2012 all done.

2012 stats and review

Here is my personal review of my (mostly) birding life in 2012 with stats at the end and a few photos from today. I’ll be posting a few favourite photos from the year next time.

World – Sandra and I visited Panama in January, seeing 218 species, 11 of which were new and we greatly  enjoyed  another excellent week at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort  http://www.gamboaresort.com/ . I am still offering the possibility of guided trips there so if you have not contacted me previously about them, please do so and I’ll send details.

In April we went to Cuba, stopping in the Bay of Pigs and hoping to catch up with the rest of the Cuban endemics still outstanding. We managed most and saw a respectable 134 species and added 14 to the life tally. The area we stayed in was good for birds but the hotel was of a very poor standard unless you are into stalag style accommodation, lousy food and 80s disco music. We decided there and then that that was Cuba done and no need to return although a trip out west rather rescued things a bit and it was nice to spend a night in a real hotel.

Local patch – During the year I spent a lot of time watching St-Lazare sand pits (228 visits). The rewards for such diligence were finding Wood Thrush, Wilson’s Warbler, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Swainson’s thrush there, all new additions to my patch list. The highlight bird of the year though was a long-awaited Buff-breasted Sandpiper. I didn’t find it, I read about it while sat in a room in New Hampshire preparing for the pelagic trip the next day. I would suspect the finders could not muster a dozen site visits ever but the inverse laws of birding gave them a Buff-breast for which I am eternally grateful.

Quebec – It was again hard to add species to my Quebec list. I did see Red-headed Woodpecker, Little Egret, Western Grebe and a self-found Pacific Loon but Purple Sandpiper again eluded me and Sandra has flatly refused to go to Tadoussac again unless it is T-shirt weather and who can blame her. Everything else available in Quebec was too far away to bother with, the exception being a Yellow-breasted Chat just down the road that the finder didn’t alert locals to directly. Honestly Alain, an email on the day would have been appreciated! Predictably it had gone the next day.

At the moment my North America list is not a priority, birds get added when I see them (obviously!) and I’ve not really made any specific trips to target species, just been to places where new species are possible. The first such trip was to Reno, Nevada. Due to a set of circumstance too unbelievable to recount, I ended up working a week’s contract in Reno for the same company that fired me in Montreal in October 2011. I engineered the contract to allow free time so I could visit various places and see some nice western birds, life additions were American Magpie, Prairie Falcon, Sage Thrasher and Clarke’s Nutcracker. There is a follow-up trip in the offing in 2013 and I hope to add a few more ticks if it happens.

After becoming Canadians in 2010 travelling into the USA became easier and there was no need for finger prints, retina scans, DNA samples from both sets of Grandparents plus dollars for visas etc., so in 2012 we visited Maine for a long weekend and then did the aforementioned New Hampshire pelagic. Maine often seems birdless but the coast around Boothbay Harbour was pretty good and a trip to Scarborough helped also. I added Roseate Tern, Saltmarsh Sparrow and Cory’s Shearwater and Leach’s Storm-Petrel to my North America list. The New Hampshire trip didn’t actually add a bird species but a Sperm Whale you could virtually stroke (we didn’t) and a Right Whale were pretty good compensation and I now have a New Hampshire list to add to.

The only other North American addition was an astonishing find, a Thick-billed Kingbird at Presqui’lle Park in Ontario. We were in the last group to see it and were just very, very lucky but there you are. Perhaps the only other bird we might have had was a Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch which lingered in New York State right up until the end of the week. We were all geared up to go but no.

Our garden in St-Lazare is designed (!) to attract birds and a fair amount have found it worth visiting over the past nearly ten years. Garden ticks are few and far between these days and this year was no different with just Wilson’s Snipe and Willow Flycatcher new.

The only other list I keep is, in my opinion, more indicative of how active a birder is, the self-found list. In Quebec I only managed one addition but a good one, Pacific Loon.

