Redpolls galore

After a very quiet period on the garden feeders this winter, suddenly redpolls have arrived. My daily ‘chore’ this week has been to top up the four nyger feeders for the hoards to descend on. I would estimate the visitor number are in three figures, I’ve only seen one Hoary Redpoll with them so far but such is the coming and going that it is hard to keep track.

The lanes around St-Clet are very quiet now, Snow Buntings seem to have moved off, the Horned Larks are paired up and staking their territories, a few Lapland Longspurs are still there but elusive. As for Snowy Owls, I’ve seen none since my first a few weeks ago, not a good year for them anywhere in Quebec. I paid a visit Saturday to Hungry Bay, specifically the entrance to the Beaharnois Canal which remains ice free when all around is solid. The main reason for the visit was to connect with a over-wintering male Harlequin Duck which I duly did. It was way out but such are the marvels of digital photography that I got the record shot below. As Rolf Harris might say, “can you tell what it is yet?”

Lac St-Jean

As our company celebrates the President’s Way weekend it seemed an opportune time to visit the Lac St-Jean area of Quebec in the hope of seeing Willow Ptarmigan, a very much northern species which sometimes moves south to the very edge of birdable Quebec. Willow Ptarmigan here is Red Grouse in the UK, here it goes completely white in winter, in the UK it does not, even where it snows. If  ‘they’ can split two physically identical flycatchers just because they burp differently then two grouse which have seasonal plumage differences and are separated by a big sea must stand a chance!

Lac St-Jean is about seven hours from home, it is a great birding area and, we were to find out, home to some very generous hearted people. We arrived early afternoon Saturday and were actively searching the area around Notre Dame de Lloret at the extreme north end of the lake. The lack of traffic was refreshing after the excitement of birding the St-Clet lanes and we were able to stop easily and enjoy the roadside birds. Another feature of the area was the number of feeders, every other house had well stocked feeders dripping in Pine Grosbeaks, Hoary and Common Redpolls and Gray Jays. I’ll point out here that this is in stark contrast to the horsey types and their big pets in our area. I can’t think of a single stables in our area with feeders, cheap or what?

We drove the rangs slowly, scanned the scrub and saw the tracks left by the coveys but no ‘Perdix Blanche’ Saturday. The French name for the species is Lagopede du Saules, the locals north of Lac St-Jean call them Perdix Blanche. We found that nugget of information while four great young guys pulled our Hyundai out of the snow after the roadway disappeared beneath us. They were very friendly, would not accept a beer for their trouble and accepted our pigeon French very generously. We left them having met crazy English birders, its was a lot of fun, pity Sandra was too heart-in-mouth to take a snap!

We repaired to Dolbeau Mistassini and a cosy auberge and were back just after first light the next day full of optimism. Our second brush with the generous spirit of local folk came when we found a female Spruce Grouse on the road, we crept up in the car and she was fearless but disaster, a local car emerged from a drive 50m away and headed our way. Had this been St-Clet the car would have passed us at 80kph and sounded its horn because we had stopped to look at birds, our motorist merely pulled up short and let us enjoy the bird before it flew off up into the trees. He stopped for a chat, pigeon French from us again, he had seen the Perdix Blanche at the cross-roads, bonne chance, merci.

Eventually we found the birds, they were in an area we had searched six or more times, we were making another slow pass when they got up 150m away. They  moved quickly through the trees flying in short bursts, black tail wedges very vivid against the white backdrop.  That was it, we search some more, had very good looks at the feeder birds and even chatted to one of the local grouse monitors who told us the snow was too hard and the conditions unfavourable for the birds, we were lucky.

We then moved on to Tadoussac to try again for Purple Sandpiper, well we were passing! It was blowing a bitter gale, no accomodation was available in Tadoussac and so we had a good look at the Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls and Black Guillemots and left. We overnighted in Malbaie, saw hundreds of Black Guillemots and a fair few more Barrow’s and came home. In Tadoussac is a site called The Dunes, we have stayed there before, they offer rather expensive cabins, its run by a Swiss guy. He would not offer us a cabin because we had not rung ahead and made a reservation and would not be flexible.

Willow Ptarmigan tracks and habitat.

Hoary Redpolls, lots around.

Below a Common Redpoll

Perdix Blanche!

This weekend we visited Lac St-Jean or, more precisely, the area around Notre Dame  de Lloret, in search of  Willow Ptarmigan. After a cumulative six hours searching we scored with a small  group of birds but no photos, too fasr away. We were luckier with a female Spruce Grouse though. More on the trip and more photos later.

Been a while

For the first time in weeks I actually saw a few birds that I could wave a camera at.  The first ‘victims’ were a flock of Wild Turkeys that occasionally appear at feeders on one of the lanes east of St-Clet. The birds were gritting on the road, no doubt pushed into action by the snow that fell during the week. We didn’t get anything like the US which has seen snow from Northern Mexico to Maine and some very severe conditions. We had about five inches which saw a good few drivers play silly buggers and pay the price by ending up embedded in the snow facing the wrong way, oh how we laughed. One day I’ll share with you my theory on why some (Canadian) drivers are actually evolved from Cats.

Since my last post about the arrival, finally, of Snowy Owls locally, they left. I’ve searched favourite areas several times but to no avail so presumably they are still roaming around our vast farmlands looking for food away from prying eyes. The absence of the snowies is indicative of the general bird situation, birds of any kind are hard to find, feeder numbers and variety is low and its generally rather quiet. Much further north they are having an invasion of Willow Ptarmigan, or Willow/Red Grouse. I’m hoping to find a window to go north, Lac St-Jean and further, to try for them, perhaps later in February weather permitting.

Back to this post and, besides the photos of Wild Turkey, are bad shots of Horned Lark and Cooper’s Hawk. Also here is a Pine Siskin in less than natural habitat. I was pleased to see this bird on the feeders, they have been scarce this year in our garden. No sooner had I admired the little beauty than it splatted into the window. I rushed outside finding it on its back in the snow like the proverbial dead Parrot, then it blinked. It sat it in my hands for ten minutes and it slowly came round, eventually fltting off into a nearby tree. Should any Hollywood producers read this, I am available to be Harrison Ford’s hand double!

So here are a few shots, I’ve been a bit lazy with the dragonlfy stuff and pits checklist but I will get to it.