dialing it back : in pursuit of simpler birding goals and serendipity

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Macy saying “what do you mean there is not one Green-winged Teal in Miner’s Marsh today ma?”

There is an elephant in the room.  Admittedly lots of birders talk about it but in secret, but it’s a shame that nobody ever tackles it collectively or takes a strong position stance as it presents a very worthy topic for discussion and learning opportunities.

Increasingly modern birders are including playback and mob calls in their digital toolkits.  “Fundamentally, birding disturbs birds.” – David Sibley has addressed the issue of playback very well here.  The mob call is not mentioned in this article, which is very different and being used more widely locally.

After birding for the better part of two years now and being privileged enough to bird with most of the top birders in the province, I’ve been exposed to all kinds of birding philosophies and techniques.  I will say I trust the judgement and personal choices of experience birders so I’m not taking a poke at any of you, I’d tell you if I were  🙂

From day one I’ve had my own ideas about it though.  At an early age, I learned that picking up the frogs and salamanders and taking them home for pets led to disaster not only from an angry mother, but the animals often died.  As adults, we should know that our strong desire to connect with nature needs to be tempered with respect for the wild kingdom.

Most of us birders are guilty of “disturbing birds”.  We can’t seem to help ourselves trying to get closer for the great shot and justifying seemingly harmless methods to get the edge.  The lines between birder, bird photographer, and naturalist blur repeatedly in the field and among friends.  We push the envelope largely to get that National Geographic worthy shot.

I’ve retreated a bit from birding recently as I fell into the twitching trap and chased some Western vagrant birds around.  I always feel sorry for the birds (yes I heard the Yellow-billed Cuckoo was simply drunk on berries…LOL) when we do this but the temptation is so great to check lifers off the list.

Don’t get me wrong, the good majority of local birders are very concerned about the future of birds and wish to do no harm.  But there is a contingent of newbies who have no idea of the consequence of their actions who could benefit from guidance in field practices.  Where does the line get crossed?  I believe if the bird is stressed or frightened or disrupted from it’s usual behavior then we have gone too far, and we know it and it sucks.  Truly I think this is a discussion worthy topic.

Based on what I have learned and my early life experiences, I personally believe there is a case for limited use of mob calls or playback in the field for documenting species and locations depending on the circumstances and time of year.  But surely having a lot of people blasting sounds indiscriminately at the birds (who already have enough problems from development, window strikes, climate change, cat predation, etc.) is not the best judgement.

It was an extremely exciting migration season here in Nova Scotia and it’s difficult to get any looks at the rarities without chasing them.  I get it.  I do it.  I am just asking that we all (myself included) continue to check our conscience and if you don’t know what I am talking about at all make it a point to speak with a birder who has been observing birds in the field for many years for a balanced point of view.  The less invasive we can be the better it will be for our fine feathered friends that we love so dearly.

Walking quietly has always netted the best birding results for me.  My new canine pal Macy is a fine companion in the field when she’s on leash.  We have sat quietly together and waited for the birds to come to us and I’ve gotten some great photos.  Admittedly sometimes she ruins the photos but she is “in training” and we have many years ahead to improve.

Most of the best wildlife and birding photographers stress that you will get better looks at the critters if you wait until they come to you instead of chasing them.  Interesting as well that some of the best birders only carry binoculars and a notepad.  The world before digital was not that long ago and we should not lose our core birding skills in the frenzy of nabbing the best photos.

As for twitching, I’ve heard a few people say “imagine what we are missing?”.  If you are out chasing other people’s birds, you will miss the opportunity to find your own.  And that first sighting the initial observer had, well it only comes once and they got it.

Everyone will do their own thing and I respect that and enjoy the company of all my friends here in our wonderful birding community.  For me, I will continue to focus on learning about habitat and microhabitat (which is key for finding vagrants).  Next Spring and Fall I’m going to try to cover more territory to find my own birds, probably with my good friend Macy in tow although there are times she needs to sit it out for sure.

There are many native birds I’ve yet to check off my list.  So, that should keep me busy this winter.  Black-backed Woodpecker and Northern Goshawk are just two that have eluded me so far that I’d like to get good looks at, and perhaps a nice photo of course.

So, dialing it back.  I’m also resetting my immediate goals to try to get better photos of repeat species.  I have no decent photos of a Horned Grebe or Green-winged Teal for example.  Both relatively common but beautiful subjects worthy of more attention.

Anyway, this has been on my mind to bring up for a long time but it’s an extremely controversial topic which can heat up conversations quickly.  Perhaps better for pondering.  And if you decided to speak to me about it at the AGM, perhaps see how many glasses of wine I’ve had first?

Seriously, we have an amazing birding community I will step off the soapbox now and look forward to continuing to spend time with all our good folk.

What are your winter birding goals btw?

Happy Birding,

Angela & Macy (bird dog in training)

Birding on the Salt Marsh Trail

Salt Marsh Trail from Bissett Road towards Lawrencetown

The part of the Salt Marsh Trail that borders the Rainbow Haven beach area is well travelled by cyclists, dog walkers, nature lovers, and a good variety of city folk trying to connect to nature in their downtime.  It is a beautiful place to visit in all kinds of weather and throughout the seasons, and also a protected coastal system which is home to a variety of waterfowl.

Me and my dog Macy doing a little walking/birding on the beautiful Salt Marsh Trail.

Me and my dog Macy doing a little walking/birding on the beautiful Salt Marsh Trail.

