Fog Off!

Since September 6th, we’ve had 10 days of fog starts down here on Cape Sable Island. When you draw back the curtains and see fog yet again it can be a little draining, for a birder, as one of the prerequisites for birding (bird watching) is watching. True you can ‘tick’ birds by listening to them but that is not the point, so fog off fog I say and stay fogged off for a while! Not that the visual impediment has stopped birds being found and even seen here, in fact the birding has been rather good around about CSI.

When we last spoke we’d had some nice birds drop by, well a few more have joined in since and so I thought I’d just update you. We in Nova Scotia are still waiting to see what hurricane Jose will do. It has been fannying around off Carolina for a while now with no real purpose. It might dissipate, it might join forces with Maria, the next in a line of hurricanes not quite reaching us, or is may hop across the Atlantic and deposit birds into Cornish bushes for the edification of tick-hungry UK twitchers. The likelihood here is that we will just get wet, however, if Maria and Jose decide to go for the Fujiwhara Effect, (and no that is not the shits brought on by sushi), then both storms will circle each other and head north-east. The Weather Underground blog sees this as a good thing as it takes both hurricanes  away from land because, as we in Canada know, nothing worth talking about is to be found north of Maine (unless it has oil!).

On the morning foggy Sept-17th, Sandra and I headed to Pinkney’s Point where Alix had found a Mourning Warbler. They are scarce around CSI although I still hope to find one here. His was with a warbler flock and so there was hope in seeing it. Luckily it came out with the rest of the birds, not quite posing but at least showing well enough for both of us to get good looks. Year bird 269 and well within my self-imposed year tick range plus, Sandra had not seen one in Nova Scotia before so a double-whammy as it were.

Returning to CSI, Sandra expressed a desire to see a Warbling Vireo that I’d found the evening before (and post last post) so we headed into the grey towards The Hawk. The vireo was absent but the Blue Grosbeak and one of the Scarlet Tanagers remained. A circuit of The Hawk revealed little else and so we set off home. As we left The Guzzle, a bird on a wire up a driveway rang a bell and no, it wasn’t a Budgie! A quick back-up and there was a Western Kingbird, CSI tick #265. A few doc-shots were grabbed and then folk called. The kingbird stayed all afternoon but the light deteriorated and the shots are all at the mediocre range.


The first Warbling Vireo, The Hawk bird – most people got to see it.

The Blue Grosbeak in better light.

Above, a Prairie Warbler – below one of the Scarlet Tanagers in better light.

The finding shots of the Western Kingbird.

The next day (Sept-18th) dawned foggy but, only patchy and so I set off to try to find a few more island birds. You won’t be surprised to know that I keep records per month and each month I try to beat my personal best. I started at West Head, Newellton and had some nice birds but nothing new.


West Head birds. Red-eyed Vireo above, Northern Parula below.

Above, Blackpoll Warbler from New Road, The Hawk, below, a Yellow Warbler from the same spot.

Then I toured the sites, seeing more nice birds and adding Blackpoll Warbler to month’s score. It was mid-afternoon when I got home and tallied up the day, 76 species and only two short of my best day on CSI (78 in May-2016) so what choice did I have but to go out again. I hadn’t seen the kingbird and now it was personal. I thought, with luck, I might get near 80 and so I started at Bull’s Head Wharf and fortune smiled, a Warbling Vireo came out in the gathering gloom. Next in sequence was Stoney Island Road where a Nashville Warbler peeped at me. Now for The Hawk.


The Bull’s Head Wharf Warbling Vireo. This one was a ‘second look’ bird but the whitish throat and lack of yellow on the chest points the way.

Below, a Camera-shy Nashville Warbler.

As is often the case, The Hawk was shrouded in fog and the Western Kingbird was still AWOL. I sat a while looking for a tanager but with no luck, I was just one species short of bettering my best day. Up near the legendary house #38 on New Road, a lumpy flycatcher sat on a dead twig, Olive-sided! Late in the month for it to be here but very welcome. I pulled over just as Clyde came along and he added it to his CSI list. I put the song on and the flycatcher landed on the wire in front of us for photos. As far as I know there have only been three records of Olive-sided Flycatcher on CSI ever, all this year.

