Two days at the pits

It is hot again here and my visits to the pits (St-Lazare sand pits, see the tab at the top for details) have been primarily for dragonflying but, there are birds. July is normally perceived as a rubbish month birdwise bit I’m seeing stuff that is scarce there, even adding a couple to the year list today making 144 so far. The dragonflying has been spectacular, details are on the dragonfly blog, link on the side if you scroll down.

Yesterday I had two Great Egrets. The regular took great exception to the interloper, there was a chase and some grunting before ground was conceded and they joined the seven Great Blue Herons in mopping up the bite sized fish. Today I found an immature Black-crowned Night Heron, my fifth ever at the site in nine years plus change. It was where I was aiming for, the site of the latest dragonfly addition to the pits but soon flew off. After a while it went dark and the local Red-shouldered hawk swere going ape droppings. I looked up into the underbelly of the pits’ fifth Bald Eagle of the year, a young one too.

Today’s dragonflying went well but the heat was pretty intense, I even wore sun block which says it all! On the way back to the car I cut through a little used path to find the site’s first of the year Wilson’s Snipe probing away, nice. Not ten yards away a Green Heron decided it could not be seen thanks to the dense vegetation, then it ran into the open and just froze, makes a change from a flap and croak which is what you normally get when you get too close.

Butterflies have not been ignored this year, especially when things like Common Buckeyes drop by. There are at least four around the site and there also seems to be more Black Swallowtails and Viceroys than normal. Monarchs are around but have not really begun to kick south yet, another month or so and the landscape will change, hawks and Monarchs will be up, shorebirds will be everywhere and hopefully a few of the warblers I missed in spring will arrive.

Yesterday we, Chris Cloutier and I, came across a large Praying Mantis shedding. I’d never seen one at the pits before, it was a day of firsts.

Praying Mantis getting changed into its beach wear.

‘Persil’ white.

Not really got the hang of hiding!



Pits day

Today I went down to St-Lazare sand pits (surprise, surprise) but it was quiet, very quiet and, at a loose end I dropped into Cedarbrook works pits not expecting much. The track was quiet too but then a fast flying butterfly pitched up, a Common Buckeye. I had no idea of the species’ status in Quebec, still don’t, the books on Quebec butterflies are awful. Anyway, over excited by the discovery I decided to go back to the pits and find one there, and I did! Common Buckeye is a migrant and doesn’t get very far north according to the various N. America butterfly guides. We saw hundreds at Cape May last year and so I was very familiar with the species. At the pits they have a new gateman who told me it was now only $2.00 to get in but that he was there to enforce it, which was fine by me.

I covered a lot of ground at the pits, a new Beaver Pond was well worth a look and, as I passed over the now dry causeway on my way to said pond, a Caspian Tern attacked me – well sort of. It was great to see an adult and recently fledged young, the first of the year for the pits and my 142nd species there for the year. The Beaver Pond looks great and I’ll keep an eye on it. I hope the owner does not pull the dam like the last one, no need, its doing not harm at all. Also around the pits were a mottly collection of Great Blue Herons feasting on the fish, now so easy to catch because of the reducing size of the pools. The Great Egret continues to reside but the steel structure from the centre of the lake has gone, now the Cedar Waxwings will just have to sit in the trees.

I found the Common Buckeye in, well let’s just say within the boundaries of the pits because, if I give the location away, perhaps a lurker who has hairy palms and a laminated guide for easy cleaning might come down and collect it and then pin it to a board in an attractive if disturbing fashion. I also found a new species fo dragonfly for the pits, Halloween Pennant, that makes 69 species for the site now, an counting. Anywhere in the UK that sort of diversity would make the pits a Site of Special Scientific Interest but here it just belongs to a local family who do whatever they want with it, still they do let me on the site to enjoy the spoils so I can’t complain. Sites like St-Lazare sand pits show just what you can produce by accident, it may not be ‘natural’ but it is very productive, oh for a purpose built site for wildlife like that in our part of Quebec.

Enough soapbox stuff, here are the photos.

Here is one of the Common Buckeyes.

A couple of images of Pink-edged Sulphur.



Friday fish for the Painted Turtle.

Halloween Pennant.

Least Sandpiper.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

GBH if you are a fish.

Caspian Tern – a superb tern and quite angry.

Reno birds wrap up

Here are the last of the bird images nearly worth looking at from my recent trip to Reno, Nevada. They are not in any particular order.

Yes, it is a magpie but an American Magpie. They sound quite different from the Eurasian Magpie and are roughly a foot bigger. Part of that sentance may not be entirely truthful.

