Unexpected territory

Glancing at the eBird 2016 year list for Nova Scotia, I’m rather surprised to be sitting at the top with a healthy lead over the second placed birder, my co-conspirator on CSI, Mike MacDonald. It won’t last long for either of us though, we are mostly birding CSI while those haring up below are spreading their net further afield, still, nice while it lasts and if I’m still there at the end of May I’ll be even more pleasantly surprised.

Since my last post, you remember the little burst of year birds and even an NS tick (Snowy Egret), things have gone along quite steadily. Shortly after the egret the same voice on the phone (Johnny) told me of a Glossy Ibis in the same place. We (Sandra, Mike and Sandra, do keep up) were off out to join Rachel in supporting The Cape lighthouse, not physically holding it up you understand, they have concrete for that, but at a dinner in the Clark’s Harbour Legion. It was a remarkable evening for a number of reasons.

A highlight was a short presentation from the guys doing the drone filming of Nova Scotia’s 175 lighthouses. Drones have had bad press and their impact on breeding bird colonies, not to mention incoming aircraft, has yet to be established. They could be a great tool for surveys but will most likely go the way of other things and end up toys for the foolish, still, if they give us some aggravation around here they won’t last long once the duckin season starts!

If you want to see the sort of thing the drone guys do (No Ka Oi Drone Guys, no, I have no idea what it means but they are the best) look here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVGDO9oufdM

The other surprise of the evening, well one I can tell you about, was the arid nature of the Legion. I can’t claim to have been in that many but the central theme of a Legion, the raison detra if you like (a type of bun or cake, yes I know the spelling is wrong) was the provision of libation. Perhaps I’m wrong and the bar was lurking elsewhere (update, it was!), or perhaps it was forward planning given the band and the need for something fortifying to cope with it, perhaps something containing tiny bubbles? Aside from that it was a nice do, the food was good and the people really nice and we got to meet Betty-June of The Cape Lighthouse fame.

Just before getting to the Legion, Mike and I were to be found yomping through the marsh of Daniel’s Head, finding the ibis and then tepid-footing it to the Legion for a well-deserved… Coffee. Sadly no photos of the ibis but decent looks and another on that NS list. Update, the ibis is back (4/30) and here is the photo to prove, well that I have a photo of something at least!


Willets came back as I told you before, this one below is the one we hear most days now.


On Daniel’s Head this Black-crowned Night-Heron has been a regular if often elusive visitor. We have to hope more follow as, unless the bird has been taking lessons from an Amoeba, it ain’t going to breed.



In the yard it has been a steady start to the year, 69 species so far. This Hermit Thrush sneaked in recently, they breed out back so it is nice to see them return, another CSI year bird as well.

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Today (4/28) Ring-necked Duck finally made the CSI year list. I had thought we’d missed it until the autumn but on Baker’s Flats a showy male and his more understated young lady were a welcome sight. If ever a species was named from a corpse on a slab it was this one, that rusty neck ring is not very obvious usually.

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Still today, a yard-tick in the form of Savannah Sparrow was a treat, a Chipping Sparrow dropped by too, not so common here and one of the Dark-eyed Juncos posed for a shot.

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The merry month of May is on the horizon and with it whatever it cares to bless us with. I have 132 on the board for CSI and I expect that figure to race upwards in leaps and smaller leaps. Obviously I’ll keep you posted.


Bird Spurt

Disclaimer – I didn’t really get any photos of the birds we saw today, so I’m doing the journalist thing here of using stock shots (my own photos though) to illustrate this gripping account. The words do paint the picture but, for those who like the eye-candy too, here you go.

The one morning I didn’t drag my ageing bottom out of bed and get to Daniel’s Head just after dawn, Johnny & Sandra go and find a Snowy Egret there. OK, not a mega, but a Nova Scotia tick and all that follows, a big thanks to Johnny for the first and all subsequent calls on the day. The egret was distant so Mike and I stealthily slinked closer, I grabbing face shots to rule out the not impossible Little Egret. All was good.

