Odd Fellow

Not all birds look just like they should do! A few days ago I was out around Cape Sable Island when I found a bunch of swallows feeding in a stiff wind, gathered around an insect accumulating corner of Baker’s Flats. My initial viewpoint had me seeing flashes of birds as they rocketed around the small area, mostly obscured by trees. I think I had a composite view of a brown bird because later, it was clear that there were two brown swallows in the flock, from seeing the one composite view I was edging towards Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

I called Mike first and he came along to look, it would be a good CSI bird. By the time he arrive I had changed position and noted that two birds were indeed involved and that neither were the hoped for rough-wing. One was a brown Tree Swallow, slightly ragged and referred to in the field guide as a drab female. The other was even more curious, it was a brown Barn Swallow. The weather conditions and the speed of the subjects made photography near impossible but I did get one, out of focus image of the Barn Swallow for the record. On the rather grey Saturday May-27th, I came across the Barn Swallow again, this time in slightly better conditions so I took the opportunity to get better doc-shots.

I’ll start with what Barn Swallow is supposed to look like.

Now here is the brown bird. In flight you can see some blue feathering around the inner primaries, at rest it looks quite odd though, a Barn Swallow awaiting the application of blue paint!

Below is one of the Brown Tree Swallows.

In truth, the weather has been a bit spotty. Migration continues, but some species are notably absent, at least from the area I usually bird. Red-eyed Vireo must have just slipped in, I had one around Port Latour, just one, but have yet to add one to my admittedly healthy CSI year list that I’m not doing. Checking with the stats for 2016, when we did a CSI big year, I suspect I’m a good few birds up. By the end of July 2016 I was at 197, the end of May 2017 sees me with 190 and still no Red-eyed Vireo, Semipalmated Plover or even Curlew Sandpiper! I do suspect that CSI year ticks will be hard to come by now but I am willing to be surprised, not that I’m complaining, it has been a good year I feel and it will just keep getting better. We also have a big year for visitors, friends and family and that will add to making 2017 memorable too.

Here are a few photos from around The Hawk (in fog and rain!) on May-27th.

Tomorrow, May-29th, marks the second anniversary of our arrival in Nova Scotia. Two very weary travellers pulled up onto the drive of our house at Clam Point and set about cleaning it, removing four years-worth of muck and bugs, and building an Ikea bed without the instructions. Hauling two traumatised cats out of the van and into their new home was fun and, of course, we started the yard list! We’d been on the road 26 hours, I nearly hit a Deer in Quebec, it was millimeters, and Sandra fell asleep at the wheel near Lunenburg, the rumble strip waking her before her allergy to head-on impact with a semi kicked-in!

Now Nova Scotia is very much home, the cats have settled down and the yard lists blooms. We love it here and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

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.

Ugly Mugs

Even in the depth of winter, Turkey Vultures can be seen over parts of southern Nova Scotia. For some reason the Yarmouth area* has quite a concentration, perhaps there are just lots of old people around there and the vultures are born optimists, whatever the attraction, it is sometimes possible to see 20+ arcing through the skies on their pronounced dihedral wing attitudes.

*Good place to release a recuperated Black Vulture don’t you think?

Sandra and I were out that way recently and this little bunch were being surprisingly calm around the end of Chebogue Point Road. Usually the vultures are a little wary, they don’t get many invites to parties with a face like that, and will scoot off when you get within reasonable lens range. This lot must have had something very attractive nearby and there for a while too as they’d been quite liberal with their guano, selecting a parked truck for special attention.

On the way home these Hooded Mergansers were hang out below a bridge right next to the road. With a change of driver and a little bit of wild braking, I was able to lean out and grab a couple of photos before they truly realised what was happening an paddled off – survival instinct I suppose.

 

The weather has been a bit inclement and perhaps overly-breezy recently, I think we nudged 100mph on the wind gauge on the afternoon of 3/14. All this weather makes photo opportunities around Cape Sable Island few and far between. The light has also been a bit dour, rather like a Scottish Headmaster we had at school but without the cane. One of my regular little pull-ins has been Swimm Point. On 3/14 I had only my second Lesser Black-backed Gull of the year on CSI. It sat tight for a while before getting up and doing a bit of light jostling for the look of the thing. Also paddling about was a male American Wigeon and a pair of Northern Pintails. Unfortunately the male chose to stay scrunched up but the female had a bit of a stretch, showing her subtle plumage.

 

As we shiver ever nearer to spring, the pace of the year generally might be regarded as slow. True there has been the odd good bird, two rare geese throughout and the Thayer’s Gull which will be a year highlight, no matter what else turns up. My CSI year list, not that I’m doing one as a mission this year, is only 103, I think I had about 12 more at this time last year. I expect we’ll emerge gloriously from the pre-spring slump with something good, hopefully something easy to see and long-staying just to warm the cockles. I had thought about making some predictions but I decided against it, so I’ll just do 15 Nova Scotia ticks I’d appreciate, preferably all in Shelburne and, even better, all to be found on CSI.  Any excuse for the airing of a few a few cheery photos, all mine. 

