Wednesday, November 19, 2014

BP/Seal rarities!

I already did a little blurb about why BP is a good spot for turning up those most sought-after feathered creatures: vagrants. See here: If BP is in a good position to turn up vagrants, Seal is even better. It was actually pretty mind-blowing to see just how many lost birds turn up there - the list of rarities found over the years is extensive including quite a few first records for Nova Scotia (and even a few for Canada as a whole!). I can't even imagine what would be found there if it had regular coverage - as it stands it is usually only birded for a week or two every fall! As with last year, the list below covers all species seen (by us) on the islands which are noted on the NSRBA as 'reportable' species. Again, bold indicates a 'good' rarity, CAPS indicate megas! Apologies for some of the photos' quality, many of these were taken with my cell phone!

Eurasian Wigeon - 1 - molting male on our second visit to Seal!
Northern Shoveler - 1
Redhead - 1
Harlequin Duck - 8 - one individual hung out from late August to early October!

Ruddy Duck - 1
Pacific Loon - 2 - somewhere around the 20th and 21st records for the province
PTERODROMA SP. - 1 - distant bird on seal that gave me the impression of being a Fea's...aghhh
Cory's Shearwater - 59 - banner year for this species due to warm water anomalies north of their usual range, many thousands seen in Massachusetts all fall! This photo is to show why there are generally no seabird photos here...

Manx Shearwater - 23
AUDUBON'S SHEARWATER - 1 - likely due to the same warm water anomalies that brought us a lot of Cory's
Great Egret - 2

Cattle Egret - 1

Green Heron - 1
Black-crowned Night-Heron - 2
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - 1 - found on BP just after I left........
Turkey Vulture - 60 - should be removed from the list
Red-shouldered Hawk - 2 - both on BP while I was on Seal
Cooper's Hawk - 5
CLAPPER RAIL - 1 - 10th NS record - good story behind this one, ask me privately!
Virginia Rail - 1 - I have a photo but it really shouldn't be posted anywhere, it's that terrible
American Coot - 6
COMMON RINGED PLOVER - 1 - flyover on BP, calling its distinctive tooee!
Solitary Sandpiper - 6
Red Knot - 14
Stilt Sandpiper - 1

Long-billed Dowitcher - 1
Red Phalarope - 36
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 19 - not really a rarity anymore
Caspian Tern - 2
Forster's Tern - 1
(also dead Laughing Gull and Black Skimmer, remnants of Hurricane Arthur) 
Great Skua - 8 - mostly due to some crazy ENE winds we had in early October
South Polar Skua - 2
Pomarine Jaeger - 217
Parasitic Jaeger - 73

Long-tailed Jaeger - 4
Common Murre - 1
Thick-billed Murre - 1
White-winged Dove - 1
Yellow-billed Cuckoo - 11
Long-eared Owl - 1
Red-headed Woodpecker - 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker - 6

Willow Flycatcher - 18 - almost all identified in the hand, a couple identified by voice 
DUSKY FLYCATCHER - 1 - 3rd NS record - banded on BP while I was on Seal! I will add a photo here if/when I receive one
HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER - 1 - 2nd NS record - banded on Seal!

Eastern Phoebe - 34
Great Crested Flycatcher - 1
White-eyed Vireo - 2

Warbling Vireo - 7
Philadelphia Vireo - 8
House Wren - 8 - I think this one is the western subspecies, due to the amount of barring on the back+flanks?

Sedge Wren - 2

Marsh Wren - 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 4
Gray-cheeked Thrush - 6
Wood Thrush - 1
Brown Thrasher - 1

Blue-winged Warbler - 2

Orange-crowned Warbler - 22
Cape May Warbler -18
"Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1

Yellow-throated Warbler - 1
Pine Warbler - 14
Prairie Warbler - 11

Western Palm Warbler - 19
Prothonotary Warbler - 1

Hooded Warbler - 1
Yellow-breasted Chat - 2

Eastern Towhee - 1
Clay-colored Sparrow - 16

Field Sparrow - 6

Vesper Sparrow - 1
Lark Sparrow - 3

LE CONTE'S SPARROW - 1 - 7th NS record

White-crowned Sparrow - 22
"Gambel's" White-crowned Sparrow - 1
Scarlet Tanager - 2
Blue Grosbeak - 3

