Final Flush

A south-easterly storm is on the way so, never say never, but, I think we are done for 2016. It has been a roller coaster with some odd avian absentees and some unexpected special guests, all of which I’ll discuss in my end of year review. For now we are in the dregs of December 29th with a tricky, wet and windy day in store tomorrow, it doesn’t leave too much wiggle room. There is also the little issue of surviving the 2016 cull, pity such things are random as I can have a list ready in a jiffy containing those who I’d like to see exit through the door of no return in 2017.

Today Ellis d’Entremont took Mike, Ronnie and I to his Cranberry Bog camp, thanks for organising it Ronnie and big thanks to Ellis. It was species light (five) but the star birds, our new national emblem the Gray Jay (spelling as a sop to those who say it can be spelled either way, unlike Whisky Jack) came along and entertained us. I tried hard to get that full-focus flight shot but failed miserably, still the little posers did pause during their winter food gathering routine to allow the odd photo.

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At one point a Northern Flicker came by to see what the fuss was.

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A couple of days ago, incidentally during another storm, Ronnie found the Greater White-fronted Goose in Yarmouth again so we wet-footed it over and eventually, and courtesy of Laurel tracking it down on a ball field, got views. Best of all was Mike MacDonald finally nailing his long-time nemesis. No more skulking back indoors after a twitch because this time, yes he did see it!

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The same sortie got us a winter tick Hermit Thrush on Forchu with a Black-capped Chickadee for company.

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And we saw one of the two male Barrow’s Goldeneyes that are wintering in the harbour.

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Going back further, we did a little ride down to Baccaro and paid our respects to one of the Snowy Owls there. If you go there and see anyone shooting off the rocks below the light, please call the DNR and pass along their plate number. They have no chance of recovering shot birds and are just killing and maiming for fun. I have already flagged that there is an issue with the DNR, more on that when I get a reply.

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On Cape Sable the Snow Goose continues to use the white farm geese and an avian shield. It blends in quite well, and probably doesn’t even get a second look from those who are not in the know.

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Yesterday (Dec 28th) a flock of Bohemian Waxwings dropped into the yard briefly, allowing Mike to add them to his CSI year and life lists. They didn’t stay long but while they were there they were intent of stripping off the last few berries that the American Robins had no-doubt earmarked for later consumption.

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After much hand-wringing I have decided that Daniel’s Head is my local patch. I go there most and, just like my two previous serious local patches, it gets disturbed by people and poorly treated, I must be a glutton for punishment. My recording area also takes in the beach north to Stoney Island Road and cuts off part way to The Hawk. My list for the area is just over 200 species, now that I have formally adopted it I must learn it better and make sure that I see any birds found there that I still ‘need’.

Well that empties my pending picture folder for 2016. My Excel file is ready and waiting for 2017 and Sandra and I will be out making a good go of it January 1st. If I don’t talk to you again before New Year, do enjoy the one day at this time of year that is really worth celebrating and we’ll catch up in the New Year.

 

 

Help!

Over the years Sandra and I have birded various places and seen various birds – most of which we were able to identify albeit some through a protracted process. It took me quite a while to realise that bird identification, while visiting foreign countries, does not need to be instant and that working on a species is quite acceptable, especially when it comes backed up with audio, such conundrums are usually from the tropics. There are always some birds that feel uncomfortable, images where you think it might be one thing but can’t rule out another, so I thought I’d lay bare my birding soul and ask for input on some images. I know you can do this on Facebook, but I’ve often been disappointed by the level of snide-ness that some ID requesters get subjected to. Sometimes your brain just fogs, people should remember that because, if they are any sort of birder, they will ask daft questions from time to time.

This re-evaluation of images has recently been inspired by the desire to add images to my eBird submissions, something that has shown me how little I understood eBird when I started to use it in 2012. Had I known that ‘X’ meant nothing and not ‘present’ as I thought at the time, I would have used a ‘1’ as a standard unless I had a higher count. It is also interesting reviewing old eBird checklists on the occasions where we were guided (very infrequent). We did a trip to Ecuador and the eBird reviewer is also the guy who guided us, so when something is flagged as rare, well you said it was one and we were too busy running from new bird to new bird to do anything but agree.

Some of the images are not great here and I suspect they will be eventually consigned to the digital dump, but it is worth having a bash just for the craik (an Irish word meaning craik).

Up first is a sparrow, probably, seen near Vigia Chico on the Yucatan Peninsula on 25-June-2009. It may be Green-backed Sparrow but it seems hefty, images 1 & 2.

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Now a run of empid, or empid-like birds. The one below is from Mount Lemmon, Tucson AZ from 18-June-2014. It suggests Western Wood-Pewee but that bill is long, much longer than any of those in my other pewee shots from the west and taken on previous trips, images 3 & 4.

