Cape Wander

We usually try to get out to The Cape, the ever changing island off The Hawk on Cape Sable Island as soon as possible into the New Year. This winter the elements have conspired against us and the very few moderate days we’ve had have not coincided with availability. Today we put things right with Ronnie and I paying a courtesy visit, not really expecting too much and quite happy with the species and abundance found there.

High tide dictated that our route would run from Shell Beach, around the regular spots that hold a few birds and then back from Stephen’s Point. As it transpired the tide remained high enough to rule out crossing the eroding channel to Stephen’s Point, forcing us to cut back across the saltings. This was a pretty interesting experience in itself, the winter storms have changed the nature of the saltmarsh and, if it avoids more weather-driven reconstruction, it should be pretty good for shorebirds in season, a season that looks some way distant from the cool days of March.

For those unfamiliar with The Cape, I’ve added the map, or you can always look at the tab on the blog header for more details.

As we passed one of the offshore islets between The Hawk and our landing spot, a Snowy Owl stuck his head up. We were confident that our being on the water wouldn’t cause the bird to fly off back to its regular spot on the nearby shingle ridge so we let ourselves drift past. We took a few shots then it did that thing they do when you know they are going to move and it flapped slowly and hopped up to sit on top of one of the rocks. This bird was a poser so we snapped a few more images before Warren eased us away quietly. He was still on his island when we came off The Cape a few hours later.

The bay where we landed had a good bunch of Brant, we ended up tallying around 400, low for the time of year but a big improvement over recent weeks so we might get to four figures yet this spring.

The landing point on Shell Beach is where we have to go at high tide. Just three years ago the beach was broad with a thick swathe of Marram Grass to the right, like a well-thatched toupee stretching away for .5km before the bank becomes a ridge of big shingle. This has all now gone and the sandy, stony topping will only last a few good southerly storms before breaking through. Once that happens, the rise and fall of the tide will reshape The Cape, just like it has been doing for millennia.

We did or regular circuit although I didn’t check The Forest, wrong time of the year, preferring to stick to the south shore looking for sea duck. Small bird action was limited to a junco and a couple of Song Sparrows although we’d add a regular Savannah Sparrow later.

When you get to the light we visualised the proposed light victim refuge, a small fenced area 3m away from the light and offering some cover for those migrants that are light affected during migration. It might take a couple of years to get it fully functional but it will be worth it when finished and it will enhance the scruffy area around the light.

At this point on a Cape visit you have two choices. Walk the ridge along the shore, not easy as the rocks move without warning and it is hard to look for birds and walk confidently at the same time. The other option is to double back and skirt the pool. The beach section is usually where the sandpipers hang out. This time we didn’t see them until another Snowy Owl flushed them. We thought the owl would avoid us so were surprised when it flew past quite close, heading towards the light. The Purple Sandpipers did another little aerial dance at this but then vanished and we couldn’t relocate them.

Usually, by this point, the best birding is had by following the beach ridge all the way around the bay. It was here that five Harlequins bobbed around a rock, well offshore but easy to ID as they always are.

By this time on a visit expectation of finding something else is low; there are few obvious migrant traps in the area, something we might be able to address at some future point. There are a couple of areas that would stand having a Willow Holt (fenced), that would offer cover and good birding. Ideally I see a birding trail with a map on The Cape which would help visitors to navigate the birding spots of the island and keep the same people away from sensitive area like the tern colony and Piping Plover nest sites, all in good time.

We ended the walk with 27 species, pretty good for March and the pre-migration period. I think I have visited The Cape 69 times since June 2015 and only on a couple of occasions has the birding been bad but, even then, you still get to take a good walk around a great place.

I only managed a few photos of the Snowy Owls, here they are.