All year round you will find American Black Duck, Common Eiders, Mallards, and Canada Geese in the waters.  And in winter the Bufflehead Ducks arrive to mix things up, and often American Wigeons or even Northern Shovelers in good numbers.

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The habitat is a mix of coastal and woodland and you will also find Song Sparrows, American Goldfinch, Black-capped Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, Bluejays, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, and Bald Eagles throughout the seasons.

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With the arrival of spring, start looking for out for Belted Kingfishers, Double-crested Cormorants, Osprey, and Great Blue Heron to return.

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In summer this trail is full of shorebirds and the trail is an easy walk with a great view of them for close sightings.   Some of the more commonly seen are Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Willets, Short-billed Dowitchers, Black-bellied Plovers, and Semipalmated Plovers, but others do turn up.

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Many diving birds enjoy the current under the first bridge and you can watch the Cormorants fish for hours in the summer, and the Red-breasted Mergansers doing the same in the winter.  If the winter is a cold one and there is not much open water other divers such as Surf Scoters and Common Goldeneyes will also dive for food under the bridge.

Winter also sees the arrival of Black-headed Gulls in good numbers on the trail for good sightings in February and March.  As a primarily Eurasian species they are a welcome sight during the months that are sometimes considered to be less exciting in birding.

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the last dog day of summer – my nemesis Godwit conquered

It was a day of dogs, sunshine, and changed plans.  And it sure did feel like summer.

The goal was to have the morning to run the dogs at the beach, and the afternoon to go goose hunting (with a camera of course) in Shubenacadie.

But before I went to bed I saw a note about some Hudsonian Godwits being spotted in Wolfville.  As I missed them last year, they were a target bird for me this summer but they eluded me both in CSI and Cape Breton so had become a nemesis bird which can be pretty frustrating according to the “birdist” and I must concur.

My alarm was set for plenty of time to be at Rainbow Haven for 10am, with a planned stop at Bissett Lake to make a quick check for rare ducks.  Nothing really different stood out but it was nice to see the Buffleheads are back diving and splashing and being generally adorable.

As I was getting ready to leave a fellow with a young English Mastiff wanted the dogs to play for a bit and I could not resist letting Macy have a socialization opportunity with a large dog so of course we were late to meet our friends at Rainbow Haven.

At any rate when I joined Sylvia and her Border Collie, Tack, at Rainbow Haven she hardly noticed I was running late as she had her binoculars and camera so was birding while she waited.  We ran the pants off the dogs and discussed afternoon birding plans and decided since neither of us had seen a Hudsonian Godwit before we had to try.

Macy and Tack

Macy and Tack

We still thought we might try to fit the geese in, but when we found out our other member of the goose hunting party had also made other plans, we ditched the geese altogether and went straight to the valley.

Since I’m a person who prides myself on organization and plans it’s tough for me to throw caution to the wind and run off in another direction but this worked out wonderfully and I finally got to watch the beautiful Hudsonian Godwits.

My photos are not very clear as the birds were not very close, but I’m still very happy to have had the experience and to have any photos at all.  In retrospect, I should not have used my sports setting as the birds were staying still and the auto setting is much better for clear shots on my Canon Powershot SX50 HS.  However, I am grateful for the viewing.

Click on the photo to be taken to my full album of Godwit photos.

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Hudsonian Godwit with 3 Black-bellied Plovers – this shot is cropped which I usually do not do – click on the photo to see all the un-cropped shots

Somehow it ended up being with 2 on leash Border Collies who weren’t even supposed to be with us, but it all worked out great.

We had really great directions from Jake Walker about where to find them and what time.  We also bumped into Rick Whitman and Richard Stern and received some excellent shorebirding tips so we had the best birders in the Valley looking out for us as well as sunshine and beautiful fall foliage.

The grandest day, indeed.

Happy Birding,

Angela & Macy (bird dog in training)

5 weeks of birding highlights (a bittersweet migration season)

I’ve been pretty quiet as far as bird blogs go for the past 5 weeks.  I made the somewhat misguided decision to rejoin Facebook (primarily to find doggy friends for Macy which admittedly has worked out great), which eats up time I could be spending on my own content.  I should know better really and will try to work harder on my own blog.

Also I’ve been a bit bummed out that I couldn’t travel to the hot spots during migration season but I really have no right to whine as I live near a great migratory point and also in shorebird heaven.

And so if for no other reason then to remind myself how great things actually have been, here is a little bird porn for the photo lovers.

The definite highlight for me was the Buff-breasted Sandpiper.  I’m actually really proud of that photo as it has great detail and I had my dog, Macy, on leash with me so that provided an extra challenge as she has a knack for pulling hard just when I’m lined up for the perfect shot.

I missed this bird last year and was quite disappointed about it, and also missed them in some known locations in Cape Breton so was very happy to finally find it.  The report came in that it had been spotted at Taylor Head and I had planned to get there for a walk with the dog before the nice weather disappeared so it seemed as good a reason as any to make the hour plus trek in each direction.  Had I not found the bird, as least I would have my walk.

Anyway, looking back on things, it was actually pretty sweet…and I should stop being bitter  😉

As the rain pounds down today I am wondering why I don’t own a Souwester hat to get out birding in the storm.

Future goals…indeed.  And without further adieu, below is your rainy day birdy porn.

