Colonising

Today Sandra and I had a little ride out north of Montreal to flooded fields east of Lachute and some more near Mirabel. It was a year list thing to some extent but also to get us to a place we hadn’t really been to before and it was quite a nice find. The creatively named North River was our main destination, it had breached in many places and tons of ducks, geese and gulls were feeding and roosting there. Most attractive for us, but not so for birders based in Europe, was the presence of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

They are here now, colonising and even eBird doesn’t cough when you put them in. The fact that three adults and an immature were reported yesterday, were motivation enough for the trip out. We found the spot without difficulty and started finding Lesser Black-backs, four adults in total plus a nice, late Iceland Gull. The photos below are of two of the Lesser Black-backs, one had a bit of an argument with an American Herring Gull, the bigger gull won.

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Moving on to more floods adjacent to Highway 15 near Mirabel, we were looking for Greater White-fronted Geese, there had been three yesterday. The mass of Canada Geese and the limited access to all areas of the extensive floods made it difficult to cover it properly and we didn’t see our targets. We did, however, find a further two adult and one immature Lesser Black-backed Gulls plus an adult Glaucous Gull.

Our last port of call was on the Ontario border looking for Upland Sandpipers. My sites there, that have been so reliable for the past 11 years, have been mostly wrecked by the land owner with the field dynamics altered to produce more (dollars) rather than farm in a less intrusive manner. No sandpipers, no meadowlarks in fact nothing to note. I’m sad to say that I think the site might be finished for the sandpipers but I’ll keep checking anyway.

My eBook has still to appear on Kindle and Kobo but I’m hopeful it will be available there this coming week sometime. I finally discovered how to put images on the blog side bar, click on the ‘Going for Broke’ cover if you want to take a look or even shell out $2.99US, or $3.29CDN or £1.78 for a copy. It is available from iTunes and can be read on an iPod or iPad or you can buy it directly from Smashwords. If you’ve already bought one, many thanks I do appreciate it.

Cracker

Yesterday, news broke of a male Townsend’s Warbler at Pointe-Calumet, north-west of Montreal. Sandra and I went for a look but we were late in the day and there was no sign of the bird.

This morning I went back for another try. I didn’t know that it had been seen earlier in the morning until Samuel Denault arrived with the news. We split up to search, me chasing a flock of Black-capped Chickadees, often a warbler ‘carrier’ species, Samuel grilling and area we’d already looked at. After about 10 minutes he located the bird in with a small group of chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets and a Pine Warbler and called me over, thanks Samuel.

Over the next fifteen minutes the warbler showed very nicely, scrabbling around tree trunks and feeding low and even on the floor. I managed a few snaps before it drifted out of sight and more birders arrived. This was the third Townsend’s Warbler for Quebec following a female at Cap Tourmente on 17th-May 2008, followed eerily by a male at the same site on 17th-May 2009, one of those weird birding coincidences.

Congratulations to Jean-Claude Charbonneau on an excellent find.

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Cold (er) Front

Yesterday the car temp gauge topped out at 18°C, they (weather forecasters) had said to expect 24°C, only missed by six then. Today it was a mite cooler and it is reckoned to be going to -7°C over the next 36 hours with some snow, we never had this sort of awful weather when the PQ was in government!

Expecting little today, I took up station at St-Lazare sand pits at my usual, visible migration watch point. I was more than a little dismayed to see that it now appears to be the entrance to a road for earth moving equipment. I have no idea what they are up to down there but a section of the bank has been trashed and there is a big, yellow digger sat on it. Perturbed I looked around the rest of the pits seeing site FOS (first of the season) Belted Kingfisher and American Wigeon but little else.

After wasting time wondering whether dropping a model digger into a bucket of very wet sand would work in a voodoo sort of way, I went down to Montee Chenier, one of my sites that someone has turned into an eBird hotspot. Barren it may be but the sparrows certainly like it, well today at least. Vesper (four singing males) and Savannah Sparrows were new in but I couldn’t see yesterday’s American Pipits, they were around the chicken dung pile on Chenier east, perhaps they moved off to one of the many others that seem to have appeared.