Update: When I saw this bird and later filed my photos this silent empid went down as a Cordilleran, however, that bill didn’t match any of the field guides. Experience is the thing with empids and Thor has advised that it is good for Cordilleran both physically and based on location. Thanks Thor for your input, much appreciated, Cordilleran it is.

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This one is from west Mexico, near Puerto Vallarta in January 2013. We didn’t go up high so a Pacific lowland species, image 5.

Update: Dominic suggest Pine Flycatcher and I really don’t know why I never considered it but yes, in aspect Pine flycatcher fits.

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This one is from the Sedona area of Arizona. I thought Grey Flycatcher when I looked at the images but, again, pewee is possible although it does look weird, images 6 & 7.

Update: I think I am going with the consensus that this is a Western Wood-pewee (based on location). Gray Flycatcher was another possibility and discussed but a couple of point were not quite right.

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Two more from June 2009 and the Yucatan. I am fairly sure that they are different birds. Neither looks right for the regular flycatchers in the area, the bar above the bill on the flying bird is especially odd, images 8 & 9.

Update: This one proved to be a bit problematical. Greenish Elaenia was considered but the pale band above the bill makes this a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, thanks to Dominic for his input.

The second bird is clearly something else and my feeling is that it is a Tropical Pewee.

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And finally, and admittedly perhaps outside the range of experience for readers of this blog; I was in Egypt on an island in the Nile at Luxor, March 2011, photographing Black Kites. Mid snap this flew over and I got two bites before it vanished and for some reason I never returned to the images until now to look at it again. From the angle it looks vaguely Chaetura swift-like but is likely a Rock Martin type, images 10 & 11.

Update: Steve has suggested that this is what we used to call Pale Rock Martin, a species that now sits  lumped with Rock Martin. Funny how a fluffed up body can change the feeling an image gives you. I have another what I call African Rock Martin shot from the same trip and am happy that this particular mystery is now solved, thanks Steve.

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All help is appreciated and input can be anonymous if desired although I’m sure the CIA, when reading this, won’t be much interested in unidentifiable empids unless the obnoxious Trump is planning to deport them all as undocumented!

Oh, and Merry Christmas or whatever.

Partially Goosed

Just when you think you can put the year to be, up pops something else to keep it going. After a few dodgy days, weather wise, today was cold but ok, meaning that I could get out and about and try to add a few species to the CBC as count week birds, that is birds seen three days either side of the actual count – makes sense as it can compensate for a bad count day to some extent. Personally I’d like to see a spring and fall count but on set dates per provonce so that the data is a more accurate snapshot.

The morning was good but not spectacular, winter’s grip is upon us and sensible species are long gone, and I headed home intending to go out again later. The phone rang and Johnny asked had I counted the farm geese today? Funnily enough I’d noticed I’d not seen them and wondered whether their dwindling tribe was finally gone, it wasn’t. The five white geese had become six as a Snow Goose sought comfort in the company of the nearest thing to its kin. The photos aren’t great but ok and they show that this bird has been grazing in fields with a high iron content. I wonder where the nearest are and how long the staining lasts, through molt presumably.

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Well pleased with getting a Snow Goose for my Cape Sable Island list (life) I was about to conduct a chilly sea watch when Ervin sent me a photo of a goose in Yarmouth Harbour, it was a Greater White-fronted, a year and Yarmouth tick, so off Sandra, Mike and I went. My Buff-breasted Wren text notification on the phone sang away frequently as we consumed the kilometres between Barrington and Yarmouth. We were optimistic, especially Mike, who has a history of not quite seeing the species several times, then the song announced that the bird had flown north but not until Ervin had been joined by Alix and Larry in mutual enjoyment. Two minutes later Ronnie arrived.

Naturally we searched when we arrived and chanced upon this Short-eared Owl hawking a small marsh near the end of Cheggogin Point. It was a bit dark but the snap is ok.

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 This is a doc-shot of the female Tufted Duck found CSI on 12/17, the CBC day.

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This Western Palm Warbler is in residence near Baker’s Flats at present.

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So has the year ended in terms of new birds for any of the lists? I suspect so, but there are a good few days left of 2016 and birding is always full of surprises.

 

Tough CBC

I’ll admit here that I am not a great fan of the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), mostly because, until moving to Nova Scotia the ones I did were in Quebec where the awful winter almost always resulted in a retraction of the testicles for the duration of the winter, sometimes longer. In the long term the data, which is often so skewed as to be useless, will be usurped by the constant effort of eBird submissions. That doesn’t mean that the CBC should go by the wayside, it shouldn’t, in many places it is more of a jolly that a true count and why not? It is an event, a tradition and for that reason alone it should continue.