Happy Birding,

Angela

HY Palm Warbler - Framboise, CB - Sept. 3

HY Palm Warbler (1 of 4) – Framboise, CB – Sept. 3 – stopped the car as they were on the pavement so took Macy out of the car and she lay in the road with me while we photographed them in the shrubs – only in Cape Breton!

Snowy Egret Sept 20, 2016 Rainbow Haven

Snowy Egret Sept 20, 2016 Rainbow Haven (first found by B Haley in the Salt Marsh)

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - Sept 7, 2016 - Taylor Head Provincial Park

Buff-breasted Sandpiper – Sept 7, 2016 – Taylor Head Provincial Park – report sent in by Jim Cameron from a birding colleague of his

Dicksissel - old Halifax dump site - Sept. 21, 2016

Dicksissel – old Halifax dump site – Sept. 21, 2016 previously reported by another birder went to look for it with David McCorquodale and good thing he spotted it because it was flying with a group of sparrows and I didn’t even notice it was different!

September 6th Semipalmated Sandpipers at the Guzzle in Grand Pré

September 6th Semipalmated Sandpipers at the Guzzle in Grand Pré – my first time witnessing this miracle of nature in Nova Scotia

Hooded Warbler male Sept 10, 2016 Hartlen Point

Hooded Warbler male Sept 10, 2016 Hartlen Point – found by jim Edsall this is a rare bird to Nova Scotia

Baltimore Oriole Sept. 6, 2016 Hartlen Point (1 of 4 spotted that morning)

Baltimore Oriole Sept. 10, 2016 Hartlen Point (1 of 4 spotted that morning) not a common bird to Nova Scotia but we do get them moving through in the Fall

Great Egret Sept 30, 2016 Rainbow Haven

Great Egret Sept 30, 2016 Rainbow Haven – first spotted by B Haley in the Salt Marsh

Black-bellied Plover winning the battle with a wormy thing...ewwwww....Rainbow Haven Sept 20, 2016

Black-bellied Plover winning the battle with a wormy thing…ewwwww….Rainbow Haven Sept 20, 2016 – many of these birds frequent my shore and this summer I also saw a number of American Golden Plovers which were new to me

Western Willet - Three Fathom Harbour Sept. 4, 2016

Western Willet – Three Fathom Harbour Sept. 4, 2016 (first reported by Chris Pepper and Kate Steele) this bird is an uncommon migrant to Nova Scotia – you might guess…we get Eastern Willets here

So, I will note I am sad to report I did not find my nemesis bird, the Hudsonian Godwit.  If I have to spend the whole month of September in Cape Breton next year to get them I will damn it!  Nothing worth having comes easy?  Tune in next year for the mighty Godwit roundup?

fall migration a time of jealousy, nemesis birds, and natural wonders (aka those elusive Godwits!)

I don’t have as much budget for petrol as many of my birding friends, however I live near a migratory point (Hartlen Point), and so do my parents in Cape Breton (short driving distance to Donkin).  And so although I cannot visit the banana belt (CSI) as often as I would like, I still make out like a bandit and am getting my share of great birds for sure.

It is the time of the year to be jealous of all your bird friends and they of you, and to want to be in several places at one time.  While visiting Cape Breton this week I frequently wished I were back in Eastern Passage, and some of my friends wished they were here.  And so it goes during fall migration!

Alas, my two present targets have eluded me and one my current nemesis at that.  The Hudsonian Godwits escaped me in Cape Sable Island a few weeks ago, and now I’ve missed them on 3 separate attempts this week in the Morien to Glace Bay region.  Last year I didn’t get my Buff-breasted Sandpipers either and it looks like I will miss them at Donkin as I only have one tropically windy day left on the island.

Although Saturday I intend to bird through the Framboise/Forchu area (thank you for this tip and ongoing Cape Breton inspiration David McCorquodale) and up to Point Michaud before returning to the Halifax area.  Shorebird season is short and exciting so even if I miss my targets it is all to be enjoyed to the fullest.

Cape Breton birds are ridiculously under-documented.  And there are tons of great birding experiences to be had on this island.  Many very knowledgeable birders have lots of local knowledge to share should anyone want to sit them down and record it before it is lost.  Like most things the world seems to stop at the causeway.  I hope more inroads will be built to connect the birders and in particular I would like to see representation on the board again from Cape Breton to the NSBS.  Skype and Facechat are wonderful technologies that are one way to bridge the gap of distance.  As a Cape Bretoner who is now a mainlander this has always been something I’ve tried to tackle in various organizations.  It would be really cool too if someone could get a student to put some historical records from some of these fantastic birders handwritten records and heavily notated field guides into the eBird database even.  Okay stepping off my soapbox now and on to the wonderful birds here on the island and a thank you to the good folk who have made, are are still making such efforts past and present.  Ian McLaren for certain!

Shorebirding in the Cape Breton and Richmond counties is pretty amazing and for me it’s nice to see birds in good numbers that I don’t see more than a few of at home, such as these Ruddy Turnstones.

There is so much coastline that is easily accessible and where there are people they are easy going and friendly and engaged with nature for the most part.  I have had a great time walking with my dog on leash who has met other friendly dogs and met people who have lived here all their life, moved here from away, or are just visiting all with varying knowledge of birds and all interested in learning a little more.

I do hope the island never gets over developed and keeps rich in habitat and attracts visitors who appreciate nature and a slower pace of life.

