Panama

Just back from a great week in Panama where we saw around 220 species including a few ticks, which is nice. As soon as I get a few photos processed I’ll be posting, so expect a busy rest of the week from me. We left Panama’s 34 degrees of pleasant sunshine behind with some reluctance but it was only -8 when we landed in Quebec five hours later, at least there appears to have been no more snow. I would say that Panama, and particularly the Gamboa Rainforest Resort would be the ideal venue for a first tropics visit for any birder and the place is great for non birders to get away to too. This was our second visit to the same place and we were worried that our memories of the first would be tainted if we had had a bad experience, we need not have worried.

For now here is a photo of a Whooping Motmot, they used to be called Blue-crowned but a recent split, whereby a species with a large range is divided up into several different species, made life interesting for us having seen them all, I’m not sure the Motmots give a hoot or a whoop about it all though.

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Cold day, good birds

I was out today with Marcus Nygards from Sweden, sorry Marcus, I can’t do the å on your family name on this keyboard!. The our main target was Snowy Owl and anything else we happened upon, as it happened we did ok although the day list only numbered 33. The weather was challenging, -24 this morning but warming up to around -6, the wind chill made it even colder and it was hard to spend too long directly in it. We finally got a Snowy Owl after a lot of looking, a distant male unfortunately so no photo as such, we did get good, close views of Horned Larks though, a small group of birds were particularly tame. Nearby a Rough-legged Hawk was hunting a field but was a bit distant.

The next stop was Rue Higgins, Chateguay, where two Red-bellied Woodpeckers put on a show and a Carolina Wren popped in to join the rest of the feeder tenders. Ste-Catherines was next, not too  much on show and chilly, it would be really good if there was some sort of parking viewing there from the top of the hillside there, we had a quick look from the no parking sign  but it was not ideal. Our final stop was Nun’s Island where, after a bit of looking (for the stamped down snow!), one of the rufous form Eastern Screech-Owls sat imperiously at the entrance to its hole. Later Marcus picked up a Winter Wren picking its way under and along the snow covered boardwalk.

Below a few photos of the day, enjoy.

Varied Thrush on t’ list

Last week there had been a Varied Thrush near the Ontario town of Limoges, about 40 minutes a westwards drive away. I found out too late and it seemed that it had gone. Today a report noted that it was still present yesterday so we slipped over for a look, having only seen a few in California years ago and one in Quebec previously. The bird was in garden but the owners were happy with gawping birders, the feeders were offset from the house and it was a very quiet area. We quickly saw the bird a couple of times but too distant for photos. We dropped back by later for a second viewing and was surprised when people arrived and just marched into the garden and up to the feeders, seemed a bit off to me. The bird seemed pretty shy so, hopefully, it didn’t come back. Two of the people wore bright red anoraks.

We returned home via Casselman, seeing a dark Rough-legged Hawk, the absolutely obligatory Snowy Owl (so easy there) and a flock of several hundred Snow Buntings. Not bad for a few hours and we got a Tim’s coffee and lasagne for lunch.

Snaps below, the Snow Bunt photos just give you an idea of the flock, the fields are full of them. Feel free to click on the big group and count them if you have no sort of social life, it passes the time!

Finally some snow

After getting away with it for a while, the winter snow finally showed up on Thursday/Friday. Not too much, about six inches or so, enough to bring a UK highway to a 24 hour standstill obviously, but not too bad here.  On the down side it does stop you getting out, the roads are entertaining and its best not to get inthe way of the snow ploughs, some do annually and don’t the following year, cosy as they are then in their new residences below the frost line.

The change of landscape has seen the garden feeders working overtime, the Pileated Woodpeckers have been particularly busy, interestingly, when they are attending the smaller birds hang back. I counted that the Black-capped Chickadees visited the Sunflower seed bucket 27 times in four minutes but only twice in the same period when the Pileateds where around. My Sunflower seed bucket is actually a recycled hanging basket holder of the type you are now expected to dump after one season, they make a great bulk feeder.

After snow dumps, the white birds around the St-Clet lanes tend to be braver and so it turned out when we nipped out for an hour or so this afternoon. One of the female Snowy Owls sat on a house roof not too far from the road. Although the bird was well placed for viewing and digiscoping, the lack of snow on the roof was a clue as to why that spot was popular, the heat haze coming off the roof meant that the shots are only of record quality.

