Sunday, January 14, 2018

2017 and the Nova Scotia Big Year that wasn't

Well another year's gone by and I've managed to neglect this blog for most of it. The usual excuses are to blame... work, school, birding, etc. I managed to get away for bits here and there; BC in early January and BC with a side of west coast USA (WA -> CA) in April/May to visit with Siobhan, but for the most part I was here in the Maritimes, bouncing from place to place and loosely based out of Wolfville, NS. I managed to rack up a pretty decent year list along the way, mainly unintentionally as I was not really twitching and didn't even think about a high year tally until November when I realized I was up there with some easy stuff to go! It seems that every year on January 1 I tell myself I'm not doing a year list, and then late fall rolls around and I realize I have a decent total and some easy stuff left to get. Anyway, here's a bit of a rundown of the year, with species list and how it could have gone had I been doing a Big Year (discussion on species missed for the entire year only - obviously I would have been birding a lot more in the earlier part of the year had I been doing a Big Year!). Numbers after the months indicate number of species seen by the end of the month, followed by the number of those that were self-found. The difference between these will indicate the number twitched, and will change as I find birds I had twitched earlier in the year. Skip to the end if you only want to know the hypothetical total.

January - 34/34 (34 seen, 34 self-found)

I arrived back from my trip to BC on January 6 to blizzard conditions and jumped straight back into school, with TA duties, classes and working on thesis stuff. Between the short days and general lack of enthusiasm for birding on foot in the snow around Wolfville, my first birding outing was a walk down to the Rail Trail (about 5 mins from my house at the time) with Avery Bartels on January 21! The highlights of that venture were an abieticola Red-tailed Hawk and my only Northern Shrike of the year, along with the typical winter fare that I hadn't already seen from my yard.

 Harlequin Duck in Victoria

Mallard x Northern Pintail hybrid in Victoria

Had I been doing a Big Year, I would have been able to pick up Greater White-fronted* and Pink-footed Geese (Yarmouth), Red-shouldered Hawk (Yarmouth) and Red-headed Woodpecker (Bass River), giving me +4 for the year (these were all twitchable birds! *GWFG would still be a NS tick for me too - others which would be NS ticks still will be listed in this with a *). There was also a Trumpeter Swan* in Lunenburg which would have rated some searching for but my chances would have been slim, so I'm not putting it on the 'could have added' list.

February - 59/59

My first trip afield in the province was on Feb 1, when Phil (my supervisor) wanted to go look for a Pacific Loon that Jake (labmate) had found a few days earlier at Black Rock. We didn't have any luck, but I got my Harlequin Ducks and Purple Sandpipers for the year along with some other waterbirds. New birds came in dribs and drabs through the month as I managed to get out a few times locally, adding Short-eared Owl on an adventure with Dom where we got a tiny car stuck in a snowdrift, a Peregrine Falcon over my house, and missing a Snowy Owl with Avery out in Horton Landing.

 Purple Sandpiper - digiscope

Over the month there were a few other twitchable goodies that I didn't see over the course of the year, namely Redhead (Glace Bay), Gyrfalcon* (Joggins) and Townsend's Solitaire (East Lawrencetown). So far I'd be at +7!

March - 77/74

On March 12, I was in luck for my first real birding trip (and twitch) of the year. Jake wanted to go look for the "Kamchatka" Mew Gull that had been hanging out in Meteghan, and as I was also keen, I hitched a ride down with him. The day was pretty horrible, weather-wise, which may have been why we couldn't convince anyone else to come with us. Near gale-force winds and sideways snow along with a rather low number on the windchill made for an uncomfortable time scanning gull flocks, but it was well worth it when the tiny dark-mantled one appeared! With that under our belts we headed for Yarmouth, where we managed to strike out on everything else we looked for. We pulled up to the harbour only to have Ervin tell us the two geese (Pink-footed and Greater White-fronted) had left about 30 seconds earlier. Despite scouring the harbour and all the goose fields we had no luck. A quick trip out to Pleasant Lake in unpleasant conditions unsurprisingly didn't turn up the Red-shouldered Hawk. Heading back to Meteghan we didn't find the Kam Gull again but did have a Black-headed Gull which had been seen earlier by others. Later in the month I had to make a run up to Sackville to pick up the work van, and Avery and I stopped in at Sullivan's Pond on our way back, where we saw the continuing Tufted Duck and "Common" Mew Gull without much effort!

 Kamchatka Gull

 Common Gull

 Tufted Duck

A King Eider* showed up in Halifax, but wasn't twitchable at the time. Some of the birds mentioned above hung on through March, so I'd still be at +7 had I been going all-out!

April - 105/98

Ahhh, spring! With birds arriving back, Luc (my labmate) and I went birding with Phil up at Scots Bay early in the month. Seeing a big flock of ducks in the usual pond, I commented it might be a good time to find a "Common" Green-winged Teal. Sure enough, about 30s later I had a nice male in the scope. Sweet! A number of other early migrants were year birds, and on our way back we twitched a Snow Goose, a NS tick for me. The rest of my adds for the month came on a whirlwind work tour with Toby (coworker) around the South Shore to check on our Motus telemetry receivers and prep them for the spring season. Best birds here were a "Western" Willet at Crescent Beach, Lunenburg, a Great Egret that we found at Cape Forchu, a continuing Barrow's Goldeneye in the Yarmouth Harbour, and a male Indigo Bunting coming to a feeder in Belleisle, Annapolis. Then it was off to BC and the US West Coast for a month!

Common Teal - digiscope

 Snow Goose - digiscope

 Great Egret

Black Phoebe near Victoria, BC - digiscope

Tunnel View at Yosemite NP, CA

Two Prothonotary Warblers showed up (Ketch Harbour and Pubnico), along with a Little Blue Heron (CSI), putting me at +9 had I been in the province and twitching!

