Let’s Nip to Baccaro

So we did (Feb-15th). We couldn’t find the Harp Seal that had been hanging around there but a couple of Snowy Owls were easy enough. On a whim we went off to Yarmouth, peanuts were needed anyway but they were the side show as we roamed around the birdy spots and enjoyed some luck.

No photos but both the Greater White-fronted and Pink-footed Geese were in a goodish sized flock of Canada Geese in the fields between Chegoggin Bay and the Pembroke Road. At Chegoggin Point we did find a thoroughly pissed off American Pipit. Yes my friend, the snow can go from whence it came anytime soon.

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American Robins are currently everywhere. As I write this I have a planning committee of 26 sitting below one of the bird tables. Their plan to strip the yard of the rest of the berries has come to fruition (pun intended) and now they are considering evolving quickly to be able to clear up the Sunflower Seeds that the wind has liberally scattered around the yard. I may try to nourish them with Sultanas, I know Sandra has some hidden somewhere. I mention the American Robins because this Cooper’s Hawk seemed keen on snacking on one, again at Chegoggin. They were having none of it though so perhaps junco for tea again, even if it does get samey.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Sharp-shinned Hawk land on a wire out in the open, but Cooper’s do so regularly.

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The hawks in general were pretty good and, in the course of the afternoon, we had Sharp-shinned, three Red-tailed, two Bald Eagles and Turkey Vultures were omnipresent, ready to do the tidying up. The lone Brant is still hanging with the Canada Geese, makes you realise how tiny they are. Numbers of them are rising around The Hawk, Cape Sable Island, I had 40 there the last time I looked.

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Our last port of call was to try for a Ring-necked Duck, a year bird and joining the Hermit Thrush we’d seen at Overton earlier. The bridge to the old folks’ home at the north end of Lake Milo was the spot and there they were. In breeding plumage they always look odd, like they are not too good at flying  under low bridges, smacking their foreheads flat with repeated impacts. The same complex had a bunch of Bohemian Waxwings and one Cedar lurking in there. For a quick nip to Baccaro the day turned out quite well.

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Going back a day or so, in a gap between the snow storms, I did the CSI sites hoping for a Dovekie or similar. Not much happening but I did shoot a few pics.

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Male Mallard prevaricating.

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Most of the bunch of scaups around Swimm Point, CSI are Greater.

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A pair of Gadwall, we don’t get many on CSI.

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Our eastern Common Eider.

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I wonder why, when this American Herring Gull has moulted into summer plumage, the legs have stayed dull flesh, I presume they’ll catch up, just like virtually every other gull around at the moment..

Finally, I was in the deserted West Head parking lot when a silver spaceship landed. Out came an alien very similar looking to us. It said it was from the planet Larus where they lived a peaceful life studying gulls. It asked what gulls were around and I showed it this photo and I said that they were American Herring Gulls. It shook its head sadly and told me, possibly telepathically, that if we think these are the same species then we are not ready for contact, and left. Of course, I could have dreamed it but it has a point – see below.

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And now, shock, some wintery scenes from Daniel’s Head.

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Big tides with a storm surge, some beach an road damage but nothing that cannot, and will not be ignored.

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This is the view from the sea watching spot, looking south, then the other way.

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February Fortitude

Not many birders (in the north) like February. It is a dead month, the depth of winter and a time when nothing much is expected to happen in the bird world. We always have gulls to look at though, omnipresent around the bays and fish plants, loafing, feeding, looking nothing like those illustrations in the field guides in some cases but what’s new there? I’m not complaining though, I could still be in Quebec with snow up to my Ass (never keep a quadruped outside in the winter in QC) and nary a blade of grass to see until April. At least we still have the rare geese in our area to enjoy, when you can find them that is. The Yarmouth duo, the Pink-footed and Greater White-fronted Geese, had gone missing until February 2nd when Ervin found them in nearby Pembroke, hiding in with the Canada Geese. Sandra and I were in Yarmouth to pick up bits and so went along and got distant views. Just the pinkie here.

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While in Yarmouth we wandered along to see the two male Barrow’s Goldeneye that are lingering off Lobster Rock wharf, this Glaucous Gull looked on. It seems to be a good winter for glaucs.

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Nearby, House Sparrows were still present in their favourite tangle. In many parts of the world the House Sparrow population has shrunk, mostly due to the changes in houses, no spacious soffits to breed behind and folk are oh so fussy if a sparrow nests on their property. On Cape Sable Island where we live they are hard to find and that is with plenty of feeders around, still the Yarmouth area seems to be to their liking and long may it continue.

