Happy visitor

One of the upsides to having a bit more time these days is being able to respond to a birder’s requests to see local birds when visiting Montreal. The local bird group’s yahoo group is a natural conduit for requests of this sort and so, when British birder Graham Langley request ‘help’ I was happy to respond. Graham sent me a wish list, some of the birds required a serious hike north but some were eminently possible with a bit of luck and some local knowledge, at least I have the latter component.

We started out looking for Canada Warbler – an emblem of the country but furtive and distinctly dificult to find locally. ‘My’ boy bucked the trend and showed well, fighting for air-time with the noisy White-throated Sparrows. Not a tick for Graham but a new bird for Canada which is not a bad priority and any view of a Canada Warbler is not to be sniffed at. Next we moved to the very border of Quebec and Ontario. The Ontario side of this invisible line, where fields keep their grass and the birds that livein that undervalued habitat greatly appreciate it.  Almost immediately tick number one arrived, a Black-billed Cuckoo flew along the fence line and into a nearby tree, I’d expected a fight for this one but no. Upland Sandpiper quickly followed, tick number two and with the added bonus of the nearby male Bobolinks which completed the gender set for Graham. You can tick a female or immature as the lifer but you’ve only really seen a Bobolink when it is a male, better still when it is a noisy one.

A short hop later and we were stood on a small bridge over the Rigaud River looking down on three shorebirds, one of each yellowlegs and a Solitary Sandpiper – returning migrants at the end of June. The little overlook added a few species to the day list, Common Merganser, Belted Kingfisher and the expected Spotted Sandpipers and Killdeers, time to move on. Our next ‘target’ was a skulker, a noise in the vegetation but well worth the effort. Another short drive saw us peering into the lush growth below the power lines trying to tempt out a Mourning Warbler. Chestnut-sided had been easy, as they always are there and were welcome because Graham’s only previous bird had been a green autumn one. In my opinion they look far better in autumn when they are green than do the birds in breeding plumage. The flies had welcomed us like old friends and an obliging Ovenbird nearby became a check mark on Graham’s Canada list but the Mourning only offered glimpses of tail, a flash of wing, a shape nipping across a gap and defying a binocular view. Eventually it sat up and became new species number three, it took 45 minutes though but sometimes they do. What troubled me was that no Alder Flycatchers were being vocal and I’d seen perhaps ten or so there the week before.

I knew a spot, we went, we looked and we saw but the Alder never uttered a sound. Normally you need an empid to make a noise but this time we were on safe ground, it was one of a pair and no other empids were even remotely nearby to muddy the ID. So, four lifers and the clock ticking, slicing up the birding time into little bits. At this point we had effectively exhausted the possibilities for lifers except for the recently-soon-to-be-perhaps-it-might-be-split American Black Tern. Morphologically different from the European Black Tern, American Black Tern is in the process of finding itself unique. Locally they are, or at least have been, a common summer species at St-Timothee Marsh, so off we went.

St-Timothee is a good place to go birding, it would be better with some management and at least two more birding towers but enough of that. American Black Tern was the target here, American Bittern was also a desired Canada tick. The bittern was happy to oblige, it flew over the cycle track giving adequate views, as did several Black-crowned Night-Herons. The recently split Common Gallinules, no longer a Moorhen, continued to fight and squawk like nothing had happened but terns, no, there were no terns there at all. Next stop, Beauharnois outfall, always terns there, no. No terns anywhere, had they all givien up after the ferocious storms of late May/early June?

Time the enemy had caught up with us and we had to declare on 78 species. It could have been much higher with a few more hours and change of habitat but not to worry, the birds will be there next time. Helping out fellow birders is something many of us do, local knowledge is a prize we are all willing to share. I enjoyed my day out, I’m sure Graham did too, four ticks were added to a burgeoning North America list, such are the benefits of working for an airline. I didn’t take many pictures and so the ropey Upland Sandpiper below is all I have to show you. Now, I really must subscribe to the Nevada birding email group!





That time of year

Spring is gone, summer is here and the birds are all busy making their replacements, thank goodness for having the dragonflies and butterflies to look at is all I can say. I’ve been diligantly covering St-Lazare sand pits but the avian activity in terms of migration has ground to a halt. until the shorebirds arrive. The pair of American Wigeon that arrived a couple of weeks ago are changing into eclipse plumage, joining the Mallards and the odd Black Duck in looking truly aweful. The Common Terns didn’t nest, which is a good thing, as the water level is falling quickly and the once inaccessible spits and north bank can now be walked, as they were yesterday by dog walkers. Anglers are also arriving to prey on the trapped fish which are almost literally ‘fish in a barrel’, I wish they’d either stick to the path or all clear off somewhere else but what can I do short of setting Bear Traps?

In the course of my visits locally, mostly because I’m working on the dragonflies see http:quebecodes.Wordpress.com/, I’ve seen a few things which surprised me. A pair of Brown Thrashers with young at Cedarbrook where I have never heard a singing bird. A Canada Warbler, back for his second year in the same place and it would be nice to think he’s found a mate this time and every site I look at with suitable habitat, except the pits, seems to have a pair or more of Least Bitterns.

With the publication of the new Peterson guide to the moth of northeastern North America I can now work through my nine years worth of unidentified images while I wait for return migration to kick in, now, how many moth fans are there out there?

The photo is of a Red-winged Blackbird, it will improve with age.