The Snow has Finally Gone

The snow that fell around March-02-03 had finally gone and good bloody riddance! It took an all-night rain storm to finally wear it away but now it looks like we can let the good times of spring roll, yay.
The birding has been quiet and I have been incapacitated with a heavy cold which lasted seven days. Reading up on the Interweb, their advice is any cold that lasts three days is probably Leprosy or similar. I sometimes wonder whether you can believe everything you read on there!
As a consequence of my ability to leave a trail like a snail wherever I go, I haven’t been far. Mostly I’ve been birding from the warmth of the house but I did find time to pop out and miss a tame Purple Sandpiper at West Head. I have looked at that outside breakwater many times, expecting to see a Purple Sandpiper there and the one time I’m kept indoors doing my bit for the tissue manufacturing industry up one pops and then doesn’t even have the decency to linger. It would have been a West Head tick too.
You’ll note from the first image that it is an advert for my Australia talk. This time I am presenting it in Halifax where there is a bigger birder presence so I might get a couple more coming along that when I first did it in Yarmouth. No worries.

I don’t have a deal of photos to show you at present. These are from the yard where a regular immature Cooper’s Hawk would come and sit in the trees above the feeders causing mayhem when it arrived. After ten minutes the birds got confident and came back, ignoring the Coops. To be fair it never did anything more than just watch, upsetting the applecart again when it left. The other bird is an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk, now that was a buggeroo. It would chase like mad, then settle like the Coops but only for minutes before chasing again. The birds never settled and I ended up easing it away by just walking around the back.

We often get Northern Harriers go over but they rarely show much interest in the birds. This one hung around for a good ten minutes, making frequent close passes and was definitely after something feathered.

We had to go to Yarmouth for chores and came across this Rough-legged Hawk along Chebogue Point. Nice but the not the bluebirds we were hoping for.

The gulls know well what time of year it is. Most of the Iceland Gulls have headed north, the Herring Gulls have all settled into the colony on Daniel’s Head although they still find a window to visit Swimm Point. This adult Glaucous was around on March-15. I am pretty sure that the two adults I’ve seen at Swimm Pt in consecutive winters are the same. Gulls can show great site fidelity and I confidently predict they’ll come back again next year unless they have an unfortunate Polar Bear related incident. Odd to think that the birds we’ve enjoyed this winter may well scavenge a Polar Bear kill at some point.

Some ducks and a better shot of the yard Northern Mockingbird. Because it kept coming for the suet I made an effort to put out a variety along with some fruit, hoping to keep it well-fed. Typically it now seems to have moved on although the Lincoln’s Sparrow still drops in now and then.

Told you we had snow.

It’s Grim Down South

Mostly winter is something that we read about, ensconced as we are in the fabled ‘Banana Belt’ of Nova Scotia, but this one has been a little different. Up until a couple of days ago we’d had barely enough snow to grind England to a halt (c1”), then we got 55cm which I am sure was a delivery mistake, surely this was meant to be much further north. Lacking a return address there was only one thing to do, extract the dust covered snow shovel and start digging!

The beauty of having a long drive is that trick or treaters can rarely throw an egg that far to reach the house when you tell them to sod off. The downside is that it is an awful long way to the road and, with the sort of depth we are talking about, little room either side of the drive in which to make further deposits. Fortunately our neighbour, who we have never formally met, has a four-wheel with a plow (plough) on the front and did the last 5m from the road in, the bit where the municipality plow will undo all of your good work if you let them. Having had the foresight to leave the car at the road end was a wise choice.

Prior to all the physical shenanigans was the more important job of ensuring that the birds could get to food. The snow, ignorant of this fact, had drifted to nearly 1.5m in parts and even the most energetic Dark-eyed Junco was going to have its work cut out getting to a rich seam of seed. Normally I’ll clear the area with a small snow shovel, this time it was not going to happen, I’m 61 and suffering from galloping winter inertia! So I cleared the bird table and the bench at the back and heavily seeded them. Cleared off the hanging feeders an put a small plywood square down under one of the Apple trees and seeded that. I suspected that the days birding might just be restricted to the yard.

I was uncertain how the foul weather might affect the yard guests, specifically the Lincoln’s and Fox Sparrows, I need not have worried, they were abroad by the time I got back inside. The snow had concentrated the birds somewhat, even the now on casual Northern Mockingbird showed up, so I thought I might go for a new March day list record. The flat light was perfect for seeing birds in Barrington Bay channel. Tons of sea duck, mostly White-winged and Surf Scoter were out there, in between were many Common Loons along with a few Common Eider, Buffleheads and both Red-necked and Horned Grebe. Often the light and the heat haze make the latter species something of a challenge at range but two or three times every winter we get days of excellent visibility so I took advantage.

