Eye of the Deceiver

Without doubt, digital photography has changed the face of birding. So capable is digital that, with the right camera, and that could just as well be a bridge as a full-sized DSLR, you can photograph a dot and have enough resolution to identify said dot when you look on the back of the camera (BOC). The camera records exactly what it ‘sees’, you see what you think the camera recorded and here the problem lies.

By their nature, the little review screen on the back of the camera is high resolution and, if you’ve used digital cameras at all, you’ll know that what looks good on the back of the camera sometimes is awful on a big PC screen.

We had this little brown duck on Cape Island, it was often off Swimm Point, our only gull-active fish plant and a place I tend to gravitate to in winter. A place to sit, watch and sometimes take photos. When I first saw the duck, I was transported back to January 2019 when a similar looking brown duck found the regular Greater Scaups some company in a strange land. I took a couple of days over that one, mainly because the views were awful and the weather did its best to make viewing almost impossible. I got there in the end, it was a female Tufted Duck, here it is.

This latest little brown duck was similarly hard to evaluate. I suspect that we have already used up our gale quota for this winter, we had two horrible days of car rocking winds and terrible conditions, but I tried anyway. On yet another bad day, when northwesterly gales that teased the air with snow squalls, I sat with the wind behind me and waited and, eventually, a group of brave Greater Scaup decided to come close, bringing the little brown job with them, here are the Greater Scaup.

I got a few shots of the interesting bird and, on the back of the camera, I decided that it was an immature Lesser Scaup, albeit a small one compared to a regular Male Lesser Scaup that hung with the flock of big scaup, but I still wanted better shots.

Being active birds, I had periods where I waited for another angle, or for it to come closer. In one period a loon was out there too, not that far away but seconds from being obscured by a decrepit jetty. I snapped two images before it vanished and then went back to my task. Not very long later I got shots of the Lesser Scaup I liked and, while reviewing them, glanced at the loon, expecting it to be a Common, it wasn’t.

The BOC gave the loon’s bill a bit of meat, possibly due to it merging with ripples. The visible plumage was not unlike an immature Pacific Loon, so I put out a BOC image and went to try for better looks, I didn’t get any. On Cape Island we keep each other abreast of developments, my rationale being better to have been seen and identified, than never to have been seen at all (per W. Shakespeare), and soon both Mike and Logan were looking for the loon. It did show badly and at range, and didn’t seem to sit like a red-throated, no head angled up. After a cold couple of hours of increasing crappy looks, I went home and threw the images onto the computer. The loon looked a little different on the big screen.

I revised the loon message to advise caution and that I wanted better views. Just to confirm, at this point I no longer suspected that it was a Pacific, but I wanted to rule it out with more details. Back in October 2019 I found a long-staying Pacific Loon on Cape Sable Island (see below), that one too took several looks until I was happy with the ID, again mostly down to the weather, distance and proximity of the bird to the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t get them.

Black Guillemots show great variety in their plumage stages and, until quite recently, I wasn’t aware of the possibility that a northern subspecies, Mandt’s Black Guillemot, might be found in our waters. Unfortunately, the reference images in winter plumage by age are limited, but the amount of dark around the eye on an otherwise very white looking head, a clean white rump and white underwing seem to be a requirement for Mandt’s candidates. I’ve seen a couple like that over the years, here they are. Note one in particular shows a lot of white, whether it is enough I can’t decide.

Now for the book bit, I always include something about my books here because this is my blog and the price of reading it is that you are at least made aware of my writing, bird-related or otherwise. All of my books are sold by Amazon, if you’re not aware of Amazon I’d question how your cave has electricity and Internet service to allow you to read this. I price everything as cheap as they’ll let me so eBooks are rock-bottom. Paperbacks are more expensive but nice to hold and, if you buy one and bump into me with it, I’ll sign it for you.

January is going ok on the bird-front. We lucked into this Broad-winged Hawk locally and enjoyed great views of a really pale Red-tailed Hawk. In the yard a surprise Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has survived the worst, so far, and the Starlings, which grow fat on my suet, number over a hundred some days. I suspect that some have to walk to roost after a feast.

Winter means gulling and, for those with the patience, there are a lot of gulls to go through. I thought I’d still a selection of Kumlien’s Gull images, just so that you can appreciate the plumage variety they exhibit. I left a couple of other things in too.

If you read this and don’t know where I mean when I mention Cape Sable Island site, you’ll be stunned to know that a site guide is available and that, for pennies (although single pennies are no longer currency) you can get it for your phone, tablet or PC, all you need is the free Kindle app and the money. You can also get a paper version too.

Finally, the Snowy Owl at the causeway continues to thrive and attract a lot of people who come to admire it. I even did a thing on the local on-line newspaper for it, see here: https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/communities/snowy-owl-sighting-a-hoot-for-shelburne-county-birdwatchers-the-tri-counties-are-in-many-ways-a-birders-dream-100682329/

Their website is the usual shit with pop-ups and the like, but at least we had some coverage.

And now for a few more shots.

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