A Wet Toe of Migration

This time of year the camera is kept busy as photo opportunities materialize and good birds show up. So far, in the tropical southern mainland of Nova Scotia, at least there has been nothing stellar around but we have had a small selection of migrants to enjoy. Offshore it is different story and the bird magnet that is Seal Island recently produced a first for Nova Scotia, a Hooded Oriole. Had not Alix, Kathleen and Bertin taken advantage of slick seas and made the crossing in Alix’s Zodiac, it would never have been discovered, kudos to them for both getting to Seal at all and then finding a real Mega for Nova Scotia. Naturally I tried to get us birders a ride out there the next day but my Facebook appeal fell on deaf ears – my bad really for not having already made the right contacts to get us there on such occasions.

Their eBird checklist is here: https://ebird.org/canada/view/checklist/S48090916

After prolonged south-westerlies and their gift of fog, the wind was predicted to swing to a more productive direction and so Mike, Ronnie and I went off to Brier for the day full of hope and expectation. For such a hotspot you mentally conjure up a list of exciting strays that just might show up and, almost inevitably, they didn’t this time either. We still had a decent day with 54 species seen, here is our checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S48047406 Speaking to the banders, apart from hoards of irrupting Red-breasted Nuthatches, a sure sign of cone crop failure in the north, the migration was light to negligible, in that context our checklist did not seem too bad. A whale trip may well have been productive for sea birds and, rather typically, an Atlantic Right Whale showed up off the headland we’d been birding the next day.  Here are a few shots.

 

Closer to home the birding has been slow to comatose, and, while we accept that t can’t all be fallouts and vagrants, the action did smack of everything not pausing with us while on migration and heading right through. It is also possible that the breeding season was later after a rubbish June and so the push simply had yet to happen, even though there were triggers in the weather patterns. What is certain, as evidenced by the Hooded Oriole, is that an even bring birds from the south-west of the USA had happened.

Our natural inclination when it is slow is to go to The Cape. It may not have the isolation and cover of Seal Island but is is accessible fairly easily and has the capacity to surprise. In late August our thoughts also turn to that super-elegant birds, not a shorebird, prairie bird is better, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. The Cape is about as near a certain bet as anywhere, you just have to pick your way around the bare patches where the sheep have feasted until you spot the stop-go of a usually confiding buffy. Then you stand and wait as they go about their business. Nine times out of ten they will walk towards you so no need to chase them. Mike and I did the first run and, although it should have been better it wasn’t and no buffy. Still we did see some stuff, notably this adult American Golden Plover which put on a show for us. Here are the pics.

Thursday 30-August didn’t look too promising at the start and, as it was just two days since we’d done the last Cape Trip I wasn’t really intending to go back over, besides Mike wasn’t available and Ronnie was elsewhere. I was just about to give up having seen nothing but the odd Yellow Warbler when my last stop produced this local scarcity – a Mourning Warbler. Emboldened by such riotous success I tried one of my little spots that is a sit and wait site where I turned up another Cape Sable Island scarcity, Tennessee Warbler. Next I had another go for a Northern Waterthrush at Johnny and Sandra’s place and saw it within seconds, decision time.

Fortunately Warren was able to take me out; he normally likes more notice than ten minutes but had a window so off we went into the fog, navigating by hand-held device to find The Cape. It did not seem very promising, nothing was flushing as I walked the trails, The Forest held a bunch of Nelson’s Sparrows but not a single warbler and the fog horn was singing its monotone note every 58 seconds, you count between blasts and cover your ears. I was at the very last bit of buffy habitat before reaching the light when moving bird caught my eye, it was a Least Sandpiper but, next to it was my first Buff-breasted Sandpiper of the year, hurrah.

So just a wet toe of migration so far and not the full body emersion birders always dream about. The fallout of 2017 will take some beating but stranger things have and will happen.

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A Bit of a Catch-up

Time flies when you are out daily, but then seems to drag when it comes to waiting for the warbler migration to get going. I thought cooler northerlies on Monday 20-Aug, 2018 would be the trigger but it was not so. All we really have at present is a trickle feed and there may be two factors that are governing this. First could be the lousy weather to the south where thunderstorms and rain belts are causing some issues, the birds are sensibly choosing not to head into it, just yet. The other factor may be a slightly later breeding period following our long and unsettled spring where we had June frosts. Whatever it is, the true daily re-supplying of our staging points is not really happening – I predict a deluge in the first week of September, followed by two or three hurricanes and a couple of lively tropical storms.