The last time I saw Swainson’s Hawk was about 15 years ago so, when I saw these crossing the highway as I approached Fallon naturally I stopped the car for photos, isn’t ABS wonderful, especially for those behind me!

A Snowy Egret in non-breeding plumage, quite topical given that we have a Little Egret that looks not so different to this bird, except for the legs and lores that is.

It is always nice when a Sora ambles past.

Spotted Towhee, a common bird thereabout.

The best I could manage of a Black-headed Grosbeak, very smart in summer plumage.

American White Pelicans shadow fishing on Lake Washoe. They form a dense flock then dive on the fish that come to the shelter of the shadow.

The hummers tear around like little bullets so when I heard that there was a place that served breakfast and had feeders I was sold. This is a Calliope, note the square tail on the flight shot and the wings extending beyond the tail when perched. There was a full summer male around too but he kept getting beat up by the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds also present but not worth looking at, only joking.

A Golden Eagle that glided past. I couldn’t get it any closer by pishing, it never seems to work for me!

Brewer’s Blackbird, here in the east we have the Rusty Blackbird so it was good to see the confusion species well.

Western interior race of Horned Lark.

The valley between Reno and the Sierras is full of Red-tailed Hawks.

This dark form Red-tail was at Stillwater.

A small number of the Wilson’s Phalaropes at Stillwater. Strangely, not 30 miles west, another lake had 300 Red-necked Phalaropes and I very nearly got there, bottling it on the sandy track and not really knowing where I was going.

Everywhere moist – White-faced Ibis.

I found a nice place to bird just south of Reno, the Damonte Ranch Park. It has a long cycle track all the way around and has some open water and a large reedbed. The Northern Harriers obviously breed there and this one went off to hunt the local gardens!

At one end of the park is a large open water area and you cut through an underpass to get there. On the light fitting a pair of Say’s Phoebes had a nest with young, the also have a neighbour who is perhaps not what you want to come calling.

Cassin’s Finch – common in the area. I think he peaked witht he murrelt myself.

Lots of White-crowned Sparrows up on the fragile alpine Tahoe Meadows dodging the local dogs which are supposed to be on lead but their owners just have S@it for brains, I know, I spoke to some  of them. Oh, and not one had a bag with them to clean up after they had emptied their dogs (plural, always plural).

Two full days birding

So my working week came to an end and two full days of birding lay ahead, time to search for target birds. I wanted to visit a wetland, in the desert right! and I wanted to try for the montane species found in the area that I`d not seen, White-headed Woodpecker, Williamson`s Sapsucker and Mountain Quail. Anything else was a bonus although I expected to pick up Sage Thrasher somewhere while out in the Sage Brush wastes. It has to be said, July is not the month to be searching for many of these species – apart perhaps during the first couple of hours of the day and then with a huge slice of luck.

Saturday 14th July I headed east out of Reno as far as Fallon and the Springwater Wetlands. I was perhaps too early and had to wait while the sun came up before seeing birds along a 16 mile long rough track called Fort Churchill Road. The birding was pretty good at times and I added a few species to the trip list but no Sage Brush species. I checked out a few water areas which were heavily used by boaters and water skiiers which naturally kept the birds away. One small bay that was not infested turned out to be pretty good and I got fairly close to a Clark`s Grebe which was napping. I eventually got to Springwater to find it pretty dry. The draught which is affecting many places has resulted in reduced snowfall and therefore less water feeding into the various riparian corridors. I did find a few small lakes, the most interesting of which had 100+ Wilson`s Phalaropes on. As I was leaving I came upon a fellow birder with a flat tire. I pitched in and helped change it and was rewarded with finding a tree nearby containing eight Common Nighthawks, I`d have missed the photo op if I hadn`t stopped.

The day was pretty reasonable, no ticks but good birding and a few dragonflies, which was nice. Later that night my emails had sopmething from the Nevada Yahoo group. Meg, the lady who`d had the flat had checked her regular Sage Thrasher site and scored, she gave me excellent directions and so that was to be my first priority the next day. She also saw a few things that I didn`t and so we must have visited different bits of the preserve. it is a big place, about a quarter the size of Nottinghamshire!

The next day I had to choose between Lake Tahoe, where I`d already been for a quick look and decided that it was a very scenic version of the M25, also, the information that one of the roads was `clinging high above the lake, dynamited out of the sheer rock`made the choice easy, go to Yuba Pass in the Sierra range, albeit in California. I was out early again and followed Meg`s directions straight to a Sage Thrasher. Now my eye was in I was to see about ten more during the day but the first is always the best unless you are talking cars and you first car was a Fiat Uno!

