Welcome relief

During our increasingly occasional visits to Halifax I’ve managed to miss Nova Scotia ticks Louisiana Waterthrush by three days and a Wood Thrush by one, something was bound to line up eventually and this past Tuesday (6/28) it did. Late news Monday was of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, one of those flamboyant beauties that swan about snaffling flies while dragging outrageously long tail feathers behind them. We don’t get too many in Nova Scotia so one that sticks is most welcome, I went on my own to see it, Sandra was busy.

The bird had been found by Mike Sanders a couple of days previously in the sleepy inlet of West Jeddore and was hanging out in a local yard, a yard where the owners very graciously allowed us birders to roam in search of our quarry. It showed briefly for me but others got closer views and photo ops, the best I’ve seen so far is Chris Peters’ shot of it sitting on rocks.

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After enjoying the flycatcher, I had a little look around the road which crosses to the other side of the Jeddore finger, imaginatively named Cross Lane! There were a few birds singing despite the heat, the usual stuff in such habitat (so I won’t name them) and I also managed to find a few odes too, see the odes blog for those.

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The CSI year list naturally stuttered during June, May had delivered 46 additions, June just four, still, it was to be expected and June can be seen as a sort of breather month where we take time to look at where we are, and then make ready for the first shorebirds back, let the fun begin and the fog depart so we can join in!

A couple of interesting things are happening locally which might affect the big year and so are worth mentioning here.

Cape Light is being restored and lots of kit has been shipped out to The Cape to do the job. You assume that an impact assessment took place, it is part of an IMPORTANT BIRD AREA after all, so we can all relax. Any American Oystercatcher nests will surely be given a wide berth and the scaffolding and like stored in a way so as not to impinge on breeding birds and not get in the way of the migrating Buff-breasted Sandpipers, whose World status was recently upgraded to ‘nearly time to panic’. This means that they are fully protected unless it costs the Governments money or the land they use is needed by organisations or individuals to make money, especially if oil is involved, then they really are screwed!

The second development concerns the expansion of the sheep fields. Good folk who know Cape Sable Island and those who don’t but have surely read about the sheep fields in my free site guide will know of their attraction to birds. The sheep contribute in a small way but very regularly to the insect-friendly biomass, this, in turn attracts insect eaters. The fields were small and on the north side of The Guzzle, now they have been expanded to the south side and cover about four times the area. The posts are ideal for all manner of rare flycatchers, swallows and martins. The grazed land will pull in sparrows and longspurs, larks and pipits and the dry ground loving shorebirds (Buff-breasted and Upland Sandpipers, Eskimo Curlew etc.,) might just fancy it too. It may even attract short-sighted Cattle Egrets.

We watch with unbridled anticipation.

 

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A Bit of Diversity

This June is being the June we birders don’t really relish, quiet. The weather is benign and the birds static, thank goodness that there are now a few dragonflies and butterflies to look at. But first, because a bird photo just has to lead the Facebook link, here are a few recent snaps.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds seem less common this year to me. This male is defending a territory which includes our yard and feeders, but I’m not seeing females at all though.

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Willets on the other hand seem commoner. They chorus me as I head out of the door and they are on every marsh in numbers.

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I’m convinced that there is a pair of Broad-winged Hawks on CSI somewhere. I saw two together for the second time this year recently and from the same place, the yard.

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We have a pair of Alder Flycatchers too although the male sometimes sings a less than typical song. For fun I put Alder next to Willow in a couple of shots, just to compare. Sorry for the crappy photoshopping, I’m a raging amateur with that stuff.

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The yard is waking up in terms of diversity, this Peck’s Skipper is one of three species flying at present, the others are Arctic and Long Dash.

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A ride along Quinn’s Road at Clyde River today (6/22) got me a few new species for my emerging Nova Scotia odonata list. I’ve asterisked to new ones for me.

Ebony Jewelwing.

River Jewelwing*.

Dragonhunter.

Eastern Forktail.

Powdered Dancer.

Northern Bluet*.

Stream Cruiser.

Aurora Damsel*.

There were plenty of these, Ebony Jewelwing.

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Less common were these River Jewelwings.

