It has been some time since I last visited Ste-Martine to look at shorebirds. I remember when we were told to go there for shorebirds back in 2003, and I expected to find marshland or perhaps a river flash. Instead you have what we call a weir in the UK, and below it an expanse of shallow water over rocks. I’d never seen anything quite like it then and it certainly drew shorebirds from far and wide. It was 24-August and we saw a Ruff, both dowitchers, 100+ Lesser Yellowlegs, 40 Greater Yellowlegs, Baird’s and White-rumped Sandpipers, 12 Pectoral Sandpipers, a Stilt Sandpiper and lesser numbers of Least, Semipalmated, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, and both Killdeer and Semipalmated Plover. Not bad!

At the time we viewed from a concrete plinth that was eroding away and expected to collapse at any point. If you were on it at the time then bad luck, if not then you just went up the Quebec list rankings by a few. It still stands and is still fenced off but you can get on it at your own risk. Now there is a snazzy lookout on the opposite bank with a path to the shore below the weir. The lookout is set in a small park with a parking lot and plenty of tree and vegetation to attract birds. Today I visited both spots. The former because I didn’t know about the latter and the latter when I saw it from the former.

The attractant, not that the close views of shorebirds are not enough, was a Marbled Godwit (marbleous see). It was grey and raining when I got there but it soon brightened up to grey and raining les. The godwit was asleep for the first half hour or so then wandered over to perform in front of the large lenses. By the time I got over there it was edging further away but I got a few shows. I think it’s the fourth of fifth I’ve seen in QC, great birds and always worth a look when local.

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The shorebird selection was nothing like that first visit but there was still plenty to look at, including a Stilt Sandpiper, almost the image of yesterday’s one at St-Lazare sand pits. There was no sign of two Long-billed Dowitchers reported there yesterday, pity, I wanted them for the ABA year list. I did get good views of commoner stuff though and a few photo ops in the gloom. Below are a shots of a Lesser Yellowlegs, the Stilt Sand and a Semipalmated Sandpiper showing a classic’ stuck on’ bill. If you’ve not been over for a look at the new set-up at Ste-Martine I recommend it.

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After, I had a quick look at St-Lazare sand pits where a Blackburnian Warbler was the only new thing from yesterday.

Bye the way, for some reason I get a lot of spam on this site and sometimes the filter fails to pick them and I have to review them. I really don’t understand what spammers are trying to do, or why the name of something I fondly know of as a tasty fried treat, has been appropriated by the Internet to represent something bad. Anyway, if you left a message and it looked at all spammy to me, you got binned.

More migration

The day started well with a Philadelphia Vireo in the front garden. We don’t get many, that is perhaps the fourth in eleven years and so very welcome it was too. That makes 64 for the year this year so far, so room for improvement. Inspired by this sign I went to St-Lazare sand pits and did the little wood first, finding, you’ve guessed it, a Philadelphia Vireo, hurrah for a pits year bird.

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In the pits proper there were more shorebirds than yesterday and considerably less rain. The best shorebird was a moulting adult Stilt Sandpiper. It was a bit distant and the flock spooked despite me pretending to be a well-fed reed.

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Three of the four Great Egrets that arrived last week remain, this bird almost landed on the aforementioned Stilt Sandpiper.

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I spent some time trying to photograph flying Tree Swallows badly, I think I succeeded!

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One of the Caspian Terns was around but I won’t bore you with the shots. Instead here is an Immature Ring-billed Gull, not too many young gulls this year so far.

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This shot is of a dodgy Green Heron. I don’t mean that it was involved in anything illegal or anything like that, just a crabby shot.

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There was a few warblers around too: Bay-breasted, Yellow-rumped, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green and Blackpoll. I expect more to follow soon.

Now a little grumble: Am I alone in feeling a little peeved that apps like Merlin from Cornell are dumbing down birding so much to the point where any half-wit will be able point their phone or whatever at a bird and will be told what it is? Put it on a plate and they will eat it, but then they only end up fat with facts and starved of experience. If the app goes to the point where it can ID any bird anywhere, and then the user sends the record to eBird and it’s a gross rarity, will eBird review the record or be honour bound to accept it on the basis that their app was responsible for the identification? I see troubled waters ahead.

Finally – not a bird but a Monarch. I fear for these, I’ve barely seen one this year and it’s clear that they are struggling, it’s only five years ago that I used to count lots of them on migration as they went past. If we lose the Monarch then it will be as big a nail in our species’ coffin as we have ever seen. In the scheme of things I think that your average Joe or Jane might be momentarily concerned about the loss of a species, but it’s no more than a passing emotion. Very sad.

