Have a Set

Sandra and I were headed for Yarmouth this morning (Sept-14th) when Tony Millard called us to say that he and Angie, along with Clyde, had seen an American Avocet at The Guzzle, The Hawk, Cape Sable Island. Of all the lists I keep the CSI one is second only to my world list, so Yarmouth went in the bin and we hot-rubbered it down to the scene of the crime. Calls and texts were made on the way and it was fingers crossed that the avocet, which had flown off a short way, would be re-found.

The initial scans of the area only served to contribute more blood to the Mosquitoes cause. Fog was loitering offshore and, once the land temperature exceeded the sea temperature, then fog would roll in our direction thick and fast. After searching all the potential spots, it was eventually  found back near to where it had been originally, but further away so making any photos quite awful. The only thing to do was to play the old waiting game, and wait!

The tide rose and the associated Greater Yellowlegs soon realised what was happening and left, but the avocet stood its ground, only flying a short distance when the water that was continuously lapping at its nethers so inspired it. It chose to sit hidden behind the vegetation for a further hour and a half before finally flying close enough to snap, taking a quick sit on the water then pushing off to hidden spots once again. The obvious question to ask is whether it is the bird seen at Pinkney’s Point from August-30th, 2017 (gone a week or more by now) and the answer is ‘probably not’. There is extensive head shading on the CSI bird and the black in the wing differs but, really, who cares, it’s a CSI American Avocet.

 

So with this bird being my CSI tick and the Pinkney’s Point bird being my Nova Scotia and Canada tick, I now have a set (of ticks) see, this blog I not just thrown together you know! For those interested, the avocet was CSI bird #264 for me, a total that does not include the shoddily disregarded (read lumped) Thayer’s Gull, more on that in another post.

In my last post I mentioned Blue-grey Gnatycatchers at The Hawk, well they were never seen again, despite extensive searching. It didn’t help that Sharp-shinned Hawk, Merlins and Ketrels (both plural) were marauding around The Hawk while we were searching. You can’t blame small birds for keeping their heads down in such circumstances so I’ll have to wait for the next one. In the course of the searching, here are a few casually taken snaps of other species.

Male and female Wilson’s Warbler.

Black-bellied Plovers.

A Bay-breasted Warbler from Kenney Rd, CSI.

American Pipits have arrived plus a Sanderling and small flock of the same, Daniel’s Head, CSI.

The sheep fields at The Hawk are worth stopping for at high tide, below a flock of  18+ Pectoral Sandpipers with other shorebirds

I often mention that there is a link on the sidebar of this blog for various things, my books both cheap and free plus Sandra’s wildlife are. It occurs to me that some viewing the blog my not actually see a sidebar, as you would on a PC, so here is a link to Sandra’s wildlife art page for those interested. The rest of the links also have page tabs on the header, above the blog post you are reading.

https://sandradenniswildlifeart.wordpress.com/

 

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Cape Day for Birders

Usually The Cape only gets visited by the odd birder, well three or four odd birders to be accurate, I’m one of them and I’ll not deny that birders are odd. We have a tried and tested system of checking certain areas for migrants before arriving at The Forest, then heading towards the Light and back to pick up at Stephen’s Point. Obviously it can be busier some days, quieter others, either way it is an enjoyable walk with each step filled with anticipation, it is that sort of place.

Today, August 21, the island fair swarmed with birders, Robert and Sandi Keereweer; Andy de Champlain; Joan Comeau, Diane LeBlanc; Sylvia Craig, Mike MacDonald, Ronnie d’Entremont and me. We comprised three search parties, covering different bits and then recovering again. It was quite successful in that Ronnie found the first of the season Buff-breasted Sandpiper and we had a plethora of White-rumped Sandpipers and a single Pectoral. One of the main reasons for going over, well the other main reason besides the birds, was to take a look at the new fence around The Forest, and what a fine fence it is too. Hopefully it will remain for years unmolested and protecting the new planting planned.

As you can see from the checklist link below, we didn’t do too bad, the shorebird numbers are probably an under-estimate except where the figure one is involved, possibly two also.

