Monday, February 26, 2007

Desperately seeking crossbills!

Sunday 25th February 2006

With the February options running out we plumped for a trip to Parc Gatineau north of the Nation’s capital and the chance (yet again) of Red Crossbill. The birds had been reported from the Eardley-Masham section of the parc, an area we had never been to, set at the western end of the parc and essentially a lengthy gravel access road between two villages.

On arrival, the habitat looked very promising with tall pines, rolling hills and a few craggy bits. The road was relatively quiet (for Quebec) and so parking and birding presented no problems. After a couple of stops I picked up a cruising Golden Eagle, probably a 2cy bird based on the reduced white in the wings and tail. Shortly after the first of two adult Bald Eagles passed by, always impressive. I apologise in advance for the record dots below but I do like to provide proof positive if at all possible.

While there were plenty of White-winged Crossbills around, the Reds eluded us, although I did hear what may have been them overhead, but couldn’t locate them. I also heard a few Ruffed Grouse drumming in the wood but none ventured forth.

After a few hours searching we decided to take advantage of the perfect light and conditions and go the 35km or so north to Brennan’s Hill. We had visited this site and seen the winter resident Northern Hawk Owl back in January but it was raining buckets at the time and the photos were just record shots, this time we were luckier with the weather and, although the bird sat high in a pine, I managed a few better images.

For those in the Montreal region reading this, Brennan’s Hill is about two hours, an easy drive and the owl had a few regular perches. If its in the trees by the yellow house, the home owner has no objections to birders walking the drive but don’t go through the gate. I was told that the owl is very approachable and often sits on lower trees by the road. Also, it’s a Hawk Owl for goodness sake, how much incentive do you need to see one of the World’s top owls!!

On the way over to Brennan’s Hill a brown lump in a roadside bush turned out to be a Ruffed Grouse which, with characteristic uncertainty, slowly dropped off the perch and moved away at a brisk amble, hiding under a hedge in the clean white snow.
Below a few shots. I won’t caption them but they are… Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, Hawk Owl and Ruffed Grouse, enjoy.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

St-Clet fields

Saturday 24th February 2007

A short trip around the lanes produced the usual Lapland Longspurs, Snow Buntings and Horned Larks, also a couple of Ravens.

I checked along the Cites des Jeunes but no Short-eared Owls were showing. On my second drive along Ste-Julie another birder had a beautiful male Snowy Owl in a tree next to the road, Parking cautiously I managed a few shots before he went off to reclaim another tree from an intruding Snowy Owl.

Towards the end of Ste-Julie, the regular female was hunched on her pole. Looking a bit raggy now.

Below a few shots:

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Gyr Falcon at the Falaise

21 Feb 2007

Using a few hours I had been saving and with the weather calm but cold I set off to Mont St-Hilaire and the Falaise de Dieppe hoping to see one of the Gyr Falcons that roost there each winter.

Eventually a grey form arrived, announcing to all and sundry by calling loudly, that this was the home of the Gyr Falcon for the winter.

I took some distant shots, very distant in fact, still its the record that counts. The white bird hadn't showed by the time I left but, thanks to Gilles and Yves, I now know exactly where to look. If you fancy your chances, the birds are more spectacular in late March when the summer resident Peregrines reclaim their home.

Snaps below, sorry for the quality, the bird and the location (full shot).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

North Shore sortie

17-19 February 2007

Despite transport Canada’s dire road warnings, a very recent snow dump and the distance, we decided to visit Tadoussac on the north shore of the St-Lawrence hoping for Purple Sandpiper and a lot more.

Thanks to our company’s generosity we were able to enjoy an extended weekend so drove over Saturday and came back Monday, 1700km in all. As it happened the roads were OK but the wind on Monday was a killer so we had to abandon Tadoussac and flee south. In between we had a nice break in the excellent cabins at Domain des Dunes (just Google it) an ideal birders location and highly recommended, just take your own food, the cabins are well kitted out with everything you need, oh and take your own music, the TV is rubbish.

