Sunday, August 31, 2014

Late August Weekend at Brier Island

This time of year, reports of fall migrants begin to come in. In SW Nova Scotia there were recent reports of Prairie Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, Nashville Warblers, Wilson's Warblers, Canada Warblers and Northern Waterthrushes. I decided to take advantage of the pleasant weather shown on the forecast for the Labour Day weekend and head to Brier Island. Due to the geography, the island is a great spot for catching migrants on the way to warmer places. I was hoping for some good warblers and I was not disappointed.

Brier Island Sunrise - August 30, 2014.

I left work at 2 pm on Friday and arrived on Brier island at around 5 pm. I had booked 2 nights at the Brier Island Hostel. I got my things sorted and headed down the Lighthouse Road that leads to West Head. I saw a large hawk on the wires and slowly approached to get a few badly lit photos. Before I could position my self it flew off into the trees near the road. This was a very large accipiter and I knew immediately that it could only be a Northern Goshawk. I then snapped a photo of the juvenile bird in a spruce tree.

Juvenile Northern Goshawk - Brier Island - August 29, 2014.

The size of this bird alone was enough to convince me that it was a goshawk. Some other distinguishing field marks from a Cooper's are a goshawk's heavy underpart streaking on a buffy base, contrasting supercilium and the bulkier build.

After a night's rest at the hostel I awoke at 5:15 am, got ready and headed out to see Lance Laviolette and the other banders. I spoke with them for a bit and birded the road leading to the Northern Light. I found a Blackpoll Warbler near the lighthouse.

Blackpoll Warbler - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

I then drove down Gull Rock Road and hit a few pockets of great warblers. I got my first good photos of a Northern Waterthrush.

Northern Waterthrush - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

My next find was the best of the day and my second lifer for the weekend. A beautiful Blue-winged Warbler appeared in front of me. These warblers breed up to the southern part of Maine so this bird was a reverse migrant, heading north to Canada instead of south towards Central America.

Blue-winged Warbler - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

As of 2012, 95 Blue-winged Warblers have been reported in Nova Scotia. Below is another photo that shows its blue-grey wings.

Blue-winged Warbler - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

Below are photos of a few other birds that were seen throughout the morning on Gull Rock Road and Lighthouse Road.

American Redstart - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

Red-eyed Vireo - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

I saw a few other somewhat uncommon warblers also. 2 Canada Warblers, 1 Nashville Warbler, 1 Cape May Warbler and 1 Wilson's Warbler. Here are a few shots.

Cape May Warbler - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

Nashville Warbler - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

My last lifer of the weekend came twice. I've identified this Mourning Warbler as a first year male due to the dull appearance and light veiled black in the throat. These warblers nest in Nova Scotia but particularly in the eastern half and are rare over in the west.

Mourning Warbler - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

The other Mourning Warbler that I saw initially looked very similar to a Common Yellowthroat through the camera viewfinder. Checking my photos later I clearly saw that it wasn't a yellowthroat. This bird could be a first year female due to the extremely dull colouration and broken breastband. The narrow broken eyering, broken breastband and yellow supraloral area seperate it from other similar but rarer species (Connecticut and MacGillvray's).

Mourning Warbler - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

Later on in the morning I stopped in at the banding station again and watched them process a few birds. Here are some shots of birds in the hand.

Northern Waterthrush in the hand - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in the hand - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

Black-and-white Warbler in the hand - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

Least Flycatcher in the hand - Brier Island - August 30, 2014.

The Brier Island Banding Station - August 30, 2014.

Sunday morning was only partly sunny and quite windy. I left Brier Island at 8:30 am and soon found 2 Eastern Bluebirds on Long Island (my first bluebirds for the year). Jerome d'Eon had called me about a Snowy Egret at Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau, Yarmouth County so I stopped in on the way home and picked up another good bird. After this weekend my Nova Scotia 2014 list is at 212 species and my Nova Scotia life list is at 263. I'm sure this fall will bring me a few more lifers.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Salvages

The name of some places can evoke certain feelings. "The Salvages" conjures up thoughts of an inhospitable place fraught with danger. The Salvages are aptly named. Western Halfmoon and Eastern Halfmoon are two islands 2 km south-east of the Blanche Peninsula. These two islands are known as The Salvages. Keep going east after these islands and if you're lucky the next land you'll hit will be the fabled Sable Island. 

