Sure Birds

If there is one thing we know it is that Short-billed Dowitchers will appear around Cape Sable Island and especially The Hawk in numbers from mid-July onwards. This year they are a bit early and you wonder if they, like so many other birds, have had a poor breeding season. The thing is, they can probably stand a few but species like Roseate Tern, whose dramatic breeding collapse along with the other two tern species, can’t afford the luxury of sitting out a year. For more on the subject of the tern disaster read Alix’s blog here: http://alixdentremont.blogspot.ca/

One upshot of this lack of breeding, and therefore feeding urgency has been the presence of Roseate Terns off Daniel’s Head and The Hawk. Whereas previously just one or two have been the norm, and then not daily, currently up to ten are fishing offshore and occasionally coming closer. Fortunately they, unlike the Forster’s Terns that have been around since the end of June, are easy to pick thanks to their cat-toy flight action and whiter plumage. The Forster’s have hardly been obliging but I have seen them occasionally but never near enough to photograph. The Roseate Tern photos below were taken from Daniel’s Head beach while the terns attended the feeding Double-crested Cormorants.

Incidentally, while watching the tern feeding frenzy I snapped this group of terns. Two Common, one Roseate (blurred) and another. Not really sure of the bird bottom right although it is a lousy photo. Structurally it is bigger than the Common Terns, whiter too and, had the bill been orange I have considered Forster’s, I might still have to. Another bird was further away so the shots are even worse, answers on a postcard for this one.

Going back to The Hawk, on the morning of July-9th Mark McCollough (not someone anyone knows around here) saw and photographed a Brown Booby on rocks off the beach. Details are limited but at least he reported it through eBird and we are all looking forwards to seeing the photo. The last one on CSI, a good few years back, spent perhaps a day flollopping, it’s a booby thing, around one of the camps on The Cape before shuffling off this mortal coil, Sharron and Ronnie found it dead near the light. Thinking this new bird might do the same we charged around The Cape the next day, seeing nothing of note so perhaps it has shipped out or, it may just be sitting on a rock near you!

The dowitchers I mentioned earlier have now topped 1800 today (July-13th), a rapid rise from around 700 under a week ago. In their midst today were 350 or so Semipalmated Sandpipers, 140 Semipalmated Plovers and few other species besides. Best of all were a couple of Hudsonian Godwits that fed on the edge of the mud at range, then they flew over the parking lot allowing for a few doc-shots to b grabbed. I had a Bonaparte’s Gull this morning too so it was well worth the early start and patient sift through the shore birds.

Finally, it has been good to see a few visiting birders around CSI recently although the weather has been quite cruel at times. Fog has visited far more times that we’d like although sometimes it has resulted in good birding. Mostly though it has been a real pain, even appearing when the wind had northerly elements to it, definitely not part of the script. Hopefully we will get more good days than bad, especially as autumn tends to be better than spring, weather-wise.

Over the Hump

Birders like to slice up the avian cake, picking the best bits to enjoy first. Spring, autumn, winter but not deep winter – that is the soggy bit, and finally summer. Summer is when we do the breeding birds, count the fledglings and keep a watchful eye out for threats (us) to threatened breeders. Summer is the hump, a season of less pulse racing excitement but very important as, without it, there won’t be any more birds although you might be forgiven for thinking that was what many people (not birders) were aiming for. We hear the reports of folks knocking down Cliff Swallow nests because of the mess, have you seen how much mess you make yourself petal! People and industry (builders etc.) go slashing through trees and shrubs while birds are on eggs or feeding young, then the aftermath ends up in bird care places. Not to mention all those farmers, hobbyists and ‘real’ ones, who now cut their hay fields just as the grasslands species’ young are in the nests. Bobolinks are roundly screwed thanks to this and the Government fails to tackle it with cash incentives to promote better cutting policies. If it costs the farmers dollars, even miniscule amounts, then species protection means zip but don’t get me started on this, whoops, too late.

Anyway, we are now over the hump and the shorebirds are heading south. I took a look at The Hawk, Cape Sable Island today (July-5th) and counted, give or take five, 537 Short-billed Dowitchers out there. They can reach 15,000 in numbers in fact the shorebirds in general will be so numerous that counting is just a case of a good guess for some species at times.

A few days ago Rachel Hoogenbos, who lives on Daniel’s Head, saw a small egret off the back of her place. It had visible head plumes and Little Egret needed to be ruled out. She gave us a call and we got flight views which seemed to back up the expected Snowy Egret although she has had Little off there before and has even seen them side-by-side in Florida. Today I got a good look at the egret, well one of them as there may be two. Today’s bird certainly had some visible plumes but not the very elongate sort shown by Little, however, plumes break. In this case the yellow lores (face) and the extent and shape of the chin feathering, plus a few other features, again point to Snowy Egret. The bird also has a gammy leg so we should be able to track it when it moves, assuming it does.

 

This photo shows two Snowy Egrets and two Little Egrets together.

Daniel’s Head has been a regular spot for me recently although we did have visitors from the UK which meant I had to be sensible(ish). On June 25th Alix d’Entremont and Paul Gould found first one, then a second Forster’s Tern on the receding tide. The views were difficult at times and the photo ops even more of a challenge. Forster’s are found north to Massachusetts as part of their regular range, then further north still as irregular vagrants to rare vagrant the further you go. Most on-line images for them tend to focus on the easy non-breeding plumage, whereas this pair where one in full summer plumage and one showing a second-summer type with some had moult and darker than adult primaries. My photos were pants so I won’t even bother putting them here.

