Monday, April 30, 2007

Stroll into spring

April 16th-27th 2007

After what seemed an age the snow and ice have finally gone and the birds can get on with their summer lives.

Year ticks have been arriving at a steady pace and the year list is now 140. Continuing the search for a Tufted Titmouse I visited the Philipsburg reserve in southern Quebec on April 19th. No titmouse but a good day’s birding in fine weather. An early migrant there was Lincoln’s Sparrow, two birds seen well on the fringe of the marsh and a species that tends to arrive in Quebec later in April or in early May. For the first time butterflies were on the wing and several Mourning Cloaks, called Camberwell beauty in Europe, were out sunning themselves.

Sunday 22nd April saw us heading off along the St-Lawrence to a new site for us at Contracouer where we had distant views of a male Eurasian Wigeon. Moving on we went to Baie du Febvre as it is usually fairly quiet there people wise and there is always the possibility of something interesting. As it happened half of Quebec had descended on the place making it look very untidy. There was very little space to view from at the lookouts and there appeared to be a boy scout infestation. We ticked off Ruddy Duck and left, the next day a Glossy Ibis showed up, we may yet have to revisit and soon.

During the following week White-throated Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow and Brown Thrasher arrived and, as spring gathers momentum, the year list will swell rapidly.
Below are a few shots from the period including a few mammals and the Mourning Cloaks.

To paraphrase Homer Simpson, Doe!

A Muskrat being unobtrusive.

Red Squirrel and, above, a cute little Chipmunk, ah!
One of our local Pileated Woodpeckers, almost as destructive to trees as our local property developers, almost!
A hirsute cousin of the above.
Soaring BOP 1 (bird of prey), the ever increasing Turkey Vulture.
Soaring BOP 2, male Northern Harrier.
Soaring BOP 3, a Rough-legged Hawk heading north.
Mourning Cloak or Camberwell Beauty, your choice.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Splish splash splish little April showers!

14-15-April 2007

Saturday 15th of April was cold in the morning, wet in the afternoon and the first Pine Warbler of the year sang in the garden.

Sunday was wetter but, four Tundra Swans were reported from Parc Plaisance on the Ottawa River so off we splashed. Despite the rain there seemed to be plenty of hawk activity with groups of Turkey Vultures and several each of Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Harrier.

On reaching the park it was clear that the birds were likely to be on the river side and not in the inland’ bays. There were plenty of ducks though, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers etc. When we got to the river view the wind was brisk and wet, nothing showed. We set off exploring the other bits of the park hoping to find the birds as far as possibly the smelliest town on Quebec, Thurso. It smells because of the huge paper plant, it really really smells.

We had little luck with our explorations and the rain had started to hammer a bit but we decided to return to the park for one last go and voila, there they were, sitting on the Quebec side of the river (very sensibly) and doing swan like things. A quick scan then revealed three grebes bobbing about in the swell but firmly tucked up asleep. Eventually they stuck their heads up and their Ids were resolved as Red-necked Grebes, all in winter plumage. Despite having seen hundreds of both species in all plumages, these three bouncing blobs with nothing for perspective except each other were quite a challenge and it was only when they became active in a slack area of water that I could see them well enough to clinch the ID.

Please to have added a couple of good Quebec species to a Pied-billed Grebe and a Swamp Sparrow for the year list we set off home. Our last stop would be near the town of Hudson where some Bohemian Waxwings had been seen the day before. Our luck stayed and at least three birds were with around 50 Cedar Waxwings feeding on berries by a car park. Bohemians have been very scarce this winter, I had nearly given up hope of one.

Because of the rain and the range of some of the birds seen the photos on this post are rubbish but, this is a year list blog and they were year ticks.
The year list is at 125 (I think) and the list for the month so far is 101.

American Kestrel in rain and distant.

Three of four Tundra Swan, even more distant but with the same amout of rain.

Not as wet or as distant photo of one of the Bohemian Waxwings with a few Cedar Waxwings, the Bohemian is on the right.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Easter bunnies, 6-7 April 2007

Easter should be moved to late May, a much more interesting time to have an extra day off work to go birding, that way we would not have to brave the sudden dip in temperatures and light snow flurries, such was the fare of Easter Friday and Saturday.

The Snowy Owls have all gone from my area but have been replaced many fold by the hoardes of Snow and Canada Geese. Canada Geese seem to be in every field, not so quietly adding extra nutrients to the thawing landscape. Snow Geese are a bit more circumspect, preferring to drop into the middle of distant fields, not surprising when you see the antics of the local hunters, note to file, birders should not watch hunters at play, it can only enforce a feeling of ‘them and us’. I’ve said before that I have no objection to hunting and responsible hunters, I just feel that we as birders get a raw deal. Hunters can hunt virtually everywhere it seems, the birds do not get a day off and we do not get a hunting free day to observe them. Perhaps we should sit down and discuss time share, and please don’t tell me how much hunters pay to hunt, the object of their attention does not belong to any Government so therefore they have no moral right to charge for hunting. Oh and don’t dare quote some ridiculous religious text giving man dominion over all animals, that would be just too stupid.