So, trying to make sense of those images I’ve taken recently I’ve added the chronologically, it is easier that way, and I’ve added a bit of blurb where needed. I really want to get the images pending file empty for new stuff, you did see the Australia tab at the top, right?

I’ve also been going through the moths and adding names. It will take a while to get everything in, click on either the macro or micro tab to see the labelled images. If you disagree with my ID, please say so.

Above, a bunch of shorebirds at Chebogue Point – White-rumped Sand, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Plover and a Least.

The empid above was also at Chebogue on a different date. Silent, but the wing formula points to Alder.

Above, Sandra wanted to see whales so we went on the Petite Passage trip. Unfortunately the whales were close so we didn’t cross the birdy ledges. Below a rubbish shot of a Cape Sable Island Pectoral Sandpiper, an adult with some summer plumage about it.

Above, a young Little Blue Heron found by visiting birders (from Texas) Fred and Kay Zagst around the CSI Guzzle. I stopped to look and found the American Bittern below in the same area, oddly rarer on CSI than the Little Blue, my score is LBH 4, Am Bittern 3!

Ronnie and I went to The Cape, it was foggy! Later a couple of American Oystercatchers at Daniel’s Head were close but one was asleep so boring to look at. No young this year, will we get any back next year, we are always on tenterhooks.

Above, Broad-winged Hawks are on the move. This one was over home on 23-Aug, 018. I pasted a few different images together, it is not a flock.

I’m now up to date although I’m off to Brier tomorrow so maybe, just maybe the migration will be evident. A worm-eater and a couple of Kentucky Warblers will do!

The long and the Short of it

I recently saw some mud, quite a feat around Cape Sable Island as we have (so far) had 37/39 days of fog since July 1st. We do get summer fog, especially around The Hawk and, true, Daniel’s Head has at times been visible during this prolonged period of pea-soupers, but mostly the thick grey stuff has swirled around the island preventing heavy birding and I have frequently had to resort to my West Head standby site just to get an eBird checklist in. At least at West Head you can see the two small pools there and there is the hope of a few birds, usually common but a previous Little Blue Heron, Stilt Sandpiper and Common Gallinule always fuel optimism for the unusual and it must get Sora and Virginia Rail from time to time so always worth a stop anyway.

August 1st, just like any first of a month, means I am out birding longer and seeing what there is out there, trying to cover as much of CSI as I feel like doing. The fog this time dictated otherwise (mostly) and so I made for West Head. My usual routine is to drive to the trailer parking lot, pull in sharply off the road into the rutted lot, narrowly missing being rear ended by the truck that tailgated me all the way through Newellton (never the same truck, they work me in shifts!). The southern-most pool is looked at first, it has its own drowned forest of sorts (well, drowned shrubbery) and it can take some careful looking to be sure not to have missed a lurker. I then scoot over the lot and view the northernmost pool, it is cleaner (relatively) and offers a different mud option.

The first bird I saw through the foggy shroud this August 1st was a long-billed peep. ‘Peep’ is the generic term for a small shorebird and in the north-east (that would be here) it is applied to Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers – the other small shorebirds are easy to ID so peep just does not apply. This ‘peep’ looked Semipalmated (no crake-like, arthritic feeding action nor yellow legs making it a Least) but it was seriously be-schnozzled, it had a whopper, we are talking beaksville NS. When you are a birder you notice these things, and so I crept out of the van and, having first rattled off some high ISO doc-shots, got the scope on it. I had Western Sandpiper on my mind, well you would wouldn’t you, and so I went for the field marks, rusty scapulars (shoulder), rust in the cheeks and crown and hoped the bill had the tell-tale but not always obvious kink in the last fifth of its length, it didn’t have any or all of the above.

Semipalmated Sandpiper is super common here right now and the abundance will increase as more arrive. We may well have a billion out there but I mentioned the fog earlier and so the eight I saw were all I had to work with. Some female Semipalmated Sandpipers have long bills, they don’t normally look as obviously glued-on as a Westerns but are still party-sized. This bird had the longest of any Semipalmated I’ve ever seen but everything else about it was regular Semipalmated issue. After a short period of observation the bird flew to the back of the pool, perhaps an assumption by me as I could hardly see the back, it being 70m deeper into the murk.