So all this being said, on my hunt for shorebird rarities (have not even spotted a Bairds yet) I have been striking out for the most part but did find 3 rare non-shorebirds today that were completely unexpected and self found.  And one a lifer to boot!

In Lingan today I found a juvenile Little Blue Heron in a small pond with two Lark Sparrows flitting about in the same spot.

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juvenile Little Blue Heron – Lingan, CB, NS September 1st, 2016

Lark Sparrow - Sept. 1, 2016 Lingan - Cape Breton - NS - proudly photographed with my crazy Border Collie on leash

Lark Sparrow (one of two seen) Lingan, CB, NS September 1st, 2016


And then when I did my last unsuccessful scout at Schooner Pond for Buff-breasteds I happened upon a group of sparrows making a call I did not recognize.  I noticed they were sort of dark capped and had smooth unstreaked breasts.  I tried to snap some evidence as they quickly made their way through the bushes into the marsh not to be seen again mixed in with goldfinch and songs.  And good thing I’m a quick snapper because my little friend with the bright pink beak turns out to be a Clay-coloured Sparrow.  The photo is horrendous but I cropped it out here so you can at least get the ID if you are a birder who is interested in that type of thing.

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Clay-coloured Sparrow – Sept. 1st Schooner Pond, Donkin, CB, NS

Worthy of note is the large number of Great Blue Herons in the area.  Particularly in Port Morien where I counted a minimum of 39 in one view two days ago and certainly there were many more.

Mostly I’ve just enjoyed the birds in some places that are recently discovered for me as birding really encourages you to get to know your own homeland inside and out.  Today was in fact my first visit to Dominion Beach if you can believe it and Macy and I had a lovely walk on the boardwalk checking for shorebirds.

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spacey Macy at Dominion Beach

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Macy my fine birding companion in training at Dominion Beach

Here is a little collection of my favorite sightings from the past few days.  Nothing too spectacular, but I think all of us nature lovers appreciate the fact that the shorebirds don’t visit for long and it is a natural wonder to be savoured.

Happy Fall Migration,

Angela & Macy (bird dog in training)

what it's like to bird with an on leash dog - do you see the Ruddy Turnstones beyond those ears?

what it’s like to bird with an on leash dog – do you see the Ruddy Turnstones beyond those ears?

 

the best of company from land and sea – Pubnico Pelagic on the German Bank August 13th 2016

If you know me you also know that rising early goes against my grain, but when presented with the opportunity to spend time in Mother Nature’s open university for the day I typically rise to the occasion.  In this floating classroom I was surrounded by esteemed colleagues I hold in very high regard, and to steal a term from a birding friend I must say openly that I was extremely chuffed to be included.

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a reason to get up early for sure – sun coming up not far from shore West Pubnico

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thank you Diane for catching me when I was not looking!

Hats off to Ronnie d’Entremont for organizing an amazing adventure for us and being a wonderful host for this West Pubnico Pelagic trip.  Also a warm thank you to our captain for your skill in keeping us safe on the seas.  Your community is filled with beauty and generosity so happy to be a part of this day.

Also thank you to my kind hosts Mark and Sandra Dennis for wonderful hospitality and company on Friday evening, and my excellent traveling companion for the weekend, Diane Leblanc.

When Diane and I showed up at the Dennis residence on Friday, we immediately followed a twitch which didn’t work out but was a grand adventure nonetheless.  We were entertained by some lovely butterflies which is often as worthy a pursuit of winged things, as well as a nice show of shorebirds in living color, so no crying over spilt milk for us.

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Silver-bordered Frittilary butterfly

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Least Sandpiper in yellow algae bloom

Later on my target bird for the land portion of my adventure, the Hudsonian Godwit, eluded me but I did get lesson on another lifer bird, Roseate Tern, by Mark which was illustrated wonderfully by a group of Common and Roseate Terns.

Liz Voellinger & Diane LeBlanc at the Hawk Beach (Mark and I stalking a Northern Harrier in the back)

Liz Voellinger & Diane LeBlanc at the Hawk Beach (Mark and I stalking a Northern Harrier in the back)

Mark making an attempt to summon the Godwits for us - the birds were having none of it as they think we should back in early September to see them and also their little friends, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper - and so it will likely be...

Mark making an attempt to summon the Godwits for us – the birds were having none of it as they think we should come back in early September to see them and also their little friends, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper – and so it will likely be…

Birding for Friday had to wrap up early as we had to rise by 345am to make it in time for the boat on Saturday morn.

Not often am I at a loss for words but I find myself slightly verklempt and at that the remainder of this post will be mostly dedicated to photos.

All the pelagics were new to me save the Northern Gannet and Black-legged Kittiwake and I stacked up 8 lifers on this trip.

My photos are not star quality for sure but I am limited by my bridge camera, but also able to at least get the shot.  Practice makes perfect and I will earn that DSLR I dream of in the not too far off future, I promise.  There will be photos from this trip from other participants that will definitely qualify as star quality.  Thank you to them for continually raising the bar and capturing beautiful things so skillfully.

Our bird of the day was a Manx Shearwater who put on a stellar performance and ended an already great day with perfection.

Definitely one of the best days of my life this far.  And I’m on a mission to top them every day!

