Tick tock

Our last May in Quebec and we are now counting down to departure, meanwhile after some beautiful spring weather, April leaves us smiling again after the second lousy winter in a row is hoofed out. I’ve been buzzing around in between calling various people in Nova Scotia and finally getting the stars aligned, today we bought the house, the sold sign is up.

Our new place is on Cape Sable Island at the southern tip of Nova Scotia. Different birds, different habitats and, hopefully, a winter that knows its place! I’m already planning where to site the feeders, where to plant the fruit trees and bushes and how big the pond will be, exciting stuff. I’ve also chosen a new local patch, I’ll talk about that in another post and I’ll put a map up.

For visitors who are unaware (there must be some!), I’ve written a number of birding books, here are the covers, if you want to take a look click on the cover on the sidebar. Some are free, some are cheap. The free Cuba guide has proved to be popular, comments would be appreciated on anything I’ve written.

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Birds have been arriving in the area and I’ve been airing the camera again. But first another shot of one of the Willets from our Nova Scotia trip, doing a bit of a wing-stretch.

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Locally I have a couple of Vesper Sparrows singing away each time I visit their bleak spot. It’s hard to know exactly why they pick the particular stretch of road they inhabit, especially when there seem to be many kilometers of identical bits of habitat, all vesper-less.

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My local Red-shouldered Hawks are back and seem to have taken the intrusion of more houses in their dwindling habitat in the stride, or wing beat I suppose. They often come over the deck, chased by the American Crows more often than not.

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It’s always nice to see the first butterflies and the earliest tends to be the Mourning Cloak, also known as Camberwell Beauty. This one just sat beside me taking advantage of a sunny spot, taking the rays.

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Nothing I did would persuade this Fox Sparrow to smile for the camera.

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At this time of year the wetlands are hosting a few Rusty Blackbirds, strutting about chucking leaves all over the place and snaffling bugs. This male wasn’t camera shy.

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Last day blowout

Business concluded, we decided not to go home a day early as we thought we’d have to and we’d have a day out birding all day instead, a last day blow out.

It all started well enough with the stuff in the previous post. The plan was to bird the Yarmouth area and work our way back, good plan we though. About 35 minutes shy of Yarmouth there was a loud bang and one of the rear tyres had blown, a new tyre at that. The space saver had never been removed before, as far as we could tell, and everything was seized. Brute force and ignorance eventually got the thing apart, meanwhile a call to the 1800 number on the CAA card told us that their office was shut and that we should call a local Quebec garage, I don’t think so.

Toy tyre installed, we made our way to Yarmouth with the four-way flashers warning other road users of our peril. As luck would have it, we arrived at a tiny tyre place and the amiable teenager working there said he could try to sort us out but that they shut at 12.00. Still unperturbed by this intrusion into the day, we made our way along the main drag and found the shining light that is Canadian TIRE. Reliable, always available Canadian TIRE. I had resolved to not only replace the irreparable tyre but to also buy a rim and another tyre just to make sure our 16 hour trip back was full of glee.

Oh no said the man behind the desk, I have no appointments available for today, it would be Monday at the earliest! Now, call me old fashioned but I’d have thought that Canadian TIRE would build a contingency into any day for emergency repairs and I may have said something similar right after I had said “you must be joking”. Be sure Canadian TIRE, you have not heard the last of this!

I was able to buy a tyre from a 12-year old who actually asked me what the difference between ‘all weather’ and ‘touring’ tyres was. $143. Lighter I went back to the amiable chap and he put the new tyre on the rim, what a nice lad.

So we had a bit of a hole in the day but we got back into the groove birding local sites all the way to Goose Creek where I was able to pretend to be a disinterested bystander and crept up on a couple of Willets. I also managed to snap a Savannah Sparrow and a Barn Swallow, both at Chebogue Point.

