A Bit Snowy

Looking out the window the snow continues to fall, nothing too heavy just persistent and I’ll need to be out before dawn tomorrow to clear the feeders ready for the onslaught. As it is February it is quiet and with us experiencing ‘weather’ for a few days, the chances of something new being found are slim. The year list, such as it is, currently runs to 115 and I’ve not even hit 100 on Cape Sable Island yet but I do have gaps that I expect to fill before the end of the month. This time last year we were energetically scouring CSI for year list additions and with some success. Not that there has been any less effort on that front from me it’s just that every year is different.

We are fortunate locally to have free-access to the fishing wharves and, provided you are sensible and don’t block the way or get yourself killed, it is not an issue to drive down and use the car as a blind for photography. These Black Guillemots are a case in point, both taken from the car in pretty awful weather. The first is well on the way to summer dress, the second in full winter plumage. Why they should be so it perhaps down to when they began their first full molt after fledging, seems a logical theory anyway.

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The same wharves work well for gulls too, although the one you want to photograph doesn’t always come close, but then sometimes they do. Today (February-10th) I was sitting on a wharf on West Head, CSI, just hoping to photograph a Red-necked Grebe that was chugging my way. There were gulls but also a gale-force northwesterly wind with driving snow so they were not too enthusiastic, also the numbers were about a fifth of what they were two days ago. Looking through the windshield I saw a gull approaching, got the camera up and ready in the knowledge that the Thayer’s Gull was back on home turf. For the next wee while it flew past or bobbed just off the end of the wharf, and in the lea, and I managed this collection of shots. I make no apology for putting lots of shots of this bird up, it is a Thayer’s Gull and deserves the respect given the distance it has travelled.

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Also around were two Glaucous Gulls, birds of last year, here is one of them.

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The last shots were of a semi-pretender. I’ve written before about the muddled Kumlien’s Gull situation, well this one is not quite in-between but nor is it at the pale end of Kumlien’s. For what my opinion is worth I think Kumlien’s needs a rethink and split into light and dark. Thayer’s characteristics require some tight definition and any thoughts on lumping need to be shelved.

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For around 15 years I was a warden on a country park back in Nottingham, England. I can now reveal that I did a lot of birding while I worked there, perhaps more that was expected of a warden. I also set up a site-based wildlife group, with the aid of Mike Walker and Sandra, and it went quite well. A few years ago I wrote about my time on the park in ‘Park Life’ and I thought I might reproduce a bit of the book here for your enjoyment. Our wildlife group did newsletters and I wrote a large facetious ‘Warden’s Diary’, comprised of snippets of my brand of sarcasm and bits from the lodge incident book.

A Warden’s Diary – August-26th: A walker/ambler reports FRENCH KILLER WASPS in a plantation near a path. Unfortunately the FRENCH KILLER WASP siren is temporarily out of action and so the wardens just quietly destroy the nest and hide the bodies instead. Samples from the slaughter are sent for analysis and they are indeed FRENCH KILLER WASPS. Lock up your children, grannies, pets and especially any French folk around, and quick.

A Warden’s Diary – September-17th: In a radical new gorse management policy, ‘joy’ riders dump a stolen Ford Sierra on the roadside gorse near the Marina and torch it. This should result in thick, luxuriant growth next year but, it is going to get expensive in Sierras if we intend to continue the project in the long-term.

A Warden’s Diary – October-4th: The height barrier at the Racecourse Road entrance shows signs of severe impact by a high sided vehicle. Wardens recommend that eye tests should be mandatory for drivers of such vehicles. Pain-relief all round for that thumping headache.

A Warden’s Diary – August-17th: Three ‘kiddies’ playing in the central toilet block report that the hand drier keeps giving electric shocks when touched with wet hands. In the spirit of completeness, the warden persuades the ‘kiddies’ (well one of them) to show exactly what is meant a minimum three times, aren’t some ‘kiddies’ thick.

A Warden’s Diary – August-11th: Naughty children decide to break into an outbuilding on the park. Clues were left and the Police intend to send them on a severe tropical holiday, if caught and convicted. An un-named warden appears on the local TV News and inadvertently refers to gangs of swimmers in the Marina as ‘Kiddies’. For those surprised by this terminology, this was the actual word used with no expletive uttered and a less volatile phrase over-dubbed. Hopefully, with extensive training, such a pleasant, innocent word will never again be used by wardens to describe these local monsters in public again.