May - 205/196

Returning from BC on May 10, I was right back into it with a quick trip over to Miner's Marsh with Lucas where the Little Blue Heron found the day before had cleared out. That would have been a nice Kings Co. tick! On May 13 we checked out a few spots between Wolfville and Kentville, working on timing and nailing down a few breeding species for our Big Day later in the month. May 15 I was off on another tour of the South Shore with Toby, swapping batteries and fixing a few towers we hadn't gotten to on our last time round. This picked me up a lot of returning migrants (especially in a mini-fallout at Daniel's Head, CSI), along with Scarlet Tanager, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, American Oystercatcher and a continuing Cattle Egret. After that I had to drive Toby up to Sackville, NB to start work on the Bicknell's Thrush project. After a detour to Maine for a conference, I did some scouting around Amherst with Dom, picking up Marsh Wren, Black Tern and a few others for the year, but missing out on the Wilson's Phalarope that had been seen the previous two days. Then it was back to Wolfville for a few days of work and scouting, picking up more returning migrants locally and getting to see a Sandhill Crane hanging out in someone's back field. On May 28, Luc and I did our all-out Big Day/Birdathon, starting in Amherst and finishing on Bon Portage Island. See my previous post for more detail, but with 168 species under our belts at the end of the day we smashed our previous record of 146! Highlights that day included Least Bittern, Common Gallinule, Long-eared Owl, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Vesper Sparrow, Willow Flycatcher and Black-crowned Night-Heron. That closed out the month for us as we both got the flu and were too sick to explore much on BP in the last days of May!

 Cattle Egret

 Sandhill Crane

The King Eider* found in March became twitchable (I did actually have an hour one day to look, but it wasn't in the usual location that day!), a Wilson's Phalarope was in Amherst, and a (probable??) Cave Swallow* spent a couple days in Tantallon, sitting me at +12 on the hypothetical list. Additionally, Tricolored Heron (CSI), Swallow-tailed Kite* (Argyle) and Cerulean Warbler (Brier Island) were seen, and the first two of those were successfully twitched by people nearby. Would I have been birding the south at that time and able to twitch those if I were doing a Big Year? Probably, as it has the best rarity potential. Chalk up another 2 in brackets (the luck factor) +12 (14).

Additionally, and perhaps most aggravatingly, a BAR-TAILED GODWIT* was seen in Mavillette, and successfully twitched by some of the locals, although it was not widely posted for whatever reason until a day or two later, at which point it had departed. Luc and I were on Bon Portage at the time, and would have roused ourselves from our sickened slumber to chase such a mega-rarity, but c'est la vie I suppose - next time. +12 (15)

June - 226/216

A few days of semi-deliriously wandering the woods on BP looking for Blackpoll Warblers with colour bands while still under the influence of the flu was followed by a rather productive week on Seal Island. We managed to find 150 singing male Blackpoll Warblers out there (some of which were colour-banded in previous years), and added goodies like Green Heron, Summer Tanager, Northern Mockingbird, Acadian Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, Prairie Warbler and Field Sparrow to the year list. We caught a ride back with the locals, necessitating a stop on CSI (Piping Plover) before heading back to Bon Portage for another week, where we promptly found a Blue Grosbeak. I had to bail on the Blackpolls a bit early to go do some Motus work for the Canadian Wildlife Service up in northern New Brunswick, which turned out to be rather lucky timing! On the 17th, as I was in Wolfville catching up on laundry and such, I saw a report of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks out in Musquodoboit Harbour on eBird. Following up the next day on my way to NB, the ducks were still there! A bird I'd been hoping to see in Canada for a while, and a whole flock of them at that. After my work in the north, I had a few days of computer work in Sackville, and did some exploring around Amherst, adding scarce boreal species like Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Rusty Blackbird and Tennessee Warbler for the year. I got back to Wolfville on June 28, and stepped out of the van to hear a Black-billed Cuckoo calling in my backyard!

 You don't see Purple Sandpipers in the summer very often! - digiscope

 Seal Island sunrise

 Black Guillemot - had me wishing for a better lens

 Green Heron

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks

In the 'could have been' category, Sable Island hosted a Fork-tailed Flycatcher* and a dead Brown Booby, another Brown Booby was later identified from photos on the Pearl Islands, Duncan's Cove had an untwitchable Burrowing Owl* (reported a week after the fact), and a Crested Caracara* showed up in Chezzetcook but was never refound. CSI also hosted a meadowlark on June 16 (the day I got off BP), which I could have gone to see, and likely would have seen had I done so. At the time it was reported as an Eastern (a species I've seen in NS, and I had things to do!), so I didn't twitch it. In October, the ID was updated to Western* (which I have not seen in NS!)... Anyway, coulda woulda shoulda - +13 (16).

July - 237/226

I had a few days of rest in Wolfville to start the month, during which time I went out looking for the local Northern Goshawk pair with Luc. Our first attempt was a failure, as we really had no idea where the nest was, and the area to search is fairly large. We got in touch with Bernard Forsythe, a local naturalist who's been monitoring the goshawks for over 25 years, and he took us right to the spot, where we watched the nestlings for a minute before the female came in, letting her aggravation be known. We took our leave at that point, not wanting to bother her further! The next few weeks were spent doing the summer Motus tour, first up the eastern shore and around Cape Breton (Bicknell's Thrush, Pine Grosbeak), and back via Pictou where I found a Franklin's Gull at my first stop during my first time birding the county (first county record)! Then it was down around the South Shore again, adding Purple Martin and a continuing Forster's Tern along with some regular summer seabirds, before heading to New Brunswick again. After that adventure I had a week in Wolfville to chill out and get ready for the upcoming field season before spending a few days in Halifax with Siobhan to finish off the month.

 Northern Goshawk nest

 Franklin's Gull (in back)

A Black Vulture* that turned up in Canso was the only new possible bird in July, along with a Little Blue Heron near Yarmouth and a Brown Booby on CSI. None of these were twitchable though, so I'd still be at +13 (16).

