One of those days

The weather change worked, it was a big day at St-Lazare sand pits for me today.

I don’t very often list the species seen, they are in eBird after all, but such was the quality today it’s worth it:

Canada Goose 435; Gadwall 1; American Black Duck 6; Mallard 30; Blue-winged Teal 1; Green-winged Teal 45; Hooded Merganser 7; Common Loon 1; Pied-billed Grebe 1; Great Blue Heron 4; Great Egret 3; Green Heron 1; Turkey Vulture  14; Osprey 4; Northern Harrier 2; Sharp-shinned Hawk 3; Cooper’s Hawk 7; Northern Goshawk 1; Bald Eagle 2; Red-shouldered Hawk 4; Broad-winged Hawk 77; Red-tailed Hawk 2; Semipalmated Plover 2; Killdeer 10; Greater Yellowlegs 4; Lesser Yellowlegs 16; Least Sandpiper 1; Pectoral Sandpiper 6; Wilson’s Snipe 1; Ring-billed Gull 10; Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 1; Mourning Dove 2; Belted Kingfisher 1; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1; Downy Woodpecker 1; Hairy Woodpecker 2; Northern Flicker 10; American Kestrel 2; Merlin 1; Olive-sided Flycatcher 1; Red-eyed Vireo 1; Blue Jay 865; American Crow 10; Common Raven 5; Horned Lark 1; Tree Swallow 15; Barn Swallow 3; Black-capped Chickadee 10; White-breasted Nuthatch 1; Eastern Bluebird 16; Swainson’s Thrush 1; American Robin 10; European Starling 40; Black-and-white Warbler 1; American Redstart 1; Magnolia Warbler 3; Bay-breasted Warbler 1; Blackburnian Warbler 1; Blackpoll Warbler 1; Black-throated Blue Warbler 2; Yellow-rumped Warbler 6; Black-throated Green Warbler 2; Song Sparrow 10; Dark-eyed Junco 4; Scarlet Tanager 1; Red-winged Blackbird 40; Rusty Blackbird 5; Common Grackle 60; American Goldfinch 10; Evening Grosbeak 2.

Pride of place, for me at least, was the Olive-sided Flycatcher that obligingly sat on top of a pine. I was actually scoping up some Broad-winged Hawks in its general direction when I noticed it. Even then I expected it to be a young American Robin and so was pleasantly surprised when it focussed in to become a long expected site first.

As you can see, there are plenty of hawks in there plus warblers and a couple of Evening Grosbeaks, it was that sort of day. I rather wish I’d stayed a bit longer to pick up some extra species, there must have been Yellowthroats and Chipping Sparrows somewhere! As it was my initial walk, pre settling down to count hawks, didn’t quite get me far enough around the site to find some regular things. I think my day record is 78 so it might well have been in sight with more effort!

Tomorrow?  More of the same I think The temperature is supposed to hit a low of 1°C tonight so it’s going to kick start a heavier passage. I’m pretty sure that the Blue Jay count is also a site record by some margin. Three figures could be on the cards tomorrow.

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I only took a couple of photos today. One is a record shot of a high Red-tailed Hawk (above) that surprised me. It seems to have some western components in there, comments very welcome. The other bird is a Swainson’s Thrush that has found fruit corner (not the yoghurt but where grapes grow on my patch).

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Pits power

Just past the half-way mark in September and a month of pits watching is going well. This week has seen a second warbler flock pass through and now the shorebirds are starting to be more like I expected. Sunday I added American Golden Plover to the pits year list, yesterday it was the first American Pipits of the year. Today was a bit quieter but I finally bagged a Blue-headed Vireo for the pits years, that’s bumped my pits year list up to a rounded 160, the September list is 108 species so far, it may well get even better.

Yesterday I spent a bit longer than I intended. It was very grey to start with, just 5°C temps and still. There were at least eight Pectoral Sandpipers around, five up from the previous day. A late Purple Martin went over but warblers were very few and I was about to leave when a Broad-winged Hawk pootled past. I lingered and enjoyed a nice passage of hawks: Broad-winged Hawk 32; Sharp-shinned Hawk 3; Copper’s Hawk 6; Osprey 6; Bald Eagle 6; Red-shouldered Hawk 3; Turkey Vulture 3; Red-tailed Hawk 1; Peregrine 1;  Merlin 2; American Kestrel 2. In with that mix were at least 30 Monarchs ambling south-west.

Below a couple of shots of Pectoral Sandpipers.

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The autumn black peril is upon us with masses of Common Grackles – up to 2000 straight from roost – roaming and pooping at will as they pass overhead. This group was part of a 900 bird string (estimated).

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On Monday Claude was up from Toronto and we visited a couple of sites including the pits! Beauharnois still had three Sabine’s Gulls, distant and all three were sat together on the water at one point – oh for a boat. We moved on to Ste-Martine where a handful of shorebirds lingered briefly before pushing off. The photos below are of four shorebird species, I’ll let you name them. A pretty Ring-billed Gull and one of some obliging Semipalmated Plovers, the head-on shot shows the semipalmations nicely.