Sandra and I have a Megellan Roadblind SatNav which we call Maggie. She appears to be the embodiment of a 90 year old spinster with the map upside down sometimes but gets us from A to B, often unexpectedly visiting C, G, N and P in the process. She also cannot see some things that have been there many years, like Bassett`s Station motel and eaterie, my first stop. I found it by accident and cursing and had a good look at the only hummer feeders for 100 miles, or so it seemed. I saw my target, the diminutive Calliope Hummingbird straight away, time for a hearty breakfast. Next was Yuba Pass itself with a few roadside stops on the way. It was warming up by now and I had more or less resigned myself to a no woodpecker day, I was right. To cut the story shorter, I checked a lot of places and saw some nice mountain birds including a lifer Prairie Falcon but peckers, nope. I dropped down into a nearby vast basin and birded the area, it contained a nice wetland and some hillside scrub and kept me busy for a couple of hours. Some of the birds were quite cooperative, others not so. I had hoped to check Frenchman`s Lake for the sapsucker, campers only when I got there I`afraid and I`m not mincing for anyone. I also checked a river valley that I`d, because of Maggie`s eccentricities I`d passed earlier. I looked for Lewis`s Woodpecker but they`d had a recent burn and none were around.

I`m now writing this from Reno Airport, looking out at the desert hills and forested peaks knowing that there are birds that I`ve never seen out there. The sun is up and Reno starts a new week. I have really enjoyed visiting, even if much of the trip was work which I actually enjoyed. I hope to come back again one day, get back into the mountain and nail those wood scuttling  devils.

Here are a few random images. I`ll post the other stuff from home but be aware that these are the best I managed.

American White Pelican – common around the reservoirs and lakes.

A Male Lazuli Bunting, common along the riparian corridors.

Sage Thrasher – nothing much to look at but it`s Mother loves it.

Three of the eight Common Nighthawks from Fallon.

Western Kingbird – common in open areas.

Clark`s Grebe – sleepy and then wide awake.

More from Nevada

After a week of birding for a short time morning and evening I`m now approaching 100 species for my Nevada list! I hope to add a few more over the weekend then fly home via San Francisco where I should get Western Gull for the year. I got my Clark`s Nutcracker today, flight views only and I`m hoping for better Sunday when I revisit the area. Here are a small selection of photos, there are a few dragonflies over on the dragonfly blog for those interested.

American Avocet – this one had two small young so any duck getting within 30m got bashed.

Olive-sided Flycatchers are common here but always up on a high snag.

Fox Sparrows too are common.

California Quail – everywhere!


I`ve been in Reno, Nevada for a couple of days or so, great town and friendly people but you don`t want to hear about that. The birding is good when I can get out, this is a work thing so I have to snatch opportunities when I can. Early morning the temperatures are mellow and the birds take advantage. As the day heats up to anything between 33C-37C it gets quieter and the wind joins in. After work, each birding session has been conducted in a near gale but the birds manage and so do I.

So far I`ve found 75 species plus seven dragonflies, two of which were new. I`ve had two lifers, the semi-ubiquitous American  Magpie and the Red-naped Sapsucker. I`m hoping for a couple more but July birding anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere is usually hard work. Here are a couple of photos, not too many opportunities there yet and the light blasts the white right out of range. More later.

California Gull – the default gull around Reno.

Yellow-headed Blackbird – a common bird around Washoe Lake.

Bad boy flycatcher

Down at St-Lazare sand pits the action has mostly been of a dragonfly nature but the year is ticking on and shorebird migration is underway. Both yellowlegs are now present and Killdeer numbers are up around 30, they will reach three figures in a couple of weeks. Least Sandpipers have also appeared with seven shufflling around the sandy spits. The Eastern Kingbirds have fledged young and at least one is taking dragonflies, my dragonflies from an exposed perch at the edge of the main lake. So far I’ve only seen it take large, common species, I’m hoping it leaves the amberwings alone but they seem a bit too quick for it.

Gulls are forming loafing groups, no Caspian Terns so far but they normally show up after fledging. Most of the Ring-billed Gulls are adults but a few birds of the year like the one below are also mixed in there. There is a lot of industiral activity with huge trucks transporting fill to a place I have yet to get to. They take no prisoners on the little gravel track and so I’ve kept out of their way. I’m not going to be able to check it out for week or so but suspect that they are infilling for yet another habitat destroying building project.

The bad boy Eastern Kingbird – all wet because he chases the dragonflies down right into the water.