Away from birds I concentrated on odonata and had a very good season starting with the earliest Green Darner for Quebec ever. Some species that were formerly rare in Quebec suddenly became common in our area, especially at the pits, perhaps the foremost site for dragonflies in Quebec albeit totally unprotected from calamitous change. I was also fortunate enough to add Comet Darner to the Quebec Odonata list in 2012 and was involved, along with Chris Cloutier, in the discovery and identification of River Bluet, also new for Quebec. The darner was at a site near Rigaud, actually there were two insects and only Wayne Grubert and Sandra have it for Quebec. The bluet was at St-Lazare sand pits and I hope a small colony persists in 2013.

For many years I have neglected the butterflies in North America and, to some extent, they will remain low on my priority list in 2013. In 2012 we in Quebec witnessed a life event movement of Red Admirals in spring and Painted Ladies in the autumn but the butterfly I will remember 2012 most for is the Common Buckeye. It was very rare (if not hypothetical) in Quebec prior to 2012 but I found it at two sites, one being the pits naturally, and it bred there, so we should have some next year if the larvae survive a Quebec winter.

That about covers it, if you have not visited this blog before details of all of the things mentioned are in previous posts. Look away now if you don’t want to know the scores!

In 2012 I did 311 field days birding, my joint highest annual total of bird days sharing the position with 1990. My life total bird days moved on to 7677. My pits bird days lumbered up to 1318, still a long way behind my previous patch’s total but getting there. The rest of the stats are just raw numbers.

World life list – 2633, World year list 587. ABA life list – 557, Canada life list – 323, Quebec life list – 316, Quebec year list 235. Pits life list 213, Pits year list 175. Self-found birds in Quebec life list – 281. North American Bird species photographed (digital) – 378. Garden life list 147, garden year list – 88.

North America Odonata life list 130. Quebec Odonata life list 106, Pits Odonata life list 70. North America Butterfly life list – 88. Quebec Butterfly life list – 63.

Now back to today. I went out looking for either of the recent Great Grey Owls today, no joy. I did a circuit starting and ending with the pits, seeing 33 species. Highlights were the regular St-Clet Snow Owl on the same post as always and digiscoped. A fearless Merlin, secretive Wild Turkeys pretending to be Chickens and a Northern Goshawk chasing pigeons through St-Polycrap although I may have got the spelling wrong unless there is a saint of parrot droppings?

Once home I refilled the feeders yet again as the hoard of 120 Common Redpolls, two Hoary Redpolls and three Pine Siskins had emptied them already. Below are shots of the day’s birds.

Happy New Year to all of the people who slog their way through this blog and too all those who were kind enough to comment despite my lousy jokes, photographs and occasional rants, I hope you continue to enjoy in 2013.

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Hudson CBC 2012 – route nine.

Today Sandra and I took part in the Hudson Christmas Bird Count. We’d done it before, years ago, but the pleasure of scanning frozen wastes on the off-chance of seeing a single Snow Bunting wore thin and we’d stopped taking part.

To me, there is no logic in having the Hudson CBC two weeks after the Montreal one. Two weeks is crucial in terms of weather here, it is invariably much colder for the Hudson count. The result of this is that the Hudson birds that should have been counted at the same time as those in Montreal have left two weeks later and are never counted, why? Because all of the other CBCs where ‘our’ birds have fled to are done and dusted by the time they arrive. It has been said that there are not enough counters if the two CBCs are done at the same time. Better to have half the number of teams but ten times the number of birds is my opinion. I don’t mean this as vitriol, I understand and appreciate all that goes into the organisation of a CBC but, having read what I just said you can understand where I am coming from, surely?

In the lead up to the day the Weather Goddess had decided that she would test us by sending a record 47cm of snow to Montreal. Those of us in St-Lazare know that that means so we added a bit for our microclimate, it is always worse here, let’s just say that 55cm would be nearer the mark and that in addition to the two snow dumps we’d received in the previous seven days . Next Jack Frost joined in presenting us with -17°C overnight temps and a frosting of the trees that made it look like Narnia during a cold snap! In many areas the frosting stayed all day, very pretty but not very good for the birds, they don’t much like perching up in frosty trees.