More reading can be found at the links.

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Early autumn blast

From 30°C Sunday to 10° today, a big temp shift and the birds know all about it.

Yesterday was a day to get wet and so I did, well in the morning at least. Shorebirds had been building at the pits nicely but I think that there must be some muddy hollows out on the farmland now because only one Greater Yellowlegs remained yesterday, in conditions that I normally find productive at St-Lazare sand pits. I did wheedle out a few Least Sandpipers and a Semi-palmated Sandpiper but it was hard going.

On Monday there were many more shorebirds about, with birds pausing briefly before pushing on. A flock of 20 Lesser Yellowlegs came and went in a tight group. Similarly 13 Least Sandpipers chose not to join the ones already down, preferring to just wheel about for five minutes before going off to look for a proper sewage farm.

Herons numbers are also building with Green Heron numbers up to four, three Great Egrets, plenty of Great Blue Herons and regular sightings of American Bittern and Black-crowned Nigh-Heron. The first Blue-winged Teal of the autumn came in Tuesday and no doubt many more will be popping up in the next few weeks as ducks start their desertion of Quebec.

Despite the rain yesterday I did the walk, I try to do the same route for consistency of observation – it’s a patch data thing – and got thoroughly soaked but managed to add to my building seed carpet. It wasn’t until I was almost at the gate that I found the main chickadee flock. Find the chickadees in autumn and you find the warblers.

With rivulets of cold rain running down my back I was delighted to be able to watch two Bay-breasted Warblers at eye-level plus 8 Yellow-rumped Warblers doing their usual stuff. I’m looking for Cape May Warbler for my year list and they usually prefer to be away from the main woods and in the lower trees of Lotbiniere. I didn’t find any this time but they’ll come I’m sure. I was about to splash back to the car when a larger bird emerged from nowhere, a Scarlet Tanager, neat.

My pits year list is only 143 so far, eBird has 149 so I’ve managed to miss a few but I expect to get them back, they are not especially rare species although a Black-billed Cuckoo (from 12-Aug) is always a good bird there. It’s good that a few more eBirders are visiting the site, hopefully between us we can pull something like a Willet out of the bag this autumn, you never know.

Despite the foul weather, I managed a record shot of one of the Bay-breasted Warblers.

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Hummer Season

Although we get Ruby-throated Hummingbirds coming through the garden in spring, they then become scarce until the autumn migration starts to kick in. Recently two splendid males have been in attendance, not quite politely taking turns at the feeder but running some sort of unofficial shift system. That has now changed with the arrival of a few immature birds, not well-versed in feeder etiquette. I counted five different birds yesterday and it was non-stop mayhem as they tried to use the one feeder. There was only one option, now there are another four feeders but still they squabble.

It was great to be able to get a good look at them and at such close quarters, even if the duration was sometime less than a few seconds. Naturally I waved the camera at them and kept trying for that perfect image.  It didn’t happen but I did get some shots that are not too terrible. One individual had a fair bit of rufous on the underparts but the tail remained ruby-throated through and through, even though it appeared to have warm tones at the base when spread.

The three different birds in the shots all appear to be immature males judging by the fine throat streaking.

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Bright and sunny

I was out with Claude yesterday, suffering the birding doldrums that are the end of July-beginning of August period. It was pretty hard work but we scraped 54 species all told. Lots of species seem to have quit already and shorebirds are yet to gather momentum.

We started at St-Lazare sand pits and it wasn’t too bad either, with a couple of Caspian Terns present and a few of each yellowlegs giving side by side comparison. The Great Egret count has now risen to four while an American Bittern took some picking out as it stuck to dense vegetation.

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We went on to Cooper’s Marsh where a very nice new boardwalk gives you fine views of vegetation and the neatly mowed paths make it look like an urban park. It was rubbish and always will be until it gets managed for birds. Here’s a plan. Put in a big sluice to the handy lake next door so that you can add water at the right time of the year. Obtain some infill (charge to tip, use the cash) and build cells that are also sluiced, then use the causeways to use a chain-drot to dredge the cells. In front of the existing blinds, cut channels in the vegetation and maintain open water areas that are actually visible. On the circular path cut down some trees so you can view from it. Put a trail straight down to the lake from the visitor center with a viewing tower that can be used to lake watch. Bund the shore below it and use sluices to manipulate the habitat.

We then dropped into St-Timothee Marsh but it was very quiet, although the phragmites crop continues to flourish. Does any birding group have any involvement in the management of that place? We saw bog all there.

