The Whole Nine Days

January 1st of any year is always a day of birding effort for me, and I’ll purposefully seek out all the species that I can find, because the whole thing has reset, my island is on zero, my year list is on zero, my yard list is on zero. So I dredge out those snippets of information I mentally filed away for such a purpose, like where a Common Goldeneye might hang out, or what the tide will be like for shorebirds, and whether a ride around the fish plants in the hope of a Glaucous Gull is worth it.

This year was no exception and Sandra and I were out and about after a good look at the yard, picking off the spots around Cape Sable Island. As birding days went, it was ok, the highlights being two Snowy Owls and ending with a local Red-bellied Woodpecker that ignored the banging fireworks, things that only the irredeemably stupid would buy and unleash on the pets and wildlife in their area.

Snowy Owls are commoner this winter, probably more because of our location rather than a genuine incursion. When that happens they are found everywhere, and in numbers. Our first Snowy Owl was at West Head, an ambivalent bird on a utility pole in the middle of the parking lot, very nice.

Our last Snowy was from the causeway, sat on a picnic table ignoring all about him while waiting for the first McDonald’s sustained rats to poke their little pink noses out of their hidey holes. I got a reasonable photo a few days later when he looked fit and well.

Day two of the New Year saw us head to Yarmouth, sort of our second home when it comes to birding. We weren’t disappointed, apart from with the weather, as the Harris’s Sparrow showed for a bad photo, a Yellow-breasted Chat showed but the camera wasn’t having it, and the rest of the Yarmouth birds slipped serenely onto our burgeoning year lists including Marsh Wren, the only thing we missed was House Wren, it seems to have moved on.

The weather locally then ebbed and flowed. It is winter and you have to let it get on with it, it’s no good complaining that weather forecasters using high level technology would be more accurate if they just wet their finger and stuck it out the window. It was generally gusty, cooler and a bit wet, but we did have a window on the horizon, January 6th, it looked like we might get a ride out if the weather held.

When I say going for a ride out, I mean doing what has become something of a tradition, doing a listing circuit to see whatever rarities were on offer. This year, with Covid again intruding into our lives, things had to be considered. In the end it was just Mike, Logan and myself that set off for Lunenburg and our first target, Dickcissel.

Five minutes after arrival, and after marveling at the sheer number of House Sparrows present, we got it. Next was a returning Yellow-throated Warbler in Chester. This year the warbler had shifted its reliability to a different set of feeders from the regular ones. We tried there, nothing, so we went back to the old faithful set. We got three new year birds there, but no warbler, so it was back to Union Street for a second go and, you’ve guessed  it, after five minutes we were on our way with the Yellow-throated Warbler duly, if briefly, enjoyed.

Next was Miner’s Marsh, the very popular spot in Kentville that had resident Carolina Wren/s and the possibility of a Mockingbird, maybe a chat, for the chat-less in our midst, and, who knows, perhaps the Ovenbird might also still be there, a prize winter list bird.

We spent quite a bit of time at Miner’s, later helped by Sarah who birds the place regularly. Ovenbird followed a friendly Northern Mockingbird onto the list, but the wren was not playing the game, so Mike and Logan wandered to the chat spot, while I persisted with the wren. The chat gave itself up easily to them, so now we focused on the wren some more and, eventually, it too showed.

After a refresh of supplies at Tim’s, owned that US company now, disgraceful, we headed to a nearby sewage farm for an American Coot, but it had gone. We then hit the road, after driving through the tedious traffic of New Minas, and was soonish hitting Malvern Square. The Eurasian Collared-Dove there can be elusive, this time it wasn’t, it was the first bird we saw. Next!

At Brickton, a Red-shouldered Hawk was back for its second winter. It might even be the bird that used to winter at Pleasant Lake in Yarmouth County, but now it was showing irregularly in the same area as last year and, as usual, some luck was required in seeing it.

I think we did four circuits of the roads looking for it, we tried one more shunt, going further up Mount Hanley Road but facing the real possibility of a dip, a miss. On the way back, past a spot that we’d only just gone by, the hawk was now sat and showed long enough to enjoy.

We headed home and Mike and I took great pains to assure Logan that not all Nova Scotia twitching was as easy as that, I may have mentioned a Kelp Gull during the examples mentioned. We had hoped to bag a Barred Owl in the dusk on the way but didn’t, nobody was complaining.

That evening eBird told me that I had ninety-eight species for the year, a good start but I like round numbers. The next day was awful, rain, snow, awful, so I waited a day and then went to Pubnico on the right tide to look for a Black-headed Gull, it was there, I had ninety-nine, one to go. Once home, I resumed my scanning of the channel opposite, hoping for a Red-necked Grebe or similar for the yard year list, didn’t get a grebe but what I did get was fifteen Snow Buntings, one hundred up, thank you and good night.

By the end of the ninth day of January I’d added just one more, Dunlin, but tomorrow is another day and the great thing about living in a birdy place is that you never know what will show up. Another good thing about hitting the ninth day of January is that the duck hunting season closes very soon, and I for one won’t be sorry to see the back of it for another year. You can argue all you like about tradition, economic importance or whatever, to me killing for leisure is inexplicable and, in a time of global extinction, inexcusable.

Here are a selection of 2022 images so far.

The year 2022 has started well for the birds, not so great for avoiding Covid, with, for us, huge numbers of infections reported, and probably huge numbers also not reported, we only see the tip of the iceberg. If you’ve not been vaccinated, and you are a friend, please re-think your choices, I really don’t want to lose you. My mum used to say ‘don’t come running to me if you break your leg’, same applies if you’re dead from a preventable virus I’m afraid.

I’ll not rattle on about books, I don’t think I get much interest from this blog to be honest. I’ll just end with a few book info-graphics, read them if you want.

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