Once home I threw the image onto the computer and found I had one decent doc-shot, so I sent, it via Facebook, to a few people to keep them in the loop and stuck it on our Facebook Cape Sable Island wildlife group page (why not join, we’ll take anybody!) for others to enjoy. Later, in a moment, Western was uttered from elsewhere. Seeking further input via Facebook, especially from those birders out there tripping over Westerns on their local beach right now, I got a comment from Oregon confidently stating that my bird was a Western, they look like that at the moment and that it would just be skipped past as they search for their own elusive ‘peep’, for them a Semipalmated. Result, no not really, the ID features we all rely upon regarding the two species had just been summarily re-written, so how were we supposed to sort them out now? While advice from other quarters is always welcome and the source is usually well-informed and bravely given (so few experienced birders stick their necks out, even an inch) it should always be balanced with what you know to be true and I still thought this a Semi-P but changed the eBird checklist anyway, ostensibly to see what ‘they’ thought.

A few days later the ping-pong ball of identification shifted and the bird was stated to be a very long billed Semipalmated for not having the very plumage features I’ve already mentioned. ‘Out West’ some people were surprised at just how long those lady Semi-Ps like to wear their bills sometimes and so their whole rarity-search master plan had to be re-edited to include them. The whole exercise was very interesting and almost made me forget about the damn fog, almost. We do get Western Sandpiper here in NS, I’ve even seen and badly photographed one at Daniel’s Head a few years ago. How many real ones we get is open to conjecture as the West Head bird discussion will confirm. It is very likely that past claims unsupported by the right plumage features and, preferably these days, a reference photo, may not have sufficiently ruled out these long-billed Semipalmated vixens and, to me at least, this begs another question, why the long bill?

Long-billed female Semipalmated Sandpipers are pretty much a northeast coast thing and not that common. They don’t seem to be found inland, which in itself is interesting, also why do we assume that they are all female? Given their niche availability is it vaguely possible that they are something else entirely, something between Semipalmated and Western that we don’t fully understand? I doubt any specific work has ever been done with them and it is possibly only through improved scrutiny, as offered by digital photography, that more appreciation of their existence has developed. I’m not saying they are a different species, but I’m not saying they are not either because I don’t know but there are precedents. Cox’s Sandpiper is the progeny of two species (look it up) but was, for a brief period, afforded its place in the full-species sun (I think). Iceland Gull is probably on its way to being multiple species, that it will never get there is our fault as we have severely moved the goalposts – planet life-bearing longevity-wise! Caspian Gull was unknown until the 1980s when it was found, or at least realised to be in existence, by birders. There is stuff out there still to know and those who think we know it all might need to sit down and think about it.

IF someone does do the work on these birds may I suggest, as someone who has stuck their neck out a good two inches with this blog post, Calidris deBergerac?

As usual I have decorated the post with images but they are all peeps and so, if you still call them peeps then we’re done here.

Above, two Semipalmated Sandpipers as sighters.

Above, the West Head bird and below a real Western Sandpiper from roughly the same time period (and conditions!) from British Columbia

The rest of the photos show long billed Semipalmated Sandpipers from a time when we had visibility on CSI. The last bird is especially interesting for the bill kink but can I see palmations there? Note also the rustiness on of some of these long billed semi-Ps.

Addendum

This adult Semipalmated was at West Head on 08Aug, 2018. I don’t recall seeing one with such pronounced tramlines before. Just posted for interest.

When a Plan Comes Together

For 29 out of 30 days in July so far we have had fog on Cape Sable Island. Not just a mist just making everything look ethereal but real ‘B’ movie stuff you could see bugger all in. To be fair, the tropic of Clam Point was usually swift to clear somewhat on some days so that is some times. Down at The Hawk it didn’t, it just hung there or drifted around giving the merest glimpses of the shorebird bonanza known to be present. On Daniel’s Head there were clear spells, well not quite clear but with enough visibility to allow some birding. It was with this metrological backdrop that Ronnie Mike and I decided to venture out for a whale trip off Brier.

This time of the year, apart from the whales obscuring the view, there are sea birds aplenty, especially phalaropes as they get into the swing of their Fundy phenomenon. This is still a well-kept secret despite appearing in the Nova Scotia Bird Society bulletins for many years. It is truly one of the great North America avian spectacles but it is so remote from civilization or even the USA as to be little appreciated. In a nutshell, thousands of Red and Red-necked Phalaropes stage in the Bay of Fundy and the whale trip boats are good vehicles with which to see them, oh and there are some whales.

