When I was but a kid, old people used to tell me that the years flew by. I couldn’t understand what they meant; years were years made up mostly of 365 days of unchanging length with an extra one in leap year. Then the unencumbered time that was always my own became someone else’s and I went to work. The days then could the not go fast enough, weekends were lived for and flew by with unappreciated haste. Now I’m old, relatively, and exactly in the way I was once told, the time just flies by. No sooner was January-1st, 2018 written in the first notebook of the year than the closing details of Dec-31st, 2018 written in the last. It’s not possible to put a brake on time, but you can use it well, fill it with as much as you can physically manage and hope that there is enough left for you to pack a whole lot more in before it stops, dead.
What you do with your time is all about opportunity. I choose to go birding, every day. In the past, my past, the birding that I could fit in while making a living was documented in notebooks, a habit continued today. New and some old birders don’t do that now; they have apps for eBird which records the cold data, not the day. I could switch to the eBird app, enter everything from my phone while paying the phone company, Bell if you are interested, for an expnsive data package, but that would cost about the price of a tank of fuel a month and that equates to at least two weeks birding Cape Sable Island, so I don’t
So I make up a notebook each year, two per year, individual ones for trips, and I list the details of the birds seen, where I ate, what the weather was, anything I think I should remember and I even jot down ideas I have, blog themes, rants, whole story outlines that I know will never be finished. I write down my targets for the year, what species I want to see on CSI, in NS. I also tabulate data in the back, the month, how many days birded, ticks for each list that has meaning to me. Because I have notebooks going back to 1981 – prior to that my notes went to landfill, thanks mum! I can open a page and re-live the day because the birds listed and any side notes are the bricks that make the memory.
At one time, the basic advice for a new birder regarding how to start out was: Buy the best binoculars you could afford; buy the standard field guide and read it repeatedly and start a notebook, recording the date, location and weather for each trip. Write what you saw and take notes on what was new or unusual – yes, write down field notes, you can even add notes to the field guide because you will never sell it or give it away although you might lose it! The art of field notes has largely gone now. Honest digital images can support most records, where the reviewer can see the pale edges to the tertials or the buffy salmon coloured flanks or the long tail and short wings. It is progress but much like reading an eBook, a very useful medium for books, but you just you don’t have the physical sensation of a book in your hand or your original notes in your personalised notebook.
Time slipping by quickly, as 2018 seems to have done, was how I started this review, and I’ve subsequently occupied a piece of your time, the time you’ve taken to read this and you can’t get it back. If you think it is worth reading what I write, and some must do, given the number of hits this blog gets, then I thank you for spending your precious time with me and I hope my often inane ramblings entertain more than offend.
At the end of each year I review whether I will continue to blog, and why I blog. So far I’ve had the energy and inspiration to continue but one day, when time becomes even more precious, I’ll no doubt have to stop. For now I’ll bid a fond farewell to 2018, people lived and died. Bigots occupied the most important offices imaginable and the fragile system we call economics – so ruthlessly exploited by the few for their frivolous little lives – wheezed on. The year 2019 is an unknown quantity. There will be birds, lots I hope, and there will be happiness and sadness, trauma and calm, futures taking shape and pasts unravelling. The notebook is ready, the car full of fuel and I still have a pulse, we go again. Maybe, just maybe, 2019 will be the year of the reasonable despot!
I think I’ll do this review without chronology, so the photos will be captioned as individual entities and any detail will just be a part of what the image inspires.
I’ll start with an image of a species that wasn’t a tick, not even a CSI tick but, because they are usually not enjoyed out in the open so much and because I consider them to be a good bird, perhaps because I rarely saw on in Quebec when I was there and don’t have it on my UK list. The species if Grey-cheeked Thrush and the bird was found by Johnny and Sandra hopping around the Daniel’s Head fish plant fence in April. It stayed a while, showed beautifully and was greatly enjoyed.
In many of my blog posts I’ve noted that it has been a funny year for me personally. Twitches went wrong sometimes and things that might have clicked better didn’t. A prime example was the NS tick Canvasback that Alix found right by the CSI causeway in March. Obviously, I travel that causeway regularly and I scan the birds that frequent it regularly. I’d crossed the causeway the day before and seen, I think, a Common Murre. Alix visited and found the male Canvasback bobbing about in a place where it would be seen, sounds obvious but there is no better way to put it. The bird stayed and was again widely enjoyed although perhaps not by some of the wroughty trucks that cross, you know the sort, they sound angry when they pass you, how dare you park and only leave enough room for two school buses to past side-by-side! It is the same people that stop at a concede sign at a junction, death’s too good for them!
Yard birding is important to me. Our yard is also a valid birding spot with more species than many eBird hotspots, not that I want it listing as a hotspot thank you. I spend a lot of time looking, at feeders, at the marsh opposite, the sky above and the sea when the viewing conditions allow me to ID birds there. There are quiet months when the birds are busy breeding and the daily fare changes very little. July is usually one of the those months but it is also long been known as the month when crossbills, notoriously early breeders, disperse. It was July-07 when I was sat on the deck, with the afternoon sun almost backlighting the feeders. Purple Finch had been regular so the red looking bird that had just dropped into the adjacent tree only got a casual rise of the bins, it was a CSI tick Red Crossbill.