Anyway, last year it blew cold and rained and then blew even colder some more, it was not that much fun. This year winter called, bringing driving snow and a strong but not profoundly evil south-west wind that blew throughout making observation at range quite difficult. Mike MacDonald and I did the top-end of Cape Sable Island count although the west side is something of a mystery, access is hard in good weather, a folly in bad such as snow. I think we thought the task required optimism2 when we set out but, in the end it didn’t turn out too bad.

Our task was to count what we could, how we could and without dropping the car into a snowy ditch. Our better halves, Sandra and Sandra, were charged with keeping warm, relaxing and perhaps casting the odd glance feeder-wards. We started on Stoney Island Beach where a teeny little window in the snow allowed us to see a few things passing including two Red-throated Loons and some sea-duck. The beach had a bunch of Snow Buntings feeling right at home and a Lapland Longspur perhaps less so. Moving on to Bull/s Head Wharf (depends which way you approach, the two signs have different spellings) we found Sanderlings, a Dunlin and mourned the loss of a couple of trees that attracted migrants. Seems someone who bought a house up the hill cut them down to see the sea better, some people!

After a mop up of everything on offer we went back onto the main Stoney Island Road where a snowplough chased us all the way to Cat Tray road (or similar). It turned out to be fortuitous as we chanced upon one our areas two wintering Cooper’s Hawks. We then invaded the Stoney Island Baptist Church parking lot for Boreal Chickadee and Golden-crowned Kinglet, always nice to add to the CBC. Having clarified what we counting, we resolved to check Baker’s Flats, mostly iced up after recent reflex inducing temperaturesbut the creek that runs in would open. Amazingly, the guy in the truck that lives on your back fender and thinks we all have super-four-wheel-traction must have been plucking his palms as we were able to stop in the road and bag not just Common Mergansers – not common on CSI – but also a/the Tufted Duck, presumably the same bird from earlier in the year (no it hadn’t been hiding in the reeds!). I didn’t take a camera out so here is a shot from earlier in the year, I’m sure the odd shot from others of today’s bird will make the web.

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It was now time to hit Drinking Brook Park which becomes all anonymous in winter when they take the sign down. It is the best place to get all the scoters and usually some Horned Grebes. The conditions made it tough and we dipped the grebes but had lots of scoters. Checking in with Johnny and Ervin, they had seen a Black-headed Gull off The Hawk beach so we went and acquired it for Mike’s CSI year list. He hit 213 while Johnny broke 200 with Gadwall and the gull and we ain’t done yet! The CSI big year will get more air time in another post but, suffice to say, we are all pleased to have broken the 200 species barrier for the year on our busy little island.

Our final joint call was North-east point which was fairly quiet and the weather was getting progressively worse plus food beckoned. We both went out again in the afternoon to try to fill gaps but the CBC was effectively over for another year, so how did we do? Well, we had 51 species between us plus another three came from the feeders. Our total number of individuals was 1214, we didn’t end up in a ditch and my testicles remain swinging like nature intended (I cannot speak for Mike but I’ll ask if you like!).

If I have offended any truck drivers, please remember that I don’t mean every one of you has hairy palms or that you all tail-gate people but some do, probably as few as 95%, and you always appear when we birders stop to look at a bird, admittedly from the middle of the road/bridge/highway but it has to be done, thanks for your consideration.

Incidentally, I am in the process of adding my photos to my eBird checklists, it is a lot of fun and brings back the memory. Unfortunately I threw away the majority of my slides before I scanned them all so I’m missing a lot of species I could have posted. So far I’m up to 872 species with images, I might hit 900 or so by the time I’ve finished, maybe a few more – just click on the profile and you can scroll through the photos if you want. Some are of the doc-shot variety but most are ok, perhaps I should bung a few together and do a Panama talk or something, we’ll see.

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Despite having them in the yard regularly recently, Evening Grosbeak didn’t make our CBC list – poot.

Winter ticks

After my last post I realised that I’d made an assumption about people’s knowledge of what winter listing is. The title does rather give it away, but an important detail is the definitive period when birds for the winter list count, which is the beginning of December to the end of February. Winter listing is a great excuse to get out and see birds in the most inhospitable season, not that you need an excuse to go birding but it looks better if you see it in print, more of an official excuse as opposed to a flight of fancy.

Last winter (2015-16) was my first in Nova Scotia and I ended the period with 151 species, which is pretty reasonable. To give it more context, I’d never broken the 100 species season barrier while living in Quebec, although I didn’t chase there in the same way and the winter is so much less forgiving there so the birds, sensibly, clear off south. This year I’m not venturing to far, Shelburne, Yarmouth and the southern bit of Digby is probably my lot. It is going reasonably well, as of 8/12 I’m up to 100, but I can see it taking a while to bust 200 for life, I have nine to go.

Time for a few photos, all in a bit of a mixed up order really.