August - 260/250

I had a couple days in Wolfville at the start of the month; mostly getting field gear together with a side trip up to Cape Split on a sunny day. Then it was off to Bon Portage Island for 10 days and then Seal Island for most of the rest of the month! It was great to be back, doing my fifth and possibly last season on these islands. We had the best August I can remember in terms of both numbers and diversity of birds out there, and that included a number of good rarities! Dickcissel, Warbling Vireo, Baird's Sandpiper, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Orchard Oriole, Caspian Tern, Lark Sparrow, Long-billed Dowitcher, Upland, Western, Buff-breasted and Stilt Sandpipers, Sandhill Crane and a Eurasian Collared-Dove to top them all off.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Lark Sparrow

Yellow-headed Blackbird
 

I was invited on the deep-water pelagic at the start of the month but had to decline as it interfered with the field season schedule, and they turned up an Audubon's Shearwater! A Sandwich Tern turned up on a causeway near Lunenburg and a Curlew Sandpiper evaded good photo documentation at Martinique Beach. An American Avocet* at the end of the month near Yarmouth was very tempting, but a bit far for a detour on our grocery run! On the hypothetical list, I would have been on that pelagic and twitched the Avocet, putting me at +15 (18).

September - 271/262

The month started off with a bang! The day after Luc left to head off to Sable, we had a Common Ringed Plover fly by the station in the morning, calling all the while. I had just spent a bit of time listening to the tape in the previous few days, as they were turning up in Newfoundland in above-average numbers and I wanted to be ready in case one continued south! An hour or so later the wind shut our banding operations down, and we went for a walk around the north end to try to find the plover. A little brown bird sallied off a rock and without even thinking I yelled out "Say's Phoebe!!!". Then I had to actually look at it to make sure, and sure enough once it turned around the orangeish belly was obvious. After watching it disappear into the trees, we carried on around the island, scouring every shorebird flock we found with no luck on the plover. Returning to the cabins, the phoebe was sitting on the banding lab, as if taunting us. Two hours and a few different net placements later (including leaving the doors open on the cabins, one of which it flew into briefly after a bug!), we had it! It turned out to be the yukonensis subspecies, meaning this bird was a long way off-course, and a perfect target for my study on vagrant movements. The next two weeks were productive, adding Clay-colored Sparrow, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Warbler and Eastern Whip-poor-will, before we headed out to Seal Island. A week of failed hurricane hits meant that we mostly had fog, rain, northeast winds, and few birds. It looked like the only consolation we would get from this was a Long-tailed Jaeger until right as Maria cleared out, a Magnificent Frigatebird decided the church would be a good spot to rest for a bit!!! Another Canada lifer for me and actually an ABA tick as well having missed them elsewhere. While viewing the frigatebird I could see jaegers moving past the east side, and a run down to the lighthouse just before dusk netted a South Polar Skua for the year.

Say's Phoebe


 Aurora Borealis on BP

 Magnificent Frigatebird

A Ruff spent some time in Kentville, and a Le Conte's Sparrow showed up in the Tusket Islands - neither of which would have been twitchable for me, being stuck out on the islands! Another Avocet* showed up on CSI, and we actually did look for it for about 5 minutes on a foggy pre-Seal grocery run with no luck. So still +15 (18).

October - 291/282

I'll admit that after the late September doldrums, and checking my targets for what I could maybe add for the year, I wasn't overly hopeful that I'd pass my previous year's total of 292, unless October proved to be a big one for vagrants (I only had about 10-12 regulars left, sitting at 271). Luckily the month pulled through! It was clear right from the start that the weather patterns had finally shifted, and we started to see some good stuff. Pacific Loon, Great Skua, Blue-winged Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Laughing Gull, Eastern Meadowlark and a Eurasian Wigeon joined the more expected Orange-crowned Warbler and White-crowned Sparrow on the additions. Then a Worm-eating Warbler, a few out-of-season Dovekies, and finally the Yellow-breasted Chat, Red-bellied Woodpecker and House Wren I'd been searching for all season. White-eyed Vireo was added on my last day on Seal. Back on BP, our rarest bird of the season showed up in the form of a Dusky Flycatcher that we identified and later managed to catch, band and tag for my project. Then on October 27, we had a huge fallout of rarities, adding Yellow-throated Vireo, Hooded Warbler and Golden-winged Warbler! It was also great to get better looks and photos of some species seen rather less well earlier in the year. What a way to end the season! Off BP, I had to drop one of our volunteers at the airport, and used the opportunity to go birding with Dom, seeing a Snowy Egret that had been hanging out down in Sambro. Unfortunately we didn't get much other birding in as it was extremely windy and pouring rain, so we headed back to his place to plan out his upcoming trip to Chile as I was just there last year. I ended the month 1 shy of my previous year's total, and with some regulars still to go, I figured I had a decent chance at 300. I should also mention that at this point in the year my camera decided to start falling apart again, so I didn't take many photos through the remainder of 2017.

Worm-eating Warbler, my 300th species for ABO!

The first fallout bird we caught - adult male Hooded Warbler!

Adult male Summer Tanager

Yellow-throated Vireo

One of the fallout highlights was this Golden-winged Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler - unfortunately my camera chose the fallout day to start dying..

The only thing I never managed to see, and which I haven't already discussed, that showed up in October was the Tropical Kingbird* at Chebogue the same day we had the Dusky Flycatcher. Had it been posted 30 minutes earlier (post was up about 2h after it was found), Luc and I might have bailed off BP to go chase it. This may have made us miss the Dusky Flycatcher (we did recapture it on Oct 27, but maybe it wouldn't have stayed as long if we hadn't caught it the first time? Who knows) though, so I won't be adding any to the hypo-list. +15 (18).

