Well That was Fun

You don’t normally associate chilly north-westerlies with avian fun but when you get them in mid-May, think again. This morning May-16th, I had a look along Kenney Road, CSI, the highlight being a single Chestnut-sided Warbler; a year bird but not really unexpected. Then I went to Daniel’s Head and had a look at the sea. A few Gannets went past and a lingering Long-tailed Duck seemed to be it, then I noticed a couple of dots on the horizon going hell-for-leather towards the shore, incoming migrants.

I moved my location so that I could look at the slowly greening vegetation next to a bunch of stacked Lobster Traps on the small spit inside the head. Two seconds later a male Blackpoll Warbler popped up, another year bird, then a female Black-throated Blue, then a Nashville, what was going on? Johnny showed up and I imparted the info and he went off and found Magnolia and Black-and-White by the fish plant fence. I went to look and found a Chimney Swift, things were really happening.

Johnny, drawing on his years of CSI experience, then went to check the alders off the corner parking lot. He called to say he had birds, quite a few, so I shot over there catching some of the goodies but still missing the prize, a Hooded Warbler. The alders had birds alright; a bunch of Northern Parula and Black-and-White Warblers were the most obvious. Lurking were two Northern Waterthrush and TWO Ovenbirds. Nearby a Veery skulked, there may have been two! A couple of Black-throated Green Warblers soon moved off but a Common Yellowthroat lingered. Two more Black-throated Blues turned up, males this time, the Magnolia and another Blackpoll. You can see how busy it was. I took a couple of photos, here are the best.

Returning later in the day, after 4:30pm is often best on days like this, we saw Bobolink, two more Northern Waterthrush further along, another seven Blackpolls and some other bits and pieces. What else lurked around the south end of CSI is unknown, I didn’t even get near The Hawk and it was certainly a day when we needed more bodies in the field. The weather is looking most promising for the next few days especially Thursday, here’s hoping for a few more migrants.

On May-15th Sandra and I went to Yarmouth, it was grey and raining and a good breeze blew, not really great birding weather and therefore no great loss to use the day for shopping. Of course we took in the Cattle Egrets of Chebogue on the way, temporarily more accessible after Ronnie found them away from the farm in a yard, literally. Then a call from Ervin had us scuttling over to Chegoggin for a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a fitting species #200 for the year in NS. I know that, post the May rush, it will quieten down again and high summer will see me chasing dragonflies more. For now though I think I’ll enjoy the ease of birding and just have fun.

May Rush

Some birders look down their noses at feeders and feeder birds, citing the changes in bird habits and range as reasons not to feed. My personal view is that these people are missing the point and missing out, bird feeding is part of birding is part of the human impact on the landscape. While our cats and cars and windows and everything else that swats away the lives of birds every day takes its toll, yard feeding puts a little bit back. What if some species become overly dependent on feeding?, quite a few are now dependent on the provision of nesting sites, think Purple Martin, it happens. So I make no apology for feeding or enjoying the birds that take our feed, nourishment so willingly provided.

The first couple of days in May have seen the weather wet and windy, almost a spring default here, but you make the best of it and see what you can and feeder watching  certainly cheers up the day, especially if you have a run of luck. So far May has been pretty good to our feeders; a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak arrived today, joining a female Blue Grosbeak and female Evening Grosbeak, all vying with the regulars for the available seed. The Blue Grosbeak was a new yard bird, one of six new species added so far this year so we are now pushing 150, of course it helps to have a (limited) view of the sea as well as feeders.

With the light being so shoddy, getting good photos was always going to be a challenge, these are my best efforts. No doubt May has much more in store for us; if it keeps this pace up I’ll need a lie down before long!

Blue Grosbeaks usually look unfinished and photograph terribly.

Always nice to get a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak in the yard.

I thought I missed the Evening Grosbeak window this year, well at least until next winter so this female was welcome.

According to eBird American Tree Sparrows have outstayed their winter welcome so this May bird is notable.

Just a Starling above. Below one of the pair of Hairy Woodpecker we have, this one is the male.

For reasons I can’t fathom, now when I paste a Word document into WordPress I have to use ctrl-v, then pick out the bits where an apostrophe was used and correct it. Is it done to keep us on our toes I wonder?