A Warden’s Diary – April-29th: A Mr. Grundy reported a shaved rabbit and headless dog in the river by the church ruins. “Something funny is going off there” said Mr. Grundy. The Police arrested Freddie Starr as a precaution (for this one you must be familiar with the headline of a national newspaper that read ‘Freddie Starr ate my Hamster)…

A Warden’s Diary – December-28th: A trout angler was hit on the head by the traffic barrier. No barrier damage was reported and the attending warden found the barrier to be working as normal, if a little spitefully.

A Warden’s Diary – December-26th: Mr. P Dixon had his dog attacked by a bulldog/terrier type. On trying to prevent the fight, he lost a finger to the attacking dog. Police are to interview the victim later to see whether he can finger the culprit. They will also search the attack area, hoping to find a few pointers.

A Warden’s Diary – August-6th: A Mr Ward reported three men spinning in the Colwick Lake. Wardens are to look out for the phalarope brothers. You need to know that the spinning is the using of illegal lures to steal trout and that a phalarope is a bird that spins to disturb food in the water.

A Warden’s Diary – June-1st: A youth fires shots at Head Warden Nigel Oram but misses. The rest of the staff club together for a shooting course for the assailant, clearly an attempt to enhance their promotion prospects!

A Warden’s Diary – July-19th: A lorry driver reported that someone had stolen his shorts, shirt, shoes and dog lead; Police are looking for a very crafty thief with a pet fetish.

A Warden’s Diary – July-5th: An Asian family was caught catching ducks by the West Lake with hooks and silk lines. A short educational programme ensued, was understood and the offer of a free meal at the Tandoori Palace, Carlton, accepted, Bombay Duck extra!

A Warden’s Dairy – May-26th: A naked man is reported around the West Lake. The area was searched but no one found. The lady reporting the incident only gave a brief description, it was, she explained, a cold day.

A Warden’s Diary – April 10th: A warden is attacked by a man in a Talbot Solara. The assailant had rammed through two five-bar gates to gain entry to the park, unbeknown to the warden who was asking the man if he was lost. Fortunately the Police chose not to prosecute the warden for getting in the way of the driver’s boot, a close shave all round!

A Warden’s Diary – August-22nd: Several carp are reported dead around the West Lake. An investigation reveals gill parasites and algae blooms are to blame. Watch this space to see how the problem is tackled by the highly proactive Council sick fish division. On the same day, a member of the public drives their car too close to the traffic barrier and damages a wing. Solicitors have been engaged and the wardens are to erect a sensor with the audible warning broadcasting “idiot, you’re too close”, purely as a temporary measure!

A Warden’s Diary – March 1986: Mr. Tizzard complained that he got hooked by a fisherman while riding past on his motorcycle. It was not the hooking that upset him, it was when the angler tried to belt him over the head and stuff him in his basket that really hurt.

A Wardens; Diary – mid-1990’s: An un-named angler decided to spend the day boat fishing, testing out his shiny new electric outboard motor. The day was fine and calm, the angler elderly and built for buoyancy!

Now, despite there being a rule forbidding anglers to fish standing up in a boat, Mr. shiny new engine knew better and spent the morning stood up and annoying the fish before disaster, he falls out of the boat. Given the water temperature, age and mobility of the individual it really should have been ‘Pearly Gates and ask for your wings’ time but, amazingly, a passing lifeguard was on hand to rescue Mr. shiny new engine, hauling his substantial frame to safety.

Enter the wardens into the fray. The angler is ferried (on dry land!) to the Fishing Lodge and given warm clothing and sweet tea. The boat (complete with shiny new engine) is recovered and parked on the jetty.

After a rapid and remarkable recuperation, the angler’s spirits are lifted and he decides, for he knows best, to fish on and from the boat, still using his shiny new engine. Off he strolls from the Fishing Lodge, steps into the boat, misses his footing and lands in the water.

One week later we had a hastily written note. ‘For sale, one shiny new electric engine, barely used, one careful owner!’  – a true story, I swear it.


Digital Sea Watch #2


The photo is just for Facebook, please ignore.

For the past two days (January 11th-12th) is has been howling. I tried to look for the Pubnico Thayer’s Gull, but waves breaking over the car put me off! So I went to Baccaro hoping for a year Dovekie. Rain kept squalling in and with it the birds. At times they were just offshore but the light was awful and the car shaking like it was full of teens on a date only with less rhythm.

I set myself up to catch the birds as they got pushed into the bay at Baccaro, then exited south. For those who do not know what or where Baccaro is, see the map – courtesy of Google Earth. The yellow line equates to the rough track taken by the birds, the more onshore rain, the closer they came. As you can see, Baccaro is the most accessible place to sea watch, you can park slightly elevated and make sure the worst of the elements hit the other side of the car. The only thing to remember is, in the event of fog, there is no warning when the automated fog horn starts, it is louder than a hungry cat. One day I will camp on The Cape and sea watch from there, you are nearer the riff and the headland there should be even better than Baccaro.


