Monday, May 28, 2007

Malbaie on a whim!

26-27 May 2007

Having firmly decided not to go east looking for Purple Sandpipers again until late autumn we were in Malbaie by late afternoon Saturday! The river east of Quebec City is a real enigma. Acres of shorebird habitat but barely a shorebird, still there were gulls to enjoy so enjoy we did (I may be putting words in Sandra’s mouth here).

On the way we popped into a cracking little marsh at Neauville, a really nice site and well worth a visit if passing. Neuville, or more correctly called the Marais de Leon Provencher, had a nice selection of duck all at fairly close range, some of which were trailing ducklings

Our first birding stop en-route was at St-Barthelemy, located a short distance before Trois Riviere its always worth a spring visit. A few Snow Geese loafed on a drying field but closed inspection revealed 200+ Semipalmated Plovers and a couple Dunlin. Further down the track an area with more water had Black-crowned Night-heron and a couple of Black Terns.

Once past Quebec City and its exciting interpretation of highway etiquette, we pressed onto our first stop, St-Irenee. Hopeful of finding some of the scarcer species seen in the area, we struggled rather although it was fun sifting through the gulls and watching a close male Surf Scoter.

We went on to Point-au-Pic and then Malbaie but the tide was dropping and many of the birds were out on sand bars. A brief and distant jaeger never reappeared, it was probably a parasitic but not really seen well enough to clinch.

The next day I was out around 4.45 and scanning. It was a fine day and the next three hours produced a single White-winged Scoter, more Surf Scoters, lots of Black Guillemots and small numbers of Razorbills and even some shorebirds, two Short-billed Dowitchers.

When repeated scans failed to produce anything but the commoner gulls we decided to go to Cap Toumente via St-Irenee. It proved to be a good choice with 9+ Red-throated Loons out in the bay where there had been none previously. I also located two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, one adult and a 3CY bird., the adult appeared to be of the race intermedius, towards the darker end of the scale.

We moved on to Cap Tourmente and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours watching Wilson’s Warblers, Blackpoll Warblers and a few Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, not to mention more Snow Geese getting all muddy on the river bank Also worth watching was the two American Bitterns doing aerial display flights for ten minutes, don’t they know the meaning of skulking.

Cap Tourmente is a premier birding site in Quebec so it is a little puzzling why it does not open until 08.30, I wonder what time the hunters are allowed in during the season! Slight irritations are the thoughtless non-birders who lack volume switches and march past between you and the Wilson’s Warbler you have been waiting for a clear shot at for twenty minutes.

Below a few pictures, the year list is 224, I’m optimistic for a few more in the next three weeks.

Eastern Kingbird, best photographed in dull light.

Female Bay-breasted Warbler

Not a bird! I disturbed this digging Skunk and, not knowing their squirting capabilities, took a photo and left.

The Black Guillemots look great in their summer suits.

Some shots of Cap Tourmente's
Wilson's Warblers.

Blackpoll Warblers are very smart in spring.

Fun with hummingbirds. Cap Tourmente's birds hurtle in and out to the feeders regardless of your presence.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A week too early?

21-May 2007

Monday was a National holiday in Canada (and that does still include Quebec) so we took advantage and went north to the excellent and vast park at Mont Tremblant. We concentrated on the secteur Diable especially north of Lac Monroe, our targets were Olive-sided Flycatcher, Boreal Chickadee and Spruce Grouse. In true keeping with our recent luck, we failed to see all three, although it is likely that the flycatchers are not all back yet. We’ll go again in a couple of weeks, I’ll start stocking up on the bug spray now as, although this trip was totally bug free, its only a matter of time.

Despite the dipping we had a very enjoyable day, starting with almost tripping over a Swainson’s Thrush while buying the permits to being entranced by a very brief view of a Wolf crossing our path. We also always hope for a Black Bear when visiting these places but so far no luck.