I grabbed the camera, expecting only a doc-shot, then it dropped to the feeder. Mike and Sandra where away from CSI (recurring theme when a rarity showed up!) and so I had no worries about scaring it off but trying for a better photo. I need not have worried, it settled in to eat Sunflower seeds while I stood at almost minimal focus distance with the sound recorder pointing in its direction. After fifteen minutes it left the feeder, called quietly a couple of times and then was never seen again! The eBird expert confirmed it as a type 10 from the Appalachians. That will do for me.
My ears are shit. I used to be able to hear a sparrow fart at 6,000 feet but now they’d need a banjo to attract my attention. I do have hearing aids for the high pitched calls and songs but even with them I sometimes struggle if the noise maker is too far away. I blame my former employer in Quebec for the tinnitus that impedes my hearing and, had I been more aware, would have retained the necessary documentation required to have burned their ignorant asses in court, still, I’m not bitter. My lack of hearing is only compounded when birding with those more aurally adept, and so when Sharron and Ronnie d’Entremont heard and then saw a singing Blue-winged Warbler on the Clyde River Rd back in May, well hats off to them. Again not a tick in any sense but a great little bird, stunning looking and interestingly active.
Some places are just birdy, but that is a bit of a misnomer as they are only birdy if a birder sees the birds there, otherwise they are just another place where birds show up from time to time. Where Ervin lives is both birdy and has a birder in residence, so he gets good yard birds just like we do. One surprise was when he got a June White-winged Dove and it stayed long enough for us to get there from CSI and see it. How many White-winged Doves we get in NS we don’t know, likely just a couple and they move around, occasionally being seen by those who know what they are. Still a good NS rarity, this dove didn’t come down close but filled an NS tick gap for Sandra.
One of the highlights for us landlubbers every year is the Ronnie d’Entremont organised Pubnico Pelagic. After the 2017 version where we went further than we have ever been, stayed longer and saw more, 2018 was back to a day trip, closer in but still with lots of potential. Follow the link at the end to see Alix’s excellent YouTube video and enjoy Paul’s Sunfish footage. We had what you might call a par trip, seeing everything we expected, getting great views of most things and still hoping right up to the quay that we might get a rarity, that is the nature of pelagics and Ronnie’s always carry that hope that something spectacular will appear in our little patch of ocean. My personal highlight, after the Sunfish, was to get my best Sooty Shearwater shots. Still a long way from perfect but a big improvement on the blurred brown blobs I can now delete from my library!
At the very end of the year we often get a nice surprise, usually before Brian’s birthday who, while being a very naughty boy who’s Roman syntax leaves a lot to be desired, at least gives people a real reason to celebrate the season. This year it was a Harris’s Sparrow. It showed up in Dartmouth, it threw it down all the time we were there, the phot is crap, I may get another go at it if something else making the trip worthwhile shows up, that is all. Thanks to Pat McKay for finding it.
We don’t get too many swans in Nova Scotia and, when we do you hope they’ll show outside hunting season. One in Lunenburg/Halifax County in January managed to avoid a gun and was duly celebrated by those who visited it. Sadly, it looked pretty knackered from the off and the weather was no friend to it. We saw it well and it was a welcome NS tick but it died a few days later, such is life.
Non-birders and birder-lite’s don’t appreciate what twitching is all about. Yes it is irrational, but so are very many things that Humans do. Yes it is not very environmentally friendly, so very much in keeping with virtually all Human activity. Yes it is only a tick, on a tick sheet designed to add ticks to it. What is not considered, especially by those who claim to be purists (no such thing, sorry!), is the amount of data accumulated by those who chase when they complete their eBird checklists. Sure some just put the tick on it, they may always do that or they may eventually want to add more. Most, and that includes 99.9% of rarity finders, contribute the sort of data that could only have been dreamed of pre-eBird. Counts, distribution and dates for all the other species seen are part of the package along with the tick. I put many trips in to Daniel’s Head on CSI and counts are part of each checklist. Sometimes I see something unusual, such as the Eastern Meadowlark in November, and I see that as part of the icing on the cake of birding. I was particularly happy because it was a provincial or life bird for some and I was able to contribute to the collective effort that goes into finding rare and scarce birds in NS. You may not particularly like the notion of (responsible) twitching but you cannot denigrate the data it generates.
We were away in September but the NS birding fates chose not to punish us. Instead they waited until October to send an American White Pelican our way. Being around at the right time is a matter of luck and minutes can make all the difference, as can being 18 hours away by road. The CSI American White Pelican was an island first; all the better, as it meant that Johnny got a CSI tick. What was particularly bad was that Mike and Sandra were 18 hours away by car and where we’d survived September, they were victims of cruel fate in October. I hoped it would stay, it didn’t, I hoped it might show up again, it didn’t.