The chicken dung is a fairly recent thing and I presume it comes from the local battery farms. I don’t know much about battery farmed hens but I expect they do get some sort of cocktail of drugs to keep them healthy (and/or high). Presumably any residue from their pharmaceutical intake comes out with the feces and ends up in those dung piles. I wonder where it goes after that?

Back to the birds and, with the skies bubbling up a bit, I went on to check yet another of my regular sites (and eBird hotspot but not nominated by me), Chemin Fief. It was pretty poor until I got to the north end where I usually get an Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Bluebird and, later, some Bobolinks. No meadowlarks or bluebirds yet but there was a kettle of 17 Turkey Vultures, although, perhaps a Turkey Vulture flock should be called a disposal if we are naming things after kitchen implements. It then got even better when a Golden Eagle came over, probably trying to outfly the approaching wet front. It didn’t and I saw it drop into woodland on the side of Rigaud Mountain.

The rain and wind came in with some spirit and so I headed back home and was pleased to see and hear a singing Purple Finch in the garden, then it got better again. In short order I saw Fox, Chipping, American Tree and Song Sparrows plus more juncos than had been around recently. It was pretty clear that the front was grounding birds, especially now that the rain was rather hammering.

For the next hour or so I paid more attention to the garden, adding Golden-crowned Kinglet to the year list then a flash of yellow-green brawling with American Goldfinches at the Nyger seed feature gave me great views of Pine Warbler. I’ve been looking, but mostly listening, for them this past week, they are always early back here but I didn’t expect to get my first at the feeders.

Below is a record shot of the Pine Warbler. I’ve yet to get what I’d call a decent shot of one, even though I have several pairs locally.

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UPDATE: The Pine Warbler survived the night, it dropped to -9°C with a -20°C wind chill. Oddly enough another St-Lazare resident, Michel, had one at his feeders too.

Regular visitors to this blog will be aware that I have written and published an e-book, there is a tab at the top of the page with details. At the moment it is only available from my publisher, Smashwords, but should also be in the Kindle and Kobo stores soon according to the Smashwords FAQs. It can actually be read on any device now, including Kindle, you just have to download it from Smashwords to your PC and add it to your library. UPDATE: My e-book is now available on the Barnes and Noble web site and from iBooks (via iTunes).

See also the tab regarding a proposed December trip to Panama on the cheap!

Scruffy Trio

With waters thawing and birds piling north I thought it might be worth a look at Hungry Bay today, after the obligatory St-Lazare sand pits visit that is. The pits gave me my first of the year Hermit Thrush, just the one on its own, and a few other things new for the Canada/QC year list too. My seed carpet is getting used by sparrows, lots of juncos as expected but also six Chipping Sparrows today, Fox can’t be too far behind.

At Hungry Bay the ice is going fast and the birds are edging out into the open water with it. Along the Beauharnois Canal itself I got lucky with three Horned Grebes. They were busy feeding when I found them but got very nervous as I approached. I waited until they dived and then sat on a log at just above water level and waited. Eventually they resumed their feeding, unconcerned by my presence. They cruised past at reasonable range and I took as many shots as I could while they made their way along the bankside ice line.

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Elsewhere the story was all about ducks and lots of them. All the regular dspecies were around and easy to see. At the Pont du Gonzague a few Cliff Swallows had arrived back and I had the pleasure of watching them busy themselves while a boat passed through the bridge. At St-Timothee a lingering Snowy Owl sat out in the field opposite the entrance but didn’t think much of the helicopter buzzing about, me neither. The marsh was still pretty frozen but there were plenty of Great Blue Herons on nests and Tree Swallows everywhere.

I’m not sure what has happened at St-Timothee but sections of the cycle track have been dug up and then rough filled. There hasn’t been a nice cataclysmic fire over the winter and so we can look forwards to seeing a tunnel of Phragmites again once the sap heads up. I wonder where I can pick up a scythe at cost?

The topsy-turvy nature of the weather forecast for the next week probably means that we will sweat and shiver in equal measure. The birds are coming back though and we have now started the period where you just have to get out and join in the fun. New stuff is showing up daily and I predict a few arrival date records to go (again).