The weather, despite its recent performance, suggested that it might behave but the first blow to our plan was potentially terminal, neither of the Brier whale tour boats had space or were not running. Last year Sandra and I used the trip out of Petite Passage, a tad more expensive but without the requirement to island hop. They did have room and they do have a nice boat and so that was where we went. The weather was true to its word, fine, no fog, calm winds – all we could have asked for was an overcast sky and control of the boat but you just have to make do sometimes. The boat was not packed, it takes 45, we had half that number and so, there was no need to accidently use the point of your elbow catch the back of the heads of people who burrow in front of you at the rail every time a whale farts.

Once out of the passage we hit birds, Common Murres, Razorbills then Great Shearwaters by the raft and a few Sooty and Cory’s too. Ronnie then yelled “skua” as one drifted past allowing only confirmatory doc-shots. After having three whales doing their sitting in the water looking big thing, eclipsed by a Ruby-throated Hummingbird flying around the boat, we started to head south, seeing more shearwaters, a few Northern Gannets and Atlantic Puffins along with the first phalaropes of the trip, all Reds. After a short while then I picked up another, more distant skua and was about to yell when Ronnie did. His bird beat mine as it was sat on the sea off the starboard side of the boat by about 400m – click.

More whales were there but they were sleeping and intended to stay that was so the skipper took us further south onto Moore’s Ledge, or it could be shelf. It was dripping in Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, hundreds all doing their line-dancing to some sort of Krill-country tune. More shearwaters sheared and, later, their Manx cousins came along too, it was great. Phalaropes began to be encountered in numbers, all bar one were again Reds – and we had close views if not good photo opportunities from the bouncing, but not too much, boat. We reached the turnaround point well-pleased with our avian haul and even saw a few more bits on the way in.

Besides the birds we saw 10-15 Humpbacks, a Minke, Harbour Porpoise, Atlantic White-sided Dolphins and a beam of Sunfish. Obviously the skuas are the best birds but the petrels take some beating by the sheer weight of their numbers while the many floppy-winged Cory’s Shearwaters belied their eBird rarity status by not being rare at all.

Cory’s above, Great Shearwaters below.

Sooty Shearwater above, Atlantic Puffin below.

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel above, Red Phalaropes below.

Two South Polar Skuas. The bottom shot is an amalgam of three shots of the same bird – not a flock!

 

So, August already, well in a day or so, and so begins the autumn birding season. The return and dispersal of summer warblers has begun, just a trickle but the signs are there. In a week to ten days passerine migration will become blatantly obvious and it will be interesting to see how many young birds we get, especially after the conditions of the preceding months – the peak of the breeding season – which are best classified as being largely shitty. Frosts in June, fewer bugs anywhere (and still trees get sprayed in industrial quantities, really, we barely deserve this planet!) and general inclemency have not helped all but the most belligerent birds to raise young although Barn Swallows do seem to have bucked the trend. I hope we have a good August, I need to pack a lot in as September this year will be different but more on that later. It would be nice to get a few more list additions but long ago I accepted that this is a ‘funny year’ and so won’t fret if I don’t.

Perhaps it is time for some numbers so, off you go if you have no interest in this bit but. On Cape Sable Island my year list is a modest 182. There are fillable gaps and so I expect to break the 200 threshold again, but not by very many. The Nova Scotia yea list I am not doing is currently 235, again with glaring gaps. I’ll certainly go past 250 by the end of the year, probably 260 but anything higher is likely to be hampered by September, but it will (hopefully) be worth it.

And finally to moths. When I started looking by the light of the porch I knew that I would get sucked in and that there would be no escape, and so it has been. Mothing is something just about anyone can do and what seems to be a harmless interest, just photographing and then identifying your ‘catch’, soon turns into something of a nocturnal obsession. The little flutterers just keep coming and, even when the weather is pants, you get the odd new one to keep you going. I think I had six species on our yard list when I started, say hello to 171 and counting as of 29-Jul, 2018. I’m even looking out my old UK records so I can have a world list too! Obviously I can stop anytime I like, I don’t have to brave the mossies and angry spiders (I de-web the area daily) but, you know, what if I miss one, say a bright little micro that will take me two days to identify – its ok, I’m fine, it’ll be dark soon, nice warm night, could be good help!  