By late morning I had cleared up on most of the expected birds but still lacked hawks. Our regular Cooper’s (see photo later) was elsewhere all day but cruising Turkey Vulture came over and a couple of immature but frisky Bald Eagles spent time soaring overhead. I tallied up to see how I was doing and was pleased with 36 species, a total that did not include our recently absent Northern Cardinals. By now the warmer weather (-3) had cleared the roads and I decided to give The Hawk a go, surely perfect conditions for nudging Short-eared Owls out hunting early.

Like everywhere else, The Hawk was snowbound but a small parking area allowed me to set up the scope and scan and, sure enough, there was an asio owl being chased out to sea by big gulls. It circled back and sat on The Cape, probably 2.5km away but clearly an owl, so I waited. In between the regular male Snowy Owl came over to sit on a nearby islet. Eventually the asio owl took off and headed my way. Short-eared would be default but Long-eared in these conditions are possible. Typically it veered off from my position, choosing to use the tangle of utility wires between me and it to test the cameras focussing capabilities. All I got were doc-shots but good enough to see a Short-eared Wing pattern, played for and got.

The year list is pottering along and I am adding the odd species here and there without really leaving Cape Sable Island. Wharves, when not totally iced in as they have been recently, have been interesting if not trouser-wettingly good. Mostly I have been seeing the regular birds although sometimes even they have you taking a long, second look. One example of this was a Great Black-backed Gull recently. Normally they are big and ugly, full of malcontent. The bird in the photo show one looking quite different and appreciably smaller than it should be. I see a lot of GBBG daily and sometimes they are a little finer looking but never quite as dainty as this one.

Bonaparte’s Gulls have been a tough find this year and so when one wandered in to the fish plant bay at Swimm Point recently it was to be enjoyed. It never came very close and the wind was a bit raucous, it has been that way so often this winter, but I got enough of a shot to grab the essential details.

Mike and Sandra have been playing host to a female Northern Pintail recently. It found their cracked corn pile and has been popping by but legging it before we got round there to see it. Luckily I snagged it in nearby Drinking Brook Park which, although mostly iced up, had open water where Drinking Brook ran into it.

Common Loons are pretty numerous around CSI this winter, they raft up and start to acquire their summer plumage in stages. At this time they start to look messy and distant bird can take on a wholly different look plumage-wise although structure is always the key. This bird at West Head recently had developed a chinstrap, somewhat reminiscent of Pacific Loon and, had the bird been one of the smaller looking ones, at range minutes of fun could have been had sorting it out. I don’t recall seeing a chinstrap on a Common Loon quite like this before.

A quick call into the Stoney Island Beach parking lot on Mar-01, 2019 got me another look at the wintering Grey Catbird and one of the twelve Yellow-rumped Warblers around there posed for a shot.

Here are few misc shots from elsewhere around CSI.

You might notice that I have posted one of Sandra’s pet portraits on the side bar. She is taking commissions and for what amounts to costs will draw your pet for you giving you a unique image to remember it by when it karks. There is a link to her art blog below the ad for more details if you are interested.

On the pages bar you will see a for ‘For Sale’ tab. I’ll use this if I have any birding books or equipment for sale from time to time. At present there is a bunch of books there, feel free to browse.

I will be presenting my talk ‘Australia, a long way from Home’ for the Nova Scotia Bird Society in Halifax on March-28th. Details on the NSBS web page and I’ll post more details here nearer the time, Sheilas welcome.

Well, it is February!

Not posted for some time and for good reason, the title says it all. This is the traditional slump time with only the odd morsel to keep us going. For me it has been going through the gulls just about daily, I’m sure the fish plant thinks I am a spy or worse, a factory inspector!

There are a few things to tell you though. I have begun to get involved in the East Cape Sable Island Important Bird Area (IBA), basically Daniel’s Head through The Hawk. I took over as President recently, a grand title but you’ve got to be called something I suppose. I was asked if I had any ideas regarding projects in the IBA, I have so here they are.

