Alas Poor Thayer’s, we knew you vaguely!

So Thayer’s has gone, reduced to a footnote in the taxonomic listings and not even afforded sub-specific status like Larus glaucoides glaucoides and Larus glaucoides kumlieni. I would really like that situation explaining as, to me a simple birder, it would have been logical to retain thayeri for simple recording purposes (always handy should there be future research), even if we can’t have just Larus and have to have it with Larus glaucoides in front of it.

The rationale for the lump seems to be that they (Thayer’s) have been found breeding with Iceland Gulls, well Kumlien’s Gulls actually as it is unlikely, but not impossible, that a Thayer’s and an Iceland would meet anywhere other than the winter feeding battleground of dumps, sewage outflows and fish processing plant waste pipes, long may they remain unregulated! I had always thought that interbreeding was not necessarily a barrier to full species status, if it was, surely we’d be rather reduced in species to say ‘Duck’ for all those anatidae that like to throw their darvic rings onto the table and take home something a little different. I also wonder how hard they looked for the definition of the interbreeding zone. I don’t know what the percentage of mixed pairs in the breeding range would need to be before the species pair became true but, presumably there are pure Thayer’s that only breed with pure Thayer’s so isn’t that a species?

I think, and I’ve said this before, the definition, no make that re-definition of Thayer’s Gull should have been considered before lumping. What makes a gull a Thayer’s, what suite of plumage and structural characteristics are required before you can ink it in? And why did we keep stretching the identification criteria to fit the bird? Now the lump has congealed, we will have thousands of good Thayer’s records that will only make eBird as Iceland Gull, each Thayer’s something of a missed opportunity to define a core range and the limits of dispersal and vagrancy. I suppose I could list again what I think makes a Thayer’s but you already know anyway, you are not the sort of birder to let a degree of difficulty stop you working out what you are seeing, why you can even identify silent Trail’s most of the time, just by looking at them!

I think that we in the field who look at gulls will keep on looking for Thayer’s in season, and probably calling them same in the privacy of our own Excel files. The lumpers and splitters on whatever committee is busy with such activities will still prevaricate endlessly, but most will largely ignore them and make the ID of those obvious, if shop-soiled species anyway, in much the same way that we do with Mew Gull (four species), Fox Sparrow (another four) and don’t forget Willets, eastern and western although I think we’d be better getting away from geographically orientated monikers and move to something more distinctive and accurate, Big Willet and Little Willet comes to mind.

Putting Thayer’s to bed, for now at least, here are a few shots – starting with the 2017 Pubnico bird found by Alix that also visited CSI; going through to pale end Kumlien’s. Remember, these are all Iceland Gulls right!


Last Quarter

Now that we are into the last quarter of the year, migrants will become harder to find but there will be days that surprise. Here on CSI. warblers have been trickier to find than expected but perseverance has paid off although not with anything Like Blue-winged Warbler or Yellow-throated Vireo. Still it could be worse, it could be foggy. Obviously the weather plays a big part in the migrant scarcity, plus the fact that  only a tiny percentage of CSI is available to look at, so much great, bird harbouring habitat exists in yards and on private property.

I’ll lead with Orange-crowned Warbler, I’ve seen three this autumn so far and very smart they are too. I find that they are quite willing to come to pish, even more responsive to taped chips and, when they come, they hang around a bit.


Blackpoll Warblers have been around too, in ones and twos and generally inquisitive. These two different birds show how varied autumn birds can look. The last image had me double-checking the ID.


The upper two are the same bird, different angles. The below had me looking hard at it, I don’t recall seeing one quite like this but I’m sure it is a Blackpoll. In the field it looked more Blackpolly.

Shorebird numbers are petering out although we still have over 1000 birds around, just not all stood on the same bit of mud. Sanderling have moved in in large numbers and Red Knot have been using The Guzzle high tide roost during, well high tide actually! These shots show a few, one group containing a Hudsonian Godwit too.


On a short shopping trip to Yarmouth we lucked in on this American Bittern at Sunday Point again. Earlier we found a Bobolink at Chebogue Point. It was a bit camera shy, not surprising as the wind was howling and it would have needed legs like Sidney Crosby to grip those branches.