I mentioned before about my North America year list – nothing wow, just keeping a track this year after Texas and maybe another trip later. I’m up to 248 now, the full list in roughly chronological order is on the side bar, just scroll down to it if you are interested. I expect it to be pushing 380+ by the end of May, lots to see yet.

Anyone out there got any comments on my e-book? Details about where to buy on the tab at the top of the page.

A little trip out

It was the weekend, so we took Red Dwarf (the new, used Grand Caravan) out for its inaugural birding spin. I’m not one of those people who want cars to do too much. Get you there and be able to walk when you get out on arrival are about all I ask. With the caravan being able to keep the tripod fully extended for those roadside emergency stops is a bonus. For our little ride we decided to visit Prince Edward County in Ontario, down Kingston way. There was a chance of seeing King Eiders and perhaps an Eurasian Wigeon if it stuck, but we also like the place for birding and so that alone is a good enough reason to visit.

The car was fine, comfortable and not too heavy on the gas. Another bonus with this one is a working radio with a jack socket so we can play podcasts on the go. For those of you who do not know what a podcast is, it is a radio show you can download to an ipod or similar device and we like to listen to the BBC Friday Night Comedy, Newsjack and the Infinite Monkey Cage when it is airing. If you like comedy the first two are good, especially the first. If you like science but with humour, try the monkey cage. Just Google BBC podcasts.

Just a bit of information about my new e-book here. I’ve created a page on this blog where, if interested, you can take a look at my e-books for sale along with links for buying ($2.99USD). If you don’t have an e-reader, just a PC, there is also a link so you can get the free e-reader app from Kobo. Just click on the tab at the top of this post. If any of you have bought it and have comments, please feel free. Purists will be glad to know that some of the typos have now been addressed.

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Spring always sees a glut of year ticks as soon as the snow goes and the trip ran to form. At a place called Kaiser’s Crossroads a couple of flooded depressions had most of the regular ducks, a few Bonaparte’s Gulls and an Osprey fetching and carrying sticks for its roadside nest. No Eurasian Wigeon though but it did come back after we’d moved on.

We then headed down to Prince Edward Point where there were hundreds of duck to enjoy. We passed three Mute Swans on the way down and then lucked into an immature male Barrow’s Goldeneye just short of the point.

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All three scoters were on view off the point lighthouse with White-winged in large numbers, followed by a handful of Surf Scoters and a couple of Blacks. We didn’t find the King Eiders though, they had probably moved off with the melt or could have been further around the point. The actual ‘reserve’ has no management or at least as far as we could see it doesn’t, nor does seem to provide trails or maps. Like so many of these sites it needs the government to provide investment and staff but we birders are hardly worth it are we?

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As we were passing we went onto Amherst Island for the last hour of daylight. The reward was one distant Short-eared Owl and 17 (seventeen) Snowy Owls, all on the eastern end. Hundreds of Buffleheads bobbed about offshore along with Common Loons and both scaup. The ferry channel was still largely ice but that should clear over the next week and all those ducks will be going north soon.

Tomorrow the forecast temp is for 24°C, I wonder what that particular high pressure is going to bring us?

Dribs & Drabs

Migration is still a bit stilted at the moment. The nights are cold and we still have extensive snow and ice in our area. Geese are around but they are milling about looking for areas to feed and loaf and it might be a while before they get either. Some of the smaller birds are on the move, Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles are usually at the forefront of the spring push but even there the numbers are not huge and there are many empty gaps in the roadside vegetation, normally occupied by a singing Red-winged Blackbird by now.

Although this is a birding blog I’ll put here a little piece about a departed friend, my old Hyundai Santa Fe. Known affectionately as the Squat Pig, there have been a few visiting birders who have sampled its comforts as we birded Quebec together. It wasn’t young when I got it and I’m not the most gentle of keepers when seeing a bird is at stake but it did OK until last year when it started to need too much TLC and too many dollars. Yesterday it went and we went back to a Grand Caravan, I can feel a trip coming on. The new, or at least lightly used beast is called Red Dwarf and it’s already done a tour of the St-Clet Lanes looking for Ross’s Geese. I hope it serves as well as the Squat Pig did.