We’d like a blind on Daniel’s Head, one side looking seaward, the other over the inlet. We’d like a fence on The Cape adjacent to, but not touching, the Lighthouse. The reason is simple; the light has a history of disorientating night migrants who, in some cases, fall to ground where gulls no doubt feast. When they were painting the light, the paraphernalia associated with the contractors offered migrants shelter. Our little fence would have shrubs inside and maybe a bench so that you can sit quietly and observe. The idea is that the birds fall, hide in the shrubs and the gulls take less of a toll. We’d like the two small tern colonies on The Cape and Green Island to have permanent signs advising visitors to keep out of the tern area between May-August. We’d like to run a Tree Swallow Program at two or more sites around the IBA. We’d like a few directional signs guiding people to the IBAs. Everything we are proposing is low impact and meant to be done in harmony with other area users and avoiding any conflict. I’ll report back as things happen, or not!

I also had a reply from Environment and Climate Change Canada re my questions regarding the hunting of wildfowl (ducks and geese) rare to Nova Scotia. Basically hunters can take all ducks and geese (except Harlequin), birders want rarities excluded from the bag, we have to make our case. Many hunters will appreciate how highly we value the lives of our rarities and they have no need to take them, there are enough common birds to complete their bags. Again we would be looking for a non-confrontational approach with the ‘accidental’ taking of rare wildfowl, if it happened, non-prosecutable. More on this challenge as it develops, I do have a purposeful blog post about the situation that is in prep (still!).

Today (Feb-18, 2019) was a rare snow day here in the Banana Belt. The winter has been pretty benign apart from winds, and the snow now falling will go in a few days. On the wharves, the gull numbers are starting to wind down a little, in part because the birds shift around a lot as they follow boats but also because they are now heading back north. No matter what that idiot rodent said, spring is just around the corner and the gulls know this. That does not mean we don’t have a certain amount of messy weather to come, this is the Maritimes after all, but we can now see ‘the winter hump’ in the rear view mirror receding slowly.

In the absence of much that is not larid to show you (another blog post in progress), I thought I’d stick a few yard birds up from today and the past week. I’ll caption as applicable otherwise I get complaints! The yard is buzzing along nicely for the year. The January stats were quite interesting, 46 species recorded, exactly the same as 2018 and 2017. We just passed 50 for the year, the February effect only offering four list additions, leaving us with perhaps four or five winter species to add before the first grackle and spring proper.

Merlin – it keeps coming after the Mourning Dove, the Blue Jays just laugh at it!
American Crow
One of three Northern Flickers that like the suet feeder. I think the chimney is in for a battering soon.

People call the flying rats but I rather like Eurasian Starlings.

Dark-eyed Junco
Mourning Dove
Blue Jay
One of about 15 White-throated Sparrows that clean up the seed daily.
Song Sparrow
Fox Sparrow – still got two,
Never had a Brown Creeper at the feeders before but this one has become regular.
Downy Woodpecker
The Lincoln’s Sparrow is still with us but super skittish.

Wharf Side Story

Sitting on the end of the wharf at West Head, as you do, and while sifting through the squabbling gulls and wondering why two Kumlien’s Iceland Gulls never look the same, I noticed a female Common Eider doing what appeared to be aquatic gymnastics. It was spinning and flapping and the reason wasn’t immediately obvious until a dark head appeared above the water firmly attached to its throat, a Mink. Initially the eider had been a good ten metres from the sea wall, one of several eiders that were just milling around, so the Mink had swum out under water, grabbed the eider and started the process that can only end one way.

The eider struggled, naturally, but the Mink held firm, edging the bird towards the weed covered sea wall, a mass of stones with plenty of nooks to hide a Mink in. When it got there the eider gave up, or died, and the Mink edged up under the weed with its duck dinner never to be seen again. I didn’t know that Mink would hunt that way, I’ve seen seals have a go from time to time but never a Mink take a fully-grown eider from open water. I think that if Mink were say the size of a Labrador, we’d all be in serious trouble, still the roads would be a bit quieter and you could get through the MacDonald’s drive-through that bit quicker!

