This New Year…

Again, not an NS bird, just a header, a Common Potoo on its nest in coastal Brazil.

Every year birders up and down the land make New Year resolutions to see more birds, do a big year, find more, improve, although that last one should be something that happens all of the time, every day in every way you learn a little bit more – then you die. I have a number of suggestions.

If you are an active birder, that is you pick up your bins and go looking for/at birds but are not contributing your records anywhere, sign up with eBird and make a start. Unless you are already involved in long-term programmes beneficial to birds your best opportunity for contributing is to put your records where they can be used. All records are important, yes the cardinals that suddenly appeared in your yard, yes those Turkey Vultures that you now see regularly. Don’t assume that someone else is reporting them. The more we know about our bird populations, the more effective we can be in protecting them – electing political leaders who also feel it is important to protect over profit also helps.

Buy a field guide, a paper one and a good one. Sibley or National Geographic, the rest are makeweights, sorry but they are. Yes you can find information on-line but a field guide will serve you better and, by supporting the writing and production of field guides, you are guaranteeing the future production of better and more succinct versions. Once you have your guide read it, write in it, use coloured markers to flag local or provincial species, make it yours.

Join your local bird group. It never costs much and is run entirely on the goodwill of volunteers and you will benefit by receiving newsletters, having field trip options and being part of a group with a shared passion.

Travel and take your bins with you. Travel broadens the mind and stimulates the senses. If you can go exotic, do it, and if you can, hire local guides, spread the cash, support birding elsewhere is good for conservation and you see some great birds.

Be a mentor if you can. Lots of people have an interest in birds that goes no further than lurking on Facebook groups. Some will turn out to be good birders with encouragement and guidance. If you are one of these people who would like guidance then ask other birders if you can join them in the field. The best way to get a grounding in birds is to be with someone who knows what they are doing. There is no need to feel intimidated, just aspire. If anyone wants to bird CSI with me and I’m available, just let me know and we can fix something up.

Get out, don’t make excuses, just go birding. Be seen by non-birders in the field and, when their curiosity gets the better of them, talk birds to them, you’ll be surprised how interested people can be, and what they know.

I could go on but I’m probably preaching to the choir. So what are my New Year resolutions apart from be sure to wake up every day!

I want to add to my Yarmouth and Shelburne lists. That will me getting to places I don’t visit too often, looking harder for present but elusive species and just generally making more effort and this after doing a 365 year where I went birding every day in 2017, it just keeps getting better.

I want to do more odes and leps in 2018. I made mental notes of sites to look at throughout the year and intend to spend time in them in season. The Blackfly forecast is for a horrendous year so I’d better dig my face net out!

I need to focus more on my writing, my “birds of Cape Sable Island’ is not moving as fast as I’d like and I want to finish my novel. I have other bird related writing projects in mind and, so long as I can control the urge to be out there all of the time, I might get started with them too.

I need to travel. I hate flying and hate the hours spent waiting to be called for a flight but it is the price you pay and, hopefully, we’ll be able to do a bit.

I need to see more of Nova Scotia. We will.


I think that will keep me busy enough, obviously the big hope is that me and mine remain healthy, if not wealthy or wise. Have a great New Year everyone, make 2018 the year that works for you.


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.

Just Keeping Up

In anticipation of a busy time, photographically speaking, I’m trying to keep up with posting recent images while offering only reduced witty repartee.

Unfortunately I have no images of the following event: We were in Halifax, as we often are these days, well Mondays and Fridays anyway, and Jim Edsall found a Prothonotary Warbler at Hartlen Point, the famous Hartlen Point that is. Sandra normally shows good judgement, I may be the only lapse she will admit to, but this time caution went out of the window and we went for it. We read up on the site and hoped that we had hit the right buttons on the iPod to keep the relevant web page offline, we hadn’t.

Arriving at the golf course that is part of the Hartlen whole, I called Ronnie and asked how to find Jimmy’s Lane, the locale for our grail. The reply was to go to the sixth tee, but where exactly was that? I broached the subject with a probably octogenerian chap who, it transpired, hailed from Boston, the real one in Lincolnshire, England, and not the one that thinks it is Irish because ten generations ago someone had a wild night drinking Guinness. He was a golfer, no not a rodent that lives in burrows, that would be a Gopher. He knew the tee well and would convey us as fast as his golf cart could carry us. Sandra had a seat, I had to be a pseudo golf bag and cling to the rear, I cling well.

