Cathartic? Not really

There was a Brown Creeper in the garden the other day, only my second for the yard list. It was the day’s highlight really, the snow, always so much heavier out our way, has made getting around the pits no joy. That, and the cold, strong and biting wind meant that for the past few visits I have resorted to hawk watching from a sheltered spot. The results were a big zero but, never mind, it can’t always be wow.

In around 1980 I took out a subscription to the British Birds magazine (BB), a monthly periodical with something for everyone. Over the years the collection has grown, until I had every issue from 1951 through 2009, when I finally saw sense and let it lapse. Each magazine is still worth a read, even if only to remember how the birding was then. Now that we are preparing the way for a move, I decided that I needed to do some radical cleaning, starting with BB.

I kept the rarity reports and I kept the odd issue that I might want as reference but otherwise the lot are in the recycle bin. It was hard to do, dipping in to various notes and articles I enjoyed the first time around. The Chalice Petrel was one of the gripping yarns, an all dark petrel seen on a pelagic off Cornwall, the identification never quite resolved as far as I remember. Then there were many notes on cloaca pecking by Eurasian Coots, I might not miss that one quite so much, even though my old friend Steve Boot was the author.

In the clean sweep went a number of bird books too, things that seemed a good idea at the time but now just shelf-hoggers. As we move inexorably towards the digital book, more will follow no doubt but it will again be hard to perform the task. I think I got the book and periodical count to just below the thousand so I’m quite pleased.

With the arrival of the snow I was also pondering on what winter might bring, especially where my fading ABA year list is concerned. I’m still missing Bohemian Waxwing but hopeful. Over the years they have been fairly common, especially in the Hudson area, and the finch report for this winter suggested that some will come, I’ll just have to keep checking those berry bushes.


Less likely is an arrival of Great Grey Owls. It was only two years ago that we were graced by a decent eruption, in theory there will be three to five more years to wait. One of the birds below was local to St-Lazare, we found it on the Hudson CBC. I suppose I could get lucky and see all six of the regular eastern owls that I’m missing before the end of the year, but recently the willingness of finders to share has reached rock-bottom, thanks to disrespectful behaviour by people who could do better.

DSCN0176 gtg07

My start of year target was 500 in the ABA region, I’m 477 now and won’t be too disappointed if I declare on 480, a nice round figure.

One last thing. Some years ago I damaged the thread on my Nikon ED 50mm travel scope. I was a bit careless while climbing a tower in Ecuador and the helicoil, a spring-steel, hardened insert that goes in the plate the allows you to mount the scope to a tripod, pulled partially out. I did a running repair then, once home, I used No More Nails to do a better repair, gluing the plate to the tripod head snap-plate. After changing tripods recently I wanted to buy a new plate for the scope, held in with four screw, so I contacted Nikon service.

I have three Nikon birding products, two spotting scopes and some binoculars for a combined cost of about $3,000CAD. In August of this year I asked Nikon, through their convoluted customer service system, to sell me the part so I could effect the repair. I also told them that I would not be sending the scope anywhere for such a trifling little task that I could do myself in minutes.

The first reply, an automated response, advised me that it would take 24-48 hours to respond. TEN days later I was told that I needed to send more information, viz, my land address. I did this and heard nothing. I went back to their web site and asked again three weeks ago, still nothing. I’ll try again because I’m willing to believe that things do get missed, if not quite lost in the post, but I am more than a little unimpressed with Nikon here. When I contacted Swarovski about their new eyecups on the Swarovision bins just after I bought them, they sent me a little gift package by return including new eyecups. I like my Nikon scopes, optically they are excellent, but you don’t need to be a market researcher to know where I will look if I ever need to consider a replacement, do you?

Another winter

I apologise for being absent from the Interweb since we did our Nova Scotia trip, I have been out birding a bit but with mixed luck. Thanks to a Golden Eagle, my St-Lazare sand pits year list stands at 179, one more for a draw with last year, two more for a record. Unfortunately, as I look outside, the snow has arrived and that may curtail options. Some revel in the winter snow and some just curl up and hibernate. I can’t say I am a fan, but at least the newly arrived Snowy Owls will look less obvious. Two were out in the owl fields during the week, both males. I also tried for a Townsend’s Solitaire, it had been feeding on a berry-laden bank not too far away (relatively) but sensibly fled before the weather turned.

