Hi Folks – I though people stumbling across my old blog might be interested in knowing that I have a new eBook out, Cape Sable Island – A Birding Site Guide. It is available from my publisher Smashwords at https://smashwords.com and from iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo, just search fro Mark Dennis and there you have it. Did I mention that it is free?
No photos, just a goodbye Quebec piece.
Stress and moving are a well-known phenomenon, add moving during migration to the mix and the stress factor is increased, especially when prepping for the move has already seen you miss a Western Sandpiper on your (ex) local patch. No more ramblings about the pits birds, my time in Quebec is done and I’m writing this from the well-appointed McDonald’s just by the causeway from Barrington Passage to Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia, we’ve moved.
The trip was arduous, dangerous even but is done. We’re in our new place and busy cleaning up four years-worth of dead insects and spider webs. Cleanliness is next to godliness, so it is said, but the church we bought the house from seem to have had had that page removed from their bible, which is just a collection of mix-and-match fiction after all! We spent hours cleaning our old house and still wished for more time to do the outside, lest the new owner think we were ‘scruffy’, still, we will make this our own, we have a feeder up already and a yard list pushing 25!
So, Quebec with your magnificent landscapes, friendly people whatever language is spoken and, frankly, baffling politics, we’ll miss some of those things. The politics, well it is too complicated for a simple birder to discuss, not my business anyway. The people, we made friends and we’ll miss them but our door is always open. The birders, even more complicated than the politics and while I could comment on the birders with some authority, I won’t because again, not my business.
I’d like to thank all of the Francophones I met, whether birding or otherwise who spoke English with me. Many were braver than I when it came to trying to speak anything other than a Mother tongue, my French still sucks as they say, although it is somewhat better than the ten French words I arrived with, courtesy of a comprehensive education in England. While Chaussé deformé may well have proved very useful in Quebec, perhaps the Quebecoise French version better describes the province’s broken roads.
Not so long ago a goodbye was more permanent, before the web and instant access to the thoughts and deeds of individuals that you might not otherwise keep up with. This blog will remain until the web gets busted and the next thing takes over, it will happen eventually and hopefully without advertising and dollars getting in the way. I am out there with my new blog and I’ll continue to be just as active. I don’t know whether I’ll get more or less photo ops, I don’t know whether I’ll see more species and I don’t know whether I’ll even enjoy living on Nova Scotia yet, that is the point of new adventures, so, if you’ve enjoyed (sometimes) reading the 600-odd posts on here, save https://capesablebirding.wordpress.com/ somewhere and drop by now and then to see what is happening.
And finally, because there is always an ‘and finally’, thanks to everyone who has encouraged and supported my writing, has offered information and advice and who have become an integral part of this blog with their comments. Enough schmaltz already, bye then!
I seem to be fitting 27 hours into 24 at the moment. The final packing is almost done, stacked and ready for the movers. In between I’ve been out again, this time to a couple of spots for one last look. I had hoped to hit 200 in QC for the year before I submit my last eBird checklist, yesterday took me to 93 so I was pessimistic unless seven good birds were going to drop into the yard. Today’s activity see’s that year total on 197, pessimism be gone and let us usher in guarded optimism.
The first addition was Semipalmated Sandpiper at the pits, and I’m glad I took the trouble to take a closer look, it would have been easy to dismiss the two birds as Least Sandpipers at range.
I then did a quick spin along Chemin Fief, one of my little spots and one that holds fond memories, not least of finding a Hawk Owl there one winter and seven, yes seven Great Grey Owls another time. It didn’t offer anything new but the Eastern Meadowlarks and Bobolinks were busy and entertaining.
I decided I’d walk the L’Escapade trail off Chemin St-Henry, another nice spot and a good place to look for some of the harder to find species. The first part of the trail revealed that extensive brush clearance had taken place, sometime last year perhaps, hopefully not in the breeding season. This meant that the first Mourning Warbler territory had no residents and I had to hike a bit further to find them. As I was watching a singing bird, a Black-billed Cuckoo came by, then a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher started singing. Three year species in one shortish stroll, plus great views of common things too.