Nine foot hole

Just as I was departing the house yesterday on a birding tour of the lanes and perhaps woods, I heard a noise. This was bad news, it sounded like water leaving the pipes. I very quickly checked the basement which houses our precious library, precious to us that is, but I couldn’t find anywhere wet. I followed the noise and found that it continued even if  the water was turned off at the mains, it was outside, crap! I called the council and they arrived inside 30 minutes, the guy was really great, he located the hidden mains supply valve and told me that the leak was between there and the house. He then called a guy with a big machine and they both appeared at 15.00 as promised and fixed it, no big deal you might say. Well they had to dig a nine foot deep hole in the front ‘lawn’ to get to the problem but did and its fixed. As they got further and further down I kept thinking, now where can I get a big pond liner from at this time of day!

The excitement of the big hole and the men who looked into it (Bernard Cribbins, sadly missed and don’t worry if you don’t get it, few will) meant that I was restricted to waving my lens at the feeder birds. The temps are just about in the positive during the day at the moment and so the feeders are mainly attended by Black-capped Chickadees and both nuthatches.

One interesting bird news item locally is the presence of a Harris’s Sparrow out near where the invisible goose was (posts passim) in the Richeleu Valley. I’ve only seen one once before, in a back garden out near Trois Rivieres and so will go and look for this one but.. ATTENTION, PROPRIÉTÉ PRIVÉE! says the bird news web site, so perhaps this one will be a hard find. Incidentally congratulations must go to Louise Simard for her rare birds in Quebec site, she has just passed the five million hits mark, if you have never visited here is the link http://www.quebecoiseaux.org/index.php?option=com_oiseauxrares&Itemid=133 to todays page, its in French, naturally, it really is the main supplier of rare bird information in Quebec.

New Book

Excitement today arrived in the shape of the new ‘field guide’ to Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson.

At first glance it looks to be a welcome addition to the available literature on odonata in North America although I suspect the Quebec data is out of date, simply because there appears to be little accessible information regarding the status of odes in Quebec since the 90s. The guide is illustrated by photographs, in the same manner of the companion western version, which has been available for some time. I have a backlog of dragonfly images that I have been waiting to work on and will be putting the new guide to work over the next few weeks. The next step in popularising odonata in North America, and providing a true field guide is to produce an illustrated guide on a par with the excellent European publication, in the meantime, this will do nicely.

Parc Omega

By way of a change we took a trip out to Parc Omega near Montebello on the north shore of the Ottawa River, this is a place we have taken several visitors to and they have all greatly enjoyed it. For those not in the know, Parc Omega is a safari park containing only Canadian animals, it also attracts birds to its grounds and feeders and I had seen flocks of Evening Grosbeaks there in previous years, so we took a look. It is not cheap to get in, the price is now $17.00CAN per adult, I can’t remember how much it was for kids but you can always stuff small ones under the seat, they don’t check too carefully and if any wander into the wolf pen there is a fair chance that you won’t take as many back as you arrived with..

The feeders were quiet, not a grosbeak year, but the driving loop was quite good value and the animals in their winter furs looked very smart. A new addition since our last visit was a group of Arctic Foxes and a young male Moose. We were quite surprised to see the Black Bears up and about, the weather was around -4 but they were waddling around having piled on fat for the winter. I presume when they wake up like this they are only active for short periods, I don’t know whether they eject their anal plugs created at the onset of hibernation or whether that happens once in spring, either way, when they do eject them you do not want to be stood behind one.

Whether you like places like Parc Omega or not and they are contentious places for the purist, there is a big benefit in showing people, especially kids, what animals that are out there look like. A general interest in wildlife can develop into a passion in later life and if seeing a few captive Arctic Foxes skitter around their pens plants a seed, good. Anyone thinking of going over to Parc Omega, Highway 50 is now open and takes you all the way there, no more slowing down for all those little towns.

Below a couple of shots of Common Raven and a winter male Wild Turkey followed by a few of the captive animals.

First up is an Arctic Fox, not quite in its full white ‘plumage’. The Arctic Foxes were very vocal and active and knew very well that they were being gawped at.

Next are a couple of Timber Wolf shots.  We once saw and Eastern Grey Wolf at Tremblant, it crossed the road right in front of us. We later heard that one had actually been in he camp ground and had woken some kid by licking his ear, neat.

The Black Bears were very lardy, more ass than anything else, this gets them through the Quebec winter, this year they have not had it so bad, I hope the relatively mild winter continues, even at the expense of no skiing which I can live without, I have done so far.

Below are a couple of Coyote shots. They can be easily found around the St-Clet fields in winter, hunters go after them with skidoos. I once saw one legging it across the fields with an oven-ready Chicken in its mouth, no lunch for Granny.

Last but not least, Arctic Wolf, these lads are very impressive, they have a calculating stare. You really would not want one of these hanging by it’s jaws off your tender bits.