I’ve also been doing a bit of blog cleaning, it looks a bit more Spartan these days. I might not have a ton of time to spend on it in the next few months as we do all those little jobs around the house needed to encourage a buyer – yes we are on the move. Part of the reason for looking at Nova Scotia was to assess the options, along with a return to UK (unlikely and least favoured option) and perhaps a move to the US, I think that there is still a gap under the fence at Philipsburg! Quebec was never part of our end-game so to speak, but we’d have much preferred to make choices at our own pace.

The St-Lazare sand pits guide (and the Snowy Owls too) has proved more popular than expected, with over 150 downloads when I last checked. I’ve nearly finished the one for Baie Brazeau, although it won’t be anything like as comprehensive. I haven’t yet decided how long the free eBooks will remain available and so, if you have been prevaricating, you might want to get on with it.

I’ve not managed any photos since Nova Scotia, I did get a lot of people admiring the Spruce Grouse, so here is a shot plucked at random from my archive.


East Side Story

If you read this without reading the previous post, you are going to be confused.

Our plan was to head east from Yarmouth then bird where we could. The heavy rain of the previous day had been replaced by a cold and forceful wind that had rattled the windows of the B & B and kept us awake.

We did find a few birds on the way, notably a couple of Tree Swallows by Peggy’s Cove. We also tried sea watching but found it hard going, unlike the Northern Gannets filing past offshore. Negotiating Halifax, we looked at various spots on the eastern side before making for our next B & B in Upper Musquodoboit. The highlight before heading there was a male Eurasian Wigeon at Grand Desert, a site ever more known as big pudding.

The morning song of Ring-necked Pheasants, perhaps pleasing to some ears, got us going again and out on the road. While at big pudding we’d missed out on some American Coots, so we went back there via some back roads, fortuitously adding Pileated Woodpecker to the trip list. At big pudding the coots were easier to find in zero wind and all three Eurasian Wigeons were there, along with two females that I reckon were their consorts but we didn’t wait for a wing flap to confirm – things to do.

Rolling along the south-west end of Nova Scotia mainland, we found lots of great bays and pools, all with nice birds on view. Our main target was a Cattle Egret in Spry Bay, it was easy to find as the field it was in was barely larger than our yard back home. After, we went to Taylor Head State Park where at last we did a little more real birding. Horned Grebes were everywhere and we picked up Black Scoter for the trip. As we left it was nice to find Boreal Chickadee by the road.

 IMG_9624 (2) IMG_9574 (2) IMG_9548 (2) IMG_9541 (2)

We continued east along Marine Drive, eventually coming to the Port Bickerton area. It turned out to be very birdy, with three each of Spruce and Ruffed Grouse plus Grey Jays. One male Spruce Grouse fed by the roadside allowing a few decent shots. As we passed back that way, a hunter was around and we hoped that the grouse had taken cover before being seen. Just in case we cursed the hunter with a nasty dose of piles.

IMG_9817 (2) IMG_9784 (2) IMG_9782 (2) IMG_9773 (2) IMG_9746 (2) IMG_9745 (2) IMG_9729 (2) IMG_9725 (2) IMG_9706 (2) IMG_9701 (2) IMG_9674 (2) IMG_9661 (2)

It was our last full day in Nova Scotia – the trip home to Quebec taking 16 hours or so. For a not really a birding trip, it had gone pretty well with 75 species seen and five ABA year ticks. Nova Scotia is a great place to visit and we’ll be back for sure, next time I think we’ll have longer to really get to know the place.

IMG_9856 (2) IMG_9841 (2)


Nova Scotia

We hadn’t planned to do another trip this year, I’d sort of declared on 471 for the ABA year list although I thought that the odd addition might show up locally, then the opportunity to visit Nova Scotia arose, so we went.