The Olive-sided Flycatcher (rubbish name) from The Hawk.

More doc-shots of the Western Kingbird on the big day.


I headed back down Hawk Point Road, my intention being to find one of the Canada Geese that think West Head is the bee’s knees. Just by Smith Road, a flycatcher was sat on a wire, yay, Western Kingbird and a nice, round 80 species in the day bag. At Stumpy Cove, sensitively named and possibly twinned with Cripple Creek, I found the American Avocet roosting with big and little legs on the weed, not a day tick but nice anyway. Then a Great Cormorant came over to give me an even nicer  figure of 81 for the day. That should have been it but later, a calling Great Horned Owl in the yard later rather iced the day list cake.

Dreaming avocet dreams.

So there we are , an inadvertent big day. I feel the total is modest and I think I could do 100+ in the right conditions. For now I’ll settle on 82 and who knows, if those hurricanes do their stuff in our direction and we still have a house after, I might give it a more serious go.

For the bird nerds and in the new AOU taxonomic sequence, here is the list with numbers in brackets for relevant birds in a CSI context: American Wigeon (2), American Black Duck, Mallard, Green-winged Teal (49), Common Eider Surf Scoter Hooded Merganser (3), Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, American Avocet (1), American Oystercatcher (2), Black-bellied Plover, American Golden-Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Whimbrel, Hudsonian Godwit (4), Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Stilt Sandpiper (1), Sanderling, Dunlin, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper (25), Semipalmated Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe (2), Solitary Sandpiper (1), Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black Guillemot, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Common Loon, Great Shearwater (1), Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Horned Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Olive-sided Flycatcher (1), Western Kingbird (1), Warbling Vireo (1), Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Gray Catbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, American Goldfinch, Black-and-white Warbler, Nashville Warbler (1), Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Myrtle Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Nelson’s Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak (1), Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird (14), Baltimore Oriole.


Fall Fun Continues

Sometimes I might go weeks without having anything to post, in season I might post every day, such is the nature of the birding merry-go-round that is migration. It is not always easy o see why birds show up when they do. Indicator species might be absent, then – boom – we get two Scarlet Tanagers and a Blue Grosbeak in the same yard at the same time. Being something of a polyp (in the nicest sense) o the east side of Canada, Nova Scotia relies on weather systems to bring birds, whether drifting them, pushing them on a storm. We also hope that a significant number of vagrants have their heads on backs (metaphorically) and reverse migrate our way. These birds are likely dead meat, and eventually end up in a watery grave although a few in spring may be potential colonists.

It is also hard to pinpoint when a specific arrival happened. Think of a blotter bleeding ink across it, vagrancy is like that to some extent. We see but a fraction of the birds that come our way, and for each vagrant found, unquantifiable numbers must be missed, such is the availability of habitat in NS and so few are those who are searching. Hotspots get birds because hotspots get birders, it is an ouroborus situation, put birders where the birds are and birds will be where the birders are.

Which rather neatly leads me to the birding on September-15th 2017, the halfway point in that most golden of months. Birds were scarce in the morning, no warbler but the American Avocet was still in the Guzzle channel. At West Head, where I have been looking regularly for rails and crake (I can dream) I came across this Stilt Sandpiper, mirroring the one about a month ago in age and location. Before that a foggy Daniel’s Head provided me with a Long-billed Dowitcher, feeding side-by-side with its less well-endowed cousins. The shots are slightly above record quality but will do.

When the glamour of Yarmouth beckons we must obey and so Sandra and I set off to the big city to stock up for the hurricane. Just before departure Ronnie called, he’d come across a Lark Sparrow at Chebogue so our mission altered slightly, Chebogue was now a priority as Lark Sparrow would be a year bird and well within the ‘not chasing year birds outside Shelburne/Yarmouth criterion’. Chebogue can be kind or mean, today it smiled upon us and the Lark Sparrow became NS year bird #269. As an eBird addition I considered putting the following in the section requiring notes: Many sparrows are challenging to identify, but this one is a striking exception, with its bold face pattern and broad, white-edged tail. But decided that a photo can replace a thousand pre-written words!

