Facebook birding

Like many people I have surrendered details that I wouldn’t give the Government to Facebook in order to see what friends that I’d forgotten about are currently eating, watching or, at a stretch, thinking. I never thought that I would, then, when I left my job, I realised that it was the only way to keep some sort of link with people I’d enjoyed interacting with, because generally, most people are lousy at keeping in touch.

My Facebook is heavily laden with bird and dragonfly sites, perhaps very much as expected, and, from time to time, I’ll contribute a comment, a photo or a ‘like’. In keeping with many people I’d like to be able to dislike and, perhaps, also be able to show a degree of indifference to something. By being in lots of bird groups you get to see a lot of stuff, there are indeed many birders out there getting out, seeing things, photographing them and graciously sharing their efforts.

This, I feel, is all good for birding, and the sharing is actually a bonus. You often learn things and you get to admire other people’s work and experiences. Then there is the other side, the side that just gets to you a bit, if you let it. After a very short time on Facebook you start to realise that some people must spend their lives in darkened rooms, perhaps ones that are locked by people in white uniforms at specified times, their rings of keys hanging from their belts and making a chinking noise as they pad down the magnolia painted corridor. It is the only way to explain some of the weird stuff that Facebook throws up.

Facebook also shows us that, out there, people prefer to be spoon-fed, rather than exercise their brains. Who has not looked at a request for ID help and screamed at the screen, “for goodness sake, get a book”! So many people out there seem incapable of opening a field guide and finding say a hawk with a red tail. Northern Cardinal is one of the easiest of birds to identify but still you get the request. It doesn’t end there.

When people post truly crap photos, the sort most of us delete as a waste of pixels, you get ‘likes’ and comments of how wonderful the piece of junk is. Then there are those that put the comment ‘bird whisperer’. I can’t actually write what I think about people who make that comment, it would be too offensive and I know I shouldn’t get annoyed by it, but I do.

Most people in forums just sit and lurk, I do to mostly. Not because I couldn’t write something about a particular thread, but because I prefer not to get involved. On the few occasions that I have posted a photo in a forum and asked for comments, well some of the comments take condescension to a new level. I posted a shot of an immature Scarlet Tanager once, it had a lot of white in the wings, especially on the tertials, and one of the replies effectively told me I was wasting people’s time and that I should learn the birds. From the tone, I’m guessing that I was birding well before he was just a bunch of optimistic cells in his father’s scrotum, but there you go.

Enough rambling about Facebook, if nothing else it lets me get my blog posts to a wider audience.

What a lot of good birds there are around Quebec for this time of year. Warblers that would normally be well away by now, are being found at the Recreo Park, Ste-Catherine. Orange-crowned is perhaps quite understandable but there is Nashville too, are they just indicators of how mild it is at the moment or something else, you wonder. Not that much further south than us, in the Toronto area, my friend Claude is seeing even more species including Tennessee, Northern Parula and there is a Black-and-White in the area. They are not seeing Yellow-throated Warbler though, we have two of those hanging on for the CBC.

I dropped into the pits today, just to top up the feeding spot and have yet another scan for a Northern Shrike (nope). There was a steady amount of feeding activity as birds came, got flushed by cars and then came back again. Best of the bunch were seven American Tree Sparrows, below is a shot of one that came out better than expected. If you are visiting the area, I feed just opposite the gates on the left side of the road – feel free to contribute. It would be nice if the city could put feeders in the Base de Plein Air like other municipalities do, I’ll suggest it, then brace for further disappointment. Below a shot of my low-tech feeding station.

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Winter tick

I slipped out today to take a look for a wintering Field Sparrow, a potential addition for my life winter list. It was on a back lanes just over the river from Ste-Martine, south of Montreal and proved to be most confiding, briefly. The whole lane where it spent most of its time (Rue Rolland) was very birdy with flocks of American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos and a few each of Song Sparrow and House Finch coming and going. I even managed to miss out on a White-crowned Sparrow that would have been another winter tick.

