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