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Just as we arrived in Yarmouth, a text from Alix prompted us to pay our respects to his Red-bellied Woodpecker on the way home, always nice to add it to the year list.

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As a little surprise, nay delight, I took Sandra along to Dennis Point Wharf to look at gulls, she loved it. We didn’t see the hoped for Thayer’s, it had been on CSI earlier in the day but we’d looked and missed it, but we did get this hybrid gull which is a different one from the regular hybrids we’ve been seeing there, I feel a blog post coming on about hybrids.

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On Saturday (2/4) the weather was cold with northerly winds chilling the bladder. West Head, CSI was covered in gulls but, as Obe Wan Kenobi might say, “not the gull you are looking for”. I did see this though, a Herring Gull probably, in an odd plumage possibly or whatever, it really stuck out. A web trawl has not been too useful so far and I suppose I could post to the Facebook gulls page but, to be honest, it gets a bit wearing when some pasty-faced geek, who only sees gulls occasionally, tells me it is good for something common. I really must stop yelling “if it was common I wouldn’t be posting the damn thing now would I?” at the computer, although it does cheer me up when I do!

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Another Alix text later in the afternoon, followed by one from Ronnie, told us that the Thayer’s Gull was back at Dennis Point. Sandra missed it by three minutes on CSI last time so, as a very special treat, I took her along to the point where we had great views. If you look at the last photo you can see a clipped off P5, same as the CSI bird, absolute confirmation.

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And finally, a female Northern Harrier from CSI.

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CSI Thayer’s

Regular readers will know of my search, ok obsession, with seeing Thayer’s Gull in Nova Scotia and how, quite recently (January-15th) I did, when one found by Alix d’Entremont at Dennis Point Wharf, Lower West Pubnico, made an evening appearance. That bird has been very elusive and only seen for certain on a handful of dates despite much gulling. I have tried for another view several times without success and I’ve searched our gull throng on CSI with similar luck, until today.

It being February 1st it was necessary to get out, just like any other day really. I have rather neglected CSI recently, making just quick sorties although having some luck. As I checked West Head, Newellton today it was mainly to get Glaucous Gull for the month and to see whether a recent Black-headed Gull was still around. It was snowing heavily when I arrived so I opted for car-bound observation. Scanning the gulls, I was drawn to an adult Iceland type gull. I say type as the regular Iceland Gulls are Kumlien’s, this one had a hint of nominate glaucoides about it. Proving it to be an Iceland Gull and not a Kumlien’s (and I am assuming you know what I mean here) required a decent view of the wings, preferably via a digital image, so I spent time snapping as it wheeled amongst the other gulls. I kept losing it and so switched to the bins to pick it up again. On the fourth such time I raised the bins and saw a Thayer’s Gull.

The Thayer’s was hard to track as it stayed on the opposite side of the pipe I was viewing, frequently drifting well out of sight. It took about five circuits of the bird before I got a wing shot which allowed me to see the diagnostic primary pattern. Then I made calls and set about getting more documentation, results below.

Mike arrived quickly and saw the bird well, Sandra a little later and missed it. I’m not sure whether Johnny got there was we started a search, meaning we left the main area, and may have missed him. Unfortunately the bird was nowhere around, and we looked hard for it, here are the photos. A careful analysis of the bill pattern by Alix strongly suggests it is the Pubnico bird, perhaps no surprise given that Thayer’s Gull is a genuine rarity in Nova Scotia.

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Earlier I saw this Herring Gull along Island Bait Road, very white headed as some are becoming now.

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The day before I’d had a bit of time at Dennis Point, here are a few photos with comments.

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Two different Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

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Above, a neat Kumilen’s. Below, the right hand bird looks interesting, same bird dipping showing just limited enthusiasm for being a Thayer’s.

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Below and inbetweener, best left at that, I didn’t see or photograph the open wings.

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Murre Massacre

On January 31st I came across a Common Murre (Guillemot) inside the dunes on Daniel’s Head, Cape Sable Island. eBird requires the species to be added to a Nova Scotia checklist but this past few weeks they have hardly been scarce. We are probably seeing the effect of the 24 hours south-easterly storm with driving rain as alcids just seem to at most sites.  The Daniel’s Head murre was a good photo op and so I sat in the car and waited for it to come to me on the falling tide.

