Another free eBook

As promised, I have just published a 15,800 word site guide to St-Lazare sand pits and it is free.

Regular readers will know that St-Lazare sand pits is my local patch, well for now at least, and that I have spent rather a lot of time there, recording birds, butterflies and dragonflies. Now I’m sharing some of that information and I hope that the guide will be useful for any visitor not familiar with the site.

Thanks to the simple world of eBooks, I’ve been able to include a selection of photographs to supplement the text, I hope everyone enjoys the results. My next publication will be ‘My Patch’, a book about how to find, watch and enjoy birds locally, and yes, there will be some humour in it.

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The St-Lazare sand pits guide is available from Smashwords at you will also find there another free eBook, Snowy Owls and my two birding books, ‘Going for Broke’ and ‘Twitching Times’, not free but hardly going to send you to the poor house either! Thanks for supporting my efforts in forging a new career.

You can also follow the link by clicking on side bar, then the free eBooks page. There is lots of stuff on there regarding formats and the like, eBooks are not at all hard to download.

I always appreciate it when people who have read my stuff take time to comment and, in the context of the site guide, I am happy to make corrections where required, so long as I agree with you!

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Cold week

Northerly winds have been the order of the week, with some cold rain thrown in, but not as much as they reckoned we’d have. It has made for a stuttering late visible migration, mostly involving American Crows, Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks. I’ve not ventured far, one little trip to the jetty at Les Coteaux in between vigils at the pits. The jetty was quiet, the winds were slightly wrong, but four Bonaparte’s Gulls were nice to see.

There have been a few highlights at St-Lazare sand pits. A late flock of American Pipits came through and the arrival of American Tree Sparrows is always a herald of winter, quite an overlap though. Twice this week I’ve seen hunting Northern Goshawk, presumably the local bird, it didn’t appear too keen to be on the move, it was more interested in snagging a Blue Jay.

Photo opportunities have been few and far between recently. One of the American Tree Sparrows got snapped badly and a Chipping Sparrow spent a bit of time being immortalised, but that was it really. I’ve been busy with the St-Lazare sand pits site guide, It should be out over the weekend and will again be free. The free Snowy Owl eBook seems to have gone down well, 90 have been downloaded from Smashwords so far and I’ve had some nice comments about it. If you want to get your free copy, just follow the link either on the side bar where the Snowy Owl cover is or via the free eBook tab at the top of the page.

I said in an earlier post that I didn’t think I’d get near to last year’s pits year list total of 180 species, well this year’s total (for me) is now 174 so it might be on. I’m still missing duck species like Redhead, Northern Shoveler, Greater Scaup and Common Goldeneye. Shorebirds are done for the year but I still need Golden Eagle and Rough-legged Hawk too, both quite possible in what remains of the birding year. Further down the list I don’t have Brown Creeper, Bohemian Waxwing, Lapland Longspur and potentially five finch species and so I am filled with a little more enthusiasm for getting down there in all weathers.

Below are the aforementioned photos. Incidentally, this is my 601st post in WordPress, add my BlogSpot to it and I must be pushing 750 blog posts. Where did the time go?

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Optics for sale

In case you missed my line about my having some quality binoculars for sale in yesterday’s post, well here is a reminder at the start of this post. Click on the tab at the top called FOR SALE to see what I have, there are a couple of bridge cameras and a travel spotting scope too.

Regular readers will know that my second eBook, ‘Twitching Times’ is now available from I may also have mentioned that Kobo users can now buy it directly from their on-line store and that Kindle owners can get the mobi file directly from Smashwords and just drag it into their Kindle eReaders. Well, for those of you who are Apple orientated, it is also now available in the iTunes store and reads well on the iBook app. In fact I’d say, of all the formats I’ve seen so far, the version read on an iPad is probably the best.

I thought I’d also tell you about a free book in the pipeline that will be of interest to Quebec birders who are bilingual and who knows who else – ‘A Site Guide to St-Lazare Sand Pits’. The guide, free to download to whatever device you use, will help you when visiting the site in finding the best spots and it will give you some idea of the species of birds, butterflies and dragonflies found there. Did I mention that it would be free? Below is the cover, I expect to have this and ‘My Patch’ out before Christmas.