The birding from the wharves recently has varied from good, when the weather is worst and the fishing fleet stays tied up leaving the gulls that came in last time tend to hang around until they follow the boats out next time, to bad, when just a few gulls have lingered and none of them are even trying to be interesting. Out of interest (to myself only probably), I thought I’d look up how many visits I’d made to my two favourite wharves and how many species I’d recorded for each site. I expected differences as Swimm Point has limitations while West Head has marsh and scrub birds to go at in season.

The data I have is only since both sites became hotspots, I really need to go through eBird and shift checklists from the Cape Sable Island hotspot to the relevant and relatively newly created Swimm Point and West Head hotspots. At Swimm Point I’ve done 41 eBird visits, 22 this year along and seeing 41 species. At West Head, a slightly older hotspot, I’ve paid 166 visits, 22 this year, seeing 108 species. Now isn’t that the most interesting thing you have read recently? Well I think so!

I’ve mentioned before how good the wharves are for photography, sometimes species that are usually offshore will drift in and, if you sit tight in the car, will come pretty close. I’ve been practising with the new lens recently (technical detail: Sigma 150-600mm image stabilised F5-6.3 contemporary – whatever that means). While I have been very happy with the older Canon 100-400mm, from the car and at blods inside and off Daniel’s Head I’ve needed a bit more oomph. I’ve been quite pleased with the results so far but it is early days and I have yet to develop the shot-putter’s arm muscle in my right arm that is required to hold it up and even still for any length of time. I could use a tripod but I bet I don’t, too much faf.

Below is a Red-necked Grebe from Swimm Point. Late afternoon is best off the wharf proper, any other time unless the wind is wrong then the ramp to the fish plant off South Street is your spot.


At West Head the gulls come close, especially if you chum with a few cat kibbles. The light is usually good throughout the day although northerly winds will freeze your nipples off, still, a small price to pay for good Herring Gull photos I think.


Here is a nice Black Guillemot (Tystie, the Shetland name) and a few gulls. The last one is odd, big or bigger than a Herring with a big bill and shading on the primaries. It might be a hybrid I just don’t know, no flight shots unfortunately.


January 2019 was way better than January 2018 and the stats bear this out. In January 2018 I saw 93 species in Nova Scotia (and none of them had the prefix ‘Kelp’!). In 2019 I saw 104 species (and one had the prefix ‘Slaty-backed – yay!). On Cape Island I saw 74 species in 2018 as opposed to 86 in 2019. Some years there are just more birds around and, bear in mind that January 2018 was post-fallout so there were some pretty good birds still milling around.

February is normally dire and it only takes one good bird to get you through to the more optimistic March. That bird this year might have been a Varied Thrush. One is in New Germany, in a yard by the main highway but the finder ‘doesn’t want visitors’. So the eight, maybe ten at a pinch, Nova Scotia birders who might park nearby, scan the yard for the bird then slip away are denied the chance of adding this enigmatic thrush to their Nova Scotia list. I can understand people not wanting folk on their property, that is fair enough, but when the bird is possibly visible from the road, all I can say is that it is a very un-Nova Scotian attitude. If we ever get a Varied Thrush in our yard then please text through how you like your coffee and whether you want a breakfast!

Working the Wharves

At this time of year your small bird options in Nova Scotia are limited. Those birds with any sense are in sunny places far, far away. The ones that stay really don’t want to be seen that much although feeders help when it comes to tempting them into view. Our yard has been good this year with the wintering Lincoln’s Sparrow, first seen up the road at Mike and Sandra’s, popping in daily but only very briefly. I have no idea where it goes otherwise. Our other winter guests, the Fox Sparrows, one or two of which appear daily, and our now intermittent Northern Mockingbird, the berries are gone and it is foraging more widely, just add to the pleasure of feeding and enjoying yard birds.

Away from the yard there is really only one January/February place to spend time around Cape Sable Island and that is watching the wharves and fish plants – often situated both together for added birding convenience. It may seem samey to some, but checking the wharves as often as I can, which is virtually daily, offers photo opportunities and the chance of something different now and again, the Slaty-backed Gull being a prime example. Incidentally, the gull took me joint top of the Shelburne stats in eBird (Johnny has way more birds in Shelburne but is not on ebird). I say joint top but really top on validated eBird records, the list shows un-validated records too which sort of skews the view. Odd then that the other joint leader suddenly just found two more species to add to their Shelburne lists. I’m not sure how you find another two species to add to an established list, maybe down the back of the sofa or perhaps through the back of the wardrobe and into Narnia.