Facebook is a useful medium for sharing. We have a Cape Sable Island and Surrounding Area group for those interested. Mostly we have photos of various forms of wildlife, sometimes a phot makes you sit up and take notice. When Greg White posted a shorebird shot in April, we all did just that as Greg had found an Upland Sandpiper. Being a prairie species the lost bird chose the nearest thing to prairie on CSI, the lawns on The Hawk! Not only did it stay around a good while but it was so confiding that you hoped it had sense to avoid one of the many cats at large. It did and delighted everybody who saw it. It wasn’t new for me in NS but was such an enjoyable experience that it had to make the review, great find Greg.
When an extreme rarity is found and you know that probably the best time you can manage is just under an hour, you cross everything that might be considered prehensile in the hope that it will stay. In November any empid flycatcher is worthy of merit, so when Paul Gould glimpsed one on Cape Forchu, the odds were in its favour in the rarity stakes. Back of the camera shots showed a Hammond’s Flycatcher, the first for the mainland and requiring the briskest of drives between CSI, via the hell that is Starr’s Road, to get to Cape Forchu. Fortunately the fates smiled, Mike, Sandra and myself ‘got it’, before it vanished forever. I doubt it left Forchu on the day, instead finding a warm hollow with some food. Credit to Paul and Alix for the ID and getting the news out. Kick in the ass for me for not putting my camera in the car during the rush and having to use Sandra’s for my photo tick shots.
Cape Sable Island is a big place with lots of room to lose birds. That we actually see so many of the ones that show up is down to luck and dedication by the few who look. Sometimes the luck overrides all and when I pulled over on The Guzzle, to check the ducks for ducks and happened to spot movement in the grass around the tiny pool opposite, it was pure luck. That the movement was a December Virginia Rail and not a Mink even luckier, a CSI tick. That the bird posed briefly but was never seen again was unlucky but then, like I say, CSI is a big place. Two more species to go if you are still with me, then a very few Australia photos.
Caspian Tern is annual in the province in small numbers, it probably passes through CSI annually on migration, but not pausing, so when Johnny and Sandra found one on Daniel’s Head in July there was a feeling of relief. It stayed long enough to be enjoyed by those on the island at least and, while it did not offer great photo ops, was recorded for posterity.
Brewer’s Blackbird is a non-descript bird from out west, it is genuinely rare in the east, especially so in NS and likely many of the past claims are misidentifications and unsupported by the all-important photo documentation needed for the empid of the icterids. Johnny and Sandra found one at the end of November on Daniel’s Head but my Sandra and I were too late to see it. Ervin had been nearby and got the shots that agreed with the ID, done and dusted, missed but confirmed. Of course we searched, long and hard and in all the logical places. Sandra and I went to Yarmouth December-2nd after we’d birded CSI all day on the 1st. Johnny called while we were there, the Brewer’s was back and at the same place it had occupied before. The same brisk pace that had been employed in driving between CSI and Forchu was employed on the reverse journey. Mike, who had been on CSI, had seen the bird and who was sending updates stayed out in the cold watching it until we arrived, perhaps not breathless but breathing stressfully heavily. We need not have worried as, despite the poor weather the brewer’s lingered long enough for those available to make the trip to see it. I applied a little seed to the area to keep it fed and it consumed it with gusto. Quite where it had been is anyone’s guess and why it did the usual dirty trick of skipping before the weekend birders could see it is a birding question older than time. It stayed, we saw it, species 280 for my CSI list.
We had always planned to do a trip to Australia at some point. It is an expensive destination to get to, and an expensive place to be, so you go for as long as you can and do as much as you can. We planned on nearly a month and none of it would have been possible with two factors. The primary was that our cats had sitters, enter Mike and Sandra. Factor two was the cash, enter a man called Charlie Smith who, when I started work as a Motor Mechanic for Nottingham City Council all those years ago greeted me first and then told me that I would be paying into the pension and it would be the best thing I ever did. As a young man pensions were something old people did but nobody argued with Charlie, I signed up and he was spot on, thanks Charlie. In the UK you can take a tax-free lump sum, so I have In Canada where they tax, tax I’ll pay tax on it, but still had enough left for a trip, so we spent it all. True we might have to have bread and lard for a couple of years but Australia was worth it!
These are just a few shots, click on the Australia tab at the top of the page (on a PC, somewhere probably on a tablet) to see blog posts and more images or search YouTube (links below) for a slide show from each major birding area we visited. The YouTube thing is an ID test so you’ll need an Australia field guide although I am working on adding the answers at the end (and fixing errors).
The Australian birds on show here are: Red-backed Fairy-Wren, Common Bronzewing, Galah, Crimson Finch, Victoria’s Riflebird, Silver Gull, Bell Miner, Rainbow Bee-eater and Pacific Baza. Just enjoy the photos. After that my favourite photo of the year, a Magnolia Warbler on The Cape, May, 2018.
And finally, many thanks to everyone who made 2018 so great. Living in Nova Scotia is such a privilege and having such good friends and honor. 2019 has a lot to live up to but every year is different and that is a good thing. I wish everyone I know and like a great year and, hopefully, I’ll be writing effusively about 2019 in Twelve months-time. Any errors in this lengthy post are mine alone, the next post will be stats and after that we’ll talk hunting!