Off Sambro

Sunday, Aug-27th Sandra and I went to sea on (yet) another pelagic, this time off Sambro Island near Halifax. We steamed out of Herring Cove around 07:00 intending for a five or so hours jaunt hoping for perhaps skuas and jaegers, maybe even a tropicbird. The sea was benign and the birds only moderately cooperative but that didn’t matter as our happy crew of 12 including the Skipper, Kevin. Once out where birds were appearing, apart from Northern Gannets which were ubiquitous, Sean took on the sole chumming duties, I stuck a fish oil drip off the back and we settled in to see what we attracted.

Kevin told us that the water had cooled somewhat recently, we reckoned that might affect the chances of a warm water rarity, they are not known for the resilience to chilly Nova Scotia waters. It was surprising to see so many Red-necked Phalaropes out there, cork-bobbing everywhere we went. Wilson’s Storm-petrels paid a few visits and we had a go with the fish oil/Rice Crispy mix but there we so few petrels out there that the chances of a swarm were remote. Shearwaters appeared with Greats showing off feet from us while the more wary, or perhaps just aloof, Cory’s gave us some good looks but didn’t join in the chum scrabble.

We got back in around 14:00, no on was sick and the birds we did see we saw pretty well. Thank to Diane and Sean for the organisation and chumming and to Kevin, our cheerful and very accommodating Skipper for the trip. Here are a few shots from the day. Looks like I’ll have to wait to get that elusive Great Skua for my North America list.

Red-necked Phalaropes above including quite a white looking one.

A few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels danced on the chum slick.

Mardy baby Great Shearwaters, you’ll know what I mean if you’ve been up close and heard them squeal over a fish head.


Cory’s Shearwater, an elegant flyer.

The day before the pelagic, we had motored up to the Halifax area and stopped over. While there we twitched a Diane and Sean find, a Baird’s Sandpiper in Sandy Cove. It played very nicely, as you can see. Unfortunately, a Western Kingbird that they found that morning chose to wander


A few shots of the Sandy Cove Baird’s.

Semipalmated Plovers almost walked over my shoes there.













A Solitary Sandpiper, just the one present.

Today, Aug-28th Myself, Ronnie and Mike again availed ourselves of Warren’s Cape service and had a good three hour wander. It was less birdy than the trip of a couple of days ago, due to the north-easterly airflow mainly. We did manage a few nice things, including three Baird’s Sandpipers that settled down nicely once we’d seen off a Merlin. Warblers were sparse with only a brief Cape May in The Forest. We saw three Buff-breasted Sandpipers but there may have been more. Later I checked The Hawk seeing a couple of Hudsonian Godwits, then I went to Daniel’s Head hoping that a Caspian Tern seen the previous day would come back, it didn’t. Once again I am up to date! The year list in NS stands at 264, still some way short of last year’s 281 but getting there. On CSI and the year list I’m definitely not doing, 219 and counting.

Baird’s on The Cape.

Athletic Whimbrel.

If you stand still some Short-billed Dowitchers will come and stand next to you.

The drab end of the Cape May Warbler spectrum.

One of many Savannah Sparrows on The Cape.


A Few to Get Through

We are now officially into hectic time and so this post is rather brief, if laden with eye-candy in places and virtual conjunctivitis in others! Things have been busy in between guests, tis the season though so not entirely unexpected. I’ve been to Brier Island with Ronnie and Mike and we did a whale trip (sans South Polar Skua which is showing on trips now). I’ve also been to The Cape again so I have a fair number of shots to show.

Providing the weather plays ball, a whale trip off Brier is bound to get you both whales and birds. Getting to Brier takes time and timing, we need to leave around 5am to be on the island in time for the 08:30 trip, partly because we have to catch the ferries right. We generally hit the Brier shore at 08:07, pay for the trip then wait to go. This visit we were itching to look for a Say’s Phoebe seen the previous day at the North Light. Time was against us so we waited until we’d been to sea, after which we searched but it had departed, or at least moved elsewhere on the island.