Back to the birding. We pushed on from Montreal to Malbaie without a stop, about 4.5 hours driving in a car that still stuttered despite lavishing $450CAN to try to solve the problem, we ignored it, the van coped. At Malbaie high water drew the wildfowl close in and we enjoyed good views of Barrow’s Goldeneye, outnumbering the Common Goldeneye 20:1. We also picked up Glaucous and Iceland Gull in the bay while dozens of Long-tailed Ducks scuttled about on the edge of the bay.

Moving on to St-Simeon we trespassed on the docks and quickly picked up several Black Guillemots but little else. The weather at this point was positively balmy, about –2, no wind, just perfect. Just prior to arrival at Tadoussac we birded Baie Ste-Catherine which always looks like more birds should use it. Common Goldeneye were now in the ascendancy, 300+ Red-breasted Mergansers made a good flock and around 150 Greater Scaup fed off the quay. Everywhere we went we saw Black Ducks, hundreds of them, a feature of the next two days.

Riding the free roll on-roll off ferry to Tadoussac I scanned every rock looking for the 50 Purple Sandpipers in the area, I sort of assumed that they would be all over the place, wrong!

After a comfortable night and a novel meal of beef fondue, a truly fiddly way of eating, we set out around Tadoussac. The weather had changed to snow with grey skies and more of a breeze. The bay below the observation platform at Tadoussac had lots of Iceland Gulls, Black Ducks and nothing much else Flocks of Common Redpolls were milling around, perhaps 300+ and we saw a few Evening and Pine Grosbeaks along with groups of White-winged Crossbill, no Reds though. I tried all the rocky bits around the bay, fighting the snow drifts and the increasing cold wind but zilch on the sandpiper front.

We decided to try for a recently seen King Eider at nearby (200km away) Baie Comeau. When we eventually reached it, enjoying hundreds of Pine Grosbeaks, a Grey Jay, a Black-backed Woodpecker, 30 or so Harlequins and a very surprising male Surf Scoter at Bergeronnes on the way, we dipped the King Eider, in fact we didn’t see a single Common Eider anywhere.

Monday was beautifully clear but as cold as anything I have known. The wind blasted off the cliffs from all directions and the car coughed and spluttered, it was –18 inside!!
We birded Baie St-Catherine again but the gales whipped up the snow and the birds were sensibly keeping low. We moved on to St-Simeon and did a ‘sea watch’ from the quay. The wind was less forceful there and we had great views of 50+ Black Guillemots and a fairly close Little Auk whirring past. A great surprise of the trip was the American Robins which fed all over the beaches at low tide, despite the plethora of Rowan berries everywhere.

We decided to press on home and see how the weather looked nearer Montreal. We then decided on a whim to look for Red Crossbill in the Parc Mauricie. Our route cut across open farm land and I suggested we might find a Snowy Owl, sure enough, at St-Prosper a male was squatting behind the ridge of a barn. I snapped him as he squinted at us then took a few as he flew off.

In Parc Mauricie we saw snow, nothing else! The bird news in this Province is rubbish for directions. Anywhere else the Purple Sandpiper stake out would be covered in detail, as would regular Red Crossbills coming for grit, here you get the chance to search 100 square miles, its very irritating and its my personal mission to post precise details every time I have anything interesting to report, who knows, in ten years time all birders here might do the same.

The photos: I’ve posted a few snaps as usual, if anyone wants higher definition images, let me know.
The year list is now 90 species with March on the way. I still have a few gaps I’d like to fill and plans on how to fill them, watch this space.

Male Barrow's Goldeneye.

Another view.

And the wife.

Barrow's on the left, Common on the right.

Adult Iceland Gull, ssp kumlieni

Roadside Rough-legged Hawk

Black Guillemot in winter plumage, a Tystie in Shetland, a much nicer name.

A stunning panorama, 70km north of Quebec City.

The bay at St-Simeon.

That is frozen St-Lawrence out there that is.

Pine Grosbeaks are messy eaters

You lookin at my bird!

An arty shot, hope you enjoyed the Pine Grosbeaks.

A few serendipitous shots of the male Snowy Owl.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

SEO surprise

Weekend of 10-11 February 2007

Dogged by a heavy cold, I limited Saturdays search for year ticks to another check on the local Snowies and hoped to pick up a Grey Partridge along the way. As it happened the partridge were again absent but two Short-eared Owls were most welcome. The birds quartered fields west of St-Clet (AFTER 16.30!!!) but did not come very close. I took some distant record shots, results below. To add to the fun we saw four different Snowy Owls all within view of Ste-Julie, THE place to see Snowies west of Montreal.