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Small damselflies were scarce, except for Powdered Dancers. This Aurora Damsel was a nice addition and one of the easier ones to ID.

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As the warm spell continues there will be more emergence and some species that have been delayed by the cold first half of June should show up. My year list is a paltry 13 species so far but I’m intending to put a little more effort in this year. Incidentally, you will note a new link on the sidebar. If you are interested in odes take a look. It is my old Quebec dragonfly blog that I have renamed Eastern Canada Odes and it is here where I’ll usually be posting accounts and photographs of my odeing adventures.

And now, for fun, time for a little idle speculation as to what we might find in Nova Scotia, if we get off our collective bottoms and go look. I name the species at the end of the post so, if you want to test your knowledge feel free to stop short of the answers and give it a go. All my own photos, a helpful caption is included below the image.

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Long shot maybe.

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Anywhere but an offshore island please.

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Been a couple since we moved here, one has to stick though.

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Quite possible.

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One to daydream about.

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One in Maine today.

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They move late autumn, just got to kick on a bit further.

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Aim high, although unlikely to be a fly-over.

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Due.

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August 13th for sure.

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Who doesn’t enjoy an empid to get stuck into.

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Said to have been one on CSI in 2015.

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Not impossible but getting less likely.

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Late autumn is our best bet.

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Used to be fairly regular in the east in winter, relatively.

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Follow those fish north.

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On a small lake with easy viewing will do.

The species that are baffling you are:

Reddish Egret – ooh bad start!

Vermilion Flycatcher.

Purple Gallinule.

Magnificent Frigatebird.

Elegant Tern – oh come on, be optimistic.

Wilson’s Plover.

Tropical Kingbird.

Clark’s Grebe – might as well hope for a good first.

Boat-tailed Grackle.

Brown Booby.

Cordilleran Flycatcher, but then you already knew that.

Black-headed Grosbeak.

Loggerhead Shrike.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher.

Western Meadowlark.

Brown Pelican.

Eared Grebe.

There, wasn’t that fun!

This time last year

This time last year I was running around trying to learn all the good birding places in Shelburne and Yarmouth. Needless to say I’m still learning but perhaps not quite so manic now. On this very day last year Sandra and I were taking lunch on our front deck when I heard a Black-billed Cuckoo sing briefly. It took another three weeks before it really got into its stride and sang daily throughout the summer, joined by a second on a couple of occasions. With the CSI year list thing going on, a repeat performance would be most welcome, as would another White-winged Dove in Johnny and Sandra’s yard, yep, that was this time of the year too.

There is a general agreement that this June here has been cooler and somewhat slow to gather a summer momentum this year. The dragonflies certainly seem to think so, it has been slow going on the back roads where I’ve been out odeing a couple of times. The only one I got a decent snap of was this Calico Pennant, new for me for NS, how common generally I have no idea as there is little information on such things out there. I also added Harlequin Darner to my admittedly low NS ode list, it will improve.

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Sticking with non-bird stuff, I saw my first NS snake too, this Garter Snake posed for photos on the Clyde River road.

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There have been a few birds seen recently, just not any new ones for the year on CSI or in Nova Scotia – I still have plenty of gaps although Alix is closing in and I feel my days at the top of the NS eBird 2016 year list are numbered. The Clyde River road has been interesting although each visit has included a brisk north-westerly wind that has made odeing harder, its kept the other bugs at bay though. Here is a little selection of birds photographed with comments.

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This Least Flycatcher was facing off what was presumably another male that dared to encroach.

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Lots of busy Hermit Thrushes along the Clyde River Road.

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This Blue-headed Vireo came to pishing.

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Likewise this Magnolia Warbler – such a smart bird.

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For those who have been following I keep the cumulative CSI year list updated by marking species seen with a * on the three levels of status found at the top of the page. I’ve also added stuff to the Clam Point Yard pages, a short bit about why we don’t go for a lawn like a carpet but rather prefer a swathe of grasses and wild flowers. If your world starves through lack of insects to pollinate at least we are doing our bit, are you?

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A male Black-throated Blue Warbler posing.

