Do the Bartsand

Question: What bird habitually lives at low altitudes and has zero relationship to sand as a habitat preference? Why the Upland Sandpiper of course. I wonder why Bartram’s Plover as a name was ever replaced, certainly not as part of the 1980s mania for re-naming bird species, the time when ‘they’ tried to tell us to call a Dunnock (a European bird, knap for a while and I’ll be back this side of the Atlantic soon) a Hedge Accentor, yeah right! The thing is, Bartram’s Plover is not a sandpiper, it eschews the grainy stuff, it wants grazed prairie where the bug picking is good and you don’t get bothered by those annoying, skittering peeps! The name will stay of course, just like American Thrush will keep pretending to be a robin (through no fault of its own) and Connecticut Warblers would much prefer to keep flying than pay a visit to their namesake state.

Perhaps we should campaign for a unique name, on that tells us what it is because we know what it is, something evocative. Sadly, Plains Wanderer is already owned by a smart Australian endemic, but it would fit, but what of the name used in the deep south (of the US), Papabotte. It is unique and is said to be derived from their weird song which, if you have never heard it is pretty memorable. Personally I much prefer unique names, Bonxie for Great Skua, Tystie for Black Guillemot although there are complications and even bastard for Great Black-backed Gull, I’m pretty sure that is what Thick-billed Murres already know them as.

If you want to hear their songs and calls and see a dinky range map then go to Xeno-Canto (link below) but do come back after although Xeno-Canto is a place you can happily wander around for hours.

The reason for my interest in Bartram’s Plover is because our current resident (not checked today 26-Apr, 2018) has been around for a good few days now and is confounding logic. First of all why is it sticking to the minute (unless you hand-mow them) lawns of yards on The Hawk when nearby, in fact it probably flew over it to get to The Hawk, is a suitably desolate island with short cropped grass and sheep shit in abundance. Further, why stay in the same disturbed area, shifting from lawn to lawn as various Hawk people go about their business, when there are larger cemeteries nearby which also replicate their preferred habitat to some extent? You’d think that site fidelity would only go so far and, as the bird seems to eat its weight in worms about once an hour, that it would have recovered from the long flap from its South American wintering grounds and moved somewhere less public. Yes, this tiny piece of flesh and feathers flies to the pampas of Uruguay and Argentina (and other countries down there with remnants of pampas) to spend the winter, returning north to breed, only to find that the fields it should be using are now full of canola, corn or stripped to sell as potting soil, life can be a bitch sometimes.

The Upland Sandpipers’ residence with us will come to an end and then it will be a rare and getting rarer treat in Nova Scotia again, and that is mostly why I have taken time to enjoy seeing it daily since it arrived, similarly the Grey-cheeked Thrush that still ‘owns’ the Daniel’s Head fish plant fence. I also kept an eye out as both are popular twitches, news is always welcome and birders do this sort of thing for each other. When gone, both will become a fond memory and, for those of us not pushing up the daisies in ten years’ time, will no doubt be part of a CSI window to window conversation recalling that April when we had…

From slightly enviously watching good birds being found around the Halifax area (but not chasing them, not doing a year list other than a natural accumulation) to having a choice of good birds to see locally has been but a short duration. Whether our blob on the tip of Nova Scotia, (Freud might call it the nipple of avian Mother Earth that feeds her twitching progeny – weird guy that Freud) accumulates birds that drip-feed south after more northerly arrival or whether they just pitch down here because they hit us first I don’t know but, suddenly, we have a couple of Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Heron should soon follow and, by the end of the year, most of the rare herons we get in NS will have put in an appearance. Shorebirds are turning up daily, warblers are just starting and, before we even know it, summer will be wafting its gentle fog banks our way whichever direction the wind chooses to blow.

One of two Snowy Egrets to be found around CSI in late April.

Mike and I did another visit to The Cape and, since I suspect that new readers have no idea of the geography of CSI I thought I’d include a map here (rudimentary) to orient people. We land at low to mid-tide at Stephen’s Point, then walk The Cape taking in the various features such as Locke’s Cabin (woodpile and scrub), The Forest, a couple of trees, more on that later, around Cape Light taking in the shingle bank and returning which ever route we chose back to either Stephen’s Point or, if the tie is too high, Shell Beach for pick-up. It is best to allow two to three hours for the visit and it is best to check sites like The Forest more than once.  If you have never been to CSI and intend to visit sometime, spend the price of a large coffee on the eBook, it was free for two years but I re-did it and now it requires a small investment. As an eBook it will fit onto a pad, tablet or phone and you can get it for all formats from iTunes etc. If you email me asking for directions to somewhere covered by the book I will point you back to it. While I can manage without the $1.57 I get per book (up to nearly $10.00 worth sold since I re-did it), I do prefer people to help themselves as much as possible, which is why I wrote it.

The blotchy line shows the route from The Hawk to The Cape. I drew a line across Stephen’s Point where the channel grows.

Back to the visit and it was a lovely day to be out. I had ten spruce trees in a backpack, part of regenerating The Forest, and an air of optimism as we landed at Stephen’s Point. Since my first visit back in June 2015 a small inlet between The Cape and Stephen’s Point has expanded with each storm. Since I last saw it another 50m had been added to the cut, at some point Stephen’s Point will not be easily accessible at any tide. Here is a phone shot of the cut.


There were a couple of people in Locke’s where we saw a Brown Thrasher briefly but not photographable. At The Forest the willows planted on the wet side of the rock seem to be taking and we should have a good willow holt in a couple of years, a willow holt is a stand of willows. Where the remaining spruce stand, a plantation created in around 1954? By Sid and Betty-June Smith, the keepers of the light, we planted ten spruce of varying transportable age. With a bit more supplemental planting, in fifteen years it should look pretty good, until then I have another cunning plan to enhance The Forest  for Autumn migration, more later. There were a few birds in there. A Hermit Thrush was carefully checked for signs of Bicknallity, a few sparrows hopped around and a Golden-crowned Kinglet joined us.


Above, the first of the spruce planting, below but tough to discern, the embryonic willow holt.

Aside from a ton of Savannah Sparrows (we didn’t weigh them, it is a metaphor) we didn’t find much else. We regular Cape visitors suspect that we could do the circuit daily there until late May and find good birds every time, alas once a week is likely all we will be able to manage.

As we came across the channel there was a group of shorebirds milling around including Short-billed Dowitcher and the first American Golden Plover of the season. The rush of birds for the non-year list means I’ve seen 149 species so far, 107 on CSI alone. I don’t expect to get anywhere near last year’s total of 247 for CSI, yes 247 species in one year just on CSI, I bet you are thinking that you really should visit sometime.

Above American and Black-bellied Plover, not sure which is which? Look in you field guide. Below a flock of Dunlin and one Short-billed Dowitcher.

Snowy Egrets at Overton, 25-Apr, 2018 and nothing to do with the post.

Do the Bartsand?, a Simpson’s reference.


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