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Going back an hour or more, as I emerged into the light of the day, my intention being to bird the yard first-thing. Coffee in-hand, cushions for the moist yard chair and ears wired for sound, the “willetywilletywillety” of a couple of Willets immediately broke the pandemonium, they are back and there will be no shutting them up for the next three months. The pandemonium was being produced by a tree-top full of American Goldfinches, with a few Purple Finches harmonising, more or less, and the raucous Blue Jay serenade that greets me every time I stock the feeders. I think its jay-talk for here comes the food guys, or perhaps they are just being rude about my hair.

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Our Apple Trees bear historical scars from the attention of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and, as I sipped the dark Columbian, one bounced onto the yard year list (now 67 species), eager to carry on the tradition although never quite being photogenic. It tapped away right up to the point that Mike entered the yard seeking his CSI tick and year bird, then it shut up. It will be back, there is unfinished business to do on that tree.


Jumping forwards again, after the short egret interlude with Mike, no sooner had we returned north to Clam Point than the phone rang again and Johnny was telling me news of Blue-winged Teals at The Hawk. The Weetabix™ that had been lovingly prepared before the egret call and that had now nicely matured in consistency, was gulped down and once more into the fray I did plunge. Mike was already there when I arrived, the teal too, to add two to the year list for the day (a deliberate tongue-twister). Bingly-beep-beep went the phone, Cal Kimola Brown had found a Hooded Merganser nearby, did I need it, oh yes and thanks Cal, off we went.


The merg had been found not too far away but had skipped when we got there. The phone rang and Johnny gave news of a/the hoodie up the road in Newellton. Mike and I departed with haste, possibly of the unseemly type. The old boy who was shopping at the Red & White in Clark’s Harbour obviously had a cruise control that you can set to ‘just pull out and then go slow’ as he crept out in front of the admittedly speeding cars. This cruise control setting, along with ‘big truck on your tail from nowhere’ are the default settings over much of CSI, as visitors and new residents very quickly learn.

At Newellton there are two pools to choose from, one north and one south of the trailer parking lot. The south is shallow, I looked, no hoodie and Mike followed to look too. I swung over to the north pool and there was the hoodie but Mike was dawdling, why? The hoodie flew as Mike pulled up, he got it as it flew around the headland, probably happy to be on the last leg of a short CSI tour. “Had I seen the Killdeer” said Mike, no, so I did. In the space of a couple of hours, not to mention a few millimeters of rubber, five shiny CSI year ticks including one CSI/NS tick were secured, then Ervin rang…

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“To The Cape” said he, and I, seeing the logic of it and, given the morning we’d had so far, concurred. It wasn’t very good, end of.

Readers who have only just discovered this gem of a blog and who wish to know of further delights involving the fabled Cape Sable Island (CSI) of Nova Scotia will no doubt be besides themselves with glee to know that there is a FREE eBook available, a site guide. See this picture below? Well, if you click on the same one on the right side of the text (top of the page) it will take you to my publisher, Smashwords, where you can download in any format for any eReader and as a pdf too, if you wish. You can also get it from iTunes, Kobo and Barnes and Noble – you’ll have to do that yourself, just put ‘Mark Dennis’ into their web site search engine, I’m in there somewhere.


Working at it

Recent research leads me to believe that the end of April, through to the third week of May, is going to be quite an important period, pivotal even in the CSI big year. Running up the score to 100 was easy, since then, and bear in mind I hit that total on January 26th with a Gadwall. In many trips out looking after that landmark, just 19 further species have made the list. Now all this talk of listing might sound fatuous, but, the underlying fact it shows is that diversity on CSI (in 2016 at least) is not that great during the February-March period after you’ve gone tick-mad in January. Further evidence of this is that April has since added eight of the 19 post-ton ticks.

Now we are at the period in the marathon where we kick-on a bit and ‘make hay while light drizzle off a deep south-westerly stalled on north-east winds’ grounding migrants. OK, not the exact way that John Heywood reproduced it in his book of 1546 (now likely out of print!) when dealing with such sayings, but you get my drift. Once the migration push is done it is doldrums time again with just the odd mega to relieve the wait until autumn migration sweeps in, and with it all the list fillers we either missed in spring or only get in autumn.