Cape-tastic

A visit to The Cape, the sliver of land off the end of Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia is always worthwhile, even if you only get a pleasant walk out of it. The real hope though is that you will find unusual birds, rarities that get lost in the acres of cover on the main island but have nowhere to hide (much) in the confines of The Cape. It has been a bit neglected of recent, what with lousy gales and the activity associated with the Lighthouse renovations, work that is now coming to an end. Today (4/12/17) the weather was good and there was a ride in the offing, you need a boat to get there. You always set off more in hope than expectation but you also compile a mental ‘could be there’ list, well I do.

With Piping Plovers showing up on Daniel’s Head on 4/10 (one bird, seven on 4/11), then it was time to see whether The Cape pairs were also back – they weren’t. The route around The Cape took us through the marsh and dunes to the light and then along the shingle bank and back to the pick-up point, 5-6 km of walking and bog and sand, stones and kelp but all worth it. We recorded 34 species including some passing Thick-billed Murres and Razorbills, a scope would have got us Common Murre too but it was too far to call 100%. If you want to see the eBird checklist, click on the link, you don’t need an account to view. http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S35899474

It was pretty quiet at first, Savannah Sparrows serenaded us and Brant wandered everywhere. It wasn’t until we hit the light that the sea birds showed best, if distant in some cases. I dare say a full day with a scope would have been well worth recording but time pressed and, while Ervin and I watched the sea, Alix and Mike crunched along the stony bank. 100m later my phone rang, “Yellow-throated Warbler’ said Alix, game on. It was flighty, hiding behind the abandoned Lobster traps and flying along the ridge out of sight. Better views were had further on; this was the best shot I got.

 

Yellow-throated Warbler is rare in spring in NS with, I think, less than a dozen records. Most show up as summer/fall overshoots or reverse migrants. It was Cape Sable Island bird 251 for me, another step toward 300 – you have to have ambition.

We searched the bank for the warbler, finding four Purple Sandpipers and a Fox Sparrow but the warbler had slipped away as they often do. Further on, a tiny brown bullet shot between Lobster traps, a Winter Wren. It proved hard to get a good look at but we ruled out Pacific Wren by using the following criteria, we could see the Atlantic Ocean – good enough for me. The photos were hard to get, flight only.

 

We later enjoyed views of the two American Oystercatchers that are back for the season, plus lots more Brant and bits and pieces, then we were off. I paused on Hawk Point Road on the way home to enjoy a first of the year Tree Swallow before pushing on. Our yard is as good as anywhere to catch passing birds and this Palm Warbler there made it year tick #4 for the day, you have got to love spring. I think we have a few more days more of this productive weather, the early bounce for some species is most welcome and, after a bit of a dismal March, things are looking up, down and deeply into the bushes.

Spring in the Step

There was a definite feeling of spring in the air today. Backing this up was a text from Ronnie about singing Red-winged Blackbirds, always a good sign. He followed that up with a Broad-winged Hawk, a good bird for this time of year and one that has been very scarce in NS this winter. At this point I was thinking about heading that way anyway, if only for a change of scenery. The third text, and I quote “Holy shit, Northern Shrike” swung it and we were soon heading out of the house.

Argyle Head is a really nice river valley that is always birdy. The Red-winged Blackbirds continued to sing from their newly re-inhabited tree tops but the shrike was initially absent. After 15 minutes or so it loped in and the twitchers, all five of us, were rewarded with  back-lit views as it moved from dead tree to dead tree. It did vanish for a while but then came back, bouncing into a tree with much kinder light and we got our photos.

 

Above, a back-lit shot of the shrike. I ramped up the exposure to compensate but failed to drop it when the light was better, hence the hue to the next photo.

Once adjusted, the image improves and, after cropping and pruning, is not too bad.

Emboldened we had a bit of an explore, finding a Snow Goose, clipped and with two similarly attired Canada Geese so don’t go chasing it. We then resolved to visit Meteghan in Digby County. Meteghan has two main attractions; it gets loads of gulls and has a Sip Café. The gulls behaved fairly well but panicked at the wrong moment meaning I only got snatched shots of the Kamchatka Gull that still resides there. Three Glaucous and around 90 Kumlien’s were also enjoyed but small gulls were at a premium. We did eventually find a single Black-headed Gull, almost in full-summer plumage.

 

The superb Kamchatka Gull still hanging out at Meteghan, this shot from the fish plant outfall to the north of the wharf.

That was about it really, we did see four routine Harlequins at Cape Saint Mary’s, never thought I’d call Harlequins routine but they are always there in winter. Yarmouth yielded little but two roadside Wood Ducks at Argyle Head were welcome year-list additions on the way home.