The photos are of: Alder Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat, Mourning Warbler and the same Alder Flycatcher.
Unless the less common shorebirds remember where Quebec is, I might just fall short of the big 200 although I have a plan. On the way to Nova Scotia we pass La Pocatiere, a potential rest stop and perhaps provider of a few more year ticks such as Nelson’s Sparrow, Common Eider and any scoter. If I can snaffle a Philadelphia Vireo or even a Grey-cheeked Thrush tomorrow I just might be able to sign off in style.
This is the week we move to Nova Scotia and the big day nudges ever closer. This morning I found a window to see my friend Alain, so we met up at I’le St-Bernard. Being formerly a media person, he was fashionably late, so I wandered the parking lot and noticed a floating pontoon that gave a view of the adjacent river. Never one to pass up an option I went over for a look hoping to get a Black-crowned Night-Heron for the year and there, pottering, was a Glossy Ibis.
When Alain arrived we went back over the river to get a bit closer, and in a nearby pool that I couldn’t see from the pontoon was my night heron too, result. Alain is one of the refuge patrollers and knew that other keen listers would want a crack at the ibis too, so mini twitch ensued. As he made a call, eight Brants came over, making it three Quebec year and two Canada year-ticks in short order, nice.
The reserve was quiet, much of the spring rush has now passed, but we enjoyed a walk and chat. I snatched a few photos as we went, one is the gang-rape of a Cliff Swallow by four eager males, “who’s yer Daddy?”, a four to one guess I expect.
Later in the morning my friend Andrea came over to our home and we went for a potter ourselves. A few birds called, then a singer gave it full volume, a Canada Warbler. It was well-concealed but I got a few obscured shots. A second bird struck up a duet, maybe they’ll find a young lady and settle down, hope so.
And now a request. As regular readers know well, I have been watching St-Lazare sand pits for twelve years. There is a free site guide available, see the side bar and join the 300+ who already have their own, treasured, electronic copy, and I’d like to keep it current so if you visit the pits I’d appreciate a heads up for any unusual records so that I can add them to a revision when I do one. Ideally there would be a French version too and I am willing to publish one or add French text to the current one if someone sends me the text. I will, of course, add you to the cover as a collaborator.
This is likely to be my penultimate post on this blog. My last set of inane ramblings will include details of where to find the new blog if you are interested. When I publish another book, I will add it to the QC blog too so, if you are a fan don’t worry, you won’t miss out. Incidentally, the next birding book will be called ‘Another World’ and will be all about our North American Birding.
The past few days around here have been blustery and cold at times, not the May weather we were all hoping for. A couple of days ago Greg Rand did the L’Escapade trail at Rigaud. I only knew that one small part of the trail existed until he sent me a message, he’d seen and heard an Acadian Flycatcher on the section that crosses Rue Bourget. Greg was happy to show me the spot but the conditions since he first had the bird have been pretty challenging. Unfortunately it seems to have moved although it is possible that it, like most of the other smaller flycatchers, is spending more time trying to find enough insects to survive rather than spend time singing.
It would have been a great Quebec bird to get, there haven’t been that many but surely that will change as Global Warming takes a firmer grip and their range expands north. Perhaps in ten years-time we will see the lovely woodland habitat of the L’Escapade trail hosting the species regularly.
It isn’t that long ago that Turkey Vulture was a scarce visitor to Quebec, now you see them everywhere although this year they seem less common. You rarely see them carrying prey items although, as scavengers, perhaps snack and not prey is a more descriptive term. The one below was at St-Lazare sand pits Thursday and had obviously plucked the dead squirrel from the road. Vultures have weak feet, they cannot even master Macramé for heaven’s sake, which is why this one was carrying lunch in its beak.
It didn’t seem too comfortable carrying the remnants of the squirrel and dropped it into thick vegetation. Then it bounced around looking for it, oblivious to us watching on.
Incidentally, the sand pits are being worked by a couple of machines at the moment, naturally this affects the birding. One up side is that the shorebirds are being pushed onto the extensive roadside muddy edge, still not much variation on that front though, 14 Semipalmated Plovers recently was nice but where are the Pectoral Sandpipers?
