A Tale of Two Saw-Whets

If you had come here thinking this was a little known work by a famous author called Dickens, sorry to disappoint, it is mostly about Saw-Whets though.

Our story starts with a phone making a noise on 11th March, a familiar noise, one that meant a message had been received, but how relevant would it be?. March isn’t generally a great birding month, although this one seems to be doing ok. It is a month where you hope for a rare gull, and the big three, Ross’s, Ivory and Black-tailed are the ones you drool over. Not that your chin is dry at the thought of a California either, it’s just that, in terms of avian sexiness, the first three might be considered to be the birders’ greatest gull tick desires. If pushed, here in the east I’d venture that we could also whisper sweet Heermann’s.

The phone message, which I realise you have been patiently waiting for me to reveal, was from Paul Gould. He’d found a day-roosting Northern Saw-Whet Owl and it wasn’t too far away and barely north. Not only is Saw-whet one of the cutest of all owls, it was a Yarmouth tick too and one of only four species I’d not photographed in NS, while amassing my Nova Scotia list of 374.

The owl was sat next to a busy road, but was fine with the cars and people watching provided we didn’t go and try to tickle its chin. While we were there, local cars almost slowed, some even stopped  and asked what we were looking at. Sadly the bird had moved later when others went to look. We hope that it wasn’t flushed, if it was and the flushee reads this, feel free to feel guilty.

To put the owl event into context, I have lived here since May 2015 and had yet to see a day roosting Saw-Whet. Ronnie, who has lived here considerably longer and spent many hours ‘in the woods’ hadn’t had the experience either. It was a rare and much hoped for opportunity for what is a common but rarely encountered species.

The following day Ronnie and I had arranged to go out birding, our plans changing a bit when Ray said he was coming from Dartmouth for the Grey Heron. We naturally wanted him to succeed, and so set off before his arrival to try to track it down.

To get to the 08:00 pick-up point at Pubnico Head, I passed a much Barred Owl habitat, this winter they really are a highway bird, but I didn’t see any, surprisingly. At Pubnico, Ronnie joined me and we set off for Argyle Head. A little over half-way to the Argyle turn off, said to be SOOOO dangerous that many dollars are needed to be spent on a junction instead of fixing the damn roads that are full of potholes, some of which you can buy fishing permits for, Ronnie yelled ‘another one’ and there at the roadside was another Northern Saw-Whet Owl. The light was awful but we took a few shots, put the word out and pressed on hoping the owl wouldn’t fly into anything that was moving fast, because everything was.

At Argyle Head we found the Grey Heron and had views of the wintering Red-shouldered Hawk. Having passed on the news to Ray as he sped our direction, we went back to the Saw-Whet and sat with it as the light improved. The traffic increased in volume, both in numbers and audibility thanks to shit mufflers and the need to make your crappy truck sound like a tank, dickheads, and the owl started to fidget. Ray was getting ever nearer but we were thinking that it would go before he got there, it didn’t, but not by much.

When it did go, it flew low over the  highway and disappeared into thick trees. For now it is safe, we hope it stays that way. Next we went back to the Grey Heron but it had cleared off. Luckily Richard had seen it the previous day in a new spot not too far away, so we went there and Ray got his bird.

The next week might bring another Northern Saw-Whet, or we might go many more years before another day roosting bird gives itself up, such are the vagaries of birding.

If you enjoy reading this blog and this style of bird writing, you’ll enjoy my book that chronicles my first 7.5 years in Nova Scotia. Called ‘The Seven Year Twitch’ it covers all 372 species seen and is lavishly illustrated with photographs. The eBook is $2.99 and is the best way to enjoy such a book. There is a solid version, but it is more expensive due to the colour printing. All my books are available from Amazon, in Canada that is Amazon.ca, elsewhere it can be bought from your local Amazon web store.

While Ray was visiting the area, we stopped at Lobster Rock Wharfe (Klingon version), ostensibly looking for the regular Barrow’s Goldeneye that we now have to add to eBird, oh those crazy filters. We didn’t see it but this loon bobbed about off the wharf. I have never seen a Common Loon with such a white bill. I also did a little montage showing it and what regular ones look like.

Further birding book that might interest you, and again the eBook is way better, honestly, are our travelogues. Sandra and I have birded, mostly at our own pace, a few countries over the years. Our travelogues are effectively those trips written up with lots of images. Here are three of them.

I mention the Grey Heron here again because it survived the awful weather, the ice, snow, temps lower than -20C, how is a mystery. I recently managed a few more shots of it, here is a sample.

Yarmouth has a pretty good year so far. While the Grey Heron was totally unexpected, Redhead, the duck species, was surprisingly missing from the county list until Kathleen found three in Yarmouth Harbour, 3rd-March. It was well worth nipping over to see them although, sadly, they only stayed for a day. They were always a bit distant but did venture into open water briefly.

Our resident Black-headed Gull that hangs out on the prom at North-east Point continues to delight. It looks really pinky around the belly, still no hood yet. I’m sure everyone  is hoping it’ll hang around so we can see it in full summer plumage. The odd thing is that birds in Europe have moulted into summer plumage, you wonder why this one hasn’t.

Despite the learned thoughts on the weather of a rodent and a relieved Lobster, both considered intellectuals in the scheme of things, the winter is looking like it is petering out after a few snowy days. Good riddance, that’s three times this winter we’ve had to shovel, no wonder the local Bananas are not looking their best (we live in what others call the ‘Banana Belt’, you need to know that for the joke to work).

I’m up to date with things now although it has been a while since I posted. This blog goes back to May-2015 and contains a lot of posts and images, feel free to browse. If you are a YouTube frequenter we have a few videos there, here is our channel address, enjoy.



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