Visible migration at last

After a few weeks of glimpses of visible migration, the first couple of hours of today were a bit more like it. I knew it would be interesting when I opened the front door to be greeted by the first Blue-headed Vireo of the year in the garden along with Nashville, Bay-breasted and Magnolia Warbler. Four Golden-crowned Kinglets and the first two Dark-eyed Juncos of the autumn made it all the more lively. Eventually I got to St-Lazare sand pits where Magnolia and Nashville Warbler in the wood by the car park suggested more should be about. The sparrow flock down in the pits now contains two immature White-crowned Sparrows along with the many White-throated, Song, Chipping and up to three Lincoln’s Sparrows.

Blue Jays are on the move, not in huge numbers but casual counting revealed 219 going south, spread over several flocks. Myrtle Warblers found the conditions to their liking too, or at least they did until the stiff breeze got up, prior to that I counted 28 over to south. A small flock of Rusty Blackbirds was nice, even better was one I found feeding around one of the drying pools which posed for me, see below. Hawks were expected and duly seen although not in any numbers, I did manage Broad-winged, Red-shouldered, Red-tailed, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawk along with Turkey Vultures and a few each of American Kestrel and Merlin, no wonder the sparrows were nervous. During the course of the morning small numbers of Canada Geese started to go over, again nothing spectacular but a sign. I ended the morning with 45 species without effort. Today was just a taster, there is a lot more visible maigration to come before the first snow.

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More pits shorebirds

Today (21-Sept) is pretty grotty, weather wise. I didn’t see the Buff-breasted Sandpiper at the pits but the shorebirds do wander. New for the autumn were two Dunlin but everything else was distant in the murk. I predict the next spell of fine weather will see a southerly rush, yesterday the Blue Jays were moving in small numbers and we still haven’t had much hawk passage. While Buff-breast watching yesterday I took a few photos of Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, some of the shorebirds are pretty tame at times.

Just to clarify for some what the pits are – St-Lazare sand pits are a sand extraction quarry which nature is trying to reclaim. It is not intensively worked by the owner and has a mosaic of habitats attractive to a range of species. See the tab at the top of the page for a map and more information. The pits are my local bird watching patch.

Current view of the pits from one of my regular vantage points. Until this year this was mostly all water with one island of sand and another of rocks. When I first started visiting in 2003 there was 50% less water than there is now.

A digiscoped shot of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. I must be doing something wrong because the scope image rarely matches the photo, for some reason the camera keeps trying to focus elsewhere, I’ll read up.

Least Sandpiper – numbers down to 14 now.

A selection of Lesser Yellowlegs photos.

A digiscoped Greater Yellowlegs – it just sat there while I walked up to it.

A bit more New Hampshire

Here are a few more photos from last weekend’s trip to New Hamsphire – Sandra took the views!

Hoyt’s Lodges, chalet 10 – quite comfortable.

Fat bloke on log in Bonaparte’s Bay.

Rye Beach – double click for the full effect.

Semipalmated Plover – not many shorebirds about.

Palm Warbler.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in a warm corner of Odiorne SP.

Thought I’d missed out, but…

If you are a patch watcher, you will have had the feeling generated by someone else seeing a bird on your patch that would have been new there for you. Sunday September 16th I finally got a good wifi connection and found that a Buff-breasted Sandpiper had been found at St-Lazare sand pits, my patch which I have visited overv1250 times so far!. When I read the message I was sat in chalet 10, Hoyt’s Lodges as the sea gently lapped against the shore of Rye Harbour, New Hampshire. Hurtling back was not an option so I resolved to miss a species I’d long expected to find on my local patch. Negative news for the rest of Sunday followed and no news after that surely meant that it had gone.

We drove back Tuesday in heavy rain and I went straight to the pits, finding just five Pectoral Sandpipers in residence. Wednesday I was out early and spent a couple of hours scouring every corner of the pits. The shorebirds were busy commuting to their secret spot south of the pits until I was left looking at the few noisy Killdeers remaining. I’d sort of banished the possibility of seeing the bird when, this morning, I logged into ‘Oiseaux Rares du Quebec’ to see that the only bird report for Wednesday was the pits Buff-breast. I went straight out and after half an hour located the bird feeding in vegetation. It then moved around a bit with the Killdeers as they saw imaginary hawks everywhere before eventually settling about 130m away. I crept into place and watched through the scope as it limped towards me at a rate slightly slower that paint drying. After 40 minutes it had hobbled to within about 50m when the entire contents of the pits spooked and it went off back to an island and out of lens range.

I managed a few awful photographs, another ten minutes they might have been so much better but who cares? Pits species 212 under the belt.

NH Pelagic

Pelagic trips are few and far between on the north-east coast. In Quebec there don’t seem to be any but it is possible, for the outlay of a chunk of dollars, to take a ferry to Blanc Sablon, seeing seabirds on the way. The coast off New Hampshire gets interesting once you get out to an area called Geoffrey’s Ledge, a drop off on the ocean floor that causes an upswell of water and with it, food. Seabirds gather in these places and birders wanting to see the birds need to get out there and spend a bit of time. The other bonus of spending more than a couple hours out on a Whale watch boat is that you contact more Whales. On September 17th the MV Granite State was our charter vessel and the good folks from the Seacoast Audubon Chapter set everything up, including copious amounts of chum for attracting the birds.

