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.

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.