November - 299/289

After a few days of post-field season stuff in Wolfville, I had to head back up to northern New Brunswick for work. Before that though, I had a potluck to attend in Ellershouse, and decided to leave Wolfville early to make a detour to Halifax. Picking up Dom, we quickly found the continuing Western Kingbird at the old dumpsite, and then scooted across the bridge to get Dom his NS lifer Golden-winged Warbler. The next morning I was back in Halifax to pick up Sydney, who'd be helping me out for a few days, and then off to try for the Barnacle Goose up in Shubenacadie. While waiting for it to appear at Shaw's Pond we found a Cackling Goose, but no Barnacle. Having run out of time, we were about to hit the highway when we saw Phil's car and some people with scopes beside another lake, and a ton more geese on it. Hopping out, Jake turned around and told us we'd just missed the Barnacle as it flew out a few seconds earlier. What?!!? Frantically scanning the flocks in flight, I picked out one small bird but it was too far for the bins and disappeared behind some trees. We went back over to Shaw Pond but it wasn't there either and we had no time to look elsewhere. We then had to cruise all the way up to Miscou Island, where we arrived in the late afternoon only to discover the Tropical Kingbird that had been there hadn't been seen all day. A rather painful double-dip! On our way back, Syd and I stopped in at Shubenacadie again (it's only 2 minutes off the highway), once again not finding the Barnacle. At this point it was becoming a bit of a nuisance as it seemed everyone else who tried for it had seen it! I had to go up around the Eastern Shore and Cape Breton, and so I made another stop in en route, this time getting brief flight views! Not the most satisfying twitch (wanted some pics) but what can you do... Along my Motus route, I birded for a few hours in Canso (Grasshopper Sparrow), and spent a bit of extra time on the Skyline Trail (where one of our receivers is), netting Common Redpoll and a surprise American Three-toed Woodpecker. Heading over to New Brunswick, I stopped in the Truro area, picking up a continuing Ruddy Duck but not finding any new interesting geese. A few days in NB added some provincial ticks, and then I birded while checking receivers on my way back to Wolfville, finding my missing Rough-legged Hawk. I actually stopped in Shubie on the 16th on my way back, and then again on the 17th while doing some tower work in the Minas Basin, as Lucas wanted to try for the geese (as there were now two of them!), but dipped both times. 1/5 success rate on those buggers! I had one loop left in my Motus tour, the South Shore - and I thought I was saving the best for last, timing my trip with a couple of big frontal systems passing to maximize rarity potential. Long story short, nothing showed, and I added 0 more year birds by the end of the month.

Cackling Goose, digiscope

Black-backed Woodpecker, digi-binned

Purple Sandpiper, digiscope

A Golden Eagle* turned up in Cumberland County, and I actually went through near the spot a few days later for work, but didn't have any luck. Two Purple Gallinules* also turned up after the big storms, but one was brought in by a cat and the other taken to rehab, so no twitchable adds in November; still +15 (+18). 

December - 301/291

December is the start of winter listing season, not something I participate in but it is fun to try to add to the collective total. With the 1st being a rather wet and windy day, I took a walk on the 2nd to see what I could find. I didn't make it very far before a distant white lump moved a bit and prompted closer inspection. It was just a little too far for the bins, and I texted Jake to see if he was nearby with a scope. Turned out he was able to get the scope on it from his back window, and it was a Snowy Owl! Bird 300 for the year, and that made up for the one we missed way back in February! Better yet, I didn't have to make a desperation twitch to avoid the dreaded 'one short'. A bit of office work was punctuated by a successful (if brief) Eastern Towhee twitch out in Grand Pre, and then a little adventure up to Miramichi to see the North American-first Mistle Thrush (and pick up the winter tires for the van). That was followed by the Brier Island Christmas Bird Count (Grasshopper Sparrow and more Snowy Owls, 62 species total on our route), the Wolfville CBC (42 species) and then the Halifax CBC (78 species including some nice winter birds, more Snowy Owls) which Siobhan arrived just in time for. The rest of the month was spent hanging out with Siobhan and her family in Halifax, with some excursions here and there to local birding spots. One of these excursions was over to Dartmouth to see the White-winged Dove that was coming to a private feeder. My only other sighting of this species in the province (and Canada) was a flyby in 2014 on Seal Island, so I was eager to get a photo. Unfortunately the bird didn't cooperate very well, and we only had backlit views of it up in the trees behind the property. The pics turned out pretty horrible as a result... I then spent my last day of the year with a nice walk at Point Pleasant Park and a quiet night with Siobhan's family!

 Mistle Thrush in Miramichi, NB - digiscope

 Snowy Owl on Brier CBC - digiscope

Christmas with Siobhan

A Little Gull floated past Daniel's Head early in the month, another Purple Gallinule* was brought into rehab and then a duo of Bullock's Oriole* and Black-headed Grosbeak* showed up in Cape Breton, along with another Pink-footed Goose. These last three were all twitchable and would have been more tempting if they'd been a little closer! The oriole and grosbeak also bring the hypothetical total to +17 (+20). Added to my real total of 301, a 2017 Big Year run for me would have ended between 318 and 321, assuming that I didn't manage to find anything else while maniacally birding the province. So, if anyone is seriously considering a run at the record of 309 in the future, know that it's definitely possible to blow it away!

Anyway, just a bit of a rundown of my 2017 and some thoughts on a NS Big Year - Happy New Year everyone and good luck with any 2018 plans!

__________________________________________________________

You'll notice the numbers are only 10 different at the end of the year - here's the birds I never did manage to find on my own, in chronological order, NS lifers indicated with a *:

Mew Gull (Kamchatka* and Common*) - one a real 'twitch' adventure, being a special trip just for it, the other a slight detour on a route I already had to take! Kamchatka Gull was a 'universal' lifer as well, making it that much more worthwhile.

Tufted Duck* - the Sullivan's Pond bird, double-tick with Common Gull on our detour from Motus duties

Snow Goose* - continuing bird, found in a different spot but close enough to the original location as to not count, seen on a day of local birding where we would have stopped anyway to look for rare geese!

Cattle Egret - one of the Chebogue birds, a slight detour from our Motus route as my coworker hadn't seen one in Canada.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck* - not too far off my route for Motus, and one I wasn't going to pass up!

Forster's Tern - the CSI bird in the summer; I do a check of the Hawk and Daniel's Head whenever I'm in the area for work, so this wasn't out of the way at all!