Pelagic Training

As August nears, thoughts turn to the Pubnico Pelagic (11-Aug this year), a highlight in many birders’ calendar. Getting to see sea birds close is always a treat, it is a break from the regular, something that might only happen once or twice a year so encounters are always to be relished. Sea birds are enigmatic, their evolutionary niche is largely inhospitable to us and observing them is often a challenge and so when the offer was made to go out on a Seining trip off Brier, it was a no-brainer to go and get my pelagic eyes (and brain, a debateable area) into sea bird mode in prep for the Pubnico jaunt, so I did.

Thanks are due to Ellis and Ronnie for making the trip possible, and the Captain who was happy to accommodate a couple of nutcase birders in his place of work. We sailed out of Yarmouth at 5pm on 19-Jul, 2018 and got back the next morning around 08:40. Going out, we travelled north to Brier and then ended up off Grande Manan in the dark, so no New Brunswick list additions to be had. I did hourly checklists which covered roughly ten kilometers at sea at a time. The first hour was predictably quiet but, as we neared Brier, the action started and continued until dusk imposed a natural curfew. We enjoyed a pretty good species list considering that we were fairly early in the sea bird season, nothing mega but lots to enjoy.

We saw: Northern Gannet, Cory’s, Manx, Great and Sooty Shearwater. Leach’s and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. Red and Red-necked Phalarope, Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, Black Guillemot and Common Murre. We had one Pomarine and two Parasitic Jaegers (with two more, probably parasitic) plus sundry gulls and cormorants. We had a breaching Humpback, pods of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins, lots of Grey Seals and Harbour Porpoise and four Sunfish, two of which showed very well.

Photo ops were limited but, here are a selection.

On Cape Sable Island a nice treat recently was a Little Blue Heron that Johnny and Sandra found on ponds by Island Bait Road – a lovely adult. A few days later, Cal Kimola Brown pulled a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron out of the hat in Stumpy Cove, two good year list birds for the year list I’m not doing on CSI.

 

My mothing continues unabated and I’ve posted more images, uncaptioned, to my moth pages. Go browse if you are interested, I will caption when I get a moment.

Sudden Flurry

You had to go back to 24-Feb, 2018 to find the last addition to my Cape Sable Island list, a fine drake Canvasback off the causeway. It is an odd state of affairs and symptomatic of the funny year I have been having, so far. As if to mock the statistic, July has produced two new CSI birds, both anticipated eagerly and both fully appreciated. The first, a Caspian Tern found by Sandra and Johnny Nickerson on the rising tide at Daniel’s Head (05-July), naturally came just as Sandra and I were picking up lumber at Kent Hardware in YARMOUTH! Sandra expected me to utter the phrase “leave it, we’re off” but no, I played it remarkably cool, collecting our lumber, stopping to fuel the van and then making our way home comfortably if with a little zest.

We got to Daniel’s Head to find Ronnie and Paul watching the bird. It was preoccupied with sleeping and then skipping to avoid the rising water. It lingered nigh on a further hour, waiting until the heat haze was at its zenith, then left never to be seen again. My shots are of the record variety but good enough, Caspian Tern on the CSI list b boom. It is a species I have expected for the past three years and it was right where I expected it to be so my saintly patience was all that was needed, that and enough rubber on the tyres to get there from YARMOUTH!

After the meagre pickings of the year – I did mention that it is a funny one and not in a good way – the tern felt like a turning point, no pun intended, and so it has proved to be for, just yesterday (07-Jul), Sandra and I were sitting on the deck recovering from installing the first of five windows, you can’t get window installers down here to do them without first registering the need years in advance, or so it seems, and so these windows are being done using our accumulated skill, the aforementioned patience and in the spirit of adventure. I imagine the first settlers were the same when their first set of double-glazed windows came over on the Mayflower – as true a story as the eternally lost Columbus discovering America, the first case of fake news for the continent I believe.

So, back to the deck sitting and it is sunny and fine, for how long who knows as fog has been our close companion for some time and its friends wind and rain held a day long party last Friday so we were glad of the fine weather. Without entering into the feeder debate, I won’t, a bird flew over and pitched into the spruce above them. Purple Finches do this regularly but this seemed different. The light was right behind it but the trusty Swarovskis (more on those later) worked their optical magic and showed me a Red Crossbill. It may seem an odd time for such a finch to appear on our little island, especially as they are rather scarce in Shelburne County at present, but it is not unusual. Red Crossbills have competed their breeding and are now dispersing widely – I knew to hope or even expect one when first Dave Bell had one on Bon Portage, then Alix had a yard bird too.

