Just go for it!

We all have those little voices in our ears that tell us to do things. Most of the time the things are just sensible, normal things, sometimes they can be a bit wappy. So what do we do about those messages form those anthropomorphised crickets called Jiminy? Take, for example, the continued presence of a Gyr Falcon at a place called Joggins, Nova Scotia and the constant nag that we should go and see it. We can call Joggins 500km away from home, more or less and the falcon has wings so might not sit on top of its regular pole all day waiting for you and there is the issue, what if we went all that way and dipped?

Google Maps offers two routes from Clam Point to Joggins. One is the traditional way, whereby you drive all the way, pausing only to refuel or unload and where you pass dollars to a smiling barrier attendant on the toll road. The other, and here is where the Internet is insidious, has you taking a ferry from Digby to Saint John, New Brunswick and coming at it from a more obtuse angle. Do you suppose that somewhere, by chance, money has changed hands to promote a service? I digress.

As if the Gyr Falcon wasn’t enough of a draw, a Townsend’s Solitaire had been found (well done Chris) in the area of Porter’s Lake, another Nova Scotia tick and another ear-whine. Still I prevaricated, then, when it was made clear to me that Sandra needed a new paintbrush and it could only be obtained from an art supplies store, the like of which we know not in southern Nova Scotia, well that was the proverbial straw, we had to go and get a paintbrush. The plan was simple, get the most important part of the trip done, that being the purchase of a $5 paint brush, then push on for the solitaire. If the news on the Gyr was positive, we’d go on from the solitaire, if not then, at least we’d have the paintbrush and maybe the solitaire. Thinking ahead we took an overnight bag.

The brush purchase was less stressful than expected and completed in short-order, now for the tricky bits. The solitaire had been on view for most of the previous day but the weather had cooled somewhat and fog was prevalent. The solitaire location was easy to find but the habitat a mosaic of yards with the best patches of berries behind the houses. Some of the home owners were fine for birders to search their yards so we did. At this point the news on the Gyr was that it had not shown the day before, despite four birder groups touring and looking for it. The one factor we hadn’t heard about was that there had been dense fog around Joggins all that day.

The solitaire didn’t show, and there were several folks looking, so we repaired to Sullivan’s Pond in Dartmouth photographing a female Tufted Duck and answering question about the funny bird with the white beak, an American Coot (see below). Both were year ticks for the year list I’m not doing and some small compensation for not seeing a solitaire and not risking the Joggins trip on the grounds that it may have gone. It was time to take stock, so we thought for a second or two and went for a curry. The curry House was at Bayer’s Lake on the way home and is possibly the nearest one to home. We had just dabbed up the remaining butter chicken sauce when a text announced that the Gyr was back.  A few minutes later we had paid the bill and were heading toward Amherst and an overnight stay.

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Hawks are generally slow risers, well perhaps Rough-legged are the exception but mostly hawks want the rest of the birds up and about and available before taking to the air, also known as waiting for breakfast, It was -5°c when we left Amherst and everywhere was either frozen or had that frostiness that tells you it is nippy out. We got to Joggins and the pole was devoid of falcons, to confirm he absence, crows and starlings were gambolling freely so clearly the falcon was not there. We drove along to Lower Cove, along Lower Cove Road as it happens, and passed a birder sat by the other pole, she waved. Out on the low tide the gulls were fractious, a good sign, so we did a U-turn and headed back to the other birder, it was Liz. She was stood on the cliff edge looking out through her bins as we pulled up and the Gyr flew past within feet of her and under her line of view. Much activity then took place as we explained that she’d just had her hair parted by it and that we’d lost it as it flew past. A five second view was not going to cut it!. We decided to head back to the other pole by the sewage works and set off, Sandra and I to the fore. Then I noticed it sat on a cliff-edge stump 400m along the road, I stopped but Liz just sailed past us.

Not wishing to alarm the bird we snuck a glance and grabbed some record shots, meanwhile Liz had sensed something was up and had stopped 150m up the road. Frantic waving was all the explanation needed and she quickly joined us viewing the bird. With some judicious manoeuvering we both managed to get some shots as the relaxed bird contemplated killing something. That something was probably somewhere else though and it launched off heading towards the sewage works. It took a few moments for composure to be recovered, then we headed back after it. These are our first shots:

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For once it all went perfectly and we parked on the rough track to the sewage works and peeped out taking photos, happy to have got something. After a short while we drove a little closer and changed the angle, getting better views and shots as the bird sat there casting a shadow over the nearby houses. These are the second batch of shots:

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Liz and I decided to try to get a better angle, using a tree belt as cover. If the Gyr showed signs of irritation we would slowly retreat and back out carefully. We go to tree one and it was utterly disinterested in us. The gap to tree two was bigger but still no indication that we even existed in the falcon’s world. By tree four we were relaxed, had great light and views and the Gyr just did a bit of light sitting and glaring off into the distance. We repositioned again, not even noticing that extremities were of a blue-hue and just stood in full-view sharing a moment. The Gyr stretched, pooped, yawned and, eventually, decided it really was time to snack. That was the last we saw of it although we were slightly delayed in getting back to Lower Cove by a local lady who told us all about it and how her friend had stood directly beneath the pole and other stuff I tuned out. Here are the better shots, just cropped sorry the flight shots are dodgy but we birders find them instructive:

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Back in Lower Cove the Gyr had obviously been around as the gulls were in a state of apoplexy, but we didn’t see it again although the icy wind might have influenced the degree of enthusiasm by which we searched. The Gyr was not a life-bird for either of us but the photo opportunity was and it was duly enjoyed, that may sound understated but wow, what can you say to do it justice?

Now you might think that this is the end of the narrative but no, as we had resolved, if time allowed, to visit a long-staying Red-headed Woodpecker, not too far off the route home. Well we did have time and we did see the woodpecker and it is nearly red headed too, which was nice.

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Nova Scotia highway driving while effective, can also verge on the dull so we thought we’d go back taking a different route part of the way which meant leaving the highway before Halifax and heading across country on less direct roads. We were 7km short of Rawden when news that the solitaire was showing came through, news which required a re-pick across nice looking habitats back to Porter’s Lake. Had we stuck to the highway we’d have been perfectly placed for the detour, as it was it took an hour to get back on track. Making a lengthening story shorter, we dipped again. Liz had recovered her composure after the Gyr and gone solitairing and scored, such dedication deserves its reward. We joined Diane in the search but our roll and come to an end. I think we’ll just have to wait until one finds CSI now, although I have been cleared to join a car going that way from our area next weekend if anyone fancies it!   

If you get the chance and the Gyr stays, go and see it, with luck you won’t be disappointed, or you could try for the one hanging out on Cape Breton, it is still there so obviously not the Joggins bird: http://www.capebretonbirds.ca/rarebird.html

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