Stormcock – No!

We finally broke and headed off to Miramichi, New Brunswick hoping to see the very long-staying Mistle Thrush, a first for North America, and maybe even catch a little local music although I’m not sure that there are Miramichi bands roaming the streets playing in winter? It is about an eight hour trip from home on some of the finest, pot-holed roads Canada has to offer but we’d never been, now had a car we had confidence in and it would be a Canada tick too, what is not to like?

We got there late afternoon a bit unsure of exactly where to be, but Peter Gadd, the finder and now something of a Mistle Thrush addict, (he’s been to look for it every one of its 80 days stay) put us right. The weather was good, the subdivision iced up roads were so reminiscent of Quebec that we might have felt a twinge of ‘home’ sickness had we not had more sense. The spot to be was nice and open, the trees it used in full view, the light good and the temperature not as bad as it could have been, the only thing lacking was the thrush.

I’ll admit that chasing the Mistle Thrush had not been a priority. Had it been in Nova Scotia then that would be quite different but New Brunswick does not hold the same allure, splendid place that it no doubt is. Factor in too that Mistle Thrush used to breed in our UK yard and probably still do. It is an every day bird in the UK, literally and especially if you know the call and song. You might wonder at the title, the old or colloquial name for Mistle Thrush is Stormcock because they (reputedly) sing at the advent of a rain storm, so they pretty much sing all day long in Lancashire I expect.

Back to the tense story and, having failed on Feb-26th we found a nice little hotel, ate in a local eatery and set the alarm for dawn. A light frost greeted us when we headed out, just as the sun rose. We were quickly back at the scene of the crime, Peter was already there, and soon set about examining every avian thing that moved. I had set a ‘time of death’ as 10:00, my heart was full of optimism (and blood although it was rapidly draining) but my head made plain the realism of the obvious, it had gone. We did have some compensation in the form of a few New Brunswick ticks (like this Pileated Woodpecker) although that was akin to a one legged man winning a posh pair of sneakers!

We called it a bust and headed back to the best province in Canada, disappointed true but if you don’t dip now and then you don’t appreciate the successes and, hopefully, we have peaked in the dipping sense this year and so it should be plain ticking to the year’s end!

After a light repast in Amherst we headed to get the Eurasian Collared Dove for Sandra, it would be 299 in Nova Scotia and it was although it was crappy views but, sticking to theme, it was a bird that nested in our UK yard so one out of two was as good as it was going to be.

The Canvasback remains on full view like a very good duck, very much showing those aloof gulls how to do it I should say as it allows everyone who wants to see it the opportunity. Just before zapping off to New Brunswick I snapped it again, better than the first few attempts although it slept for much of the time I watched it, giving about 15 seconds of head-up time.

I took a few photos of a female Common Eider inside Daniel’s Head wharf recently. It struck me that it might be of the race Borealis, the northern version, which is known to appear here fairly frequently. I looked back in my archive and found one from the same location and time period in 2017. Obviously I need to pay closer attention. From what I have gleaned from the web, my 2017 bird appears to be borealis while the Feb-2018 bird may well be an intergrade between dresseri (ours) and borealis. I don’t intend to go too deeply into this, just present the images here, along with a ‘control’ regular dresseri female. Had this been a Pacific Eider (still a subspecies, be patient) then I would have been more effusive and, for encouragement, there has been one Newfoundland record (a male) plus what may have been a hybrid.

Above, our regular Dresser’s Eider (female, check out the lobes).

Above (2017), borealis? Below (2018), hybrid or borealis?

For a bit more reading on the Pacific Eider in Newfoundland, here are a couple of links that won’t disappoint. Also read all about Europe’s first Pacific Eider, surely we in Nova Scotia have a chance of this one showing up?


Frozen Bananas

We live in the so-called Banana Belt of Nova Scotia, a mocking term describing the mostly moderate climate that we usually enjoy, plus the fact that we can have a light tea of locally picked Bananas at any time, straight from the back yard but that is beside the point! The Atlantic is supposed to keep the temperature temperate and the price we pay for that luxury is usually more fog than anyone else gets, the Bananas here regard it as tropical humidity so it all works. This winter however we have had it bloody cold leading to the Bananas dropping off the trees but, on the upside, almost instant Banana smoothies.

