About Time

I realise I’ve been a bit absent from this blog recently, been busy as they say. It’s also fair to say that I have barely waved the camera at anything, mostly because the weather has been breezy and the birds reluctant to star.

One little project I’ve been working on is uploading bird songs and calls to eBird. Via the magic of Audacity, a sound manipulation app, I find I can extract all sorts of burps and grunts from video taken at various tropical places. Mostly the identification is straightforward, especially when the songster is front-centre of the video clip in question. The problem arises when you are in a jungle scenario and up to ten species can be bellowing at once. Again, some can be easy and we should all thank the Great Kiskadee for telling it like it is; not sure what I mean? This link http://www.xeno-canto.org/ will take you to Xeno-Canto where you can enter Great Kiskadee in their search engine and listen to their song from many places around the tropics, you’ll soon get what I mean.

So now I have the problem of a stack of songs and calls to identify from Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico east and west and Belize. Some of them are clearly enunciated and you would think a doddle to sort out. Others are rapids cheeps and the like and will probably remain in my ‘mysteries’ file ad-infinitum. I could add them to Xeno-Canto, they have a mysteries section, and hope someone familiar with the regions comes up with a name but, despite not having musical hearing – something those who can remember songs and calls must have, I prefer to keep digging until I crack it.

Locally, that is Cape Sable Island with tendrils as far as Yarmouth, the birding has naturally slowed. Because of the weather you have to dig deep to find anything but there are still the odd good sub-rarity out there and, who knows, just around the corner might be another ‘big one’. One bird we did go for was a Marsh Wren at Broadbrook Park in Yarmouth. It was blowing a gale but the bird still came out to play giving good views but no photo opportunities, hopefully I’ll get another crack at that one when it is less windy, say in June!

Around CSI Bonaparte’s can be uncommon at times. Recently a few have been lingering on Daniel’s Head, sometimes coming close too. I saw 11 there on Nov-19, 2017 so perhaps we are going to have a few hanging about for a while. I find very white birds a pain to photograph, the white balance never quite gets it right. This one, a bird of the year which I used to call first-winter but is now re-branded as hatch-year.

 

The fall-out brought lots of Indigo Buntings ad, naturally, some found our yard irresistible. At one point recently we had three together, then two and finally, just the one but it too has now departed. I had expected at least one to hang in there until November 30th, then to go overnight before making the winter list – that is the usual course of action for such winter list prizes.

 

On Nov-19th we had a belter of a south-easterly wind event, short lived but productive. Coupled with the variable but inevitably falling temperatures, Razorbills were on the move. I was a bit late getting to Baccaro but still counted 1418 going south in tight little packs. Black-legged Kittiwakes were moving too (444) and Red-throated Loons (117), all in the space of two hours. I also had an odd bird, logged as a shearwater sp., the photos are awful but it does look odd and behave quite differently too but you can never underestimate the effect the wind can have. On the day (Nov-19) it was actually 16°C, possibly a record for the date, and was part of a weather system that we are all hoping will deliver something good, again.

Here is a shot of one of the Razorbill packs plus the odd bird.

 Around Daniel’s Head there have been three Great Egrets, just about a flock. Today (Nov-20) they were all lined up and I got a few shots of all three together. I don’t care much for photographing large herons and egrets – too big for the frame – but I suppose I’d get over it for a NS Jabiru!

 And now some odd shots. 

I just like this feeding Dunlin.

 

While out looking for a Yellow-breasted Chat we came across two Orange-crowned Warblers, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Northern Parula, my latest ever.

 

We seem to have several Ipswich Savannah Sparrows hanging around Daniel’s Head. All have been scrutinised for coloured bands, part of the study in this endemic breeder, all were lacking.

A Turkey Vulture attending one of the many dumped deer carcasses, this one was at Bunkers Island, as was the Pied-billed Grebe below, quite late for one.

eBird adds, late Barn Swallows (3), Daniel’s Head Nov-20. Below, a Killdeer, Bull Head Wharf.

A not very good shot of the Summer Tanager that hung around Kenney Road for over a week recently.