Here’s a plan. It wants a watch tower twice the height of the current one and right at the start of the marsh. It wants two more, right and left of the canal path and set at the back of the marsh. The person who drives the side-arm flail that clears the path sides needs to drive it more than once and needs to extend the damn arm next time. They need to do a rotational controlled burn during winter. They need an Osprey pole and floating tern rafts.

In the unlikely event that anyone involved reads this, here is a useful link:  and here: and if you don’t have any money to spend but can get the labor, try this cheap option:

Last off was Beauharnois, where 49 Common Terns and four Black Terns fed around the outflow. By that time the temp was up around 24°C and dozy time had arrived. I didn’t take many pictures so here is a montage.

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Serene St-Lawrence

If you didn’t read the last post then this one will make no sense, not that I can guarantee that it will anyway.

After seeing Sept-Isles and birding a few local spots we headed west to Baie Comeau and our hotel for the night. Some towns you drive through and like, they have an aura of nice, even friendly although it is all subjective. Baie Comeau doesn’t come across as anywhere you’d want to linger and the best part about it is the road leading west. By the time we’d got there it was late so we did a web search for a restaurant. MacDonald’s, Subway, Generic Pizza you are not restaurants but have hijacked the web to push yourself to the fore. If I want fast ‘food’ that is what I will type, now sod off. We ended up in ‘Mike’s’!

The best thing about the meal was seeing a flock of Common Nighthawks go past at eye-level almost. The worst thing was the grubby pair behind us. He left his seat to smoke outside the window a good half-dozen times and then brought back his nauseating aroma for all to enjoy. She doused herself from a bottle with a suction dropper containing some unction that smelt like a cross between lineament and Skunk. If we’d lived in ‘Game of Thrones’ times their heads would have been on a spike outside soonest. Then they had our waitress for their order. It was one of those not this, do this, why can’t I have this etc. You know the type, drowned in a bucket at birth would have been a mercy for us all.

We left Baie Comeau early the next day and headed west. We made a few stops but birdy sites were all a bit full with vacationing humans so we pushed on to Longue-Rive. The tide was falling and we hoped for shorebirds. To cut a short story shorter we saw ten Semipalmated Plovers and that was it. There are more shorebirds and more variety at St-Lazare sand pits at the moment but Longue-Rive will shine in a few weeks. Pushing on to Les Escoumins the tide had dropped and the basin in the town was full of Bonaparte’s Gulls doing their bow-legged waddle around the increasingly exposed muddy edges. Little Gull was our target here but none were to be found.

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Our last night was to be in a small hotel at Baie Ste-Catherine, a chalet as it happened and quite suitable. We didn’t stop at Tadoussac, too busy and besides, the place fancies itself something rotten. I’d liken it to one of those haughty types who think they are too good to even talk to you but who actually have a face like a smacked dogs arse. So we hopped on the ferry and decided to do an afternoon whale trip. It would get us out into the Minch where there would be birds and, presumably, a few of the regular Fin Whales. We’ve done the trips half-a-dozen times over the years and not really found them to be very (rare) birdy, but the whales are great and so our afternoon was settled.

The boat was busy, naturally, and there seemed to be a very high percentage of Chinese and Russian visitors. The excited and exotic gabble increased as we reached the best area for the whales, just offshore from Les Bergeronnes. There were several boats gathered and it was clear that there had been some activity, so we waited. The guide prattled on, as they do, until the surface broke and a Blue Whale spouted. The deck was awash with things beginning with i being used to take memorable photographs of sea recently vacated by whale.

More whales broke the surface all around us, we had five Blue Whales all feeding quietly while we all bobbed above them. The whales would break the surface, spout through their impressive blow-holes, then bob under. They’d do this five to seven times before diving. Blues will fluke (tail out of the water) but only one of the five was fluking and then only once. One they dive they are gone for either a few minutes of half-an-hour. These were of the five minute variety.

During the whale activity an adult Black-headed Gull appeared, had a look and decided that it would go elsewhere. Unexpected but not unwelcome.

The guide reckoned that the Blue Whales had only arrived two days before and that we had been on their best trip for blues ever. If your ambition is to see a Blue Whale go now, they won’t wait. When we decided to do the whale trip we toyed with taking a Zodiac instead of the bigger boat. It would have been interesting to have been as close as the Zodiac in the shot but perhaps also a bit nervy!

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After the trip we repaired to our base and checked the rare bird news. Poot, three Little Gulls had been seen at Les Escoumins on the high tide that morning. That particular event (the tide) would happen again very soon and so we set off back there. While waiting for the ferry we noted this sign. Presumably it is only directed at males, otherwise there would have been an equally graphic depiction of the barred activity. When I say graphic, clearly the sign said what not to do but the lack of equipment clearly suggests that it was modelled for in winter!