Elusive

Back in the winter a Northern Mockingbird did the decent thing and flew past Johnny & Sandra Nickerson during one of their many circuits of The Hawk, sparking a period of intensive glancing as Mike MacDonald and I regularly drove the same area hoping for a repeat performance. Mike got lucky, I had to burn shoe leather walking the route frequently until finally, I got the bird – it took about 20 hours total! It wasn’t seen again but did it ever actually leave?

The area in question gets looked at by many and yet no more mockers graced the appropriate perches until Ronnie d’Entremont saw one in Johnny’s back yard in May. Later the same month, one was seen and photographed on The Hawk by Liz Voellinger, I just found it on eBird – http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S29955363 because it doesn’t come up as rare/scarce and therefore appears in the daily rare birds alert, I think it should flag up at county level, they really are not that common in NS.

Over the past few days one has popped up in Cal Kimola Brown’s yard in Lower Clark’s Harbour and then reported on Facebook only labelled as ‘Southside’. Obviously I’ve been looking every time I pass, but it was not until my lucky charm, Sandra, was with me tonight that I got it and It was purely by chance that we did. We’d looked at Daniel’s Head (Snowy Egret still there) and almost turned right on the main road instead of left on the way home. It was a nice evening and so a drive back through the sights of Clark’s Harbour appealed, as it does. We didn’t get far, the mockingbird was hopping about the lawn of the house on the turn to Nickerson Rd, not 50m from the Daniel’s Head road.

It bounced around the grass and at one point it sang from the roof of a nearby house before returning to gather food and flying off, you wonder where to, a nest full of hungry chicks. Surely there are not two Northern Mockingbirds plus progeny on CSI, a place birded daily by several, that have escaped detection warranting the epithet ‘elusive’? Seems so.

Here are the pictures, the flight shot is the same bird, split-seconds apart, I just pasted it over for effect.

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Just go around me!

This morning I went to Daniel’s Head without any real conviction that I would see anything different from the recent fare. It is that time of year, the doldrums, although you actually never know what you might be missing so, of course, you keep checking. As I approached the first open area of marsh, the bit near d’Eon’s store, a close Snowy Egret was sharing a small pool with a couple of Willets. The road was quiet so I slowed to a gentle stop and eased into reverse, not wanting to startle the bird.

There is a measurement for the time between stopping to see a bird and the first truck coming but it is so small as to be impossible to quantify. The same rules of improbability dictates that the previously empty road will now not only have the truck coming towards you, but that another truck will be coming the opposite way and that the very point they will meet is exactly where you are. One slows and scowls, one passes, this should be job done but do not rule out the person who then comes from behind and stops, with no oncoming traffic to prevent their passing, and just sits there, occupying the space you wanted to use to see or photograph the bird.

Sandra tells me (frequently) that it is a public road and that people have the right to use it, I call it a conspiracy. It is the same devious set of circumstances that has you having to move from watching/photographing a bird from your erratically parked car by the vehicle belonging to the only house on the dead-end road returning. The math says it should be VERY unlikely to happen, but it happens every time, every single time.

Anyway, after the two trucks passed I sat there with my white reversing light broadcasting my intentions while mastermind behind me figured out what to do. All the time the Snowy Egret was getting nervous and I couldn’t quite get the camera angle. Short story shorter, I waved the person past, he paused then shot off, zero to 60 in three seconds like his ass had been lit, thankfully no horn was involved. I eased back, grabbed a few shots and off went, the egret further out into the marsh and beyond reasonable photographic range.

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Another Willow Fly

The June weather has been largely a disappointment so far. Today was another day of fog off south-westerly winds so we went to Yarmouth shopping. Duty done we headed out to Chebogue Point full of blind optimism that something interesting was lurking there.

The willow holt 500m before the end has been quite good to us so far this year but it seemed pretty lifeless as we sat and pished. A slight movement showed an embedded empid deep in cover, it pumped its tail slightly but the views were rubbish so it needed persuading. Based on the available data, Least Flycatcher was cued up and eased the bird out a bit, it was then that I noticed it had stopped tail pumping. Moving through the likely empids on the iPod, it became vocal when Willow was played and then showed itself very nicely. Here are the images, less light affected than the recent ones I posted from Sand Beach.

