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 http://www.smashwords.com 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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhNqso6VElE

Visit the web site here: http://audubonportland.org/local-birding/swiftwatch

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.


eBook news

Apologies for shamelessly pushing my eBooks, but then this is my blog and I do post you a lot of nice photos to look at and some witty repartee to enjoy, most of the time.

If you have a Kobo reader you will no doubt be doing somersaults at the news that you can now buy both my eBooks via their on-line store. eBooks are considerably cheaper than print versions but they’re coming soon for both books, I hope. To go to the page with Twitching Times on it at the Kobo web site, click here: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/twitching-times

I’ve had a few questions about the availability of my books via Amazon and for the Kindle readers. Amazon only takes a relatively few eBooks per week from publishers like Smashwords and so you have to hope that yours gets picked. Going for Broke has been out for some time and not made it yet, so I won’t hold my breath on Twitching Times doing any better. Kindle readers should not despair though, contrary to what some would have you believe, you can buy for Kindle from any site provided they offer the right format. Below are the instructions from Smashwords regarding how to take a book from them and put it into your Kindle. You don’t need to be a tech head, it is just like using a USB storage device and the transfer is as simple as dragging and dropping a file that you want to move.

How do I download books to my Kindle or Kindle Fire? You’ll find links to all your purchased books in your Smashwords Library. There are two options for loading Smashwords ebook content to your Kindle or Kindle Fire:

  1. USB Connection.  Plug your Kindle into the USB slot (small rectangular slot) of your computer using the cable that came with your Kindle (the Kindle Fire doesn’t come standard with the USB cable, so you’ll need to obtain the cable separately, or, use the email option described in #2 below). When you attach your Kindle to your computer via the USB cable, it makes your Kindle appear as a hard drive on your computer. After you purchase the book, from the book’s book page click to download the “Kindle” .MOBI format. Next, navigate to where you see the Kindle show up as a hard drive on your computer. Next, just drop the book’s file (it should end in file name of .mobi) to the Kindle’s “documents” folder. Then disconnect the Kindle from your computer and the book will be ready to read. If you already downloaded the .MOBI file to your computer, here’s a helpful YouTube video that shows how to drag the file from your desktop to the Kindle’s documents folder: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UPOgXDYj3M
  2. Email the Ebook to Your Kindle Email Address:  For both first generation Kindles and the newest Kindle Fire, you can email your Smashwords .mobi files to your Kindle email address.  Amazon’s support page provides complete details.   To email files to first generation Kindles (Kindles other than the Kindle Fire), click here:   http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200140600.  For Kindle Fire only, Click here for how to set up your free Kindle email address, and how to load ebooks or email ebooks to your Kindle Fire using either the email or USB cable method.

How do I download books to my Kindle from my Mac? First, go to your web browser’s Preferences and click Downloads.  Make sure to click on the box that directs your browser to ask you where you want to save downloads.  If you don’t do this first step, your files may go to your Downloads folder, and then it will be difficult to move them to your Kindle.  Next, connect your Kindle to your Mac using the USB cable that came with your Kindle.  Next, click to your Smashwords Library to find the link for your purchased book.  Then click to download the .MOBI file.  When your browser asks where you want to save the file, navigate to your Kindle’s “Documents” folder, and drop the file there.  After a few seconds, unplug your Kindle’s USB cable and you’re ready to read.

How do I add an ebook to my Kindle App on Android? Download the .mobi version of your ebook to your computer (remember where you put it). Plug your Android device via USB into your computer. On your Android device set it to ‘USB storage’ this may be a pop up query, but you may have to activate it from you device settings. Navigate from your computer to the /kindle folder and copy the .mobi file here. Eject or dismount your phone safely from the computer before disconnecting the cable. And don’t forget to uncheck the ‘USB storage’ button on your Android device.

I may add to this if I get any more advice from Kindle users.