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We hared it back to Escoumins, enjoying yet another moment of driving glee as the guy behind us was one of those who assumed that he was the only one who wanted to pass the geriatrics in front, once the road becomes two lanes, wrong. He tried the ‘crossing solid lines’ thing but I did the ‘Hyundai coming through’ thing so he had to wait another ten seconds. I wonder if he thought I was calling him a  banker as he tore past, then went on to top at least 150 past everyone else. As we neared Les Escoumins we kept an eye out for a pink tree or rock but were disappointed.

At Les Escoumins there were Bonaparte’s Gulls everywhere and Black-legged Kittiwakes everywhere else. We scanned and re-scanned to no avail, so we decamped to the ferry dock and waited while the gulls all filed out of the harbour and off to roost on the river. At least two Little Gulls came out, they’d probably been in the entrance to the pool area all the time and so beyond our scoping range. Out on the river was a mass of white as all the local gulls settled down for the night. Presumably they all wake up well downstream and have to fly back every day but who am I to question their logic.

We left the area the next day, making home in five hours which is about right. It was a good trip with some nice stuff but a little too early for the real autumn migration. The additions to my North America year list made the trip worthwhile and the Blue Whales were just superb. It looks like jaegers will have to wait a few weeks.

The Long Weekend

Sandra and I usually restrict our travel on long weekends. Not because we don’t want to do stuff but because everyone else does too and at the same time and often offensive stuff that is diametrically opposed to our interests, so we usually stay at home. This time we didn’t, we decided it was time to visit the St-Lawrence. Our plan was to drive to Matane on the south shore, take the 05:30 ferry to Godbout on the north shore and then explore.

It was something of a surprise that we actually found accommodation. It seemed that we might be in danger of having to dig out the tent and then have to find the instructions for putting it up, it has more guy ropes than a circus big top and if you get the wrong rod in the wrong place it is a disaster. In the end it was not necessary and we found a room in Matane, Baie Comeau and Baie Ste-Catherine. Now all we needed was for the birds to play along.

It took 12 hours to get to Matane but we did fit in a bit of birding on the way. Most stops were short but we had a nice walk around a small part of the Cacouna reserve, fortunately it was the part containing a Yellow Rail. The weather was gloriously nice and it stayed that way for the duration, great for those on the beaches, but a bit benign when it came to mixing up the bird population. We had gambled that the jaegers and stuff of that ilk would start to penetrate the St-Lawrence, we were also on the trail of the alcids. The gamble failed and we didn’t see anything we didn’t expect aside from a Black-headed Gull later. It looks like we’ll be heading back again later in the year.

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The crossing from Matane to Godbout takes a couple of hours and is done on a large ferry. The car storage is interesting, as is trying to find your way to the decks, a prehensile tail would have been most useful to assist with the navigation of the gantry we’d had to park on. The deck is stable, we could probably have used the scope, but it could do with some side-on seats, preferably dry ones. If we were to do this run again (audible groan from Sandra) then we’d take collapsible seats and do a foot passenger return trip. The birding was hardly spectacular except for a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes that the boat flushed, 15 in all, a hoped for but not really expected species and quite early. There is a theory that a ‘warm’ arctic will see northern birds moving early this year.

The better part of the crossing was the last third when we started to encounter all three scoters, an eBird alerting six Long-tailed Ducks and close views of Razorbill and Common Murre. We also saw a couple of Black Guillemots, a species absent from the rest of the sites we visited on the trip. They have been pretty common on previous autumn visits but, as we’d not been mid-summer, perhaps it was just the norm.

There were a few Minke and a single Fin Whale on the crossing but it wasn’t one of our better ones. On the plus side we had lots of Black-legged Kittiwakes, a bird that has a facial expression suggesting that it has a bad smell under its nose, well beak. After landing at Godbout and extricating the car, we found a nice, empty bit by the river with a few birds and had breakfast. The plan was to visit Pointe-des-Monts looking for migrants and shorebirds. Then we might go to Sept-Isles just because we’d never been but also to see what was around. There was a Black Skimmer being seen in the previous few days but we’d be there at low tide thereby minimising our chances of seeing it.

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Pointe-des-Monts was a good spot for a couple of hours, we found a few Sedge Darners, a North America ode tick but something we have in the UK, we call it Common Hawker and I’ve seen many. There were also two Ruddy Turnstones (the only ones we saw) but, better still, 13 Whimbrel. They were a bit nervous but I caught a few on pixel. All the while we were there small shapes hurried past and disappearing into the dense tress, mostly Tennessee Warblers on their way, the migration is underway.

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