All of Canada, including Quebec although they are a bit coy about it, celebrates the birthday of Queen Victoria today who, had she defied the odds and lived, would be causing a serious fire hazard with 196 candles on her Victoria sponge. To celebrate in our own way, Sandra and I had a little wander around Windmill Point on I’le Perrot and very nice it was too. I was hoping to find a Blackpoll Warbler, the site usually gets a few around now, but we missed them and gained both Canada and Wilson’s Warbler, I’m not complaining.
Had we lived a bit nearer to it I could have seen the site being a decent local patch. There is a good mix of habitat, the only truly lacking thing is extensive mud for shorebirds. It is popular with the public and access limited to some silly starting time although you can get in if you want. A couple of hours in the sun got us nearly 40 species, respectable given our late arrival. Apart from the two species mentioned, we didn’t find much else other than the stock summer species. One of them, an American Redstart, actually came down for a drink. I managed a few shots but I have yet to get what I would call decent images on one, they drink in light and always look scruffy.
Earlier in the day, well just after dawn actually, a spin around St-Lazare sand pits did little to enthuse and could best be described as ‘slow’. I did get a few shots of this Eastern Kingbird, another light-drinker at the best of times. These came out reasonably well though, I’m always happy to see them around for the summer.
The garden feeders are cleaned and stowed and the poles all taped together using the tried and tested ‘duct tape’ method. It seems odd not having that garden focal point after twelve years of continuous feeding. The birds think so to and they fly out from the trees and try to land on the missing structure before perching up confused. Luckily just behind us the people feed too so they won’t go hungry. This Chipping Sparrow was another visitor looking for food.
Not long now until we hit the road. I think we’ll miss the main migration but there will no doubt be a few good birds to enjoy as they find themselves in Nova Scotia when they were aiming for Arizona! There has been a Little Egret recently on Cape Sable Island, it might stick (if it’s not already gone), so I suspect that I’ll find myself at Daniel’s Head before long after arrival.
This post is a bit birdy-wordy so, if you have the attention span of a Hamster, no names, no pack drill, just take a glance at this appalling photo of a Wood Thrush from yesterday and move on…
On the spur of the moment, Greg Rand and I decided to have a bit of a day out locally, see what we could find and just enjoy the spring migration. For me it was a chance to visit some favourite sites around southern Quebec, perhaps for the last time. Some of the sites would be new for Greg and so, with this dual motivation, we met up at 04:30, intending to hit the hot spots by dawn.
I’ll cut to the chase, we managed 124 species that we both recorded and Greg had two others that I missed due to age and infirmity. We almost certainly both saw Bank Swallow too, but never really isolated one until it was too late. Looking at what we might have seen, well it could have been a bigger day
Here are the 43 species we might have got with a bit better luck (and judgement). * are the ones Greg got that I didn’t. I added a few helpful comments.
Green Heron – Not many around, only seen one so far this year.
Black-crowned Night-Heron – should have found at least one.
Least Bittern – On the edge of arrival so forgivable.
Blue-winged Teal – Hit and miss but we looked at enough water to see one.
Lesser Scaup – Don’t know where they have all got to.
Hooded Merganser – Sneaky in breeding season.
Common Merganser – There a few days ago.
Bald Eagle – A nice day for a flap but they didn’t oblige.
Sharp-shinned Hawk – Hard at times.
Cooper’s Hawk – You need luck or a nest.
Red-shouldered Hawk – Doh!
Broad-winged Hawk – Not many in our area and migrants have already gone through.
Merlin – Quiet when they are breeding.
Semipalmated Sandpiper – Should have seen one, maybe we did but some shorebirds were distant and wobbly in the heat haze.
Pectoral Sandpiper – AWOL!
Dunlin – Only a possible.
Semipalmated Plover – Just strangely absent.
Bonaparte’s Gull – Perhaps too far out to see.
Caspian Tern – Only the odd one around at the moment.
American Black Tern – St-Timothee should have them but not so far.