LAZULI BUNTING - 1 - 2nd or 3rd NS record - gray nape+rump, wingbars (noticeable in field), buffy breast with white belly, lack of streaking on flanks/breast lead me to this ID - showed up after a nice front that brought the above Blue Grosbeak, 10 Indigo Buntings and a few other goodies

here with an Indigo bunting for comparison

Indigo Bunting - 53 - probably some duplicates

Dickcissel - 14

Yellow-headed Blackbird - 2

As you can tell, it got a bit ridiculous out there. Despite a multitude of SLOW days, there were occasional bursts of migration, and W/SW winds predominated throughout the season bringing us a large number of southern/western vagrants, especially on Seal Island. This list comprises a whopping 81 species, or 32% of our season total. Of these, 58 were observed on BP, a bit more than the 54 we had last year (about 25% of the total on BP both years). 59 were observed on Seal, 29% of our total during the month we spent there. If you take a look at my potential rarity list at the end of my post last year, you will see quite a few of the species mentioned above! We did very well in terms of both 'regular' rarities and true megas this season! Seal Island is probably one of the best places in Canada in terms of sheer numbers of vagrants and 'quality' of vagrants, due to its position 17km out in the ocean and wide variety of habitat types (salt marsh, short-grass, dunes, rocky and sandy beaches, sheltered coves, spruce/fir forest, alder and mountain ash patches, etc, etc!). I think it would be fun to spend a whole season out there... who knows what would turn up?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Off the island(s)!

I've been back in civilization (currently Wolfville, NS) for a little over a week now, getting caught up on things that mostly get forgotten about while one is living in the wilds, looking at birds for most of the day, every day. That means it's time for a blog post as it has been far too long! I think I will do something similar to last year, with a summary, seawatch and rarities post - I will leave out the petrels (as cute as they are) and shorebirds since I did a pretty good job of summing those up last year. Anyway, here goes.

I was out on Bon Portage from August 11 - September 15 and again October 14 - November 4, and out on Seal Island from September 15 - October 13 with a brief visit on November 4. While I was out on Seal there was still a crew on Bon Portage running things so we had good coverage of both islands! This year, the Atlantic Bird Observatory was not operating at full capacity due to a lack of funding, however, we had a fairly large crew of experienced birders out there as part of a study on Blackpoll Warbler stopover ecology on the two islands. Our banding and species totals are perhaps not quite as high as they could have been had we been running a regular season, but we still did extremely well!

Number of species: 253 (223 on BP and 204 on Seal)
Number of individuals: Not sure as the eBird totals are duplicating shared checklists! My personal checklist total is 172 016, it is probably safe to add another 30-40 000 for BP from when I was on Seal.
Number of species banded: 78
Number of individuals banded: 1731 (1545 on BP, 186 on Seal)
ABA lifers: 2 (Common Ringed Plover and Great Skua)
Canada lifers: 6 (above plus Blue Grosbeak, White-winged Dove, Audubon's Shearwater and Clapper Rail)
Number of steps walked: ~1.9 million or ~1 700km - the increase over last year was mainly due to Seal, which is much larger and requires more walking! My highest single-day was about 35km.
Number of times I swam in the ocean: 4 - I wanted to go in November but it was too stormy!

Now on to the photos...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hurricane birding, take 3

(see my posts from Hurricane Sandy in Oct 2012 and Tropical Storm Gabrielle in Sept 2013 (Hammond's Flycatcher) for takes 1 and 2)

Ok, I finally have a day off and can write a post! A bit of backstory has to be told first though. Back in late March, freshly arrived back to frigid Canada from the tropical paradise of Panama, I headed down to Long Point to start what has been an interesting season of setting up radio telemetry towers for the MOTUS Wildlife Tracking System. This is basically a network of towers (about 200 total) strung across eastern Canada and the United States to monitor bird and bat migration. See here for more: As of a few days ago I've been involved in setting up over 100 of these! This work has taken me all across southern Ontario, to most of the corners of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and now to the St. Lawrence region of Quebec. In a few days I will be heading out to Prince Edward Island and Les Iles-de-la-Madeleine on another deployment round. Over the course of this I've had some luck in finding rarities and adding some regional specialties to my life (and Canada) lists! The Northern Wheatear and Western Wood-Pewee featured in my last post were certainly highlights, as were hearing/seeing at least 7 (lifer) Bicknell's Thrushes in QC (and 1 in NS), finding my lifer Ruff in with some Lesser Yellowlegs (in flight, no photos unfortunately) in QC, and spending time studying the regional specialties of the Atlantic Provinces that so rarely make it to Ontario.