Snowy Egret* - Sambro - a bit out of the way but a near-guaranteed NS lifer was worth driving in the rain; this bird was also somewhat of a redemption as I'd dipped on 5 or so attempts at this species in previous years, almost all of them with Dom.

Western Kingbird - the Halifax bird, and my first real 'year-twitch'; going out of my way for a bird only because it'd be new for the year! I figured it'd be a nice safety net in case I didn't manage to find one on my November Motus tour, and that turned out to be the right decision.

Barnacle Goose - five attempts at this little bugger and only one hit, although I had to pass within two minutes of the site on numerous occasions, driving back and forth to New Brunswick, so it really wasn't out of the way (and always worth a check for other weird waterfowl!).

White-winged Dove - Siobhan and I spent a nice afternoon seeing the dove in Dartmouth and some Snowy Owls at Hartlen Point!

Friday, July 28, 2017

A rather large day of birding in Nova Scotia - May 28, 2017

Last year, we (myself, Dominic Cormier, Avery Bartels and Lucas Berrigan) attempted to break the Nova Scotia Big Day record, which had been set on June 23, 1999 at 145 species by Clarence Stevens Jr. et al. After some research, that total seemed attainable, so we set out on May 29, 2016 to give it a shot. Fast forward to 24h later and we had 146 species by ABA rules under our belts, just barely nabbing the record, and with quite a few mishaps, mistakes and misses along the way. Dom did a rather lengthy writeup of the day, see here: http://dominiccormier.blogspot.ca/2016/10/a-nova-scotia-big-day-full-tale.html if you want to read that in full! I’ll try to keep it a little more concise here.

This year, we figured we could do even better, and planned to give it another go near the end of May, depending on the weather. Unfortunately, Avery was in Ontario, and Dom’s last day to join us before work (May 27), turned out to be horrible weather-wise. So, on May 28, Luc and I set off into the darkness on our own, to see what damage we could do to the record. Prior to this, we’d done a bit of scouting along our route, in bits and pieces in the weeks leading up to our attempt, along with digital scouting via eBird. This was more than last year, but still nothing like what most Big Day teams do! All this scouting did pay off though, and we owe Dom a thank-you for scouting out some areas between Halifax and Windsor for us, even though he was unable to join us on the day! Anyway, enough preamble – here’s a summary of our day; enjoy!

May 27, 23:30
After getting to Beaubassin and finishing the prep for the Big Day, I crawled into bed around 6:30pm, anticipating getting more sleep than last year. That didn’t happen, and I got maybe an hour of restless sleep until being wide awake after about 9pm. I eventually gave up on sleep, grabbed a shower and headed out the door to meet up with Luc, who was staying with his girlfriend in Sackville (he met me near Beaubassin though, rather nice of him). After loading his stuff in the van and cracking my first energy drink of the day (some weird green tea thing), we were off to the Amherst Marsh, making it just a few minutes before midnight (and no speeding tickets this time!). Luc even remembered his binoculars.

May 28 – the Big Day
00:00
‘KEEK’ – Well, that was weird… We had made it about 200m out into the Amherst Marsh before the clock hit midnight, and that was the first sound of the day. Later on, after we’d found another bird doing more typical calls and songs at closer range, I realized that had been a Least Bittern flight call. Bird #1, and a rather good omen! Working our way further into the marsh, our targets fell one by one – Virginia Rail, Black Tern, Sora, Marsh Wren, Pied-billed Grebe, American Bittern, Wilson’s Snipe. It was warmer than last year (9C), and so the birds were more active. Another surprise came in the form of a Long-eared Owl calling repeatedly in the distance, while the Aurora Borealis danced in the sky to the north of us. We really couldn’t have hoped for a better kickoff to our 2017 Birdathon and Big Day.

00:41
A quick stop at a spot from last year failed to produce Short-eared Owl, but gave us Barred Owl and American Woodcock, as well as another glimpse at the northern lights through the clouds.

00:49
Eddy Marsh was rather silent, but we managed to dredge out a Common Gallinule and heard a Mourning Warbler giving its odd flight call as it made its way northeast (maybe to Cape Breton). Good thing we’d cleaned up at Amherst.

01:20
The sewage lagoons at Fort Lawrence are a key stop – this year we snagged Least Sandpiper and most of our dabbling ducks for the day. The resident Killdeer were also in evidence, but we’d already heard one at Eddy. A Red Fox prowling the edges may have been the reason there weren’t more shorebirds around.

01:41
Energy drink number 1 finished, we were on our way out of Amherst, 9 minutes ahead of schedule, with 24 species under our belts and pretty much all of our targets nailed. Feeling good! We made a quick stop at an exit along the way, but failed to turn up our target Northern Saw-whet Owl, and so we don’t have a checklist from there (no other birds!).

03:52
I woke Luc up by driving over a speedbump in the Tantallon Rona parking lot. Headlamps out, Osprey became bird number 26 for the day as it slept soundly on its nest. A European Starling singing at this ungodly hour was number 25.

04:08
Apparently my driving wasn’t fast enough, as we got to Hiking Trail Road 8 minutes behind schedule. No worries though, a Spotted Sandpiper calling in the darkness was new.

04:26
Working our way up the road, stopping at likely spots finally paid off with a Northern Saw-whet Owl tooting in the night. A singing White-throated Sparrow let us know we’d better get a move-on to make it to our planned dawn chorus spot.

04:51
We made it, and stood by the roadside as one by one, the forest denizens came to life to begin the day. Hermit and Swainson’s Thrushes gave their flutey songs while 6 species of warblers joined the chorus. A Common Nighthawk booming in the distance took a minute for Luc to pick up, and would be our only one of the day. Having spent too long here and not finding our target Lincoln’s Sparrow though, it was time to move on.

05:20
It turned out we’d been 200m too far. Lincoln’s Sparrow singing.

05:36
We arrived at a spot Dom had scouted for us – our target was MIA but a Bay-breasted Warbler made up for it. We’d also picked up quite a few of the common boreal species by this point, but still had a lot of gaps to fill!

