Odd Fellow

Not all birds look just like they should do! A few days ago I was out around Cape Sable Island when I found a bunch of swallows feeding in a stiff wind, gathered around an insect accumulating corner of Baker’s Flats. My initial viewpoint had me seeing flashes of birds as they rocketed around the small area, mostly obscured by trees. I think I had a composite view of a brown bird because later, it was clear that there were two brown swallows in the flock, from seeing the one composite view I was edging towards Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

I called Mike first and he came along to look, it would be a good CSI bird. By the time he arrive I had changed position and noted that two birds were indeed involved and that neither were the hoped for rough-wing. One was a brown Tree Swallow, slightly ragged and referred to in the field guide as a drab female. The other was even more curious, it was a brown Barn Swallow. The weather conditions and the speed of the subjects made photography near impossible but I did get one, out of focus image of the Barn Swallow for the record. On the rather grey Saturday May-27th, I came across the Barn Swallow again, this time in slightly better conditions so I took the opportunity to get better doc-shots.

I’ll start with what Barn Swallow is supposed to look like.

Now here is the brown bird. In flight you can see some blue feathering around the inner primaries, at rest it looks quite odd though, a Barn Swallow awaiting the application of blue paint!

Below is one of the Brown Tree Swallows.

In truth, the weather has been a bit spotty. Migration continues, but some species are notably absent, at least from the area I usually bird. Red-eyed Vireo must have just slipped in, I had one around Port Latour, just one, but have yet to add one to my admittedly healthy CSI year list that I’m not doing. Checking with the stats for 2016, when we did a CSI big year, I suspect I’m a good few birds up. By the end of July 2016 I was at 197, the end of May 2017 sees me with 190 and still no Red-eyed Vireo, Semipalmated Plover or even Curlew Sandpiper! I do suspect that CSI year ticks will be hard to come by now but I am willing to be surprised, not that I’m complaining, it has been a good year I feel and it will just keep getting better. We also have a big year for visitors, friends and family and that will add to making 2017 memorable too.

Here are a few photos from around The Hawk (in fog and rain!) on May-27th.

Tomorrow, May-29th, marks the second anniversary of our arrival in Nova Scotia. Two very weary travellers pulled up onto the drive of our house at Clam Point and set about cleaning it, removing four years-worth of muck and bugs, and building an Ikea bed without the instructions. Hauling two traumatised cats out of the van and into their new home was fun and, of course, we started the yard list! We’d been on the road 26 hours, I nearly hit a Deer in Quebec, it was millimeters, and Sandra fell asleep at the wheel near Lunenburg, the rumble strip waking her before her allergy to head-on impact with a semi kicked-in!

Now Nova Scotia is very much home, the cats have settled down and the yard lists blooms. We love it here and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Well That was Fun

You don’t normally associate chilly north-westerlies with avian fun but when you get them in mid-May, think again. This morning May-16th, I had a look along Kenney Road, CSI, the highlight being a single Chestnut-sided Warbler; a year bird but not really unexpected. Then I went to Daniel’s Head and had a look at the sea. A few Gannets went past and a lingering Long-tailed Duck seemed to be it, then I noticed a couple of dots on the horizon going hell-for-leather towards the shore, incoming migrants.

I moved my location so that I could look at the slowly greening vegetation next to a bunch of stacked Lobster Traps on the small spit inside the head. Two seconds later a male Blackpoll Warbler popped up, another year bird, then a female Black-throated Blue, then a Nashville, what was going on? Johnny showed up and I imparted the info and he went off and found Magnolia and Black-and-White by the fish plant fence. I went to look and found a Chimney Swift, things were really happening.

Johnny, drawing on his years of CSI experience, then went to check the alders off the corner parking lot. He called to say he had birds, quite a few, so I shot over there catching some of the goodies but still missing the prize, a Hooded Warbler. The alders had birds alright; a bunch of Northern Parula and Black-and-White Warblers were the most obvious. Lurking were two Northern Waterthrush and TWO Ovenbirds. Nearby a Veery skulked, there may have been two! A couple of Black-throated Green Warblers soon moved off but a Common Yellowthroat lingered. Two more Black-throated Blues turned up, males this time, the Magnolia and another Blackpoll. You can see how busy it was. I took a couple of photos, here are the best.

Returning later in the day, after 4:30pm is often best on days like this, we saw Bobolink, two more Northern Waterthrush further along, another seven Blackpolls and some other bits and pieces. What else lurked around the south end of CSI is unknown, I didn’t even get near The Hawk and it was certainly a day when we needed more bodies in the field. The weather is looking most promising for the next few days especially Thursday, here’s hoping for a few more migrants.

