Bit breezy

The weather people were hyperventilating again yesterday. The storm of the century they said and we are only a wee bit into it. East coast USA got battered but it goes with the territory really. Live on the seafront and expect some bad times to balance the many good ones, the sea is a cruel master. Locally it was breezy and the power went off last night. That is nothing new, the power here goes off when a Squirrel breaks wind near a cable, such is the third World infrastructure in our area. Luckily it was back on within a few hours, something of an improvement on recent years and a welcome change.

Embued with optimism I stopped at the pits and the skies opened, but not before I’d managed a count of the ‘stock’ birds although they will be off soon enough. As I was scanning the masses a call erupted from ankle height and I couldn’t see the caller, I was stumped. I pulled out my iPod to see whether I’d inadvertantly clicked on some wierd and wonderful jungle species but no, the call was in real time. After a careful search the culprit was revealed, a quail species. It was clearly not a North American species but what was it and why was it where it was? My suspicion was that it had been dumped at the pits by thoughtless owners and left to fend for itself. I consolidated this opinion when another one called from nearby. I took a few photos to check the ID then picked one up!

Sensing that there could be some action around Lac St-Francois I headed off to Les Coteaux on the north bank. There is a little jetty with public access, something of a rarity hereabouts, so I parked on the jetty and started scanning, it was immediately obvious that Common Loons abounded. The lake also held a few distant scoters that took some patience until they came into ID range. I spent over two hours scanning and with some reward but I didn’t come up with the hoped for ‘Hurricane Birds’.

For the record I saw: Common Loon, 48 (probably a lot more, many were moving east); Black Scoter, two on the lake then a flight at 9:41 of around 250 heading east. White-winged Scoter 7; Long-tailed Duck 8; Bonaparte’s Gull 30; Red-necked Grebe, 2 & Horned Grebe, 2. Plus all the expected stuff like both Scaup, Common Goldeneye etc.

The Hurricane has eased but the effects will be felt for the next few days and I’m optimistic that something will come our way, I just hope I get to see it.

Back to last Friday at the pits and a late White-rumped Sandpiper and a couple of Eastern Bluebirds.

Japanese Quail – even the Hurricane couldn’t pull a wild one in.

Am Coot makes 170

No scoters today at St-Lazare sand pits, it was cold with a stiff north-easterly. In with the Canada Geese this morning was an American Coot, only the second to be recorded at the site following last year’s first. If you had asked me to predict species 170 for the year American Coot would no even made the list. I have now seen as many American Coots at the sand pits as I have in the UK!

First snow (bunting)

We have a set of north easterly winds here that seem set in for a few days and they have started to produce limited results in my area. Starting at the pits, it seemed that nothing was happening visible migration wise but a single Snow Bunting was welcome is some ways. I moved on to nearby Montee Chenier where five American Golden Plovers were crouching in their field and thankfully at range because, as I parked, a couple of old men came past, stopped, locked and loaded and started to take out the Canada Geese in the oppostie field so I left. I don’t like to see the geese get blasted but I try to see the positives. The shooter’s generation is fading, the next is not quite so bad and the most recent are all obese and sitting in front of their X-Boxes so hang in there geese, in 50 years the Human Race might have abandoned the need to shoot things for pleasure which to me just seems psychotic.

My next stop was Hungry Bay near Velleyfield. In a couple of hours I’d seen six each of Common Loon and Red-necked Grebe as well as my first American Tree Sparrows of the autumn. I’d just returned to the car and had one more scan when there was an adult Red-throated Loon out in the minch, very nice. The photo below is not a ‘Where’s Waldo’ thing, honestly.

My final port of call was the Great Egret Trail at Dundee. A few yards onto the trail and I was looking at slightly obscured Sandhill Cranes, two of them. Sandhills are always great to see and I managed a digiscoped shot before they wandered off. Further on I came across a little group of Cedar Waxwings stripping a berry bush, a double take showed two Bohemian Waxwings amongst them also and a few Rusty Blackbirds.

Tomorrow I think I’ll stick at the viz-mig, given that there are scoters galore on the Ottawa River and I’m on a sort of flight path. Who knows? Tomorrow I might get Black and White-winged Scoters at the pits, you can be sure that I’ll tell you if I do.

That ebird thing

For the past week I have been putting this year’s records into ebird – I’m about 70% done, then I start on last year etc. etc. Quite why I ignored ebird for so long is a mystery even to me, it is so easy to use and once you are up to date, quick to add a new trip to. Initially I was just putting in the highlights of any trip, then I realised that there was no real context for the records and so I am putting in complete checklists now and have back edited previous lists. There are a few things that you have to get used to. The species’ status in your area is really only as good as the records logged and so there are a few of the ‘rare in your area’ type messages but that is really a good thing. So far I’ve only had two emails from the Regional Data Reviewer but I expect many more because I probably get out as much as anyone in Quebec and therefore have a lot more to add and be reviewed.

In Quebec there is a similar system which ran before ebird but which I have never contributed too. A recent debate regarding the merits of continuing with the Quebec system seemed lively but largely passed me by because it was in French. As I understand it, the Quebec system was all take and no give whereas ebird gives as much as it takes. To me this is important as there is no available record for the status of birds in Quebec which is user friendly. County avifaunas in the UK have always been the cornerstone of reporting but here, or at least in Quebec, they don’t exist.

