a perfect April day in Stanley Park, Vancouver

My camera (left the bins at home since my super zoom doubles as a scope) had come out of checked baggage with a blurry viewfinder and the idea of spending the day birding in British Columbia with no optics loomed over me like the rain clouds.

The first two days in Vancouver were spent with my coworkers from RC Pets (the best pet company in North America and the best coworkers too btw!) and they took us on an amazing tour of the Sea to Sky highway and up the Sea to Sky Gondola.  I was frustrated with the camera of course but managed to nab my first lifer of the trip, a Steller’s Jay.  We also heard the amusing calls of the Sooty Grouse under the suspension bridge.  Groups of small chattery birds flew by several times but without my zoom I couldn’t figure out what they were.  My guess best guess would be Mountain Bluebirds based on impression but I’ll never know.  Guess I better go back someday!  The snowshoe hikes looked like great fun in fact.

Steller’s Jay

It was sad to leave my coworkers and friends but also fantastic to have an upcoming day to myself.  I headed to English Bay for the evening after a fabulous farewell supper with some of the gang.

A White-crowned Sparrow singing loudly outside my window at the Sylvia as my alarm went off inspired some hope.  I decided I had to do something about this situation.  I phoned my other half back home and we googled the prices of cheap binoculars.  As I contemplated picking up a $50 set at London Drug just to make the day somewhat worthwhile the suggestion was made to google “blurry viewfinders”.

White-crowned Sparrow

The clouds parted as I located the diopter on my camera and corrected the view.  On with room service, shower, and Stanley Park then!  Whew!

Greeted by Canada Geese, Glacous-winged Gulls, and Northwestern Crows I made my way along the beach in English Bay toward this glorious urban haven.

Northwestern Crow – a little different that our American Crows back home on the East Coast

Glaucous-winged Gull (my first lifer in English Bay!)

Glaucous-winged Gull – we don’t have these on the East Coast – not the lack of black on the wing tips – the distinguishing feature from our Herring Gulls

Northwestern Crow – courting behavior – I had a little crow porn outside my window at the Teahouse at that…oy!

Armed with my wish list of lifers (and 2 down already!), the Spotted Towhees loudly and immediately checked themselves off my list.

Stanley Park is known for it’s hummingbirds, and although I’m not a huge fan the Rufous Hummingbirds were a bit of a showstopper admittedly.

Rufous Hummingbird male

Rufous Hummingbird female

Having done my homework for the time of year the coastline seemed the better bet, so I followed the sea wall dreaming of Oystercatchers and Canvasbacks along the way.

Although they never appeared, hundreds of Barrow’s Goldeneyes accompanied me throughout the day, along with an initial greeting from a pair of Horned Grebes in breeding plumage.

Barrow’s Goldeneye male

Barrow’s Goldeneye female

Woodland birds called along the way and took me on marvelous diversions into the old growth forest for at least half of the time.  The Pacific Wren were the highlight of my adventure and with some patience I got a marvelous show from one of these teeny songsters.

Pacific Wren - April 13, 2017 - Stanley Park, VancouverThe easiest bird on my checklist (Chestnut-backed Chickadee) managed to evade my sightings, although I did hear them all over it never seemed important to track one down for a photo.  As well my Eagle sightings were both Bald and neither Golden, but this was a day for wandering and not twitching.

Lost Lagoon was full of Wood Ducks and I also got a nice show from a Fox Sparrow.

Wood Ducks - April 13, 2017 - Stanley Park, Vancouver

Fox Sparrow - Stanley Park - Vancouver - April 13, 2017

My outdoor classroom for the day was filled with song, wonder, and lessons on habitat.  An old-growth forest is like nothing else on this earth.  Back home in Nova Scotia there we have very little of it (please consider supporting the Nova Scotia Nature Trust), but in the pockets that still exist our equivalent woodland birds and critters are just as happy.

Trusting that nature would take care of me I trekked the kilometers through the park and when I thought I could take no more, the Teahouse oasis appeared.

 

Another scan of the seawall didn’t net the results I had hoped for but the Pelagic Cormorants appeared, and a solo Harlequin Duck put on a lovely show alongside a pair of Green-winged Teal.

Pelagic Cormorants

Harlequin Duck - April 13, 2017 - Stanley Park, Vancouver

Sore feet snuck up on me, and the perfect path took me into the middle of the park to avoid the long sea wall trek. A sheltered oasis of stream and marsh greeted me in the Beaver Lake area of the park.  Great Blue Heron fished for minnow in the creek and Swallows snatched insects amidst the waterfowl.

