Shorebirds galore

Unless you have mud, or some semblance of mud, shorebirds don’t stop. At the pits today the continuing high water meant that what shorebirds there had to make do with the rapidly degenerating access road edge, where the ever present breeze had beached morsels. To my surprise the ‘haul’ was not just the recently frequent Least Sandpipers but also two Dunlin and a Semipalmated Sandpiper. Pleased with this I headed off elsewhere, the pits area was being used for some charity walk and so was like a highway, and I pottered at Pointe de Cascades for a while, seeing only a Blackburnian Warbler that I could class as a migrant.

My plans for an afternoon of football, watching Barcelona Vs Manchester United in the Champions, second team, third team and those who get through the qualifying round after finishing fourth in their domestic league cup, were interrupted by a concise email posted on Ontbirds, a Purple Sandpiper was at Alfred Sewage Pools. Forty minutes later we were walking down the refurbished track to the viewing tower. Tank #1 was not quite full of water, tank #2 had what could technicallu termed ‘mud’ all around the margins.

The reserve at Alfred is very good at any time outdside the freeze, today it was outstanding and before my dismal record shots are paraded before you here is what we saw in about two hours of watching, if you don’t like lists of birds look away now:

Shorebirds:Black-bellied Plover (5); Semipalmated Plover (70+); Killdeer (some!); Spotted Sandpiper (1); Whimbel (15+), Ruddy Turnstone (8+); Purple Sandpiper (1); Sanderling (2+); Dunlin (250+), White-rumped Sanpiper (6+); Semipalmated Sandpiper (70+); Least Sandpiper (40+); Short-billed Dowitcher (5); Wilson’s Phalarope (2); Red-necked Phalarope (7+).

Add to the amazing shorebird spectacle the breeding ducks like Ruddy and Redhead, the constant squealing of the Virginia Rails, the jangle of Bobolinks and the Peregrine that finally did for the shorebird flock and it was quite a visit.

The Purple Sand was a North American tick so no more trips to Tadoussac in winter, I will see one  in Quebec one day but sans frostbite!

Below are the photos, not studies but record shots and hopefully conveying the action. The Purple Sand is a videograb as it was some way out and never really ventured out into the open for long. Three N. Am ticks in May, two of which were lifers, not bad.

This photo and the one below are better if you click on them to enlarge, otherwise it just looks like you sneezed on your screen.

How many species?

Four SB Dowitchers, two RN Phalaropes. Note the length of the bill on the last bird, did we miss something?

Short-billed Dowitchers overhead.


Pelee birding

We spent the morning of Queen Victoria’s birthday celebrating by making the point at Point Pelee as early as we could. No sign of yesterday’s holiday crowd, just birders doing their thing. Unless you wanted to spend the morning watching blobs head off to Ohio the point was quiet. We slowly tracked our way back to the visitor walking at funereal pace seeing Mourning and Canada Warblers but overall fewer birds than the day before.

Meeting a few friendly birders we were pleased to be pointed towards a Prothonotary Warbler in territory on one of the trails. We could hear it as we approached, belting out its song as it moved around the pool it favoured. It never came very close but we did see it trying out a nestbox. Back at the visitor center we enjoyed a birders lunch of cheese burger and muffin.

It was nearly time to start the long trek back to Montreal but first we dropped in to Hillman Marsh just as two Glossy Ibis dropped in to join us. A noice selection of shorebirds were also present, nothing rare but good to see American Golden and Black-bellied Plovers in summer plumage.

We finally got home at 22:15 having done 2749km since we set off Friday lunchtime, having seen 140 or so species. It was great to do the road trip finally, breaking the cardinal law of never doing anything involving travel on a holiday weekend. If you have not been go to Point Pelee, spend a few days there. If you like to add special, and by that I mean endemic breaders, like Kirtland’s Warbler to your experiences, also known as a list, go to Grayling, enjoy the warbler and the birding in the saurrounding area, spend a few days. As for Manitoulin Island, I suspect the perfect weather we enjoyed might not be so regular there but it is really a place to explore, wave to the locals, see the birds, spend a few days!

Here are the last few photos. Nothing wow but they all have feathers in which should be wow enough.

Put aside your preconceptions regarding Christmas meals etc, what a bird a male Wild Turkey is.

Philadelphia Vireo, dumb name but a very cute vireo.

Brown-headed Cowbird – its head is brown.

A lousy photo of a Scarlet Tanager.

Yellow Warbler, very literally named.

I have no idea what Prothonotary means but it is a great warbler.

The furthest south that it is possible to go in mainland Canada.

Kirtland`s Warbler

Moving on from Manitoulin Island we headed through Sault St-Marie and into Michigan, our destination was to be the unassuming town of Grayling. We checked into the Ramada Hotel, starting point for the guided Kirtland`s Warbler tours, and headed out to bird the area.We found a nice little track with lots of birds, Brewer`s Blackbirds, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and the like. Knowing that we needed to find Jack Pine plantations with trees between 5-15 feet high we were quiet pleased to come across a few such plantations on our little track. Sure enough Kirtland`s Warblers were singing away but none were in view, no matter how hard I tried to gain an angle. 

The agility of a Mountain Goat – that stump was stronger than it looks!

The next day we were out at 07:15 on the tour. Tours like this are a test of patience. Usually most people want to see the bird, are considerate and quiet but there is always one who you would happily feed to a hungry Pit Bull, sure enough there she was, mouth in over drive, a resident of Decibel New Jersey or Volume Indiana or some such place. She yelled her way around the site and the poor guide just had to take it, keep smiling and hope the next group didn`t include her sister!