This Solitary Sandpiper fed on a small, roadside pool on CSI. I stopped for the shots but attracted the attention of three elderly gents who followed me in, flushing the bird. Without knowing what they were looking, they just walked right up to the pool side, it has happened to me before here, perhaps it is a local sport or maybe just that curiosity that sees drivers slow down traffic for a minor fender bender EVERYTIME!


This is our yard Merlin and one of our Mourning Doves. I know people don’t like to see this stuff but that is how they live and we do far worse to the wildlife than a hungry predator could ever do.


I’ll finish off with a few bits and pieces, comments attached.

Above, still a few Nelson’s Sparrows around, below a Philadelphia Vireo on The Hawk, CSI.

About, a Magnolia straggler, below, Least Flycatcher – last of the empids?

Above, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, below a smart immature White-rumped Sandpiper.

A very two-tone October Blue-headed Vireo.

Incidentally, I am in the process of updating the Cape Sable Island site-guide so if you already have it, you might want to get the new version when published shortly. There will be a limited window to do so.

Still writing my Thayer’s Gull post and now I have a meadowlark one to do too.

And to paraphrase Chief Brody from one of my favourite films, Jaws: “We’re gonna need a bigger ball of string!”

BC Wrap up

As this was not a birding trip, as I kept telling myself, the overall results were not unexpected. 117 species of bird, five odes, six butterflies and 12 mammals. Had it just been Sandra and me we would have visited the Okanagan, done more birding around Tofino and got into more mountain species around Manning and we’d have found an American Dipper. As it was we have some memories and the lifer Northwestern Crow will live in the memory all day, or at least until tea-time.

I usually post some of Sandra’s pics at some point, that will probably come later so, to those of you who like views and vistas, expect some.

Anna’s Hummingbird posing nicely in Campbell Valley Regional Park.


Beaver – this meaty beast walked right through a parking lot, never deviating and ignoring all those paying it a lot of attention.


Blue-eyed Hawker – the commonest darner around.


Bald Eagle, not that we saw too many.


Western Tiger Swallowtail.


Eurasian Collared-Dove, used to breed in the yard in England, only a matter of time before they find NS to their liking.


Mule Deer taking a break from the sun.


Vaux’s Swift, pronounced VOX. Seen at two spots.


Pacific Tree Frog in Campbell Valley Regional Park.


Pelagic Cormorants on the dock at Tsawassen.


Black-headed Grosbeak doing yoga!


Bushtit, only found one bunch.


Townsend’s Chipmunk, common in Campbell Valley Regional Park.


Variegated Meadowhawk at Abbotsford.


Douglas Squirrel, they follow you around.


Western Wood-Pewee, we only saw a couple.


Spotted Towhee, the default ‘sparrow’ in most places.


Vesper Sparrow on a hot day.

Sticky Pudding

I’d always thought Tofino as some sort of sticky pudding, perhaps best served hot, but no, it is a place on the west coast of Vancouver Island. I remembered vaguely hearing the name a few years ago and research led me to the story of a whale watching boat that capsized killing some of those onboard. The accident happened in calm seas and was just one of those things that can happen at sea, it isn’t a kiddies playground after all. There is risk in all things, just driving along a quiet road can end in disaster and so I put the accident out of my mind and booked a whale trip with the operators of the stricken boat, Jamie’s Whaling Station.

To get to Tofino we had to take the two hour ferry from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo, then cross the island to Tofino. We stopped overnight at Jamie’s Rainforest Resort (expensive, tired, better but more expensive accommodation at Best Western Tin Wis Resort), arriving under glorious blue skies. The next morning, Cape Sable Island weather had clearly joined us on the trip and visibility was reduced to 50-100m. Before the whale trip I birded the local beach and had great flight views of Western Sandpipers, flushed as joggers ran past me while I was obviously photographing them, enjoy the herpes I cursed you with guys!


The yard behind our room had flowery bushes and a trio of Rufous Hummingbirds hotly disputed ownership.