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Tomorrow the wind goes northerly, if you can get out, there should be plenty of bird about from geese moving to more warblers and hopefully more shorebirds.

This weekend it’s the Tadoussac bird migration festival. Not sure we can get there as I’d love to see the owl banding and get on a birding trip out on to the St-Lawrence. I’m also not too sure how it all works, but suspect that you have to register for the thing – looks a bit like a load of messy red tape to m,e but then I am translating a word at a time so I might have it wrong.


Trundled down to the pits this morning; bumping into Wayne Grubert there who was on a Buff-breasted Sandpiper mission. No Buff-breast today, but an American Golden Plover came over and there were three Pectoral Sandpipers around. It was pretty cool for September, clouding over gradually and the conditions might make for a good and visible flight of Broad-winged Hawks that were surely grounded yesterday by the rain.

Ospreys are moving too, I saw two today and no doubt many more are wandering past out there as I type. Smaller birds were harder to find though, just Tennessee and Yellow-rumped Warblers in with a flock of Chipping Sparrows. We were entertained by a young Merlin that attacked everything from shorebird to Caspian Tern and was probably responsible for smaller birds keeping low. At one point it chased a calling bird, as yet unidentified but I happened to have the iPod on record and have a faint call, another one to work on.

The bit below was on the eBird rare bird alert from Quebec. I’m not sure how it works but presume that the reviewers get to see the alerts before they go out, if so quite how this slipped through I’m not sure but I’m quite sure that Karen isn’t seeing Little Blue Herons often, not in Quebec at any rate.

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) (1) – Reported Sep 09, 2014 18:00 by Karen Pick – Rivière Beauport et Fleuve St.-Laurent, Québec, Quebec – Map:,-71.1988735&ll=46.8490315,-71.1988735 – Checklist: – Comments: “Feeding where the river empties into the St. Lawrence. I often see Little Blue Herons in and about Quebec City.”

There was also an intriguing claim of a Yellow-nosed Albatross, seen by some kayakers out on the Richelieu River. It was looked for subsequently but not seen. These things have a habit of avoiding people and the claim recalls one in the UK a few years ago. The albatross was caught in the south-west of England, when it landed on a piece of rough ground. It made the local press and was released, but virtually no birders saw it. Later the same day an angler (who I actually knew personally) was on a permit-only water on the east coast of England and photographed a funny bird with his camera, normally reserved for photos of the Carp he caught. It was presumably the same albatross. It stayed there, squabbling for scraps with local Mallards long enough for thousands to see it and for the site owner to make a fortune in gate money. Nobody else ever did and the photos only came to light after the bird had left.

Wouldn’t it be great if it the Richelieu report is one and sits where we can all see it.

Going back to eBird. We went to see a Buff-breasted Sandpiper near Casselman a couple of weeks ago but the record is not on the eBird map for the species, even though it is in my records under the Ontario tab, peculiar.

Below are a couple of dodgy shots from this morning.

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Odd Morning

The weather has turned much colder, especially today, and that sparked a movement this morning of Canada Geese, a species that had previously been scarce to completely absent. Warbler were completely absent today when yesterday, the following were in one flock in the soccer pitch woods.

Red-eyed Vireo; Philadelphia Vireo; Nashville Warbler; American Restart; Cape May Warbler; Blackpoll Warbler; Bay-breasted Warbler; Northenr Parula; Magnolia Warbler; Yellow-rumped Warbler; Black-throated Green Warbler; Pine Warbler. There were also three Scarlet Tanagers hanging about with the same flock. Not a bad line-up.

Also yesterday we had a bit of hawk migration in the afternoon, this time at Dune Lake, Saddlebrook. Nothing spectacular yet but a couple each of Bald Eagles and Broad-winged Hawk were nice. The next few days should see the Broad-winged Hawk migration start to peak in my area, it would be nice if we get a good flight again. There was also a Great Crested Flycatcher around. An eBird rarity on Laval but expected in St-Lazare, peculiar setting for eBird.

Today it I also saw a few more shorebirds at the pits than recently, notably my second ever Buff-breasted Sandpiper there along with two Pectoral Sandpipers. All three birds did what most of the more interesting shorebirds have done this autumn and flew off. The shorebird habitat is now looking excellent and I’m hoping that I get there every day before disturbance does, as the birds seem reluctant to settle in. Obviously the two yellowlegs are the exception – almost bomb-proof at times.

Despite the delight at getting another pits Buff-breasted Sandpiper, the real highlight for me this morning was a Marsh Wren. I’ve long expected this pits addition but always thought it would be a singing bird in the wetland area. This one was in the shrubs up against the main road. I was beginning to think that it would be a patch tick-less year but saved by the wren.

I just found out that we had a Brown Booby along the St-Lawrence at Bic, 3rd August. I drove past that rock 1st-August before going to Pointe-des-Monts on 2nd-August and not seeing a Tropical Kingbird that I didn’t know was there – the difference between seeing and missing these birds can be fine margins.

I’ve not had much opportunity to use the camera recently but at least it’s been fun to carry it around for miles. This Red-eyed Vireo is from yesterday, I spent a long time trying to get a Cape May Warbler in the open but to no avail.