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I also recorded it using the iPod Touch and, with a little bit of messing around in free App Audiocity, came up with a reasonable recording – the images here and the recording are on the eBird checklist, click on the link to view. If you don’t already use eBird, well you are missing out big time!

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30195656

Back on Chebogue Rd a Killdeer was being vocal on its favourite pile of dung, well who wouldn’t be? The newly found Cliff Swallows there were still attending too.

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Sooty Shearwaters (and the odd Manxie) have been frequent off the headlands of Daniel’s Head and Baccaro recently. Sometimes they come close enough to get a doc shot, and I do mean just doc shot. Got to rule out Short-tailed after all!

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Intersting how the same bird can looking slimmer and longer winged with the slightest change of angle.

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During the course of my wanderings I got along the Clyde River Road, always interesting. I was looking for dragonflies but it was cold with a strong north-westerly making it hard going. The gravel section was the best, some spots being sheltered and there were numerous American Redstarts singing. This one is a male but one that didn’t quite get the plumage right. You can see the black of summer plumage poking through, presumably it suspended its moult (cold weather?) and then just stayed as it was once it took up a territory. I suspect that a female will not chose him, preferring one that has the whole moult thing properly worked out.

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When the see how broad the bill is you realise how close they are to flycatchers in the evolutionary scheme of things.

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This female was from an earlier ride along the Hectanooga Road, just to show the differences.

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It is not so long ago that admitting that you were a Birder would have put you in the same category as Train Spotter, a harmless loony without social skills and unable to function in normal society. While that may still be true for some individuals, Birding is now a mainstream hobby/pastime/activity/passion/obsession – tick as applicable and those who know their stuff are generally admired, but occasionally despised by those who don’t. The shift from anonymity to respectability probably came about because Birders got together and formed bird clubs/societies/associations/chapters (or is that just Hell’s Angels?) and produced something meaningful from their activities, data.

A bird club should produce bird information at the highest level possible. By that I mean written reports, analysis, identification development and it must move with the times while maintaining the highest possible standard of return from its field practitioners. Whether this happens is entirely down to who is willing to volunteer to undertake key roles within the club, their experience and vision. Most clubs have one, perhaps two individuals at any one time who can do this. If they are strong types then you end up with two trains of thought and, eventually, two clubs. If they are compatible then you have the perfect bird club, you just have to find people to take on the less glamorous stuff.

In Nova Scotia we have the Nova Scotia Bird Society, it is a good bird club and the data, the quarterly bulletin, is excellent. Maintaining that standard is difficult, especially in our media rich times. That the society does is testament to those individuals able to keep the bulletins interesting, fresh and looked-forwarded to, long may they continue to do so.

Up and Over

Just a quick note to display a pretty dreadful set of photos purporting to show an Upland Sandpiper, how can you be sure of the ID? Well the photos have all the clues no matter how terrible they are. To show that here are another set of a closer bird, just look at the distinctive shape, the long tail appearance, the wings shape and the diagnostic overall structure.

The back-story is that I was Birding Daniel’s Head, in the trailer parking lot, the bit where they park trailers sometimes. I’d been on the trail of small birds that had come over the seawall having had a tough old time flying into an increasing headwind. I didn’t see the passerines but, as I neared the parked car, I heard an Upland Calling and the bird was wind-dancing above the parking lot. I got good looks then burst into action.

Using my remarkable turn of speed for a fat old guy, I sprinted, well did a swift amble, back to the car, grabbed the camera and managed to focus on it as it drifted a little further away. Shooting time was short but by the time I’d wedged the camera between my knees and switched back to bins I’d lost the bird so it either dropped like a stone or drifted below sight-line. The alert went out and we searched but no sign, so far.

Maybe tomorrow it will be found wandering amongst the Daisies although it might struggle to find them locally, on the many manicured lawns hereabout (not mine!). Upland Sandpiper is a good Nova Scotia tick, species 280 for me and a fitting one. Apologies again for the state of the photos, not up to my usual standard I’m afraid.

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Todays shots (told you!).

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The closer bird, think shape not detail.

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A Sooty Shearwater – I just like it.