According to what I’ve read so far, we are missing a few species that might have been expected, also we are five days or so from when it really livens up, weather permitting. This El Nino thing still sits girdling our part of the Northern Hemisphere, and with it come meteorological tantrums making the ‘normal’ pattern of bird arrival far less predictable. We can at least count on our summer birds and I find that it is a year to the day (April 20th) that we both bought our house on CSI and secured our move to Nova Scotia and found the FOS Willet just up the road in Drinking Brook Park (well offshore on a muddy bit).

Watching our first spring here has been educational so far. The arrival of Cedar Waxwings a few days ago gave hope of at least one Bohemian friend but it hasn’t happened yet, still the cedars are welcome and will possibly feature in most day lists now, right up until they push off again for another winter. In several places little parties can be found sallying over the trees and subsisting on insects in the absence of the Starling-scoffed berries.. This one sat still long enough to get a photo.


It doesn’t take much to persuade a Palm Warbler to get on with it in spring and an oh so short spell of balm enticed a goodly number to bounce in, tails pumping like mad. At Baccaro they were feeding pipit-like in the short grass and hopping around the rocks, snaffling the kelp flies from the pebble strewn banks for sustenance, quite successfully too. This one is one of those birds.

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At the same time an Ipswich Sparrow (Savannah as you know) grubbed around fuelling up before crossing the Atlantic expanse to Sable Island. Little wonder that this is the (sub) species that showed up in the UK once.


And now to today (April 20th) when Mike, Ervin and myself went out to The Cape (if you don’t know where I mean why not click on the Cape Sable Island site guide on the right there and get your free copy?) unrealistically optimistic that we would find some good rarities. It was colder than advertised – did you know that they actually pay weather forecasters, amazing – with a stiff wind delivering elements of the north to us with relish. After we’d landed it calmed a bit and adopted something more temperate making it quite acceptable.

The first part of the tour was quiet, just lots of regular Savannah Sparrows and a couple of Ipswich to show for our collective efforts. On the way back though things improved considerably when we found shorebirds, in April! A flock of Black-bellied Plover in plumage stages ranging from winter to summer and all stops in between harboured a Short-billed Dowitcher in their midst. This species is very much a given on CSI in autumn, unless we get hit by an asteroid, then all bets are off. But it was good to see and even better to stalk in open, tundra-like habitat. Somewhere in their genetic history Black-bellied Plovers were scared by a birder, they fly at the first sign of a pair of bins, never mind a camera lens. This is why the shots are not great but not awful either.

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After finally getting the plovers to act normally and fly away from us, we came across a pair of American Oystercatchers, which did the same. CSI is the only reliable place to see this bird, which is why Angela, Diane, Keith and I birded CSI this Sunday past. We found them then (and Brant) so ticks were enjoyed by some and I don’t mean those unwelcome little shits that crawl up your legs and bite your soft bits (but not on CSI) but I digress. Ervin, who’d already found the biggest lump of coal he’d seen (small pleasures I guess, I don’t quite get it), chased the oiks and managed a few documentary photos. I sensibly sat on a bench with Mike while he did it. On the way back we passed this one posing on a rock, meaning that we have three so far, comprising of what appears to be a pair and an optimist.


Oh and Brant.


Since publishing the oft-mentioned CSI site guide, there have been changes. In the accommodation section the Penney Lane thing is defunct, I thought it might be. Under the eating section, The Lobster Shack is sadly closed due to a bereavement and seemingly unlikely to reopen. Pity because we rather like it there. I’ll do the updates in a few months and re-publish if there is enough content change to do so. I’m had over 120 downloaded so far and, a reminder, it is on iTunes, Kobo and Barnes and Noble now too (search for Mark Dennis, that would be me!). Comments welcome, positive or negative.


Stop Teasing!