On May-15th Sandra and I went to Yarmouth, it was grey and raining and a good breeze blew, not really great birding weather and therefore no great loss to use the day for shopping. Of course we took in the Cattle Egrets of Chebogue on the way, temporarily more accessible after Ronnie found them away from the farm in a yard, literally. Then a call from Ervin had us scuttling over to Chegoggin for a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a fitting species #200 for the year in NS. I know that, post the May rush, it will quieten down again and high summer will see me chasing dragonflies more. For now though I think I’ll enjoy the ease of birding and just have fun.

Bon Portage Virgin no more

When Alix asked whether I fancied trip to Bon Portage in his Zodiac, yes was the obvious answer. One of the top birding off-shore islands in Nova Scotia, a visit to Bon Portage was just something that had not happened so far. In-part it is because getting there is not such a done-deal as going to The Cape, there is some transport but the Acadia University staff obviously get priority, and so a visit may be longer than expected if their schedule differs from yours. The other reason is that I’ve been busy! Landing on Bon Portage requires the sort of agility that I last saw in myself around 14 years ago and had to rapidly re-find or spend the duration looking longingly at the woods from the Zodiac anchor point. I did manage to climb the weathered wharf, as evidenced by the lack of my obituary in any local newspaper.

The island is not an easy place to bird. It took us a while to start seeing birds, hearing them was not an issue although the limited species range, in the absence of any sort of true migration arrival, was not too challenging. We walked the net runs and did the cobble-stroll to the light before retracing our steps and spending more time around the island bird hotspot, the cabins. This plan worked well and the highlight was a male Blue-grey Gnatcatcher that flitted around us for a while and sang quietly.

Our Bon Portage checklist is here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36806741

For info on visiting Bon Portage, go to: http://www.acadiau.ca/~dshutler/PIsland.html

And now a few images.

The sea was semi-benign and so, after leaving Bon Portage, we opted for a quick look at Green Island, off The Cape, Cape Sable Island, a mere 6.84km away from the Bon Portage wharf. The island hosts a tern colony and has Atlantic Puffins too and so is worth seeing. We had a mass of Common Terns there, a small number of Arctic Terns and the prize, eight Roseate Terns, the first in Nova Scotia this year. The Atlantic Puffins were there as hoped for although only one came close. The eBird checklist is here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36806720

Closer to home, Ervin found a Tricoloured Heron which proceeded to shuttle around The Guzzle, on The Hawk, CSI on May-12th. I managed a couple of shots in flight and enjoyed scope views down, thanks for the call Ervin. It may still be around but, if so, it has become elusive. On May-13th there was a Black-billed Cuckoo around the church on The Hawk, found by Keith Lowe. Mike had views and I managed to hear it, eventually. That bird put me on 160 for the island for the year and was #199 in Nova Scotia. With the next two weeks being the big ones for May, although realistically nothing will compare to the Swallow-tailed Kite, then 200 in NS is assured, my bet for #200 is Common Yellowthroat.

The eBird Global Big Day came and went on May-13th. Because I went to Bon Portage I was only able to bird CSI from around 2pm, recording just 60 species, a good 18 down on last year’s score. I think I’m going to have another bash at the 78 sometime in May, on a day when the signs are good and the light is kinder.

My interests often stray beyond birds, so here are a couple of moths and a butterfly I photographed recently, plus a couple of bird shots from Frotton Road, Yarmouth Co.

Above, a Brown Elfin butterfly, below a Spring Azure and below that a Juvenal Duskywing.

Two moths. Above The White Speck, found in a restaurant in Yarmouth and, below, a new species for me, Day Emerald, a moth that was flying during the day on The Hawk, CSI. It is a tiny insect, thanks to Jim Edsall for the ID.

Keep Them Coming

Despite my ageing legs complaining about walking The Cape on May-7th (see below), I went back on May-8th with Ervin and Mike, mainly to get another look at the thrushes but also hoping to catch the next set of arrivals on an island we had all to ourselves. In a better world there wouldn’t be billionaires spending stupid money on gold taps and palaces, there would be money for places like The Cape to protect it, maintain it and to recognise the value of such places. The downside would be more people would visit and, if I’m honest, we don’t want that, the ecosystem is fragile and is in need of nature-friendly TLC rather than the size-nine boots of the masses.

The visit of May-7th was remarkable for a number of things, not least the fact that we (myself, Ronnie, Alix and Mark Morse) actually went. It was thick fog, the sea was boiling but the crossing from The Hawk is over a protected basin. A number of sand bars and rocks loomed as we crossed but we hit the beach full of optimism, even though the fog had barely budged. The sheep pen at Steven’s Point will have a Fork-tailed Flycatcher on it one day. On this day a thrush darted for cover, Ronnie was quickest to spot it, and then led a us a merry dance for all of ten seconds, the pen really does not off much cover. It was a Veery, my first on CSI and Shelburne.