Back to Brown

Yes, the song Amy Winehouse (singer, coke-head) wanted to write but couldn’t, she’d never seen a Gyr, well at least when not stoned. I thought I’d revisit the Joggins Gyr Falcon and put a few more of the 300+ shots I took up here, some are even from very slightly different angles. I thought I’d also tell you what Gyrs mean to me and why.

In the UK Gyr Falcon was mythical and only a very few birders had seen one, they had that prize on their list while we mere mortals coveted it like an attractive Ox. Everything changed with the Berry Head, Devon bird of 1986. That one was a white-phase and had a grand audience for every one of the ten days that it graced the Berry Head, a rocky headland that it obviously found an acceptable substitute for some Icelandic rock face. The genuine rarity of the bird was one of the the defining factors in my really wanting to see one, another factor was a story I’d heard first-hand when staying on Scilly in autumn 1984.

I’d been on Scilly for (a scheduled) three weeks and then had the offer of floor space for a fourth and very much unscheduled week, which I gratefully accepted. A couple of the guys stopping in the same house had been birding on the Western Isles the year before (top left of the UK). They had been camping and emerged from the tent one morning to find a white Gyr sat on a nearby fence post. It was what every birder dreamed, no fantasised might happen, and it was a fantasy that didn’t even involve Kate Bush! This background is by way of making the point that Gyr Falcon, like Thick-billed Murre, has a position in my historical birding psyche that is unlikely to ever shift, no matter how many I see of each, they are special.

That is why we went to Joggins recently to see the Gyr Falcon, that and the obvious opportunity to improve my admittedly shoddy Gyr Falcon photo inventory and to see a real one! Had we not stopped for a curry in Bayer’s Lake (see earlier post)and just carried on home, we might not have turned around and hacked over to the borderlands for the bird. I’d already mentally made my cut-off ‘point-of-no-return’ had positive news of the bird come through, admittedly it was Barrington but all the same, I was ready to abandon the cause.

These last two are for the more interested birders showing the underwing and the talons.

 

I don’t have a deal else to show you, the weather continues in the stroppy vein, horizontal snow as I look out but only the dusty stuff, not buxom flakes. I did have some luck with a local Snowy Owl recently. I don’t see them as frequently as I did in Quebec, just the odd one or two at favoured sites. At Baccaro Point two have been around forever but are usually just faces in the distance unless you go after them, which I don’t. When I arrived there yesterday (3/10), the male was sat on the rocks off the parking lot. He even flew from one perch to another before depositing himself on the shingle beach further along, and even then he was kind to a humble snapper. Not great shots by any means but alright.

 

In the yard the first Common Grackle of the year has just appeared. It is nice when there is one but soon it will be an invasion and the feeders will take a battering. They are a portent of what is to come, hopefully we will have a good spring here and I’ll get to see a few of the not so rare species missing off my CSI and Nova Scotia list. The bad weather does have one positive aspect, I’m Back in the groove for entering my older records from my notebooks into eBird. I’ve done five so far, only about  17 more to do yet, each containing 300+ birding trips. It’s funny, but not having all my old records in eBird irritates and has done for some time, OCD? I might get it done once and for all or, as the birds start to arrive, I’ll get distracted again. If only eBird had been around in 1981, or even computers or even electricity!

You will notice that the blog looks a bit different now, I thought a refresh of the theme was in order. I use the free WordPress themes which means you might see ads, sorry about that. If any ads for Malta, Flamingoes or Lionel Ritchie show up please let me know, there are limits.

No so Close Encounter

Update – eBird don’t like the Gyr so it’s off. I’d like to know why the wings are short, ending half-way up the tail and why the underwing s so Gyr, also why is it so big, oh well, c’est la vie.

Before today this was my best photo of a Gyr Falcon, two words for me or just Gyr will do. After today it is still my best but today’s shots of a bird, 1800m away, come in a close third!

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The fun started when I was birding from Fish Plant Road parking lot, so called because there is a fish plant on the road and it has a parking lot adjacent, but enough scene setting, this isn’t Hollywood! I watched a largr hawk, which I quickly realised was a Falcon, come at a leisurely pace along the shingle ridge between Ratcliffe, to the left and The Cape, to the right. I started to thing Gyr pretty quickly, mostly because it was one but also because I began to rule out Peregrine however, such things cannot be rushed. The falcon then whacked a bird and kept whacking it until it gave up, I couldn’t see what species but as American Robins are everywhere it seems a fair bet.