Jean Demers had done an excellent job in sorting out the routes and sending out the documents and we used out MLS map of the area to sort out our recording area, we were ready to go. We started at 8.00am, not the crack of dawn but then only Dark-eyed Juncos seem to be up at that time in winter anyway so, a semi-civilised start time was chosen and off we went.

It was ten minutes after we’d started before we actually saw a bird!

The first part of the morning was a bit of a slog – we knew it would be but pressed on gawping at every feeder we could find, sliding to a stop when a bird was seen on the open road. An area so close to my recording area I could almost sneeze on it had a Brown Creeper, a good local bird and something I’ve only ever seen once on the patch. After more walking and a cold weather stop – need I expand on that? We finally got to the epicenter of the known Universe, St-Lazare sand pits (hurrah!). The fact that it was frozen solid and looked like a recently iced cake was beside the point.

We checked my recently seeded areas and added a couple of species straight away. On a roll, well more like an uncontrolled skid, we went to scan the tree tops at the west end. Three seconds of intense scanning produced the desired result, a Northern Grey Shrike following lunch around, lunch being 19 Common Redpolls, one of which would not have to worry about finding food for much longer. Having peaked we headed off to the habitat destruction project on the north side of the pits and had a pleasant surprise, feeders. A nice looking house had some well stocked bird magnets and they were nicely active. We plucked (not literally) a Brown-headed Cowbird from the mix and then enjoyed a Pileated Woodpecker that flew towards us and then played hide-and-seek around a tree trunk not 5m away.

Comfort break #2 saw us nip into St-Lazare, passing another shrike on the way. We then worked the area until we found feeders as good as the ones we had left at home. These had 100+ Common Redpolls and a very striking Hoary Redpoll, our second of the day. By this time the weather was closing in and the ‘trace’ as the weather people call it had developed into flurries making visibility more challenging. While looking for a Rough-legged Hawk seen previously in the area we came up with a Wild Turkey 4m up a tree and nipping buds off.

The weather had now decided that flurries could take a rest and a sub-blizzard could have a go. Undeterred we returned to the pits (hurrah again!) and waited a while for Bohemian Waxwings to appear, they didn’t. It was getting late and our extremities were in danger of thawing out so we headed to the end of day reporting location, the St-Hubert restaurant in Vaudreuil. Our route took us back along Montee St-Lazare so we were still on our route and in with a chance of the rough-leg. As we crested a slight rise in the road, Sandra yelled “flying over the field!” Driving became incidental as a Great Grey Owl flew low over the field to our left and landed on a post opposite the car. The lady in the car behind also stopped to admire it but perhaps not in the same way that we did.

I had taken the executive decision to leave my camera at home rather than risk leaving it in the car. Last time I did that I missed many photo opportunities and declared there and then that I would never do it again, well… Sandra passed me her Canon compact and I managed a quick shot before the owl flew back across the field. We might have stopped longer but a Police Officer came by and I know from experience that they have no understanding of birders and roadside owls and merely harp on about accident black spots etc, etc. So we left.

A day that was always going to be trying had ended up all worthwhile for the time spent with the owl, as it had  just knocked the alternative bird of the day, Rock Dove, into a cocked hat (joke).

We ended up with 28 species, not so bad for a winter’s day out in our area. For those interested the scores on the doors  after 2.5km walking, 95.1km driving and a total of eight field hours were: Cooper’s Hawk (1);Wild Turkey (1);  Rock Dove (57 – yesss); Mourning Dove (50); Great Grey Owl (1); Downy Woodpecker (2); Hairy Woodpecker (3); Pileated Woodpecker (2); Northern Shrike (2); Blue Jay (15); American Crow (12); Common Raven (1); Black-capped Chickadee (68); Red-breasted Nuthatch (2); White-breasted Nuthatch (4); Brown Creeper (1); European Starling (38); American Tree Sparrow (11); Dark-eyed Junco (63); Snow Bunting (1); Northern Cardinal (4); Brown-headed Cowbird (1);  House Finch (2); Hoary Redpoll (2); Common Redpoll (236); Pine Siskin (1); American Goldfinch (7); House Sparrow (8).

