Friday, November 15, 2013


I came home from Texas for only one night before the Big Year Bug attacked and forced me out the door. (Gerri still refuses to believe in the bug - she thinks it's just a lame excuse to never be around to do anything useful around the house. But yes - a Big Year *is* the ultimate excuse for getting out of, well, any kind of responsibility!) This time I'm on a drive north (in my own car!) to the Canadian Maritimes. There's a Tundra Bean-goose in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and recent reports of Pink-footed Goose and Yellow-legged Gull from Newfoundland. There's nothing in the Lower 48, so it's a good time to disappear off the cell phone grid and into Canada.

Saint John is the largest city in New Brunswick and the port for the Nova Scotia ferry. I arrived here yesterday after a 6.5 hour drive from Boston. I have the evening to enjoy the colonial architecture, a fantastic Monkfish dinner, some decent local beer, and see the "world-famous" tides. Yes - the Bay of Fundy has the highest vertical tidal range in the world (over 50 feet from low to high tide.) And if you have 12 hours to sit and watch you can see them in their full glory. I settle for a quick 5 min peek at the water and imagine the rest.

Welcome to New Brunswick!

I leave my car at the ferry terminal this morning (it's much cheaper to rent on the Nova Scotia side than take my car over) and climb aboard the Princess of Acadia for the 3 hour crossing. We're going too fast for me to stand outside without risk of losing my baseball cap / whole body to the sea. I stay inside, while scanning through the windows for Great Skua.

The Bay of Fundy. A Great Skua-free zone.

New Brunswick is the only Canadian province which is officially bi-lingual (Quebec is only French, the others only English.) This means that many of the signs and notices are in English and French. Although some of the translations seem unnecessary...

Seasickness bags.
Not quite sure how the French language bags differ from the English language ones? 

The Bean Goose is no longer one goose - but two. In 2007, the species was split into two: the larger, longer-necked Taiga Bean-goose, and the smaller Tundra Bean-goose. Both breed in northern Eurasia and both are (very rare) vagrants to north America. The regular reader of this blog will remember that I've already chased a Tundra Bean-goose this year (at the Salton Sea in California) and missed. I'm more hopeful for this bird: it's been seen every day since Nov 8th on a golf course right next to the main road. And as I dock in Digby, Nova Scotia, only an hour from the bird, I get word that it was seen this morning. Woo-hoo!

But first - I have to navigate my rental car. This one (a Toyota Corolla) has a nifty gadget for opening the windows. I believe this new technical advance is called a "handle" - you rotate it and the window opens. Like magic! No more exhausting pushing of a button. Can't wait for this to catch on in the US...

A Canadian improvement on the window button. Simply rotate! 

I arrive at the golf course. There's no goose. I drive up the clubhouse to scan the links. No goose. Please not another wild goose chase! I return to the road and meet another birder who has reached the same conclusion: no goose.

And then a helpful golfer comes over. 

"You guys looking for the goose?"

Now, these are not entirely surprising words to come from a non-birding golfer. This bird has been on TV - it made the local news. (I'm guessing there's not a lot of news in Yarmouth, NS.)

"There's some geese on the back side - near a pond."

And so we drive over to the other (northeast) side of the course. And near a small pond, we spot a group of geese on the green.

They're all Canada's - black neck, distinctive white face patches...until a dark brown goose waddles out. It's the Bean Goose!

Tundra Bean-goose. Notice the bright orange legs and orange band on the bill. 
The head and upper neck are dark brown, lightening towards the belly. 

Soon, they're all in the pond, swimming...

The Tundra is the smaller of the two Bean Geese splits. The neck and bill are shorter then the Taiga Bean-goose. The bill also has an obvious grin patch, like a Snow Goose.

The "grin patch" - an external gap between upper and lower mandibles

The British Ornithological Union (BOU) recently split the Bean Goose into a further species - yet to be recorded in the ABA region...

The Mr Bean Goose

What a stunning bird (the Tundra - not the Mr Bean!) And driving 8 hours with a ferry ride (almost) makes up for the failed wild goose chase to the Salton Sea.

I'm hoping this isn't the only successful wild goose chase this weekend. I'm flying up to Newfoundland tomorrow morning, where I'm hoping that a certain Pink-footed Goose seen last weekend is still there.

700 CLUB UPDATE: While I'm writing this, I'm very happy to report that Jay Lehman has reached 700 for his big year. Congratulations Jay! I first met Jay on Debi Shearwater's boat in Half Moon Bay back in July. I spent a lot of time with Jay in Alaska, and while a lot of our big years have been spent in remote places, often alone, I've enjoyed the times where our schedules have overlapped and I've got to spend time with him. He has a wealth of birding knowledge which he's graciously shared and which has helped my own big year efforts. One of the great things about doing a big year is not only the birds that you see, but also the people. And I'm very happy to have met Jay. Congrats on the 700, buddy!

Jay - hard at work as usual, looking for birds. (Barrow, AK)
+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 732 + 2 provisional (Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart)

NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Tundra Bean-goose

No comments:

Post a Comment