Happy birding and serendipity to you,

Angela

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unaltered surprise photo nuttiness 2 Great Shearwaters and a scallop boat

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Great Shearwater

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Great Shearwater

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Wilson’s Storm Petrel

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had really hoped but Leach’s and Wilson’s Storm Petrels were in this shot as we saw both but I’m 99% sure now they are both Wilson’s

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Wilson’s Storm Petrel teeny far away subject

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Great Shearwater

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Great Shearwaters

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Great Shearwater

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Wilson’s Storm Petrel and Great Shearwater

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Wilson’s Storm Petrel

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Great Shearwater

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Great Shearwater spitting out the chum apparently they don’t like liver!

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Wilson’s Storm Petrel

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my first Lesser Black-backed Gull – NOT a pelagic but still wonderful serendipity

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Wilsons Storm Petrel

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Manx Shearwater and gull competing for chum

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Manx Shearwater

what are the birds doing? of habits and habitat

I’ve been birding here and there for the past 3 months since I’ve adopted the Border Collie but not blogging too much so here is a long and windy post.  Since this is my second summer birding, I am more keen to learn the songs and sounds of birds.  And most of all habits and habitat.

It is all well and good to “twitch” birds that have already been found by others, but to find them on your own you need to become familiar with the habits and habitat of birds.

This holds true for both native species and vagrants, who are the delight of every birder.  I am at the beginning of this process and expect to spend many years of study before I get a handle on it but the first lesson that stands out in my mind is about the Ovenbird.  These birds are uncommon and local which means they are not common all over, but in the right habitat there are pockets of them.  When I visited my parents this summer in Sydney I realized they are all over the woods surrounding our house.  And somehow in my ongoing education by Google, I found out they build their nests using Blue-bead Lily plants.  I played in the woods pretty much every day as a child and vividly remember the ground being covered by these plants so it all makes perfect sense now.  Knowing this now I will always recognize their habitat.  And so I am hooked.  If I can learn this for all our native species I should always know when to keep my eyes peeled for them.

My goal is to categorize this information in a logical way over time.  Native birds, diet, vegetation, etc. organized in a way that has not yet been done.  If there is currently a Nova Scotia book that does just this, please let me know.  I understand the breeding atlas contains a lot of this information but I don’t have my copy yet.  Keeping notes has always been my way to learn though so this will be a worthwhile project for me either way, and is a large reason for my keeping this blog.

Since my last blog I’ve visited some great spots and my accounts will not be detailed but here are the highlights.  The photos are doc shots, not great photos but “evidence” as my friend Paul says.

Paul and his dog and me and Macy (dogs on-leash) spent a few hours exploring the Belleisle Marsh.  Gem of a place where we were treated to the songs of at least 3 Soras, and even got a little show from one.

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Sora (a type of super skulky rail with a really cool song…google it!)

Shorebird season is upon us, and although I’ve not been able to get to the banana belt yet (CSI), Eastern Shore shorebirding is very good.  On my own I located 2 Pectoral Sandpipers in Three Fathom Harbour which was very cool as they were a lifer for me.
Pectoral Sandpiper - Three Fathom Harbour July 19, 2016

A little group of us had a lovely day trip to Johnson Mills in NB to watch the “shorebird ballet” and made a stop in Amherst to see the Black Terns that hang out on the Amherst Marsh in summer.  Another lifer for me which was a bonus in an already wonderful day.

Semipalmated Sandpipers there were about 30K of them there my pictures do not do this justice you just have to go it's amazing!

Semipalmated Sandpipers there were about 30K of them there my pictures do not do this justice you just have to go it’s amazing!

Just a doc shot but happy to finally see my first Black Terns today - this one carrying a fish - Amherst Marsh (as promised) July 28, 2016
Closer to home, Hartlen Point is starting to heat up again.  The Whimbrels have been hanging around for a while now and other shorebirds are collecting up in the evenings before they head off to sleep somewhere.  McNab’s Island perhaps?  As a result the Merlin are perched on the shore waiting for snacking opportunities most evenings.
Whimbrel - hard to get close to so not very sharp - Hartlen Point - July 13, 2016

Merlin hunting the shore

Merlin hunting the shore

Last week I spent a few days in Sydney visiting family and also working in pet shops and I had a low tide adventure with my 7 year old niece and Macy at Morien Bar.  This is one of the best shorebird spots in Nova Scotia and the only thing that would have made the experience better would be a scope.  Still we saw lots of Yellowlegs, Dowitchers, and Semipalmated Sandpipers with a few Whimbrel and Black-bellied Plovers mixed in for good measure.  I wish I would be there this week as it’s time for the Hudsonian Godwit to show up anytime now and all the shorebirds in greater numbers.

If you don't get dirty, you didn't have enough fun.

If you don’t get dirty, you didn’t have enough fun.  Morien Bar at low tide.

On the way to Cape Breton I stopped in Pictou on the holiday Monday to see friends at their cottage, and then I hit the Caribou Island area on the way out.  I was very happy to see my first male Bobolink.  There were a group of Bobolinks flitting about the marsh grasses where they will hide out to molt.

Bobolinks in Caribou Island

Bobolinks in Caribou Island

While in Cape Breton I saw that 2 immature Yellow-crowned Night-Herons had shown up in Hartlen Point and I was worried they wouldn’t hang around until I could get home.  Luckily they were still there yesterday when I had a chance to walk down to the back cove.

immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron back cove Hartlen Point - August 6, 2016
Ahhhhhh, to be everywhere at once in summer!

Next week I will be going to Pubnico and CSI for a visit with birding friends and my first Pelagic cruise…so freakin excited!!!!!

