I’ve never been to Nova Scotia in the fall before, but as my fiancé Doran was planning on driving down to attend the Hal-Con Sci Fi convention in Halifax from November 4-6 I decided to join him. We left on Wednesday, November 2nd and spent the night in Edmunston as usual; I didn’t see anything really interesting until the next day while we were somewhere between Moncton and the Nova Scotia border. We were driving past a watery, marshy area next to the road when I spotted a couple of shorebirds, including what looked like a yellowlegs in flight, and a red fox slinking along the ground! Between the Nova Scotia border and Truro we saw a dark hawk with a white tail and white wing-tips hovering above the grassy shoulder of the highway. My best guess is dark morph Rough-legged Hawk, though it’s difficult to really process any field marks when driving at 115km/h. Doran noticed the Ring-necked Pheasant on the side of the road; that was the only other good bird we saw on the drive to the city.
My goal was to do some local birding while Doran attended Hal-Con – he has his own booth promoting his company, Whitefire Comics, and normally attends ComicCon in Ottawa every year but wanted to do something different this year. On Friday morning after helping set up his booth I went for a walk around the downtown area. First I checked out the waterfront area, which has its own eBird hotspot, though only 47 species have been recorded there. I thought I might see some loons, mergansers, or Common Eiders and was disappointed – the only birds I saw on the water were gulls. However, I did get Ring-billed Gull for my Nova Scotia list, so at least the visit was productive. The only other birds present were Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, and European Starlings.
Back in August, while I was writing up my blog posts about my trip to Nova Scotia, I spent a lot of time scrutinizing my photos while deciding the best ones to include. I was going through my photos from our trip to the Bird Islands IBA when I discovered a photo of this bird among my many photos of the Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills and Black Guillemots swimming in the ocean:
I got a horrible sinking feeling when I realized that this wasn’t a Razorbill as I had thought, that I actually didn’t notice this bird while I was photographing it – and that it would have been a lifer! At that point on the boat tour I was photographing the birds on the water, trying to get some decent photos of the different sea birds. They were too far to identify without the binoculars so I wasn’t paying attention to which species I was photographing. The only black and white alcids I actually saw (and identified) were Razorbills and Black Guillemots. This is neither – but looks like a cross between the two. When I checked my field guide, I realized it was a murre. However, there are two murre species possible on the east coast – Common Murre, which is quite numerous, and Thick-billed Murre, which is much less common – so I asked my friends on Facebook what they thought it was. The consensus was that this was indeed a Common Murre: Thick-billed Murre is blacker with a well-defined white wedge into the throat area, and has a white line along the cutting edge of the mandible. Also, Common Murre is the “default” murre in those parts.
I was able to add quite a few butterflies to my Nova Scotia list just by walking around Iris’s property and checking the wildflowers along the dirt road on my morning walks. I used the Butterflies of Nova Scotia site to see which species are found in the province, and the Maritimes Butterfly Atlas checklist for descriptions of the butterflies. Fortunately, Nova Scotia has fewer species on its checklist than Ontario does, and as most of them are also found in Ontario, identification wasn’t too difficult. One species I was surprised not to see on the list is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail; in Cape Breton and on our boat tour I had seen several yellow swallowtails flying over the highway and even across the water of St. Ann’s Bay. I thought that they might be Eastern Tiger Swallowtails given the date (in Ontario they fly later than the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, which flies mainly in late May and June), but I realized later they could only be Canadian Tiger Swallowtails.
After leaving Cape Breton Doran and I spent the rest of our vacation in Greenwood. We stayed with Doran’s foster mother, Iris, just outside of town on the South Mountain; though at 275 metres in height, the “mountain” is the same height as the Eardley Escarpment in Gatineau. This granite ridge forms the southern edge of the Annapolis Valley and protects it from severe weather blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean. There are plenty of fields and small woodlots along the roadways on top of the mountain, and small lakes and larger swathes of mixed forest beyond the main roads. Iris’s property consisted of a large yard with a small woodlot containing a swampy area at the back; if that wasn’t enough for me, there was a dirt road close by which was wooded on one side and had a dense scrubby meadow on the other. All of this made for some excellent habitat to look for wildlife.
On July 6th my fiancé and I left the Silver Dart Lodge early to take a boat tour to the Bird Islands, the best place to see nesting puffins and sea birds in Nova Scotia. The Bird Islands are located about 4 kilometres off of Cape Dauphin, between the end of the Cabot Trail and North Sydney. They consist of two large islands (Hertford Island and Ciboux Island) as well as the various small rocky outcroppings around and between them which are not large enough to merit the designation of “island” or have a name of their own. Hertford Island and Ciboux Island are both long and narrow, and lie in a straight line running from southwest to northeast. Hertford Island, which is the closer of the two, is approximately 1.1 km long by 120 metres wide, while Ciboux Island is approximately 1.6 km long by 120 metres wide. The islands themselves consist of rocky twenty-metre high cliffs, with grasses and stunted shrubs covering the tops. Numerous ledges and small caves in the cliff face provide ample space for a variety of breeding birds. I was excited when Doran suggested the tour, as two of the birds – the Great Cormorant and Black Guillemot – would be lifers for me.
In early July my fiancé and I spent some time in Nova Scotia, spending a night in Cape Breton before heading to the Annapolis Valley where he grew up. We decided to drive down to save on costs, spending the first night in Woodstock, NB as we did in 2008 and our second night in Baddeck on Cape Breton Island. There we stayed at the Silver Dart Lodge right above Bras d’Or Lake near the start of the Cabot Trail. The property was lovely, with single rooms in the main lodge and small chalets available for rent (we stayed in the main lodge). Situated on 90 acres, the property boasts a pool, a playground, a gazebo overlooking the small, rocky beach, and best of all, hiking trails in the woods.
We arrived in the early afternoon. Doran wanted to rest after the long drive from Woodstock, but I felt compelled to explore the property. I could hear the lovely song of a Northern Parula coming from the trees behind the lodge so I decided to start my exploration with a walk along the hiking trails. There was a charming wooden frame at the entrance of the trail; I spotted movement just above it and was surprised to see a very young robin perching on top of the frame.
Walking Trail at Silver Dart Lodge (click to enlarge)
My fiancé and I went to Nova Scotia during the first weekend of May for a brief visit. We went there chiefly to visit family, but I managed to get some birdwatching in during our visit. We arrived late Friday night and stayed in a hotel near the airport; on Saturday morning we drove up to Maitland to check out Doran’s father’s land. While driving up Highway 215 I noticed a large bird in a field next to the road. I asked Doran to stop the car to confirm that the bird was what I suspected: a Ring-necked Pheasant. We had to backtrack a bit, but when we returned to the spot I was not only able to get a good look at the bird, but also some good photographs!