Sunday was supposed to be bright so we headed north in the snow flurries. Our local Ice Bridge had opened and so, despite every instinct we have saying “don’t go on the ice” something instilled by nagging mothers, we crossed anyway. After a steady cruise, seeing nothing more than a Northern Grey Shrike we arrived at the Secteur de la Pimbina car park at Mont Tremblant. Cross-country skiers and Gods way of telling you not to breed, Ski-Dooers, were everywhere, but the many White-winged Crossbills present seemed oblivious, singing form the tops of the pines and taking grit from the roadsides. They were joined by a few Pine Siskins, also singing when not gritting.

Our next target was, well anything not seen so far, so we took the road to the Secteur de la Diable (route 329) which is an excellent and fairly quiet road for birding from. We saw several groups of gritting crossbills and siskins, one of which had a few Purple Finch in, another year tick. Further on we found first one, then another five Pine Grosbeaks but, as ever with this species (for me at least), they were quick to depart and avoid the camera lens.
Apart from a Northern Goshawk, and lots more White-winged Crossbills, nothing much else showed and we made our way back home nursing a misfiring car along the racetrack routes. Looks like another expensive week ahead.

Saturdays record shot of Short-eared Owl

And the original image it came from

A few White-winged Crossbill shots.

Pine Siskin, nothing like a Eurasian eh!

Side by side 'doing' grit.

Purple Finch looking a bit off colour.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Who’d be a brass monkey in this weather!

3-4 February 2007, another weekend of rather frustrating birding with strong winds both days, some horizontal snow and interesting roads and the birds were having none of it.

Saturday was clear but bitter and the aforesaid brass monkeys would have been searching deep in the drifting snow for anything that had come adrift. I started by intending to go off east looking for Tufted Titmouse, Wild Turkey and maybe a few other species just bursting to get on my year list. After cruising the lanes of St-Clet, discretion got the better part of valour and I decided to wait until Sandra, who was at home with a heavy cold, was fit to navigate (barely conscious would do, this is a competition!) and the weather had eased. The lanes were ok except for the lack of Snowy Owls, sensibly hiding behind a hummock somewhere. The roads had lots of Lapland Longspurs, certainly more than the routine two or three per winter. Snow Buntings had also arrived in force with around 450 along the Cites des Jeunes alone.

Taking the enforced opportunity to sit and watch the action I managed to snap a couple of Snow Bunts and scared a Rough-legged Hawk by driving within two kilometers of it, why are they so nervous?

Sunday dawned with more of the same but Sandra still had a lively pulse so, wrapped up and comfy we set off. In previous years Tufted Titmice have been regular at the feeders in St-Armand, an area on the US border about 1.5 hours away (Quebec is big). The area also has a few other species and, despite the continued gale and –30 something wind-chill, I was optimistic.

En-route (very French eh!) we passed numerous little flurries of Snow Buntings, as well as more Laps and Horned Larks. As we reached Noyen we could see that the water was not as frozen as we had hoped and so the wildfowl, with possibly Barrow’s Goldeneye amongst them, would be scattered and hard to see. Moving on to Venice en Quebec we found Lake Champlain well frozen and that the cerebrally challenged Ice Fisherpeople were out in force, well at least the Police know where they all are.

In St-Armand we came across a dozen Wild Turkeys moving gracefully through the snow drifts, well actually scrabbling about like panicked cats dropped in a bath (no I’ve never done it) and they quickly scrabbled off. We checked lots of feeders and saw numerous American Tree Sparrows but no Tuftys.

Returning home we saw even more Snow Bunts for about 1700 in total, very spectacular.
After such rambling I only have a couple of shots. My year list is now 76, I reckon about another 47-49 species were available, including the cursed Green-tailed Towhee of east Montreal. Must try harder.

A sprinkling of Longspurs, all Lapland unfortunately.

A few Snow Bunting shots, taken as they seltered in the gale.

Cunningly using its cryptic plumage to blend with its habitat, this (roughly family sized) Wild Turkey is virtually invisible to the untrained observer.