At my patch, which regular readers will know is St-Lazare sand pits, I’ve been systematically recording everything for nine and a half years. It is my intention to do an annual report for this year covering everything and including an annotated checklist, I’m also going to try to make it available as a pdf. because most people still prefer to print and keep. Electronic versions of such reports are obviously the way things will go but they cannot replace the written report in terms of a permanent reference and those of you who are in bird groups that produce and annual bird report should treasure that facility. The lack of a genuine bird report rather than the business report that they produce here is the main reason I am no longer a member of Bird Protection Quebec, although that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate that the group works hard in other areas. To me any bird group is about the birds full stop and if it does not meet your requirements as a birder, no point being a member really.

Now to the birds and not much to report in the past couple of days. At the pits Eastern Bluebirds have continued to pass through daily and in the nearby farm fields off Montee Chenier the American Golden Plover flock increased a bit. One unusual bird at the pits has been a hybrid Snow x Canada Goose. I’ve been hoping to get a few snaps of it but the weather and the bird’s habit of leaving the site early have hindered me. Below are a few flight shots from today taken in less than perfect light, at least you can tell what it is.

In my last post I commented on the female Tufted Duck being reported from Ottawa at the moment. There are some photos on Bruce Di Labio’s blog, link on the side of this page. I have seen literally thousands of Tufted Ducks in all plumages and have never seen one with the female ‘scaup’ type face this one shows. Some white occasionally yes, but not this much or so well defined in shape. I think it is a hybrid.

Ticks and misses

We ambled off to Ottawa today hoping to score with a Western Grebe that first showed up Tuesday. The bird had lingered mainly on the Quebec side so far during its stay but was always distant, today was no different, good scope views though. We then did a little tour of the Ottawa River shore going west from the Champlain Bridge. We ended up in Shirley’s Bay where a good congregation of duck included many Greater and some Lesser Scaup, two Surf Scoters, 10 Horned and three Red-necked Grebes. While we watched, 20 noisy Evening Grosbeaks flew over. Satisfied we went back east, calling at Alfred Sewage Lagoons on the way home. Plenty of duck were on display there too, nothing unusual but perhaps goodbye for the season to most of the species with winter around the corner – that was the ticks part.

Back home to an Internet connection we found that there had been a flock of Brants east of the Champlain Bridge but there’s more. A female Tufted Duck had been found in Shirley’s Bay after we’d left. In mittigation it was in an area that we couldn’t see but all the same, a Tufted Duck is a good Ontario bird and if we had stayed another hour…

Below a record shot of the Ottawa River only slightly obscured by what could be a Western Grebe. Also a photo of a few wary Canada Geese as they watched us from their field.

Sunday update – The Tufted Duck is a hybrid Scaup sp. x Tufted – saw photos of it on the web today. Just the missed Brants to be disappointed about.

Fun time

Today was one of the visible migration days to be enjoyed. Light southerly winds, clear and warm and birds eager to get going south after a few days of blocking winds. It wasn’t a flood but a lively passage and thoroughly enjoyable. The highlights were the noisy flocks of Eastern Bluebirds that kept appearing, a Black-backed Woodpecker going past at eye-level and probably still around. I got the first pits Purple Finches for the year and a couple of Evening Grosbeaks went over although they started arriving yesterday. Another nice bird was a Fox Sparrow, something I don’t get every year down there. After England had done messing around with Poland in the soccer I went back and enjoyed a few passing hawks and found another four Fox Sparrows.

Here is the list for the day, no real photo ops but I did snap the first Snow Goose at the pits this autumn.

Canada Goose 800; Gadwall 1; American Wigeon 4; Greater Yellowlegs 2; Killdeer 3; Green-winged Teal 50; Mallard 50; Northern Pintail 1; Cackling Goose 1; Snow Goose 1; Sharp-shinned Hawk 1; Red-shouldered Hawk 3; Eastern Bluebird 34; Dark-eyed Junco 60; Chipping Sparrow 1; Black-backed Woodpecker 1; Hairy Woodpecker 3; Downy Woodpecker 2; White-breasted Nuthatch 3; American Robin 60; Rusty Blackbird 55; Common Grackle 1220; Red-winged Blackbird 30; Myrtle Warbler 9; Pine Siskin 24; Black-capped Chickadee; Blue Jay; American Crow 30; American Herring Gull 2; Ring-billed Gull; Common Starling 60; Evening Grosbeak 2; Northern Grey Shrike 1; Fox Sparrow 5; Brown-headed Cowbird 5; Common Raven 1; Purple Finch 3; Black Duck 3; American Goldfinch; Song Sparrow; Hooded Merganser 1; Great Blue Heron 3; Red-tailed Hawk 12; Turkey Vulture 9; Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4; Golden-crowned Kinglet 6; White-throated Sparrow 1; Northern Goshawk; Hermit Thrush. Plus a meadowlark species – too distant and a hybrid Snow x Canada Goose.

Another for the year

Despite seemingly perfect for visible migration, today disappointed with only light passage from dawn to about 07.45. Out on the works the congregation of Canada Geese grows in size and volume but I still managed to pick out the first Greater White-fronted Goose for the year at the pits and two Cackling Geese. Anyone thinking of searching for the geese should get there before 08.00 when the digger starts up and the geese mostly go off to be shot.

In my never ending quest for a Winter Wren at the site I checked the pocket wood locating 30+ Dark-eyed Juncos and even five Hermit Thrushes but no wren. American Robins have arrived to clean up the remaining berry crop and the wood is a hive of activity, with many White-throated Sparrows present and still a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

The goose addition takes the pits year list to 166, I’ve updated the running list, click on the tab on the top to view it. Still no Osprey but there is still time.

Below a couple of photos, I’ll not bother naming them, I’m sure you clever people know what they are.