My regular route is to start either at Swimm Point or West Head Wharf. Swimm Point is the easier of the two as it does not involve getting in anyone’s way. West Head can be a busy place and keeping the harmony between those working on the wharves and birders accessing them to see the birds there is important. On the odd times I am asked what I am doing the inquisitor has ended up telling me all about the birds seen at sea during fishing and I always get the impression that there is a genuine appreciation, if not obsessive interest (I thought I should fess-up to that one). I always impress on folks how interested we would be to see any photos they take of birds they don’t recognise while at sea, nothing has come back directly yet but it will happen.

The way to look at the wharves is from the car. Here you can drive on, park up and watch to your hearts delight. Were you to try this in say the UK you would be arrested and charged with trespass, assuming you got past the gate security to get onto a wharf in the first place! That is one of the great things about birding Nova Scotia, if you are sensible you can go just about anywhere.

You’d think that you would see everything a spot had to offer in five minutes but it is not so. Sitting at the wharf and watching what comes and go it is astonishing how much change over there actually is. Loons, grebes, ducks and alcids paddle in and out all of the time while the gulls are ever changing. Some gulls do hang about and become fairly predictable while others appear briefly, have a look around and maybe grab a morsel and then offski. A good example of this is an Iceland Gull of the nominate race (so not ours) that has been to West Head a few times. Alix and Kathleen had it close enough to get good diagnostic photos of it, see here:

This bird has been in and out briefly at least three times while I have been there but I thought that it had never landed close enough or stayed put long enough to get shots, until I went through my December-30, 2018 checklist and there it is. This is the only validated record of the nominate race in eBird and is a good example of what watching the wharves will bring if you are alert enough.

Naturally, and I am sure some will question the use of the term when it comes to gulls, much time is spent working through the gulls. Those birders in Nova Scotia with an interest know what they are looking for. We wanted a Slaty-backed and got one. We want a California, one was seen in Sydney, Cape Breton recently, and we will get one. Other wants that will take luck and some judgement are the toughies, Yellow-legged Gull and Vega Gull, and the easy to identify ones, Black-tailed, Ivory and Ross’s. We’d also greatly appreciate a photographable Sabine’s and Little Gull, a Short-billed (Mew) Gull and even another (but better behaved) Kelp. Left-field contenders are Caspian and Mediterranean Gull, well I can dream.

I mentioned the toughies, that is because they present an identification challenge. The propensity for gulls to hybridise is legend, the west coast is awash with the things while here in Atlantic Canada we have a few contenders that should be sortable although some you just have to shake your head at. Personally I have been looking for a Glaucous x Great Black-backed. I have seen what I am sure were Herring x Great Black-backs and recently (Jan-30) I saw the gull below which appears to be a Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Despite having seen thousands of gulls here and in Europe, and having done many gull roost watches, I have never come across a Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull. Indeed I have never across many hybrids at all until I moved to North America. Fortunately we have a Facebook group for North American Gulls and, while it gets a good deal of phone-photo garbage posted it also gets plenty of good advice and comment. I posted the shots below speculating Herring x Great Black-backed and it came back as Herring x Lesser Black-backed by those with experience of the things. At least I’m presuming that as, unless you know the individual is an active guller, you assume other commenters also get out too and not just desktop birders. With regard to my gull, Dave Brown in Newfoundland was particularly helpful, these are his comments: ‘ I would agree with HERGxLBBG based on the wing tip pattern. All adult GBBGxHERG adults I have seen had white tipped p10’s and this wing tip fits well within the range I have seen for HERGxLBBGx’

Wharf watching is not always just about gulls. I was sat at West Head recently when everything went up in a panic. In the list of likely candidates for such activity you go Bald Eagle, Peregrine, something more exciting! In this case it was a young Northern Goshawk that powered around the wharf, landed on the Coastguard building briefly then headed off with crows following it. I have seen Goshawks do this sort of thing a few times around Cape Sable Island and always it is the inexperienced immature birds that do it.