The wookie weather has therefore impacted on my birding activities and it was only today, January-10th, that I made my second foray away from the Valhalla that is Cape Sable Island. I had options and decided on a roll up to Meteghan, the intention being to sit shivering in the teeth of a gale and photographing the same gulls I’d photographed last year, bliss. As it happened it was not too cool, the light was good but the gulls naughty, especially the Kamchatka which seems to be having time away from its regular beach. Generally gull numbers were much lower than in recent years although I did manage to find Black-headed, Bonaparte’s, Ring-billed, Herring (American), Lesser Black-backed, Glaucous, Iceland (Kumlien’s) and the ubiquitous Great Black-backed.

Before descending on Meteghan, I called in at Cape St Mary, Mavillette where a bunch of Harlequins didn’t disappoint. Inside the wharf, three Long-tailed Ducks went about their business while I pretended to be a plank on a jetty, I always knew that plank training at high school would come in handy. I managed a few shots but missed out on recording their vocals as I’d left the recorded in the car.


People always seem surprised that birds do the same thing, year in year out. Site fidelity is well-known in gulls and, if I remember this right, there used to be a Glaucous Gull at Cley-Next-the-Sea in Norfolk, England that returned annually for many years and was christened ‘George’. When it finally pegged it, another Glauc (in 1stW plumage) showed up and took its place, it was, of course, called ‘Boy George’ and took over from old faithful in supplying visiting birders with their lifer/year tick. When I was a Country Park Warden I greeted several serial-returning gulls each year, a Yellow-legged that summered on the same river buoy and both winter Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls that had been banded somewhere in Finland, or at least out that way, and that came back at the same time every year. The point I’m making is that birds do what we do. if they find somewhere they like they keep returning.

All that yawp is to report that this year, Alix was first to see the returning Red-shouldered Hawk of Pleasant Lake fame. This is the fourth season it has returned after being found originally by Ronnie. To see it all it takes is a little luck, a bit of patience and verging on a criminal disregard of other road users. I managed a look today (Jan-10) right by the road although I suspect the queue of traffic that formed behind me when stopped had already seen it for the year as they barely slowed to look, some people eh!

So it was quite a nice day out, I stuck to the diet too and added a few to my 2018 year list that I am definitely not doing. Pity about the Kamchatka Gull, I hope it returns, it is a winter highlight in southern Nova Scotia along with the Thayer’s at Pubnico and not falling and breaking a hip.

To wind back a tad, I have been getting out locally but the weather has been tough on the birds, there will have been losses. The camera has been all but dormant although I did get to grab a few frames of this Horned Grebe at Daniel’s Head.


Another local treat was a couple of American Woodcock that probed the snow in a yard at the end of Hawk Point Road, big thanks to Johnny for the call. Not by-feather shots, it was high ISO making them grainy but happy to log my first photos of the species in NS, yes of course I keep a list!

Fall-out Day 2#+

As expected, day 2+ of the 2017 fall-out was again full of birds. When these things happen the event can last for some time as weaker birds take longer to restore their vitality ready for the push to get back on track. Some won’t, they’ll be too knackered and will settle for trying to sit it out, meaning that the Christmas count may contain a surprise or two, potentially. When birds arrive as they have, they are spread over a wide area. True, offshore islands will concentrate the birds, we can only speculate how many ended up on Seal, logically the first landfall during the arrival, but the majority will be spread like ink spattered across a sheet of paper. As they re-orient, some will just leave but many will filter south to further boost the birds already present, it is a good time to live on Cape Sable Island!

I started my day intending to check places that had been left alone on Oct-27th, our very busy day #1 of the fall-out. I started with Stoney Island Beach Road, logically just as likely to hold birds as anywhere. A quick White-eyed Vireo confirmed my suspicion, followed by this Yellow-throated Warbler, my first self-found in NS.