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As I extracted myself from the intimacy with the Willets, cars full of birders showed up, Alix, Ronnie, Peter and adding to the International flavour, Paolo from Italy and two others. Introductions were done and information exchanged, notably the whereabouts of a Field Sparrow and Indigo Bunting, the former a ‘good’ Nova Scotia bird.

The birds were absent when we arrived at the host house but Ervin then showed up and asked what the one was grovelling by the car, it was the star. Sometime later the bunting showed up too but failed to pose, never mind.

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Back on the road and heading east we passed a hawk sat on a broken tree. A U-turn soon got us alongside and I managed a few brisk snaps, our second Broad-winged Hawk of the day and something that made eBird cough twice.

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So despite the blow out we still had a good day, rounded off by a Belted Kingfisher belting across the bay near the new house.

Tomorrow, early we hit the road and should haul into Quebec, well our bit, late afternoon, time and tyres permitting.


Sunny Nova Scotia

Well we saw the wet and we saw the windy and now we are seeing the nice. The sun is pouring through the cabin windows, banishing memories of day-long downpours. In the yard two Nova Scotia ticks, a Downy Woodpecker and a Red-bellied Woodpecker, the latter posing briefly for a photo.

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Yesterday we seemed to be under a mucky cloud that spat a little but never really did get going. The birding took second place to the messing around, finally we have the house, we have the sale and we have the dates, more on that in later posts.

Ironically I only managed two NS and trip additions yesterday, a buzzy Palm Warbler somewhere unpronounceable, and a very smart Ipswich Sparrow, a.k.a Savannah Sparrow but oh so different. We tried again for the only American Oystercatchers to see sense and summer in Canada but no luck, too early on the tides. Today should be more relaxed and two ticks tend to get you off on the right foot. We are mostly birding but I suspect a little prospecting will also come into it. Yes, we are talking the joy of Wal-Mart in Yarmouth.

Yesterday I photographed, well tried to, a male Northern Harrier but he just would not look at me, despite Sandra crouching and squeaking like a mouse, the things she does for love eh! Interestingly, close examination of the images later showed the bird banded and, according to Ronnie, a local birder, he photographed a banded male three years ago, probable the same bird. I wonder where he met his bander?

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Rain pounds on the patio windows and I have to walk across the site to the laundry for more coffee. We are going to enjoy a rain storm for most of the day so the birding will be limited. Yesterday a Willet was added to the trip list, nice to see a Canadian one for the first time.

The storm has knocked out the router so, if you are not seeing this then it is still out, if you can, it’s fixed. The Willet was significant, it was about 400m from the house we’ve made an offer on! Too far for the yard list, besides there are trees in the way and the chainsaw is still in Montreal, later maybe.

We had a good wander Monday, not seeing too much apart from the omnipresent Common Eiders and a scattering of Old Squaw, a much nicer name than the admittedly more descriptive Long-tailed Duck. Perhaps we are just a bit too PC in being sensitive to some words, we all get old after all.

Today, Wednesday, was glorious. Lots of sites were visited but there have been few migrants around. Still, the trip list climbed to 69 and I expect further editions before we hit the road home. Tomorrow is supposed to be another rain event but at least the camera got a short but productive outing today. This male Common Eider plucked a crab off the bottom and set about it. Lots of thrashing it on the water and general waggling before the crab was traumatised enough to not mind being lunch. For some reason WordPress has changed the view thing, just click on an image for full effect.

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After 12 hours of brisk driving in beautiful weather, a fog bank ahead suggested that the sun would be a stranger for a while. Birds had been few and far between and the remnants of the spiteful winter were still clinging to the hill sides. We entered the fog and slipped under the provincial demarcation line between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, time to start listing.

The fog only covered the low area between the two provinces and soon we were once again under blue skies adding American Crow and Raven to the trip list, two then! By the time we got to Truro, night was putting on his evening suit and getting ready for a shift. It didn’t take long to enter the birds of the day into the Excel file, tomorrow will be better.

