Legal High

Picture for Facebook as the rest are pretty awful!


I had thought that species #200 in the Cape Sable Island (CSI) would be American Golden Plover, I don’t know why; perhaps I was fixated on shorebirds and not paying enough attention to the warbler possibilities. This is an early year and, if you live in the normal world; that will not mean very much at all. To us birders it means that the historical record gets one of its regular bumps and species turn up earlier than expected, and not just one individual, the migration of the whole starts earlier.

This is a good thing and bad. The good is that you are getting the birds now, a bird on the list means you can spend longer searching for the one in the bush! The bad thing is that it will all be over sooner and the back end of the year will, logically, have fewer opportunities for surprises if everything has already moved. There will always be stragglers, but perhaps those November warbler dumps won’t happen, a parula in November is a treat, in September it is the green veggies (not me, Rabbit food!) you have to get out of the way before tackling dessert.

Two paragraphs of waffle later and I’ll tell you that CSI #200 was a Cape May Warbler in our Apple Tree. Such is the nature of these things that, the following day, I found a typically skulking and unreasonable Yellow-breasted Chat on CSI, then I went to Daniel’s Head to sea watch, something of a treat given that the sea had been hugging the fog like a long-lost friend for so long. I was hoping for a flock of Red Phalaropes, there are lots out there, or a jaeger after the terns’ breakfasts. Scope up, scan, swallow! Well offshore was a swallow hawking insects, mites that were being dragged out of their comfort zone by the north-westerly breeze.

The value of a scope cannot be overstated when it comes to sea watching. Expecting this swallow to be barn, I scoped and got flashed by its white looking rump – three options; Cliff Swallow, possible but a CSI tick and year tick. Cave Swallow, early for one and a rare vagrant. Mangrove Swallow, wrong end of the Americas, House Martin – wake up fool! Actually there have been a couple of autumn House Martin records in Quebec so perhaps not such a fool after all.

Never underestimate the capability of digital photographs. The swallow was a distant dot on the horizon but I was able to get enough for an ID, especially after better scope views confirmed it. Imagine if this had been a jaeger or one of the prize skuas, I’d certainly get enough to clinch the specific ID on something that size and who argues with a photo, right? I often optimistically point the camera at distant birds at sea, just to practice for the real thing, and sometimes I get something back but mostly I get shots of the sea.

It was a Cliff Swallow. A common enough bird in some areas but my first on CSI and I do look hard. By luck, Ronnie d’Entremont pulled up, a few quick phone calls later and Mike MacDonald too got his CSI tick, Johnny was out unfortunately. These are a few of the better shots, lousy I know but it is my blog and I can put whatever I like here!

IMG_7038 IMG_7034 IMG_7035 IMG_7036

Later in the day I was browsing eBird, going through the alerts list to check locations for the next time I headed Halifax way and, at the top of the alerts, was a King Eider seen from The Hawk, what! Reading the checklist, Karen O’Hearn (don’t know here, an American birder I think, maybe Massachusetts) had seen a male in a flock of 20 Northern Eiders, presumably from The Hawk beach area, and there was a breeding plumaged male in there. I checked my times and I must have left just after she arrived so I didn’t see the flock come past, to rub further salt in, she also reported a Northern Mockingbird on the same checklist, so it is still around, we’ve just not seen it for months.

Obviously, King Eider is a great bird for Nova Scotia, one or two annually but none on CSI since I’ve lived there. Mike and I hatched a plan, we’d sea watch from Daniel’s Head and wait for the evening roost flight to Barrington Bay and hope for a repeat fly-past. Long story reduced to nothing, the flight didn’t happen so it is back out into this wild and windy day (8/17/1) to check between very welcome showers. We did see an immature Yellow-crowned Night-heron on one of the Sheep Field posts on The Guzzle. The camera ISO was off the scale, hence the doc shots – it looks like a different bird to the one I saw there in July, not sure whether it is Friday’s bird from Daniel’s Head though.

IMG_7089 IMG_7059

So now I’m on 202 (legal) species for CSI this year, plus two heard only (Ovenbird, Pine Grosbeak). Barring a meteor strike I should beat last year’s 206, my revised target is 220. The cumulative CSI year list is 214 including the King Eider and pending eBird accepting it.

Here are some details for the proposed pelagic out of Brier, want to go? Let me know.

Brier sea birding trip – September 24th 2016

Plan A is to have enough people (40) to charter one of Mariner Whale and Sea Bird Tours boats for a dedicated birding pelagic and spend a longer than normal duration at sea than you get on their standard whale tour. We would depart 06:30 (to align with ferries), steam out for a couple of hours – birding as we go, then we chum. We should get a good two hours birding in at sea. Whales will not be a central part of the trip but Northern Right, Blue, Sperm Whale and Orca would command attention. Birds we hope to find are:

South Polar Skua

Great Skua

All three jaegers

Sabine’s Gull

We would also expect to see the some of the regular pelagic birds found in the Bay of Fundy as dictated by season.

The boat will have four designated volunteer ‘leaders’ who will be posted around the viewing areas to help locate and identify birds. Volunteers to take a turn at chumming would be most welcome.

We would be looking to photo document all good birds so, if we find them we will try to make sure that we get photo opportunities.

I anticipate that we will be back in dock between 11:00 – 12:00. There is then the option to bird Brier at a time when hawks may be massing and warblers/vireos etc., will be coming through.

Price T.B.A but roughly between $50-60 pp as decided by Mariner based on numbers. The final trip price is a simple division of the charter rate so may be less.

Plan B is a reduced time trip again dictated by numbers. We would still follow plan A to some extent but would it would only be a regular three or so hour trip that Mariner normally runs, not getting quite so far out but still birding and not looking for whales.

Advice for the trip – dress in layers to be comfortable. Bring water and any snacks you require, saltine crackers are useful for settling the stomach, as is Ginger Ale. Avoid alcohol the night before, eat before boarding. If you think you might get queasy, Scopolamine patches work, as does Dramamine, a half dose should suffice but in both cases, follow the manufacturers instructions. Gravol Ginger is also effective in some cases.

On board follow all directions from the crew. When birding the boat we will use a clock face as our bearing. The bow (front) is 12 o’clock, the stern (rear) six. If you see a bird and want to get people on it use this orientation to give directions, for example, frigate bird at four o’clock would be right side of the boat, slightly towards the rear. DO NOT be afraid to shout out anything, we would rather see the bird than see the photos or hear about it later. What happens on board, stays on board.

If we get a great bird showing on one side of the boat, please try to loosely rotate with those behind after getting your looks/shots.

Tips for the Mariner crew post trip are at your own discretion.

As at 8/17/16, I have 23 people who definitely want to go. Everyone is welcome and levels of knowledge regarding sea bird identification are irrelevant, this is supposed to be fun.

Getting to Brier requires some timing as the ferries run at specific times. Digby to East Ferry is 42km and the ferry from East Ferry goes on the half hour. The run to Freeport is roughly fifteen minutes or so and the ferry to Brier goes on the hour. If you miss one you will be out of sync and the boat cannot wait. The ferry fee is $7 per ferry out, free coming back.

There is a lodge on Brier which has comfortable rooms and good food, so an overnight stop is perhaps a good plan. Yes it adds to the cost but you do get to bird Brier a bit more too.

Please contact me at if you want to go.

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