Eastern Screech-Owl – Needed to luck in with one.
Great Horned Owl – Outside chance when we were listening to Eastern Whip-poor-wills.
Barred Owl – Possible.
Eastern Wood-Pewee* – Too far off for me but Greg’s bionic ears picked one up.
Philadelphia Vireo – Where were you?
Cedar Waxwing – Sneaky little beggars.
Swainson’s Thrush – Should have found one really.
Brown Creeper – Another luck job.
Winter Wren – Same as above.
Tufted Titmouse – Need one calling or feeders to remain full!
Bank Swallow – Never pinned down but we probably did see one amongst the high flying flocks of hirundines.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Strange we didn’t connect.
Golden-crowned Kinglet – Still need it for the year.
Horned Lark – Need to make a noise or move in the ploughed expanses.
Pine Siskin – They are lingering after their winter arrival.
Lincoln’s Sparrow – Always the scarce one.
Blackburnian Warbler – Not playing the game. Greg thought he heard one but was suffering sensory overload by then.
Pine Warbler* – One called as I dropped Greg off.
Blackpoll Warbler – A tad early but not impossible.
Mourning Warbler – Quite possible.
Wilson’s Warbler – Earlyish.
Canada Warbler – Arriving so possible.
Indigo Bunting – The invisible bunting. Should have been in.
Rusty Blackbird – One sang from the local bog the day before.
House Finch – Should have had one somewhere.
Those 43 species would have turned the day into something else altogether. Some we needed to connect with while we were at specific sites, others we could have tried for but ran out of beans really. Now you know the bad, moving on to the good.
We hadn’t intended to do a big day of any sort, but it just evolved that way after the success of getting Eastern Whip-poor-will onto the list first. That was at St-Lazare sand pits and from there we headed out Huntingdon way, selecting Montee Biggar as our dawn chorus location.
It was a good choice, the place was alive with bird song and activity and held a few surprises. The first surprise was when five Common Loons flew over. We might have reasonably expected to find one on the waters of Beauharnois later (we didn’t), but five going low over the woods were a bit surreal. The second surprise came after we’d picked our way along the road and had had good looks at two Brewster’s Warblers, hybrids between Golden and Blue-winged Warbler. Neither had been banded, unlike ones I’d seen there previous, so where were the rarer of their parents, blue-winged, hanging out?
We’d done the road and were about to move on when more warbler activity became obvious a little up the hill from where we’d parked. Cape May Warblers had started showing, along with several other species, so we settled in to look for those we’d not seen yet when Greg picked up a different song amidst the chorus. This was no mean feat given that the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were doing their version of duelling banjos everywhere, along with all the other noisy blighters. The ‘interesting’ bird sang again and I could hear it too, but not very well and not filtered enough from the ‘chaff’ to form an opinion. Greg thought it was from the Connecticut area of the warbler list, it was time for playback.
Before some of you start shaking their heads, this was a migrant, not a breeder, and we needed to confirm the identification, not to it, obviously, it knew it was a Connecticut, but to us who were a bit disbelieving. A few bursts encouraged the bird to give a clear sequence of song and showed that it was getting closer. Greg then had a brief view in the tangles and I saw the bird fly but that was all we could get visually. After another brief period of song it shut up, as they do, and we left it alone. For the second successive year I’d had a Connecticut Warbler on migration after only seeing one previously, isn’t birding just full of these odd little coincidences.
We had made a good start, very good actually, and so decided to keep going along and then to see whether we would need to make some effort later, there was still some way to go and the birds would be feeling the cold wind just as we were, would they play ball?
We meandered around several sites in the area, adding the odd bird but also lamenting the lack thereof, in an area normally blessed with Field Sparrows we were coming up blank, similarly with Indigo Bunting. We spent some time seeking out a buzzer that turned out to be a male Golden-winged Warbler, although the song was nearer Blue-winged so you have to wonder where this was a Lawrence’s Warbler – another hybrid that makes finding a pure one that much harder, we did though.