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Big Dip Dodged

The weather has turned into a more November-like form and time in the field requires a warm coat, finally. This doesn’t mean that the birding good times have come to an end though, as the ‘big ones’ often happen in November. We didn’t have to wait too long for the prophecy to come true on November-10 when Ervin came across a bunch of shivering hirundines at the end of Chebogue Point. Any swallow at this time of year is good but the ones we have been seeking are special, Cave Swallow. Sure enough the hypothermic gang contained two that had more sense than their Barn Swallow friends, as they cleared off about five minutes before we got there. We were rather hoping they’d reappear the next day, perhaps busily engaged in chipping insects out of the frozen ground, well one did.

For some years late in the autumn, Cave Swallows have flown north of their core range; far north in fact. Why is complicated. Perhaps they are scouting as part of range expansion, you presume that birds, when they do extend their range look before they leap, they are habitat and food source driven after all. Another possibility is a 180° error in migration, reverse migration, although why would so many suffer the same affliction? A third option is just that they are just stupid, and the premise has some traction given that their wintering grounds would be considerably more hospitable given their diet.

Northern Cardinal is a non-birders bird, so often badly photographed as to make it somewhat taboo for the serious birder to tackle, still, since I’m rarely serious and when one sits up in front of you then you might as well…

While looking for Scarlet Tanagers in Argyle recently this popped up. Called Summer in the field then doubted thanks to a husk of seed giving the impression of it having the diagnostic bill-tooth of Scarlet. Reading up, I hadn’t realised that eastern Summer Tanager has a 15% smaller bill than its western counterpart – split!

A roadside hawk around here is almost always a Red-tailed and it almost always flies off when you stop, almost always.

In any other year an Indigo Bunting in the yard would have me scrambling to get decent shots. Such has been the glut following the late October fall-out that enthusiasm for them is muted. A partially blue one showed up out back so I sat with the camera on lap in full view of the birds and waited. No Indigo unfortunately, I had just had to put up with this yard-tick Lincoln’s Sparrow!

This Cooper’s Hawk dropped by our yard recently, no doubt tempted by the menu, sorry diverse species mix. I took the photo through the window, amazed it came out although it was cleaned recently, we had rain.

On a Whim

Recent reports of the feeding frenzy at Canso Causeway brought back memories to late October, 2016 when there was a Brown Booby there and I was in a group that successfully twitched it. Logistics at the time dictated a short stay but I’d always wanted another look. There was also the possibility of a Nova Scotia tick Barnacle Goose en-route, it was just a matter of timing. As it happened an unexpected window opened wide enough for a twitch and a drive and so Sandra and I set out late morning on Nov-6th, intending to let things run and see where we ended up.

The goose was in the Shubenacadie area and was generally on one of two ponds or in local fields. Questions as to the provenance of the bird were raised, ducks and geese are considered guilty unless proved otherwise, a rather narrow view, but assurances were made that two captives nearby were still serving their sentence and that the Barnacle enjoying liberty was unfettered by bands and had wild wings. It is worth pointing out that there are up to six Barnacle Geese in the north-east North America ‘system’, and that they have an annual schedule, appearing at regular stops with Canada Geese, indeed a couple are back in Quebec now and the timing of our bird matched across the board. The bird has been as wary as geese get, which can be anything from flying before you’ve closed your front door to following you around pecking at the leg of your pants. For what it is worth unless  a duck or goose has signs of captivity, including bands, toe clipping, wing clipping or a badge saying ‘hi I’m Bob’, then, within reasonable geographic constraints, it is wild.

After shuttling between sites and scanning goose flocks in fields we eventually found it, well it found us as it came from over the nearby highway and nudged the Mallard mass aside so it could land on Snide’s Lake. It remained distant but gave a good enough view plus photo ops if only at the dreadful record shot end of things. Now what to do? We had scored early enough to allow us to drive home, three or so hours or we could drive on to Canso, and take a look at the spectacle. The weather forecast was mixed but good enough, so we headed off, overnighting in Antigonish.