I hastily snapped some doc-shots and called then texted Mike. He is up the road and also needs Red Crossbill for the island and more often than not he is able to hop this way for any goodies while I’ll do the same in reverse. Not this time, he was in Shelburne (for unspecified reasons but it must have been important or why else would you go there, Shelburne is weird). I casually edged towards a better spot when the crossbill dropped onto the feeder frame and sat looking at me at about five metres range. Cautiously continuing to edge for better light, it just snaffled a few Sunflower Seeds and munched. I had my sound recorder going the whole time and the bird just fed away as I stood quietly admiring it. Eventually it flew and called and I had both my shots and a recording.

Another nice little CSI surprise, and again found by Johnny and Sandra, is the ongoing presence of Northern Mockingbird/s on the island. They/it appear to be breeding and, hopefully soon, we will hear the young and adults doing their scornful best songs and calls.

For birders their binoculars become an extension of their physical self. They are the eye extensions we turn to for that vital enhancement when looking at our birds. We rely on them, we get used to them and we even mourn their passing when they reach the end of the natural life. To avoid this sad parting you have to spend the big bucks on something decent, the best are made by Swarovski. I bought my current set in 2011 I bought a new pair, Sandra had my old ones which are a slightly older model. She doesn’t use hers quite so much or as hard as I do. A while ago I noticed what appeared to be a peripheral misting around the right-hand eye piece lens, what to do?

When I bought them they came with a lifetime guarantee. The company have since wound that in to ten years on new pairs but I would expect mine to have the original guarantee honoured, and I have no reason to doubt that. Anyway, after some deliberation I bit the bullet and sent the off to Swarovksi for repair. You email them, they send a label, you send the bins and they come back in 4 to 8 weeks depending on the fault repair time. In the meantime I took Sandra’s 20 odd year old Zeiss bins, our coffee table pair for fly pasts, and made the best of it.

I gave them four weeks before I emailed asking after progress, they were then back with me inside ten days and the fine people at Swarovski have done me proud. Fault fixed, nitrogen replaced, collimated (aligned), cleaned, focus repaired and new armour fitted and, if that was not enough, the replacement of the left-hand eye lens which I had told them was scratched but that I could live with as my fault was also done – all free of charge. What with the return of the bins, the two CSI and ticks and a certain football team doing better than expected I feel the year has turned again, the funny year was a funny six months and I’m back in the game!

I mentioned in the last post that I was mothing again, casually via the outside lights. Our yard list has shot up, over 70 now with a dozen or more pending ID. At some point I’ll do a page so that those interested – yes I accept that moths don’t do it for everyone (their loss!) – and you’ll be able to see just what we are getting and, if you know your moths, how many mistakes I’m making!

Background Noise

Over the past few years I’ve become more interested in making field recordings of bird song and calls and even their non-vocal noises, such as woodpeckers drumming or hummingbirds whirring. In years past, to do decent recording you had to lug a parabolic reflector and tape set up around, looking more like a Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) enthusiast on a picnic. Now recording can be done on phones, iPods and you can buy hand-held devices which offer a range of capabilities when it comes to making an acceptable, think worth uploading to eBird, recordings.

There is stuff to learn, not least the semi-alien (SETI again!) language of low-pass filters, megahertz and decibels. Like all things, assumed knowledge can block your path to audio enlightenment, and there is a space in the pantheon of free literature for a simplistic guide to both audio recording and recorders, not to mention the all-important processing of said recordings. Simplistic is the key thing here because, if you mention technical stuff before fully explaining it, people’s eyes just glaze over, or is that just me?

In the beginning I was recording with my iPod touch and got some results. Later I also realised I had a load of birds singing or calling away on video clips from our foreign tips and so I found out how to extract sound recordings from video(easy).  To be able to do this required a simple (within the genre) piece of software and along came Audacity.

Audacity is a free download and simple to use, although I suspect that I am only using 1% of its capabilities. At the very basic level and you can soon converting all of those audio files into something useful, that would be WAV and not MP3 files (MP3 bad say eBird and experts). By working with your own audio recordings, you should get better at recognising what you hear in the field simply due the repetition of time spent listening to and editing the recordings. You will also suffer frustration too, but there are some solutions for when those chips, chatters and even full-blooded songs evade identification, that would be Xeno-Canto where you can post your recording and ask for help. A bit like all those Facebook pages where people dump crappy photos and don’t even use the word please, except Xeno-Canto is for the more cerebral .