Just as we got the merest glimpse of spring, gifts from both Boreus and Eurus trumped the one from Notus and it all ground to a halt again (Greek mythology, could have used any mythology, all made up anyway). The little blip of an arrival we had before the naughty wind gods did their thing dumped a flush of rare and sub-rare birds at various points around Nova Scotia, including the Gray Kingbird on CSI (see CSI Quarterly Report post). The same system has slowly been revealing its avian treats in a piecemeal sort of way since. Not far from us in Port Latour, Julie Smith hosted a couple of Blue Grosbeaks, prompting a bird-con 1 (like Def-Con but more serious) situation on CSI sending us looking for ours. We don’t seem to have any but Julie’s male was certainly worth the short trip to see it. The female type isn’t being reported now so perhaps it has gone (west, go west a bit!).

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Now we are back in the groove with a spell of fine days and light winds which seem to be from a different direction every time I check the weather vane. This is not so good for us on CSI, as summer visitors tend to arrive at their destination directly unless the weather gangs up on them and dumps them unceremoniously onto the coast. A few birds seem to be ignoring the rules though.

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This Eastern Phoebe seemed to have just arrived on The Hawk beach recently. It hung around a couple of days, no doubt able to feast to recovery on the redoubtable seaweed flies.


Brown-headed Cowbird numbers seem to be on the up. I quite like them, they are filling an ecological niche that we have artificially widened for them, then they get blamed for doing what their genetics programming tells them to do, you just can’t win.


American Robins are everywhere, literally. I still don’t understand why we keep this name, a robin it is not. Surely American Thrush would be more accurate, if not so descriptive.

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A pair of Northern Pintails continue to linger on Daniel’s Head marsh, just on the road bend to the south or west. They seem to shun good light but are usually close enough for you to compensate. An obsolete name for pintail is Sprigtail in the US and Spikearse in the UK whereas the Greeks (yes them again) called them Dinner.

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I’m always pleased to see a Boreal Chickadee and we on CSI are lucky that they are a resident, albeit a scarce one. This one was on a trail at Cripple Creek that I like to check from time to time, had my first spring Palm Warbler there too.

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The seas are awash with Red-necked Grebes at the moment. This one was in dull light but shows well the red blush of the neck before it transforms into the crayon-coloured spectacle it becomes in summer.


And finally, the Cape Sable Island guide is now available from the following eBook retailers:

iTunes Store

Barnes & Noble


Some people don’t much like PayPal, as used by my publisher, Smashwords, and I must admit that I thought that way at one time. I have had no problems with it at all. It is secure and is used by very many vendors and buyers although you will only need to use if you buy one of my low-price books.

With the book now being at the other eBook retailers, you can use your trusted existing accounts with them to get it if you wish. So far (April-13th), 98 have been downloaded so it seems popular, thank you everyone for your support, I’m already working on the updated and expanded version, out at the end of the year, perhaps.

For convenience and for those happy to go to Smashwords for the book, I set up a link on the sidebar, just click on the book cover (indeed on any of the book covers) and it will take you to the Smashwords page.

Right place, right time

In the world of bird photography, where I admittedly lurk at the back and occasionally surprise myself, you sometimes get lucky and on April 9th, I got lucky.

A few days prior I’d been at The Hawk, CSI and watched a Short-eared Owl busy making voles’ lives a misery, but only getting poor shots of the record variety. I might have done better but was chatting to another birder when the preoccupied owl came to a point where I could have got closer but, despite rumours to the contrary, I don’t just drop everything and rush off…

Sorry, just a junco, anyway, I don’t just rush off after a bird leaving the person I was chatting with to talking to fresh air, so I missed the shot. On April 9th I thought I’d done birding for the day but had to run to the store for supplies which meant a detour. Naturally I went via The Hawk, hoping to find a few shorebirds but instead found the owl again, in good light and still with vole-munching ambitions. This time I was able to use cunning, stealth and rubber boots to position myself where it might come closer and it might go the right way for the light to be good, so I settled in and waited.

Owls have pretty good eyes and it knew I was there, keeping up-light (a term meaning keeping the light behind it) and distant. I suspect that owls have short memories as, after fifteen minutes of messing about, it did a big wheel turn and moved down-light (no explanation needed) but still distant. I started making little mouse noises, in a Canadian accent for authenticity, and the owl suddenly seemed interested.