As I plunge my hand into my snow boots to try to find the rest of my little toe my opinion remains the same, the Hudson CBC should be held at the same time as the Montreal CBC. Having said that, we did have a pretty good day.

The view shows you how snowy it was, well actually it doesn’t, you try photographing snow! One of the owl follows.

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Happy Christmas

Just a short post to say Happy Christmas to everyone who reads this page regularly – keep taking the medication!

Because the good woman is off too we have both been out in nippy Quebec. Yesterday we followed up on a report of a Great Grey Owl – saw it but it is on private land so here is a photo of one taken at the same site in the last big influx year, 2005.

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Today we nipped out agqin, no sign of the Great Grey but we did see a Snowy Owl near St-Clet – too distant for a shot so here is  nice one from a previous winter from the same location. Enjoy the holiday.

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Enough snow already.

It has been a week of weather in St-Lazare although I’d better qualify that statement, it has been a week of lousy weather if you hate the white stuff. Last Friday I had most of the day out with Graham from the UK. He visits occasionally and we go out and try to see what we can. This time Pine Grosbeak was high on the agenda, a great bird and something of a myth for Brits, I should know. After last Monday’s snow dump the roads and birds were settling down a bit and I saw grosbeaks Tuesday through Thursday. Friday it was almost ceaseless, horizontal snow for the duration, result – no grosbeaks. Although today is better, yesterday it still snowed most of the day and my personal mountain of roof-scraped snow is now six feet tall. More is forecast between now and Hudson CBC day, great!

The Friday out wasn’t all bad, we had lots of Wild Turkeys, Snow Buntings and Horned Larks plus a couple of Lapland Longspurs. The day tally came out at 25 species but it was hard going. Since then I’ve been fairly inactive. eBird is getting added to, half way through 2010, UK to 1986 done and all trips in. so just full notebooks from 1987 to 2009 to go, I hope the adjudicators had plenty of time on their hands.

It has been a while since we went anywhere. I was hoping to run some Panama trips in 2013 but costs have increased as the Gamboa Rainforest Lodge gets more popular although it is still $1500CAN cheaper to do a week there than at the famous birding lodges. We (Sandra and I) are going to Mexico in the New Year stopping near Puerto Vallarta. The region has many endemics and I’m hoping for 20 or so lifers, perhaps more. It was going to be a south Texas trip but sunshine won through for now.

I’ve not been snapping much but there are a few shots below. Next week I’ll start reviewing the photos I’ve taken during the year that I liked best and posting them again. In the event that I don’t post again until after December 25-26 have a good break.

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Winter then!

Yesterday we had a snow event, well in St-Lazare we did. Our microclimate seems to be outside the range of the weather forecasts and so where Montreal had slush then rain we had snow then wet snow, destructive tree snapping wet snow resulting in 13 hours without power and much scrambling around with the extended saw lopping off dangerous branches. On the bright side it brought in the birds with an increase in both Pine Siskin and Common Redpoll at the feeders and one regular Hoary which will not pose but I’ll get him eventually. The shite weather did keep me in while I made sure nothing came through the roof and the fire stayed in, a day without Internet, it was tough but I’m over it now. There are moves afoot to ban wood stoves in Montreal but, realistically, if the Canadian weather turns for the worse and three chickadees sit on the power cables at once you have no power, no heat. At the risk of grounding a few asthmatics I think we will keep our wood burning fire all the same thank you very much, after all, we only use it when we have no power or it is -10°C outside which is reasonable. Not very ‘green’ I know which brings me to my next subject.

A friend has written a book aimed at helping people be ‘greener’ birders, here is the link.

http://www.amazon.ca/Green-Birding-Birds-Protect-Environment/dp/0811726150/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1355953304&sr=1-1

I could never claim to be a green birder, I drive an SUV and use planes to fly to foreign destinations for birding etc. but others do have ‘green’ ethics and they might enjoy this book. Personally I think the planet is screwed and the death knell was when some idiot wrote that ‘man is given dominion over all of the animals of the Earth’ . After that sweeping statement Passenger Pigeons didn’t stand a chance. Anyway, back to the book. Richard Gregson, the author, is a good egg and the book will be well written and researched. Prove me wrong, buy the book and save the planet!

