I’ve been picking away at this for weeks now and not getting any closer to having something to post, so, I decided that I would just post just a few of my personal highlights from birding in Nova Scotia in 2015, simple!
My best birding thing, amongst many birding things, was the life-long ambition to get up close and personal with Buff-breasted Sandpipers. OK, not that big on some folks’ lists of highlights but we all want different things. In my case a trip to The Cape brought the ambition to fruition and I took hundreds of shots. I did contemplate laying on the ground for the eye-level shots but, to be honest, getting back up again would have been glacial so I settled for a slight crouch.
Now, in no particular order, are the other highlights. Each is personal to me and might not necessarily ring anyone else’s bell.
I love gulls, but you won’t find any here this time (wonder how many got past ‘gulls’ there before clicking the X)! I think that seeing birds in their most spectacular plumage is very satisfying and there was one species that I’d only seen in non-nuptial plumage, I’ve seen lots but not the full, widescreen version (hi-def now I suppose).
Our yard is pretty good for hummingbirds and I keep a few feeders going for them, even hanging one well into November. There is method in this madness as I well remember twitching an Anna’s Hummingbird in Quebec when snow was deep on the ground and the hummer feeder was being kept unfrozen by a small candle placed beneath it. While Anna’s is a long shot in Nova Scotia, Rufous has better odds and so I planned to keep a little something sweet in the yard for them. I hadn’t bargained on pure serendipity taking over.
Ronnie d’Entremont had a call from Frank and Janet d’Entremont about a funny hummer up at their cabin near East Kemptville which they thought might be a rufous. Ronnie and Sharron popped up and confirmed the ID, a male in summer plumage too. Frank and Janet graciously allowed birder access to their yard, and the twitch was on and so Sandra and I were soon found perched on deck chairs waiting in anticipation. It came in quietly and performed beautifully. The rather dark conditions made photography difficult but I managed a few to commemorate the occasion. Sadly it didn’t stick around too long despite appearing settled and it would have been nice had it stayed for Ronnie to work his photo magic in good light.
Over the years I have come to realise that there is not really such a thing as a bad day for birding. Some may be less than ideal but they can often surprise you. Picture a foggy July day, well we do get those but generally only between January 1st – December 31st when the winds is from the south. Despite the prospects being less than rosy I headed out to Daniel’s Head to see what I could nearly see. From one of the regular lookouts I could see a small number of terns fishing offshore, one looked wrong but kept disappearing into the rolling fog bank that sat 400m out there like an angry granny. Undaunted, I pushed the ISO up on the camera (sounds like I know what I’m doing eh!) and manually focussed on the almost invisible blob. I eventually got decent views to confirm my suspicion that it was a Sandwich Tern, I didn’t get decent shots but they were enough to document the event. Taking away the records produced by a Hurricane Earl, it was a pretty good self-found to start with, pity hardly anyone else saw it before it slipped off into the fog never to return.
One lunch time at home in Clam Point, I heard a Black-billed Cuckoo spark up nearby but it was only for a short while and it never showed. A few weeks later it (or another) did the same thing, this time I got a confirmatory view. Our yard is open to birders at any time and quite a few came to see the bird and generally it showed well. On one date, Alix d’Entremont and Keith Lowe came over and we suddenly found that we had two in the same small tree! At least one of the birds stayed around for a few weeks and you could almost set your watch by when it would start up coo-coo-cooing, we only saw two together again on a single later date.
As part of my local orientation I would go to places featured in the late Blake Maybank’s ‘Birding Nova Scotia’, an excellent site guide. Baccaro was high on my list of places to visit regularly and so I’d go and have a look around when I could, pausing where there was parking. One regular spot was Fort Creek Park, next to the road and looking in a bay that often had shorebirds and with a few land birds around too. One morning I’d called in there when I heard a very familiar bird calling, a Great Crested Flycatcher. In Quebec this was a yard bird and we always enjoyed it when they brought their brood along to eat all of our Raspberries. I got some record shots of it before it moved along the road a little way, calling as it went. I put the news out but it was elusive with only a couple of visiting birders hearing it. I looked several times on later dates but never found it again.
We get tons of shorebirds on CSI and it is tempting to think that they will all go for The Hawk by choice or perhaps Daniel’s Head as a secondary option. A stark example that this is not the case occurred when Sandra and I stopped to look around Stumpy Cove, just south of the town of Clark’s Harbour, and came up with a Marbled Godwit. It was a bit distant and I didn’t really see a perfect shot of it during its short stay. Mine was taken in poor light but it is in the company of a Hudsonian Godwit for comparison. It stayed a few days and everybody eventually managed to connect with it, which was pleasing.
Yellow-breasted Chat has always been a difficult bird for me in Canada, I never got one in Quebec, never really came very close either, so it was a surprise to realise that they are pretty regular on migration in Nova Scotia, especially in the south. I got one that Ronnie found at Cape Forchu but it was a heard only, so I really wanted a decent look at one. Ronnie found another at Bear Point but that one too refused to play the game, then one morning I got a call from Ervin Olsen whom I was meeting up with later to go to The Cape. He’d been birding Daniel’s Head beforehand and had found one amongst the old Lobster traps.
The chat is a notorious skulker and I expected to have trouble seeing it but no, up onto the traps it popped, slightly against the light but not terrible.
Hawk passage is something I always looked forwards to in Quebec when, for a couple of weeks in September I might just get the right conditions for a flight. It happened a couple of times but the kettles, flocks of hawks, were never very large and moved through pretty quickly.
Ronnie and I went to Brier Island in September hoping for kettles and rarities. It was very breezy and clear, great for hawks but no so good for rarities. It didn’t matter as we came upon the following kettle made up mainly of Broad-winged Hawks with a few Red-tails and Bald Eagles in there, spectacular.
I’ve written before about my travails in finding Purple Sandpipers in Quebec. They are around Tadoussac in winter but, unless you know their favourite nooks, hard to find. I even email the local birder who always reported them but got no reply, probably because I used Google translate which can be creative. Now we live where Purple Sandpipers come for the winter and I see them regularly. This one was at Cape Forchu, where a little group proved very photogenic.
A lot of years ago I stood on the lake bank of the country park where I worked and found a distant Dovekie out on the lake. It’s called Little Auk over there and is a real county prize. It didn’t stay long and only my boss, also a birder, saw it. Since then I’ve always had a soft spot for them and wanted to photograph one reasonably well.
I had the chance when a gang came down from Halifax but didn’t make a great job of it. In mitigation it was on a bouncy sea. When Alix d’Entremont came across one off the wharf at Daniel’s Head I took the opportunity, another ‘want to get a decent photo of’ tick in the bag.
Birds aside, the number one real highlight for the latter half of the year has been moving to Nova Scotia and being accepted by the birding community. It could have been a difficult thing but Ronnie, Sharron, Alix, Mike, Sandra, Paul, Johnny, Sandra, Ervin, Rachel, Larry, Laurel, Murray, Cindy, Cal, and Clyde, et al (means everybody else and there are lots more) have been just great.
There are not that many birders in Southern Nova Scotia and we are looking at a large area. Over the years I hope to find and especially share lots of good birds. I have a had some luck so far, fingers crossed for many more.