It took a while for it to get the hang of things, slipping into the draining water off the large marsh before the bend in the road, and not the ocean entrance side either. It came past and photos were taken, then it zipped through the pipe and hopes were that it was on its way, albeit with a gull gauntlet to run. It got so far then paddled into a side pool, one that would soon be mud, and climbed out of the water. At this I tried to catch it, intending to take it to the ocean side where it at least stood a chance. It wasn’t having any of it though and scuttered out into the flow, last seen heading the right way.

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Today I was at West Head gull watching when I saw another Common Murre. This one was inside the wharf and was soon killed by a Great Black-Backed Gull. If I have seen this happen to two so far (I saw one meet the same fate about ten days ago) how many are perishing, Dovekies too? You wonder why they come inside and why they don’t dive and get the hell out of there when the big gulls notice them. Sad to see and the gulls have to eat too but you do feel for the murres.

Not Just Gulls

Well, actually it mostly is at the moment. January has proved to be ok but not wow, which is fine, we can do wow later when it is warm enough to enjoy it. The weather has not been terrible, except for the recent south-westerly storm with ripping winds and 24-hour rain. The birds got bashed, especially things like Dovekies, but that is the way of things. We have yet to see the arrival of Thick-billed Murres around the Cape Sable wharves, it might yet happen, February is often the month for this sort of thing, hopefully around the time that the Ivory and Ross’s Gulls will show up.

A birthday treat – it really is getting monotonous these annual events – was to go and look at gulls at Meteghan and Sandra came too, she is ok with gulls in small bursts and The Sip Café always tempts her out. Really I just headed that way to see if the gull was there for weekenders coming down to southern Nova Scotia for the rare and scarce birds we get. That would be, besides rare gulls, the two geese, Red-shouldered Hawk and the like. We got there and it was there on the beach is about all I can say. The Kamchatka Gull is the windiest of the lot, flying first and furthest, and that after Sandra had knitted me my own Kamchatka Gull suit. I guess a near six-foot version would be off-putting for any gull. I’ll show the latest photos of it at the end (oh good you say), here is a nice photo of a male Common Eider from CSI, Saturday (1/28) just to placate Facebook.

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We seem to have a surfeit of Glaucous Gulls around CSI at present, there are usually only one or two but today’s foray (again, 1/28) around Swimm Point and West Head, Newellton produced seven, five 1stW and two adults. Here is a selection of shots of the birds with appropriate comments.

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Iceland Gulls too are building up again, we probably have over a 100 around CSI with the largest concentration at the aforementioned sites. The variation with the Kumlien’s group, our Iceland Gull is called Kumlien’s, is vast. Dark winged birds are a very small proportion while seemingly ‘pure’ Iceland (but probably not) only number a couple. In between, the primary shading and pattern seems different on each bird, interesting if you like gulls, hinting at paint drying if you don’t.

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 Here are the Kamchatka Gull shots I promised you, not great but diagnostic.

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Finally, I have been to Dennis Point a few times recently and I could show you around a hundred photos of different Kumlien’s Gulls, but I won’t. I will show you this though.

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The bird at the rear of the three, the others are both Kumlien’s, has a lot going for it in terms of Thayer’s Gull. I got two shots of it before the raft shuffled and I lost it, interesting. In my opinion, a claim of Thayer’s Gull without a photo showing the wing pattern or at least sketches and notes detailing the pattern on p5 & 6 in eastern North America should not be accepted. Tough it would be and it would mean all old records being rejected but I think it would put Thayer’s where it should be, rare and difficult to identify, just my opinion, argue if you wish.

Oh alright then, here is a slew of Herring Gulls too.

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 I’m still working on my taxonomy post, just fine-tuning now, I know you are waiting with baited breath – I should try a Tic-Tac!

Tootling About

After the excitement of the Kamchatka dash, the last couple of days were a bit quieter. On 1/22 I went along to Dennis Point, Lower West Pubnico in the afternoon in hope of seeing the Thayer’s Gull again, it’s not been around since 1/15 but the tides have not been quite right and it may be that low water, late afternoon after the draggers have brought their catch in would be the most productive time. Maybe Thursday of this week. That is not to say that the trip was dull, there are always lots of gulls to get lost in and these big galoots keep them on their toes.

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Right off the wharf (#4) there was a constant flotilla of Kumlien’s Gulls almost all 1st basic. There were also a few odd ones including this 1st basic which has elements of Thayer about it but it wasn’t big enough, that face though…

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A dainty Glaucous came along for a while. Both Glaucous and Kumlien’s on one shot.