Anyway, rant over and on with the birding. After trying for a Ross’s Goose amongst the 10,000 or so Snow Geese in my area several times, but being thwarted by sweaty Neanderthals swinging winged Snow Geese around by the neck to kill them (oops there I go again, sorry, responsible hunters swinging winged Snow Geese around by the neck to kill them, better?), we went out to take a look at a regular goose loafing point by the Pont de Gonzagues on the Beauharnois Canal. On arrival our luck was in and we were able to get close views of perhaps 3500 Snow Geese and smaller numbers of Canada Geese plus a few other returning wildfowl species.

The birds gather on a large lake with good access along the north side, unfortunately the light does not always cooperate from that side but there is a gated track that allows slightly obstructed views from the south side. Just go through the gate with the no hunting sign and follow the track to view by the spent cartridge piles!

After a bit of scanning I picked up an adult Ross’s Goose but quickly lost it again amongst the fluid goose pack. I then spent some time reading the yellow neck collars on some of the birds, eight in all, I’ll post details of their origins when I find out.

The constant movement of the geese (in part because we were a bit exposed and they chose to wander away) later revealed another Ross’s much nearer, a first-winter bird. I took some general ‘in the area’ shots and have a record shot to post below. I tend to think that Ross’s is perhaps more regular than people think, this was the fifth or sixth I’ve found locally, but for many birders here there is not quite the same compulsion to scan every flock for something unusual, something I can fully understand.

While out I snapped a Northern Harrier (badly) and have supplemented this posting with shots of one of two Pileated Woodpeckers in our garden this (Saturday) morning.

A general view of some of the Snow Geese.

Whites and Blues.

The Ross's Goose is sitting, and is in it's second calendar year (not of sitting obviously). This is the best shot I could find but the length of the bill is exagerated by the legs of the geese behind. I cropped and lightened it a bit then put unsharp mask on, a record shot.

Northern Harrier looping the loop.

Peekaboo pecker, this bird seemed to have found some grubs in one of our wood piles, its mate was in the next tree sending morse code tap tap taps.

Every now and then it hopped into the tree for a look see.

Friday, April 6, 2007

April fools

31 March-2 April 2007

The promise of fine weather conditions over the last weekend in March was enough to finally get us out along the south shore of the St-Lawrence in search of King Eider.

Our previous March visit to the area between Rimouski and Matane, back in 2004, had produced four King Eiders, and we were optimistic of success, we just had to do the kilometers. In the end we did the kilometers and some!

After work on the Friday, crossing Montreal was a 1.5 hour trip to start with. We hit Montmagny and our overnight stop around 8.45pm. The next day we whipped along the highway and began birding in earnest just after Rimouski. As usual the shore was littered with Glaucous Gulls and Iceland Gulls of the race kumlieni, always a treat for someone who has spent hours at a gull roost waiting for just one to arrive.

Common Eiders were a bit thin on the ground (or river) but we hit a few just east of Grand-Metis and, sure enough, out in the minch with 50 or so Common Eider was a nice male King Eider. It was a bit distant for a picture but I took a poor record shot anyway.

Mission accomplished we cast around for options. There was plenty of birding still to be had but what year ticks could be found. A freshening breeze cooled our ears and forced our hand a little and so we decided to head off through the Parc de la Gaspesie to try for a few species on the southern side of Gaspe.

The parc is spectacularly beautiful and we constantly saw finches gritting by the roadside. Among them was at least one Hoary Redpoll although we saw several more clean white rumps flush at several spots along the way. It took around two hours to cruise through and we enjoyed a tame Ruffed Grouse, a nervous Bald Eagle and plenty of White-winged Crossbills. The real winner though was the scenery and it pains you to think that our species can produce the dross that thinks it is ok to dump their trash by the roadside in such a place, but it does and they do.

Eventually we arrived at the town of Bonaventure and found a pleasant motel for the night. It was our intention to bird until around 11.00 the next day then drive home, about 800km or so away. As it happened our best laid plan rather floundered and circumstance saw us spending the night of April 2nd at Rivere de Loup, still six hours from Montreal. In the time before arriving at Riviere de Loup we had managed to get along the shore to Perce with Great Cormorant, Black-legged Kittiwake and Razorbill added to the year list, a little later, off Point St-Pierre, a lone Gannet passed by.
The year list ticks on, 115 now (4-4-7) with plenty in store for the rest of April. Our ‘little’ trip recorded 62 species and I managed to take a few photographs to brighten the pages of this blog.

A 2cy Glaucous Gull making an emission.

Adult Glaucous Gull behaving a little better.

2cy Kumlien's Iceland Gull.

Adult Kumlien's Iceland Gull

Common Eiders riding the surf

The awe inspiring Parc de la Gaspesie

Truck dodging Ruffed Grouse

The famous Perce rock complete with Razorbills