Before I get back to the birding I’ll plug my birding book again here. There is a link on the sidebar that takes you straight to the eBook seller, it’s part of something I’m calling the ‘Just a Birder’ series and called ‘Going for Broke’ ($2.99USD, for 55,000+ words and many illustrations – a bargain). Here is another excerpt, this one refers to an autumn trip to the Isles of Scilly.

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‘Upon arrival on the Isles of Scilly, all birders had been lectured regarding the perils of chewing the leaves of an exotic plant that grew on the island (in the entrance to the Garrison half way up on the left, for those interested) and whose name I have long since forgotten, but not as a result of chewing. Because the lecture came complete with specific directions to the said plant, this of course instantly persuaded the foolhardy to go and try it, with some unfortunate results. One lad thought he could fly and jumped of a wall, breaking his collarbone, or so we gullible newbie fools were told. Another birder was tempted to try the substance in the presence of a notorious girl and, again allegedly, ended up trapped in her flat for three days. More should be said of the reputation of this female, who truly did exist.

The loose lass was said to prey on young boy bird watchers, who were easily led to her boudoir by the promise of ‘free’ love. What was not in the brochure was the subsequent rash and trip to the clinic, also provided free, although for those who partook of her affections and who were in relationships, the free part might not include the consequences. She was said to be the area representative for venereal diseases and more than willing to pass on her experiences to the unwary. If the individual that we were told about was the lady that was pointed out to me, she was no oil painting, unless you happened to like modern art. None of this was ever substantiated by an escapee. Some called her the Siren of the Scillies, someone whom, being a Siren, had no problem with being in the proximity of crabs.’

There is a bit more in the book besides just writing about birds! The eBook is available for all types of e-reader at http://www.smashwords.com/ the direct link is http://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=going+for+broke If you bought a copy and enjoyed it I’d appreciate any comments. The second in the ‘Just a Birder’ series, tentatively called ‘My Patch’ will be available in a few weeks.

This morning I did my regular watch at St-Lazare sand pits. The Northern Goshawks that had been seen displaying regularly have now gone a bit quiet, they could be on eggs although the longer than usual cold weather might have slowed progress. I’m seeing Northern Shrike every day and sometimes it settles in for a sing song. I got a pretty poor digiscoped shot this morning.

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Other than a surfeit of American Robins, the ones below were digiscoped and snapped with the big camera for comparison, it was a fairly light morning so I went off around the St-Clet lanes. Yesterday there the regular Snowy Owl at the end of Ste-Julie was still on its mound. Today I came across five new Snowy Owls between the 201 and St-Dominique, south of the Cites des Jeunes. They had been absent in that area for some time and so I’m thinking that these birds are stageing on their way north.

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Over the next few days the thaw should continue and for a very small window the fields around St-Clet will be awash with wildfowl before the well-drained fields shed the excess water. I also anticipate open water at the sand pits pretty soon, perhaps accelerated by the winter storm coming through on Sunday being rain rather than snow, we can hope.

Finally published

It seems to have taken an age but I’ve finally published, as an eBook, the first in a series called ‘Just a Birder’.

Book one is called ‘Going for Broke’ – it is a big year account but with a bit more besides. At the moment it is only available via Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/ but can be read in any reader format. These is a link on the sidebar directly to the book, a bargain at only $2.99US.

Here is a little excerpt from an encounter with a Ross’s Gull.

‘As I approached the hide, I saw that local birders were on site and marshalling a patient and enthusiastic crowd. Usually, Ross’s Gulls that show up in the UK are in first-winter or adult winter plumage, this bird was a full summer plumaged pink adult and well worth seeing – well, they all are actually. I casually mentioned to the volunteer crowd control operative that I’d already seen one this year and that I was happy to wait until the hide quietened down a bit, graciously letting those for whom it was a tick go before me. I asked how pink an adult was and heard “that pink”. The bird had flown off the scrape and came low over our heads at about ten feet range; it was very, very pink indeed. It was also flying off out to sea with purpose, as if to disappear forever.’

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More excerpts will follow.

I should say that this is not an instruction manual for birding and so, if that is what you want, then please look elsewhere. This is writing about birding although my next book (I know) will be called ‘My Patch’ and will be more instructive, sort of.

As always, with anything I write, it is tongue-in-cheek. Comments are welcome either on Smashwords or here.