06:03
Further south on the road – hey maybe we should stop on this hilltop and have a listen. Gray Jay. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Lincoln’s Sparrow – that 20+ minutes at the first stop seemed a waste, now.

06:23
Bog time – Olive-sided Flycatcher singing loudly, but no Hooded Merganser. A distant Ruffed Grouse drummed just once; somehow I missed it.

06:59
Last-ditch effort for Cape May Warbler – no dice. Time to head out – sitting at ~60 species with most of our boreal targets having fallen, we were mostly happy with our progress as we hit the highway westward. We were hopeful the few gaps we had left in this species group would be filled along the way.

07:41
Canaan Rd – hey there’s a truck here. Driving in, it turned out to be Jason Dain. We got our Nashville Warbler but missed the Rusty Blackbird – it came in a few minutes after we left. Running behind schedule means you don’t always get to wait around!

08:24
Road birding – we got our Bobolink, Common Grackle, Tree Swallow and several others en route. A House Sparrow also meant we didn’t have to worry in Kentville.

08:31
Another change from last year – Payzant Bog Road was a nice eBird find that I got Dom to scout out a bit for us. Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Veery, Evening Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, Cedar Waxwing, White-breasted Nuthatch, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak. “Eastern Bluebird singing!”. All we had hoped for and more in one convenient location.

08:43
Payzant wasn’t done yet. Another stop a few km up the road gave us Brown-headed Cowbird and Northern Waterthrush – two species we missed last year. Energy drink number 2 cracked – one of those vanilla coffee ones. Had a weird aftertaste. Last year I made the mistake of drinking these things too fast, getting wired and then crashing. This year my strategy of sipping it over a period of several hours paid off, with no crash.

09:10
Cutting our time short at Grand Pre got us back on schedule – unfortunately the tide was completely wrong and it was a useless stop, adding only things we would see later in the day!

09:33
Wolfville – the Merlin was sitting on the nest we’d found a few days earlier. Yet another bird we’d missed last year. It was somewhere around here that we cracked 100 species for the day – we weren’t counting on our hard copy though; just intermittently updating the eBird ‘Summarize My Observations’ tool. This was slightly farther in our route than last year, however it was quite a bit earlier in the day!

09:40
Sharp-shinned Hawk! Luc was eBirding and missed it, despite a quick pull-in to a parking area. Dang.

09:53
We found ourselves at the Kentville Ravine once again – no mad dash to the far end this year though, we just calmly sat at the entrance and ticked our Eastern Wood-Pewee and Brown Creeper.

10:05
We finally got our Northern Cardinal for the day – we were starting to worry! No target flycatcher though, but wait what’s Luc staring at? Luc? “Wood Thrush. I think.” What? Where?! “In the bush.” …helpful… By the time I got on it, it was a brown shape flying away into the forest. Luc got a decent enough view though, so on the list it went.

10:14
The tame Sandhill Crane was still in residence, standing in its field behind a house on the edge of Kentville. Now, back to that flycatcher.

10:19
While waiting for the flycatcher, a noisy pair of Peregrine Falcons cruised over. Score! No flycatcher though, so we headed out. Maybe we should go up to James’s house? Just as I was about to turn onto the street, the Great Crested Flycatcher gave it’s ‘wheep prrrrt prrt’ from right beside the road. Well that answers that question, and no detour needed!

10:23
Miner’s Marsh dash – Eastern Kingbird, Wilson’s Warbler, Bank Swallow. A female Baltimore Oriole looking like she was nest-building. Eventually, a Chimney Swift flew by. Moving on.

10:44
Sun’s out, things are getting hot. Pine Warbler singing at Sherwood, where we’d scouted it a few days earlier. Luc couldn’t hear it, so I ate a sandwich while I waited for him to get it. Only took a minute, so I had to finish the sandwich en route.

11:20
Thunderbird Way in Greenwood – a distant Scarlet Tanager livened up our wait with its burry song. Vesper Sparrow – tick.

11:50
Bridgetown. This year we were more efficient, getting gas, iced cappuccinos and our Cliff Swallow in just 8 minutes.

12:11
Our quick stop at Belleisle Marsh turned rather lengthy (by Big Day standards) when the Willow Flycatcher failed to show, so we explored a little more than normal. Quite a few Wood Ducks kept us company, and an American Coot called quietly, briefly – too briefly for Luc to register it. Behind schedule again.

12:47
French Basin yielded its Bufflehead willingly, and two more Wilson’s Warblers sang from the bushes.

13:26
One does not usually make prospective stops on a Big Day, but Digby was an area we hadn’t gotten to scout. A quick scan of the bay gave us two Red-necked Grebes though, along with Surf Scoter and our first eiders and guillemots of the day. A female House Finch called from the power lines.

13:48
Point Prim – last year the wind and tides gave us favourable results. This year, all was calm – the sea was glass. A distant Red-throated Loon and a couple of Razorbills sat on the water, and a Ring-billed Gull flew by. We cut our time a few minutes short to get back on track.

14:13
Back in Digby, we hit Montague Row, the site of last year’s Scarlet Tanager. All three scoters, another Ring-billed Gull, and the resident House Finches were this year’s haul. Off toward Yarmouth!

 14:38
Two hawks up ahead. Broad-winged!

14:53
Catbird went across the road – Luc missed it.

15:20
Debating a detour to a guaranteed Turkey Vulture spot when a kettle of five appeared over the road. Solves that problem!

15:34
Yarmouth Harbour – Willet, but no Iceland Gull…

15:50
We ran into Ervin Olsen at Chebogue Point, where the Cattle Egrets and Black-billed Cuckoo had disappeared. A swarm of passerines in “The Willows” produced our missing Canada Warbler and Willow Flycatcher (seen and tentatively identified as it was quite brown with short wings; a few call notes confirmed my suspicions!) though. A distant Northern Gannet flew by. A feeding frenzy of Common Terns over the ocean.

16:14
Finally, a Northern Harrier. Checking the eBird tally, we were getting rather close to our previous year’s record. It’s only a little after 4pm!