I’ve also had questions about how to read the book without owning an eReader. There are many free desktop eReaders out there, Kobo do their own and the download is free. Go to Kobo’s web site and click download, no tech head capabilities needed. All you get is a programme like any other. Kobo’s will double as an eReader and give you access to their store. They have many thousands of free books as well as those for varying prices. Unfortunately they, just like most of the eBook retailers think bird books should also include pets in the same section but they’ll eventually learn.

Just a word on eReaders. We recently went to Oregon (no really!) and took in excess of 400 books with us, only two were made of paper. I used my guide to the Western Odonata while there and read a couple of novels too. In time all of the major field guides will be available in eBook format and now, with the new waterproof version of Kobo’s eReaders just out, you will be able to carry all of you tropical bird guides in your back pocket.

Finally,a big thanks to those of you who have bought my eBooks. I always welcome constructive criticism and want to know if I need to modify my books to make them read better on your device. At present they all work well with any reader text-wise, but the illustrations show best on an iPad.

Update – here is some advice from my friend Richard: Or load the BlueFire ebook reader onto your tablet or smartphone and download the book into that … it’s free, it reads every format exept Kindle and it doesn’t have that  social stuff and badges etc that the Kobo software goes in for.

I am currently putting the final touches to My Patch, it will be something of a departure from the first two eBooks in that it will actually be suggesting how best to approach what can be a very satisfying aspect of birding, rather than written as pure entertainment. I’m also working on my first novel but more of that later, and I hope to put out some free stuff soon too.

For those of you that only come for the photos, here is a nice Black Skimmer.


Up Mary’s Peak

We overnighted in Corvallis (ask your Doctor – sorry, you see there’s this ad on Canadian TV for a treatment for erectile dysfunction with a similar name, and the tag line is ‘ask your Doctor’, it sort of stuck). We wanted to get up Mary’s Peak as early as possible (titter ye not), beating the traffic that would flush Sooty Grouse and Mountain Quail off the roads and off our lists.

We timed it perfectly for pre-dawn and so made our way steadily uphill flushing forms off the road as we went. Our suspicion that they were all Varied Thrush proved true as the light improved, and we got to have some great views, but no photo ops. We also stopped and listened and whistled and completely failed to interest a Northern Pygmy-Owl.

As we approached the last few bends before the top, although we didn’t know it then, we saw a grouse like shape by the roadside. Slewing to a halt – well not really we were barely doing 10mph, we got great views as the bird trundled over the road and into the side vegetation, it was a Sooty Grouse. Further up a short way one actually stood at the side of the car wondering what to do next. It took a good 29 seconds before it too wandered off, sadly extricating the camera from behind the seat took 31.

We got to the top where a large, open car park was initially devoid of anything. We paid the Iron Ranger and then enjoyed parks staff coming down a gated track to the washrooms. As all non-environmentally sensitive types do, they left the truck running, windows down and some awful music playing loud. We wouldn’t have been able to hear a Jumbo Jet, never mind a quail. Fortunately they understood my Anglo-Saxon over the blare and turned the radio right down.

The top remained quiet until the day caught up. A flock of noisy Evening Grosbeaks then arrived and a good spread of Violet-Green Swallows took to the air. They were well examined for Vaux’s Swifts but no joy. Ravens and juncos tried to entertain us, but quail were nowhere and we only had a few hours to explore. Disappointed but not despondent we started back down, passing yet more shy Varied Thrushes, another grouse and a couple of Hermit Thrushes. Part-way down we noticed a side road, gravelled but passable, so we tried it.

The sign said that by following the track it would return to the highway in 20 miles, but then the sign providers failed to add some important information when the road came to a fork, we were only 50% wrong. When the road became less obvious we turned and headed back. Rounding a bend we came across two quail on the road. The looks were brief but Mountain Quail became a reality, and there was me thinking I’d found a new Nemesis Bird.

It was time to check out and head back to Portland, tomorrow we flew home but there was still some time left, we just had to find a suitable spot in which to spend it until just before dusk.

I don’t have any photos from Mary’s Peak so I’ll just stick this errant Golden-crowned Sparrow here.

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