In search of improvement, I moved on from the iPod, which gave a spotty recording at times, to using my cell phone, I hold off on calling it a smart phone although the manufacturers might beg to differ. Using downloaded apps (first RecForge 11 and then a different one, Soundbugger ™ or similar, that also worked. I swapped apps when the RecForge 11 thing refused to let me download recordings older than a day so it was toast. The phone did a job for a while but, suddenly, it stopped being recognised by the computer’s USB, in fact any computers USB. The problem was that the connection pin had twisted during the plugging in of the charging lead and once bent that was it.  Back at the store my two month old phone found itself sadly obsolete, having sailed beyond the ungenerous 15 DAY replacement warranty. Sure my phone could be sent away but how would I answer it, or even hear the ring if it was in some repair shop in another country. I decided to keep the phone close and seek another alternative, when did we ever knowingly accept such crap as a fifteen day warranty!

In between iPod and Phone I had tried a Tascam DR-05, a simple and fairly inexpensive hand-held recorder. At first it worked OK, but later started to get less keen on the great outdoors, making my recordings sound like all the birds had a hacking cough, not always but enough to disappoint. This sort of unreliability leads to spicy language, naturally, and so I was told to buy something more suitable, better built and giving better quality recordings – I chose the Zoom H4N Pro, sans shotgun mike (as yet and another story).

Top is the Tascam DR-05, but then you can read that. Then the Zoom H4N Pro naked and, below, bedecked in it’s willy-warmer wind suppressor.

So far the rig is proving OK although I still make errors in thinking I have pressed record, my bad for being more interested in the observation than bothering with petty detail. The built-in  mics are better on the H4N although I still need to use the wind muffler more often than not; well this is coastal Nova Scotia after all. The unit feels well-built, is a little heavy but not overly so and, at a pinch, could be used in any bush duel with to stun an angry Bear. I have no doubt that I will suffer disappointments but they may well be mostly of my own making. In the same way I encourage people to look at everything when they are afield, butterflies, dragonflies, other bugs, anything really as well as birds, then I also encourage the more serious birders to add the audio recording of birds to both their capabilities and their overall contribution to the knowledge database, after all, Cornell cannot have enough recordings of Song Sparrow I’m sure.

The birding has been pretty much like most of June, disappointing!  June is rapidly becoming the February of early summer with mostly poor weather and wind that never leaves. Insect levels are low and the birds have been struggling for food, some species have given up, perhaps for now but perhaps for the season, and there are species gaps and low counts in the daily checklists. Even in a bad spell you get the odd bird though and we managed to enjoy a singing Wood Thrush at Cape Forchu early in the month, later I saw Ervin’s White-winged Dove in his yard – a one-day bird although likely bouncing around southern NS somewhere.

 

A trip to Kentville allowed us to pause at Greenwood to visit one of the few Vesper Sparrow sites in the province.

 

On June-11 two Snowy Egrets were at Daniel’s Head for a while.

 

The odd Common Nighthawk has been seen, this one was along the Hectanooga Rd in Digby County, June-16.

 

We have a pair of Grey Catbirds who, despite the conditions, are feeding young. They are very tame and will hop around feet away as they gather what bugs are available from our meadow (lawn!). If ever you needed encouragement to make your yard a mixture of managed and messy this is it, oh and all of those great plants, insects and other birds you’ll be helping along by not anally giving your grass a razor cut.

So, while the birding has not been wow, but it will improve, I have (re) turned my gaze to the world of moths. Years ago I was an avid moth trapper (and releaser) in the UK. In Quebec  I did a bit but not much and in NS I’ve mostly been very casual, just showing interest in a resting moth when found. A few nights ago I stuck the outside light on for the night and have done so twice since. With just that limited attractant I have increased my yard list from single figures to over 40 species and we may even have a summer to come!

If you also want to have a go, and be aware that it becomes a very useful waste of time (I do like an oxymoron), then get the Peterson guide to Northeastern North American moths and use this site too, it is very useful: http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=6667&state=NS

It is set for Nova Scotia but you can re-jig it to where you are. Here are a few of my recent ones and I’m not even going to tell you what they are, go find them!