Happy Birding,

Angela

 

 

a birding trip to Cape Breton with my dog Macy

I took a few vacation days this week to go to Cape Breton to meet my brand new nephew, George, and also do some hiking with my dog, Macy, which I call birding. I also did a few store visits of course since I was there but I digress.  Birding actually goes quite well with the dog on leash unless there are squirrels for her to chase.

One thing I realized during this trip that I think is interesting is that once you start running out of birds to “tick off your list” as lifers or species for your province, etc. you start to photograph butterflies, plants, etc.  I’ve known for a while that many long time birders do this and now that I have the urge to do so I understand better why as my “Nova Scotianers” are stacking up.  By the end of this Fall migration I think I’m going to hit a plateau that will make it difficult to find new birds afterwards.  And so I will include a few photographs of different flying things from here forward.  And liberal photos of my fine companion, Macy, of course.

Somehow I’ve never really seen a Piping Plover (well maybe somewhere as a kid) and so I stopped at a known location in Pictou County to see some.  It was a learning experience for me as I didn’t realize how skittish they are of humans and after a very long time watching for them I texted my friend Keith for advice and he said it you are standing close to the signs back up because you are too close.  As soon as I did they ran out onto the beach and I managed to see three of them.  The photos are virtually impossible as a result but I did get a nice shot of my four legged-friend.

Macy at the Big Island Causeway where some Piping Plovers nest

Macy at the Big Island Causeway where some Piping Plovers nest

One of my target bird for this trip were Mourning Warblers so I made a quick stop at a known location in Marshy Hope but it turned up empty.  However, I got a lovely show from some young Barn Swallows begging their parents for food.  And a few other of the usual suspects made nice appearances.
hungry Barn Swallows - July 5, 2016 - Marshy Hope

Overall on this trip I didn’t see rare or unusual birds or a lot new to me, but some nice first looks at juveniles and generally awesome sightings of birds just being birds in wonderful natural habitat and a great sighting of a family of four fox in the early morning.

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Red Fox in North River

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Common Merganser family this was the first time I’ve seen their babies

Most of this was observed on my day in the Cape Breton Highlands.  I arrived in Ingonish at 7am Wednesday morning and the rain stopped just as I got there.  Macy and I had a short walk up the Warren Lake Trail and turned around when I heard something making a noise like a horse snuffing which I figured may be a moose.  I’m not afraid of wildlife but Macy is probably going to be terrible in a situation that involves wildlife as she chases things and barks so better safe then sorry I figure.  Perhaps someday I can leave her home and go birding with friends in the Highlands as there are some birds up there you don’t see elsewhere in Nova Scotia, namely the Bicknell’s Thrush.

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Dark-eyed Juncos are eternally cute don’t you think?

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Hermit Thrush singing by the beach at Warren Lake completely not bothered by humans

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I still can’t figure out how they figured out Macy was going to visit Warren Lake

As we were just driving out of the parking lot from Warren Lake a little family of Ruffed Grouse were feeding and they definitely won the cute award for the trip.

Anyway, after that we meandered up the coast toward Cape North where I had another spot to check for Mourning Warblers (nope) and also to have a little hike on the Pacquette Lake Loop (part of the Glasgow Lakes Lookoff Trail) to see if I could find any Bicknell’s.  These are really scarce birds who do breed in the highlands but only in a few locations and I don’t think this is one of them.  But you never know when they might right?  These birds are best identified by voice and I didn’t hear a one in the hour or so I was up there.  I did hear a number of Hermit Thrush on the drive in, which is the birdiest part of this area I think.  Once we reached the highest elevation of this loop we encountered a lot of fresh Moose poop all concentrated in one stretch of the trail and since the path was narrow as it was freshly cut I decided I didn’t so much want to be caught off guard with my dog so we turned around. 

Macy found fresh moose poop and since this was only one of many close together piles she said "let's get the heck out of here!"

Macy found fresh moose poop and since this was only one of many close together piles she said “let’s get the heck out of here!”

I was pretty disappointed as I figured the higher spot would be better (although when they are talking about elevation I expect they don’t mean a few feet like this) and to add insult to injury I lost my footing when the dog pulled forward at one point and landed flat on my face, knocked my glasses off, and dropped the dog leash.  Ungood.  But she stayed close to make sure I was okay so I got up slowly to make sure none of me was out of place and when I looked up a Thrush was in a branch right in front of me carrying a bug.  Naturally I thought this was the universe delivering a Bicknell’s sighting but upon close examination I really think this is just a Hermit Thrush.  It really could have been a better story eh?

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Thrush (which I believe is a Hermit)

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Thrush (which I believe is a Hermit)

We stopped at a few other spots just to be tourists for the day and poke around different types of habitat quickly to get a feel for what might live where.  I did look for Shearwaters in a number of spots but didn’t see any but see they have been spotted by someone else this week.  Maybe next time.

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Macy saying “what do you mean they were going to put up an atrocity of a statue in this beautiful wild place?” Green Cove, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Highlands National Park a treasure for generations to come (there had to be a political statement in here somewhere right?)

Overall a lovely day and my first time exploring the area.  Usually I just drive through with friends to see the fall foliage, or as a kid we camped at Broad Cove and did day trips to Warren Lake to swim.  Can’t wait to spend some more time birding at some point down the road.