Other birds around have included more Nelson’s Sparrows, some very showy around Daniel’s Head. An irregular Black-crowned Night-Heron has been at the same spot, and an elusive Green Heron was on Hirtle’s Pond, The Hawk. Luck was very much required to see it and I only got lucky once when it flew into the fog. High ISO on the photo and all that.

Finally, we don’t get too many Cliff Swallows and in Shelburne Co they are a very scarce breeder, although the nests remain in-tact as far as I know. One was on The Hawk July-5th, resting on wires.

Lark Flies at Daniel’s Head

With due acknowledgement to Flora Thompson, whose book ‘Lark rise to Candleford’, was not species specific, so I sort of mucked about with the title for this blog post.

Some species are surprisingly absent from Nova Scotia and the strong flying Eastern Meadowlark is one of them. In days of yore they were commoner, mostly in winter but also as a restricted breeder and occasional transient. Now we update that status to vagrant because their appearance here, no doubt linked to the wholesale destruction of their habitat, has become so erratic that we are more likely to find heaps of steaming Rocking Horse dung on Daniel’s Head than a lark, well at least until today you were.

A call from Clyde (thanks Clyde), had birders scuttling over to look and the lark, mostly, behaved although it was skittish and flew at regular intervals. It may still be there, but an afternoon search of its favourite haunts failed to find it. There are two species of Meadowlark in North America with a third, Lillian’s, showing promise as warranting its own page in the field guide. We would expect Eastern in NS but Western does also occur in the east and so it is important, when faced with a vagrant meadowlark, to see the bits that matter. As reliable as anything is the white in a tail, a whole tail though and not one that has been chewed by a hawk or partially moulted. Eastern has three and a little bit white outer tail feathers, Western two and a bit, and these are obvious when the bird flies but more especially when it lands. Our bird had 3.5 on the outer retrace scale and so was comfortably Eastern, the malar lacks a bit of ambition on the being white front though.

Meadowlarks are odd looking things, ungainly might just cover it, and they are hard to place taxonomically based on their appearance. There is an air of grackle about them but also some pipit. The only lark bit comes to the fore when they open their beaks and warble and even then it’s not a lark song as in the Old World. In Africa there is a bird, Yellow-throated Longclaw (something we spent hours looking for in Gambia), that is physically pipit but dressed as a meadowlark (Google it).

Anyway, enough waffle, the meadowlark was good and also has the distinction of being Mike’s 300th NS bird, well at least until Thayer’s Gull gets lumped with Rock Pigeon or whatever, and so is to be celebrated in pixels.

 

After the sequence from today, and just to make things clear, here are five Meadowlarks from four differing geographical locations, see if you can figure out what they are, answers next post.

Above – Eastern Meadowlark, QC, May 2012. Big pale malar.

Above, Eastern Meadowlark from the Pacific Slope of Costa Rica, June 2005. The Pacific is eastern right!

Above, Western Meadowlark, California March 2013. Below, Western Meadowlark, Nevada, March 2013.

Below, Eastern Meadowlark, Panama – Cocle area, Pacific side June 2013.

Red not Grey

Both Red and Red-necked Phalarope are abundant migrants offshore in NS. In the bay of Fundy, clouds of them gather in the late summer through autumn and the whale trips pass bobbing flocks as they head whale-wards, not pausing for the ardent birders aboard to spend time looking. So, when you get either species down and in summer plumage then you take time to enjoy. On May-28th a distant blob inside the seawall on Daniel’s Head was scoped and soon resolved into a Red Phalarope, a bit drab at distant and so thought to be a male.

All three phalaropes dress their males in rags while the females are the ones that glad up for the party. Drab has various levels and perhaps upper-drab would describe a summer plumaged male Red Phalarope. The alert went out locally and the bird was enjoyed, as a blob, before it melted away. The tide was rising and the appearance of one, then two Cliff Swallows rather monopolised our attention, especially as the recent putative Cave Swallow near Halifax had us on high alert for ours. Cliff Swallow on CSI is not very common and these birds were my second and third in two years of pretty intensive birding.

The tide was a good one and the water was creeping up and into the corner by the parking lot. I had started for home when I glimpsed a bird in the partially submerged grassy margins. A bit of slewed parking had me out of the car and stealthily edging toward the bird, a species with a reputation for indifference to humans. At first it noticed me and drifted out a little, spinning for insects and chugging along like a swimming pigeon; then it turned and came to within eight feet. The light was tough, 1000 ISO to get a decent speed. Closer too it was obviously a female, a real beauty.

The Cliff Swallows were hawking insects off the beach, a little mixed flock with Tree and Barn. Later they all perched in a line for a wash and brush up, startling with each passing truck.

Just as an illustration of the beach insect fare available, this Willet was helping itself to a beak full.

Later the same day Johnny called with another Orchard Oriole at Murray’s feeders, his third of the spring. This time it was a full male and a handsome beast. It spent time on the hummer feeder snaffling a bit of sweet water before slipping off again. Most Orchard Orioles on CSI are the immature types, nice, but not quite as spectacular as a full male, thanks for the call Johnny.

This Alder Flycatcher was yacking away along Kenney Road recently.

Some of the birds seen along the Clyde River Road recently. Hermit Thrush, a Magnolia Warbler and a Palm Warbler.

Finally, I think I am right in calling this a Hoary Elfin, found along the Clyde River Road.

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.