Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Where did January go?

Tuesday 30 January and only eleven months to go! Today was my last vacation day so I ventured out despite -24 overnight and a bone cracking -18 this morning.

My main objective was Carolina Wren with the possibility of a Eastern Towhee. Both birds have been in the vicinity of Rue Higgins in Chateguay for a while but neither showed yesterday and today was more of the same.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers were being very noisy, I counted three calling all at once, they also showed sporadically and I only managed a record shot. I spent about two hours searching and sitting but the cold eventually got to me and I had to get the car warm to try to restore feeling to fingers and feet.

On the way home I passed a hawk (well falcon actually) atop a lamp post and it turned out to be a Peregrine. Using my finely honed Quebec driving skills I reversed back over a bridge and took a few against the light shots of the bird from the rear, then I came back on the other carriageway and took a few frontal shots. Neither are great, I think the cold shakes beat the image stabiliser but you can see what it is.

Record shot of a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

American Tree Sparrow, small flocks have suddenly appeared and several were feeding in gardens in Chateguay.

This Peregrine was fine while I was in the car but when a cyclist went past it was off pretty quickly, much to the relief of a nervous pigeon on the next but one lamp post, I don't think it dare move!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Back in Blighty

January 20-28 2007

A week back in the UK allowed us to see family and old friends and I managed a little birding in familiar spots. Unfortunately the British Airways proposed strike meant that we had to lop a day off the trip so we squashed into the cattle class seats a day early having missed a few people that we had hoped to drop in on.

That aside the weather was quite pleasant throughout and we saw 101 species. If you are a UK reader of this blog the species illustrated won’t interest you but North American readers might find them interesting.

Our first base was Preston and I visited Leighton Moss for an afternoon, and we decreased the average age of the strollers on Lytham St Anne’s seafront by several years and enjoyed some casual birding there but no cup of tea at the open all year’ tea shop.
On the way south we visited Martin Mere and watched them feed the Whooper Swans, which, under the terms of wildfowl records, are presumably all of unknown origin due to tameness.

Resisting the temptation to detour for an American Robin (a gap in my British list) we spent a few days in Nottinghamshire and birded my old patch Colwick and did a bit at Rufford Park and the wolds around Southwell.

I’m still having problems with captions but I’ll try, lots of common birds but I like them.

Black-headed Gull

2cy European Herring Gull

Ruddy Turnstone


Red Knot

Eurasian Oystercatcher

Common Shelduck

Northern Pintail

Northern Lapwing

Whooper Swan

Mute Swan

A little bit of glamour, an inscrutable Mandarin

Tufted Duck

Male Red-crested Pochard

Male Common Pheasant

An old friend, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, (intermedius) ringed in 1999.

Common Gull of the nominate race.

Great Cormorant probably sinensis.

Eurasian Treecreeper


Eurasian Robin (a real robin!)

Great Tit

Blue Tit

A black Blackbird

And a white Blackbird but not an albino, no pink eyes.
Pre trip birding

We had a trip to the UK planned so I took Friday 19th January off to prepare and to try to see a few more birds! I had details for a Green-tailed Towhee in east Montreal, a lifer, but the weather was pretty snowy and the bird can only be seen at feeders. The owner of the feeders is paranoid about birders and the Police have been called. Personally I feel that the feeder owner is a little dim in not discontinuing the feeding until the bird has left (its been there several weeks, suppressed) but if it stays, more birders will find out the location of the site and the woman’s paranoia will grow. I’ve not heard whether it survived the –23 temps of January 17th and I’m posting this after our UK trip as I stayed out too long and had to rush to get to the airport on time, birders eh!

Back to the 19th, I started around St-Clet and was not disappointed, additions to the year list were Lapland Longspur (with apologies to European birders but that is what they are called here) and Horned Lark (with no apologies it should be split). My regular female Snowy Owl greeted me from its pole and the improving weather convinced me to try out St-Lazare Pinade.

The pinade was planted to reduce erosion in the farmlands around St-Clet, it is a fine piece of woodland, I just hope the administrators prevent any further building in it. Access is always tricky as they want you to park miles away and then travel with planks strapped to your feet in winter, stuff that, I walk up the bisecting road having parked inches outside the no parking zone.

As I approached the cross-country ski trails I heard singing White-winged Crossbills straight away, I eventually tracked down the sources for good views but they were flighty. I counted around 70 birds in total but of course there could have been Red Crossbill amongst them, didn’t hear any different calls though. I then trod the trails (why no hiking trails eh!) looking for northern woodpeckers. After an hour none were forthcoming until I actually returned to the road and there, by the road, was black-backed Woodpecker, intent on the destruction of a tree and ignoring me.

With this success I decided to try for a Yellow-headed Blackbird near Ormstown. My directions were sketchy but I found about 70 Brown-headed Cowbirds around a couple of feeders. They were very active, disappearing behind the houses but fortunately the Yellow-headed Blackbird put in a brief appearance and I sped home to catch to pack and catch the plane.

This spurt put me on 73 for the year.

The photos: I’ll try to add captions this time.

You might get bored with seeing Snowy Owls but I don't so here is the latest shotof the regular female.

After an absence due to lack of snow, the Horned Larks were back along the roads around St-Clet.

Lapland Longpurs have been a bit elusive this winter but the Snow Bunting flock that has built up around St-Clet now has ten or so in it.