Great Blue Heron - April 13, 2017 - Stanley Park, Vancouver

My camera battery died as I meandered out of the park but not before a Pileated Woodpecker appeared who let me so close I was able to get this video on my phone without the need of any zoom.

A perfect day in Stanley Park.  I will return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

of wood and warblers : musings on my upcoming 3rd spring migration season as a birder in Nova Scotia

Warblers are among the highest prized things with wings for the avid birder.  And they call them wood-warblers for a reason.

I’ll be heading into my 3rd migration season as a birder with a bit of a heavy heart as I’ve recently become aware of the full extent of the clearcutting that is happening in Nova Scotia.

As well that a 13-mill consortium called Westfor has their eye on the Western Crown Lands which have been described  as “the last great wood basket” not committed to pulp companies, which will effectively destroy the last of our forests here in the province.

To enjoy spring migration to the fullest, brushing up is always recommended.  So, partially to encourage some discussion about the preservation of mixed, multi-aged forest in Nova Scotia, and partly as a little research project for myself to prepare I spent much of today studying the breeding habitat of Nova Scotia wood-warblers.

Of the 40 Wood Warblers that have been recorded in Nova Scotia, 22 of them breed here both currently and historically.  Two have been added to the list recently but one (Yellow-breasted Chat) was certainly incidental and the other (Pine Warbler) could be the beginning of an expansion of breeding territory to come in future years.

My lifelong love of walking in the woods, and back-country canoe camping in recent years, have proven to be a great foundation for studying our wood-warblers first hand.  While writing this today I realized that I’ve observed a great deal of warbler behavior and habitat in my two short years of birding.  And I’ve had some amazing mentors in these two years, I must admit and am so thankful for your guidance (you all know who you are and you are awesome).

There is still much to learn (this is a living work and I’m definitely at the beginning end of things) so I’ve referenced the following materials extensively today:

to compile the little spreadsheet below at the end of this post.

Someday I hope to write a book at which point I’ll work on more detailed citations, but for today I had time to write a blog in hopes it will inspire a few people to dig deeper into this issue.  Emails with corrections are always welcome and appreciated!

Anyway, basically our beloved wood-warblers drop in during spring migration, disperse into appropriate habitat, breed, and then flock off in the fall migration.

The NSBS hosted a presentation by Donna Crossland last Thursday evening  where I learned there is not much left of less than 1% of our old growth Acadian Forest left (it was about 50% in pre-Colombian times, and 15% in the 1950s) and even the remaining younger, multi-aged  (not clear-cut) Acadian forest is in grave danger.

Most of Nova Scotia’s working forest is clear cut.  We are on a 55-year cut cycle, far too short to maintain the Acadian forest which should be selectively harvested (not clear-cut), and trees such as red spruce, hemlock, and sugar maple allowed to grow to 150 years of age (or more).  The Nova Scotia government promised to reduce clear-cutting, and has done no such thing.

(thank you David Patriquin for the clarification of our forest compositions)

Aside from soil erosion leading to potential coastline erosion, and the release of carbon into the environment (remember plants remove carbon dioxide from the environment into the soil) imagine the horror for the birds and other animals who lose their homes, and inevitably perish.

Basically, if we keep chopping down their homes they will have nowhere to breed.  They are increasingly showing up to find their habitat and food had been destroyed which is a problem for both the present and the future.  My focus here is on the wood-warblers but many other bird species require the very specific habitat of the Acadian Forest such at the Black-backed Woodpecker, and the Nothern Goshawk to name just two.

Anyway, as I reflect on my last two years in birding I am reminded that you have to do a bit of work to find some of the most prized wood-warblers.  Well it’s not work for me at all to walk in the woods, but it’s something not many people seem interested in doing these days somehow.  All my favorite magical forests are old-growth forests and largely Acadian it would turn out, with Keji being one of my most treasured places to spend time.  I’ve also greatly enjoyed walking in the Thomas Raddall provincial park, the Abraham Lake Nature Preserve, the Mount Uniacke Estate park, the Herbert River Trail, and the woods around my parents’ house just to name a few.

I remember looking up so high in the trees to spot the singing Blackburnian Warbler in Mount Uniacke Estates park and realizing this now scarce habitat explains why they are not always easy to find in Nova Scotia.

Blackburnian Warbler (new to me today) June 1st, 2016 Mount Uniacke Estate Park

It occurs to me now why many of the seasoned birders frequently comment there are “no birds anymore”.  Migration season used to be a very different experience here in Nova Scotia apparently.  And that is very sad isn’t it?

Someone needs to do something and I agree with Donna Crossland who suggests the birders are the perfect people to spearhead the cause.

