December, really!

Some days start well and then fade into obscurity; that feeling of peaking early is something we all know, you just get used to it. Other days just keep on getting better and if it is disappointing to check the watch and find dusk has sneaked up unnoticed then it was a good day, just like this one.

The yard has been a constant source of birding entertainment. On December 12th, three Iceland Gulls came over together, yard tick 118. The White-throated Sparrow mob, flock is far too polite a word for them, has now reached thirty, meaning the Song Sparrows get pushed around and the Swamp Sparrow tries to sneak around unnoticed. For those interested, I keep the yard list updated and illustrate it when I can, just check the tab at the top of the page.

After birding the yard I wandered out to check nearby Drinking Brook Park. This tiny parking lot gives a great view of the bay, pity we don’t have more like this dotted around at strategic birding locations. I scanned the bay diligently, counting the many Horned and Red-necked Grebes plus healthy portions of all three scoters, Common Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks. I have recently been searching for a Common Merganser seen by Mike MacDonald, winter list and all that, but there was no sign. In the middle of the view from the parking lot is a rock, a big rock that sticks out and one I’ve tended to ignore unless something large is sat on it. On this day it passed quickly through my field of view, which then skidded to a halt, cartoon style, before tracking back and finding the rock somewhat covered in carbuncles.


The carbuncles were shorebirds and, even at range and without seeing details, I knew that they would be Purple Sandpipers. A switch to the scope confirmed it, 16 clinging on in the lea of a nor-easter or at last a brisk north east wind with pretensions. A quick call and Mike was soon there to add them to his Nova Scotia list and then, later, to his yard list. With such a good start there was only one thing to do, get to Daniel’s Head pronto.

Daniel’s Head was quiet, apart from the whitest of the Snowy Owls and three Bonaparte’s Gulls, then I got a call from Johnny telling me of an Eastern Towhee and Prairie Warbler at Baccaro, now we were talking Nova Scotia lifer and quality winter warbler tick, time to go.


Sandra joined me and we wandered off to Baccaro Point then back to check the road. As it happened I had not got the right spot but it didn’t matter as we found a Prairie Warbler anyway! We did some more searching without ever actually getting to the right spot, a place where the birds had been seen.

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Emboldened by our success we went for (yet) another drive down Blanche in the hope that one of the fabled Grey Jays would finally grace our list, it didn’t, but we did see some nice birds. Best of all were a trio of Boreal Chickadees that showed well in shade. A close second was a couple of unseasonable Ruby-crowned Kinglets. A few other species were added to the mix to make the visit most enjoyable before we called it a day. With the winter list having crept up to 112 and much of the birding done without coats it was, as I said, a good day.

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Continuing the theme of good days, Angela Granchelli contacted me and asked whether I’d show her and a few friends around CSI the coming Tuesday, of course I said yes. The weather stuck its oar in though and the event was brought forwards to Monday, today then. While I was scooting around The Hawk prior to their arrival I had the pleasure of watching a Cooper’s Hawk chase a Mourning Dove, I suspect that the pleasure was all mine as the dove didn’t seem too pleased and the Cooper’s hadn’t caught it. We met up and immediately went over to the lair of the Mountain Bluebird, the title of the book Tolkien probably wishes he’d written. Our group consisted of me, obviously, Angela, Paul, Mimmi and Diane. Our luck was in and the bluebirds came out to play straight away. Just for completeness I include a picture of one of them taken previously.

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Now we needed to see a Snowy Owl and where better to go than Daniel’s Head? Wrong, the owls had skipped town and so we made do with this obliging Black Guillemot off the quay.


Moving down to the beach (eventually) we scanned far out seeing lots of Red-necked Grebes before scanning right in and finding a Dovekie. Hugging the beach, the Dovekie made its way around the headland as we sprinted, well alright, ambled briskly, in front to maximise the photo ops. For some reason I had managed to mangle my settings so the Dovekie is not that sharp but still the best I have, so far.


On a roll we went to The Hawk following the sage advice of Johnny and searched from the church for distant Snowy Owls but there were none. Just for the record, the bluebirds had done their usual disappearing trick too. Dianne got views of a Lark Sparrow but it went for cover and didn’t come back out, it was time to move.

Checks at West Head, after a welcome comfort break in Clarke’s Harbour’s municipal building (don’t worry, they do have a special room for it) revealed little, so we drove to Stoney Island Beach to look again for a Razorbill that had been so happy to show the day before. The beach was busy with a conference of gulls all mulling over the possibilities of rotting kelp. In there was a big biscuit coloured gull, Glaucous. This made up for an adult that had fled on our arrival offering only brief views. Iceland Gull was also as where a flock of 30 birds that all appeared to be Lapland Longspurs, well at least the three that I saw well enough were, made the visit even more fruitful. The gull gallery also included not one but 17 Bonaparte’s Gulls, very good numbers for CSI.


Our final few stops added a few species but Mike’s Lark Sparrow only chose to show up ten minutes after the Halifax bound truck had departed. By my reckoning we had 46 species although I include two in the total that I saw before we all got together. It was a pleasure to meet everyone and I hope that the CSI trip was worthwhile, I enjoyed it.

Here are the Glaucous Girls and Boy – L-R: Diane,  Angela, Paul and Mimmi.



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