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!