I went over to the Richelieu River yesterday looking for the Fulvous Whistling-Duck, no joy, it had gone off to who knows where. I’d have gone the day before (and seen it) but nature had decided we were due some snow, six inches on my drive, and the snow tires had to go on amongst other things. So its been fairly typical this week, dipping two Canada and Quebec ticks but the fairly easy drive over to the site was nothing compared to the trip a guy I met there had had, He’d twitched the bird from British Columbia and I’m sure I detected from his accent that he originated from the UK, crazy people!
After seeing the Snowy Owl last week one birder commented that there had been 29 reports for Quebec so far, perhaps its going to be a good winter for seeing them. I’ve looked a couple of times since without success, perhaps the snow will make them bolder. There are tons of Snow Buntings around though, maybe up to a couple of thousand around the St-Clet fields, more snow will push them to the roadsides so I’ll know better then, in the meantime its gone gray and mild and so if something did pop up the light would be pretty poor for photos.
Locally we have Chris Dodds, wildlife photographer extraordinaire, speaking village theatre in Hudson on 30-Nov., tickets are $15.00, proceeds to Le Nichoir, you can reserve a ticket by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Today at St-Lazare pits there was a little bit of action. First I watched the Northern Gray Shrike get a kicking from a couple of angry Blue Jays. Normally the shrike goes about its nefarious business without hindrance. The smaller birds know to keep out of its way if possible, the bigger birds see it as no threat so ignore it. Quite why these jays took umbrage I don’t know but they took no prisoners while carrying out their prolonged attack.
The second ‘event’ involved a first-year Golden Eagle. I picked up the bird at great range, perhaps 5km or more, at that point I could see it was an eagle sp but there was no way to see anything other than ill defined shape. Five minutes later it had edged significantly nearer and I could see white wing patches and white base to the tail, welcome to the year list young eagle. The bird was still distant and not too high, its presence could not have been seen from the floor of the pits, the floor of the pits currently covered in noisy, but not alarmed Canada Geese. The other factor here is the lack of optics utilized by the geese, they being nil and me using my trusty big Nikon scope.
As I enjoyed, nay savoured the third ever Golden Eagle for the pits, I became aware of a raise in the audible goose babble to the point of panic, clearly they had seen this bird – at about 1.5km range – or there was more than one eagle in the air and their cause for alarm was nearer. The pace of ‘my’ eagle was slow so I checked the skies, no other birds up there, the geese were seeing the eagle, identifying it as a threat and panicking accordingly. The eagle took a good ten minutes to come past and out of sight to south, as it left my field of view the geese calmed down and went back to their normal yapping.
The eagle was a fitting 173rd species for the year at the pits. I did the math on what could have been and this year would have been a good one to have done a pits Big Year with 200 possible. I just wish I’d put in more effort earlier in the year.
Yesterday I went out birding with a former colleague Hycham, he is/was not a birder, more a polymath, but he enjoyed his day and so did I. We followed a route simlar to last week’s, Pont du Gonzague, Hungry Bay, Dundee and St-Timothee. The highlight was nine Sandhill Cranes at Dundee. Because I had already arranged this little trip I postponed visiting Chambly Basin by a day to see the recently discovered Greylag Goose, perhaps a truly wild bird although, statistically perhaps not. This turned out to be one of those occasions when fate blew me a Rhaspberry as the site not only hosted the goose for much of the day but also had a Fulvous Whistling-Duck, only the eighth for Quebec.
Today we did go to Chambly, the wind was cold and woolly, the rain felt it was time to express itself so it did. We started off fairly well with a Horned Grebe quite close and lots of Bonaparte’s Gulls and Common Mergansers. The main part of the basin, as viewed from the fort, seemed to hold only four Canada Geese and a few Red-necked Grebes so we set off around it. We did manage views of a Great Cormorant, a Monteregie tick (!) but not much else so we waited and listened to the distant pop pop of shotguns no doubt being discharged skywards. Eventually Canada Geese started to drop in, accompanied by a couple of Cackling Geese. We waited some more with the rest of the birders but no joy, no ducks a whistling and no Greylag Goose. We’d only traveled from west of Montreal to look for it, pity the big year lister who had driven up from Ohio!!
Below a couple of shots of the Horned Grebe in the rain, also a Ring-billed Gull.
Today at St-Lazare sand pits the large Canada Goose flock contained the leucistic bird again and I managed a few iffy shots. The Cackling Geese were also there but I couldn’t hear them cackling because of the noisy big ones. The goose topic is quite apt in Quebec at the moment as a Greylag Goose of the nominate race is at Chambly Basin. Naturally debate centers around its origins and, although they breed as close as Iceland, they are an unlikely vqgrant. They are widespread in captivity although that population is greatly reduced by 25-December! Either way its a talking point, my view is what does it matter if you cannot prove its origins, go with wild unless the evidence says otherwise.
I forgot to mention yesterday, over 300 Snow Buntings were out in the St-Clet fields, are we in for a big winter I wonder.