The images are rubbish but, the idea of this post is to show the value of taking even awful photos when sea watching. Unless you have some experience, everything is either Razorbill or Dovekie when it comes to the flocks. Atlantic Puffin is a bit different because of the cross shape, but generally you won’t be troubled by them too much in winter.

My stats for day one at Baccaro (Jan-11th) were, in one hour, ten minutes of watching: Dovekie 20; **Common Murre 5; Thick-billed Murre 3; *Razorbill 298; **Atlantic Puffin 2; *unidentified large alcids 96 (most Razorbills); *Black-legged Kittiwake 133.

*Means eBird queried the count, for Razorbill it was +/- 10. **Mean I had to add the species to eBird. Such things are not anything to get upset about as the eBird data is forever in flux and, if we don’t get storms, we don’t get these high counts.

Here are the images, all from the Baccaro count. After the data from today (Jan-12th) from a count at Daniel’s Head plus some gull eye-candy because you are worth it.


Above, all Razorbills.


Above and below, a Common Murre is tucked in there.

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Above and below, a Thick-billed Murre is in there too.

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Above, a Dovekie skittering past, below, not surprisingly a few don’t make it.


The wind had shifted slightly so the Daniel’s Head sea watch was a bit clumsier and photos were not really an option as the birds were slightly further away mostly and the viewing window small due to the need to use the tailgate as an umbrella. I counted for one hour, 20 minutes: Dovekie 6; Common Murre 2 (at least); Thick-billed Murre 7; Razorbill 131; Atlantic Puffin 1; unidentified large alcids 39; Black-legged Kittiwake 58.

On both sea watches there was little else moving. I chose to watch on the falling tide by accident but it turned out fortuitous. As the watching and counting is quite intense, short spells are best. The weather switches to westerly winds tomorrow but I expect one or two Thick-billed Murres and Dovekies will be found sheltering around the wharfs over the next few days.

Sorry to keep bombarding you with posts but it has been quite busy.

After the Daniel’s Head watch I slipped along to Swimms Point to look at gulls, these two adult Glaucous Gulls were there and showing very nicely.

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A Good Run

Day four into 2017 already, still without the rudder of a specific goal and so I’m just going with the flow. Last night Anemoi delivered and the house shuddered, coming from the south-east I sort of expected to see the area littered with tired alcids but that was not the case, although it may be in a day or two. Instead the gull influx continued and it made for a fun day of birding around Cape Sable.

Part of the alcid thing is to check each wharf as you pass and search the calmer areas for recently wind-bothered birds, and I don’t mean those that have been on a bean diet! Thick-billed Murres and Dovekies come inshore and end up being very confiding, mostly because we are just pink lumps to them, unless you are from Cape Island, in which case you are pink lumps dressed in camo, I have no idea how they find their clothes in the morning.

Swimm point turned out to be a good place to be and I found a nice 1stW Glaucous Gull that bullied everything, they must teach that in big gull school, also was a bonus year-bird, a 1stW Black-headed Gull.

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The latter bird is most interesting as it surely comes from North American breeding stock as opposed to having crossed the Atlantic from Europe (discuss). There are certainly enough adult Black-headed Gulls around this side of the Atlantic these day to produce young and they are long-lived as adults. I have no doubt that birds at favoured sites are the same ones returning each year, and colour banding in Europe has shown their longevity and site fidelity. I got photos of both birds, despite the lousy light, big ISO and keep clicking is my policy.

 Also of interest was this hefty Herring Gull, it was 10% bigger than all the other Herring Gulls present, perhaps it had recently devoured a consignment of pies?


The light was pretty yuk but I managed a few shots of the many Kumlien’s Gulls around, here are a couple.

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As a break from the gulling it was nice to get a reasonable shot of a Black Guillemot too.


After returning home and telling Sandra of the good morning, she decided she needed to see some of the birds so we went out and did the circuit again, more or less, although the Black-headed Gull had moved on. Arriving home for the second time, Paul Gould called to say he’d seen a dowitcher and a couple of Red Knot on the beach at The Hawk, so for the third time today I fired up the Quattro (Life on Mars reference) and went looking. Just as I got onto the beach (on the falling tide) the shorebirds paused while I had a view, then came barreling past me, so I waved the camera at them. Not great results just doc shots, all but the Dunlin were eBird adds. I reckon the dowitcher to be Long-billed. It looked chunky on the beach and there is good foot projection in flight and, we had one around before the New Year so perhaps this is it.

