End of year report

First a nice picture of a Snow Bunting, then the stats for the year so if you only come here for the photos, bye bye.

At the end of each year I write up the statistics for the year relating to how much or how little I actually got out birding. This year I made a concious effort to get out more.

Birding days out – i.e going out specifically to look for birds & wildlife = 293 making a life total of 7366.

Visits to St-Lazare sand pits birding etc. = 228 making a life total of 1090.

Life lists: World –  2614, ABA area list  – 550, Quebec list  – 316, Pits list  – 208.

2011 year list 467, 2011 Quebec year list 227. 2011 pits year list 163.

Quebec continued to frustrate where rarities are concerned and I missed a few things and resolved not to travel far unless I can make a proper trip of it.

The North American list was bolstered by the Arizona trip with hopefully more to follow, yes you can see 740 North American species in a year with luck, effort and resources, I suspect I can only claim one of those criterea, the middle one. The same Arizona trip added to the World list, for that to increase significantly in the future a few trips are needed, trips currently outside of our scope but who knows?

Next year could be interesting. I intend to consolodate the dragonflies, work on the butterflies and keep on with those birds. I might need to think about my local patch but I say that every year and still end up down there and still get pleasantly surprised sometimes.

I hope you have enjoyed my blog, all 185 posts (I’m sort of presuming some of you did get past the Snow Bunting) and I will strive to entertain and inform next year when I may carry on with my memoirs, click on 1981 at the begining of the post if you don’t know what I mean. I’ll also be constructing my bird guiding pages in January so we will see where that goes.

Good birding.

Mark (and Sandra)


Penultimate post?

It stayed cold today so the roads stayed interesting, I even though twice about going out, briefly. Along the busiest road just north of St-Clet an almost white male Snowy Owl watched imperviously from the top of a tall tree. I managed to get a 45 second break in the traffic for a quick record shot, they help to ID them as individuals, this one looked new.

Prior to that I was scanning plates from The Birds of Panama to see whether they would work on the tablet, they do so here are some details. The Chinese are not great at understanding western humour, if they were they would not have called it the Ainol, may as well done it properly and gone for puckered! The tablet, an Ainol Nova7 Advanced is neat and cheap, $129US at some places. It has 8Gb storage and takes micro SD cards for extra storage. It runs the Android system which seems fairly intuitive with practice. Out of the box it fired up in Chinese and I had to do a web search for an English version of the manual (pdf). Once I’d changed the settings to English and rebooted it, I only had to do a bit more tweaking, such as getting Sandra to download a thing so that the PC could find the tablet via the USB and we were off and running. There appear to be endless apps for it, many free and I have photos, music and books loaded already. The screen is nice and bright and at 8.5cm by 15cm is big enough to view things well. In theory it would fit in a jacket/birders vest pocket and you could have field guides for every country in one source had the publishers of such things kept pace with the development of the e-book. The battery life is about 7.5 hours, less if you do gaming or play videos. It has wifi, naturally.

Below a couple of photos showing the tablet and, of course, the obligatory Snowy Owl photo from today.

Bit parky

For those not raised in the UK, a bit parky means it is cold. The overnight temp was -18, it warmed up a bit during the day though, below the temp at 13:00!

I took a tour of the lanes again today, bad idea, the freeze up made the roads entertaining and a few saloons found it all too much and retired to the ditches. I managed to stay on the right bit but I don’t think the distant Snowy Owl was worth it. Closer to home I got lucky with a Pileated Woodpecker. I put the suet blocks out yesterday and one is straight on them. I noticed it was flying in to one particular tree before crossing to the feeders and so waited, but not too long, I still value my ears. I managed a couple of shots and, seeing this enormous woodpecker close up makes you wonder how big an Ivory-billed would have appeared, I guess we will never know.

Dragonflies 2011

2011 was my third year of really trying to learn the dragonflies and damselflies found in my region of Quebec. Hampered by the lack of a field guide specific to the area and only having an outdated source of information for the status of Quebec odonata, it has been a bit of a challenge. Last year I tried to join a Quebec insect discussion forum but was told I could only post in French. My French is lousy and, as the on-line translators tend to be a bit wayward with simple stuff, I shuddered to think what they would make of dragonfly names so I decided against it, they appeared to be mainly collectors anyway.

As a birder my interest in odonata is to see, identify and enjoy these fantastic insects, not catch them and look at their genitalia to identify them. Oh for a birders field guide that does not mention the epiproct or occiput, I am sure many birders will agree with me there while many insect people (not a description of their appearance) will disagree. I’m also against the catching of voucher specimens of readily identifiable species, digital photography is enough in most cases.

A bonus this year was the chance to see a few species in Arizona in September and New Jersey in October. Most were new for me and it whetted the appetite for return visits to both states more in season for odes.

My year ended with 81 species in Quebec including, as far as I know, the latest Autumn Meadowhawks for Quebec by two days (gosh). I had 97 species for the year with the additions from Arizona and New Jersey. Next year I intend to target gaps in my knowledge and photographic record so, snaketails beware. In my Odonata ID pages (see the tab on the page header) are some ID plates which you might find worthwhile downloading (allowed), I am in the process of improving them. I got a tablet for Christmas (thank you Sandra, big surprise) and will now create them specifically for that medium. If it continues to blow and snow outside as it is while I type this, indoor time will not be an issue!