16:25
A desperate stop for Belted Kingfisher, and a Cooper’s Hawk flies across the river. We’ll take it. No kingfisher though.

16:30
Scouring Tusket’s Courthouse Rd turned up another drumming Ruffed Grouse (I was a little worried), Red Crossbill, Pileated Woodpecker and another Broad-winged Hawk. No Hairy Woodpecker though – getting quite worried about that one at this point in the day!

17:16
Pubnico’s Pond Rd was very kind to us last year. Not as much luck this year, but the nesting Arctic and Roseate Terns were in evidence. At this point we were quite a bit behind, having spent too much time in Tusket, so our stop was cut to just a quick scan of the tern colony.  In retrospect, we should have skipped this stop entirely and picked up our terns on CSI. Oh well.

17:45
Shag Harbour and another catbird flies across the road – this time Luc got it.

17:50
Finally on Cape Sable Island, 10 minutes behind schedule. Guess we’ll have to rush it. Our first stop, a stake-out House Wren, failed to show. Repeat of last year? (it also failed to show for us on June 3, so maybe it just didn’t like us).

17:59
Mike’s house, where a Nelson’s Sparrow sang a few times, too distantly for Luc’s ears.

18:07
Mark’s house – Hairy Woodpecker – finally.

18:14
A lingering Greater Scaup lured us to the Stoney Island Wharf. No luck on the scaup, but a Great Cormorant hanging out in the colony offshore was a bonus.

18:35
Quick scan of Daniel’s Head – no Piping Plover and no Red Phalarope. To the Hawk!

18:42
Mark was just heading out as we pulled in, and graciously pointed our weary heads in the general direction of the birds. Not that we could miss them; the flats were teeming with shorebirds! Three Red-breasted Mergansers flew by, some Brant munched on whatever plant matter sustains them on the Cape, and a horde of Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderling and Dunlin worked the mud. A Greater Yellowlegs worked a pool close to us, and a Semipalmated Sandpiper was picked out of the Sanderling crowd. A few Short-billed Dowitchers probed a pool, and all too soon it was time for us to high-tail it out of there, but not before a Boreal Chickadee called from the nearby conifers.

19:00
Our pre-ordered pizza and garlic fingers took all of a minute to pick up, and we soon had deliciously greasy, hot food in our bellies as we made our way to our final resting place for the day.

20:07
Somehow we managed to start our Bon Portage checklist at the exact same time as last year, after unloading the boat and carrying our gear up to the cabin. Not wasting much time wandering the woods, we grabbed a celebratory beer and wandered on down to the lighthouse. Fox Sparrows serenaded us along the way, and a Semipalmated Plover flushed from a pool where we always see them in the fall. At the lighthouse, calm, clear conditions made for decent seawatching, with Red-throated Loons cruising by, Atlantic Puffins coming in to their breeding area on Green Island, and a few distant Sooty Shearwaters circling around some food source. Beer cracked (Rare Bird Pale Ale, for those wondering), we made it back to the cabins around dark and unpacked our sleeping bags, anticipating a late night. A walk out into the banding area and some quick playback, and Great Horned Owl was ours. Leach’s Storm-Petrels fluttered around us as they returned to their burrows. A Black-crowned Night Heron giving its ‘wok’ call meant we saved ourselves a long and tiring hike to the north end.

22:08
Checking our list and seeing that we realistically couldn’t add anything else for the day (except maybe a lucky shorebird or cuckoo by flight call), we called it a night. I ended up staying up until about 23:15, talking on the phone and hoping for something flying over, before hitting the hay.

May 29
The day after. Pretty much the first thing we did in the morning was check our list. Turns out we’d missed a different species on our hard copy than on the eBird lists, so we had to send out a few corrective texts to friends. After double- and triple-checking, we discovered we hadn’t just beaten our record from the year before; we had blown it away! A full 22 species higher, putting us at 168 for the day. Better timing and a more efficient route, along with slightly better weather and some cooperative shorebirds on CSI all contributed greatly (I think) to it! Of course, we’ve already figured out how we could have done better… maybe a 2018 Round 3 is in order?

Our final stats:
Species – total 168; Dave 167 (can’t count the Wood Thrush), Luc 165 (missed Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Coot and Nelson’s Sparrow)
Distance travelled: 849.6 km by car, 3 km by boat and 14.2 km on foot
Hours birded: 23.25
eBird lists submitted: 68
Species missed that we probably should have seen: 8
Species seen that weren’t really expected: 13

The list, for those interested! Species seen at only a single location during the day have that location listed. This is taken from the eBird summary, so the first number is our total count for the day, and the second number is the number of checklists that species appeared on out of the 68 total. Apologies for the format of the table - can't figure out how to get rid of the fill at the moment...


Brant – the Hawk, CSI
20
(1)
Canada Goose
18
(4)






Wood Duck – Belleisle Marsh
11
(1)






Gadwall
31
(3)






American Wigeon
10
(3)






American Black Duck
56
(5)






Mallard
63
(7)






Blue-winged Teal
6
(2)






Northern Shoveler
12
(3)






Green-winged Teal
5
(3)






Ring-necked Duck
27
(4)






Common Eider
135
(5)






Surf Scoter
10
(3)






White-winged Scoter - Digby
1
(1)






Black Scoter - Digby
50
(1)






Bufflehead – French Basin
1
(1)






Red-breasted Merganser – The Hawk, CSI
3
(1)






Ring-necked Pheasant
6
(4)






Ruffed Grouse
2
(2)






Red-throated Loon
6
(2)






Common Loon
14
(6)






Pied-billed Grebe
8
(4)






Red-necked Grebe – Digby
2
(1)






Sooty Shearwater – BP
3
(1)






Leach's Storm-Petrel – BP
12
(1)






Northern Gannet
9
(2)






Great Cormorant – Stoney Island wharf, CSI
1
(1)






Double-crested Cormorant
184
(10)






American Bittern
2
(2)






Least Bittern – Amherst Marsh
2
(1)






Great Blue Heron
4
(4)






Black-crowned Night-Heron – BP
1
(1)






