Thrush cleared up

Today I decided to take a second look at the Stanbridge Station Varied Thrush, in the hope that it would actually show well enough to photograph. IF it did then I would go on to look for the Harris’s Sparrow, again for better looks. The trip over was punctuated by flock after flock of Horned Larks by the roadside, I reckon today was the first day of their return, I saw over a thousand all told. I also saw skeins of Canada Geese to, won’t be long now until I’m up to knees in them.

When I got to Stanbridge three photogrpahers were occupying the crease so I joined them, the Varied Thrush was up in a de-berried tree but slightly obscured. I took a quick snap through the branches in case it winged it and actually prefer those shots to the ones on the floor, where the snow made balance a problem. After ten minutes or so the thrush duly dropped and fed around the feeder pole, great views, my best ever of the species but the photos are of the record variety. It gave audience for ten minutes or so before zooming off over the trees.

The next stop at Sainte-Brigide was brief and Collared Dove-less, again. I then moved on to the Harris’s Sparrow site, there was a lot of snow covering the bushes I hoped it would pose in and the only shots I got were from distance although it did treat me to a burst of song at one point. A Tufted Titmouse flew in for a while too, three years in Quebec without seeing one then they become as common as Budgies, well actually I’ve seen them at three sites so far this year (although, strangely, no budgies).

Below the shots, nothing to write home about, I’m wondering whether the lens took more damage than I thought when it hit the road in Panama, while attached to me, I seem to have problems focussing over range, or perhaps it was just crap light. I might go and look for a California Gull tomorrow, should be easy if its there, I’ll just look for the surfboard stuck up in the snow.

Just to clarify the post title, in birding parlance, to clear up means to see the bird you are after.  I realise the context could be misconstrued.


Before the snow

I was out birding with Sebastien Castagnier today, we went to Stanbridge Station to look for a Varied Thrush which had been attending the feeders of a house there. The day’s plan was quite ambitious and depended on the thrush showing quickly, it didn’t! The area was very birdy, three Pileated Woodpeckers were around including one that took a liking to a fallen stump and lost it’s natural waryness. The thrush was said to be with American Robins and when we found a flock we thought we were in, but no! One garden had a nice flock of 46 Bohemian Waxwings in, my first of the winter. After about three hours or so a couple of Tufted Titmice dropped in but didn’t stay long. Eventually I picked up the Varied Thrush on the top of a bush, we had a good look but it was distant so I legged it the 50m to the car for the scope, as I focussed, off it went, poot!

Decision time and the next option was to look for Collared Doves at Ste-Brigide then on to a Harris’s Sparrow near Iberville. As we went east the snow began to get the idea that it would visit us en-masse. The Collared Doves did not show but I quickly got over it, Seb needed it for his Big Year. A few minutes further on and we were peering into the garden that has hosted the Harris’s Sparrow for a few weeks now. The snow snowed and the sparrow nipped into a bush briefly. It showed again through a hedge in installments but the snow had done for us and we crawled home in crappy weather.

The day species total was 30, the Tufted Titmice were very nice to see well.

Owl Boff

In 2005, when news of owls was not such a guarded secret and everyone was able to enjoy these stars of the winter, a Northern Saw-Whet Owl took up quarters in a small area of woods at Boucherville to the east of Montreal. The owl mostly sat in the tops of what looked like Leylandii but probably was not. On our visit the owl was sat low down clutching the remains of a rodent and ignoring the constant whirr of cameras. The photographers slowly lost interest, it was not for moving and there are only so many angles that you can take a photograph of a stationary owl from. I stood a while longer admiring the infrequently seen but no doubt common little treasure when suddenly it sped into action and so did I!
















From repose to expel in one swift movement the owl started to cough up a pellet of its previous meal. Owls don’t digest the fur/feathers and bones of their snacks, they are often scattered around a favoured roost site, the first clue of a resident.

After completing part one, the owl suddenly looked at me as if to say “what are you looking at?”, it then filled the recently vacated space with the remainder of it’s catch. The whole process took a couple of minutes and the owl then settled back into it’s motionless state. I left the area to look at the Barred, Great Horned, Boreal and Long-eared Owls in the same general area (did I hear a gasp then?) before returning for one last peep. The owl had moved and I nearly walked into it as it sat just overhead. I took a shot but had the camera on auto and the flash kicked in, it seemed to work and the owl appeared indifferent to me so I snapped a few more before backing off to a more respectful distance. Two minutes later and it went to roost high in the tops of the hedge away from the prying lens.

These photos did appear on my previous blog when I used Blogger, I thought it might be nice for new readers to enjoy them, re-posting certainly brought back the memory for me.