Inevitably, the weather forecasters spoke with forked tongues and the morning was fairly grim. The light at the causeway was poor but the spectacle underway, with piles of birds plundering the Billfish right by the causeway. In keeping with all things municipal/governmental, the only access to Cape Breton is a toy bridge at the end of the causeway that seems to be opened for anything bigger than a canoe and it takes so long to function that I would recommend taking at least one meal in the vehicle with you. Going over to Cape Breton we only waited ten minutes to cross while day-glow action figures milled around polishing rivets or some such thing. Coming back it was nearly 40 minutes but at least the view was spectacular, from our elevated position you could see every car and truck in the 2.5km tailback on the other side.

On Cape Breton our time was limited, so we went to take a look at Ile Madame, not too far from Port Hawkesbury. As expected, the best views on the island had seasonal houses on them instead of municipal parking areas, but we did find a few birds and some odd place where they think they are all Irish, painting everything in the Irish tricolour, very odd. People do seem to like to follow what they see as their ancestry, whereas if they followed the diversity of their atoms they would be much more interesting, although they’d need a lot of paint. Ile Madame was more built-up than we expected but scenic. We found a few birds including this late Great Egret at Lennox. Mostly it was sea duck, a few gulls and a dark form Rough-legged Hawk.

Back at Canso Causeway and post our lengthy wait while two little boats came through the toy bridge, we sat in the car and enjoyed the bird-fest. It was the best policy as the wind howled, it was cold too and the eagles came closer if you stayed hidden. The water was boiling with birds, mostly gulls and Northern Gannets but also a phalanx of Bald Eagles awaiting food piracy opportunities then endlessly squabbling when one was successful. The light wasn’t great and a young lady we spoke to said calm days were the best. We did see one of the Humpback Whales cruising around but no turtles or dolphins.

 

The morning before we sped off north to Canso, this Summer Tanager was a welcome addition to my Cape Sable Island list. At first it was seen briefly along Kenney Rd, then went the right side for the light in a nearby yard and showed to Mike and I. It had been a hoped for rather than expected species and just about signs off the fall-out, little evidence of which remains. November appears to have arrived properly although you never say never on CSI. We might yet track down the Eastern Meadowlarks.

Post Tropical Depression

After the adrenaline-surge fall-out, it was bound to happen that we birders felt a little down when the birds had gone and yes, we all entered a state of post-tropical depression. Much will be written about the fall-out in the months to come, it needs documenting as, as present, it is only a once every nineteen year phenomenon. Whether us screwing up our environment leads to more adverse migration-time weather and makes the fall-out event something altogether more frequent (and then expected) remains to be seen. For those of coping with the loss of the reoriented birds there is no helpline, no bus load of grief councillors and no support groups. We will bravely face the next chapter in our seasons, winter, and just make the most of it!

It would be wrong to suggest that the supply of ‘good’ birds has dried up completely but you do have to dig for them. Around Cape Sable Island patience and persistence have been rewarded although a couple of Eastern Meadowlarks, reported as being at Daniel’s Head on Nov-4, 2017 are managing to elude would-be admirers, they might settle though. Our lack of a Summer Tanager has been irksome too, a sort that had salt well-rubbed in when, on Nov-4, Pubnico Point hosted two in the same bush! The problem on CSI is that there are so many potentially great spots that sit in folks’ back yards and therefore (technically) out of bounds, we must miss lots.

Anyway, enough waffle, here are some photos.

Despite a brisk north-west wind, or maybe gale, we went to The Cape on Nov-4th. At first it appeared that we were not going to see anything memorable, then a Rusty Blackbird improved things and a Short-eared Owl added a nice gloss. Adding up later, the species total wasn’t at all bad.

A sign of winter, aside from gas price hikes, is the presence of Snow Buntings. This one is from Daniel’s Head in early November.

There is still the odd fall-out bird about. This Yellow-throated Vireo was in a patch of bushes by The Guzzle.

I mentioned Summer Tanagers at Pubnico. They were on the Pubnico Head Trail, CSI administrators please note, they have a great trail that is popular, what do we on CSI have? It was late in the day when Sandra and I got there, Ronnie and Sharron had them staked out (not literally, that would be cruel) and we enjoyed close views to add them to our fall-out birds list.