Turkey Vulture – just north of Yarmouth
5
(1)






Osprey
2
(2)






Northern Harrier
2
(2)






Sharp-shinned Hawk - Greenwich
1
(1)






Cooper's Hawk - Tusket
1
(1)






Bald Eagle
6
(4)






Broad-winged Hawk
3
(2)






Red-tailed Hawk
2
(2)






Virginia Rail
3
(2)






Sora
19
(4)






Common Gallinule – Eddy Marsh
1
(1)






American Coot – Belleisle Marsh
1
(1)






Sandhill Crane – Kentville
1
(1)






Black-bellied Plover
105
(3)






Semipalmated Plover – BP
1
(1)






Killdeer
3
(2)






Ruddy Turnstone – The Hawk, CSI
25
(1)






Sanderling – The Hawk, CSI
35
(1)






Dunlin – The Hawk, CSI
80
(1)






Least Sandpiper – Amherst lagoons
1
(1)






Semipalmated Sandpiper – The Hawk, CSI
1
(1)






Short-billed Dowitcher – The Hawk, CSI
5
(1)






Wilson's Snipe
4
(2)






American Woodcock
3
(2)






Spotted Sandpiper
4
(3)






Greater Yellowlegs – The Hawk, CSI
1
(1)






Willet
32
(5)






Razorbill – Point Prim
2
(1)






Black Guillemot
11
(2)






Atlantic Puffin - BP
3
(1)






Ring-billed Gull
2
(2)






Herring Gull
1,917
(11)






Great Black-backed Gull
932
(11)






Black Tern – Amherst Marsh
2
(1)






Roseate Tern – Pubnico
1
(1)






Common Tern
102
(3)






Arctic Tern - Pubnico
3
(1)






Rock Pigeon
10
(6)






Mourning Dove
21
(10)






Great Horned Owl – BP
2
(1)






Barred Owl – Amherst
1
(1)






Long-eared Owl – Amherst
1
(1)






Northern Saw-whet Owl – Hiking Trail Rd
1
(1)






Common Nighthawk – Hiking Trail Rd
1
(1)






Chimney Swift
2
(2)






Ruby-throated Hummingbird
2
(2)






Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
2
(2)






Downy Woodpecker
2
(2)






Hairy Woodpecker – Mark’s House - CSI
1
(1)






Northern Flicker
2
(2)






Pileated Woodpecker
1
(1)






Merlin – Wolfville
1
(1)






Peregrine Falcon - Kentville
2
(1)






Olive-sided Flycatcher – Hiking Trail Rd
1
(1)






Eastern Wood-Pewee - Kentville
1
(1)






Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
2
(2)






Alder Flycatcher
13
(7)






Willow Flycatcher – Chebogue Pt
1
(1)






Least Flycatcher
11
(6)






Eastern Phoebe
2
(2)






Great Crested Flycatcher – Kentville
1
(1)






Eastern Kingbird - Kentville
2
(1)






Blue-headed Vireo
21
(11)






Red-eyed Vireo
19
(11)






Gray Jay – Hiking Trail Rd
1
(1)






Blue Jay
12
(9)






American Crow
60
(17)






Common Raven
7
(4)






Tree Swallow
61
(6)






Bank Swallow
103
(3)






Barn Swallow
37
(6)






Cliff Swallow
7
(2)






Black-capped Chickadee
20
(8)






Boreal Chickadee
2
(2)






Red-breasted Nuthatch
7
(6)






White-breasted Nuthatch
2
(2)






Brown Creeper
2
(2)






Winter Wren
4
(4)






Marsh Wren – Amherst Marsh
2
(1)






Golden-crowned Kinglet
12
(6)






Ruby-crowned Kinglet
5
(4)






Eastern Bluebird - Falmouth
1
(1)






Veery - Falmouth
2
(1)






Swainson's Thrush
23
(10)






Hermit Thrush
18
(8)






Wood Thrush - Kentville
1
(1)






American Robin
37
(19)






Gray Catbird
2
(2)






European Starling
78
(18)






Cedar Waxwing - Falmouth
4
(1)






Ovenbird
17
(11)






Northern Waterthrush
2
(2)






Black-and-white Warbler
15
(12)






Nashville Warbler - Canaan
2
(1)






Mourning Warbler - Amherst
1
(1)






Common Yellowthroat
37
(15)






American Redstart
37
(23)






Cape May Warbler - Canaan
1
(1)






Northern Parula
10
(9)






Magnolia Warbler
28
(9)






Bay-breasted Warbler
5
(3)






Blackburnian Warbler
9
(4)






Yellow Warbler
43
(16)






Chestnut-sided Warbler
12
(7)






Blackpoll Warbler
16
(10)






Black-throated Blue Warbler
2
(2)






Palm Warbler
9
(4)






Pine Warbler - Kentville
1
(1)






Yellow-rumped Warbler
26
(13)






Black-throated Green Warbler
17
(10)






Canada Warbler – Chebogue Pt
1
(1)






Wilson's Warbler
3
(2)






Nelson's Sparrow – Mike’s house, CSI
1
(1)






Chipping Sparrow
6
(4)






Fox Sparrow - BP
3
(1)






Dark-eyed Junco
10
(6)






White-throated Sparrow
33
(12)






Vesper Sparrow - Greenwood
1
(1)






Savannah Sparrow
20
(7)






Song Sparrow
40
(20)






Lincoln's Sparrow
3
(3)






Swamp Sparrow
18
(11)






Scarlet Tanager - Greenwood
1
(1)






Northern Cardinal
6
(5)






Rose-breasted Grosbeak
4
(3)






Bobolink
6
(2)






Red-winged Blackbird
38
(7)






Common Grackle
26
(8)






Brown-headed Cowbird - Falmouth
1
(1)






Baltimore Oriole
7
(3)






House Finch
4
(2)






Purple Finch
13
(9)






Red Crossbill - Tusket
12
(1)






American Goldfinch
31
(16)






Evening Grosbeak - Falmouth
2
(1)






House Sparrow
4
(2)