We got into town, a sort of hippy place but only for the affluent ones, and made our way to the jetty for the trip. It would run despite the fog, just as soon as they found a bulb to replace the one blown on the boat! One was found in an adjacent boat, hurrah, so we were off. We crept out of the sound and into the gloom, catching sight of the odd Marbled Murrelet barreling past. We picked our way out, presumably into open ocean (but who knows), before finding two Grey Whales. In between Sandra and I picked at the amorphous blobs that occasionally resolved into a bird. Our target was lifer, Tufted Puffin, we didn’t get any but then we could have slipped by 10,000. The whale trips are of the sort that, once a whale is seen, you go back. I have to say that our whale people on Brier give much better value for half the cost. Although I did get some Canada ticks, the whales and a tame Sea Otter were the highlights.

By the time we returned to dock the sun was peeking through. Gassing up for the trek back was done in warm sunshine, turning positively hot later. It would have been nice to spend a few days on the west coast of Vancouver Island but time pressed and it is expensive because it can be. We were back ‘home’ as the sun set and making plans for a trip back into the mountains again the next day.

The Sea Otter showing complete indifference to us.


A Rhinoceros Auklet, named for the spur on the bill, not their diet.

Marbled Murrelet in summer plumage.


Pigeon Guillemot in fog.



Calf Grey Whale.

July Gulls in BC

I pity the poor guller around coastal BC. So many hybrids, or apparent hybrids were present around the wharves and piers that it was a percentage game as to whether you counted one as pure. Glaucous-winged types were the default, there was a few that looked like Western, although eBird flags Western as rare if you see more than one. Then there were the seemingly straightforward California Gulls and finally Ring-billed. Later in the season it gets less complicated as purer Glaucous-winged and Western arrive to winter, but in late July and with birds in heavy molt, the gulls were just something to have a little stab at and move on.

I was particularly interested in seeing California Gulls, it has the potential to appear here and, in fact, it might be considered surprising that it is not more often reported in the north east in general. We saw quite a few in all ages including juvenile (recently fledged), an age class that I had no experience of. As for the rest, the mutts, they are called Olympic Gulls, are a genetic soup made up of Western and Glaucous-winged. They are fertile and breed, interbreed and should be considered very unsporting.

Our first bunch of gulls to be seen not just wafting overhead were at Tsawwassen Ferry where we crossed to Vancouver Island. This one is a gull and that is as far as I will commit. I think this is how all gulls will look after eating Magic Mushrooms.


Around the ferry we had some good looking Glaucous-winged and some Western Candidates, so we did what any visiting birder would do and ticked them both. These images are of Glaucous-winged types.


California was easier as an adult followed us around a while.


These juvenile California Gulls were most instructive, so crisp and neat amongst the badly dressed mutts. Still not sure about the one below, seemed big for a Cal Gull.

One gull species that gave no cause for alarm was Heermann’s. They were around Tofino and retain the look of the species, even when a bit mess.


Below, just a juv Ring-billed Gull.

There we are then, gulls done, you can skip on now if you like.

Manning Park

Some years ago a friend sent me photos of a bird to identify; it was a Clark’s Nutcracker. She had it sat on her daughters hand in a place near her now home in Hope, BC, it was Manning Park. Clark’s Nutcracker would have been a new species for me at the time, a species that I had long wanted to see. Fortunately I subsequently had the opportunity to see them in Nevada and then in California, but I was still keen to see them again on the BC trip, especially as it would be in Canada and therefore an addition to my growing Canada list.

The park is very scenic and well done, it absorbs and redistributes visitors and the main lodge area serves the public’s requirement of refreshments and somewhere to pee very well. Around the lodge area noisy Clark’s Nutcrackers were everywhere. Looking on are alert Columbian Ground-Squirrels (animal tick, yes I keep track!), while Steller’s Jays sneak in and other birds drop by for a bit. The only annoying bit was that the hummer feeders were in such a public place that the birders never got to settle and feed, I was after Calliope.

Over the road from the lodge a road climbs high to a parking lot with breathtaking views. Washington State seems almost within touching distance to the south and the peaks rise and fall all around. The parking lot has its own Clark’s Nutcrackers plus Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels that pester the parkers. Over the hills a couple of Golden Eagles wheeled and surveyed their borderless kingdoms. Moving on higher still, an Alpine Meadow had carpets of flowers, cut through with tracks and trails, all dutifully ignored by the two twats doing Thai-chi. I stuck around the car scanning for swifts and pessimistic about seeing Sooty, or even better Dusky Grouse. After a few minutes Sandra came hurrying breathlessly back, grouse!