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In our area a Wood Duck is a good winter bird, thanks to Paul Gould for the heads-up with this one at Charlesville.

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Lucky Ervin has been weaving his magic again. He unearthed this House Wren (NS year tick 280) and Yellow-breasted Chat on the same back street at the unfashionable end of Yarmouth. The Mockingbird and the House Finches were there too, 7/12.

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There has been a Herring die-off in Fundy (mostly) and nobody currently knows why. The upshot is that gulls that would normally dine on fish plant outflow waste are filling up on sushi elsewhere. Even the Digby gull hot-spot of Meteghan has seen reduced gull capacity recently. Here is an Iceland and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull there from 7/12 plus a montage of Iceland Gull wing patterns just to get you in the mood.

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While out and about on 7/12 we decided to tour the back country and came across a couple of Pine Grosbeaks at Hectanooga. They are scarce in our neck of the woods but the lady at the site has been getting up to 25 each morning so perhaps there are better photo opportunities to be had than just this doc-shot.

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We made a point of heading home via the Ohio road, well they call it a road but mostly it is potholes interspersed with paving. Aside from three Snow Buntings the only other highlight was this Ruffed Grouse, feasting on buds.

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Our yard on 6/12 hosted Evening Grosbeaks for the second day running. This time I got some reasonable shots although the males that had been there the previous day chose to dine elsewhere. As I watched them, a flock of c50 Bohemian Waxwings appeared in the trees behind the feeders. Cape Sable Island tick #247, CSI big year bird #231 (plus three heard only).

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A good life winter tick was this Brown Thrasher at Johnny Nickerson’s yard, thanks to Johnny for the heads-up.

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We don’t go to Brass Hill too often, although we pass it every time we head to the big city (Yarmouth or Halifax), but we went looking for a Mockingbird recently and found this Pine Warbler, a couple of Chipping Sparrows and a flock 40 strong of Evening Grosbeaks.

 With three weeks left of this year I can’t see too many more birds showing up although you never truly know. For me the biggest surprise was the lack of a Western Kingbird in NS, Barnacle Goose too failed to show while Eurasian Wigeon and Ruddy Duck need a filter tweak in eBird to reflect their current rarity, in Shelburne there has not been a record of either in the past 18-months, similarly Laughing Gull, has all but disappeared from the NS scene in 2016.

And finally, there has been a good discussion on Facebook re how strict eBird is. Some think it asks for too many details, others think differently. I think the answer to the details issue is, when you encounter a rare/scarce bird, photograph it. Obviously you cannot do so 100% of the time but more often than not you can get a photo, even a terrible doc-shot will do. That way eBird reviewers get an easier time of it, unless the bird you claim is not the one you photograph then for sure you will get asked ‘are you sure?’ and so you should.

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Winter Eyes

It’s the last month of a great birding but otherwise crappy, year, but more of that in the end of year review. December means winter listing, in other words even more of a reason to get out birding. December 1st was a rough day with rain and fog and only a small window to really bird right at the end of the day. Thankfully things improved and I’ve chugged up to 74 species so far (12/3/16) but I still have gaps you could drive a bus through. One absentee is ‘our’ Long-billed Dowitcher that has been appearing intermittently in Stumpy Cove, Cape Sable Island. If it sticks I’ll no doubt catch up with it, just half a dozen looks for it so far, I seem to be slacking!

Today Sandra and I shopped in Yarmouth, then did some big city birding along the harbour, the highlight being four House Finch. Moving on to Sunday Point, even though it was Saturday, we found five Horned Larks so I snapped them in the rain, they didn’t seem to mind.

 

We ‘did’ Chebogue but the only thing we found was this Killdeer around the area where the pool has been cleared out, just before the farm at the end.

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Driving towards Pleasant Lake I noticed a blob in a tree. A quick swerve around and a salutary lesson in keeping some distance for the lady behind got us back to the bird in a jiffy and my waters were right, the Red-shouldered Hawk had returned for its third winter. I got a few shots before it launched off and went further back behind a house.

 

On December 2nd I spent most of the day checking various spots around CSI.

 

At the end of November Sandra and I did a little jaunt to the French Basin Trail at Annapolis Royal. A dullish day, weather wise, but there were a few birds on the lake including my year American Coot. No Ruddy Ducks this year so far.

 

On the way home we dropped into Meteghan, no Kamchatka Gull (yet) but a couple of Black-headed Gulls – both adults in winter dress.

I won’t be chasing a big winter total, just sticking to Shelburne, Yarmouth and maybe Digby. I still feel the year has another big bird in it, couldn’t predict what, I’d be happy with a King Eider.

Apologies if this does not look right. WordPress, in their wisdom, have done a revamp of a perfectly good system to come up with something totally crap and you only find out when you try to use it, shit for brains does not cover it!