We cast off at 08.00 and cruised out to the open sea, passing Great Cormorant and Peregrine on the way. For a while, the first of around five Lesser Black-backed Gulls followed the boat, often hidden amongst the throng of American Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls in the wake. After a while, Great Shearwaters appeared in small numbers and some stayed with us for the duration of the trip. To some extent seabirds were at a premium, we saw two Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and a single Manx Shearwater. It took a few hours before we found Cory’s Shearwater but, when we did we saw them fairly often.

The most memorable part of the trip was the Whales. Fin Whales were common, their vertical spouts always present on the horizon. Humpback Whales were frequent too, one family coming right alongside, their aromatic blows resonating above the sound of the Granite State’s diesel engines. Suddenly Steve the commentator got animated, we had the unique V-shaped blow of a Northern Right Whale about half a mile ahead. The boat went into overdrive and we tried to narrow the gap to the prescribed legal distance the protected Whales enjoy. The mighty animal went into a dive and the tail fluked as it went, we waited. After ten minutes or so we powered up again just as the Whale broke surface and then went under once again, this time heading strongly away. We left it alone and resumed our birding.

By mid morning the sea had become mill pond calm and we were following up distant blobs in the hope of picking up another shearwater species or an uncommon gull. If Steve’s commentary had been animated over the Northern Right Whale he was apoplectic over the next star turn, a Sperm Whale. What turned out to be only the third ever record for the boat, a veteran of many Whale trips, was bobbing about in the flat sea ahead of us. Naturally it went under so we waited again. Keen eyes scoured the horizon and then there it was. We moved in to view this fantastic animal and it just sat and blew its 45 degree angled blows. We all had great views before it slipped away back into the depths and we all felt privelaged to be there.

Supporting cast for the day included a tremendous Lion’s Mane Jellyfish alongside a few Blue Sharks for the sharp eyed and regular contacts with Atlantic White-sided Dolphins. One little patch of ocean held nine Red-necked Phalaropes that span and fluttered while the boat enjoyed them. Before the trip we were optimistic that there would be a ton of seabirds to see. Some Jaegers would have been nice along with a Sabine’s Gull or two and perhaps Leach’s Storm-Petrel but this time it was not to be. We moored up at 17.30, red as berries after a full day of sunshine and a good day all around. Thanks to the Seacoast Chapter for a very enjoyable trip. Below are an assortment of photos from the trip.

The gillnet fisherman attracted many large gulls and a few Great Shearwaters around them.

Northern Gannets were pretty common over the fish shoals.

Humpback on the way down.

Great Shearwater – common on the trip.

Red-necked Phalaropes.

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish.

The Sperm Whale – then down she goes.

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin.

Exit one Cory’s Shearwater.

New Hampshire Bonaparte’s

After reading that the Seacoast Chapter of New Hampshire Audubon were offering an all day pelagic, we decided to make a long weekend of a visit to a new birding state and see what was on offer. We stopped at the comfortable and well placed Hoyt’s Lodges at Rye and had Sunday to enjoy birding in the area. We spent a full morning at Ordione State Park, an excellent little place right on the coast, tucked between industrial Portsmouth and the seaside town of Hampton Beach. While wandering around Ordione, we came across a small bay containing lots of Bonaparte’s Gulls feeding at the tide edge. I took a few distant shots then edged forwards expecting the birds to drift away at the sight of me, but they didn’t. I managed to get a log to perch on and enjoyed half an hour photographing the phalarope like gulls as they fed a few yards away. The light was very bright and nearly overhead and the gull’s largely white plumage tended to blast out any subtle colours, but the photos are not too bad. As I process the photos I’ll post more of the trip. For the record we saw 89 species of bird which was not bad for a morning’s and part of an afternoon’s birding and a day at sea.

Good pits passage

Out at St-Lazare sand pits today for a couple of hours. After a cool night the day warmed up to comfortable levels and a light breeze made it attractive for the hawks to move. The weather change saw a few warblers present with Blackpoll, Nashville, Palm and Orange-crowned joining an American Redstart and several Myrtle Warblers scattered along the south embankment. A Bobolink went over calling and two species that I have only seen once before at the site, Lincoln’s and Savannah Sparrow were nice surprises.

The shorebird numbers were low but what was there gave good views. Still no Black-bellied Plovers yet, perhaps the really low water will not be attractive to them. By 10.00 the hawks had started to pass through. No kettles but eight Broad-winged, five Red-shouldered and a few each Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks kept the smaller birds on their toes. When I added up, 44 species of bird, four species of dragonfly and seven species of butterfly made for a good few hours.

Not easy to get near the Lincoln’s Sparrows but great scope views.

Up to five Savannah Sparrows out in the now dry areas.

One of each yellowlegs – digiscoped.

As I was inching my way towards this Pectoral Sandpiper with the particularly mucky bill I glanced right and saw the Wilson’s Snipe below. It was a minute or more before it gave in and flew off in a panic.