We did see some birds, chief amongst them being a fleeting view of a Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher, a Quebec tick for me but away too quickly for Sandra to get a view. One nice little sun trap had a few warblers enjoying the warmth, each taking turns to have a little sing-song. Several Winter Wrens sang but only one showed. On the way north we paused above Carillon Dam and found a couple of Brents loafing on an island, our first of three year ticks for the day.

The next three to four weeks will now be very busy with a trip to Abitibi looming to search for another trio, Connecticut Warbler, Sharp-tailed Grouse and Le Conte’s Sparrow. The first two are lifers and we have dipped them before, surely our luck is due a change!

For the record the year list is now 215, the garden year list 61 and the overall year list 292 (after a short trip to the UK, see earlier post).

Two Brents, spot the second eh.

Wilson's Snipe, we often see this bird on its favourite post.

White-winged Crossbills. They were feeding under bushes in the car park for Lac Monroe.

A few warblers starting with Black-throated Green.

Then Black-throated Blue.

A couple of views of Magnolia Warbler, very common at Tremblant.

A nice Bay-breasted in slightly adverse light.

Its the wrong grouse Grommit! A Ruffed doing its chicken crossing the road impression.

We ended our trip with a bouncy Veery that just would not face the camera.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Big Sit, little dip

19-20 May 2007

Hoping to take advantage of three whole days off work I had planned to take in a rarity in Quebec City (Summer Tanager) on the 19th, then visit Gatineau on the 20th and finally Tremblant on the 21st. Unfortunately our only real source of bird information in Quebec also chose to take a break so, without up to date gen, we were not going to drive over to Quebec City on the off chance. Instead we went to the Richeleau Valley, heavily bedecked with shorebirds on 18-5, sadly bereft on 19-5, there is the little dip.

Fortunately, as far as some bird news is concerned, there is also Ornitho-Quebec, a newsgroup where people post their bird sightings and which I can usually work out despite my poor French. One posting was most promising, lots of good birds on I’le St-Bernard which is an hour and a half nearer to us than Gatineau and a pretty pleasant place to wander, off we went. We were pretty surprised to arrive and find that it was shut!

I’m not sure why it is shut, its a parks Quebec site and I know I’ve visited before although I suspect it was a bit later in the year. Perhaps they could reconsider their opening policy, especially as it seems to be so good for migration. Either way, we didn’t get in there and so ended up birding a cycle track until a very ugly girl with a loud bongo made us think twice about staying. When one of her equally ugly friends started to sing, that was enough to speed our departure.

Now the Big Sit bit.

Each year there is a Big Sit day whereby you choose somewhere to bird (hopefully bongo free) and remain there for one hour, recording everything that you see or hear. You are restricted to a twelve foot square and, despite the event’s name, are allowed to stand. I chose my local patch, St-Lazare sand pits, and settled into my watch point at 7.00 on Saturday 19th May. The ensuing hour was very entertaining and even added three species to my year list total.

I won’t print the full list but will say it was great fun counting 47 species and that includes not seeing the almost omnipresent Canada Geese, a Mourning Dove or Belted Kingfisher. Nor did the singing Purple Finch I passed on my way to the watch point make it onto the list and the frustrating Northern Rough-winged Swallows merrily hawking high to the east stayed steadfastly out of ID range.
So, a good Big Sit followed by some pretty indifferent birding luck. The year list is 211, Tremblant next, wish me luck.

Pine Warbler, they make even Tennessee Warblers seem bright.

A lousy shot of a Red-shouldered Hawk but, it does shot the characteristic pale crescents at the base of the primaries.

Yellow Warblers, they are everywhere at the moment

Yet another Myrtle Warbler.

A Chipping Sparrow without seed in its bill.