It has also been tempting recently, to go and look for a Yellow-throated Warbler – we currently have two, both of which are fairly local to St-Lazare. As it transpired the weekend was busy and so it will have to wait. If I do go for one, it will be for one at Lachute and not one downtown, I can’t be doing with downtown. Further motivation to go to Lachute would be if a white Gyr Falcon that was on Oiseaux Rares du Quebec for yesterday showed up again. I’d then head out after it, especially as there is an Eastern Meadowlark in roughly the same area plus the chance of interesting gulls at the dump near Lachute.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to do a Vaudreuil area year list in 2015, but that is now very much cancelled. I’m not really planning anything for the first part of 2015 but will be trying to get out as often as possible, almost exclusively locally until local changes.

For those of you interested in Snowy Owls, this is worth a read. http://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/century-makes-two/ These birds really do move around a lot and it is fascinating to see exactly where they wander to. As technology improved I envisage standard bands doubling as transmitters, then banders would really be getting some results commensurate with their efforts.

Here’s the shots then, poor light, high ISO, slight pain in my left elbow, etc, etc.

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Busy Fields

I had to go out shopping for food today, so I naturally detoured for a quick spin along local lanes. The snow is thick in our area, and it has had the effect of concentrating the larks, buntings and longspurs to the roadside verges where seeds can be snaffled. It also helps if birds have been attracted by banding bait, when they can be quite confiding. I don’t feel guilty about taking advantage of the banding bait, I usually top it up when passing in winter.

There were at least 175 Snow Buntings (yes, I counted them), seven Lapland Longspurs and 19 Horned Larks around. To give you an idea of the view, here are a couple of context shots showing part of the flock. The light was a bit manky so the shots are not that crisp.

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The Horned Larks looked smart, but then they always do.

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Amongst the Lapland Longspurs was a peachy coloured bird that made me do a double -take. I only saw it briefly at first but the warm brown wash extended all over the underparts, normally they are white. The flock was very active and I had to wait and shiver a while before it returned. It was just a Lap and not the hoped for Smith’s, I didn’t get a photo (in focus) unfortunately.

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The Snow Buntings were great to watch. They were always the tamest birds and would pitch in and run to the seed without pausing. The plumage variation was interesting with some very grey backed birds amongst the standards.

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Here is a bit of a melange.

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I did this Chimney Swift compilation for someone but they chose not to use it, it was for some sort of comparison with bats. I thought I’d stick it here so as not to waste it. They are hard to photograph, these were taken by mostly just waving the lens at the skies.

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I Found my Lost Species

Earlier this year I decided to make a concerted effort to get my North America life list up to 600. It’s a milestone of sort, mainly because it’s a nice, round number, but it also shows an element of dedication and experience, built by the sampling of birds in the east and the west. I did myself a little target list and set about planning. Our vacation time this year was to be enjoyed birding in the US and Canada, but only a February trip to Texas was booked.

The year slipped past, as they always do, and with gathering pace as you get older. It included trips to California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon and quite a few ticks. I keep all my lists on an Excel spreadsheet and have for years. I still have a few years in North America to add to eBird so I knew that I was missing something there, and my Bubo list uses the European taxonomy that includes Common Teal as a distinct species, alongside Green-winged Teal, which it obviously is. All this listing in different places meant that I was not really certain when, or if I’d hit the target.

When we waited in Portland, Oregon for the arrival of roosting Vaux’s Swifts on the last evening of our trip my eBird records showed them to be my 599th species, close but no Tunnock’s Tea Cake http://www.tunnock.co.uk/products/teacakes.aspx While I still harboured hopes of another lifer between early October and the end of the year, I realised that it would have to be a pretty good vagrant to Quebec or within our self-imposed Ontario range limit.

My unofficial North America list was actually at 603. The Common Teal occupies one spot on the ‘real’ list, so does a Kelp Gull seen in Texas in 1997 and a Ruddy Ground Dove in the same state later on the same trip, both unsupported by documentation or photographs. The gull had been around Texas all spring and I saw it at Rollover Pass. The Ground Dove was at a roadside stop near Big Bend. So what was I missing on eBird?

I downloaded the list and then pasted the species into a copy of my Excel file, then sorted alphabetically and voila, nothing matched up. Changes in taxonomic sequence were still required to my Excel file plus, I used English\Canadian spelling (grey is grey, etc.), so the sort was a bit wonky. So I numbered the eBird list with a three digit number including 00 for those in the list from 001 to 099, then sorted numerically, now I was nearly there.