Usually if I see an alcid around the wharves it is a Black Guillemot, next commonest in real terms is Thick-billed Murre and then Dovekie. Rarely I have seen Common Murre and I’ve never seen a Razorbill inside (as opposed to outside in the open sea) so it was a pleasure to spend a few minutes with one at West Head recently until the Coastguard boats shunted it outside again.

And finally, I have been using a Sigma 150-600mm lens recently, a birthday gift, well an accumulation of many birthday gifts actually, provided I can last to 107 years of age! I’m finding it good and it seems to be fulfilling the need (if not need then desire) for extra magnification when shooting from the car. These are what I have taken with it so far (some of the hybrid gull shots too).

And here are a few shots from various places from earlier in January.

Stuff and Nonsense

As of midday on Friday 25-January, 2019 the Slaty-backed Gull (see previous post) was a one afternoon wonder, being only present at Swimm Point, Cape Sable Island between 2-5pm on Monday 21-January. Anything else you may hear is wrong.

During the daily searching for the bird a number of interesting birds have been found, nothing mega but interesting. For years I’ve spent the winter months slinking around the various CSI wharves looking at gulls, ducks, grebes, loons and alcids. Most of the ducks have been regular winter visitors or residents, Common Eider for instance.

Many species have subspecies, this generally means another form of the nominate form exists elsewhere. The nominate means the main one although the terminology is confusing, species, subspecies, my view is that all forms have equal value and therefore should be treated equally. In Nova Scotia we get Common Eider, also known as American Eider but not really. If you are going to go to sub-specific level then each subspecies needs a name that works, so. The eider most commonly found in Nova Scotia is Dresser’s Eider Somateria mollissima dresseri. Adult males in particular are well marked and easy to identify from the other subspecies that occurs, more on that later. Here is a male Dresser’s Eider. Look at the front processes (lobes) on that!


One of the things I look for in winter is a Boreal Eider Somateria mollissima borealis. I’ve not had much luck, a few female types were found but females don’t look so cool, and so it was nice this past week to find two Boreal Eiders, one at Swimm Point, one at West Head. The later bird was a full adult and actually swam towards me for a change so I got the odd photo. Here is one of the Boreal Eiders, the lobes sort of flicking the bird.


There is a subspecies of eider found mainly in the Hudson Bay, it is sedentary and so, naturally, its scientific name is Somateria mollissima sedentaria! Hudson Bay Eider will do, we don’t get them so no need to bother with them.

The other eider is Pacific Eider Somateria mollissima v-nigrum. It is quite different to the discerning eye, has never been recorded in NS and I don’t have a photo but, here is a link to Bruce Mactavish’s blog with a great write-up and photographs regarding a recent Newfoundland record.

Here is a link for more eider race reading. This is a hunter’s blog so if hunting upsets you don’t read it.

No one seems to mention the European form Somateria mollissima mollissima in a North American context, certainly the Europeans have Dresser’s on their radars, perhaps it is too similar to borealis to bother with or some bright spark will come up with a definitive set of features at some point.

Sandra and I did a trip along Chebogue Point and came across a patient bunch of Turkey Vultures, sitting and posing.


Glaucous Gulls are regular around CSI but normally only in ones and twos. On a few days we had up to three, probably more. An adult, a scarce age-range hereabouts, is faithful to Swimm Point and it is tempting to think it is a returning individual, I’ve had them there before. Here is the adult plus a beastly looking immature from West Head, CSI.

Four species of gull at the pipe – knock yourself out! 

House Sparrows have been a bit scarce at times. Likely extirpated from CSI, Yarmouth is the spot where we usually see a few but since winter listing began (Dec-01) they had been absent from their regular bushes by Rudders Pub, Water St. Last time out we did find a few though.

Johnny and Sandra found a very obliging Snowy Owl on Daniel’s Head, Jan-25, almost tame.

The immature gull is an odd one. Nominally a Herring Gull it just does not look right and may have genetic material from another species lurking within. Answers on a postcard as they say.