Our Nov-5th hunt for two Eastern Meadowlarks at Daniel’s Head drew a blank but a few birds softened the blow a bit.

This one is an Ipswich Sparrow, a form of Savannah Sparrow.

Two Great and one Snowy Egret have found Daniel’s Head. A late influx of herons might seem odd but there is a pattern.

Further afield a Barnacle Goose beckons, the first since 2013. So far we have resisted.

 

Continuing…

Although the main event with regards to the fall-out is over, the birds continue to arrive, or at least be found. Two very breezy days kept everything low but Nov-1, 2017 was glorious. Light winds, warm sun and the birds responded to the conditions by showing very nicely. Some were site-new, that is to say they had probably been hopping around elsewhere until showing up on CSI yesterday. Evidence of this is the two Yellow-throated Warblers on Daniel’s Head in one of three spindly Willows in a yard. The improvement in living conditions for the birds also meant that a Blue-winged Warbler found on Kenney Rd, Oct-31, actually sat still almost long enough for a photo but at least long enough for a doc-shot and for Mike to catch up with it. I spent four and a half hours around there and Mike was still able to show up and find a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, such is a birding-flux at the moment.

Now we are in the afterglow of the event we should remember that only a week ago it wasn’t very good birding! Virtually all the migrants had gone and all we had was scraps, hard won scraps too. Now if there isn’t a White-eyed Vireo in that pished warbler flock you are disappointed. Do make the most of it, it won’t last. All this activity has not changed the eBird year list standings with Dave Bell continuing to lead but now off the islands and back with the mortals so vulnerable. I’m second, but may have peaked, although there are a few year-ticks around they need to be nearer than Annapolis or Halifax because I ain’t chasing. Next is Alix who added the prize of a Golden-winged Warbler to his life and therefore year list. We looked but dipped, that is two golden-wings missed now, one more local chase to go before I give up and wait for the day I find my own, thems is the rules for me these days.

Here are a few recent photos including some dross from a sea watch.

Above, the Blue-winged Warbler from Kenney Rd, below another individual looking for birds there.

Above a Field Sparrow from Kenney Rd, below two of the Brown-headed Cowbird mob from Daniel’s Head.

Above a Tree Swallow from Fish Plant Road, CSI on Nov-1, 2017. Amazingly there were also seven Barn Swallows there. Cave next we hope. Below the lingering Hudsonian Godwit.

Above, one of the many Greater Yellowlegs with a paler bird whose legs I never got to see. Below two common birds I won’t even insult your intelligence by naming.

Another wood-pewee on Kenney Road, Nov-1, Eastern I’m sure.

It was howling with torrential rain but I sat at Baccaro for three and a half hours seeing over 800 Black-legged Kittiwakes and their attendant (mostly) Pomarine Jaegers. The petrel is a Leach’s and was flying around the parking lot at one time. ISO6400, need I say more!

Some of the November-1, 2017 warblers and vireos.

 

November, as I said earlier, has started off gloriously. I knew that I needed to see everything again because it is a new month and I do keep monthly lists, why?, because it keeps me relatively sane! Also, if I’m feeling lazy but not seen something around CSI for the month I have the motivation to go to Daniel’s Head or wherever one more time (that day!) just in case. My November started off with 81 species! Had I realised that earlier in the afternoon I would have made the effort to beat my day best of 84, and I would have done so by a country mile. It was only once I’d filled in my eBird that I realised. Incidentally, most of the good birds around are eBird adds an you have to look closely when adding a bird as it does not always give you the logical option, hence Black-throated Blue Robin appearing as rare in the Nova Scotia eBird rarity report when it is actually on a different continent, although there are probably a couple of people who do see them every year in NS.

On this thorny subject there is a good article here: http://blog.aba.org/2017/07/on-stringing.html

Here is a Blog post I was preparing but then decided I could not be bothered. I’ll stick it here anyway, it seems a shame to waste good words.