Saturday was cool, zero the man had said and he didn’t lie. We wolfed down the complimentary breakfast and hit the road to Yarmouth. There would be stops and there would be birds but first we had to get some more road behind us.

Robins were everywhere, anywhere that the snow had fled leaving bare earth and presenting the potential for worms, was peppered with their busy bodies anxiously refuelling. The trip was pedestrian, no need to rush at this stage, and we added stuff to the Nova Scotia list at regular intervals. Fox Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird and an eBird alerting, Cooper`s Hawk, a bird that left one less American Robin worrying about nest building.

As we progressed south it became warmer. A cool northerly reminded us that winter had not yet packed his bags for the duration but it was not too bad. Various stops kept things moving and by late afternoon 40 odd species nestled on the list.

We`d also been looking at potential nests of our own, not ones we intended to fill with begging chicks, too old, but as migration was soon to be upon us, we need a new place. At the end of day two of our trip east it was bird species, 52, houses so far, nil. Tomorrow is another day and another area.

More kilometres, more birds and finally some house possibilities. We’ve not seen inside yet, but two spoke to us, sort of, and we thought they might just do. The birds, well migration is sitting with its feet up sipping a pina-colada on some Mexican beach, it was quiet. We looked in some favoured spots, Brent Geese were nice but missing a Snowy Egret wasn’t, and then we headed off to our base for a few days near Shelburne. We have a cabin in the woods and it looks out over a large piece of water, the afternoon wind blew cool.

The weather in Nova Scotia seems to change at the drop of a hat. After that chilly blow the evening settled down and a flat calm engulfed the area. This is both good and bad. Good because I was able to scope the area thoroughly and the half dozen Horned Grebes that I’d seen in the chop, became 73 of the little devils, probably a fair few more we present but just too far away. In there with them were nine Red-necked Grebes, a species that jarred the eBird filter but perhaps not as much as the Horned Grebe count did.

The next morning the price of calm was fog. No bird song, nothing but then, drifting out of the fog briefly a couple of Red-necked Grebes, a few clicks and they were gone, I hope it brightens up a bit.



Sudden glut

The past few days have seen a headlong rush of migrants into Quebec. Clearly the winter-lag has created a dam load of birds and now that it has burst, we are seeing the results.

My concentration has been on St-Lazare sand pits and short morning watches have seen my Quebec year list leap to 103, with the pits year list standing at 72. Some of the highlights have been 30 odd Sandhill Cranes through. My third ever Brown Creeper there, courtesy of Greg Rand’s excellent ears. I knew my high frequency had slipped since my tinnitus started, and I have a former employer to thank for that, but you don’t realise quite how much until a Brown Creeper is calling in front of you and all you can hear is hiss.

Fortunately Eastern Meadowlark is within range, one sang at the pits yesterday, and Winter Wren is no bother, one was at Bordelais Bog today, along with the first six White-throated Sparrows of the year. Sparrows have been quite well represented at the pits the past couple of days, Fox Sparrows are singing and the first Chipping Sparrows showed up yesterday.

We are still some way from fully open water but a few ducks are squeezing into the ice-free area, Ring-necked Ducks and Lesser Scaup. The gulls have been having a right good time with the dead fish, just as I predicted, and good numbers have been feasting on the thawing corpses. No white-winged gulls, yet.

My Cuba book seems popular, not quite the 300+ downloads Snowy Owls has had so far but hopefully people will find it of use. I am also working on a book about Nottinghamshire birds, not much call this side of the pond but I suspect that a few will get downloaded in my home county.

The camera has been a bit idle recently, I did get a shot of a Sharpie at the pits this morning but it’s not great.

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So, following a recent paper the redpoll lump-fest is gaining traction because there is no genetic differences between all of the current redpoll species, so what!

Science needs to be the driving force for our species, good science. It needs to tell our elected leaders what is happening so that they can make informed choices before selecting policy. To do that, science needs an impeccable reputation and quite rightly. If you put your eggs in the scientific basket, you want to know that they are safe and secure.  Whether our leaders do actually use scientific input is neither here nor there, and something that even a ballot paper cannot change, but that is not what this post is about.