These islands are extremely exposed to the elements. In 1915 a fog alarm building was built on Western Halfmoon, the most southerly of the islands. To withstand the punishing Atlantic Ocean the walls of the building were built with 41 cm thick concrete. Visit for more information on this or any of Nova Scotia's many lighthouses.

On the morning of August 2, 2014 Bertin d'Eon and I put the Zodiac in at the wharf at Commercial Street in Port La Tour, Shelburne County. We had planned on visiting some of the islands east of Port La Tour. The ocean was very calm and the forecast was predicting light winds for the entire day. We decided to seize the opportunity and head for The Salvages.

As we were crossing from Baccaro to Blanche we came upon a pod of 5 porpoises. We got some great views thanks to the very flat waters. Our first stop was Blanche Island. This island was home to approximately 1300 Double-crested Cormorants. This was by far the largest colony that I've ever seen.

Hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants - Blanche Island - August 2, 2014

Blanche Island held my first Pectoral Sandpipers of the season as well as 20 Ruddy Turnstones, 15 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 6 Canada Geese. Black Guillemots were both on the water and on the rocks on the island. We landed and walked around the northern half. We were very pleased to find a Black Guillemot nest in some of the large rocks on the north western side as well as this single egg.

Black Guillemot Egg - Blanche Island - August 2, 2014

Our next destination was Western Halfmoon. On our way we spotted an adult Razorbill moulting into basic plumage. To my knowledge the nearest nesting sites for Razorbills are on Green Island (south of Yarmouth) and Ram Island (east of Lockeport). Surrounding the Razorbill was a group of about 100 Arctic Terns that must have nested nearby, possibly on Blanche Island.

Razorbill - near Blanche Island - August 2, 2014

Saying that I was excited as we were approaching The Salvages is an understatement. Western Halfmoon is simply a rock with a shingle beach, an old fog alarm building and a new automated solar-powered light tower. Our greeting party was made up of two Irish Moss harvesters. 

Western Halfmoon - August 2, 2014

Minutes after stepping foot on Western Halfmoon we had 4 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 14 Ruddy Turstones and 1 Whimbrel. I climbed to the top of the automated light to get a better angle for a photograph of the impressive building. The large treed island in the background of the photo below is the picturesque Cape Negro Island.

Fog building - Western Halfmoon - August 2, 2014

Northern Gannets were flying by in ones and twos. Most were adults and I only counted 2 immature birds. They were passing by much closer than you'd see them when on the mainland. We were able to enter the old structure to find it practically empty. The paint was peeling off of the walls and the place had a strong musty smell. 

Western Halfmoon Fog Building - August 2, 2014

I assume that the building isn't locked so that anyone stranded at sea will be able to use it for shelter. There was an emergency supply box that was last stocked in the late 1990's and some office furniture like the nice desk in the photo above.

We then headed to Eastern Halfmoon and found Black Guillemots leaving from within holes in the large rocks on the island. They were most likely nesting there. There were 19 Ruddy Turnstones and 10 Semipalmated Sandpipers on this tiny rock of an island.

On our way back towards Port La Tour we re-observed the Razorbill and were delighted to see the pod of Porpoises again. We made a quick stop at Crow's Neck Beach to count 75 Willets along with a few more species of shorebirds.

Soon after arriving at the group of islands east of Smithsville we found a lone American Oystercatcher. I was hoping we would find it. Last summer on August 4, 2013 we had 2 Oystercatchers at this exact location. This may be evidence of this species moving further east along the Nova Scotian coast. At present, the only confirmed breeding pairs of American Oystercatchers in Canada are at Cape Sable Island. I will have to check this location again next spring to try and confirm nesting.

Rare American Oystercatcher - Sheep Island - August 2, 2014

One of the islands east of Smithsville is named Sheep Island and this island hosts a colony of both Arctic and Common Terns. I was able to count about 225 individuals, most of which were Arctic Terns.

Common Tern - Sheep Island - August 2, 2014

We covered about 27 km during the morning's trip. Below is the track from the Commercial Street wharf at Port La Tour to The Salvages and back. Use Google Maps to explore this wonderful area.

Our trip