With a Clark’s Grebe in New York State recently, perhaps not such an outside bet?

I’m told they were once common, now few and far between. A recent Eastern Meadowlark at Daniel’s Head just would not play the game.

A good shout, I’m sure we will get a Wilson’s Phalarope this year, well, almost sure.

I really should have seen one of these in NS by now.

This might just qualify as my NS nemesis bird! a Townsend’s Solitaire.

Time for Ervin to find another, American Avocet.

We ought to get Northern Wheatears more often.

A spring Franklin’s would be nice.

There has been a Spotted Towhee in Quebec (again) this winter, our turn?

Needs a bit of a blow at just the right time, fingers crossed.

I was surprising that we didn’t get one in last autumn’s Dartmouth warbler and vireo fest, a Black-throated Grey Warbler.

The New Brunswick bird was so close, if it happens again we stand in NS with a boom-box laying the song good and loud!

I’ve heard the story and had the bit where the Daniel’s Head bird sat showed to me, time for another Loggerhead Shrike.

Lots of new posts in the Guzzle sheep pen ready and waiting, Fork-tailed Flycatcher.

A fine looking species and something to hope for, Eared Grebe.

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.

More Buffys

After the first came some more and the annual cycle of the end of August – beginning of September being the best time for seeing Buff-breasted Sandpipers on The Cape continues. Why The Cape?, because there is less disturbance and the sheep do a decent job of creating a mini-pampas. Why only fall?, because in spring they take a different, more central route north when leaving Argentina and other grassy bits of South America, whereas in fall they have several different routes south. Luckily, we are along one of them and a few grace us, for that is the most apt word to describe them, with their presence. If they were human it is a fair bet that they wouldn’t talk to the likes of me!

The shots below are from The Cape taken on the evening of 8/27/16. The reason for the late afternoon visit was because Alix and Paul had earlier found five Buff-breasted Sandpipers plus two American Golden Plovers there, the latter an expected year birds for the Cape Sable Island big year so I thought, go now as a bird on the list is always better than two on the offshore mud. We didn’t see the American Golden Plovers but did find three of the five buffys, possibly more.

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Winding back to earlier in the day, my morning bird-search, like a word-search but involving synapses, took in a visit to the Deep Pit, a sink-hole at Daniel’s Head that supplies the fish plant with water for fish cleaning. Pity they don’t flush the scraps like at Pubnico, else we’d have some top gull watching there, especially in winter. The pit usually has little on it, save for bathing gulls, but the surrounding scrub and pool are often more productive. I parked the car and found a Bobolink in the tree opposite, time to call Mike, it was a gap on his CSI year list.

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Wandering around, it is a small site and doesn’t take very long, activity around the small and fast evaporating pool (not the deep hole) revealed a few warblers that had missed their alarm call. Most shoot off just after dawn in these fine conditions. Mike arrived just as Blackpoll and Cape May popped up, more MacDonald potential year ticks. Eventually he got all three birds plus Chestnut-sided Warbler, four year-birds in quick succession taking him to 180. I moved on, finding little else anywhere and, as the day warmed up, I had other things to do.

Another visit to big city Yarmouth was required, we were out of beads and mirrors for trading, and on the way we checked out Ronnie’s secret spot in Bear Point. We quickly saw his Tennessee Warbler there but no Nashville. The warbler was another year-tick for me in NS; another step by me towards demoralising the chasing pack on eBird. After the Yarmouth spending, we repaired to William Allen Road in Arcadia. Our luck was in and four of the five Eastern Bluebirds found recently by Alix were doing their wire thing. I need one more species for 250 in NS for the year, 250 has been my default year score for the past few years (mostly spent in Quebec) so I’m happy to get there once again, oh and there appears to be four more months of 2016 to go yet.

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Back to our cape visit and we spent a short while looking into The Forest. A sparrow in there seen only with the unclad eye, but that Mike had a better view of, might have been an immature Lark – we’ll never know it flew off. An empid, which almost always sat facing us flitted nervously about. Normally any empid around CSI will be Alder first, Least second, Yellow-bellied third and then an outside chance of Willow. This is probably an Alder but I’m working on it.

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For the record, the cumulative list for CSI is 219 and we still have a fair proportion of birds to show up that only appear in the fall. It may seem that CSI is well-watched and in a few spots it is, but it is a big place with a ton of habitat that gets bypassed and even if we had a hundred birds covering it stuff would still be missed. We might break 250 cumulatively for the island this year; that would be quite something.

The threat/promise of a tropical storm coming our way seems to have receded again. We badly need rain, the Barrington area is the driest in Nova Scotia, and we are all concerned that our wells will dry out before that rain comes along. We have had 27% of the normal rainfall this summer, not good and virtually all local yard ponds are now baked mud. We will probably pay for the drought, or perhaps it will persist and we’ll have to figure out another way to supply water to our homes, scary thought when water is something we all take for granted.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

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Pectoral Sandpiper from The Cape.

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Short-billed Dowitcher from The Cape, not so many left now and the highest count I made was only around 4,000 at their peak. Bad breeding season?

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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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