Thursday, 10 February 2022

Pink-footed Goose and Common Gull: The Rematch

So, just as I am deciding what to do next, after returning from Alberta, I hear of a Pink-footed Goose in Nova Scotia.  I had thought I’d be going to Newfoundland for one, since they have eased their quarantine requirements to just 24 hours with two negative tests, but I also wanted another chance at the Common Gull in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.  Of course, there was also a Common Gull reported in Newfoundland.  In fact, as far as I can tell, there are only two Common Gulls in all of eastern Canada.  What is a birder to do?  I went for the known quantity and picked Nova Scotia.

So, using my Porter Pass,(10 prepaid flight segments with Porter Airlines), I headed to the Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto and boarded a flight back to Halifax.  These flight passes are great, since you don’t have to book in advance, so I could wait until I got the birds before I booked another flight.  I had planned on staying in an Air B&B near where the Pink-footed Goose had been seen, but there had been an ice storm the previous day and they had no power. I had to scramble for accommodations, as I only learned of the cancellation while driving up from Halifax, and ended up staying the night at a quaint hotel about 20 minutes from my morning destination.

In the aftermath of the Ice Storm, the trees seemed made of crystal:

The lovely vintage and antique furniture of the Heathstone Inn, Sydney, NS:

I arrived on Seaside Drive by 8:15 and started scoping the farm field that the Pinkies had been reported to hang out in.  There wasn’t anything but them Herring Gulls loafing in the field.  I walked up and down the road scanning every field, enjoyed a nice view of a Bald Eagle, but no dice on the goose.  About a half our into searching, including the frozen Lingam Bay I ran into a couple taking a walk.  The woman had binoculars hanging over her shoulder so I knew I had an instant friend to help in my search.  They introduced themselves as Monique and Len Vassallo and showed me where in the field, a little frozen pond, she had been seeing the geese.  Geese, I asked, as in more than one?  Yes, there were, in fact, four Pink-footed Goose,(gooses, geese?).  They continued on their walk and said they’d be back around in about an hour.

So, I kept scanning.  Then, on the ice, in the bay, I saw 2 lumps and thought I’d check them out.  They were, in fact, lumps.  But just beyond the first two lumps were four lumps.  I got my scope on them, and sure enough, I had had my Pink-footed Goose(s).  Just in time, Len and Monique came walking up and I got to share my Canada Lifer with them,(405).  My only only other sighting was back in 2012 during my North American Big Year: Goosed into Action.

I watched the geese for about 20 minutes, only getting a few mediocre photos before they flew off.  It was time to head back down to New Glasgow for the Common Gull.  I tried for this bird multiple times on my January trip, with no success.  This time I was determined to stay until dark and then return in the morning if I missed it.  The Aberdeen Business Centre is popular with the gulls for a couple of reasons.  There are several fast food outlets and a Cineplex.  Plus people sit in the parking lot eating their lunch and many toss a French fry or two out the window.  

There were not many gulls when I arrived and I cruised the parking lot for about 10 minutes to see where the gulls would alight.  I had thought the prime location would have been in front of the KFC, but it turns out the gulls are finicky and prefer the food found out front of the movie theatre.  They do have a thing for popcorn.  On many a west coast pelagic the crew will toss popcorn off the pack of the boat to attract the seabirds. 

Late in the afternoon, when I was beginning to think I’d have to find accommodations for the night, a small gull with an almost entirely yellow beak and yellow legs dropped in, not 10 feet from my open car window.  I got a good look, took some photos, looked again, checked the field guide to confirm and yes, finally, I had my Common Gull.  My patience and persistence was rewarded.  This was one of only two of the eastern split of the Mew Gull being reported in Canada right now.  It turns out, at least in Canada, the Common Gull is quite rare, though common in Europe.  Much more common in Canada is the western split, the Short-billed Gull, of which, I saw plenty in British Columbia.

Pink-footed Goose, #152:

(Good Bird, Bad Photos)

Common Gull, #153:

I spent the night in Halifax and hopped to get some birding in the next morning, but it was pouring rain, indeed there had been a rainfall warning, and every time I tried to park the car, or step out into a parking lot, either my tires or my feet kept slipping on the ice.  I decided to call it a day and booked a Porter flight for that afternoon and headed straight to the airport.  But I got the two birds I came for.  Both were Canada Lifers, and the Common Gull gave me 695 ABA species as I march toward the ABA 700 Club.

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