The next morning David McCorquodale took me birding in Loch Lomond to help me find some Mourning Warblers.  I realized as we arrived that I left my camera battery back at the house so of course we got a lovely show from a male Mourning Warbler, and also heard 4 more singing.  I was disappointed not to get the photo as the bird was in plain view but it was still amazing to see him and when he flew it was nice to watch him as well as the black head really stands out.

As a reward for being a gracious birdie host David got a great shot of his own  🙂

great capture of a handsome Mourning Warbler by David McCorquodale – well deserved sir! great capture of a handsome Mourning Warbler by David McCorquodale – well deserved sir!

Now that I know how to find them someday I’ll get another chance and it’s always great to learn something new and bird with good folk.

On my drive back to Halifax I didn’t really have time for birding and it was also kind of rainy but I did make a 10-minute stop in Marshy Hope and was immediately greeted (more like under siege as one flew right under my car) by a family of Evening Grosbeaks which are always a treat to see in Nova Scotia.

Evening Grosbeak - July 8, 2016 Marshy Hope, NS

male Evening Grosbeak always a showstopper

I’m quite satisfied with how things turned out, and look forward to shorebird season which will be ramping up any day now.

PS – see below for my new subjects…

Happy Birding,

Angela & Macy

me and Macy birding the Rock

Birding photography is somewhat of a bust with Macy in tow, but the experience is just as good and the company is even better.

Me and Macy just spent a few days in Newfoundland.  Mainly working, but trying to bird here and there after work and on the way to and from the ferry.  Mother Nature was not very cooperative but she did throw out a few half ways sunny moments.

I started out with a target list and got exactly none of them.  Having read up on Bruce Mactavish’s blog about the seabirds I had high hopes of getting a sighting of some Manx Shearwaters as the Capelin are running but the day I finished up work for the day in St. John’s it was very foggy at the coast so I didn’t even bother to go to Cape Spear.

The day before had been extremely windy and rainy so I thought there was a slim possibility there would be some Petrels in Holyrood and had to drive through that area on my way to a sales call so took a peek but no dice.

Clearly I have to return for seabirds.

We were staying at a B&B in Clarenville (thank you so much Patricia!!!) so Witless Bay was a short detour on the way home from work that day and I was not to be deterred so stopped for a quick peek out to Gull Island where I could hardly see my hand in front of my face let alone the water..  Macy stuck here tongue out as if to say, yeah no birds just fog let’s go hiking!

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Macy at Witless Bay, NL in the fog

And so we were off to a nearby hiking trail that eBird suggested as a hotspot, Mickeleens Path.  Much like the rest of Newfoundland it is highly under-reported and an excellent opportunity to view both woodland birds and sea birds.  Another time I’d like to do the full 7km in to get a land view of Gull Island.  Time constraints are the bane of business trips  🙂

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Macy at Mickeleens Path part of the East Coast Trail NL – June 15, 2016

Here as with my other brief stops on the island we found the usual suspects.  Juncos are to Newfoundland as Song Sparrows are to Nova Scotia.  Boreal Chickadees replace our NS Black-capped variety by far.  Gray Jays, Woodpeckers, Thrushes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a myriad of Wood Warblers are all over at this time of the year but my target species of Mourning Warbler eluded me.  The habitat in the CB highlands is very similar so I expect I will see them there at some point if I’m unable to return to the Rock on a suitable time-frame.

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Boreal Chickadee

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Boreal Chickadee

Two Fox Sparrows greeted us on the trail singing very loudly, which are another bird we don’t see as much of back home.

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Fox Sparrow

My last day on the Rock was all about driving as I had a 7+ hour drive to the ferry and had to be there at 945PM.  So I got up early and stopped for the morning in Terra Nova National Park before making the majority of the trek, and did manage to get ahead of the rain for the most part.

Hands down this is my favorite place to bird in Newfoundland and I’ve visited a good majority of the island over the past few years.  It is one of the birdiest places for Wood Warblers I’ve ever been.  This park is vast and serene, a Canadian treasure.  One day I hope to be able to spend a week there on a strictly pleasure trip but for now I will savor my 4 brief hours.

We started off in South Broad Cove where Macy helped me find Spotted Sandpipers on the beach.  In actuality she spend most of that time trying to mentally sort out reflections and seaweed but I digress.

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Macy – South Broad Cove Terra Nova National Park, NL – June 15, 2016

But first we were greeted by a sweet little Woodpecker.

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As we walked down towards the beach we had a learning experience when we startled 3 Pine Siskins and they sounded off like zippers!  I had never heard them make that noise before and had no idea what kind of birds they even were.  It took some forensic work to figure it out as the photos of them in the trees were sketchy but it all makes perfect sense now and we caught this one behaving in a more civilized fashion on the way out.

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Pine Siskin

We enjoyed a variety of singing warblers including this handsome American Redstart.  Again I must mention that photographing birds with an on leash dog is not the easiest so this was not a photography day but nice to at least capture the birds.  Honestly it was mostly all about Macy as she had been on the road with me on ferries, in hotels, and in a bunch of pet stores and primarily way too much time in the car!

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American Redstart

Alvan Buckley had suggested Ochre Hill and Sandy Pond as good birding spots.  Thank you Alvan, Ochre Hill is amazing and was new to me.  I will be honest I was afraid to encounter a bear or moose so didn’t spend enough time there were not many people around and the big critters are with young and a dog is unhelpful in these situations.  Someday in early June I hope to be able to spend an entire day in this area the bog is wonderful.  Much like the path to West Brook Pond in Gros Morne I thought.  I wish I had the ability to bird the Warblers by ear better as there were many species singing I could not identify, but I did get a good show by the Wilson’s Warblers and we don’t see that many of them back in NS so that was fun.