Now back to the birding. Today I got to the pits for the first time in a few days. Lots of snow, miserable Canada Geese, one Pine Grosbeak and not an awful lot else. Nearby I found another ten grosbeaks near a food source so I’m hoping they stick, Friday I’m out with a Brit birder and it is a tick for him, should be OK. I also dropped in on the Wild Turkey flock nearby, 95 of the plump devils were feeding out in the open fields, the flock just keeps growing, probably helped by the (in theory) lack of hunting in the St-Lazare pinade. I’ll keep monitoring them and we will see whether they suffer the traditional seasonal population slump.  Out around St-Clet I didn’t pick up a Snowy Owl but I was a bit late in the day.  There were 400+ Snow Buntings out there along with 100+ Horned Larks and two Lapland Longspurs so not too bad.

No feathery photos I’m afraid, just a shot of the house BEFORE it really started to snow.

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Flat out

It has been a while since I did a post, mainly because I have been laid up with a bad back but my Chiropracter has got it working again and I am now reasonably mobile, if not fully ready for selection in the midfield engine room for Nottingham Forest.  The back kept me in for five days, seriously denting my attempt to beat my best ever birding year of 311 bird days. I hit 300 yesterday so I can still do it, provided the back lasts out and the weather does not become dangerous.

This year I am taking part in the Hudson CBC. I don’t normally participate, simply because the Hudson count is always two weeks after the Montreal count, purely for the convenience of some of the people who ‘like’ to do both. Not a very scientific approach to what should be a coordinated count and two weeks in late December usually means that the cold has hit and the Hudson count is more a trial than a pleasure. I don’t know what route we’ll get yet but hopefully it will be somewhere I know reasonably well.

With being immobile I’ve not been scaring birds with the camera very much. My first trip back to the pits allowed me to get better, if still crappy, record shots of the Greater White-fronted Goose hybrid Canada Goose. On my feeders, Pine Siskins have suddenly reappeared but they are always in a panic and I’ve not had a chance of a decent photo yet. I’m still looking for Pine Grosbeaks which will sit still for a while but I suspect many have pushed through because I’m seeing them much less often now.

I finally completed my Handbook of the Birds of the World set this week. It really is a must for the literate birder, the plates are superb. They are now putting together a 17th volume which will cover splits and new discoveries. They also have a mammals set ongoing which looks like it will have to be the next addition to our library. One forthcoming book I’m looking forward to is the Poyser monograph of the Snowy Owl, it will be nice to have the collected knowledge of the species in one volume.

I don’t know what WordPress are thinking these days but the changes they have made to the blog writing and uploading system are rubbish, it used to be very simple to do and now it is just a mess, come on WordPress, wake up!

So below a few photographs but nothing to get National Geographic picking up the phone.

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Barmy (sic) temps

After the chills of the weekend it is now a balmy 11°C in Quebec. I was late out today, I had to go and be bashed about by my Chiropracter, the result is that I can now stand up straightish although I’ve decided to retire from competative gymnastics. By a fluke I went a different way to St-Lazare sand pits and chanced a feeding flock of 41 Bohemian Waxwings in a garden. A little further down the same road I saw a hawk come in to land on a utility pole, Rough-legged Hawk for the month list. Normally they fly away when you pass but this one sat and so I did a legal u-turn as my old sat-nav is wont to say and rattled a few frames off. It seemed quite indifferent to me so I got out of the car and approached, camera at the ready. Again it defied logic and started to hunt close to the road although always back on to me. I shifted to get the light better and clicked away hoping for it to turn. It did but to fly further away so I got as many flight shots as I could and was pleasantly surprised by the results.

At the pits I still have three Green-winged Teal but probably not for much longer, the cold comes back Thursday and snow is slated for later. Taking advantage of today’s fine weather I dipped into the woodland adjacent to the pits and sifted through a lively flock of 150+ Common Redpolls. I got a glimpse of a maybe Hoary before they scattered and spread themselves around a bit more.

Below are a few shots, enjoy.

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