Despite the peroxide noise machine we had great views of several Kirtland`s Warblers including a seldom seen female. We also saw well a singing Clay-colored Sparrow then the heavens opened. I had not managed a photo at that point so we hung back until the yawping harpie had moved away but no more Kirtland`s Warblers showed well enough and we were told we could not be on the site without the guide.

Kirtland`s Warbler habitat

Brown-headed Cowbird trap. The cowbirds were knocking out up to 85% of the Kirtland`s Warbler broods some years, these won`t though.

Mission accomplished we headed south returning to Canada via Detroit. For some reason the route into Canada from the last two entries we have used have both been the same, almost a back door. You really get the feeling that the US does not like to acknowledge that Canada is there, it is very wierd. We pressed on through Windsor to Leamington and visited Point Pelee for the first time, I have to say we were very impressed.

We birded the trails around the visitor center then went out to the point. Despite it being the holiday weekend and there being many non-birders around we were able to get away from them and enjoy a great afternoon of birding. I didn`t take many photos as there constant presence of birds meant that I either birded or photographed, I opted for the former.

A young male Orchard Oriole, there were several pairs present.

Female Blackburnian Warbler, the only one at eye level.

Baltimore Oriole

Above, Eastern Kingbird, below Eastern Wood Pewee

Sharp-tailed Grouse

We took  advantage of Queen Victoria`s birthday and visited Manitoulin Island in Ontario, specifically, to look for Sharp-tailed Grouse. By pure chance an Ontbirds posting had reported birds that very week and, being Ontarian birders,they know how to give directions!

It is a bit of a trek but we had never been and so we settled in for the long drive. We left Montreal at midday and arrived in Sudbury at 20:30,  just in time to get a room, eat some food and crash. Up at four the next day we were bright and early on site and there they were. Up to eight birds appeared to be present, occasionally lekking but mostly just munching the Dandelions. The whole area was a pleasure to bird and it was great to have the constant sight and sound of many Sandhill Cranes.

Below a few photos, they were never very close!

Below an arty Sandhill Crane, it was an accident!

Raven through the hotel window

Finally a waterthrush

The awful weather of the past few days meant that passage has been halting. There are birds out there but they are tough to see at times and who can blame them.

Despite the weather the pits have been my focus. A reasonable sized warbler flock has a fine looking Bay-breasted, something I don’t see too often at the pits. Ovenbirds are scarce but one is singing in the woods to the north of the excavation area. Today the Least Sandpiper flock reached 19, two Black Terns were doing their thing in the brisk breeze and a pair of Common Terns are in residence. On a whim I tried the football pitch woods and found a Northern Waterthrush in typical habitat, a neat warbler attracting pool at the north end, the result of the recent day long deluges. I think I’ll call it Prothonotary Pond in wild expectation.

This Chestnut-sided Warbler obviously found me interesting, photographed in murk!

Ovenbird eyeing me suspiciously

Nashvilles are back

I dropped in to Bordelais Bog this afternoon, after the obligatory pits visit of course. The strong breeze was a pain but after some searching I found at least one flighty Nashville Warbler back on territory.

In the garden the first White-crowned Sparrow of the year popped up, no Fox Sparrows though, I might of missed the window this spring. Year list additions over the past couple of days are Semipalmated Sandpiper and Purple Martin. The weather looks fairly settled for the next few days so I’m not expecting any surprises, if the wind drops I’ll go and look for the first Whip-poor-wills.

Unexpected garden tick

After what can only be described as an abysmal week weather wise, today was much better. The stormy weather appears to have gone and the people of the Richeleu Valley can go back home to pump out their basements and re-erect their ‘Privee  – access interdit’ signs. For some reason Quebec is bailing them out financially, I thought that was what insurance was all about. I digress.

Despite the weather I did visit the pits daily this past week passing the 900 visit mark. I saw American Black Tern there on Thursdayand the first Eastern Kingbird of the year was seen there earlier in the week  by Greg, another pits watcher. Slowly but surely the summer gaps in the list fill up.

Today was OK. I was at the pits at around 05:15 when there were way too many Canada Geese to bother looking at, so I tried at the Base de Plein Air end. Almost immediately I had a calling Eastern Screech Owl for only the second time ever there. Also new for the Pits year were Swamp Sparrow and Wild Turkey, not much else to report though.

Moving on I eventually ended up on the Grande Montee just over the border into Ontario. I passed the first Solitary Sandpiper of the year on a flooded field, then a Least Sandpiper on another muddy patch. At my regular site at the junction of Montee and Demaine I had at least four Eastern Meadowlarks and two Upland Sandpipers, nothing posing for photos though.

I made my way home and decided to drop into Bordelais Bog on the way where ten or so Myrtle Warblers picked the bugs off the trees, no sign of the dozen (a corrosion off) Rusty Blackbirds that had been present there the night before unfortunately.

After Saturday morning domestics we had our lunch on the deck and, directly overhead, a blob morphed into a Sandhill Crane when looked at through bins, garden tick 144. Now I’ve put some pretty lousy shots on from time to time but I think the crane shot beats them all, followed closely by Rusty Blackbird.

Things can only get (a bit) better from here on in.

Rusty Blackbird. Badlight, bad knees, sick cat, low pay, just crap. Pick one.

Myrtle Warble, and below nearly showing its myrtle.