On Oct-27 Mike had glimpsed a flycatcher around Kenney Road, Southside end. My next mission was to see and photograph the bird. Late flycatchers hint strongly at something more exotic and I was hoping we might have a Dusky as one had been found on Bon Portage, close enough to CSI to spit on with the right wind behind you. I had to wait a bit and I tried various subtle call attractants before I got something. It was a pewee but which one? The extent of the yellow on the lower mandible suggests Eastern so I stuck with that, for now.


A little peek behind d’Eons Fishing Supplies added more Indigo Buntings to my day list but not much else. Pity the deep water pit is off-limits, there will certainly be birds there.


Next was Plastic Factory Road, a site currently being infested by boat projects but we work around them. Here the playing of chatter calls pulled in another White-eyed Vireo and a Yellow-throated too, otherwise it was a bit bird-light.


I had been hearing of roaming warbler flocks around The Hawk, said to number millions but more grounded sources confirmed that, while there was indeed a good number, it may have been rather exaggerated in size. Another draw that way was a report of a swift species, with Chimney the only logical choice. On Smith Lane the Western Kingbird greeted me after having taken a long-weekend away. The bushes were rustling and I son latched on to another Yellow-throated Warbler, two more White-eyed Vireo and a supporting cast of Indigos, Parulas, Blackpolls etc.

My last stop before refuelling was on Atwood where I sat for an hour as birds just moved around me. Nothing spectacular but Tennessee was nice. Pity the Turkey Vulture flock didn’t have a Black Vulture in there, I hear they are getting commoner in NS if your lucks in!


After lunch I went back to Daniel’s Head and communed with the Hooded Warbler for a while. I noticed it had a damaged bill but it was feeding actively and calling too. I managed to get a recording which is not on my eBird checklist. I wanted to see yesterday’s Yellow-billed Cuckoo again, preferably through my viewfinder but all I saw was a glimpse that may have been it, a pewee found earlier by Paul Gould was still around though and with a bit of graceful stalking I got a few shots. Last off I looked at the sea where only one Cory’s Shearwater was to be seen. I did see two Pomarine Jaegers beating the crap out of a Black-legged Kittiwake though so that was nice. Day #3 is upon us now. I’m hoping for a Summer Tanager, maybe I’ll drive to Yarmouth if yesterday’s Blue-winged Warbler shows or maybe something wow will find CSI a good place to rest for a while. With a big fall-out you just never know.

Here are some shots of the pewee. I reserve judgement on this one as the extensively dark lower mandible and rather uniform underparts hint at other things. Comments welcome. Apologies for any errors, this was ‘stream of consciousness’ writing as Sandra calls it! Can’t stop now, it’s getting light.

Ding-Dong the Chair has Gone!

There are many things to be grateful at this time of year, but surely one of them has to be the removal of those bloody stupid red chairs. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were not placed in front of things normal people want to look at (normal = birders, although all my non-birder friends are normal by association). I’m talking looking at the shorebirds at the end of Fish Plant Road or passing alcids and shearwaters at Baccaro (different chair obviously – they’re not that big!). Somebody somewhere in NS tourism had an idea (it was bound to happen one day) and so these big red chairs spring up each well, spring and just annoy us. In another life I might have been a bit more incendiary about them, so to speak, but I think the Canadian water has had a diluting effect on me and so I suffer them (but not silently) just like everyone else.  There are better places to put them that are not in the way.

There, I feel better for that little rant. I do appreciate that some tourists like to sit in them and have their photos taken, I’ve even been present when it has happened but…

The birding has been good lately, birdy even, and so I have a backlog of photos, some good, some truly awful but you take the rough with the rougher on this blog. I don’t suppose the Thayer’s lament got much readership, gulls are a speciality subject at the best of times. I suspect the forthcoming one on skuas will have a similarly small audience, but I hope those that do read it enjoy it. It has actually gone down the line of precedence recently as the June 207 meadowlark on Cape Sable Island needs another look and I’ll tell you why in a day or two now, if that isn’t exciting then I don’t know what is!