Many times the Veery would have been bird of the trip but, at Lockie’s cabin another thrush dashed around. It too surrendered after a few minutes and the diagnostic digital led to one conclusion, Grey-Cheeked, another CSI tick. With two great birds so far surely The Forest would have something too? The short answer is no and we didn’t get the next good bird, another Veery, until we reached the light.

Now came the hopeful slog, tramping the stony ridge from the light around to the second cabin. I hate walking on this stuff, my knee is especially vociferous in complaining, but good birds do hide in the many and welcome lots Lobster pots there. This time they didn’t but another thrush flushed further round turned out to be a Swainson’s, CSI tick #3. We’d peaked. The sun then shone for a while better Grey-cheeked Thrush views and shots were enjoyed, it really was the prize of the trip. Once we’d returned to the mainland the fog rolled back in, we had a lucky window there.

Veery above, Grey-cheeked Thrush below.

And now to the trip on May-8th and only the sheep pen Veery remained from my previous visit so we pushed on. At the Grey-cheeked Thrush spot, a Merlin happily plucked at a warbler; a bad omen for a seeing a sensible thrush, we didn’t. No other thrushes were evident elsewhere but, offshore, five late (as in still here, not dead) Harlequin remained. In The Forest’ a secretive Ovenbird tolerated our presence only briefly before heading for the Alder scrub, and that appeared to be it

News of an Upland Sandpiper somewhere on The Hawk had us calling up Leslie for an early departure. A fortuitous delay, he was eating lunch, had us lingering on Steven’s Point for half an hour. I say fortuitous because we flushed a Common Nighthawk from the beach, a first of the season, then a jaeger flew past. The jaeger seemed pretty light-weight although the solid breast-band suggested Parasitic. No white flashes were visible on the upper and underwing and it had a lengthy tail and so identification was paused until the distant photos could be scrutinised on the PC, they were and Parasitic was the right call. Only doc-shots of both the jaeger and nighthawk were possible, but doc-shots have great value in some cases.

Composite shot of the Common Nighthawk above, Parasitic Jaeger below.

The five ‘late’ Harlequins.

One of many Savannah Sparrows (above), Piping Plover on The Cape below.

There was no sign of an Upland Sandpiper anywhere when we got back to The Hawk.

That might have been the day done, but a text from Joan in Brighton told us of a Scarlet Tanager in her yard. I tossed the double-headed coin and got the right result. Sandra and I picked up Alix and we sped north. At Joan’s place, a short wait was endured before the male tanager popped up feet away from a beautifully spotless window. There was a Pine Siskin there too so a Nova Scotia tick and another year tick took me to 180 for the year. Many thanks to Joan and Al for their hospitality, Scarlet Tanager seems to have been a while coming but it was well worth the wait.

In the yard, the assortment of good birds linger. The female Blue Grosbeak is regularly joined by the remaining two, female, Indigo Buntings on the bird tables and now two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks attend; a female and a different, less full-plumage male.  I was happy to get better shots of the Blue Grosbeak finally; it really is quite skittish at times.

Leggy Beauty

As far as we know there has never been a Sandhill Crane on Cape Sable Island, well at least not one seen by a birder. I was so confident that this would always remain so, that I didn’t even have the species on my personal CSI predictor. True one could have flown over at some point but the chances of it being seen by a birder I thought remote, so it was confined to the highly unlikely category. That changed May 4th when Joey Nickerson called Johnny with a big bird with brown on it, wandering around the only real field on The Hawk.

Driving strictly as fast as the law allows we made The Hawk without delay and were greeted with a busily feeding Sandhill Crane not 90m away. It was not at all bothered by the amazed watchers – you know it is a good bird when it is new for Johnny on CSI – who gathered to enjoy. Naturally the object of our adulation was captured for posterity in digital form, yup, I took loads of photos.

The yard has been a bit silly recently; see the last post for a taster. Well, the Blue Grosbeak stuck, the Rose-breasted too for a few days before being replaced by a different one today, a young male. The Evening Grosbeak made two and a half days before pushing off and then the shimmering indigo of a male Indigo Bunting graced the feeders. If that was not enough another two joined it, females this time, he seemed to quite like that ratio.

Both the Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting together.

On what I call Tiny Pond in Lower Clark’s Harbour Mike found a Solitary Sandpiper, just the one, and it stayed the day for all to enjoy.

Today, May-5th there was a bit more action with the first of the season Short-billed Dowitcher and Least Sandpiper mud-scuttling on The Hawk. Lesser Yellowlegs had arrived a few days  prior, and another Purple Martin cruised the skies above The Hawk, finding a niche on several Nova Scotia life lists.

