Sunday, March 25, 2007

Oh Canadas (geese that is)

24-25 March 2007

The northward movement of Canada Geese has now started in earnest with barely a sky view without them. The fields around St-Clet have undergone a rapid thaw and flood pools are starting to look attractive to both birder and bird.

Saturday 24th I did a quick tour of the St-Clet lanes but first making an ‘official’ visit to St-Lazare Sand Pit. An official visit is one where I see enough to warrant a notebook entry. The pits qualified by virtue of a singing Northern Grey Shrike which, along with American Robins, Common Grackles and the newly in-post Red-winged Blackbirds took the year list there to 13!

The St-Clet fields proper held about 1000 Canada Geese and one Cackling Goose a stupid name really and it got me thinking that perhaps we should name the races (or species) after the Canadian provinces.

Greater Canada Goose would, of course, be Quebecois Goose.

The ones that make the most noise and produce the most crap could be Ontarian Goose.

The Albertan Goose would refuse to mix with any other geese.

The Newfoundland Goose would be permanently out of step with the rest of the geese.

The BC Goose would always be on the left of the flock.

You would never see a Saskatchewan Goose, they would always be in the middle of nowhere.

Labradorean Geese have a barking call but nothing like as rich and unintelligible as the call of the Nova Scotia Goose.

The New Brunswick Goose honks and honcs, nobody knows where the North-west Territories Goose is, or cares.

The Nunavut Goose is best ignored and it might go away.

That just leaves our oddly named Cackling Goose which would become PEI Goose, small, attractive and a pleasure to behold.

I know I missed out Manitoba, I may have to visit Winnipeg some day, enough already, back to the birding.

I did not really expect the Snowy Owls to still be about but, on reaching the end of Ste-Julie which, as everyone now knows is the epicenter of the magic triangle for Snowies, there was a male on a fence post just asking to be photographed. A quick scan revealed a female nearby but I ignored her and crept up on the male taking a few snaps as he diligently ignored me. Later in the day Sandra came out with me and we saw two more males in the same area and a stunning flock of at least 1,000 Snow Buntings.

In between time we had been to St-Timothee marsh and located the incubating Great Horned Owl, a sore thumb amidst a few Great Blue Herons, back early in the heronry. At nearby Hungry Bay duck numbers are climbing with lots of Greater Scaup, a few Lessers and Ring-necked Ducks and a single female Barrow’s Goldeneye amongst her Common cousins

Sunday was quieter, there was an overnight snowfall which stymied the migration a bit but there was still one Snowy Owl in the regular place, a Northern Harrier was new and a couple of Hooded Mergansers were nervously feeding on the Solanges Canal.

Below a few snaps and oh, the Canada Goose thing, its comedy, I don’t really mean it and I don't want anyone to feel insulted, especially you lovely Ontarians.

Top to bottom, male Snowy Owl post preen then alert (or as alert as they get in sunshine), female Horned Lark then, finally, two Hooded Mergansers swimming away, an invaluable aid to identification as they always seem to do that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Winter wind down

17-18 March 2007

While many people on this side of the pond celebrated the St-Patrick's day weekend (heaven knows why, most of those who call themselves Irish were born here, how can Canada establish its own people when most add the nationality of a distant relative to their origin, Irish Canadian indeed!) we ignored it and went birding. Saturday was a bit of a trial with snow all day, Sunday was brighter so we went back to Chemin Scotch and the surrounding area to try to see some male Red Crossbills.

Eventually we were successful although they really did not want their photo taking but a nice male White-winged Crossbill posed and a White-tailed Deer paused as it cross the track

The month appears to be warming up considerably and so the fields of St-Clet will be alive with wildfowl as flood pools form for a few days. The year list is stalled on 102 at the moment but I predict a sudden surge so.

Just a couple of average snaps, not a great month for photography so far.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Blowing cold and hot

10-11 February 2007

Following a bitterly cold week, Sunday saw a thaw set in with temperatures up around 4 degrees, tropical! Year list options are diminishing until the return of our summer guests so I concentrated on Red Crossbill, again! Thanks to a tip off from Martin Bowman I made the short trip to one of the country back roads north of Hawksbury, Ontario. Sure enough, within 1km we came across a female gritting, two more females showed briefly later but ice rain set in so we didn’t hang around.

On Friday I chanced upon a covey of Grey Partridges near Ste-Marthe. They were species 99 for the year, the Red Crossbill was number 100, only 200 to go. Also in the area were up to 200 Lapland Longspurs, 600 Snow Buntings and 200 Horned Larks, excellent birding. I nipped back Saturday morning first thing to try for a picture but was out of luck, the regular female Snowy Owl was present on her perch though.