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The year ambles along on 75 species and is going along fairly well. The gull influx is welcome as I enjoy the challenge they present, as I am sure that you are aware. I think that is enough posting for a few days while I write the CSI big year up.


Review of 2016 – ex CSI

Any review of 2016 is inevitably going to be colored by influences outside the normal birding sphere, because 2016 was one of those extraordinary years that the aware amongst us (and that will be you if you are reading this) will remember. This review is something of a departure from my usual favorite birds of the year type of thing. I’m also planning a bit more of a write-up about our Cape Sable Island big year, that will come later.

On a personal level it was a bad year tempered with good. Sandra was diagnosed with the dreaded cancer and so we spent more time visiting Halifax than we ever expected to. Life influences died, David Bowie who shaped my musical tastes somewhat, as did Leonard Cohen. Victoria Wood shuffled off, a comedienne whose style of humor paved the way for many others to follow. Actors live and die, most only matter to their loved ones or obsessive psychopaths. One whose work I admired was Alan Rickman, sad but such is life.

Perhaps the second most epoch-making event was the election of Trump to what is always vaunted as the most powerful office in the world. His opponent wasn’t that much better so we got the worst of a very bad deal, at least she has some dignity. It may not be our country but we are all affected and, by electing a bigot and misogynist – and they are his good points, it showed us all how low the underbelly of the USA truly is. Any American woman or person of color or white immigrant that voted for him, hang your sorry heads in shame.

After writing that, I now have a few U’s spare, the rest will be in English, English.

If you are a regular reader, you will know that my birding focus has been a Cape Sable Island big year, I suppose I should say Cape Island because that is the way it is said around here. It was to be my personal motivation, a goal, a bar to set and a way of learning quickly all about our still relatively new home, that changed when two others took op the challenge. What made it a great year was that three of us, myself, Johnny Nickerson and Mike MacDonald pushed on to new levels, assisting in recording a cumulative year list for Cape Island of 249, or maybe 250. We all broke the 200 barrier and, on a personal level, I have to say I’m very happy with my total and look forwards to adding my the CSI life list over the years. Those are the bare-bones, more meat on that story in a later post.

It is true the listing is just numbers but, numbers have to be accumulated and their accumulation offer experience as a by-product. The secret is to learn more than you forget, not many people manage that one and when I stop adding and start subtracting I’ll slip quietly into the background. In the meantime, in 2017, expect more glaring mistakes and more flashes of latent talent from me, WYSIWYG. Now, without further ado, I’ll get to the selected highlights My stand-outs might be different from other viewpoints, just because I rate a gull higher than a warbler is a matter of personal opinion.

My top bird of the year was the Kamchatka Gull and it is not even a real tick (yet!). As a bird it was a lesson in mid-sized gull taxonomy and answered many questions for me regarding some versions of Larus canus I’ve seen. It was found as a Mew Gull by Clarence Stevens Jnr, but its true identity didn’t come out until Joan Comeau posted a suite of Facebook photos giving context, after that it just had to be seen. Experience tells me that this is a good species, but within the strictures of the species concepts we use it may take a while for the science to prove it.


Even when you have seen a species very many times, context is all and so when I pitched up at The Hawk one dazzling May afternoon my thoughts were more on seeing migrants than vagrants. The light was fierce and, at that time of the year, somewhat against the viewing position. I saw a shorebird that didn’t fit, at least here, but I knew what it was. Digital cameras have changed everything, just as audio playback has, and so I grabbed images of the general shorebird group, knowing that a view on a screen would confirm my suspicions. The image was grainy and a bit off focus, clearly I had a Curlew Sandpiper but wait. The frame I viewed had a slice of another bird encroaching so I scrolled further images and, make that two Curlew Sandpipers. In the meantime Alix had hit the road and was watching both, we had the conversation, yes I now knew that there were two, wild.


They were never very lens friendly but I’d have been happy with what I got until Robert and Sandi Keereweer pulled another out of the hat in more or less the same place in July. That bird was friendlier and everyone who wanted it enjoyed great views and shots and the question asked most was, is one of the spring birds? We can never know that one.

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We had a year of drought in southern Nova Scotia, it was obvious it was coming because it didn’t rain. That didn’t stop the weak minded pouring water on their lawns or washing their cars or doing any of the other things that don’t need water quite like the Human body. Even after we knew that wells were drying people still watered plants because their well had more water than their neighbours, how dumb is that? The upside of the drought was the low water levels in local barrachois pools. The one at The Hawk beach developed attractive margins and the odd Spotted Sandpiper explored them. Nearby two Yellow-crowned Night-Herons found the problem of fish procurement greatly eased by their have a reduced acreage to swim in, as did one of the Cape Island stars of the year, a Least Bittern.