Finally, if you are a local birder and are interested in getting into odonata, check out my guiding link. I’ll do some workshops next year if there is enough interest, just check back regularly for details when posted.

Below are a small selection of images from the year, most have already been posted here at some point. If you want to use any of my images for any reason, please contact me to discuss, all are copyright to Mark Dennis and may not be used without permission.

First up is the Calico Pennant, one of my favourite species and failry common in the right habitat. I see them in abundance at St-Lazare sand pits and they can be easily stalked as they sit on top of low vegetation. The males are the most vivid with a striking deep crimson tone, no need to net this one!

Boreal Snaketail from Parc Mont Tremblant, the only snaketail I’ve ever seen. This dragonfly type is part of a larger group with clubbed tails called err.. clubtails! They can be devils to ID sometimes but shouldn’t be. A well illustrated guide showing upperside, the side of the body and noting reginal variation is desperately needed.

This Variable Darner was at Tremblant, laying its eggs in this floating log. Darners can be very confusing, they are hard to pin down and their field marks poorly known or described and yet there markings appear to be distinctive to each species.  I have taken to trying to photograph darners in flight, with some success. If you can get enough of a view of the markings on the sides of the body you can ID them, usually.

This is a female Variable Meadowhawk from New Jersey but we saw them first in Arizona. I think the female of this species is the most striking of the sexes. There is supposedly one Quebec record of this species and, with Global warming a fact, they might extend into Quebec if they are not actually already here somewhere.

Black-shouldered Spinylegs from Huntingdon, QC. It’s shoulders are black and you can be as rude about it’s legs as you like. We also saw them in Tremblant too so it was a good to get two sets of photos from different insects for reference.

Flame Skimmer from Arizona –  a very striking insect. We found these accidentally when we called into the signposted Bubbling Ponds reserve near Sedona and found odes everywhere. A couple of days later they had cut down the banksides and many of the odes had vanished, we were very lucky.

This is a Black-tipped Darner, photgraphed while it layed eggs (oviposited, acceptable technical term) into the vegetaion of my garden pond, a pond so small a sneeze would fill it! I’d looked for this species for some time to it was great to finally see it and get some good photos. This and other darner species swarm in the autumn and I am sure I will have seen it in one of those masses, just not well enough to ID.

This Carolina Saddlebags was at Cape May in October. Cape May is not just a place that attracts migrant birds but insects too and we saw many hundreds of individuals of this species passing through there.  They were on the wing from first light and could be watched setting out to sea in droves, fortunately some settled for photos. Black Saddlebags were also present in much smaller numbers, the mix being roughly 95% Carolinas.

This Checkered Setwing was another Bubbling Ponds, Arizona species. Setwings were a new group for me although I have subsequently identified some of the species seen on trips to Brazil and Panama as belonging to this group.

Finally, a Canadian Darner, the default big darner which is on the wing in Quebec from July onwards. To get this sort of shot I use the sports setting on the camera, shooting as many frames per second as I can and using manual focus. It can be hit or mis and you delete a lot of images which are either side of focus but generally end up with one for ID at least.

Out in the field/s

After being a bit lazy over the holiday period I was back out today birding enjoying! the howling gale and later, driving snow. The pits are done water wise, the woods might still hold surprises though, I’ll be woodpecker seeking in the New Year.

Out around St-Clet, vehicle activity was much reduced meaning that the Snow Buntings and Horned Larks were not quite so manic. Despite the light I got a couple of shots of adult and first-winter Horned Larks (no yellow face). Also below a ‘different’ shot of a female Snowy Owl, the latest to show up at St-Clet, eight this winter so far that I have seen. Quite amusing was the sight of three people haring over a field to photogaph a Snowy Owl, one with no coat, and the bird flying from bush to bush, doing its best to tempt them to a point of exhaustion before pouncing! I wonder if they’d eat the eyes first like Ravens do?

Snowy Owls – no two the same

In the spirit of the season, owling season that is, I though I’d post a collection of my Snowy Owl images, cropped just to show the owl (and of varying quality) with no thought to aesthetics. I was recently asked how I tell the owls apart, take a good look at these images, no two are the same. The images show males and females and immatures of both, go figure!

So far this year I have seen seven different Snowy Owls in the fields around St-Clet, Quebec with, I suspect, many more to come. If you visit the area please don’t mouse them, the roads are lethal. Just a note, all images on any of my blogs are copyright to me Mark Dennis, if you want to use any please contact me to discuss.

Mr. Snowy Owl

It was -16c last night! Cold nights but very clear days making visibility excellent and the wintering Snowy Owls more amenable. Sandra and I did a late afternoon drive today, just along Ste-Julie really, and came across Mr. Snowy Owl sitting on a barn roof about 90m from the road. He was the same bird I saw yesterday with very little spotting and a stained tail. Below is a digiscoped shot through a zoomed eyepiece, the light was that good. A little further along the regular female was out on a sapling. She was a bit flighty and soon made off across the wastes to a taller tree.

It looks like winter has actually arrived, no more snow but pretty nippy. I’ve added 1989 to the blog if you are interested and will continue to add following years when I can, also I put up a write up of a big day I did a few years ago. No doubt I’ll be out a few more times before the year’s end, hope I’m not boring you wth this stuff.