On the whale trip we had four species of shearwater, Great, which were common, Cory’s which are not in Fundy, Sooty which are slipping away south now (but that have not been very common this summer) and Manx, regular but scarce enough species to be mentioned in dispatches. We also saw plenty of Red and Red-necked Phalaropes, never very close though. The whales were limited to a few Humpbacked, often cruising alongside the boat.

Great Shearwater above, regular around the whale watching boat, imm Northern Gannet below.

Manx Shearwater flashing past above, below a couple of Cory’s shots, the lower one showing the typical wing posture.

Well-behaved Humpbacks.


On Aug-24th a routine ‘not expecting much’ look at West Head, CSI came up better than expected with an adult American Golden Plover on one scruffy pool and a Stilt Sandpiper on the other. When I went back with Sandra later there was a Solitary Sandpiper there too. Just shows you that birds are not always where you expect them to be.


Above, an adult American Golden Plover, below Stilt Sandpiper, the latter a long time coming year tick.

On Aug-25th Ronnie and I went to The Cape and were later joined by Liz Voellinger. It was good with lots of activity and we were kept busy all the way around, not something you can always say there, it can be slow at times but at least the location makes up for it.

It started with a Bobolink, the hit Hot Chocolate never thought of writing (I don’t expect many to get that one!).

This poor Philadelphia Vireo was in the marsh grass and had this blog on its bill. It fed while we watched it but was pretty manky.

The obligatory (for this time of year) Buff-breasted Sandpiper shot.

Alder Flycatcher, the one below was pure luck.

Short-billed Dowitcher will a bill full of clag above, Whimbrel below.

Nice Cape May Warbler in The Forest.

Above, a Willow Flycatcher that was calling lots, below a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, immature but you can ID on the bill and the leg length, amongst other things.

This very interesting tern (for Nerds like me) saw with Commons on rocks at high tide. Warren took us over to see the terns close-up, which is how we found it. A Common Tern in non-breeding plumage, essentially winter. They normally remain on their wintering grounds when not coming north to breed so we don’t see this plumage too often. It is the one with the all black bill.

Now we are up to date. Every day from now until late October and even early November might hold surprises plus, we have an abundance of birds to watch and enjoy.

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.

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.

Sand and Surf

I recently sat on Daniel’s Head beach with the surf up and pounding and skittering shorebirds all around me. If you catch it right, it can be a great place to just sit and snap, especially if the other birds in the area choose not to play. Although there was not a great deal of variety; the birds were cooperative and so I thought I’d just post the results here for you to enjoy.


Above and immature and below and adult Semipalmated Plover

A whole bunch of adult and immature Semipalmated Sandpipers. Note the ‘teeth’ on the first bird.

Adult left, immature right.

The legs have a greenish cast but still a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

A Ruddy Turnstone.

Least Sandpiper, not such a beach bird.

Messy looking Sanderlings.

Even though I had said I wasn’t doing any sort of year list this year, one appears to have happened and now I feel obliged to make more of an effort. Despite the recent eBird taxonomic update, which robbed us all of Thayer’s Gull, I still register a healthy 257 so far in Nova Scotia and there is some scope for adding to that total. I may have to travel a bit but would be doing anyway, and there may well be rarities that are not listed below on the still wants list that I’ll go to see. I doubt I’ll get near last years 281 and I have little doubt that those on ‘the islands’ will go galloping past me at some point, not that I care, much. So, my potential additions to the 2017 NS year list are: Cackling Goose; Eurasian Wigeon; Redhead; Ruddy Duck; Spruce Grouse; White-winged Dove; Upland Sandpiper; Marbled Godwit; Stilt Sandpiper; Baird’s Sandpiper; Buff-breasted Sandpiper; Pectoral Sandpiper; Wilson’s Snipe; Glossy Ibis, Western Kingbird; White-eyed Vireo; Philadelphia Vireo; Warbling Vireo; White-winged Crossbill; Common Redpoll; Lapland Longspur; Mourning Warbler; Hooded Warbler; Prairie Warbler; Wilson’s Warbler; Yellow-breasted Chat; Clay-colored Sparrow; Vesper Sparrow; Lark Sparrow; Summer Tanager; Dickcissel; Yellow-headed Blackbird; Rusty Blackbird. Probably only the WW Dove is wildly optimistic.