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Macy at Ochre Hill – Terra Nova National Park, NL – June 15, 2016

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Macy at Ochre Hill – Terra Nova National Park, NL – June 15, 2016

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Wilson’s Warbler

Next stop was Sandy Pond.  I’d been there before so had an idea of what area I wanted to check out.  Macy is not sure about water paths yet but is certain she likes to chase squirrels.  The squirrels appreciated the fact she was on leash for sure!

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Macy at Sandy Pond – Terra Nova National Park, NL – June 15, 2016

It was pretty quiet as the season hasn’t ramped up so we were greeted by birds flying across the access road and caught up with this Hermit Thrush early on.

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Hermit Thrush

As we got out of the car at the parking area 6 Ring-necked ducks took off.

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Ring-necked Ducks

The nosey Yellow-rumped Warblers were not so easily spooked.
Yellow-rumped Warbler - June 15, 2016 Sandy Pond in Terra Nova National Park, NL

We found a group of 4 White-throated Sparrows who seemed to be breeding there and I am pretty sure there were both tan morphs and black stripes but I can’t say for certain.  I blame Macy sound reasonable?

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White-throated Sparrow

We snuck up on this Hermit Thrush.  I love it when the birds think if they stay still they will be invisible and have to say it works more often than not.

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Hermit Thrush

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Hermit Thrush

Our last stop, the South West Arm, was recommended by one of the staff at the Visitor Center as a great birding spot and it sure was but the rain finally caught up with us so we couldn’t take much in.  All new boardwalks and paths that join up with the South West Brook Trail I highly recommend this area.  It is both coastal and woodland with a marsh in between.

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Macy at South West Arm – Terra Nova National Park, NL – June 15, 2016

We found this flycatcher which I believe could be Yellow-bellied but it was silent and I find them tough to tell apart so I could also be wrong.

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Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

All over Terra Nova there were Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet

We were sad to leave the rock, but happy to be back in Nova Scotia now.  I think that is enough adventure for one girl and her dog for now  🙂

Happy birding,

Angela & Macy

Cape Breton girlie bird day in Victoria County

Growing up in Cape Breton I was always in nature as a child, playing and exploring in the woods surrounded by critters and solitude. The birds were always there but I only noticed a few such as my little cross-country ski companions, the Black-capped Chickadees. Mammals were more worthy of my notice until recently. I never missed a hare or deer in the woods on an adventure, nor was I ever frightened I would encounter a problem with a coyote or bear. The woods have always been the place I feel safest.

As a fairly new birder I’ve made an effort each time I’ve come back to the island to visit to explore a new area and get to know the birds that have been here all along and just caught my attention.  My online quest led me to some interesting material written both by and about this marvelous lady, Bethsheila Kent. And so several months ago I dropped her a line to ask if she could suggest some areas in Victoria country to explore, and much better than hoped she said let’s go birding next time I’m home. And so finally today we had a good ole Cape Breton girls bird day along with my friend Alicia Penney.

The weather was iffy right into our start but we pressed on and thankfully so. The rain was the worst starting out and ending filled with warmer than expected temps and many wonderful birds in the middle. We covered quite a bit of territory in Baddeck and Nyanza and Alicia and I absorbed all this wonderful local knowledge which was not just about birds but flora and fauna, and general great conversation.

Our first birds of the morning were a mated pair of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers who are an uncommon but local and favorite migrant of Nova Scotian birders. It was a treat to observe them at close proximity and watch them harvest sap and listen to their mew like calls.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Baddeck June 9, 2016
New to me birds are always a treat and it was wonderful to observe a group of Cliff Swallows for the first time. I had the opportunity to see the difference in flight from the Barn and Tree Swallows I commonly see as we had a good long showing from them. Alicia was able to observe a number of new to her birds, one of which was a wonderful sighting for all of us. A pair of Blue-winged Teals dropped in to one of our stops as we arrived and did not stay long but were clearly visible and enjoyed by all. Had we arrived 5 minutes earlier or 5 minutes later we would not have seen them. These serendipitous moments are a joy of birding indeed.

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I was also able to get my best sighting to date of the Boreal Chickadees who are shy, charming, and downright adorable.
Boreal Chickadee June 9, 2016 Baddeck

Many Warbler species, Vireos, and Flycatchers surrounded us at almost every stop. In Big Harbour we were fortunate enough to watch a pair of Red-eyed Vireos courting and generally enjoying a life perhaps fit for a king and queen, as they flitted bout the bushes on the Bras d’Or Lake.

Red-eyed Vireo June 9, 2016 Baddeck
We also had a lovely show from a solitary Cedar Waxwing and a myriad of Ring-necked Duck pairs.
Cedar Waxwing June 9, 2016 Baddeck

pair of Ring-necked Ducks

pair of Ring-necked Ducks

Such a lovely mix of species surrounded by great company and some of the best scenery in the world couldn’t get better you would think, but a sandwich and sweets at the Herring Choker didn’t hurt the cause one bit.

Thank you ladies I look forward to our next Cape Breton girlie bird day!

Happy birding,
Angela

PS – Macy sat this one out but yesterday she helped me find a bunch of Ovenbirds down the road from Mom and Dad’s place.  She’s getting pretty good at this!

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