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Sabine’s dot

Thanks to a timely message from Pierre Bannon after he’d discovered a Sabine’s Gull off Beauharnois, I was able to skip over and take a look. It was always distant, never coming nearer than 350m so it’s record shot time again.

Chatting to Pierre on-site he had two together out there and I think I may have photographed both, but the other shots are even worse than these. Sabine’s Gull is always a great bird to see, one of the finest of gulls, I just wish I could get closer. Maybe I will on my next pelagic trip.

Aside from the gull, I’ve been covering the pits as much as I can. Migration is still happening but not in a flood as we hoped after a sharp temperature drop. Warblers are still featuring but they are widespread throughout the site and can take some tracking down. Shorebird numbers are starting to climb but there appears to be a new dog walker who has a pack and who always takes them over the best shorebird bits so get there early if that is what you are looking for.

With the extra effort I’ve added a couple of year birds for the pits, expected species but good to get anyway. I’ve yet to have a Pectoral Sandpiper there this year though, and it may be getting a bit late for a Canada Warbler. I’ll keep plugging away, who knows, perhaps one of the Sabine’s Gulls will come my way tomorrow, don’t think I’ll hold my breath on that one though.

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Get orf moi pond!

Yesterday there was a bloody kayak on the pits and some angler in it. That’s the first time in 11 years that I’ve seen a craft on the water, now my concern is that he’ll keep coming back and will bring his mates next time. There must be a million acres of water he could fish locally but no, he has to pick St-Lazare sand pits where the ducks and geese come to escape the hunters. My advisor tells me that I cannot buy a rifle and punch holes in his kayak if he reappears, pity, it would be very relaxing for me, perhaps not so much for him.

Don’t anybody dare comment about birding from kayaks, any craft on the water at the pits scares everything, they are fine on the huge water bodies we have locally but not on my pond.

Now that I have got that off my chest, well, he wasn’t there today. The birding continues to be good with 50+ species yesterday and today. There are still many warblers about but you have to work for them, ducks and shorebirds are also starting to gain momentum. Below is a bad photo of seven Blue-winged Teal that arrived today, along with the first autumn American Wigeon (far right).

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In the little wood the ‘beware of the dog’ sign has gone. I don’t know whether to owner removed it or someone else. Thankfully nobody took any notice anyway, it’s just some horsy chancer trying to keep people out, not a good policy in a public wood.

Today I managed to find a Northern Parula for my pits year list, 154 and counting. I still have some easy gaps to fill and I’m thinking I might nudge just 170 this year. The parula was hard to photograph, against the light and what with the camera sitting in unskilled hands and all that.

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Green Herons are busy at the moment with up to three around. This adult looks a bit over-cooked but honestly, they are born that way. This garish bird was a bit distant but that’s never stopped me. I tried stalking but it kept running away.

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Back in the woods and I was pleased to get a good look at this male Cape May Warbler. The light was iffy but I got this one untypical pose to come out reasonably sharp – a good chance to get the new warblers book out to compare. If you’ve not bought it yet, you should, no more mystery fall warblers (unless they are hybrids). Details here

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Don’t suppose many of you saw the BBC wildlife photographer of the year results but the urban category was won by a real piece of junk I can’t understand why my entry never made the cut if this camera phone special of a pet goose did. Below is my entry.


Hawk migration is underway but at a trickle pace. As I sit on the back deck writing this I’ve had an Osprey and a Sharp-shinned Hawk over. There might have been more but I still have to look at the keys to type. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Broad-winged Hawk Passage like last years. On a couple of dates there were regular kettles going over, my best ever passage. Here is a throwback picture from the time.

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I happened across this less skittish Least Sandpiper so took advantage.

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I’m still getting a couple of Caspian Terns at the pits most days. The young bird, who I call Casper, (You can’t buy creative genius like that) is pretty independent now but still begs off the parent. For such a hefty bird the young one makes such a pitiful noise, but it seems to work and the parent still fusses over it when it returns from a fishing circuit.

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eBird have dedicated this month as patch birding month, see for their take. Patch birding is still rather low profile here, although it is gathering supporters as people realise what fun it can be. With this in mind I intend to visit the pits at least once a day, each day including weekends throughout September (no change there then). My weekend visits will be from first light and I’ll be gone before the first clutch of kids and dogs show up.

This year, for my own interest and not because I’m some sort of sad anorak, I’ve been keeping monthly stats for the pits. Last month I hit 97 species, in May I managed 102. This month I’m up to 77 already but I’ll have to hope that the promised weather change at the weekend dumps down a few flycatchers and the warblers I’m missing for the month, plus some hirundines please.

Well, plenty there to comment about. I’ve been rude to anglers, but most can’t read so I’m safe there and I’ve been rude to the BBC, but everyone is so no change there either. Happy times. Oh and just so you understand the post title. There is a magazine called Viz with a character called ‘Farmer Palmer’ who wants people off his land whatever the law says. Viz is not for people of a nervous and sensitive disposition!

Plover day

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.