Incidentally on CSI – where I am also not doing a year list, it stands at 209!

If all goes well on both fronts, then 2017 will go down as another great year in Nova Scotia. If the two fruit-loops in charge of the USA and North Korea do decide to press the dreaded red buttons, and we really need to hope that there are decent people on their staff who will prevent it, then maybe I’ll have to consider abandoning the year list thing and adding a ‘birds seen during a nuclear conflict’ list to my Excel file, it may, however, not be very long!

Not a sandpiper!

Another Pinch of Salt

At sea on a birding pelagic, you expect to take hundreds of photos and you expect to delete the majority. Catching an image on a boat moving up and down, side to side not to mention also going forwards naturally presents a challenge for the photographer. Some master it much better than others; I would place myself as in the middling group enjoying luck sometimes but without ever getting a really five-star capture. Sandra thinks I can be too critical but I think I’m just being honest with myself; I remain a birder with a camera and not a photographer and so I don’t feel too bad when I don’t get ‘the’ shot, nor too smug when I do.

The Pubnico Pelagic research trip*, and I must stress that that was what it was, gave us lots of opportunities to heave the lens, especially at the storm petrels. Factor in the boat motion as mentioned earlier and then add to it an erratic flyer, apt to change direction in a millisecond and you can see why so many pixels fail to make the edit file. Even the larger and more sedate flyers are brisk at sea, what we really needed was an albatross to practice flight shots on but one never materialised. Motivation enough to go to sea repeatedly as one is not going to fly over you armchair!

*Because we were at sea for 36 hours with all the attendant paraphanalia, the space was very limited on this trip, hence the small invite list. There are probably quite a few Nova Scotia birders who would happily brave the depredations of sleeping on deck to get the chance of a crack at some of the rarer pelagic species found offshore, then again, there are probably many more who most certainly would not. Whether there will be similar trips in the future is uncertain and is almost entirely in the hands of amenable Captains (you need two).

Here are a few more shots from the pelagic, followed by a few random shots taken locally, recently. Of interest to some will be the replacement of the old and rather tired fence that surrounds ‘The Forest’ on The Cape.  The work should take a couple of days, and after we will have a sheep exclusion zone which will allow us to plant supplementary to the ragged current stock. We also plan to use the salvageable bits of fence to make a small plantation elsewhere, possibly where the old radio station was. The object is to create an unofficial birding trail, offering shelter for the bird and more points to check as birders visit the island looking for migrants. The new spot, once it is installed, will need a name, suggestions welcome. Big thanks are due to Alix d’Entremont for driving the new fence project and thanks too to all concerned for allowing renewal of the fence and thereby keeping a place (The Forest) in birding folklore (at least in NS) going.  

Close up of a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel.

Wilson’s left, Leach’s right, now I don’t need to caption the rest of the petrel shots, right?

A couple of chum slick shots. The aroma from the fish oil is detected by the petrels from a long way away and draws them in.

Three Cory’s Shearwaters sat on the sea, modified to get them together. Look at the length of the tube on the middle bird, why is it longer?

A nice side-on shot of a Cory’s.

Not a great photo but an odd looking petrel with a white forehead and chin, big white rump and odd tail but short wings.

A composite showing the Brier South Polar Skua of September 2016 (left) and the two individuals seen on the 2017 Pubnico pelagic.

A couple of shots of the second Pubnico pelagic South Polar Skua, it bothers me that it has such a different bill from th first Pubnico bird and the Brier bird. Skuas from the Southern Hemisphere are still something of a mystery.

Red Knots from a recent visit to The Cape.

A lesser Yellowlegs from the same ste.

No need to tell you what these two are.

A Nelson’s Sparrow born this year on The Cape, so colourful.

A patient Merlin from Goose Flats.

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.