I say, so what to the scientific evidence that will lump all redpolls into one species. It has to happen because science says that it is the case and science is right. eBird and other data gathering institutions rely on science, they are part of the information machine used by Government and so will naturally respond when the lump is formally recognised, and so they should. Their data has to be as good as it possibly can be, if it is to have any chance of getting some protection for species implemented. When eBird lumps the polls, you will lose a tick and plunge down to exactly where you are now, because so has everybody else.

What puzzles me more is why the American Birding Association and other birder orientated groups worldwide follow the scientific lead, they don’t need to. The ABA is essentially a birding organisation that represents those birders who like to see and chase rare birds. In setting out exactly what species you can tick, the ABA sets a standard that we all adhere to when referencing our lists, it is the level playing field. Your actual, personal list might not be the same though, that is between you and your instincts, but the ABA list is the standard.

So why do they follow science, habit? A list of birds in terms of a county, state, province needs to be scientific because it is in the public arena and needs science to back it up. It needs the proven research that says a Bobolink say, is a different species from a Savannah Sparrow. They occupy the same habitat, are not dissimilar looking in general terms and genetically probably not miles apart in the scheme of things. Your list of birds for the same parameters doesn’t need science to back it up though. You can tick your Bobolink confidently, and your Savannah Sparrow and, if you get them, you could also tick your vagrant ‘Ipswich’ Sparrow, currently, under science, a form of Savannah Sparrow.

Ipswich Sparrow is quite distinctive and most should be eminently identifiable in the field, so is Hoary Redpoll. Yes we have finally got to the point here. You set a level required for the identification of a Hoary Redpoll. You define characteristics in plumage and physique that will consistently give you an identification of the bird in front of you as a Hoary Redpoll, and for me that would mean no streaks on the undertail. Anything that is in between, and there should be many such examples, are not Hoary Redpolls but Common Redpolls, unless they are Greenland Redpolls of course, another identifiable form.

Calling it a Hoary Redpoll is no different from calling a Savannah Sparrow and Ipswich Sparrow. In science a Hoary Redpoll will have no more standing than a Common Redpoll and quite rightly, but elsewhere, in the world where the vast majority of birders operate, and you can call it the real world if you like, we will still be seeing and recording, if not reporting via eBird, Hoary Redpolls.

This matters, because the bird is distinctive and distinctiveness should be as equally prized as is species. If we don’t record forms then some will be lost. We’ve done it already, probably more times than we know, and we’ll do it again. Forms that only occur in certain areas have been removed, extirpated. The fact that they were just a form of a very common species and so therefore their loss does not impact on the species is, arguably, where the species concept rather lets them down a bit but, it is not too late to adopt a broader way of thinking, it just takes a will from those who think about these things to persuade organisations such as the ABA to become identifiable form based and not species based, or even both.

To take this further, there needs to be a world forms checklist, not subspecies because not all subspecies are physically that different and identifiable, but a list dealing with uniquely identifiable forms is a prerequisite. Until we have such a list you can start on your patch, your county, province or state list. You can even go through your ABA list and add forms to it, readily identifiable forms, it’s quite easily actually.

So when we are told through the repeated sharing of an article that Hoary Redpoll is not a valid species and will be lumped, our collective answer as enlightened listers should be, and!

Below we have Common Redpoll on the left. Streaky, heavier bill etc. And a Hoary to the right, pure white under tail coverts and all the other peripherals that add up to a Hoary Redpoll, also known elsewhere as Coues Redpoll. A good name given that there are two recognisable, if not genetically separated, forms of Hoary Redpoll.

Two polls

Thanks to all who have either bought my books or downloaded freebie. The Cuba one did attract a comment that said I was disrespectful to Cubans, I hadn’t meant to be, but then my bins are not rose-tinted.