Anything that is a Cape Island tick for Johnny has to be a highlight because he is the master. I just happened to be the one who saw it first and the finding was one of the pieces of birding serendipity that happens, for some. I had decided to walk The Hawk roads hoping to find migrant warblers and so I parked at The Hawk beach and set off. A yellowy looking thing on a distant bank attracted my attention but bins did not quite cut it, although I did actually think it was a Least Bittern. I walked back to the car, scoped the thing and the rest is history as they say.


A by-product of visiting Halifax while Sandra got sorted was the opportunity to explore a few of the local birding spots. On one occasion I was able to look for a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher found by Diane LeBlanc. Sandra was with me when we saw it so that was even better. It may not be mega rare but they are characterful birds and I’d missed Clyde’s on Cape Island, so we enjoyed it greatly.


Another nearby bird was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at West Jeddore. The home owner was so typically Nova Scotian in welcoming us onto the property to search for the bird. Elsewhere on this planet, and not too far away people are not so welcoming.


I have a particular penchant for pelagic birding, something I share with a few others. The very successful, if invitation only, Pubnico pelagics are a highlight because we are out there with the same birds that are often just dots from Daniel’s Head, although I am getting better at identifying what are still dots for some, a good scope helps. So I thought why not get out off Brier Island in September because a pelagic that doesn’t spend time providing endless tail-flukes for people with little more interest that arranging a few pixels on the phone would surely offer some good pelagic birding. So I floated the idea, so to speak, and the uptake was very encouraging. Some preparation was involved and I’ll know to take the frozen chum out of the freezer earlier, rather than have to thaw it overnight in the bathroom of an unnamed lodge on Brier Island.

On a blustery day 43 birders had around four hours at sea, chucking bits of smelly fish out to attract the sea birds and, as is almost always the case, the best was saved last when we came across this South Polar Skua sitting on the water.

It was not a regulation bird in that it was a bit warm and the nape and back/covert flecking made an instant diagnosis difficult, as did the apparent bulk, it was a biggie. The skuas still confound but research showed our bird to be South Polar, our second for the day but the only one that showed properly. Special thanks should be given to all who spotted on the day, we dealt with the logistics of getting everyone on the birds fairly well although a PA would be an advantage.

For those taking note, I am proposing to run the trip again pending boat availability. It will go the weekend after Labour Day and will run on both Saturday and Sunday. The compliment will be limited to 30 each day, so the cost will be a trifle more, and we will spend less time bouncing around aimlessly and more time on the ridge where the birds gather, the birds will be encouraged to come to us more, I need sharks livers. Make a note in your diary if interested, let me know too.

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The early part of the year delivered our hoped for alcids to Cape Island. High on my wants list was Thick-billed Murre and, exactly as Johnny had predicted, they came in force. The first was off the causeway from Barrington. I’m sure the people passing in their trucks wondered what we were looking at, some even slowed to 98 kmph to take a peek!


While on the wharfs Dovekies appeared and were duly enjoyed.


Not all highlights were rarities. For years I have tried to get a shot that did Northern Harrier justice, I think I finally did.

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Going back to the Pubnico pelagic, it was a good one with just about everything expected showing up and the weather holding fine The only absentee had been Manx Shearwater, there are not that many of them out there at the best of times. After we had turned and started the run back to port, and the tamest Manxie ever followed us home a while. It was bird of the trip and a very welcome addition for the day.


We bump into Short-eared Owl in our area once in a while, but more often than not they are flying away. One afternoon I watched one hunting The Hawk and decided to go for it. I wedged myself against a rock and waited and, eventually, got the shots I was after.


May is the month we hope to see the unusual and this year contained a few surprises. Ronnie called on morning with a catharus thrush on Chebogue, he called it 100%, a Grey-cheeked Thrush. Mike and I galloped over and were rewarded by close view of this surprisingly scarce thrush.


Long-distance twitching sometimes has to be done. Halifax, for us, is long-distance although route familiarity doesn’t make it seem quite so bad now. The tireless birding of Dave Currie had the rare bird alert flashing, first with Bell’s Vireo, then with a MacGillivray’s Warbler plus there were other birds around. The Bell’s Vireo twitch turned out to be a bit more lenghty that planned when Peggy Scanlon found a Brown Booby off Canso causeway and it stuck. We, being nearly halfway there, dropped all plans post-vireo and hared it to Canso where the bird showed itself very well to a small but appreciative crowd.