Now to the birding and today could be best described as quiet, but I did get my 172nd pits year bird, Golden-crowned Kinglet. I also found out what Meloche is actually up to down there, and it turns out that the pits are not going to be completely in-filled but that he is intending to create a horseshoe of infill at the west end and then build condos looking over the site. That will probably mean further changes to the quality of the siteand condos mean more people and more disturbance, but at least something will still be there.

Next we need to see whether Pocket Wood, the one by the soccer pitch parking lot, can be labelled as a migratory bird sanctuary – it might mean that future destruction for more soccer pitches to be built could be stalled. There really is no need for more pitches, you just TELL those who want to use the existing ones to not try to play all at the same time, but to schedule the use to maximise the facility. Better still, replant the pitches with fruit trees and make a soccer complex on flat land elsewhere!

One feature of the past few days, apart from the constant whine of leaf-blowers, has been sparrows. Dark-eyed Juncos are everywhere, we have 30+ in the yard. There are also plenty of White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows around (I call the latter toilet sparrows, WC Sparrows – get it?). There are also a few Fox Sparrows to if you can find them. Our foxy Fox Sparrows in Quebec are so different from the two types we saw in Oregon that you wonder why it is taking so long for such an obvious split to get done.

Here are a few yard shots.

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The perils of the lone peep

Wet and windy today, and it wasn’t much better outside either. On days like this you weigh up the odds. Should I go out, perhaps get a soaking or stay in, catch up with a few things on that ever lengthening list? Obviously you go out.

Yesterday the first pits Ruddy Duck arrived, where from who knows as there is hardly a northerly breeding population, so perhaps they all push in from the west. Today there was a distant peep. I watched from the road, waiting for it to move or at least raise its bill. The rain came and it remained static so I had to go in.

The distance view had me suspecting Sanderling. The weather was typical for such things and it just seemed rather large for a Semipalmated Sandpiper and wrong for Dunlin. The wind blew and the rain rather hammered but I puddle jumped to the spot and the bird remained. I took twenty minutes to creep up on it, inching my way and taking record shots of the still sleeping blob. Once I had it in full view it awoke and started paying me a bit more attention.

For the next ten minutes I took photos, trying to get a good angle and wiping the camera lens frequently. It was only when I looked up that I realised how close I was and how small it was. Semipalmated Sandpiper then. After returning to the shelter of the woodlot and finding a Fox Sparrow for the pits year I went home, dried off and looked at the shots. The bill seemed awfully long and am I mistaken in seeing a slight kink towards the end, something that skews the ID altogether.

Off the shelf come the books, the web gets a good trawl and I check my own photo library and still come up with Semipalmated Sandpiper, but it still looks just a bit odd. Maybe the weather was making it look less like it should or maybe I’m just looking at it too hard.

On the tab at the top is a new category – for sale. If you are in the market for used binoculars (no rubbish), compact spotting scope or bridge camera, take a look.

Now for the photos. Not great because of the weather but you can see the features and I’ve included one of my stock Semipalmated Sandpiper shots – an August bird.

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Interesting Duck

After having been AWOL from St-Lazare sand pits for three days, I was back down there this morning, almost twitching. A friend of mine, Seb Castagnier, had been down looking for the Ross’s and Cackling Geese but with no luck, he did however get Fox Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet and, best of all, Orange-crowned Warbler for his trouble. He also had a Winter Wren, something that was only confirmed as a site bird last year.

The sparrow, warbler and kinglet would be site year ticks for me, pushing that list into the 170s. The day was calm, still and very pleasant but the birds less than willing to give themselves up without a fight. Find the chickadees and you find the warblers is always my autumn maxim, I did and I did but it took nearly an hour of scouring the soccer pitch wood. Eventually the Orange-crowned Warbler gave up and fed busily close-to, but never giving photo ops. I think it was only my second ever there.