It is a bit of a drive from Quebec, quite scenic most of the way but long hours sat on an increasingly numb bum. As our first day was travelling we didn’t get much chance to wave the camera or bins at anything. A couple of Bald Eagles sat on a pylon were nice though and male Ring-necked Pheasant was a year addition.

 IMG_9461 (2)

Our first night was spent in Yarmouth on the south-east coast. About two hours out it started to chuck it down and much of the following day followed suit. We still got out though and managed to get some birding in while remaining moist. Local to Yarmouth was a Snowy Owl. I’d previously checked my emails and saw that Michel Juteau had found the first in our area, at the same place I’d been seeing the Rough-legged Hawks – no justice is there?

The Yarmouth bird, well Chebogue Point bird, was huddled in a field and sat their wolfing, actually owling down a kill. Face on it looked like a dog as bits of whatever it had caught were shovelled down its gullet. Nearby we had a flock of shorebirds, mostly Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlin but also including a Pectoral Sandpiper – both the owl and sandpiper made eBird cough.

Moving on to Cape Sable, we eventually found the right places to look and it was quite good. There were at least 400+ Dunlin, frequently scattered by a Peregrine. In the same group were a couple of Red Knot (year tick), a Short-billed Dowitcher and a scattering of Sanderlings. There were also good numbers of Black-bellied Plovers and Greater Yellowlegs. The yellowlegs and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that we saw in the same area also invoked an eBird coughing fit, oh well.

Rain was a constant factor but we generally did alright. A couple of Great Cormorants at Cape Sable were a hoped for bonus and so the ABA year list has made 475.

Below some shots of the Snowy Owl – 1000ASA in pouring rain.

IMG_9501 (2) IMG_9495 (2) IMG_9475 (2) IMG_9472 (2)


Roughing it

I ventured over to Hudson today to look for a male Barrow’s Goldeneye, seen by Wayne Grubert yesterday on the Ottawa River off Thompson Park. No joy, unfortunately, it’s a big river and lots of it is simply beyond viewing, thanks to all the posh houses that line the bank.

As I was out that way, I hopped over to St-Clet to see whether the Snowy Owls had arrived yet, nope, not yet but perhaps soon. Out in the farmland, a rough track called Montee Cholette, see previous post, had been very birdy recently, and it was as good as anywhere to seek owls. The track is quite reasonable actually, it might be livelier in the wet but, for now, no problems.

On arrival I couldn’t see any small birds, but a scan revealed two Rough-legged Hawks engaged in well, hawking, so I made for them. They were a bit nervy and flew as I approached, so I continued on down another track I’d never explored. After about a kilometre or so I can across another Rough-legged Hawk, one a bit less worried about me, and I was able to creep the one ton of maroon van towards it. Poor light meant that I was shooting as 1000 ISO, so the shots are a bit grainy, but not terrible and they pick out the poo of an unspecified animal on the mound a treat.

The track ended at a railway crossing, so I doubled back and did a full scan from the main track. I counted ten Rough-legged Hawks in total, all from the one position. Three were of the all-dark form with silvery wing linings, the rest were the standard version. Here is an image of a dark form taken north of Tadoussac, below are the shots of one of todays pale form birds.

IMG_4738 (2)

Finally I made the obligatory call into St-Lazare sand pits, where a Common Redpoll was a year-list addition, #178, three to go to beat last year’s record, I really wish I’d made the effort to look for a late-August Common Nighthawk now.

For new visitors – I seem to be getting all sorts of people from far away countries these days, and I’m sure that they are not all spammers – on the side bar are links to my birding eBooks, two are available free, two you’ll need to dip into the penny jar for. For those of you with Kobo eReaders, all four are now available through their on-line store.

IMG_9456 (2)_edited-1 IMG_9434 (2)_edited-1  IMG_9411 (2) IMG_9387 (2)


Field Birding

That would be in an actual field.

Today I went back out in to the St-Clet fields, it was bright, if cool, and I fancied another go at a Rough-legged Hawk in better light.

As it happened, the hawks were having none of it, preferring to stay well away from my vantage point. When I was there a couple of days ago, I had good numbers of American Pipits and especially Horned Larks. So I reverted to plan B and settled in to try to get better views and maybe photos.