Itchy but don’t scratch!

Sunday June 17th we went up to Mont Tremblant in the full knowledge that the Deer Fly population would be at its most welcoming, we were not disappointed. We didn’t get into the park until after 10.00 and so missed out on any real avian singing but still managed to see a few nice birds as well as some excellent dragonflies.

We tried several new spots including the Lac aux Herbes area where a couple of Snowshoe Hares put on a show by running around madly. Ruffed Grouse were in evidence too with three adults seen including a hen escorting her erratic brood of at least four young over the road. It was amazing to see how well they flew when they could only have been a couple of weeks old at best. Loons were out on most lakes doing their Lakota ad impersonations (Canadians will get that) and Swamp Sparrows seemed to be at every site we visited.

The flies were bad, very bad and it was most amusing to see a large family party in three cars descend on the launch area near Lac Escalier, our best dragonfly spot, with the intention of having a late afternoon picnic. The flies had the same intention and at least it kept some of them away from us until they sensibly fled to the safety of their cars. I have about 15 Deer Fly bites, Sandra has slightly fewer but they all swell up to ping pong ball size and last a couple of days so we should be good for next week’s excursion! The dragonfly stuff will be on the odes blog, here are a few snaps.

This mean looking creature watched us from his leaf hideout while consuming another insect, possibly a close relative. No idea what it is but perhaps a sawfly species?

A Swamp Sparrow that found us interesting.

Ruffed Grouse – just a bit against the sun.

On the way home we dropped into the roadside Osprey nest site at Harrington to see whether they had returned this year. They have and an adult was delicately feeding bits of fish to two very small young. Nearby another adult watched us and the feeding from a perch.


I’ve been busy recently with the dragonflies visiting Pointe-des-Cascades and Paul Smith’s College in New York state. The former site is a nice little park with a good range of habitats and it usually has a good selection of birds to enjoy. The dragonflies are quite good too but, the park suffers from the unwelcome attentions of yobs who light fires, dump stolen cars and generally make a good case for birth control by bullet. There is also the problem of loiterers, men, who like the seclusion of the site instead of going downtown to the gay quarter and playing hide the sausage there. To be fair they never bother me, I had fifteen years of the same problem when I was the Warden at Colwick Country Park, if you make enough noise like you would if Bears were around they flush. On the up side, the town has now installed a barrier, have two twelve year olds manning (or is that teening) it and take names and registration numbers when you enter.

Below are a couple of shots if a Great Egret, the second one just at the point of impact.

Last Sunday we went to New York State to visit the Adirondacks reserve at Paul Smith’s college. As usual there was plenty to look at, details of the dragonflies on the odes page, link on the sidebar. I also caught up with a Black-throated Blue Warbler, a fleeting look and not great photo.

I’ve not been neglecting St-Lazare sand pit, there was a Short-billed Dowitcher there yesterday and there are two, possibly three singing Field Sparrows now. One nice new species I saw was a Smooth Greensnake. I’m trying to get into herps more and so it was good to see something a little different from the Garter Snakes.

The pits bird year list stands at 136, I don’t expect too many more additions until late July when the shorebirds should get more interesting.

Little Boy in the Woods

I paid a visit to a place called the Pitch-Pine reserve near Ormstown today. It is a really nice area but the actual reserve is fenced off with no access. Outside the reserve are sphagnum bogs and pools and the place hums with dragonflies and birds. Unfortunately some people treat it badly, dumping trash and claiming privee. The area would make a great PUBLIC reserve and would benefit from a boardwalk. One feature today was the constant “doo-dee diddly dee diddly dee” from everywhere, White-throated Sparrows, the little boy in the woods were singing. The odes from the visit are on the ode page, here are a few images of a very showy White-throated Sparrow.

Indigo boys

The pits are in summer mood now although there might still be the odd interesting shorebird waiting to be seen if we get the right weather. I spent a couple of hours today plotting the Indigo Bunting territories, four, and enjoying some dragonflying. The habitat destruction training site next door has expanded and some more rough habitat is being ‘trained’ on. They have also cleaned up the Beaver dam at the west end of the complex, the water now looks a very crappy colour, I’m hoping it recovers.

Here are a few of the shots for the day, the Chestnut-sided Warbler found me very interesting. The dragonflies I saw are at: http://quebecodes.wordpress.com/

Great Bug

You see lots of interesting bugs around, bright green things, crimson things, bugs with more legs than is reasonable but, sometimes, one strikes you (not literally) as how fantastic it looks. I recently saw a Phantom Crane Fly with the sun behind it at Parc Mont Tremblant, it looked like something from Star Trek. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo but there is one here: http://bugguide.net/node/view/437476/bgimage

After posting this I found another near Poine Fortune, image this with the sun behind, neat eh? Here are the images:

While on a trail at Rigaud a couple of days ago I saw this apparition

It is a Lunar Giant Ichneumon, a parasitic wasp. It was about six inches long but most of it was tail, see below.

I’ve never seen one quite like this before and I’ve been out with the bugs for years.

Incidentally – I’m moving all of the dragonfly stuff to the Quebec Odonata site, this might be especially interesting to my readers in Indonesia who outnumbered those from the UK on one date recently and hi to Guatamala. Out of interest, one day I’ll stick a list up of visits by country, I was fascinated by the diversity of viewers, you live and learn.