To cut what seems to be a lengthy and getting longer story short, I’d missed off Atlantic Puffin from eBird, we saw one out along the Gaspe in a year when Dovekies were numerous. So, the upshot is those patiently waited for Vaux’s Swifts were species 600 after all. Now I just have to dig out the notebook and put the list into eBird, eventually.

The rather frigid spell has limited birding productivity recently, mostly I’ve just been nipping out to the pits or area and shivering. I did come across a White-throated Sparrow for the winter list, if anyone wants it try the feeders at 208 Chemin de la Riviere-Rouge, the little spur that runs parallel to the 201 south of St-Clet and where Montee Chenier ends. The garden is the one with a large, cedar hedge and good feeders

I did have another wave of the camera at the Harlequin on the Chateauguay River. It was ess showy as part of the river is now frozen and the bird hugs the Mallard flock, feed them and it comes closer. The ones below are the best I got from about 30 feet above it. If you are the type that notices things, you can see how much more advanced the plumage is, as it approaches its fancy-dan stage.

Incidentally, if you are eagerly awaiting the publication of my new eBook, ‘My Patch’ (yeah, right), I’m hoping to have it out soon, but prepping the house to sell and actually doing some birding take precedence, I’m sure that you understand. If you were planning to download the free Snowy Owl eBook, I’d do it soon as I intend to either pull it or stick a $1.99 price tag on it, not decided which yet.

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Wandering Canvasbacks

The first flush of December has produced all sorts of interesting birds in Quebec, as people eagerly gather fruit before we lock down for winter proper. Of particular interest has been the arrival and apparent wandering of a group of up to ten Canvasbacks out on the Beauharnois Canal.

Their presence is very reminiscent of December 2011 when eleven Canvasbacks took out a short-term lease on the waters off Chemin de l’Anse at Vaudreuil. They were a fairly static bunch but could be easily missed if they were bank-hugging in amongst the vegetation. The birds at Beauharnois Canal, in the bay right by the Pont du Gonzague, are doing different things though.

I saw them on December 1st and there were two immature female types and three adult males. They were typically inactive, most aythyas feed nocturnally, they were also in a loose mass of Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers and five other sleeping birds, now, after years of duck counting you get a feel for things and these sleepers looked like Redheads to me, I just needed to hope my heat loss was exceeded by my patience to get a head view, so I waited.

In these circumstances those pesky eagles, hawks and falcons that so disturb shorebird flocks are your friend and it only took an unseen fly-over for the ducks to get nervous, and when they get nervous they don’t do it while their heads are up their bums, so to speak. It was only for 30 seconds or so but they all looked up, eagle would be my bet as I’d seen a Baldy earlier, and bingo, five Redheads. Later another observer reported nine Canvasbacks. I have no reason to doubt that he saw nine Canvasbacks because for the next few days their number varied between three and ten!

Some are probably scratching their heads at this quite large variation in Canvasback counts but, bear in mind that the Beauharnois Canal is roughly 15 kilometers of duck-friendly habitat and viewing all of it takes time, patience and an ATV (and a key for the gates). I just wonder exactly how many Canvasbacks there actually are and how many ducks are currently using the length of the canal before it freezes.

I didn’t get a shot of the Canvasbacks, they were a bit distant but here is one from the December 2011 ‘invasion’. I say invasion because Canvasback is generally very scarce in Quebec. Here is one of the 2011 birds for those not familiar with them. These are males.

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The Beauharnois excitement attracted a good few observers, especially since it made a nice add-on when visiting the Chateauguay Harlequin of the previous post. Visitors over the days also found an all-to-brief Barnacle Goose, a Greater White-fronted Goose, a couple of Ross’s Geese, an American Coot and two Buffleheads. The coming and going of wildfowl at the site is obviously dynamic and you just have to hit it right, or if not right then often enough to connect with one of the rarer species. The nearby Tundra Swan never showed up again though, I hope it’s not in a hunters freezer but, if it is, whoever you are I wish you severe squits and indigestion, not to mention your own shot ingested and lodging in your kidneys for later excruciating pain, and I mean it too…

So five days into winter and I’m at 54 species. I did have a short walk in St-Lazare yesterday at a place where I’ve seen Barred Owls before but no luck, just groin-sniffing but otherwise well behaved dogs. This is the Barred Owl that was there in 2013 and we also had a Great Grey Owl too. I have better shots of the latter but this gives it context.