Ronnie had just been there moments before so I texted him re a large falcon, can’t rule out Gyr. Then I called Mike but his transport was elsewhere. Meanwhile I’d scoped up the falcon as it ate, it was roughly the size of a small sheep. Ronnie got back and we tried to take some sort of doc-shot but we needed it to fly. After 45 minutes it did and the results are below, I’ll be sending the to National Inquirer shortly. It dallied for a minute or so then went off over The Cape, sending everything skywards, a dumb thing for them to do when Gyr is an aerial predator but there you are. It just shows that, when it is quiet, it pays to keep trying. To that point I was happy with the 94 Brant out on the far shore.

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Addendum: We went back the next day, saw the bird again and got more lousy photos.

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The lousy weather, some call it winter, has seen a huge influx of American Robins, in fact such a group is henceforth known as a sadness of Robins. They are picking away at anything and everything fighting to live. The thaw should save most although I expect a few more will end up as finger, or should that be talon buffet for the Gyr.

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On Daniel’s head the storms have messed up the beach gap, not a formal access but we all use it. The road is strewn with rocks and debris and the parking spot is rougher than a Badgers, well let’s just say ‘back-end’. Oddly sparrows seem to like it here. The recent Lincoln’s has not reappeared but I did see this Ipswich Sparrow.

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On the inside at Daniel’s Head the tides have been high and up to six Common Loons come in to feed, usually on Green Crabs I think. Either way, if you sit in your car they come close.

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The colder weather has everything toughing it out, even the local Starlings. I don’t pay them too much attention normally but they are a belting bird when you take the time to look.

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The Gyr was my #250 for Cape Sable Island, 302 for Nova Scotia. Tomorrow we head to The Cape for the first time this year (surprise). It may be that my next blog post will have some better Gyr photos but most likely not. That is the beauty of birding, you just never know.

February Fortitude

Not many birders (in the north) like February. It is a dead month, the depth of winter and a time when nothing much is expected to happen in the bird world. We always have gulls to look at though, omnipresent around the bays and fish plants, loafing, feeding, looking nothing like those illustrations in the field guides in some cases but what’s new there? I’m not complaining though, I could still be in Quebec with snow up to my Ass (never keep a quadruped outside in the winter in QC) and nary a blade of grass to see until April. At least we still have the rare geese in our area to enjoy, when you can find them that is. The Yarmouth duo, the Pink-footed and Greater White-fronted Geese, had gone missing until February 2nd when Ervin found them in nearby Pembroke, hiding in with the Canada Geese. Sandra and I were in Yarmouth to pick up bits and so went along and got distant views. Just the pinkie here.

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While in Yarmouth we wandered along to see the two male Barrow’s Goldeneye that are lingering off Lobster Rock wharf, this Glaucous Gull looked on. It seems to be a good winter for glaucs.

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Nearby, House Sparrows were still present in their favourite tangle. In many parts of the world the House Sparrow population has shrunk, mostly due to the changes in houses, no spacious soffits to breed behind and folk are oh so fussy if a sparrow nests on their property. On Cape Sable Island where we live they are hard to find and that is with plenty of feeders around, still the Yarmouth area seems to be to their liking and long may it continue.

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Just as we arrived in Yarmouth, a text from Alix prompted us to pay our respects to his Red-bellied Woodpecker on the way home, always nice to add it to the year list.

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As a little surprise, nay delight, I took Sandra along to Dennis Point Wharf to look at gulls, she loved it. We didn’t see the hoped for Thayer’s, it had been on CSI earlier in the day but we’d looked and missed it, but we did get this hybrid gull which is a different one from the regular hybrids we’ve been seeing there, I feel a blog post coming on about hybrids.

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On Saturday (2/4) the weather was cold with northerly winds chilling the bladder. West Head, CSI was covered in gulls but, as Obe Wan Kenobi might say, “not the gull you are looking for”. I did see this though, a Herring Gull probably, in an odd plumage possibly or whatever, it really stuck out. A web trawl has not been too useful so far and I suppose I could post to the Facebook gulls page but, to be honest, it gets a bit wearing when some pasty-faced geek, who only sees gulls occasionally, tells me it is good for something common. I really must stop yelling “if it was common I wouldn’t be posting the damn thing now would I?” at the computer, although it does cheer me up when I do!

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Another Alix text later in the afternoon, followed by one from Ronnie, told us that the Thayer’s Gull was back at Dennis Point. Sandra missed it by three minutes on CSI last time so, as a very special treat, I took her along to the point where we had great views. If you look at the last photo you can see a clipped off P5, same as the CSI bird, absolute confirmation.

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And finally, a female Northern Harrier from CSI.

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