One Sparrow

One sparrow does not a summer make, or something similar. Actually its spring and a Swallow (species unspecified) but who’s counting?

Following the screech-rattle and growl of the newly arriving Common Grackles, there has been a feeling of change around Cape Sable Island recently. The Atlantic Brant numbers are climbing steadily and areas around The Hawk are awash with them. The first few Fox Sparrows are also tricking in, or at least I presume they are new arrivals, they’ve been pretty scarce over the winter, there had been at least two, perhaps three commuting around CSI but only being seen irregularly. I had one in the yard 3/19 and two together, 3/20 so it is likely that they are new in, especially as others around Nova Scotia are finding them too.

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Back in the UK, it used to be that, for me, four species denoted the start of spring migration; Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Northern Wheatear and Bank Swallow (Sand Martin). The lines for the first two are now rather blurred by increasing numbers wintering in the UK and Northern Europe, the latter two are of more interest to us in Nova Scotia (not that a Blackcap would be ignored, no siree!).

It is not surprising that Northern Wheatears don’t have the same harbinger of spring status in North America as they do in the UK, their migration route to Northern Canadian breeding grounds is somewhat more complicated and they are considerably rarer south of their breeding range, Bank Swallow however is a puzzler. Normally the first hirundine of spring here would be Tree Swallow, followed by Barn Swallow with Bank Swallow (and Cliff) lagging a bit behind. At exactly this time of year at inland sites in the UK, I’d expect to be seeing the first Bank Swallows, here odd ones might make it in April but early May is the more regular time, why?


Barn Swallows on both sides of the Atlantic seem to have largely similar breeding and wintering latitudes (see the map link below) and Nova Scotia is significantly further south than say my old patch at Colwick Park, Nottingham. I find the difference quite intriguing. No doubt mean temperature and food sources are the definitive reason although, given that the beach flies are on the wing even during periods of snow, a lack of food would not seem to be the whole issue, nor should the temperatures, at least in the southern part of Nova Scotia.

I would also speculate that, perhaps, the Bank Swallows that breed in the north (here) are the ones that winter the furthest south, performing a ‘leapfrog’ migration that is found in some other species and thereby taking the longest to complete their migration. I did do a web search and checked my own reference library but came up with nothing concrete, fascinating.

Out of interest, the average March temperature range in Nottingham, UK (my obvious point of reference) is 3°C to 9°C whereas in southern Nova Scotia (Tusket) the figure is -3°C to 6°C. Perhaps this is the primary issue that keeps Bank Swallows from arriving earlier, having said that, Maine has a warmer mean for March but still enjoys the same general arrival period as Nova Scotia.

While spring creeps in, no doubt to be curtailed slightly by a run of predicted nor’easters, winter continues to slip out the back door but leaving a smattering of Glaucous Gulls in its wake. While Meteghan has had a good selection of Glaucs recently, followed by a few at Lower West Pubnico this winter, CSI has not done so well for them. Odd ones have been seen but none have been too consistent. Bucking that trend slightly, I’ve seen the same second-cycle around Daniel’s Head on each of the last four visits. I got the shot below recently, it was c80m away so is not perfect but the new lens did an admirable job. On 3/20, there were two Glaucous Gulls at Daniel’s Head, both 2cy, but no Iceland Gulls, an interesting shift in species dynamics but for no discernable reason.

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Speaking of Meteghan, I recently ‘got’ my Kamchatka Gull there, years after thinking that I’d had one in the UK (see previous post ‘Off Island, from Feb-4th). I then downgraded it, perhaps not the right term, to being a Russian Common Gull (poor name, Putin’s Gull perhaps?) but even that is open to speculation, either way it wasn’t ‘normal’. I’ll do a post about the Kamchatka Gull later, warning, it might make your brain seep gently out of your ears but each to their own I think.

Finally, a few more new lens exercise shots, just light jogs, I’ve not really taken it for a sprint yet.

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