I recently posted a photo of a ball of string on Facebook. My birding friends mostly got it, non-birders remain mystified I expect, so, for them; here is a little explanation:

The following is from Wikipedia, the ‘Twitcher’s Vocabulary’ page. Under verb note the US (not North America) emphasis. The term was invented by UK birders and applied to all instances of error, deliberate or otherwise. One species occasionally found in the UK, Ring-billed Gull, was so often the basis for stringing that many UK birders now call it String-billed Gull.

String:

·         Noun: A dubious, “ropy” record.

·         Adjective: Stringy

·         Verb: to claim such a record.

·         Note: In the United States, the term stringer is specifically used to denote people who intentionally mislead and falsify bird sightings, as opposed to well-intentioned mistakes made from lack of field experience.

 

Everybody strings to some extent. In your early ‘birdhood’ you are so inexperienced that many birds get misidentified, this is the purest form of stringing, no agenda, just a mistake. The problems start when you string a rarity and broadcast it, it can damage your reputation and string-bound reputations unravel under pressure. No matter what level of experience you have you will still string, mostly to yourself, sometimes when birding with others and almost always in situations that are quickly recovered by your own correction.

Then there are those that never get any better as birders. It happens, you can only run so fast and when you reach the limits of your capability you will continue to make (often the same) mistakes at the high-end of bird identification. In truth it does not amount to much as other birders will be aware of your level, even if you aren’t, and filter accordingly.

Then there is the US definition, the most insidious or pitiful form of stringing, take your pick on which adjective you would like to apply. Deliberate stringing is rare. Even at the high-end of birding there are still mistakes, not strings as such because the strung species you are convinced you saw. If people don’t chase it then no problem, if they do and the involuntary string is corrected by others, you have a problem, not least the fact that others have spent money and, more importantly, time chasing your error. The only course of action for the string here is to hold their hands up and say “I was wrong, sorry” and forgiveness should be automatic thanks to the ‘glass houses and stones’ metaphor.

But if you intentionally deceive we enter a whole new ball game, a dangerous game and ultimately self-destructive. If you deliberately string then you are beyond redemption. Sure attitudes might soften with time a little, but you will always be a stringer in the eyes of the cognoscenti.

Fall-out Day #3

The inevitable slowdown happened fairly quickly around Cape Sable Island, as birds amalgamated into flocks and went about being elusive most of the time. Nothing new appears to have arrived, although Indigo Bunting numbers are getting silly so perhaps they just are slipping in and joining their mates. I had a good spin around in the morning, enjoying what I saw, but decided to go a little further afield in the afternoon; dragging poor Sandra along so that she too could enjoy herself. We went off to check-out Blanche then a bit of Baccaro as the light went. If what we found was the metaphorical dregs of the event, then there must have been lots of birds there during the peak of the fall-out.

Starting at the beginning of the day, a look at West Head only gave up a couple of Indigo Buntings. Next was The Hawk where I re-saw most of yesterday’s birds and a Yellow-throated Vireo I’d missed. Indigo Buntings there had also increased some, especially in the weedy field at the end of The Hawk, this became the theme of the day. Here are the morning CSI shots.

 

As we turned into Blanche Road an Indigo Bunt flushed from the roadside, a good sign. We’d gone about a kilometre when a green bird flew quickly across the track, really very green. We stopped and made a noise but the green thing never reappeared, a bad sign. We carried on along the birdless track and ended up going almost the length of the road before the buggers decided to show. On the bend at the end, where the Alder scrub ends we teased out two Yellow-throated Warblers, two White-eyed Vireo and a couple of good warblers for the time of year, Blackburnian and Chestnut-sided to add to the other good warblers we’d already seen.

Heading back up the road we found a few more flocks and were even inspected by four Grey Jays. We’d not seen them along Blanche for some time and I suspect this bunch were hanging around a trailer that seems to have taken up residence and has a bird table.

 

West Blanche Road is always worth a quick look and we were not at all surprised to add another Yellow-throated Warbler to the tally. A yellow blob in a distant bush morphed into a Scarlet Tanager, pity it stayed distant.

 

Last off we decided to do the West Baccaro loop, finding more vireos and noticing more Indigo Bunts. We found little flocks everywhere, feeding right by the road. Our count just for Baccaro was 22 birds.