We charged headlong across fairways that other golfers were currently using, while all the time sharing a conversation re our common ancestry. My family on my mothers’ side are from Lincolnshire too. My life flashed past at roughly 11kmph, it was interesting but with hindsight I may have been a tad reckless drinking such large amounts of Watneys Red Barrel one eventful evening in 1977. We arrived at the tee and our driver did a sharp u-turn and headed back to his slightly bemused playing partners.

When you are lost, it does not matter if you know where you are if you don’t know where that is. I had already texted Liz and Angela to ask where to go. Liz responded first as Angela was swimming, she had an idea of where we needed to be but Bell™ in their wisdom, could not provide cell service to that particular tee so the phone rang, (Eastern Whip-poor-will for a tone, really makes people sit up), or it bingly-bingly-beep-beeped with a text but then the signal packed up. Liz did send a map which got through and got us off the course, well we joined a four and played our way back to the Clubhouse after a fashion. Once back in the car, Sandra’s sanity returned and a Mango smoothie was called for.

It turned out that we had walked the fabled lane but the warbler had skipped anyway. It didn’t help that it was around 30°C and early afternoon either. By the time we made the parking lot Angela had dried off and showed up while Liz was already crossing the course to go look for the bird. Next time I go to Hartlen Point, and there will be another visit because it looks like a great place to bird and ode, I will be better prepared. Map, compass, water, snacks, GPS, flare-gun and a crash helmet in case I get another lift!

In the evening Sandra and I did a little ride around CSI. It was a lovely tropical evening with swaying trees and dusky maidens emerging from the water, turns out they were demonstrating oil spill control (in an Impotent (sic) Bird Area – are these people truly stupid?) and missed a bit. As we left Daniel’s Head dusk was falling and, by the roadside fish plant we espied an immature Yellow-crowned Night-heron out in the open.

IMG_7483_edited-1 IMG_7462_edited-1 

Earlier in the ride this Merlin proved how confiding they are, unlike those wimpy American Kestrels that spook every time.

 IMG_7379_edited-1 IMG_7371

After touring The Hawk, a treat that allowed Sandra to enjoy the spectacle of the red chair before it mysteriously disappears – small treats go a long way – we checked out Stumpy Cove where another Yellow-crowned Night-heron danced the seaweed fandango. Sadly it was just out of range for the camera and the light was iffy anyway.

And now to today 8/20/16 and Sandra and I had to go to the big city, for us that is Yarmouth. Now, if the Big Easy is New Orleans then Yarmouth might be the called Bog Coma. Actually I rather like Yarmouth, it might not fizzle but it is cosy and comfortable. After visiting Canadian Tire and noting that the Snowy Owl was back on display in the hunting section again and thereby suggesting that any dumb f&%$ with a gun can shoot one, we visited Cape Forchu where a Northern Waterthrush did what they do best, skulked.

IMG_7516 IMG_7534

Around J30 of highway 103 lots of Common Nighthawks were busy stocking up for the move south.


Back to the owl business and I reported it to the DNR again and asked that they note that it is not a quarry species, at least then the message might be clearer. Thankfully, most hunters will know that owls are amongst the many species types off limits, so perhaps they too could spread the message to the conscience-lite amongst their number.

Finally – we have had a few complaints from the residents at the corner of New Road and Atwood on The Hawk regarding the use of ‘the call’. If visiting, please give this corner a wide-berth, playback wise – we don’t want to antagonise locals and make birding the area uncomfortable, thanks.

IMG_7415 IMG_7413

Juv Bonaparte’s Gull that has been around the deep pond at Daniel’s Head recently.


Working at it

Recent research leads me to believe that the end of April, through to the third week of May, is going to be quite an important period, pivotal even in the CSI big year. Running up the score to 100 was easy, since then, and bear in mind I hit that total on January 26th with a Gadwall. In many trips out looking after that landmark, just 19 further species have made the list. Now all this talk of listing might sound fatuous, but, the underlying fact it shows is that diversity on CSI (in 2016 at least) is not that great during the February-March period after you’ve gone tick-mad in January. Further evidence of this is that April has since added eight of the 19 post-ton ticks.