To say it flew directly at me would be accurate, it came to within 5m and hovered over my head. The camera had to be rested at intervals so it could write to the memory card, otherwise I might have had 500 instead of 400 shots. Once satisfied that I was not a snack, the owl resumed business but stayed in the same area and I had the treat of watching it hunt while completely disregarding my presence. As I had to get the supplies and get home, I made to leave and had bagged the camera when a second owl appeared and they began to interact. I checked to make sure the second bird was a Short-eared and not a (hoped for) Long-eared and then grabbed a few distant record shots of the entanglement before both drifted up-light and stayed there.

I’m quite pleased with the results, here are a few to enjoy.

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Male and female?


Don’t think it was me that made it nervous!

The Cape Sable Island guide just published seems to have been well-received and so my teapot collecting fallback plan has been shelved (see previous post). I’ve also had some useful comments which I’ll include when I revise it. If you want a copy, it is free and available in a format to suit you except physical, just click on the book cover on the right side of this page and it will take you to the site where it can be downloaded after making an account. It is available for any eReader, Kindle (mobi file) and as a pdf, which is perhaps the most suitable if you don’t have device that you can use to read when travelling and want a hard copy, you just don’t get the cover with a pdf.

If you want a free eReading app, we used to call them programs, although you probably already have one somewhere on you pc, tablet, iPad/pod, phone, toaster etc. Go here: http://www.bluefirereader.com/ This app reads any eBook.

If you want to contribute to the CSI guide revision, email me your contribution at therealmarkdennis@gmail.com Thanks.

And now a little selection of recent images.

A nice surprise was the discovery that a Cape May Warbler had wintered at Lower Argyle and that it was coming for jelly (jam for the UK reader) daily. Sandra and I went along and had good views but not any real photo ops. The yard owner, Brian, was very nice and we had a good chat, he says the little warbler bullies everything. Hopefully it will be fine now that spring is pushing in, despite the snow we have today (4/10), it has had to endure worse already.


This Purple Finch was in Brian’s yard too.


My blog so gulls, just two shots, a flying Iceland Gull and a sitting Glaucous at West Head, Newellton.

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After a Louisiana Waterthrush was found at Crystal Crescent, Sambro (well done Diane), I had a good look around CSI hoping the we had one but seeing little. I did get a decent shot of this Golden-crowned Kinglet though, a female.


A ride out with Ronnie along the Clyde River road on 4/9) was a bit early for warblers but five Wood Ducks and Pileated Woodpecker were good. At Seal Point Wharf this Common Loon in summer plumage posed briefly before realising we had cameras.

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A call from Ervin later the same day had me scurrying down to Daniel’s Head CSI to bag this adult Black-crowned Night-Heron for the CSI big year.


On the CSI year list front, American Oystercatchers returned to the area (4/8), we are the only place in Canada that reliably has them although odd ones do pop up elsewhere in NS from time to time, no photo, just thought I’d mention it.

After the luck with the owl, expect normal service in terms of dodgy record shots to be resumed next post!

Birding Cape Sable Island Guide – FREE

Out now and FREE

Although I’ve only been resident on Cape Sable Island (CSI) nigh on five minutes, I’m a quick learner and I like to waffle in a literary sense. I present here a FREE guide to birding the famous CSI, from the well-known hotspots to the more obscure little nooks and crannies that you probably always just drive past. I’ll be the first to admit that it is hardly a complete guide but it is a start and easily updated, if people tell me what I’ve missed off or what spots they have discovered and are willing to share.

Getting the guide is easy.

It is best read using an eReader or eReading app (see details on the tab at the top of the page), an iPad (Sandra uses a Kobo eReading app – FREE) or any mobile device with eBook reading capability, that would be all of them. You can also get it for Kindle by downloading the right format (mobi). For those who still want to slaughter trees, you can get it as a pdf and then print it.

To get the guide immediately, go to https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/628243

If you don’t have an account you can register, a simple affair and nothing is passed to the CIA or any other deviant organisation, it is just very basic details.

Once registered you chose the format you want, download it and import it in the normal way for your device.