Two White-crowned Sparrows remain in the garden. They are now so fat that they will have to hitch or walk north!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Local action

14-15-May 2007

The migrant tide is in full flow and our local area has started to produce. Rain overnight on May 14th produced a garden tree full of warblers in the morning. Work briefly intervened before an evening walk allowed further list additions. In between there were trips out and about but I’ll deal with them in other posts. For the record, my 15th May sightings all within 400m of my home were:
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Parula
Bay-breasted Warbler
Black & White Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Pine Warbler
American Redstart (stupid name by the way!)
Swainson’s Thrush
Plus kinglets, sparrows and flycatchers.

A few days prior to that a Northern Waterthrush whacked out its song from the undergrowth (bad picture below) but didn’t quite venture over the road into the garden proper. By the end of May 15th the year list had risen to 204 with Blackburnian Warbler being the 200th species. I wonder whether there will be a 300th.

Stop press, Sandhill Crane added on 16th May, a very wet day.

Below a few shots for your amusement.

Not the easiest thing to snap in the dense cover of our local swamp, a Northern Waterthrush.

The Garden now has five White-crowned Sparrows in it.

Ovenbirds make a lot of noise for a little bird but when they are singing it is possible to creep up on them as making all of that noise requires their concentration.

Least Flycatcher, named by the school of zero imagination. I wonder why it was never called Tchebec, after all we have Peewee and Phoebe as phonetic names for that pair.
Oh God not Baie du Febvre again!

Sunday 13th May 2007

We tried again for the Orchard Oriole, saw more warblers and a Swainson’s Thrush but no oriole, however, another birder told us that a White-eyed Vireo at a place called Maison de Marais at St-Ann-de-Sorrel had stuck two days so we thought we would give it a go. To be fair the news and directions had been on the rare birds web site but I had no idea where this maison was and didn’t really want to be peering around someone’s house looking for a bird.

We found the place OK and it turns out to be a Nature Reserve, one we had never heard off. Needless to say the vireo joined the oriole in the absent bin but we had a look around anyway, it’s a nice place, we saw a few birds and its somewhere we will visit again. The only problem was, now we were this close to Baie du Febvre how could we not go and not see a Wilson’s Phalarope. They are supposed to breed there but we have been several times but no seen one.

Baie du Febvre is a good birding place but it is always windy. It has tons of birds, especially Snow Geese. They even have some sort of festival where they presumably celebrate their wild beauty then shoot them, such is the logic of bird preserves in Quebec.

Sure enough, when we arrived it was blowing a gale from which there is no shelter. They have a curious idea of hides on this continent, generally they are designed to be ignored as they are too uncomfortable to sit in. At Baie du Febvre they have a big viewing hide with angled slots presumably built for people with one leg shorter than the other.

From the slats I was delighted to see a fine summer plumage American Golden Plover, four Grey Plovers although Black-bellied is a better name, and many Least Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers. On the square tanks flocks of Black Terns joined the 1500+ hirundines hawking insects. A little further on and each tree on the bank had a Yellow-rumped Warbler clinging on, out on the fields 3-400 Snow Geese were keeping their heads down until some dimwit wandered out to them.

So a mixed trip with a few year ticks and a few photographic opportunities, as seen below.

Warbling Vireo, some call it Eastern, its in the east so I suppost that is apt.

Yellow Warbler. Common everywhere. You can actually buy little models of some of the North American birds, Yellow Warbler included. Movement triggers their song so everywhere you go you can hear the pleasant little ditty that is their song, drives you nuts after a while though.

A record shot of the Baie du Febvre American Golden Plover.

One of several hundred Black Terns at Baie du Febvre. The others were all very similar in appearance so I didn't bother to photograph them.

Baie du Febvre is famous for its Snow Geese. I don't know how many recipes they actually have but it is probably impressive.

Least Sandpiper though anywhere else it would be called a stint, Least Stint, why not?

Male Ring-necked Duck, you can almost see the ring.

Redhead of known origin. Apologies to North American readers, its a Notts in-joke.

A male Ruddy Duck at an undisclosed location, the reason being some idiot in Europe just might jump on plane and come and shoot it just in case it glances at a White-headed Duck with love in its eyes.

Tree Swallows hoping for a gnat.