 

I thinks we will see the fall-out fade quite quickly now as conditions make it hard to see small birds. Whether those conditions bring another fall-out remains to be seen, the wind is howling outside and the call of the migrating Gannets tempts me back to Baccaro.

I’ve seen stuff on social media where people are worrying about the birds affected by the fall-out, don’t, most will reorient. Those that don’t may last the winter, most won’t. This is called evolution and it what took you all from being apes to being bigger, better dressed apes that can work keyboards. It is natural, it happens on a scale you cannot appreciate and it is part of life in the wild. If you must fret about birds, then go after those who deliberately destroy them – whether via habitat destruction for a few dollars more or just because the poop on their shiny cars or any one of a hundred things used as an excuse to kill them. Left alone the birds can take care of themselves.

For the record, here are my personal fall-out tallies for the past three days. I have tried to remove duplication but some of those Indigo Buntings look so very similar!

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 1; Eastern Wood-Pewee, 1+; White-eyed Vireo, 17; Yellow-throated Vireo, 3; Red-eyed Vireo, 4; Veery, 1; American Redstart, 4; Northern Parula, 14; Magnolia, 8; Blackpoll, 5; Black-and-White, 2; Cape May, 3; Tennessee, 1; Blackburnian, 1; Chestnut-sided, 1; Hooded, 1; Black-throated Blue, 2; Black-throated Green, 5; Palm, 2; Yellow-throated Warbler, 5; Scarlet Tanager, 1; Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 1; Indigo Bunting, 49. Plus a couple of Orange-crowned and a bunch of Yellow-rumped that are normally here now anyway.

At some point I may take a broader look at the mix of the fall-out, the where’s and why’s unless someone else has a go at trying to match the weather and the species to the event. Finally, we had so many birds in this corner of Nova Scotia that all available birders were kept busy, Pity there was nobody on Seal Island to add their counts to the totals, it should have been even better than Bon Portage and that is saying something, what did we miss!

It’s Been a Day

We finally got the (mainland) action we’ve been waiting for today when a modest fall-out gave us a few treasures. My day started on The Hawk and, at first, it was very quiet. Had the man got it wrong, was it to be a breezy follow-up to Thursdays wet day with sparse birding again? I sat staring at the bushes for a good 20 minutes before movement caught my eye in the form of my first White-eyed Vireo for the year, now we were talking! It was with a Blackpoll and feeding actively, quickly moving off before the lens could embrace it. Moving on to another spot and viola, another White-eyed Vireo and a Black-throated Blue and a Parula, things were looking up.

 

Transferring to Kenney Road, the first little flock continued the theme with another two White-eyed Vireos and something of a prize, a Yellow-throated Vireo. I was ready with the camera when a local taking his constitutional flushed the lot. I had managed to grab three low-quality shots of the Yellow-throated, for the record, and then I put the news out, it is a good bird in NS. I roamed further out to the woodlot on the shore, plucking a late Black-and-White Warbler from the chickadee flock but not a lot else, still, a CSI tick and two year ticks would do very nicely.

 

Breaking for a civilised lunch, a call from Ervin had Sandra and I bustling down to Daniel’s Head pronto, he’d seen a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a long-awaited CSI tick. We hiked the inner beach trail to where Ervin awaited our arrival. The cuckoo surrendered eventually but never posed for me. The bushes inside all seemed to hold birds but we had resolved to head to Kenney Road to try to re-find the Yellow-throated Vireo, however, a flutter some distance off was tracked down to being the work of a splendid Hooded Warbler.

 

The day now stood at three CSI and three year ticks while my fifth White-eyed Vireo of the day popped up, along with a very late Veery and a supporting cast of Cape May Warblers, Magnolia, Blackpoll and I even had time to miss an Indigo Bunting. My Nova Scotia year list is just one shy of 280 and my CSI not big year after last year’s big year is 242, seven up on last year.

Tomorrow will probably not live up to today although you never know. Perhaps the empid Mike saw briefly along Kenney Road might show up again and be something exotic, being mobbed by a Kentucky Warbler would also be appreciated!