Not 100m away but hidden from the parking lot Derek, her dad, stood motionless, a feared that he might flush the grouse. I peaked around the corner, scanning for the star, Derek point about eight feet in front of him! The Sooty Grouse, note the big, grey tail band, meandered between us and downslope towards the Thai-chi merchants. Butterflies were about up there too, not many but all new to me, I believe that this is Edith’s Checkerspot.

On a second visit we just called in briefly and I managed a few picture of Western Tanagers, the adults and their noisy young snaffling berries feet away.

Clark’s Nutcrackers above, Columbian Ground-Squirrel below.

Sooty Grouse above, Cascade la la below.

Edith’s Checkerspot above, Western Tanager below.

Home Base BC

Our trip to British Columbia was a hurriedly arranged affair. Sandra’s parents were going to be with us for a month and they were quite keen to have something in there a little different. Previous visits by them to Canada have included jaunts to Boston, Niagara and even The Yucatan Peninsula. Options from Nova Scotia are somewhat limited, you can do Caribbean islands, some cheaply, some costing an arm and an inheritance, but BC was possible, also it was somewhere Sandra and I had wanted to visit but needed the spur of pleasing the elders to go. Not that there isn’t a lot of stuff to see in BC, but birds for buck it had always been beaten by Central America previously.

In thinking about lodgings we had two options. Travel and stay, OK for young gadabouts but the elderly like to get settled in and the curtains drawn before dark, I can see the appeal, or have a home base. We cast around the Web to see what options we had and Sandra found a cottage in Langley for rent. The cottage was set in nicely wooded grounds and was close to the main highway feed for the mountains and the coast, ideal. A real bonus was the availability of a trail out back on the property which meant local birding right from the door. Phil, our host, graciously allowed access outside the regular trail hours, birders like to be their when the sparrows are rubbing their eyes after a good night’s sleep, the very best time to bird. Also it was baking hot most days, a sure way to send the birds into a sleepy torpor for most of the day so the advantage of an early morning walk was not to be sniffed at.

Our birding around the property included the deck and trails and we saw 33 species: Mallard, Common Merganser, Turkey Vulture, Western Gull (types), California Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Rock Pigeon, Band-tailed Pigeon. Black Swift (good to see anywhere), Anna’s Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Willow Flycatcher, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Steller’s Jay, Northwestern Crow, Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee. Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch. Bewick’s Wren, Swainson’s Thrush, American Robin, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, American Goldfinch.

Without doubt more attention, especially during May and September would add many species to that list, but our time was limited and so we only had what I would describe as a cursory look.

The property held two couples in comfort, had all amenities with a good WiFi connction, so vital these days. The hot weather meant that we spent lots of time on the deck, that is when not heading from place to place around Vancouver and the adjacent Cascades. Langley has a few birder attractions including some nicely kept parks and a wildlife area. I didn’t notice what are probably the best local lakes until we’d come back, but I suspect them to be only seasonally interesting anyway.

Our week flew by with all but one night spent in the cottage, that one was spent on Vancouver Island at Tofino, more on that later. July is not the best month for birding anywhere in the northern hemisphere and so we didn’t quite see as many species as we’d like. The first life bird came as we crossed the road to the car rental place, Northwestern Crow. It is different from the American Crows with which I am so familiar, but it takes a birder to notice so different so the avian scientists who mess about with our species lists may well lump this one at some point.

Next post covers a jaunt to the Manning Park area, a mountain reserve with plenty of bird activity. Here are photos of birds taken in the cottage grounds.

This Pacific-slope Flycatcher came low one morning, sallying from the Apple Tree in front of the deck. Luckily I had the camera ready, usually they are way up and hard to even see.

Bewick’s Wrens chattered from the trail.

A Northwestern Crow taking a bath. To my eyes they are a small crow with a different shape and they sound quite different from American Crow.

A Dark-eyed Junco of the ‘Oregon’ form, seen daily around the property.

The photo won’t win any awards but this Black Swift passing over high one morning was unexpected.

Willow Flycatcher, a family party were along the trail.