Unexpected lifer

A few days ago Bill Gilmore heard and then saw a Thick-billed Kingbird in Presqu’ille Provincial Park in Ontario, look in your Sibley or National Geographic for the range, a truly astonishing record. We couldn’t get down there until today but 02.30 saw us bleary eyed and climbing into the car for the four hour trip. On arrival the bird had been seen but had wandered off. We searched for about an hour or so then it suddenly reappeared where we’d spent 30 minutes scanning. It eventually showed very nicely, loooking like a colourful version of its close Cuban relative, the Giant Kingbird in many ways. It was bit distant and out of camera range really and besides, when it was in view we shared the our scope with binocular only birders and a couple of photographers, although the latter group, on overhearing their conversation later, might just as well have been looking at one of the Mute Swans lounging on a shingle spit for all they knew. They seemed to me to be some sort of uninformed rare bird paparazzi and we last saw them heading off down the spit holding the bird to get in there with it, well it was the third day of the twitch.  I mused at what would happen if they tried that at a twitch in the UK! I guess their visit to casualty would become just another ‘foreign object removed’ story and before the real photographers here get upset, I’m not referring to you guys here.

So, no photos but a great new life bird. The wind at Presqu’ille was howling a bit but we did take a look for shorebirds, seeing one immature American Golden Plover and a Baird’s Sandpiper amongst the common stuff but not the Buff-breasted Sandpiper reported the day before.

Addendum: Looks like the 20 or so birders we were with were the last ones to see the bird. Although I didn’t manage a photo there are some nice ones online. Below is a link to Brandon Holdon’s blog which has four great shots.




Garden watching

As I was updating my stats for the month I was surprised to find that we had recorded 67 species of bird in or from the garden so far in 2012. The figure is even more remarkable when you consider how many warbler species, formerly annual, have not yet appeared. A year score of 75 might even be realistic. This past week Blue Jays have been present in bigger numbers than usual, up to 30 at a time. On the other hand Northern Cardinals have all but disappeared and even Black-capped Chickadee numbers are lower than usual. I spent a few hours one afternoon watching the hummingbirds, up to five are or have been calling in, its just like Tandayapa! It would be fascinating to know just how many hummers do pass through. Recently I was at St-Lazare sand pits and, over the space of two hours, I could see a regular movement of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to south which would suggest that the birds at the feeders change almost daily at this tme of year.

I took a few photos, see below, also a shot of another hummer feeder user, an Aphrodite Fritillary. It flew in, walked around the feeder until correctly position and then pushed its proboscis into the feeding tube.

Young Bonaparte’s

Thursday 23rd August I went out to try to see a Marbeld Godwit near Beauharnois, unfortunately the fates conspired against me and the people who wrecked their cars causing the road to close just short of the turn off. Undeterred I dropped in for a look at the outflow below the hydro and was amazed by how many Bonaparte’s Gulls and Common Terns there were. The low water levels have left some rocks exposed and the immature Bonaparte’s Gulls were loafing and preening and fending of the occasional young Common Tern that tried to pitch down.

Below a few shots, note the poor bird with the growths on each knee, not long for this World probably.

Afternoon hummers

This year we have made a concerted effort to atract more Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to the garden. Besides the many flowers we also have five feeders on the go and it seems to have worked. This afternoon three hummers were buzzing about the garden, expending just as much energy chasing each other as they were getting from the feeders. By chance I had the scope out trying to take digishots of dragonflies when a female/immature landed not too far away and sat in the sun preening for a few minutes. I thought that was is for the action but a male then kept coming back to the same twig, so I repositioned and waited. Naturally he never returned but another bird, probably a female, did. She posed on the hanging basket bracket for all of ten seconds before resuming her jet-paced lifestyle.

Here are the digicoped shots, getting better.

Three night herons

The weekend produced good passage in the general area, including several groups of Red-necked Phalaropes. As I have yet to get a phalarope of any species to grace the pits, it seemed obvious that I should get down there and spend a bit of quality time with the shorebirds. I checked every corner of the wetland, nil on the phalarope front but three immature Black-crowned Night-Herons were a bonus, they are rare at the site although I don’t do dusk visits too often. The shorebirds overall were a bit reduced, only five Pectoral Sandpipers but still many Leasts and a few Semi-ps. The early start also gave me a couple of fly-over Bobolinks. Until this year they have been a tough find at the pits but a singing male in spring and now three autumn birds so far, things are looking up.

I wound up with 46 species for my two hour stay, I could have added more by doing the west end but enough was enough really. Below a digiscope shot of two of the three Black-crowned Night-Herons, I’m still lousy with the digiscoping I’m afraid. Also below a recent shot of a couple of Bobolinks, all yellow and striped and thinking of the Pampas.

Pits walk

Wednesday August 8th I issued an open invite through the local birding email group to join me on a walk around St-Lazare sand pits. Michael and Sylvie turned up and we had a steady walk around the site enjoying good views of the shorebirds. The good light and close range allowed us to take prolonged views of the many Least Sandpipers, comparing them with the superficially similar Semipalmated Sandpipers. An indicator that shorebird migration is picking up was the presence of seven Pectoral Sandpipers, both adults and immatures. Caspian Terns were again present, the regular adult and the immature, and they were not at all nervous of us. Overhead the first Purple Martins of the autumn were hawking high flying insects on what turned out to be a hot day.

One of our targets was Common Buckeye, at least four of these locally rare butterflies were around but their presence was well masked by a four figure count of Painted Ladies, they were everywhere. Dragonflies were not ignored and we located a few Eastern Amberwings and I tracked down Familair Bluet, found by Chris Cloutier and Greg Rand the day previously on the site and new for the pits odonata list. We managed views of all of the common stuff but the species diversity was low compared to the previous week and no Halloween Pennants were anywhere to be seen.