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Below, the Glaucous with a Great Black-backed Gull.

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As did two Nelson’s Gulls. This gull is not a species but a hybrid, presumed to be Glaucous x Herring. I say presumed because we don’t really know but act on the assumption that only that combination would produce this in our area. The Glaucous bit is quite evident.

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A couple of Common Eider came in. One was neat but the molting male was pretty badly dressed.

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Today was quieter still. West Head, CSI had lots of gulls including this adult, winter Black-headed Gull.

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A bruiser of a Glaucous, 2nd basic, was on the sea wall, and adult was roosting nearby but camera shy.

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Earlier we’d had a chilly spin around Daniel’s Head. Not much happening but you never know where that Trumpeter Swan got to. This distant loon was interesting. Just a Common Loon but slightly odd looking, lots of white above the eye and the head shape is not so angular as that shown by most of the others around.

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As we arrived home our yard Fox Sparrow was close enough for a photo. Low light made a decent shot difficult but at least I got something.

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January is zipping along briskly, they always seem to the older you get. February might not be too productive, it can be a bit of a spiteful month sometimes, let’s hope not.

Next post is the new taxonomy, if gulls captivate you you’re going to love that. I just need to choose a single photo for FB that makes it look more interesting than it is!

Below just a couple of Herring Gulls that look nice.

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Digital Sea Watch #2

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The photo is just for Facebook, please ignore.

For the past two days (January 11th-12th) is has been howling. I tried to look for the Pubnico Thayer’s Gull, but waves breaking over the car put me off! So I went to Baccaro hoping for a year Dovekie. Rain kept squalling in and with it the birds. At times they were just offshore but the light was awful and the car shaking like it was full of teens on a date only with less rhythm.

I set myself up to catch the birds as they got pushed into the bay at Baccaro, then exited south. For those who do not know what or where Baccaro is, see the map – courtesy of Google Earth. The yellow line equates to the rough track taken by the birds, the more onshore rain, the closer they came. As you can see, Baccaro is the most accessible place to sea watch, you can park slightly elevated and make sure the worst of the elements hit the other side of the car. The only thing to remember is, in the event of fog, there is no warning when the automated fog horn starts, it is louder than a hungry cat. One day I will camp on The Cape and sea watch from there, you are nearer the riff and the headland there should be even better than Baccaro.

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The images are rubbish but, the idea of this post is to show the value of taking even awful photos when sea watching. Unless you have some experience, everything is either Razorbill or Dovekie when it comes to the flocks. Atlantic Puffin is a bit different because of the cross shape, but generally you won’t be troubled by them too much in winter.

My stats for day one at Baccaro (Jan-11th) were, in one hour, ten minutes of watching: Dovekie 20; **Common Murre 5; Thick-billed Murre 3; *Razorbill 298; **Atlantic Puffin 2; *unidentified large alcids 96 (most Razorbills); *Black-legged Kittiwake 133.

*Means eBird queried the count, for Razorbill it was +/- 10. **Mean I had to add the species to eBird. Such things are not anything to get upset about as the eBird data is forever in flux and, if we don’t get storms, we don’t get these high counts.

Here are the images, all from the Baccaro count. After the data from today (Jan-12th) from a count at Daniel’s Head plus some gull eye-candy because you are worth it.

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Above, all Razorbills.

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Above and below, a Common Murre is tucked in there.

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Above and below, a Thick-billed Murre is in there too.

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Above, a Dovekie skittering past, below, not surprisingly a few don’t make it.

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The wind had shifted slightly so the Daniel’s Head sea watch was a bit clumsier and photos were not really an option as the birds were slightly further away mostly and the viewing window small due to the need to use the tailgate as an umbrella. I counted for one hour, 20 minutes: Dovekie 6; Common Murre 2 (at least); Thick-billed Murre 7; Razorbill 131; Atlantic Puffin 1; unidentified large alcids 39; Black-legged Kittiwake 58.

On both sea watches there was little else moving. I chose to watch on the falling tide by accident but it turned out fortuitous. As the watching and counting is quite intense, short spells are best. The weather switches to westerly winds tomorrow but I expect one or two Thick-billed Murres and Dovekies will be found sheltering around the wharfs over the next few days.

Sorry to keep bombarding you with posts but it has been quite busy.

After the Daniel’s Head watch I slipped along to Swimms Point to look at gulls, these two adult Glaucous Gulls were there and showing very nicely.

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