I’ll start with a humble Black-capped Chickadee, both because I like the shot and because we ignore them unless using their talent for attracting autumn warblers to their little flocks. This was brought home to me on October 20th when I went birding around the manor with Jim Scarff who lives in California. We saw 62 species on what was a quiet day in general terms but he enjoyed what he saw including the chickadee, because you don’t get them in California. It is easy to forget that some birds you take for granted, Blue Jays for example, are not found in everyone’s back yard. It was good to see Jim after ten years, we were on a tour of Ecuador together, and he was much more fun than I remembered although, to be fair, he did have bronchitis in Ecuador which can make you feel a bit shitty.


I know I harp on about our Clam Point yard a bit, but it really is a good place to start the day with breakfast and coffee (I’m not offering, well to a select few I am) and just taking the temperature of migration. Sometimes this can deceive as the yard may be hopping but the rest of CSI might not be. I think the avian treasures of Clam Point are just being discovered. A recent addition to our growing list (now 164) was this Western Kingbird (told you some of the shots were crap!). It was there for a few minutes and I just happened to look up from the PC in time to yell to Sandra and then grab the camera and hobble to the door for shots (of sorts).


Above, sparrow time – one of a Couple of Chipping Sparrows that are around at the moment. Below a Northern Flicker warming up.

Turkey Vulture, been lots around recently. Below, one of several Common Loons that have flown over the house.

Speaking of Western Kingbirds. The one around The Hawk is still there, favouring the wires along Smith Lane.


Mike and I took a turn on The Cape on Oct-22nd. While not being spectacular it was very enjoyable. We got year tick Lapland Longspurs plus nice views of several things and a call neither of us could pin to a shorebird (flying directly into the sun, so hard to see detail when that happens). Here are a selection of shots from the day.


Nice to find a Purple Sandpiper.

We had three Pectoral Sandpipers – there are quite a few around.

Above an Ipswich Sparrow, a form of Savannah in the same way that a truck is a form of bicycle.

Above, American Golden Plover, below Black-bellied Plover – easy.

Lots of sea duck past, they know Sunday is gunning free so they get a move on. These are Surf Scoters.

After leaving The Cape I lingered around The Guzzle, the stretch between Lower Clark’s Harbour and The Hawk. Shorebirds were on the rocks at high tide while an immature Northern Goshawk made a few Starling hearts flutter (tabloid hack mode, sorry).


Moving on to Daniel’s Head, where we are getting a big hole dug ready for the silt that is going to be sucked out of the wharf, this male Black Scoter, or ‘Butterbill’ as it is known locally, was just inside the wharf.


Above, one of 16 Brown-headed Cowbirds currently disappointed by the lack of cows at Daniel’s Head. Below, Red-winged Blackbird.

On October 16th we had a bit of weather and so I went to Baccaro for a sea watch. It was pretty good with plenty of Cory’s Shearwaters – these were photographed (if you can call it that) from the parking lot. Had the first Snow Bunting of the autumn there too.

Here are a few miscellaneous shots.


Above a dozing Long-billed Dowitcher. Below two different Broad-winged Hawks from mid-October on CSI.

The Peregrine above whacked a Greater Yellowlegs on The Guzzle but my car disturbed it. The bird was actually in the water with the yellowlegs which went off shaken. Below, a Pectoral Sandpiper splodging about in the West Head mud.

And finally, I re-did some of my site guide to CSI and have re-published it. I reckoned that, after 1.5 years of it being free I should put a charge on, after all it has been downloaded nearly 400 times and so I see that as having done my bit. The revamped edition, mostly corrections for stuff that has changed, sports Sandra’s nifty painting of one of the Mountain Bluebirds we had in 2015/16 – see the sidebar too. The cost is $1.99US from Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes and Noble and maybe even Amazon, but don’t hold your breath on that one. If you’ve never visited CSI and want to come, it will tell you just about all you need to know about birding the area so put your hand in your pocket (but not very far).

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.