Sunday I spent a few hours in my favourite St-Clet fields seeing a new immature Snowy Owl and the regular male. A few Wild Turkeys were browsing seed heads on grasses protruding from the deep snow and a much reduced number of longspurs etc were still present but skittish from traffic flushing.

Apart from the owl, everything else was a bit hard to photograph, record shots below.

A few garden shots from the weekend, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch (female), and Dark-eyed Junco.

Female Red Crossbill in poor light.

Mme Snowy Owl

Below a flight shot. Not a great image but it shows bits you only normally see briefly.

One of six Wild Turkeys near Ste-Marthe.

This Coyote had obviously found its way into someones outside larder, it was hurrying across the fields carrying this oven ready duck, plucked and headless. It knew I was there but, instead on gettings its head down and running, it could not resist a backwards glance.

I spent about twenty minutes wating for the female Snowy Owl to leave her perch, hoping to get a flight shot. She fussed and preened for a while, even having a fluffing session which is often a prelude for flight. It was a bit cold so I had lowered the camera for a rest when she took off leaving me with a series of shots with the wings chopped off. Next time maybe.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The last day of February

28 February 2007

With vacation days burning holes in my notebook, I decided to take advantage of the unseasonable temperatures and go birding, what a surprise eh!

My main target was Carolina Wren, a species right on the edge of its northern limit in the Montreal area, for a few more years at least. One had been seen regularly at a fine set of feeders in Chateguay so off I went.

The feeders are well placed and by surreptitiously parking in a quiet spot I could scan the very birdy garden looking for the wren from the cover of the car, this also offered photographic opportunities. I had been there half an hour enjoying Red-bellied Woodpecker, lots of American Tree Sparrows and even an Eastern Towhee briefly when two fine examples of Quebec workmen showed up and started a pump that screamed for 45 minutes and rather upset the birds. The relief when they turned it off and took their van, complete with maximum decibel radio, away was tangible, suddenly singing birds were everywhere, sounding louder than usual. I couldn’t decide whether they were singing louder to out blast the pump or whether the lack of screaming pump meant everything else was enhanced. To cut a long story short, I didn’t see the Carolina Wren.

After checking a few other local spots but seeing little I decided to trek across Montreal to Laval and try out the best owl wood in Quebec, Bois Papineau. On arrival the first bird I saw was an Eastern Screech Owl sat sunning in its hole, a good start. I then wandered around all of the spots where I’d seen owls before but finding none. One reason might have been a team of teens on a loud outing; it must be something new on the curriculum since I was at school. They even made the sound of the screaming pump seem attractive.

I had just about decided to beat the traffic and go early when I came across a group of birders/photographers looking intently at something, another screech, excellent. Then a dog walker asked me (in French) whether I had seen the Grand-duc d’Ámerique (for UK readers pron Granzuck damerike). He then happily led me to the nest with the mother Great Horned Owl sitting tight, ignoring the gathering throng of birders. It got better.

Thanks to the linguistic duality of virtually every Montrealler I’ve ever met, I discovered that the Chouette Rayee (Barred Owl) was also on view today and so I made my way to the spot expecting to peer into the tree tops for views. The owl was just sitting 25 feet up a tree on a bare side branch looking faintly bored. Its bill and feet were stained red, probably courtesy of a squirrel’s meaty bits, and it was not in the least interested in us no matter how much squeaking, grunting or subliminal ‘who cooks for you’ was going on.

The small group of watchers drifted away but I stayed and moved around for better light, unfortunately that meant all I could see was the birds back, then, the man with the dog came by and that sparked the owls interest, it even moved around to show its front to us, what a nice bird.

So February ended well with four year list additions making it 98 so far. March might be a good month if we get an early thaw, on the other hand it could be bitterly cold with snow dumps, c’est la vie.

Now the photos.

American Tree Sparrows, soon to be off north.

Male House Sparrow, naturalised Quebec birds have different calls from those in the UK, Le cheep cheep.

The first Eastern Screech-Owl, they don't move much!

This side on view of a Barred Owl shows why they can be overlooked, their subtle browns can blend nicely with tree trunks.

Mother Great Horned Owl blending nicely into the background.

The second Eastern Screech-Owl, equally as active as the first.

Back to the Barred Owl and the side on camouflage can work but, front on, when you are the size of a small refrigerator, its hard to be inconspicuous.

Despite my convincing attempts to impersonate a nervous squirrel, the Barred Owl only gave me a cursory backwards glance, then..For all those observers who have never seen a Barred Owl move much, here is a sequence where the bird actually turns around, full circle on the perch.

Just organising my feet.

Nearly there.

What's that, dog, edible, yes, hungry, no just finished lunch, just check out my bill in the earlier shots if you want to see the stains.