Friday 21 August 2015

Rare warblers and a shorebird near Halifax

Last night I arrived in Halifax to spend the next 9 days or so with Laura and her family. This week she was working at a veterinary clinic and had a long day scheduled for today (Friday), which provided me with an opportunity to drop her off in the morning, go birding all day, and pick her up in the evening!

My best bird of the day came as I was birding near the back cove at Harlen Point, located near Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Hartlen Point is a fantastic rarity magnet, and was the location where I successfully twitched a provincial first Ross's Goose in January 2013, and the provincial second Eurasian Kestrel last December. Around late morning as I was exiting Back Cove, I was quite surprised to see an oystercatcher flying my way. It followed the shoreline to Back Cove, circled around, and exited the mouth of the channel, continuing north along the coast. I was hoping that it would have the diagnostic white rump of a Eurasian Oystercatcher, but unfortunately that was not the case! American Oystercatcher was actually a life bird for me as I had missed them previously in Florida, Colombia and Panama. I'm  not sure if there are any previous records of American Oystercatcher for the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). In Canada the only place to reliable see them is around the islands off the extreme south tip of Nova Scotia where a few nest each year. The odd vagrant has shown up elsewhere in the Maritimes, while Ontario and Quebec even have the odd record. The decision to leave my camera in the car was a poor one this time, however, as I could have smoked some decent shots.

I wanted to relocate the oystercatcher so I decided to focus the rest of my birding to points further east. Unfortunately the persistent fog lasted all day, rendering beach-checking and sea-watching practically useless!

The other two highlights of the day occurred as I slowly drove a back road near Lower Three Fathom Harbour. My strategy for finding rare landbirds was to slowly troll along roads near the coast, listening for the tell tale chips, zeets and chucks of flocks of chickadees or warblers. Often rarities will join up with these roving flocks.

This strategy worked to a tee today! I stopped to investigate a few chip notes, and with a bit of "encouragement" I was able to rile up a whole flock of chickadees and warblers. Black-capped Chickadees and Yellow-rumped Warblers made up the bulk of the flock, while a few Boreal Chickadees, Common Yellowthroats and Red-breasted Nuthatches were also accounted for. Something bright and yellow down low in the alders immediately grabbed my attention. It was a Blue-winged Warbler! After a mad dash to the car, I was ready with the camera, but the bird proved very skulky and nearly impossible to focus on. As I was failing with my photography, another bright yellow bird popped up. This time it was a young female Prairie Warbler!

Eventually with a bit of patience I photographed both species, though my Blue-winged Warbler shots are less than ideal.

female Blue-winged Warbler - Lower Three Fathom Harbour, Nova Scotia (August 21, 2015)

Both Prairie and Blue-winged Warblers are species that breed further south and west of Nova Scotia, yet every autumn small numbers of mainly hatch year individuals of each species end up in the Maritimes after presumably getting blown off course. Prairie is more regular as a vagrant than Blue-winged, but both show up each autumn in Nova Scotia.
female Prairie Warbler - Lower Three Fathom Harbour, Nova Scotia (August 21, 2015)

I have to say I really enjoy birding on the east coast, where vagrant hunting seems much more productive than back home in Ontario! Rarities could be around any bend, and often they are. Now if only one of those funny looking Black Terns would end up our way...

female Prairie Warbler - Lower Three Fathom Harbour, Nova Scotia (August 21, 2015)

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