Yarmouth extravagance completed, we were just approaching the Barrington exit, (no not a term for ending life with dignity although sometimes, at the give-way sign when people stop to tie their shoelaces, it seems an option), when Johnny called (thanks Johnny). Murray Newell had seen two, possibly three tanagers on The Hawk. Naturally we headed there as potentially, Summer Tanager may have been involved. As it was we only saw two tanagers, both Scarlet (well they will be at some point in the future, at least a 50/50 chance anyway) and a male Blue Grosbeak.  Both are good species in NS, the tanagers being only the second and third I’ve seen on CSI. Once the fog clears a bit today 9/16, and I can see the end of my drive, I’ll be out looking for the third tanager and hoping to add Summer to my CSI list.

Incidentally, still researching skuas, waiting for some responses.

Have a Set

Sandra and I were headed for Yarmouth this morning (Sept-14th) when Tony Millard called us to say that he and Angie, along with Clyde, had seen an American Avocet at The Guzzle, The Hawk, Cape Sable Island. Of all the lists I keep the CSI one is second only to my world list, so Yarmouth went in the bin and we hot-rubbered it down to the scene of the crime. Calls and texts were made on the way and it was fingers crossed that the avocet, which had flown off a short way, would be re-found.

The initial scans of the area only served to contribute more blood to the Mosquitoes cause. Fog was loitering offshore and, once the land temperature exceeded the sea temperature, then fog would roll in our direction thick and fast. After searching all the potential spots, it was eventually  found back near to where it had been originally, but further away so making any photos quite awful. The only thing to do was to play the old waiting game, and wait!

The tide rose and the associated Greater Yellowlegs soon realised what was happening and left, but the avocet stood its ground, only flying a short distance when the water that was continuously lapping at its nethers so inspired it. It chose to sit hidden behind the vegetation for a further hour and a half before finally flying close enough to snap, taking a quick sit on the water then pushing off to hidden spots once again. The obvious question to ask is whether it is the bird seen at Pinkney’s Point from August-30th, 2017 (gone a week or more by now) and the answer is ‘probably not’. There is extensive head shading on the CSI bird and the black in the wing differs but, really, who cares, it’s a CSI American Avocet.


So with this bird being my CSI tick and the Pinkney’s Point bird being my Nova Scotia and Canada tick, I now have a set (of ticks) see, this blog I not just thrown together you know! For those interested, the avocet was CSI bird #264 for me, a total that does not include the shoddily disregarded (read lumped) Thayer’s Gull, more on that in another post.

In my last post I mentioned Blue-grey Gnatycatchers at The Hawk, well they were never seen again, despite extensive searching. It didn’t help that Sharp-shinned Hawk, Merlins and Ketrels (both plural) were marauding around The Hawk while we were searching. You can’t blame small birds for keeping their heads down in such circumstances so I’ll have to wait for the next one. In the course of the searching, here are a few casually taken snaps of other species.

Male and female Wilson’s Warbler.

Black-bellied Plovers.

A Bay-breasted Warbler from Kenney Rd, CSI.

American Pipits have arrived plus a Sanderling and small flock of the same, Daniel’s Head, CSI.

The sheep fields at The Hawk are worth stopping for at high tide, below a flock of  18+ Pectoral Sandpipers with other shorebirds

I often mention that there is a link on the sidebar of this blog for various things, my books both cheap and free plus Sandra’s wildlife are. It occurs to me that some viewing the blog my not actually see a sidebar, as you would on a PC, so here is a link to Sandra’s wildlife art page for those interested. The rest of the links also have page tabs on the header, above the blog post you are reading.


Will we, Won’t we?

The birding has picked up some, with hoped for birds appearing in southern Nova Scotia. The highlight for me was my Cape Sable Island Canada Warbler then, like buses, along came another just an hour later on The Cape! That was more or less the highlight of that particular visit although this plover stood out from the rest by virtue of being quite a bit darker around the head markings and with a broad breast band. The bill looked a bit hefty too but, the plumage anomalies aside, it was ‘just’ a Semipalmated Plover.