I found plenty of Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the woods and mucho juncos but no other sparrows. At this time of year I routinely play Bicknell’s Thrush calls in the wood because one day, well you never know do you? All it did was annoy the three or so Hermit Thrushes that have been around for a while

Taking a break from the leaf peeping, I checked out the lakes from the road. Ducks were arriving from the fields and in numbers. The arrivals were split 50/50 between the open water and the wet marsh. A cursory glance at the ones in the open, revealed a Black Duck with a very yellow bill. Switching to the scope and I could see that there were clear black spots at the base, but it was still a Black Duck. I suspect that this bird had a wandering mummy or daddy as there are some features associated with Mottled Duck there, well at least from the neck up there are.

It was be in good company. The web-footed gathering included the regular Canada x Snow hybrid goose and a Mallard x Northern Pintail that looked very much like last year’s bird.

Nearer home, well in fact at home, yesterday was Dark-eyed Junco arrival day with 30-40 making little grey carpets as they picked up the seeds. Our little feeding area also had a Hermit Thrush, looking a bit confused as to what it should be doing. That made 76 species in the garden this year so far. I’m expecting the redpolls to show up this year so we might nudge past 80, a list that has no House Sparrows or House Finch on it.

Back to the duck and here are few shots plus a real Mottled Duck from our Texas trip this year.

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Out of Oregon

After checking into our airport hotel it was time to explore. We had a few hours to spend before our rendezvous with a chimney, so we headed off for the Smith and Bybee wetlands wildlife area in Portland. We only had a short while there but the site looked good if neglected. Like all wildlife sites it seems that it suffered from a lack of management, a fact confirmed when we reached a lookout, too far back to be of any use and with the obligatory damn great tree growing in front of it.

Ignoring protocol, I walked out onto the wet area from where I could at least see stuff. There were lots of birds out there but at some distance. The further back the birds were, the less the odds on identifying them, even with a good scope. I was mainly looking for shorebirds but kept scanning the tree tops hoping for a short cut to a tick. Most of the birds on the low lakes were ducks and Cackling Geese. There may have been some Canada Geese too but I realised that I’d not noted them when I did my eBird submission.

Where we live in Quebec, I see 1-4 Cackling Geese as the Canada Geese come back from breeding, and again when the go north after the big freeze. Around Smith and Bybee there were tons of them, just tons. I didn’t see a single shorebird but while scanning I saw a small gull drift in, dark, partially hooded. Only one of the small gulls has a partial hood as an immature, Franklin’s. The bird settled in and was seen alongside of the few California Gulls on the lake. An unexpected year tick.

Here are a few local geese.

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As time pressed we got onto the south-bound I-5 and joined the argumentative traffic as it crawled along. Our destination was the Chapman Elementary School and it was time to try for our last ABA tick. We were a bit early but there was plenty of parking right next to the school. In season, the place would be hopping with people watching Vaux’s Swifts come in to roost.

See it on Youtube here:

Visit the web site here:

Anywhere else in the world, men walking around the outside of a school with binoculars and cameras would be frowned upon, especially when teenage girls are having tennis lessons between you and the chimney. At the Chapman School they are used to it, and the tennis coach even chatted to me about the birds, as did several passers-by.

The swifts came in late, probably too late for photos but that sort of technicality has never bothered me. The shots are useless I know, the 40+ birds were very high. Just out of interest I’ve included a montage of Chimney Swifts from Quebec for direct comparison. Unfortunately the Chimney Swifts were all shedding their feathers so structural differences are hard to discern.

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That just about closed out our trip to Oregon and a good trip it was too. The weather was a bit too nice, you don’t really expect a sun tan in October, and the smaller birds were subsequently harder to find. We know we barely scratched the surface and that there is another world inland, with a different range of species to see. We finished with 150 species for the trip, five life birds plus another four ABA ticks.

I’d like to round off the posts by thanking all those Oregon birders who took the time to respond to my request for information and who generously gave their advice. Oregon is friendly place based on what we saw, sure there are a few issues, such as the hunters getting a disproportionate use of the wildlife management areas, there really should be days when they are rested and open for birding just like everywhere else. Birders we met in the field were a delight, places we stopped or ate at were all, without exception, fine. We now have an Oregon list started and that usually means wanting to add to it at some time in the future. It would be nice to think we will be able to sometime.