Sandra and myself headed to town with a shopping list that included Grasshopper Sparrow and Yellow-billed Cuckoo and the Bell’s Vireo again, Sandra needed them all for NS, I needed the first two. Diane had relocated the sparrow the day before so we started there with some success, then news of the MacGillivray’s Warbler broke and we couldn’t believe our luck. We tried and missed before taking a break with the nearby Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Back at the warbler site, it had been seen again, even photographed but for me the best I did was flight views just too fast to tick. Sandra had refused to descend the storm drain but we had found the Bell’s Vireo again so she went home three up, me two.

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I went back a few days later with Mike and Ervin and we did get the warbler, and the cuckoo again then lucked in on a Yellow-throated Vireo that had gone missing but the sparrow had gone and that was that. It was a crazy spell but exciting and we certainly got to know the spots around Dartmouth.

There are some fairly common species on the mainland that just don’t get to Nova Scotia very often. Mostly this is because the species are fairly sedentary but also because they really don’t look built for speed. One such is Carolina Wren although it is in the nature of the beats that it is expanding its range, maybe even our way. This one was on Cape Forchu, found by the redoubtable Ervin and it showed remarkably well at times.


While Sandra and I were in Halifax for one of the chemo trips, new came to us that Ellis had found three Red-necked Phalaropes along Pond Road, Lower West Pubnico. As a species in Nova Scotia Red-necked Phalaropes are common to abundant in the Bay of Fundy, seasonally, and not at all uncommon offshore elsewhere. Occasionally birds will come to inland pools so, at the insistence of a sick woman, we went for the on the way home. Even noxious chemicals are not going to put the girl off and we had great views. Alix was actually in the water and these most confiding of shorebirds just swam around him. Some people on one of the Facebook groups reckoned he might be stressing them, which sort of told you how much they know about phalaropes. I can understand the sentiment but, phalaropes are almost always confiding in you are patient and not in the least bit stressed, good field craft Alix.


My last highlight was a common shorebird that barely raises the pulse, in Europe. This one was on the border with New Brunswick at some pools right by the highway. It fed constantly and the light was a challenge but it was nice to add Ruff to my Nova Scotia list, especially after dipping one at the scenic Windsor Sewage Works.


There were many other highlights of course, there could have been more had some of the rarities behaved better.

And look at what you might have seen!

We all expect to miss birds. If every twitch guaranteed success then there would be no tension and it would be just a matter of making the effort to go rather than going in hope rather than expectation. The year was a bad girl in many respects, teasing with distant birds that I should have gone for while offering snatches of rarities that would not resurface.

Townsend’s Warbler is probably the biggest miss. Were it not for a Sharp-shinned Hawk that may well have eaten it, we might have all seen it that afternoon at Butch Hoggs’ feeders. It was not to be and Ervin is the only one with the prize.

Alix has his dad Arthur well-schooled so, when a late hummingbird appeared in the yard Arthur took the photos and the hummer experts called it a Calliope, stunning. It never came back of course.

When Richard Donaldson was out for his constitutional, he was photographing and briefly snapped what looked like a Grey Catbird. It was only a few days later, when reviewing the photos, that he realised it was no catbird. It turned out to be a Townsend’s Solitaire which was then duly searched for but had gone. On the plus side, the record is documented and added to the archive and it give optimism that another will turn up one day.

A bird identified as a Lapland Longspur was photographed at West Head, Lockeport in the autumn and posted on a blog but a diligent birder (not me!) soon noticed that it was a Smith’s Longspur. It would have been a big bird to see, my only lifer for the year, but it was not to be but it did show that there could be anything out there, especially on the woefully under-watched south shore.

For any birding year to be memorable it needs birds but also birders, and I am very grateful that Nova Scotia has such lovely people birding. I could name you all and tell you how great you are but you, modestly, already know. Our time on this planet is limited and, despite all the non-bird related traumas 2016 delivered, it will go down as a great birding year, big thanks to all who contributed and see you all at the next big one.

And now the stats:

I birded on 359 days in 2016, a personal record for me and it takes my life birding days, that is days when I went out specifically to bird up to 8922.

I saw 281 species, I never left the province, the first time that I have ever just birded a single province or county. My Nova Scotia list climbed to 299. I had no lifers, the last was California Quail in October 2014.

I continued to eBird diligently, submitting 1211 checklists. I also started to add as many of my photos to eBird as I had. I am up to 947 species photograph, I may have a few more tucked away yet.

Our home in Clam Point is very birdy and I submitted 129 checklists just for the yard (within my own definition of the yard!). We had 129 species for the year and the yard list rose to 142 species, many of which have photos and can be seen on this blog under the Clam Point yard tab.