The darker bird above, some archive shots below including a dark looking individual.

The shorebird numbers are steadily dropping, we peaked into early August, earlier for the Short-billed Dowitchers. This of course makes it easy to sift through, hoping for a rarity such as a Common Ringed Plover, Little Stint or Greater Sandplover! You have to be optimistic. We did come up with a good bunch of Pectoral Sandpipers and the usual suspects were happy to pose.


A Pectoral Sandpiper, a White-rumped, a Semipalmated and a Least all walk onto a sandbar.

Nice to see wheeling flocks of shorebirds that are not being chased by a Merlin.


You know the summer is done when the duck diversity starts to expand. These female/immature Hooded Mergansers were tamer than I’m used to.


Under-appreciated on this continent, I drove miles to see my first when one showed up in the UK, I think that there has only been one other since.


Sometimes it pays to sit still, this Northern Harrier came very close at Daniel’s Head.


Finally a good mix of warblers.


Prairie, Wilson’s and a Common Yellowthroat.

On Sept-11th, 2017 at Clam Point I had a Warbling Vireo in the yard. I just could not get a clear shot of it and then, just as it popped out and I clicked, it moved rapidly. The light was awful and other excuses, still a nice year and yard tick.

 The will we, won’t we bit refers to the hurricane situation. Jose is currently pratting around in the Caribbean and the track has kept everyone in the dark, normally they develop then pick up pace and do their stuff. It may be that Jose will finally set off north and may hit Nova Scotia, or just brush us a bit. Had it been a quick hurricane than raced up the eastern seaboard we might have expected some rare birds on it, as it is we might just get wet, we” have to wait and see. 

Stop press sort of, Clyde found three Blue-grey Gnatcatchers on Fish Plant Lane, CSI Sept-12th, 2017. Only he, Johnny and Sandra Nickerson saw them, Mike and I were on The Cape at them time although we did abandon our walk and give it a go but there were so  many hawks aloft that all small birds were sensibly keeping low. We did get a Pine Warbler on The Cape, a nice CSI year tick for me.

Should I Slay or Should I go?

Our friends Liz and Steve had a good last day with us before setting off for the seamy town of Lunenburg, or am I thinking of Amsterdam? easy to confuse the two. We had planned to do a whale trip out of Brier but the schedule would have been fiddly and so we went out with Petit Passage whale watch for the first time, out of Petit Passage funnily enough. Birds were a bit scarce out in Fundy but the whales made up for it, one being particularly showy. One the way up there we stopped at Chebogue as Ervin had found an Upland Sandpiper, plus there were Buff-breasted and American Golden Plovers there too so stopping off was a no-brainer as they say.

Unfortunately the Upland had gone although I would have liked better looks at two distant birds flying away just as we left. Not to be too downhearted, it would have been a nice year tick for the year list I’m not doing, but such is life and we were entertained by a nice bunch of shorebirds that would have normally had headline billing. We saw 11 American Golden Plovers, eight Whimbrel, two Pectoral and, perhaps a tad under-appreciated, six Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Many thanks to the farmer for the access, much appreciated, pity the uplands had not read the script.


American Golden, Black-bellied, Buff-breasted, Pectoral, Whimbrel – all in one shot.

As I said, the birds on the whale trip were very scarce out there but was sort of expecting it and the object of the trip was to give Liz and Steve their first ever looks at whales. I did snap a few things but nothing wow, that will probably have to wait for another year now.


On the way home we checked out Marsh Road, always worth a bounce along. We found a warbler flock at each end, the best bird being this Canada Warbler.


Closer to home we had what the posh weather person would describe as “shite’ weather. Fog, then wind and rain although we shouldn’t complain. The skies cleared today (Sept-8th) revealing a dead shark at Daniel’s Head. The angle was not great for a photo but I suspected Thresher and had this confirmed via books (remember them) and the Skipper of the whale trip. It may well have been the shark seen of the head last week, or maybe it is one that got injured somehow and found its way inside to die.


