Sunday (31-August) a message popped up on Ontbirds (great email app, why can’t we have one like in QC?) reporting a Buff-breasted Sandpiper near Casselman, along with American Golden and Black-bellied Plovers. Buff-breast is a great bird at any time and I needed it for my Ontario list and for my ABA 2014 big year (lower case, it’s not that big) so we went for them.
As we were readying ourselves, news of a Reeve came up, a Reeve is a female Ruff, and it was not too far away from the Buff-breast near Kemptville, it looked like it might be a three year tick day. Inside 40 minutes we arrived, the only birders there until Jacques Bouvier pulled up. Sandra picked up the small, distant group of plovers while I messed about with the scope. Our luck was in and the Buff-breasted Sandpiper was still with the two bigger plovers and showed well, if distant along with a Sanderling.
We went off to the next spot, sod fields at a place called Boundary Road. No sign of the Reeve and it seems that it had been with Pectoral Sandpipers and they’d gone too. Opposite the sod field there was a wet, ploughed field and in it we picked up a Baird’s Sandpiper that slept in a rut, head up its back so all we could see was a scalloped back. Eventually it moved and we clinched it. The same field also contained more American Golden Plovers – eBird seemed surprised about them, along with a few Killdeer. I expect to find some American Golden Plovers locally over the next couple of weeks but, unless my luck is really in, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper is likely to be the only one I see this year.
When we got home the local warbler flock arrived in the front yard at the same time. It was not very big and they took a while to come close but I added Blackburnian to the yard year list and got close view of Bay-breasted (above) and Pine Warbler.
Pine Warblers are regular where we live, especially in spring when we have several males singing away within a short walk of our house. In the autumn I rarely see them but this one, I think and adult female based on the feather wear, came for a close look at me. Pine Warbler is a lump of a bird, heavy billed and structurally a bruiser.
This morning, it being the first of the month, I checked out St-Lazare sand pits before the swimmers, anglers, dogs and kids all showed up to make the place look untidy. The main pits were fairly quiet although it was nice to add Black-billed Cuckoo to my site year list. I looked around the small woodlot, seeing only a handful of warblers and bumping into Michel Juteau, who had the same plan. Just after we parted I found the warbler flock moving along the main road, most of it in just a couple of trees. The numbers were lower than Friday last but the diversity not bad. I came away with 52 species for a couple of hours and could perhaps have found a few more but people were arriving.
As I walked back to Red Dwarf, I could see and Eastern Snapping Turtle, the one my friend Alain calls Serpentine, making its sedate way over the road. An oncoming car looked like I might hit it but he stopped, put his four-way flashers on and then picked it up and shunted it to the side of the road. The turtle made every attempt to remove his fingers while this kindness was underway but he’d donned thick gloves to repel it. The deed done we were exchanging words of admiration for the animal when a cop pulled up behind his parked car and gave him a bit of siren! He left and I then tried to persuade the beast to go back into the pits, but it had other plans.
Now, as a treat, here is a short excerpt from one of my forthcoming birding eBooks, currently titled ‘My Patch’. I include this here not just for your entertainment, but also to prepare you, for the viz-mig season is upon us.
Visible migration, hereafter referred to as Viz-mig is a narcotic and, as with crack cocaine or Smarties it is an evil and addictive master. There are generally no ticks involved during Viz-mig although one in a hundred watches just might give you something to cherish. Viz-mig will suck you in and blow holes in your most dearly held theories regarding bird migration. It will surprise and dismay you and it might even change your life. Viz-mig addicts are beyond reasonable hope. You see them shuffling around their local patches, neck angled back as they scan the skies for signs of passage and screaming at noisy Canada Geese to shut the f*** up because they might have just heard an American Pipit go over, it’s sad really.
Viz-mig is the activity of watching and, more importantly, counting migrating birds as they fly over. You can practice Viz-mig watches anywhere but you will want to do them on your patch because birds that fly over your patch are yours. Because of the nature of Viz-mig they are also unlikely to belong to anyone else once they have gone over, unless you share the migration track with another disciple or another Viz-mig nerd is stood next to you (rare). Viz-mig has a season, roughly for the entire duration of spring and autumn plus harsh weather and cold front movements. Solar flares may also be a factor but we will ignore them for now as nothing has so far been proven.
Preparing for visible migration is something that you do because the voices tell you to, the voices come from the weather forecasters (usually, although a lack of medication may be a factor) and they tell you that the conditions will be favourable for birds to migrate. They might not use that exact phrase, mostly because they are vaguely attractive or comfortable people that you trust to tell you the weather but that you would not accept a rarity record from. I suppose there might be some Meteorologist who are birders but I’ve never met one, they are probably too busy with their head stuck up their cloud-base to think of birds. You will also feel the conditions change and a good patch watcher will pick up on subtle things like a hurricane, snow event or thunderstorm as a likely trigger for bird movements. The true trigger though is migration pure and simple. At some point all of those birds that moved out of your area after breeding will feel the urge to pass back through. Likewise you will feel the urge to watch – bird porn.
Viz-miggers, the newly invented collective noun for people who undertake viz-mig watches, must prepare their partners, employers and anyone who might have any reliance on their presence, for spontaneous viz-mig watches. Partners are usually aware that they have hooked up with a nutter after the passing of the first weather front in their relationship although there are other subtle clues, especially if the pre-nup stipulates the division of property with optics and bird books at the top of the list followed by less important things such as houses, money, cars and kids, almost in that order.
Employers are fairly easy to deal with too, you just don’t show up for work on viz-mig days and it’s always wise to try to limit sick or dead grannies to one a year. There is some wiggle room with religious holidays and it is possible with some far-sighted employers to waive the ‘traditional’ ones in favour of unspecified but just as relevant viz-mig celebration days, although some years will have more than is reasonable. In the event of a ‘bumper’ year you will be able to use the dead/sick granny excuse for your absence many times as it is likely that you employer will change frequently too.