and flipped it from south-westerlies of a decent gust to north-westerlies which, at this time of year, are of no use to man nor beast. Over the space of half-an-hour the promising Black-legged Kittiwake southerly passage had petered out to involve just distant, banking birds.

The tide was on the up and most gulls were taking advantage of the beached Kelp, hopefully eating as many of those irritating flies as is gullarly (new word, same as humanly but for gulls) possible. In the midst of the regular bruisers, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls were four dove-faced Iceland Gulls. For whatever reason the mass got up and wandered off towards The Cape so I took the hint and went home.

The main object of our searching today was Franklin’s Gull. Conditions in the Mid-West had conjured up a significant incursion in the east although most of the impressive numbers seem to be south of Massachusetts. The flight started on Friday, so it might take a few days for birds displaced to the north to follow the lay of the land south to either Yarmouth or, preferably, Daniel’s Head/The Hawk. I saw none this morning and an afternoon trip where the wind was a factor didn’t oblige us, tomorrow maybe.

Out little tour took in all the gull hotspots around CSI, the highlight being a couple of Iceland Gulls around West Head Quay. One adult was kind enough to smile for the camera. Most Iceland Gulls are of the kumlieni type, with shading of various intensity around the primary tips. This bird has that but only very vaguely and is typical of the ones that show up in the UK and tease gull-watchers.

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A couple of days ago Mike MacDonald and I did a bit of a tour. We started at the French Basin Trail at Annapolis Royal where the wildfowl were present in good numbers and variety. We walked the periphery and were almost back to the start of the trail before we picked up the female type Redhead that Sandra and I had found a few days previously. It is tricky to pick up because it is active and hangs out with Mallards which most people routinely ignore unless a menu item with orange sauce. Nine Ruddy Ducks were also present.

Next stop was to be Miner’s Marsh in Kentville with the lingering hope that the Marsh Wren remained. On the way we scored a Northern Goshawk, which was nice. Miner’s Marsh was pleasant but no wren. The clock said we had time to go to Truro goosing (the legal type), even if logic tutted in the background, so we did. We toured several sites, finding a Cackling Goose at Tidal Bore Road and a scattering of birds at other sites but neither of the other local celebrity geese, Greater Whitefront and Pink-footed. It may be that goose hunters in the area had already eliminated them from the equation or maybe they just headed off for quieter climes.

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Another Redhead doc shot.

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While chasing around, this Peregrine (above) soared overhead, sort of, we had to tear down a road to get under it but it was worth it. A big bird, certainly a female and pity the poor local Rock Doves when she feels peckish. No not really!

For the record, the Cackling Goose was NS tick #250. Given a choice I wouldn’t have picked any goose for a milestone but you take what you get.

For those of you who like a bit of a read, here is a piece from ‘Park Life’. It deals with a little problem not really of my making. Things to know: Dragons Teeth are 1m high stumps planted in the ground to stop baddies. Jack is a part-time warden, Adrian is a grounds maintenance guy and a Landrover is two tons of angry metal in the wrong hands. The event took place at Colwick Country Park where I was a warden for fifteen years, enjoy.

Whoops!

It was late in the afternoon when a dog walker came into the park Fishing Lodge and told us about a dumped, stolen car. Unusually, this one had been driven into an area below a set of Sluice Gates on the River Trent. If you don’t know it, there is a steep drop down a concrete bank of perhaps 30 feet, there the river is significantly lower than above the sluice. Adrian and I went to take a look and how creative the little scamps had been. They’d damaged dragon’s teeth, ploughed through soft grass and pitched the SUV, or ‘somewhat underwater vehicle’, over the side and now it was precariously perched on a rocky point out in the river and about 15 feet from the bank.

Our first problem was to get a rope onto it, then the Land Rover winch. A bulls-eye shot with a boat anchor allowed us to pull it towards us, and then we were ready for the big haul, back up the bank. Tying the Land Rover to a tree, a big one, we started the recovery and the SUV edged slowly up the bank. We were a few feet from getting the back wheels on the level bank in front of us when the hook ripped out and the SUV careened back down the slope, this time skipping further out into the river and beyond recovery, for us at least. Admitting defeat we headed back to base.

Being inside the dragon’s teeth as we were, we took a track that paralleled the road, a long plantation was to our right. The speed limits on the park are naturally modest and we were well below them, going perhaps 10-15mph. As we approached our exit point, a man suddenly jumped out of the plantation that was tight to our right, his back towards us. I hit the brakes, then the man and he went up in the air, flipped and landed with a leg either side of the Land Rover driver’s side front wheel.

Adrian said “you’ve hit him”, he has an eye for detail our Adrian! I was already climbing out of the now stationary Land Rover ready to lend assistance. The good news for him ( I won’t use the emotive word ‘victim) was that I’d stopped short, but another two inches and he’d have never needed a ribbed condom, ever again.

This was an emergency. The man was slipping in and out of consciousness and had a permanent look of surprise. I used my radio to call the Fishing Lodge, where I knew that Jack would be next to a phone. The conversation went like this:

“Colwick three (me) to control, I have an emergency”

Silence, so I repeated the message, silence. One more try elicited a response.

“Are you calling Mark?”

“Yes Jack we have an emergency”

“Control to Colwick three, are you calling?”

“Yes Jack, we have an emergency, I need an ambulance urgently”

By this time a lady has arrived with a dog (off the lead). Looking down, she recognised her prostrate husband and started to give hysterical a try. The dog too joined in, barking and howling, I’m still trying to get Jack to respond despite the increasingly noisy parties.

The problem was that the old type radios we had were forever picking up interference and conversations were rarely audible, not great if the recipient of a call is a bit deaf to start with. Eventually Jack caught the message and an ambulance arrived. The victim was now fully conscious and told me why he jumped out, he’d been playing hide and seek with his dog (not sure who won that one!)

The ambulance carted the chap off to hospital and his wife, who had now calmed down a bit, started to panic about the dog, it was not allowed in the ambulance and she couldn’t drive the car. Feeling a bit guilty for hitting her old man with a big Land Rover, I arranged to drive their car home along with the dog, letting it in the house and then posting the keys through the letterbox. Adrian followed me in the Land Rover, careful to avoid adding any more victims to the day’s tally, the dog seemed a bit confused.

Quite a while later, the inevitable threat to sue arrived and I was interviewed by the Police. They decided that I had no case to answer and we chose not to push for the price of the repairs to the badly dented Land Rover hood, it was all very amicable, really, we never did get the SUV out.