Sure Birds

If there is one thing we know it is that Short-billed Dowitchers will appear around Cape Sable Island and especially The Hawk in numbers from mid-July onwards. This year they are a bit early and you wonder if they, like so many other birds, have had a poor breeding season. The thing is, they can probably stand a few but species like Roseate Tern, whose dramatic breeding collapse along with the other two tern species, can’t afford the luxury of sitting out a year. For more on the subject of the tern disaster read Alix’s blog here:

One upshot of this lack of breeding, and therefore feeding urgency has been the presence of Roseate Terns off Daniel’s Head and The Hawk. Whereas previously just one or two have been the norm, and then not daily, currently up to ten are fishing offshore and occasionally coming closer. Fortunately they, unlike the Forster’s Terns that have been around since the end of June, are easy to pick thanks to their cat-toy flight action and whiter plumage. The Forster’s have hardly been obliging but I have seen them occasionally but never near enough to photograph. The Roseate Tern photos below were taken from Daniel’s Head beach while the terns attended the feeding Double-crested Cormorants.

Incidentally, while watching the tern feeding frenzy I snapped this group of terns. Two Common, one Roseate (blurred) and another. Not really sure of the bird bottom right although it is a lousy photo. Structurally it is bigger than the Common Terns, whiter too and, had the bill been orange I have considered Forster’s, I might still have to. Another bird was further away so the shots are even worse, answers on a postcard for this one.

Going back to The Hawk, on the morning of July-9th Mark McCollough (not someone anyone knows around here) saw and photographed a Brown Booby on rocks off the beach. Details are limited but at least he reported it through eBird and we are all looking forwards to seeing the photo. The last one on CSI, a good few years back, spent perhaps a day flollopping, it’s a booby thing, around one of the camps on The Cape before shuffling off this mortal coil, Sharron and Ronnie found it dead near the light. Thinking this new bird might do the same we charged around The Cape the next day, seeing nothing of note so perhaps it has shipped out or, it may just be sitting on a rock near you!

The dowitchers I mentioned earlier have now topped 1800 today (July-13th), a rapid rise from around 700 under a week ago. In their midst today were 350 or so Semipalmated Sandpipers, 140 Semipalmated Plovers and few other species besides. Best of all were a couple of Hudsonian Godwits that fed on the edge of the mud at range, then they flew over the parking lot allowing for a few doc-shots to b grabbed. I had a Bonaparte’s Gull this morning too so it was well worth the early start and patient sift through the shore birds.

Finally, it has been good to see a few visiting birders around CSI recently although the weather has been quite cruel at times. Fog has visited far more times that we’d like although sometimes it has resulted in good birding. Mostly though it has been a real pain, even appearing when the wind had northerly elements to it, definitely not part of the script. Hopefully we will get more good days than bad, especially as autumn tends to be better than spring, weather-wise.


Over the Hump

Birders like to slice up the avian cake, picking the best bits to enjoy first. Spring, autumn, winter but not deep winter – that is the soggy bit, and finally summer. Summer is when we do the breeding birds, count the fledglings and keep a watchful eye out for threats (us) to threatened breeders. Summer is the hump, a season of less pulse racing excitement but very important as, without it, there won’t be any more birds although you might be forgiven for thinking that was what many people (not birders) were aiming for. We hear the reports of folks knocking down Cliff Swallow nests because of the mess, have you seen how much mess you make yourself petal! People and industry (builders etc.) go slashing through trees and shrubs while birds are on eggs or feeding young, then the aftermath ends up in bird care places. Not to mention all those farmers, hobbyists and ‘real’ ones, who now cut their hay fields just as the grasslands species’ young are in the nests. Bobolinks are roundly screwed thanks to this and the Government fails to tackle it with cash incentives to promote better cutting policies. If it costs the farmers dollars, even miniscule amounts, then species protection means zip but don’t get me started on this, whoops, too late.

Anyway, we are now over the hump and the shorebirds are heading south. I took a look at The Hawk, Cape Sable Island today (July-5th) and counted, give or take five, 537 Short-billed Dowitchers out there. They can reach 15,000 in numbers in fact the shorebirds in general will be so numerous that counting is just a case of a good guess for some species at times.

A few days ago Rachel Hoogenbos, who lives on Daniel’s Head, saw a small egret off the back of her place. It had visible head plumes and Little Egret needed to be ruled out. She gave us a call and we got flight views which seemed to back up the expected Snowy Egret although she has had Little off there before and has even seen them side-by-side in Florida. Today I got a good look at the egret, well one of them as there may be two. Today’s bird certainly had some visible plumes but not the very elongate sort shown by Little, however, plumes break. In this case the yellow lores (face) and the extent and shape of the chin feathering, plus a few other features, again point to Snowy Egret. The bird also has a gammy leg so we should be able to track it when it moves, assuming it does.


This photo shows two Snowy Egrets and two Little Egrets together.

Daniel’s Head has been a regular spot for me recently although we did have visitors from the UK which meant I had to be sensible(ish). On June 25th Alix d’Entremont and Paul Gould found first one, then a second Forster’s Tern on the receding tide. The views were difficult at times and the photo ops even more of a challenge. Forster’s are found north to Massachusetts as part of their regular range, then further north still as irregular vagrants to rare vagrant the further you go. Most on-line images for them tend to focus on the easy non-breeding plumage, whereas this pair where one in full summer plumage and one showing a second-summer type with some had moult and darker than adult primaries. My photos were pants so I won’t even bother putting them here.

Other birds around have included more Nelson’s Sparrows, some very showy around Daniel’s Head. An irregular Black-crowned Night-Heron has been at the same spot, and an elusive Green Heron was on Hirtle’s Pond, The Hawk. Luck was very much required to see it and I only got lucky once when it flew into the fog. High ISO on the photo and all that.

Finally, we don’t get too many Cliff Swallows and in Shelburne Co they are a very scarce breeder, although the nests remain in-tact as far as I know. One was on The Hawk July-5th, resting on wires.