Black-backed Woodpeckers are annual in the pinade at St-Lazare, they just take a bit of finding sometimes.

The sweet trill of the White-winged Crossbills seemed to be everywhere.

A roadside Rough-legged Hawk abolutely terrified by the sight of a birders car. I keep trying to move this text but it won't go, poot!

A blizzard of Snow Buntings, can you pick out the Lapland Longspurs?

This makes a great desktop, if anyone wants one, email me and I'll send a higer resolution image.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Slow progress

Weekend - 13-14 January 2007

Saturday saw us out seeking a few species along the Richelieu Valley before ending up at the area where one or two Gyr Falcons roost of an evening.

We drove across Wild Turkey country, seeing none, and arrived at Noyen, south of Montreal, with the expectation of scanning the rafts of Common Goldeneye for a Barrow's. Typically there was not a duck in sight, the mild conditions had not pushed the ducks into the area so that was that. Compensation nearby was a Northern Grey Shrike, something I normally see on New Year's Day but a species that has been fairly scarce this winter. Geographically and morphologically this species differs from Great Grey Shrike but they remain steadfastly one species. Loggerhead Shrike is the Neararctic conterpart of Lesser Grey Shrike so why to two 'big' shrikes stay lumped is beyond me.

On the crest of a slump we decided to try the St-Armand area for Tufted Titmouse, a rather local species in Quebec but one that occurs in the St-Armand area and is a regular at winter feeders. Apart from distressing a feeder owner, who probably thought we were either burglars casing the joint or just perverts, we had little entertainment.

Moving north we dropped into Chambly Basin adding American Coot to the list and shivering a bit in the -10 wind chill. We then had a dilema, do we drive to the Gyr roost site, high above the rather dull town of Richelieu, or do we go via St-Basile-le-Grand, a regular site for Short-eared Owl and one occasionally frequented by a grey Gyr? The choices were dictated by route as one way went up the east side of the Richelieu, the roost side, the other the west.

We chose the former route and spent an hour in a busy car park looking at a cliff face trying to make lumps into falcons. Meanwhile, over the river, some other birders were enjoying the spectacle of the grey Gyr giving a Red-tailed Hawk a hard time, I almost feel a French swear word coming on!!

Sunday we had 'things to do' prior to a trip. In the afternoon, after watching Newcastle beat Tottenham 3:2 in one of the best matches I've seen in years, I ventured out around the St-Clet lanes. As usual St-Julie came up with the goods and I had good views of a female Snowy Owl on a telegraph pole. Little did I know that the nearby St-Lazare Pinade was providing another birder with American Three-toed Woodpecker and Red Crossbills, I feel another vacation day may be required.

Below a few photos. I'm giving up trying to put captions on them as they wander, I must be doing something wrong.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

We should have gone for the Oriole!

Sunday 6th January 2007

Following an indifferent set of reports on the Bullock's Oriole near Montmagny, east of Quebec City, we decided not to make the trip of about 4.5 hours and to try Bois Papineau on Laval for owls etc... Bad choice.

Following the soggy Saturday, Sunday was bright but much colder. We birded the nice little reserve at Bois Papineau but only added Common Redpoll to the year list although the White-breasted Nuthatches were fun to watch. Perhaps there were owls north of the railway tracks but the paths leading there were not so good, I wish they'd put a boardwalk in.

After messing about on Laval, which I always find a claustrophobic sort of place to drive around, we made our way onto I'le Perrot and saw a Cackling Goose, both scaup and not a great deal else. Meanwhile in a land far far away, the Bullock's Oriole showed a few times and even ended up on one for the free video sites. Further along the St-Lawrence there would have been more year ticks, Dovekies, Common Eider etc. If the oriole sticks we will go that way next week, maybe..

The only photos I took on the Sunday were of the noisy White-breasted Nuthatches so here they are.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Pouring rain, so What?

Saturday 6th January 2007 was wet, very wet, but that did not stop the birding albeit somewhat curtailed in the end by the rain then the wind.

Our choices had been to go for a Bullock's Oriole east of Quebec City (a Quebec tick) or go to see a Northern Hawk Owl. The oriole had not been seen on Friday so the owl it was.

We made our way somewhat gingerly due to the conditions to Brennan's Hill, about an hour north of Ottawa. The lanes the owl frequents were rough and very slippery due to the heavy rain and the visibility was greatly reduced by low cloud. On arrival we tried looking from the car but the rain just hammered onto the roof and we decided to park up and wait for a break. After about fifteen minutes a vision appeared on the lane and we were a little incredulous when a jolly bunch of local birders came past in a variety of wet weather gear. Shortly after passing us they located our quarry high in a bare tree and waved us to join them. We hastily donned the appropriate gear and enjoyed watching a rather soggy Northern Hawk Owl fluttering around a small woodlot, landing on appealingly photogenic stumps and showing us little regard.

I waited until everyone had had their fill and then found a gap in the mass of branches through which to point the camera lens. Shooting on manual at 1/25 in stair rod rain but under an attractive blue & white golf umbrella, I managed a handful of reasonable shots without causing the owl any distress whatsoever. In my experience this species is rarely interested in humans anyway.

On the way home we dropped into Parc Plaisance between Gatineau and Montreal and saw a distant Rough-legged Hawk and later a couple of Snowy Owls were still around St-Clet. Todays light exercise added four to the year list which now stands at 58.