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.

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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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A Good Run

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


Review of 2016 – ex CSI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


While on the wharfs Dovekies appeared and were duly enjoyed.


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

And look at what you might have seen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now the stats:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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