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It hit -17°C last night so no pits, or at least as far as water birds are concerned. I’ve done a few sweeps there for shrikes and waxwings this month but came up blank each time, and I still need a Rough-legged Hawk to draw level with last year’s total too, so far I’ve seen just one Red-tail and chilblains. I’ve also started to dump seed on the concrete blocks opposite the entrance, you never know, it might pull in a Harris’s Sparrow, dream on eh!

Winter listing day one

It is a grand Canadian tradition that, when the season of maximum inclemency arrives, we get out and look for birds for our winter lists. Those of you who live in climes where winter is something that you read about might not grasp the concept. In a nutshell, between December 1st – February 28th many people will be going for those birds daft enough to linger in their province and that don’t currently feature on their personal winter lists.

I only started winter listing a few years ago, but my record keeping allowed me to backtrack and to fill in the blanks. My personal winter list stands at a modest 137. My personal best so far is only 92 species.

Today I tried to add Tundra Swan to the list but failed miserably. It is probably still there but out in the fields grazing and hopefully keeping well away from the hunters who would no doubt shoot it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be there the next time I’m passing, or better still gets its feathery derriere over to the pits with the multitude of Canada Geese using the site as a day resting spot. I can actually see the geese when they lift off from its chosen spot on the river at Les Cedres, I might just try waving a sliced loaf over my head next time they are up.

As I was out Vallefield way I dropped in to Hungry Bay. The wind howled and the chop made viewing difficult but I found 24 White-winged Scoters and two Long-tailed Ducks to add to the guaranteed Tufted Titmouse on the access road. Earlier I’d bagged the obligatory Snowy Owls and Rough-legged Hawks out St-Clet way and a good selection of wildfowl at Halte des Pecheurs (or similar) including five Canvasbacks and five Redheads. I also have no doubt that my count of 82 Hooded Mergansers will make eBird hack away like a veteran pipe smoker.

I did have another target bird in mind, not because it was a winter list tick, or ven a Quebec year tick, it was because you should never pass up the chance of seeing a Harlequin. The bird, a young male well on the way to becoming a handsome male, is on the Chateauguay River, hanging out in a rocky bit. I half expected to be seeing it distantly, feeding in rough currents or hauling out on a far-away rock. Instead it was very confiding, too close at times. I grabbed a few shots but the lighting was a bit wild, back and side lit, not too bad though.

I finished my day on 44 winter list species having snaffled all of the open water birds that will soon be frozen out, you see I do have a plan. Mostly that plan is to spend a lot of time doing house renovation and fitting a bit of birding in here and there. Today, it being the first of the month, is the day I always make a bit more effort whatever time of year.

Here are a selection of shots, enjoy.

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A Round Dozen

After the truly balmy Monday of 19°C temps, it was back to bitter today with a north wind reminding us to stop messing about and get on with winter. Claude was up from Toronto and we went out birding along the lanes of St-Clet.

Our main target bird was Rough-legged Hawk and procuring a few photos thereof. The day started well enough with a Snowy Owl pretending to be a plank, it failed.

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Moving on we went to a few secret spots and did indeed find Rough-legged Hawks, but they were intent on keeping at range so we made do with another eight Snowy Owls, yes eight, will it be another winter like last year for these majestic birds I ask myself. You do that when you go birding on your own a lot!

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At one point a male Northern Harrier appeared and had a couple of rough swoops at a sitting owl, just to keep up appearances you understand. Unfortunately it was just out of lens range, otherwise it would have made a nice duel shot.

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The image below is a more typical view.

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Not too far away, 3000 odd Snow Geese were busy in a field. They were a bit distant but did do the blizzard thing a few times for our entertainment.

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The cold eventually crept into our bones, as it does. We tried a few more spots but came up pretty much empty handed bar for three more Snowy Owls, all too distant to immortalise.

The shots today were not great but not awful either. Had I not been spoilt rotten by last year’s owl-fest I’d be less critical.

You can use the back button now as I’m plugging my eBooks, got to eat you know. On the side are four images with titles, two will cost you cash, two are absolutely free, lucky you. The link embedded in the images takes you to my eBook host, Smashwords, where you can take advantage of the free books or dip into the shallow end of your credit card if you want the sort of riveting, but competitively priced, read the two ‘for money’ books offer.