Last but not least, a couple of Wood Ducks were a nice surprise at Newellton May-5th. They were in the creek at a place I christened ‘Hell Bend’ because it is hard to stop, especially with the obligatory truck on your ass.

So as May gathers steam we all start looking at what might come our way although might insist we have already had quite a good portion of the spring migration feast and we still only at the placing our napkin on our knees stage. Rain is coming and the wind will go all over the place for a while. If I had to bet I’d say Scarlet Tanager was most likely to be the next good bird but, in a fit of magnanimity, I am willing to take Painted Bunting instead!

Did I mention that the Little Blue Heron stuck around until May 4th?; no, well it did.

May Rush

Some birders look down their noses at feeders and feeder birds, citing the changes in bird habits and range as reasons not to feed. My personal view is that these people are missing the point and missing out, bird feeding is part of birding is part of the human impact on the landscape. While our cats and cars and windows and everything else that swats away the lives of birds every day takes its toll, yard feeding puts a little bit back. What if some species become overly dependent on feeding?, quite a few are now dependent on the provision of nesting sites, think Purple Martin, it happens. So I make no apology for feeding or enjoying the birds that take our feed, nourishment so willingly provided.

The first couple of days in May have seen the weather wet and windy, almost a spring default here, but you make the best of it and see what you can and feeder watching  certainly cheers up the day, especially if you have a run of luck. So far May has been pretty good to our feeders; a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak arrived today, joining a female Blue Grosbeak and female Evening Grosbeak, all vying with the regulars for the available seed. The Blue Grosbeak was a new yard bird, one of six new species added so far this year so we are now pushing 150, of course it helps to have a (limited) view of the sea as well as feeders.

With the light being so shoddy, getting good photos was always going to be a challenge, these are my best efforts. No doubt May has much more in store for us; if it keeps this pace up I’ll need a lie down before long!

Blue Grosbeaks usually look unfinished and photograph terribly.

Always nice to get a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak in the yard.

I thought I missed the Evening Grosbeak window this year, well at least until next winter so this female was welcome.

According to eBird American Tree Sparrows have outstayed their winter welcome so this May bird is notable.

Just a Starling above. Below one of the pair of Hairy Woodpecker we have, this one is the male.

For reasons I can’t fathom, now when I paste a Word document into WordPress I have to use ctrl-v, then pick out the bits where an apostrophe was used and correct it. Is it done to keep us on our toes I wonder?

It Just Gets Better

Despite the wind changing its direction frequently, giving migration no real continuity or predictability, the birds ignored everything and pushed on in anyway. We dipped a Wood Thrush on April-29th at Pinkney’s Point, but its presence was fuel for optimism. This morning a call from Johnny about a female Purple Martin on The Hawk, CSI had me scooting Hawkwards hoping to see it. On arrival it had flown, they do that, and so a search began. I chanced upon it along Atwood Road sitting on wires, interestingly another three males had joined it. Murphy’s Law saw the guy who lived in the house adjacent just happened to choose that moment to drive out, flushing the lot.

The birds went all directions but the female flew around the immediate area and landed briefly, allowing doc-shots. The others dispersed and were only seen fleetingly elsewhere. Purple Martin is not at all common in Nova Scotia although these were number five to nine for me so far.

In the course of the search, I had a Sharp-shinned Hawk breeze past me and off over the trees. Later I found what was presumably the same bird, getting up close and personal with a recently retired Starling. The two smaller accipiters are both found in our area now, Sharpie being the commonest by far but you have to consider both, and the feeding bird was quite big. I suspected it to be an immature Sharpie female on size, the big eye and the thick, quite blotchy breast streaking are good features. If seeing hawks eating prey upsets you, well, try to get over it, life and death happens.

After the Hawk tour, I opted for checking through to West Head on the way home to see whether the martins had changed their scenery. I always check the little pools there and did so today hoping to come across a Lesser Yellowlegs, we are due. Pool one was a bust but pool two had a very smart Little Blue Heron pottering around snatching tiddlers with aplomb. I managed a few shots before it wandered further away and other birders arrived to share the enjoyment. We didn’t get twitchable one on CSI last year, my last was 2015 at Mike and Sandra’s place, so seeing this bird and especially it being an adult, was most welcome. This was also a self-found in Nova Scotia for me.

On April-29th I dropped into the parking lot at the head of Cripple Creek just for a quick scan. Luck was on my side and this Belted Kingfisher pair actually played the game, well partly. Against the light the photos are not too bad, but when one landed on a wharf piling I gave it a go. Window down and driving slowly I managed to grab shots on the move before it inevitably panicked and fled.