Birds I want to see in Quebec

It has taken a very long time to assemble my Quebec bird list to its not very heady height of 316, it is a big province and rarities are few and far between. When I was making the new notebook for this year, I have them going back to 1981, I made a list – even checked it twice, and came up with my definitive 15 ‘wants’ for 2012.

The first part of the list has to be composed, logically, of lifers. In Quebec there are three species which actually breed here that I have not seen, Thick-billed Murre, Bicknell’s Thrush and Yellow Rail. The first two are possible with effort; the latter species is a pig to see. The rest of the species wanted are scarce breeders, uncommon and irregular visitors or vagrants.

#1 – Thick-billed Murre. These are seen regularly enough along the Gaspe but not with enough regularity to predict, accurately, whether the long drive for it would be successful. They must also be fairly regular along the north shore of the St-Lawrence outside the breeding season but where and when?

#2 – Bicknell’s Thrush. These breed on the highest mountains in eastern Quebec. I have been ‘on the top’ of one site before dawn on what should have been the prefect conditions but no dice. One serious try is not really a concerted effort so I must try harder.

#3 – Sharp-tailed Grouse. They are there in the north-west but there is so little specific detail that you take potluck with your search, going to ‘historic’ sites. They are regularly seen near Val d’Or but the site does not seem to be on any map. I’ve tried twice for this but near Amos but, having finally seen my life bird last year in Ontario, the seven hour drive lacks appeal, maybe.

#4 – Le Conte’s Sparrow. These should be easier but it is a case of having the time and resources to get around the flowery meadows of Lac St-Jean or Abitibi at the right time of day and year. If I try for grouse then it could be a rare two-tick day, they are sometimes found in the same habitats.

#5 – Purple Sandpiper. A nemesis bird in Quebec. I’ve tried Tadoussac several times and not scored, hypothermia, yes, but no Purple Sands. After last time I said never again but the temptation for one more try remains. Perhaps I’ll get one at the pits.

#6 – Mew Gull. I’ve checked thousands of roosting gulls over the years but with no luck. Now I have a handle on the landfill near Lachute, I’ll be scanning and hoping whenever I get the chance.

#7 – Summer Tanager. I’ve just been lazy!

#8 – Willet. As with Summer Tanager, there have been a few which lingered but surely I’ll get one locally some time.

#9 – Ross’s Gull. I can dream, I’ve seen half a dozen in Europe but it remains one of my favourite gulls and a most wanted North American tick.

#10 – Tufted Duck. They used to be pretty regular in Quebec at one time but there have been very few since 2003.

#11 – Long-tailed Jaeger. This species and the following four species need us to make many trips to the north shore at the right time or a trip on the Nordik Express from Rimouski to Blanc Sablon.

#12 – Leach’s Storm-Petrel.

#13 – Wilson’s Storm-Petrel.

#14 – Pomarine Jaeger.

#15 – Northern Fulmar.

So plenty to go at although I limit my traveling for a tick to a couple of hours these days, unless it is part of a real trip.

And now a prediction: Quebec will get its first Fish Crow within the next three years!

Incidentally, I added a tab at the top called ‘Kit’, it explains the birding equipment I use for those interested.

Yesterday I did the St-Clet lanes looking for owls as usual. Two Snowies were still present but distant, one immature and one male. Apart from the Northern Grey Shrike (below) there was not much else.

One out of two

We have just returned from a long weekend on the north shore of the St-Lawrence at Les Escoumins. Last time we were there in winter we said, “never again” but I wanted to check out the hotels for setting up a guided fall trip and, with the possibility of Purple Sandpiper on offer, my Quebec nemesis bird, it looked set to be a reasonable trip. An added bonus would be the chance to try for a Red-headed Woodpecker out near Trois Riviere which everyone seems to be seeing and the weather forecast was pretty good.

We started badly, arriving at St-Leon-le-Grand to find that the bird had been visiting a feeder attached to someone’s front porch. We don’t like staring at folks’ houses at the best of times so we sat back and watched from a respectful distance. Needless to say the woodpecker did not show. We moved on through Quebec City and along the St-Lawrence, pausing only at St-Irene and Malbaie, neither site had much to offer, a few each of Glaucous and Iceland Gulls but that was it. At Ste-Catherine we stopped and scoped the rocks purported to host Purple Sandpipers from time to time, zilch. We then zipped around Tadoussac but saw nothing, this did not surprise us!

At Les Escoumins the view from the ferry dock was pretty good, with Black Guillemots riding the waves and a host of Barrow’s Goldeneyes sharing the bay with their common cousins. Gulls were everywhere, a few hundred each of Glaucous and Iceland but all too distant for the lens. We checked into the Hotel Pelchat at Escomins, reasonably priced, comfortable rooms with a nice restaurant and a bar. The mercury then dropped to -18 overnight.