Now we are at the period in the marathon where we kick-on a bit and ‘make hay while light drizzle off a deep south-westerly stalled on north-east winds’ grounding migrants. OK, not the exact way that John Heywood reproduced it in his book of 1546 (now likely out of print!) when dealing with such sayings, but you get my drift. Once the migration push is done it is doldrums time again with just the odd mega to relieve the wait until autumn migration sweeps in, and with it all the list fillers we either missed in spring or only get in autumn.

According to what I’ve read so far, we are missing a few species that might have been expected, also we are five days or so from when it really livens up, weather permitting. This El Nino thing still sits girdling our part of the Northern Hemisphere, and with it come meteorological tantrums making the ‘normal’ pattern of bird arrival far less predictable. We can at least count on our summer birds and I find that it is a year to the day (April 20th) that we both bought our house on CSI and secured our move to Nova Scotia and found the FOS Willet just up the road in Drinking Brook Park (well offshore on a muddy bit).

Watching our first spring here has been educational so far. The arrival of Cedar Waxwings a few days ago gave hope of at least one Bohemian friend but it hasn’t happened yet, still the cedars are welcome and will possibly feature in most day lists now, right up until they push off again for another winter. In several places little parties can be found sallying over the trees and subsisting on insects in the absence of the Starling-scoffed berries.. This one sat still long enough to get a photo.


It doesn’t take much to persuade a Palm Warbler to get on with it in spring and an oh so short spell of balm enticed a goodly number to bounce in, tails pumping like mad. At Baccaro they were feeding pipit-like in the short grass and hopping around the rocks, snaffling the kelp flies from the pebble strewn banks for sustenance, quite successfully too. This one is one of those birds.

IMG_4578 IMG_4562

At the same time an Ipswich Sparrow (Savannah as you know) grubbed around fuelling up before crossing the Atlantic expanse to Sable Island. Little wonder that this is the (sub) species that showed up in the UK once.


And now to today (April 20th) when Mike, Ervin and myself went out to The Cape (if you don’t know where I mean why not click on the Cape Sable Island site guide on the right there and get your free copy?) unrealistically optimistic that we would find some good rarities. It was colder than advertised – did you know that they actually pay weather forecasters, amazing – with a stiff wind delivering elements of the north to us with relish. After we’d landed it calmed a bit and adopted something more temperate making it quite acceptable.

The first part of the tour was quiet, just lots of regular Savannah Sparrows and a couple of Ipswich to show for our collective efforts. On the way back though things improved considerably when we found shorebirds, in April! A flock of Black-bellied Plover in plumage stages ranging from winter to summer and all stops in between harboured a Short-billed Dowitcher in their midst. This species is very much a given on CSI in autumn, unless we get hit by an asteroid, then all bets are off. But it was good to see and even better to stalk in open, tundra-like habitat. Somewhere in their genetic history Black-bellied Plovers were scared by a birder, they fly at the first sign of a pair of bins, never mind a camera lens. This is why the shots are not great but not awful either.

IMG_4742 IMG_4745_edited-1 IMG_4750_edited-2

After finally getting the plovers to act normally and fly away from us, we came across a pair of American Oystercatchers, which did the same. CSI is the only reliable place to see this bird, which is why Angela, Diane, Keith and I birded CSI this Sunday past. We found them then (and Brant) so ticks were enjoyed by some and I don’t mean those unwelcome little shits that crawl up your legs and bite your soft bits (but not on CSI) but I digress. Ervin, who’d already found the biggest lump of coal he’d seen (small pleasures I guess, I don’t quite get it), chased the oiks and managed a few documentary photos. I sensibly sat on a bench with Mike while he did it. On the way back we passed this one posing on a rock, meaning that we have three so far, comprising of what appears to be a pair and an optimist.


Oh and Brant.


Since publishing the oft-mentioned CSI site guide, there have been changes. In the accommodation section the Penney Lane thing is defunct, I thought it might be. Under the eating section, The Lobster Shack is sadly closed due to a bereavement and seemingly unlikely to reopen. Pity because we rather like it there. I’ll do the updates in a few months and re-publish if there is enough content change to do so. I’m had over 120 downloaded so far and, a reminder, it is on iTunes, Kobo and Barnes and Noble now too (search for Mark Dennis, that would be me!). Comments welcome, positive or negative.