I’ll deal with Cape Sable Island elsewhere, except to say that my CSI list is now 248, I’d hope to get near to 300 inside the next two years.

Finally, for those interested in reading about the activities of Nova Scotia birders, then you might like to browse the following blogs, listed in no order whatsoever.








Go and see what others have seen and even send in your lists:


Rain Slows Play

New Year is once again upon us and so it was out in the elements after a leisurely breakfast and yard watch to see what was about. The yard kicked off things with a healthy 24 species, no surprises except that Surf Scoter and Common Loon failed to make the list, they will tomorrow I’m sure.

Our merry route took us sploshing around Clam Point before heading to the Hotspots of Daniel’s Head, The Hawk and Johnny’s yard. Our first eBird species add was the expected Snow Goose at Daniel’s Head, luckily it was nice and close so photos were obtained, it is the lower bird.


The next but one stop was Johnny and Sandra Nickerson’s yard. Sandra, while sitting in the van, got a Brown Creeper (not counted in my total) but that was eclipsed by her Nova Scotia tick Brown Thrasher (eBird, are you sure bird). Unfortunately the Fox Sparrow that had been there earlier decided to be sly, we really needed a lazy dog to draw it out for a quick view (tell me you get this).


The thrasher is listening for worm movement, American Robins do it to. Worms emit a high frequency whistle which humans can hear. If your hearing is up to it, wait for warmer ground, lie flat on the ground with your head on one side and listen, see whether you can hear the worms.

Our third eBird add was, surprisingly Double-crested Cormorant. I guess our tropical tip of Nova Scotia is hard to work into the filters and, true, we did see a good few more of Great Cormorants.

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West Head Wharf had seven Iceland Gulls, none of which I photographed as there is a gulls post coming and I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Then it was on to a new-found spot where a bunch of 25 or so Yellow-rumped Warblers (for about 40 for the day) had an Orange-crowned Warbler secreted within their numbers. As if to balance the Brown Creeper disaster, Sandra didn’t see it due to the rain and the angle of the car and it just would not come out again for a photo.


So the day is done and American Robin is the most surprising omission. The total of 60 species was not bad at all and a good kick-off for this eagerly awaited year that sees off 2016. For context, my best Quebec January contained 61 species for the entire month, tomorrow we may roam further afield as there is shopping to be done!

Posts pending are: Bloody Thayer’s Gulls, that interesting new taxonomic list and the end of year review which is taking longer than expected.

I still haven’t decided what my birding focus will be in 2017, perhaps I should stick with breathing and take it from there!

Thanks to everyone who reads this blog and have a truly great 2017, happy New Year (cue a small firework that goes pfffpff).

Final Flush

A south-easterly storm is on the way so, never say never, but, I think we are done for 2016. It has been a roller coaster with some odd avian absentees and some unexpected special guests, all of which I’ll discuss in my end of year review. For now we are in the dregs of December 29th with a tricky, wet and windy day in store tomorrow, it doesn’t leave too much wiggle room. There is also the little issue of surviving the 2016 cull, pity such things are random as I can have a list ready in a jiffy containing those who I’d like to see exit through the door of no return in 2017.

Today Ellis d’Entremont took Mike, Ronnie and I to his Cranberry Bog camp, thanks for organising it Ronnie and big thanks to Ellis. It was species light (five) but the star birds, our new national emblem the Gray Jay (spelling as a sop to those who say it can be spelled either way, unlike Whisky Jack) came along and entertained us. I tried hard to get that full-focus flight shot but failed miserably, still the little posers did pause during their winter food gathering routine to allow the odd photo.

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At one point a Northern Flicker came by to see what the fuss was.


A couple of days ago, incidentally during another storm, Ronnie found the Greater White-fronted Goose in Yarmouth again so we wet-footed it over and eventually, and courtesy of Laurel tracking it down on a ball field, got views. Best of all was Mike MacDonald finally nailing his long-time nemesis. No more skulking back indoors after a twitch because this time, yes he did see it!

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The same sortie got us a winter tick Hermit Thrush on Forchu with a Black-capped Chickadee for company.

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And we saw one of the two male Barrow’s Goldeneyes that are wintering in the harbour.


Going back further, we did a little ride down to Baccaro and paid our respects to one of the Snowy Owls there. If you go there and see anyone shooting off the rocks below the light, please call the DNR and pass along their plate number. They have no chance of recovering shot birds and are just killing and maiming for fun. I have already flagged that there is an issue with the DNR, more on that when I get a reply.


On Cape Sable the Snow Goose continues to use the white farm geese and an avian shield. It blends in quite well, and probably doesn’t even get a second look from those who are not in the know.