Back in late June I said goodbye to my coworker Daniel as he headed back home to SK and headed out on a week-long trip around southern Nova Scotia to check on existing towers, download data, and find new inland sites for towers later this year or next. About this same time a weather system off Florida started making the news, and built up steam to become Hurricane Arthur. With a well-defined eye and Category 2 status it hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina, after which time radar images showed large numbers of birds stuck in the eye, and the track was headed straight for Nova Scotia, toward where I was working. All of this lined up perfectly (for me anyway) and I got July 5 off work to do some storm birding. I stayed at my friend Alix's place in Pubnico the night before and in the early morning I made my way to Cape Sable Island, where 100km/h + southeast winds were ripping through and presumably pushing seabirds into shore. Unfortunately for me, heavy fog limited the visibility to about 200m offshore, too close to really see anything! As the storm passed and the winds shifted (but definitely didn't weaken!) the fog moved out a bit and improved visibility to ~1km, at which point I could see Storm-Petrels heading past, moving south - mostly Leach's but with a couple Wilson's mixed in. I spent pretty much the entire morning staked out at the Hawk (southern tip of the island), seawatching, and was rewarded with Forster's, Caspian, Roseate, Arctic and SANDWICH Terns in amongst the Commons, along with the aforementioned Storm-Petrels, a single Parasitic Jaeger, several Purple Martins and a few Laughing Gulls. By the early afternoon, the show was slowing down so I decided to wander the island a bit to see what else was around. A Royal Tern had been reported up at Daniel's Head, so that was my logical first stop. A few Laughing Gulls were on the beach and a Purple Martin flew over, but no Royal Terns were to be found on the beach, so I moved further up and wandered down a small cliff to get out of the wind when bam! Royal Tern cruising by not 30 feet away from me!!! I sprinted back to the car for the camera but when I returned it was a few hundred metres down the beach and still going... My further wanderings turned up this same individual on another part of the island, at which point I got some photos though! I also found two Harlequin Ducks here later in the day which were a very special bird for a different reason. My original plan was to update the little list on the right of my page after every post on my Central America trip (which I will still do), but since it's been so long that may have to wait a while. I will just go ahead and ruin the surprise to say that Harlequin Duck was my 1000th species for North America (AOU area) in 2014, far surpassing my goal of 779 that I set back in January when I planned my trip!!!! Why 779?? That was my AOU lifelist as of December 31, 2013, so it seemed like a good goal. Now my AOU list is up to 1258!

Anyway, continuing on - late in the day I went to a small beach on the east side of the island and found 3 terns patrolling the beach (flying over the sand, not the water). Since they were very white, my brain thought hmm that's odd behaviour for a Roseate Tern (which I had seen a few of earlier in the day) until I got my bins up and saw that they were GULL-BILLED Terns!!!! My third new-for-Canada tern of the day! After watching them for a while I moved on (at which point I refound the Royal Tern) before leaving the island and checking every harbour and inlet on the way back to Pubnico for the night. In Shag Harbour I had brief looks at what I think was probably a Least Tern, but my views were not good enough to clinch the ID - agh... There were a few others reported in the province with the storm so it very well could have been!

The next day I had work to do, checking as many towers as I could to see if Arthur had taken any out. One of these was at Cape Forchu, which is right beside where two Black Skimmers had been reported the night before. Naturally I started there, and found 5(!) Black Skimmers resting on a gravel bar (right where I thought I might find them after they were not in the original location ~2km away!). I also found a tower that had been knocked down by Arthur, unfortunately. Luckily this was the only one (that I know of), and for the rest of the day I worked my way from Yarmouth up to Halifax, alternating checking on towers with checking inlets and ponds for hurricane waifs before heading back to New Brunswick for the night. I had some success in this as well, finding more Royal Terns and others - see below for totals.

All in all it was a pretty successful storm search, adding 4 new birds to my Canada list and getting some new self-found birds in (along with a bunch of Nova Scotia ticks)!

Storm birds list:

Harlequin Duck - 2
Leach's Storm Petrel - 8
Wilson's Storm Petrel - 3
Red-necked Phalarope - 2
Parasitic Jaeger - 1
Laughing Gull - 211
Gull-billed Tern - 3
Caspian Tern - 1
Roseate Tern - 5 (presumed not from the local breeding population, as they were not near known colonies - also had 9 on July 4 in Pubnico at the colony)
Arctic Tern (some locals) - 91
Forster's Tern - 21
Royal Tern - 7
Sandwich Tern - 1
Black Skimmer - 5
Chimney Swift - 1
Purple Martin - 19