Sunday was very bright and fine but cold. At Les Escoumins we scanned and we scanned but could not find any purple bastards. Two fine male Long-tailed Ducks were worth a prolonged look before we set off tocheck sites further east. At Forestville we took a road north and soon found Pine Grosbeaks gritting by the roadside along with Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls. One garden which had feeders was alive with Evening Grosbeaks but they were very flighty so no shots. To this point in the trip I had taken two frames of a distant female Pine Grosbeak! We drove as far as Baie Trinity which is about the same distance as the moon is from Montreal but the waters held little more than distant goldeneyes.

Monday was colder, clear though and not too windy until we got to Tadoussac when it was frigid. I had emailed a local birder there to ask for help, I thought he might give me a few pointers as to where to find the purple perils. He didn’t reply, perhaps he didn’t get it, Videotron do that sometimes, or perhaps he didn’t like me putting it through Babel Fish to translate the English message to French, either way we were on our own and didn’t find anything in the Tadoussac area.

Through the wonders of the Internet we had seen that the Red-headed Woodpecker had been seen the previous day so we dropped in on the way home. Ten minutes into the wait and ‘bingo’, the boy flew towards us from the hidden feeders and started to place pine seeds carefully into nooks in a tree trunk. I managed a few shots from range.

So the trip was a partial success although we could have done without the driving. I’ll be offering a long weekend trip to Les Escoumins and the area with stops on the way in autumn 2012, details to be announced when ready, they will be on my guiding blog.

Just like spring

Today I was out with Marcus Nygards birding out west of Montreal. On a previous excursion we’d seen a distant Snowy Owl, Marcus wanted a better view and perhaps a photo opportunity before they go back north and so does he (to Sweden). We started around St-Clet where we saw a distant Snowy Owl being harried by a Raven. The owl was not so fussed and just kept the Raven in front of it while the Raven hopped and cronked away. While not quite the views we were after it was interesting to watch the interaction.

We moved on to Hungry Bay near Valleyfield to look for a Barrow’s Goldeneye, there had been a male in the area and the chances were that it might still be there. The adult male was absent but I did find a young male with the Common Goldeneyes, along with Hooded and Red-breasted Merganser and a Long-tailed Duck. A Common Loon out in the icy waters with the many Common Mergansers made it a good visit. We also had great views of an immature Northern Grey Shrike, our second of the day, as it moved from tree to tree. On the way back through Valleyfield we saw a nice male American Kestrel, new species number two for Marcus.

Our next stop was the Casselman area of Ontario. We tried for the gulls at the tip which should have been loafing where I left them last week. two Rough-legged Hawks had different ideas though and the only gulls visible were at a distance on the far side of the tip. Glaucous was seen and there was probably an Iceland in there too but they were not well behaved. We then tried the farm fields for a Snowy Owl and Marcus picked up a pole sitter. After a few shots from the car we drove past the owl to park a respectful distance away and enjoyed great views as it scoured the seemingly barren snow covered fields. Moving on and we chanced on a second bird by the roadside and we had an eye level look before the bird went off hunting over the field.

At no point in the day did I need to wear a coat, hat or gloves while out of the car which for February in Quebec is amazing. We managed to see 37 species in total which was pretty good.

Below a few of my photos, a mixture of big lens jobs and digiscoped.

Sandra’s Panama bits

While I invariably wander around the Panamanian rain forest looking up, Sandra takes time to look down and notices things that I just wander past. She uses a little Panasonic FZ35 which she swears by, not only does it offer an 18x optical zoom, it does HD video too. A useful tool as she makes a DVD of each trip and the odd snippet of video really brings them to life. The camera neatly fits into a waist bag and seems to last forever on one charge of the battery. Panamsonic have just brought out the same model type but a with 24x zoom, she has a birthday coming up!

A few birds first, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Streaked Flycatcher and Whooping Motmot. If you don’t want to lug a beast of a camera around the Panasonic is a good option.

Butterflies abound in Panama, the first here is the most abundant. The second insect is one of the morpho species which are as big as a saucer with shimmering azure blue upperwings. There is a butterfly house at the Gamboa and I saw them out collecting insects from the garden to stock it, which seemed a bit bizarre.

This gaudy coloured grasshopper was a common species.

Everywhere you look around the Gamboa you will see Agoutis. About poodle sized but infinitely more useful, these rodents forage around for fallen fruit, we fed them the odd apple.

The first animal is a Spectacled Cayman, not dangerous particularly but you still wouldn’t want one hanging off your flesh bits. The toad species lives on the forest floor and is about 2cm long. The first lizard has very long toes for whatever reason. The last little lizard watched us from the mossy trunk. his colour only really appreciated when seen in the photo.