The first set of photos are of the scabby goose, in many places you can see the Canada Goose plumage pattern. I also managed a few more slightly better shots of one of the Cackling Geese, the flight shot shows the structural differences well, there is little size illusion in the photo, the Cackling Goose was at the head of the V.
Still no visible migration to report, the Northern Gray Shrike was still there and doing its circuit. There is a cold and wet front on the way for tomorrow, we are due something to stir things up a little.
Encouraged by reports of early Snowy Owl activity north of Montreal I did a circuit of the lanes around St-Clet after checking the pits. For locals looking, St-Julie is being dug up and frequently closes during the day. The bird was smack in the snowy triangle in the north corner of the fenced fields just right of the Ste-Julie – Ste-Marie junction. I took a photo at c600m range, my first excuse for the poor quality of today’s shots.
At the pits two Cackling Geese showed well if distant. I digiscoped them both, you can see the differences between them and the monster Canada Geese but not much else, only one set of shots were even approaching ‘bad record’ shot! Just to clarify, the Cackling Goose is the smaller, finer bird with the very triangular shaped bill, its the one flapping in the last shot. The white blob is a Snowy Owl and not a discarded carrier bag.
Local email groups are a great way to contact local birders when hoping to see a few birds that might otherwise take time and effort to locate. Via that medium, today I had the pleasure of a days birding with Marcus Nygards, a Swedish exchange student who wanted to see Snow Geese (sorry Marcus, can’t do the squiggly bits on Swedish letters).
We started out at the Pont du Gonzague south of Valleyfield. On arrival only a few Snow Geese were to be seen but, after a good scan of the many Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Ducks, the distant “wenk wenk” signalled the impending arrival of many more birds. Once they had pitched down I quickly located a Ross’s Goose, presumably the same one I noted in an earlier post. Fuelled with success we headed off to Hungry Bay.
Hungry Bay is best when its not windy. Our visit coincided with fairly calm, amost balmy weather. First up were three Black Scoters followed by a good scattering of White-winged Scoters and a lone Long-tailed Duck. Closer grilling also revealed two immature Surf Scoters for the hat trick. The highlight though was the flock of Common Goldeneye that flew over a duck hunter just at the time he had chosen to wade in and retrieve his plastic decoys, tee hee.
We moved down to Dundee and walked part of the Digue trail finding up to six Sandhill Cranes and enjoying fairly close views before they flew off to a more private section of the marsh. Almost just as they landed a second year Bald Eagle yomped over flushing a noisy flock of Snow Geese. There were also two Rough-legged Hawks staking out the marsh and a brief squeal from a Virginia Rail. The next stop was a quick look at St-Ettiene where Northern Shovelers shovelled and Northern Pintails dunked. There were also about two hundred Green-winged Teals and a lone Ruddy Duck out there.
A surprise at Dundee was the presence of at least three Autumn Meadowhawks. As per the only reference, the Odonata of Quebec, these were the latest by two days.
We dropped in to St-Timothee for a scan, no Eurasian Wigeon but neither of us will lose sleep over it, as we snacked a smart Rusty Blackbird jangled from the trees near the car park. Last stop was the pits where we added Common Merganser to the day list of 53 species. Marcus seemed well pleased with his haul, even if he is missing Sweden’s first Dusky Thrush!
The flight shot of the Ross’s Goose was on Marcus’s camera when he got home, serendipidous or what!
Every year around this time we hit the birding doldrums in the Montreal area. There is a sniff of the winter birds, the odd Snow Bunt, a report of Snowy Owls 400 miles away but locally the bird activity rather stagnates. At the pits there has been little happening that is new. Yes the presence of the Northern Gray Shrike brightens every day, especially when you can watch it at a larder tearing an unfortunate shrew to pieces, but visible migration has just not hapened yet.
The water birds are naturally dominated by Canada Geese but even their numbers are relatively low. The current batch have a leucistic bird in with them, it shows a shadow pattern of a standard Canada Goose but appears white from a distance, I’m sure they do that to confuse beginners! Sawbills are around but, again, not in any numbers, Common Mergs usually reach 50 or more in normal years, this year they rarely reach double figures, Hoodies and Buffleheads are scarce but three Ruddy Ducks remain to date. One highlight from the past week was a dark form Rough-legged Hawk which lazily flew the length of the pits and, with the sort of perfect timing that happens in birding, was observed while holding the bins in one hand and answering the call of nature with the other…
Photo ops recently have been zilch too, hence the lack of stimulating images on these pages. I’m working on the pages still and expect to have the annotated pits Odonata list up soon, I also had a nice comment from an old friend who enjoyed reading about my big year in 1984 so I’ll probably upload the next chapter at some point. My Odonata ID pages project is still static, I still can’t index the pages and probably need an ipad to work on it properly, not going to happen soon though unless someone wants to swap one for a Nikon 50mm travel scope with digiscoping kit including camera and carbon tripod.. Thought not!