Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nova Scotia: Stalking the Elusive Sparrow

On June 1, 2012, Eileen, Cynthia, Lau and I drove from Fredericton to the ferry terminal at St. John, New Brunswick, loaded our car onto the ferry, and set out across the Bay of Fundy to Digby, Nova Scotia.

The ferry crossing can be, at times, a good place to find seabirds or marine mammals. On this beautiful, calm (but cold!) June day, despite vigilant efforts on my part, we failed to find either one.

 After a few fruitless (well, at least for bird and/or mammal watchers) hours, we steamed into Digby Harbour, ready to explore our second maritime province.

 Only about 20 km west of Digby is the attractively-restored Gilbert's Cove Lighthouse, first erected in 1904.It was a pleasant stop for a picnic lunch, and it gave me another opportunity to look out over the surface of the ocean for seabirds and whales, and not see any.

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)
 I had to make do, instead, with this very cooperative Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor).

 Our next few days were taken up with standard tourist things: visits to the attractive little town of Annapolis Royal, the port at Lunenburg, and the provincial capital, Halifax.  At Lunenburg, we watched fishing boats set out from the harbour...

… admired and attractively-stacked array of lobster traps…

American Herring Gull (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
American Herring Gull (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
American Herring Gull (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
… and, in my case, enjoyed a photo session with an American Herring Gull (Larus argentatus smithsonianus) posing attractively on a lamppost.

After a couple of days in Halifax, we   headed off on June 4 towards Cape Breton, passing on our way through Antigonish.   While the others stayed in town, I  took a brief afternoon bird walk through the Antigonish Wildlife Management Area, primarily in search of  an elusive little bird that I had never seen before: Nelson's Sparrow  (Ammodramus nelsoni), formerly known as Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow and, before that, as merely a well-marked race, or rather a complex of races, of the Sharp-tailed Sparrow (A. caudacutus)

American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)
 While in search of the sparrows, I came across a family of American Black Ducks (Anas rubripes).

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
This is not a Nelson's Sparrow, but the much more common Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia).  One clue to this, other than the bird's appearance, was that it was out in the open where I could see it.

Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia)
Another common species on the reserve: the Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia), a bird of low growth (especially near water) that is the most widespread and common North American wood warbler away from the northern forests.  

Finally out of an extensive patch of marsh grasses, I heard the song of a Nelson's Sparrow.  

Nelson's Sparrow (Ammodramus nelsoni)Nelson's Sparrow (Ammodramus nelsoni)
I managed to call up a pair (without overdoing the playback, I think..). One of them sat quietly at the edge of the reeds playing peek-a-boo with me. I managed these few just-recognizable photos, none without a blade of grass obscuring part of the bird's face. Oh well..

Nelson's Sparrow (Ammodramus nelsoni)
On the way back to the car, a magnificent adult Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flew up in front of of me.  No photos, I'm afraid - I wasn't quick enough.  I'll have to leave it up to readers to imagine for themselves the contrast between the soaring eagle and the skulking sparrow.

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