We found our first biting insects on Gowan Road, a very reliable site for them. The birds there were less so accommodating but we added a few, not enough to keep us there though. Upland Sandpiper is one of those enigmatic species and it is fast disappearing due to farming being about dollars and not responsibility, still, there are a few left in Hitchinbrooke and we found one – much to our relief. After a bit of a cruise around for Eastern Bluebirds, it was off to the Great Egret Trail at Dundee where a crane awaited.
We walked to the small woodlot at Dundee where the viewing thing is, taking in Sandhill Crane, Willow Flycatcher and a good flock of warblers and vireos on the way. The woods were noisy with song and, in amongst the sweeter singing Red-eyed Viroes were the whiskey drinking versions of Yellow-throated Vireo, a tough Quebec find, we had two and again thanks to Greg’s aural perspicacity. We stocked up with most of the available species but found the place wanting for ducks and the previously regular gnatcatchers, we moved on.
Now we were heading homewardsish. Dundee had supplied copious numbers of Purple Martins so we had no need to search for them on the way. We were heading for Hungry Bay on the off-chance of a sea duck, what we got was a Red-bellied Woodpecker. On the way we decided to check out a new water purification station and, as I slowed down to make the turn with my indicator blinking away, the image in the rear view mirror was off a truck driver braking hard and slewing a bit. He managed to pull up in time, so there was no need to get out after having been tail-ended and deliver the inevitable smiting with a tripod.
The woodpecker was a bonus and perhaps a sign, so we took in a number of sites on the way to the fabled St-Timothee Marsh. Fabled, because it is good for birds and so it proved. Fabled too for the lack of management and, I will say it again, the idiot planting of shrubs where the phragmites suppressing matting is stupid, whoever did this is a complete fool. It was warm now, we’d not had the hoped for Bonaparte’s Gulls and Caspian Tern at nearby Melocheville, but we’d done ok.
Our first refreshment stop was at a Tim Horton’s (obviously), where sugary treats gave us an energy boost to push on. The objective now was to clean up a few species at St-Lazare sand pits, Field Sparrow, Belted Kingfisher and Bank Swallow, we made two out of three.
After 13.5 hours in the field it was enough and I dropped Greg off. The day was done, the birds heard and seen and the total unclear until un-fuzzed brains could unravel the day via Excel, eBird and hastily scrawled notes. Below is the species list with comments. There is every chance that this was my last big day in Quebec, unless tomorrow gets off to a good start, then we’ll see how it goes.
Thanks to Greg for excellent company in a great birding day and for sharing his relatively young ears, he’s older than he looks you know!
The systematics of the list are a bit arse-about-face (translation, a bit wrong) but that won’t bother an experienced birder like you, also, if I call it a ‘given’ it means that you’d expect to see the species if you visit the habitat.
Pied-billed Grebe – A given.
Common Loon – As already mentioned, quite a surprise the way we saw them.
Double-crested Cormorant – A given.
Great Blue Heron – A given.
Great Egret – A given.
American Bittern – “Ker-plunked” at St-Timothee, then one flew over.
Turkey Vulture – A given.
Snow Goose – Lingering birds that may or may not be carrying some shot.
Canada Goose – A given.
Wood Duck – A given.
American Wigeon – We were lucky with three together at one site.
Gadwall – A given.
Green-winged Teal – Lots at one site only.
Mallard – A given.
Northern Shoveler – Lucky really, not normally around in mid-May.
Redhead – Breed but can be naughty to see.
Ring-necked Duck – A given.
Common Goldeneye – A few left where there were lots a week ago.
Osprey – A given.
Northern Harrier – A given.
Red-tailed Hawk – A given.
American Kestrel – A given.
Peregrine Falcon – A given.
Ruffed Grouse – Thumped away like a good boy.
Virginia Rail – Got to make a noise and they did.
Sora – Likewise, ore chance of hearing one that tripping over it.
Common Gallinule – A given.
Sandhill Crane – A given.
American Woodcock – Nocturnal, more or less.
Wilson’s Snipe – Only a couple drumming or chirping.
Upland Sandpiper – A treasure and one we looked hard for.
Greater Yellowlegs – Only one seen.
Lesser Yellowlegs – A few around but not always the case on a big day.