Simply put, clear-cutting is short sighted and harmful to wildlife.  We deserve a sustainable forestry industry in Nova Scotia that is guided by good science and education, and stewarded by forestry experts, not lumber executives.  And now that I know we are sending all this biomass to China and Turkey I am steaming mad.  We are chopping down all our forests for a cheap buck and sending it away in little wood chips.  Nothing to be proud of, indeed.

I don’t know much about the South Shore forests, but I do know the “banana belt” hosts some of the best birding opportunities in Nova Scotia and the birders down there are hopefully ready to chase Westfor right out of town.  I’ve not done the warbler run in Yarmouth but I’ll bet that strip on Thomas Road and Jerry Road is all old-growth forest, and it’s probably on the chopping block (literally). (I have found out since I posted this from Alix d’Entremont that the area I mention in Cape Forchu is not old-growth in fact but the Quinan and Great Barren Lakes Reserve and also Sporting Lake are likely the last stands of old-growth forest in South Western Nova Scotia.)

As a little aside, maybe we only hear of protecting the Boreal Forest because the Acadian Forest is pretty much already gone?

I digress, but basically we have two types of wood-warblers that visit Nova Scotia.  We have the “vagrants” who don’t belong here really, and certainly don’t breed here.  They are the ones who have us scanning multi-flora behind funeral homes and other odd places during migrations or fall outs, and making the non-birders wonder what the heck we are doing.  Then we have those 22 warblers who come to Nova Scotia specifically to make babies and fly off with them in the fall.  They go in two waves, the parents and new birdies typically not together.  It is a joy or nature everyone should witness so please consider getting involved and engaged with this issue.  In my opinion land conservation and activism is one of the best places you can donate your money or your time in our province.

I smile as a remember some of my favorite birding moments have involved fledgling birds, specifically warblers.

Anyway, look through the list for yourself and decide what you think is worth protecting.  And remember, these are the canaries of our proverbial coal mines because if they are in danger, so are we…

“I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away I don’t know where my soul is, I don’t know where my home is” – Nelly Furtado

Wood Warbler Breeds in NS historically Breeds in NS currently Prerred Vegetation
American Redstart yes yes alders tall shrubland garden shrubbery
Bay-breasted Warbler yes yes (in decline) tall conifers
Black-and-white Warbler yes yes broad leafed and mixed woodlands
Blackburnian Warbler yes yes tall conifers
Blackpoll Warbler yes yes cool, damp spruce
Black-throated Blue Warbler yes yes broad leafed mature woodland stands
Black-throated Gray Warbler NO no
Black-throated Green Warbler yes yes mature mixed but also broken fir and spruce
Blue-winged Warbler NO no
Canada Warbler yes yes broad leafed trees / shrubs / dense understory
Cape May Warbler yes yes (in decline) tall Spruce
Cerulean Warbler NO no
Chestnut-sided Warbler yes yes shrubs / raspberry / forest edge
Common Yellowthroat yes yes scrubby brush / cutover / marsh
Connecticut Warbler NO no
Golden-winged Warbler no no
Hermit Warbler no no
Hooded Warbler NO no
Kentucky Warbler no no
Louisiana Waterthrush no no
Magnolia Warbler yes yes open woodlands / balsam fir
Mourning Warbler yes yes dense deciduous shrubbery woodland edges
Nashville Warbler yes yes open woodlands and shrublands
Northern Parula yes yes mature forests uses old man’s beard for nests
Northern Waterthrush yes yes damp mixed woodlands alder and cedar
Orange-crowned Warbler no no
Ovenbird yes yes Blue-bead Lily under the Broad-leafed trees
Palm Warbler yes yes low conifers / bog / shrubs
Pine Warbler no (NB yes) one nesting in Truro 2010 recorded in the 2nd breeding atlas – also thought to be breeding in Miller Point Peace Park in Bridgewater and in Oafield Park near Enfield for a few years now pine
Prairie Warbler no no
Prothonotary Warbler no no
Swainson’s Warbler NO no
Tennessee Warbler yes yes (in decline) spruce/fir for the budworm
Virginia’s Warbler no no
Wilson’s Warbler yes yes shrubland early forest succession
Worm-eating Warbler no no
Yellow Warbler yes yes urban gardens / shrubbery / old fields / streams / marshes
Yellow-breasted Chat no 1 probable” record in NS during the second atlas dense shrubbery with a preference for blackberry
Yellow-rumped Warbler yes yes dense spruce cover and bayberry for food (wax myrtle)

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.

saltmarsh-kingfisher-april-29 332

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.

salt-marsh-trail-august-3 072

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