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Yesterday (Dec 28th) a flock of Bohemian Waxwings dropped into the yard briefly, allowing Mike to add them to his CSI year and life lists. They didn’t stay long but while they were there they were intent of stripping off the last few berries that the American Robins had no-doubt earmarked for later consumption.

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After much hand-wringing I have decided that Daniel’s Head is my local patch. I go there most and, just like my two previous serious local patches, it gets disturbed by people and poorly treated, I must be a glutton for punishment. My recording area also takes in the beach north to Stoney Island Road and cuts off part way to The Hawk. My list for the area is just over 200 species, now that I have formally adopted it I must learn it better and make sure that I see any birds found there that I still ‘need’.

Well that empties my pending picture folder for 2016. My Excel file is ready and waiting for 2017 and Sandra and I will be out making a good go of it January 1st. If I don’t talk to you again before New Year, do enjoy the one day at this time of year that is really worth celebrating and we’ll catch up in the New Year.



Winter ticks

After my last post I realised that I’d made an assumption about people’s knowledge of what winter listing is. The title does rather give it away, but an important detail is the definitive period when birds for the winter list count, which is the beginning of December to the end of February. Winter listing is a great excuse to get out and see birds in the most inhospitable season, not that you need an excuse to go birding but it looks better if you see it in print, more of an official excuse as opposed to a flight of fancy.

Last winter (2015-16) was my first in Nova Scotia and I ended the period with 151 species, which is pretty reasonable. To give it more context, I’d never broken the 100 species season barrier while living in Quebec, although I didn’t chase there in the same way and the winter is so much less forgiving there so the birds, sensibly, clear off south. This year I’m not venturing to far, Shelburne, Yarmouth and the southern bit of Digby is probably my lot. It is going reasonably well, as of 8/12 I’m up to 100, but I can see it taking a while to bust 200 for life, I have nine to go.

Time for a few photos, all in a bit of a mixed up order really.

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In our area a Wood Duck is a good winter bird, thanks to Paul Gould for the heads-up with this one at Charlesville.

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Lucky Ervin has been weaving his magic again. He unearthed this House Wren (NS year tick 280) and Yellow-breasted Chat on the same back street at the unfashionable end of Yarmouth. The Mockingbird and the House Finches were there too, 7/12.

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There has been a Herring die-off in Fundy (mostly) and nobody currently knows why. The upshot is that gulls that would normally dine on fish plant outflow waste are filling up on sushi elsewhere. Even the Digby gull hot-spot of Meteghan has seen reduced gull capacity recently. Here is an Iceland and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull there from 7/12 plus a montage of Iceland Gull wing patterns just to get you in the mood.


While out and about on 7/12 we decided to tour the back country and came across a couple of Pine Grosbeaks at Hectanooga. They are scarce in our neck of the woods but the lady at the site has been getting up to 25 each morning so perhaps there are better photo opportunities to be had than just this doc-shot.


We made a point of heading home via the Ohio road, well they call it a road but mostly it is potholes interspersed with paving. Aside from three Snow Buntings the only other highlight was this Ruffed Grouse, feasting on buds.

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Our yard on 6/12 hosted Evening Grosbeaks for the second day running. This time I got some reasonable shots although the males that had been there the previous day chose to dine elsewhere. As I watched them, a flock of c50 Bohemian Waxwings appeared in the trees behind the feeders. Cape Sable Island tick #247, CSI big year bird #231 (plus three heard only).

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A good life winter tick was this Brown Thrasher at Johnny Nickerson’s yard, thanks to Johnny for the heads-up.

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We don’t go to Brass Hill too often, although we pass it every time we head to the big city (Yarmouth or Halifax), but we went looking for a Mockingbird recently and found this Pine Warbler, a couple of Chipping Sparrows and a flock 40 strong of Evening Grosbeaks.

 With three weeks left of this year I can’t see too many more birds showing up although you never truly know. For me the biggest surprise was the lack of a Western Kingbird in NS, Barnacle Goose too failed to show while Eurasian Wigeon and Ruddy Duck need a filter tweak in eBird to reflect their current rarity, in Shelburne there has not been a record of either in the past 18-months, similarly Laughing Gull, has all but disappeared from the NS scene in 2016.

And finally, there has been a good discussion on Facebook re how strict eBird is. Some think it asks for too many details, others think differently. I think the answer to the details issue is, when you encounter a rare/scarce bird, photograph it. Obviously you cannot do so 100% of the time but more often than not you can get a photo, even a terrible doc-shot will do. That way eBird reviewers get an easier time of it, unless the bird you claim is not the one you photograph then for sure you will get asked ‘are you sure?’ and so you should.

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