Solitary Sandpiper – A few where they were expected to be, read the script.
Spotted Sandpiper – A given.
Least Sandpiper – Shorebirds can be hit or miss, this species was well behaved, this time!
Killdeer – A given.
Ring-billed Gull – A given, no really!
Great Black-backed Gull – A given.
American Herring Gull – Sometimes tricky.
Common Tern – A given.
Rock Pigeon – A given.
Mourning Dove – A given.
Eastern Whip-poor-will – Got to be there are the right hour.
Chimney Swift – Quite local at times although we did well.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Very hit or miss.
Belted Kingfisher – Just the one, which was odd.
Red-bellied Woodpecker – A complete surprise and evidence of their spread in QC.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – A given.
Downy Woodpecker – Buggers at times.
Hairy Woodpecker – A bit noisier than Downy but can be missed.
Northern Flicker – A given.
Pileated Woodpecker – One flying over fields was not expected.
Alder Flycatcher – First birds back, more or less.
Willow Flycatcher – First bird back again, just the one.
Least Flycatcher – A few around but you want some noise from them.
Eastern Phoebe – Can be tricky, didn’t see one when we did 163 a few years ago.
Eastern Kingbird – A given.
Blue-headed Vireo – Just the one seen.
Yellow-throated Vireo – Lucky, lucky is all I can say.
Red-eyed Vireo – A given.
Warbling-Vireo – A given.
Blue Jay – A given.
American Crow – A given.
Common Raven – A given.
Eastern Bluebird – Sneaky at times, took some looking for.
Veery – If they make a noise you’ve got them.
Hermit Thrush – Only a couple I think.
Wood Thrush – In previous years tricky, this year abundant.
American Robin – A given.
Common Starling – A given.
Grey Catbird – Almost a given, of go on then, a given!
Brown Thrasher – Only one obliged.
Red-breasted Nuthatch – Two where they were not expected to be, that’s all.
White-breasted Nuthatch – Should be a given really.
Marsh Wren – A given.
House Wren – Only one found.
Black-capped Chickadee – A given.
Tree Swallow – A given.
Purple Martin – A given.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow – Only one seen I think, a bit local at times.
Barn Swallow – A given.
Cliff Swallow – A given.
House Sparrow – A given.
American Goldfinch – A given.
Purple Finch – A couple found.
Song Sparrow – A given.
Swamp Sparrow – A given.
White-crowned Sparrow – Either there or not, we saw lots.
White-throated Sparrow – A given.
Savannah Sparrow – A given.
Chipping Sparrow – A given.
Field Sparrow – Only one found, old faithful at St-Lazare, eventually.
Vesper Sparrow – Tricky, you need to know where to look.
Eastern Towhee – A given if you go to the right places.
Brewster’s Warbler – Not counted as a species but interesting to see two different birds.
Golden-winged Warbler – Tricksy at times.
Tennessee Warbler – Abundant, or so said Greg’s ears. Saw a few too.
Nashville Warbler – Local, we only had one.
Northern Parula – Lucked in with two at one site.
Yellow Warbler – A given.
Chestnut-sided Warbler – A given.
Magnolia Warbler – A given.
Cape May Warbler – Several of these beauties.
Black-throated Blue Warbler – A few found, mostly vocalisations.
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Lots around, a given really.
Black-throated Green Warbler – Found at a few places.
Palm Warbler – One seen, can be a little tricky.
Bay-breasted Warbler – A fine male at one site, a few others heard by Greg elsewhere.
Black-and-White Warbler – A given.
American Redstart – A given.
Ovenbird – A given.
Northern Waterthrush – A given.
Connecticut Warbler – Well, what can you say, a great bird to get on a big day.
Common Yellowthroat – A given.
Scarlet Tanager – A given.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak – A given.
Northern Cardinal – A given.
Baltimore Oriole – A given.
Red-winged Blackbird – A given.
Eastern Meadowlark – Local but a bit of a given if you know what you are doing.
Common Grackle – A given.
Brown-headed Cowbird – A given.
Bobolink – A given.