A few days earlier this Mink was on the road, not just scampering across looking all furtive like, but sunbathing! I went back and took a few photos, squeaked and it ran towards me! I did consider driving over it but could not bring myself to do it (should I slay or should I go see), even though it would have saved many bird’s nests no doubt although, with such suicidal tendencies as laying on that road, I suspect someone else would have no such qualms, even enjoying doing it. The funny thing it, if I was trapping them at a breeding colony, euthanizing them would not be a problem.

In the yard this Northern Mockingbird and Brown-headed Cowbird made it onto my ‘photo’d in the yard’ list, don’t laugh!



Sometimes circumstance leads to a change of tactic, or at least methodology. We are having a guest fest this year and our current ones have arrived right in the middle of migration. Normally this would not be allowed but, Liz and Steve are such splendid people that we waive the formalities, and ameliorate a difficult situation by taking them with us twitching or just out birding. They now both have substantial Nova Scotia lists, although we mourn the missing of a Golden-winged Warbler near Mavillette today (Sept-4th).

Although we have been showing them all the tourist sights, Daniel’s Head, The Hawk, Blanche and, of course, the sea watching potential of Baccaro, all have been eclipsed by simply sitting in the yard and watching as the birds pass through. I have always thought that much must be missed by hauling out of the yard and heading for the hotspots when you actually live in one! But back to the sights and sites and we had luck on our only (so far) visit to Daniel’s Head when the American Oystercatchers put on a close and endearing show. Makes for a good Facebook photo.


The garden party, ok then yard, began in earnest on their first morning, August-31st when we sat and watched and the birds certainly obliged. First up was this Olive-sided Flycatcher, only the second for CSI but also the second this year following one in May. It came as close as the bottom of the yard, against a bright sky and it had two Eastern Kingbirds for company. The shots are not so crisp but you can see very well what it is. It remained in the vicinity for the rest of the day but came and went, much to the annoyance of would-be viewers. It was present the next day too but only for about the 90 seconds it took to make September’s list.


The yard had something of a flycatcher glut, with empids seemingly everywhere. Importantly, one of the empids took the opportunity to confirm its identity by “whitting” in front of witnesses, yard tick*, just like the Olive-sided (stating the obvious here). Because it was hectic, really, I was snapping away at the flycatchers without looking properly. I made sure I got the Willow Flycatcher in pixels, then the next and the next. When I dropped the images onto the laptop, in a couple of images an Eastern Wood-Pewee was looking back at me, yard tick number three for the day and we ain’t done yet!


Later in the day Clyde came to look for the Olive-sided but with no luck, it showed again an hour or so later though. As he left and I was walking around the front of the house, two shorebirds were coming towards me just over tree height. Bins in hand, I raised them and focussed on two Buff-breasted Sandpipers. They were very close, I could see every feather so yard tick #4, breathless!

*Just to clarify here, our yard counts birds seen in and from it. It is a reasonable delineation and in eBird there is a listing category for yard listing. If you browse said eBird yard listing bit, you will see some folk have not quite understood so, in the UK we have people who thing their yard is Norfolk or Suffolk, here someone has Algonquin as their yard, must take some mowing that one! Our yard list for the year stands at 121 species, for life (since May-25th 2015) it is 158, we only need one more species to equal our Quebec yard list compiled over 13 years and many hours, told you it was a hotspot.

The first yard Baltimore Oriole of the autumn stayed long enough to be admired.

Above, one of many Common Yellowthroats, below Northern Parula.

At least two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are still arguing over the nectar.

Above Bay-breasted, below Black-throated Green Warbler.

Just as I was focussing on the Wilson’s Warbler this Merlin paid a visit. Compensation later was this Blackburnian Warbler.

Since our big yard day so to speak, each day I have spent time sitting and watching and adding year and yard species. Yesterday it was a Tennessee Warbler, today Wilson’s Warbler. When our friends have gone back to the UK with a head full of birds, no doubt I will slip back into my old ways and cover more spots, or maybe I’ll devote at least one early morning period to our excellent yard. In the unlikely event that you are interested, below are the last six yard eBird checklists, you don’t need an account to view, just click on the link.

