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.