I promised Michael and Sylvie I’d list what we saw (in no particular order) so…

Birds: Caspian Tern; Pectoral Sandpiper; Least Sandpiper; Semipalmated Sandpiper; Semipalmated Plover; Killdeer; Greater Yellowlegs; Lesser Yellowlegs; Spotted Sandpiper; Solitary Sandpiper; Green Heron; Great Egret; Great Blue Heron; Ring-billed Gull; Song Sparrow; Chipping Sparrow; Black-capped Chickadee; American Goldfinch; American Robin; American Crow; Barn Swallow; Northern Rough-winged Swallow; Cliff Swallow; Chimney Swift; Mallard; American Black Duck; Wood Duck; Red-shouldered Hawk; Turkey Vulture; Purple Martin; Mourning Dove; Rock Dove; Belted Kingfisher.

Butterflies: Common Buckeye; Painted Lady; Monarch; Viceroy; Eastern Tailed Blue; Pink-edged Sulphur; Common Ringlet; Small White.

Dragonflies: Green Darner; Prince Baskettail; Canada Darner; Widow Skimmer; Twelve-spotted Skimmer; Cherry-faced Medowhawk; Eastern Amberwing; Wandering Glider; Common Whitetail; Vesper Bluet (me only); Tule Bluet; Eastern Forktail; River Bluet (only site in Quebec); Skimming Bluet; Orange Bluet.

I didn’t take many photos.

Least Sandpiper.

The young Caspian Tern, in flight it could look a bit odd.

A very red looking female Green Darner.

Never seen so many Painted Ladies.

Maine weekend

Sandra and I went to Maine August 4th-7th for a bit of a long weekend, we went mainly looking for dragonflies and to do a Whale watch. Our last visit a couple of years ago was a bit disappointing as the Nancy of a boat Captain refused to sail because of a Hurricane or something. This time we were based in Boothbay Harbour and what a nice place it is. Touristy, yes, but not overly so. We stayed just out of town at a reasonable little hotel and flitted here and there in search of our quarry. Bird migration was slow but Monarchs were moving and darners were swarming.

On our first full day we went out to Popham Beach state park. As usual there was no protection for the birds and grunts were all over the shorebird roost, how difficult would it be to restrict access at all times and just have a designated viewing area? To make matters worse the sea mist kept reducing visibility to 50m at times so we could hear lots but see squat. Eventually, as the tide rose, we found the local speciality, seeing two Piping Plovers standing out like little ghosts in the drab light. The shorebird flock reached four figures, mostly Semipalmated Sandpipers but a few Short-billed Dowitchers and Willets in there too, lots of flight views!.

On day two we spent four hours aboard the Harbour Princess. We went out 15 miles until the first Fin Whale broke the surface to ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the majority. We concentrated more on the shorebirds, Fin Whales are something we have seen lots of times but the seabirds not so. Great Shearwaters were common as were Wilson’s Storm-Petrels but there were no terns and none of the hoped for skuas and jaegers. We did get one Leach’s Storm-Petrel early on but out of camera range. While the boat was Whale bothering we had a Cory’s Shearwater come through, photo below, we also saw a couple of Manx Shearwaters but no Sooty Shearwaters. Once these boats get a few views of Whales they head back, usually via a seal colony and so it was. On one of the rocks a Great Cormorant and a Double-crested Cormorant were nicely juxtaposed, see the photos below.

Our last day was spent at Scarborough Marsh well west of Boothbay. We were looking for the marsh sparrows which we’d not been able to find at Popham. Nelson’s Sparrow turned out to be fairly common and one Saltmarsh Sparrow put in a brief appearance. Scarborough Marsh is vast and the bisecting track is used as a cycle path, jogging track etc, but with no formal birding places just view from the track and be prepared to jump out of the way. We nearly made it to the large lagoon along the track but time was running out so we scanned from distance. Lots of Snowy Egrets and Glossy Ibis, two Little Blue Herons and a few Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons. We had eight hours to go to get home so we left, another 150m and we could have scanned the lagoon properly and maybe found the Little Egret seen there the next day!

I added four species to my N. American list including one lifer, the Saltmarsh Sparrow. Talking to a guy doing a sparrow census he reckons that hybridization occurs between Saltmarsh and Nelson’s so perhaps the split was a bit premature. Nice to add Roseate Tern, Leach’s Storm-Petrel and Cory’s Shearwater to the list though, 560 now. Below are a few shots.

A montage of lousy Wilson’s Storm-Petrel shots. For those who think that the foot projection beyond the tail is 100% sure fire ID, check out the bottom two photos.

A nice Laughing Gull in Boothbay Harbour. Interestingly, a local (Quebec) report of a Laughing Gull is being hotly debated because it looks partly like a Franklin’s Gull. I remember a mystery bird competition in British Birds years ago where the conclusion was that some Laughing-Franklin’s Gulls could not be called with confidence. This bird is spot on for Laughing though.

The Cory’s Shearwater taken during a five foot swell while being serenaded by a boffing, tattoo covered munter. All excuses that I have never used for a lousy photo before.

Great Shearwater montage. Click on the picture for a bigger image.

You looking at me? A well hard Great Cormorant giving a Double-crested Cormorant the stare.

The Great Cormorant flew, one lucky shot, a good ‘spot the difference’ photo.

Northern Eiders in eclipse plumage looking lousy.

Warning seagulls will steal your food said the sign, no kidding and when they are as big as this American Herring Gull, who will argue?

The dragonfly stuff is on the Quebec odes page, or at least will be when done.