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S38749206

Here are a few photos from the day, I didn’t take many this time.

The star of the day, the threatened Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Threatened as a status means that there is bugger all we can do about the impending extinction of the species because we are (mostly) such a crappy species at sharing the planet.

White-rumped Sandpiper showing the bits that made it famous.

The new fence. Please don’t go inside as there will be new planting that may be trampled, birds that you will flush and stepping on a land-mine is inclined to bruise!

And in The Forest lurked this Alder Flycatcher. The plan for the old fence is to place it nearby, plant inside and give those birds that do flush from The Forest somewhere else to go rather than just flying away, a cunning plan.

 

My first Pectoral Sandpiper of the year.

Short-billed Dowitcher numbers are low this year. The lower photo shows the tail pattern nicely.

Here is a map of The Cape (below) as drawn by Sandra and in the free Birding Cape Sable Island guide, see the side bar for details. This guide will only be available until I publish my Birds of Cape Sable Island, when it will be incorporated and the word free will no longer apply, so get it while you can.

Just to head back to the Pubnico Pelagic a moment, we saw two skuas on the day, one was a clear pale form South Polar Skua in heavy moult. The second we identified, after good second looks, as another South Polar Skua but, it does not sit right and there is a school of thought that feels that it is a Brown Skua, only the second for Nova Scotia. I intend to post a suite of photos and comments here soon, so do drop back and see what is being said, if you are interested.

Lark Flies at Daniel’s Head

With due acknowledgement to Flora Thompson, whose book ‘Lark rise to Candleford’, was not species specific, so I sort of mucked about with the title for this blog post.

Some species are surprisingly absent from Nova Scotia and the strong flying Eastern Meadowlark is one of them. In days of yore they were commoner, mostly in winter but also as a restricted breeder and occasional transient. Now we update that status to vagrant because their appearance here, no doubt linked to the wholesale destruction of their habitat, has become so erratic that we are more likely to find heaps of steaming Rocking Horse dung on Daniel’s Head than a lark, well at least until today you were.

A call from Clyde (thanks Clyde), had birders scuttling over to look and the lark, mostly, behaved although it was skittish and flew at regular intervals. It may still be there, but an afternoon search of its favourite haunts failed to find it. There are two species of Meadowlark in North America with a third, Lillian’s, showing promise as warranting its own page in the field guide. We would expect Eastern in NS but Western does also occur in the east and so it is important, when faced with a vagrant meadowlark, to see the bits that matter. As reliable as anything is the white in a tail, a whole tail though and not one that has been chewed by a hawk or partially moulted. Eastern has three and a little bit white outer tail feathers, Western two and a bit, and these are obvious when the bird flies but more especially when it lands. Our bird had 3.5 on the outer retrace scale and so was comfortably Eastern, the malar lacks a bit of ambition on the being white front though.

Meadowlarks are odd looking things, ungainly might just cover it, and they are hard to place taxonomically based on their appearance. There is an air of grackle about them but also some pipit. The only lark bit comes to the fore when they open their beaks and warble and even then it’s not a lark song as in the Old World. In Africa there is a bird, Yellow-throated Longclaw (something we spent hours looking for in Gambia), that is physically pipit but dressed as a meadowlark (Google it).

Anyway, enough waffle, the meadowlark was good and also has the distinction of being Mike’s 300th NS bird, well at least until Thayer’s Gull gets lumped with Rock Pigeon or whatever, and so is to be celebrated in pixels.

 

After the sequence from today, and just to make things clear, here are five Meadowlarks from four differing geographical locations, see if you can figure out what they are, answers next post.

Above – Eastern Meadowlark, QC, May 2012. Big pale malar.

Above, Eastern Meadowlark from the Pacific Slope of Costa Rica, June 2005. The Pacific is eastern right!

Above, Western Meadowlark, California March 2013. Below, Western Meadowlark, Nevada, March 2013.

Below, Eastern Meadowlark, Panama – Cocle area, Pacific side June 2013.

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.