Once it has been out a few weeks and accepted by Smashwords onto their elite list, it finds its way to other vendors such as iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo. So if you’d rather get it from your regular supplier then feel free to wait and I’ll post when it shows up at a vendor other than Smashwords.

If there is demand I may offer it as a print-to-order title hardcopy but, really, get with 2016 folks if you can.

Please feel free to share this release wherever you think suitable, especially on Facebook in groups that I’m no longer in although not technically barred from (a little dark humour there).

Please feel free to comment via this blog or by email to therealmarkdennis@gmail.com

I hope people find it useful and hope they might look at other titles produced by me, all available from either Smashwords or the other sources mentioned, most are free, the better ones cost pennies.

So what’s next Mark?

If this is well received I’m thinking of writing a ‘Birds of Cape Sable Island’, if you hate it then I’ll probably start collecting humorous teapots instead.



CSI Quarterly Report

A quarter of the year in and the Big Year on CSI has settled into pause mode ready for the spring rush. On April 1st an addition to the island list (385 and counting) came in the form of a brief Grey Kingbird for Johnny and Sandra. It rode an express train of a weather system that charged up from the south, bringing a Louisiana Waterthrush to the Sambro area and who knows what else. We searched diligently once the fierce winds and rain had abated but to no avail. Thinking back to the Mountain Bluebirds, well one of them, when Cal Kimola Brown first found one in similarly terrible weather, it promptly disappeared for a few days until Alix found the duo in roughly the same area. It would be nice to be optimistic that the kingbird has survived the subsequent storm of April 3rd and is, as we read, munching insects on a nearby beach.

Just prior to the kingbird, a Short-eared Owl was seen hunting around the end of The Hawk, even showing interest in a Brant-snack at one point. Geese are a bit on the hefty side for a Short-eared, even the pixie-sized ones like Brant and thoughts strayed to the possibility of it being a Great Horned Owl. They are known to take geese, cows and even compact cars but are pretty scarce on CSI. So scarce are they that owl-searchers, creeping around likely spots on CSI in the dead of night and resembling myself and Mike MacDonald, have yet to find one. If you’ve heard any on CSI we’d be glad of the heads up. I checked The Hawk a few nights later and had great views of a hunting Short-eared Owl. Below is a composite of it taken in fading light and not a flock!

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And a nice arty shot as it hunted.

The storm I mentioned was a mean one and a bit unexpected. Perhaps the Meteorologist’s seaweed had dried out or something because they were giving out light rain as the thick, splodgy snow started sticking to the wires, causing a brief outage for us, but a more lengthy episode of pre-electricity conditions elsewhere along the South Shore. After a little cool blip, which might stimulate a Common Murre to come our way, the long-term forecast is for a general warm up and with it will come the first of the true summer migrants. Until then we are treading water a bit, scratching around for scraps until the spring migrant feast begins.

Here is a nice photo of a Sharp-shinned Hawk looking embarrassed because it was outwitted by an American Goldfinch. It was taken at about 32m range.


A blog post by me without gulls just wouldn’t be right although this is mercifully brief. All winter I have been searching for Thayer’s Gull, the intellectual giants amongst you who get to the end of these post knows that. Part of the search has seen me peer hopefully at no more than three Kumlien’s Gulls that had dark eyes, normally they are pale. At West Head, CSI recently I saw a gull head-on with dark eyes and marked primaries, so I stalked it. Naturally it was the first to fly so I splashed back to the refuge of the car, yes it was raining. A quick scan back revealed a second bird, splash splash again, fly, snap and repeat ad nauseam. To cut a dull story short there were two dark eyed Kumlien’s in the same run-off containing perhaps ten gulls in total. The shots aren’t great and I welded them together to protect your sensibilities but you can see what I mean.

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Oh and I saw this Herring Gull with an over-sized bill.


Finally, the next ten species to be added to my CSI big year, currently on 112, will be, and not in any particular order: Osprey; American Oystercatcher; Tree Swallow; Blue-winged Teal; Hooded Merganser; Killdeer; Ruby-crowned Kinglet; Hermit Thrush; Rusty Blackbird; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker; Grey Kingbird – yes, I know.