Three loon day

Despite Hurricane Sandy petering out into a wet squall, I have made the effort these past two days to be at least in a place where I might see something storm related. Yesterday I spent another couple of hours at Les Coteaux with similar results to Wednesday’s post, give or take. As today was the start of a new month, and therefore a new list in my complicated recording system, I decided more of the same would be a good kick start and so back to Les Coteaux I went. It was much colder than it had been the last couple of days, the wind seemed to have shifted to north-easterly which was almost opposite to the weather forecast but no matter, I had already planned to go to Hungry Bay as soon as the only bridge for 60km was clear of the morning idiots who make Italian drivers look like Nuns, it would be warmer and more sheltered there.

Hungry Bay was, as predicted, calm. It also contained another birder, Wayne Grubert. Wayne had not been there long and had only seen a few Common Loons, Red-necked Grebes and Black Scoters so I assumed it would be quiet but I would give it a couple of hours anyway in the hope of a Brant. Despite it being fairly calm, the chop that makes the horizon dance meant that dark heads could be seen but not focussed on, there was a lot more out there than met the eye. A scan got me two female type Black Scoters drifting my way plus an immature Surf Scoter which lifted its head long enough to confirm the ID. On this side of Lac St-Francous, Hungry Bay is opposite Les Coteaux, the loon numbers were much more like those I’d been experiencing the previous two days at Les Coteaux and many of them were in the Beauharnois Canal itself, the sum of my counts revealed around 26 Common Loons.

As I was counting the (nine) Red-necked Grebes a loon flew through the scope view so I followed it to where it landed, an immature Red-throated Loon and my second in the area recently. Shortly after landing it started to dive but I managed a truly aweful record shot (see below) as it too eventually drifted up the canal. While waiting for it to surface I tracked a different looking loon flying into the canal but lost track as I turned my attention back to the Red-throated Loon which was now calling loudly. Wondering what had upset it I looked above it and saw a further seven Red-throated Loons together and I was able to scope them as they moved east. It had been a good day so far so I thought I’d walk the canal a bit to see what small birds might be around. After 200m I heard a Tufted Titmouse so I pished and it flew straight in. By this time it was raining but I’ve been wet before and so didn’t let it put me off but it accounts for the soggy crest in one of the photos. Next the distinctive notes of Snow Buntings filled the air as 30 flew over and pitched into the Water Treatment works nearby, they seem to have been trickling in recently, perhaps snow is not far behind.

At this point I almost started back, but one last scan revealed a small looking loon some way out into the canal and about 400m from the parking lot. The loon was very active, as were the six or so Common Loons in the vicinity and I had to wait for about 30 minutes before I had seen enough of the features to clinch the ID, Pacific Loon. It then interacted with a Common Loon, mostly avoiding it but within the same scope view and I was able to compare the species side by side, not that Common Loon is the confusion species really but structure in a lone bird can be deceptive so it was good to compare size and structure. I think it was an adult but it was in non-breeding plumage and the viewing range made plumage tones hard to define, as did the lousy light. It had a chin-strap but again the range made it hard to discern it unless the bird was head on with its head up which it did a couple of times. Unfortunately the Pacific Loon was too far for a photo, I tried but you cannot even see the bird in the shots, such was the range. It has been a long time since I saw Pacific, November 2001 in California I think. Nice to have a self found bird for my Quebec and Canada list, I hope it sticks a while for others to enjoy it, provided they have a decent scope that is. 

Below a selection of photos, the Common Loons are from yesterday when ,again, the light was crap!

Told you the Red-throated Loon photo was rubbish.

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