Away from the yard I have had the odd opportunity to get out and have a little look around CSI, usually when our friends are recovering from being dragged somewhere the day before to see scenery supplemented by warblers! I have a soft spot for West Head at Newellton, CS. The pool may be a mess but the birds don’t seem to mind plus, I wanted an American Golden Plover for the month (see last post) and so I looked in to see whether it was still there, it wasn’t. Better was this Wilson’s Snipe that fed amongst the grime, my first of the year. This is a species that can be legally hunted in season but that is seen less often than Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Shelburne! It seems to me that the hunter driven Department of Natural Resources needs to look at this one and quickly; in Shelburne at least, Wilson’s Snipe should not be hunted at al.


The year list goes along quietly, I passed 260 in Nova Scotia some time ago and so my year best is my next target. On CSI the year list currently stands at 220, this migration period (to mid-November) will make or break whether I beat last year’s total, it will be fun trying no matter the obstacles.

Off Sambro

Sunday, Aug-27th Sandra and I went to sea on (yet) another pelagic, this time off Sambro Island near Halifax. We steamed out of Herring Cove around 07:00 intending for a five or so hours jaunt hoping for perhaps skuas and jaegers, maybe even a tropicbird. The sea was benign and the birds only moderately cooperative but that didn’t matter as our happy crew of 12 including the Skipper, Kevin. Once out where birds were appearing, apart from Northern Gannets which were ubiquitous, Sean took on the sole chumming duties, I stuck a fish oil drip off the back and we settled in to see what we attracted.

Kevin told us that the water had cooled somewhat recently, we reckoned that might affect the chances of a warm water rarity, they are not known for the resilience to chilly Nova Scotia waters. It was surprising to see so many Red-necked Phalaropes out there, cork-bobbing everywhere we went. Wilson’s Storm-petrels paid a few visits and we had a go with the fish oil/Rice Crispy mix but there we so few petrels out there that the chances of a swarm were remote. Shearwaters appeared with Greats showing off feet from us while the more wary, or perhaps just aloof, Cory’s gave us some good looks but didn’t join in the chum scrabble.

We got back in around 14:00, no on was sick and the birds we did see we saw pretty well. Thank to Diane and Sean for the organisation and chumming and to Kevin, our cheerful and very accommodating Skipper for the trip. Here are a few shots from the day. Looks like I’ll have to wait to get that elusive Great Skua for my North America list.

Red-necked Phalaropes above including quite a white looking one.

A few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels danced on the chum slick.

Mardy baby Great Shearwaters, you’ll know what I mean if you’ve been up close and heard them squeal over a fish head.


Cory’s Shearwater, an elegant flyer.

The day before the pelagic, we had motored up to the Halifax area and stopped over. While there we twitched a Diane and Sean find, a Baird’s Sandpiper in Sandy Cove. It played very nicely, as you can see. Unfortunately, a Western Kingbird that they found that morning chose to wander


A few shots of the Sandy Cove Baird’s.

Semipalmated Plovers almost walked over my shoes there.













A Solitary Sandpiper, just the one present.

Today, Aug-28th Myself, Ronnie and Mike again availed ourselves of Warren’s Cape service and had a good three hour wander. It was less birdy than the trip of a couple of days ago, due to the north-easterly airflow mainly. We did manage a few nice things, including three Baird’s Sandpipers that settled down nicely once we’d seen off a Merlin. Warblers were sparse with only a brief Cape May in The Forest. We saw three Buff-breasted Sandpipers but there may have been more. Later I checked The Hawk seeing a couple of Hudsonian Godwits, then I went to Daniel’s Head hoping that a Caspian Tern seen the previous day would come back, it didn’t. Once again I am up to date! The year list in NS stands at 264, still some way short of last year’s 281 but getting there. On CSI and the year list I’m definitely not doing, 219 and counting.

Baird’s on The Cape.

Athletic Whimbrel.

If you stand still some Short-billed Dowitchers will come and stand next to you.

The drab end of the Cape May Warbler spectrum.

One of many Savannah Sparrows on The Cape.