A Merlin made everything naturally skittish, and the repeated dreads didn’t help, but I did manage a few images and I got close looks at one Horned Lark that I believe to be a Hoyt’s. If you have no idea what I’m on about I don’t blame you.

In our area, the commonest migrant Horned Lark subspecies should be Northern Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris alpestris, but, we also get the smaller, white-faced Prairie Horned Lark Eremophila a praticola. The other one is the Hoyt’s Horned Lark Eremophila a hotyi which should be frequent enough, is as large as northern and has a white supercilium and a pale yellow wash restricted to the centre of the white throat.

If you want to read more, admittedly in an Ontario context, then follow the link.

It made for interesting watching, and you wonder just how many of each subspecies are present in the flocks of Horned Larks in the area. It was also interesting to read up and realise the all the Horned Larks that we see after late summer are in adult plumage, including the hatch-year birds.

Here is a selection of Horned Lark shots from today and previously, including one that was sat on a fence in Nevada and is therefore of a subspecies not encountered in Quebec, presumably. Note the heftier bill.

IMG_9358 (2) IMG_9130 (2) IMG_9138 (2) IMG_9158 (2) IMG_9165 (2) IMG_9125 (2) IMG_9127 IMG_8954 (2) IMG_8953 (2) IMG_8941 (2) IMG_8177 IMG_8058 IMG_8056 IMG_8009

The same field had ten American Pipits in it. They strutted, as they do, but when the Merlin hurtled over, they didn’t fly but squatted down pretending to be chaff.

IMG_9284 (2) IMG_9176 (2) IMG_9094 (2) IMG_9072 (2) IMG_9049 (2) IMG_9033 (2) IMG_9030 (2)

There is no sign of winter’s impending arrival than Snow Buntings – at least ten there today.

IMG_9348 (2) IMG_9345 (2)

Also three Lapland Longspurs were around. I try to get a good look at the autumn longspurs, you never know your luck in finding a rare one, it didn’t happen this time though.

IMG_9326 (2)

Finally, I went to the St-Lazare sand pits before going out into the fields, nothing much changed except the arrival of some Buffleheads. As I watched geese arrived to loaf so I grabbed this shot of them whiffling in.

IMG_8925 (2)_edited-1

And now a vaguely subliminal message – buy my eBooks, repeat ad-nauseam – thanks.

Little Geese

In periods of quiet, such as we are basking in now, it is worthwhile taking the opportunity to look at the more common species a little more closely, although to call Cackling Goose common is perhaps a stretch, more it is a scarce but regular visitor to our part of the world.

Today at St-Lazare sand pits – where else – the usual mob of Canada Geese were keeping well away from the hunters. They do this by choosing to hang around the pits a while instead of trying to get peace on one of the large waters, where the gunships will run them down, or in the fields, where there appear to be enough guns to fight a small war, I digress a little. In the aforementioned mob was this’ Cackling Goose (below). A good comparison with the hulking monsters, even if it is a distant record shot.

IMG_8816 (2) 

Below are some older shots from the pits showing two different Cackling Geese, hard to believe they are the same species, given some of the obvious structural differences.

 Cackler #1

pixie11 pixie4 pixie2

Cackler #2

IMG_4093 DSCN5672

Check out this link for more info including a map:

Enough of geese, I also had a look around the St-Clet area for the first Snowy Owl of the winter without success, I did find five Rough-legged Hawks though, two dark form and three regular versions. The regulars were all hunting in the same area and I couldn’t get a decent lens on them. I did manage this of a dark form though, another record shot at best.

 IMG_8875 (2)

As the sparrow migration winds down, this Fox Sparrow seems to be happy hanging around the garden feeders. Unlike most that we get, this one prefers to be in the open, instead of rearranging the leaf-litter under the shrubbery.

IMG_8813 IMG_8805 (2) 

Thanks to those who took the time to download my latest eBook about St-Lazare sand pits, now you are all experts. Thanks also for the kind comments. If you have no idea what I am referring to, click on the Caspian Tern cover image on the right, this will take you to the download page – free. The Snowy Owl one is free too, the others are cheap and a jolly good read, although I may be biased.