Survived!

Despite all the warnings I managed to survive five minutes outside today although, to be fair, it was nippy. I had a quick look around St-Clet and coming up with one Snowy Owl which was likely a female but, since the ageing of them is still a mystery, I’ll stick with calling it a female type. I managed a rough digishot – below two examples of nearly the same photo, I included both to show how photoshop does things differently. The overcooked one is using the auto settings, I adjusted the other one slightly, perhaps it needs more.

I think tonight is to be the coldest for some time. The birds certainly know it, there has been a rapid empty of the nyger feeders by the redpolls today. I’m hoping to get a chance at photographing one of the Greenland Redpolls which have been around the area but not at our feeders so far. From memory they are loath to use hanging feeders, preferring to grovel about on the floor or on a table if it is big enough.

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Time for the big coat

It is a bit of a big freeze here in Canada at the moment with -25°C predicted and pretty cold days with lows near -20°C, cold enough that your nose hair freezes in seconds and even well wrapped extremities start to feel detached after a short while out in it but we still go out to do what we have to do and life continues unhindered. Now let us share a thought for parts of Great Britain, currently languishing under nearly 5cm of snow which has closed most schools and stranded motorists, poor buggers. Those living in the north of the country are not so fussed and deal with it but get into the soft underbelly, say south of Rotherham, and it all goes pear-shaped.

Not so long ago that island nation were not daunted by anything. Far flung places ruled by head-hunters and fierce natives, no problem, give them trousers and teach them to make toast. Towering peaks or barren landscapes there for the conquering, put me down for some of that although I may be gone for a while. Bullies and aggressors picking on our friends, well, you pick on them and you pick on us to and you won’t like us when we are angry, that was always the way. So when did they become a nation that allows a bit of snow to become news? I’ll tell you, when a bored clerk somewhere invented the phrase ‘Health & Safety’ allowing the Mice amongst Men and Women to pass the buck without shame.

It is easy to look at them over there and laugh at their headless Chicken reaction but the truth of it is that they are not used to it. Canada has a winter, every year, just like clockwork. The original settlers knew it and prepared for it which is why no Canadian born of generations of Canadians can walk past a pile of cut firewood without feeling the urge to stack it. The people who plough the roads here do it every year and we even have people who we contract to clear our drives with tractors, we call them snow contractors! In southern Britain they are simply not ready and it if you don’t believe me here are two true stories.

In a past life I was a truck mechanic and I worked for Nottingham City Council at the depot where we kept the gritters. One morning in 1981 it started to snow and kept snowing. By tea time the entire city was gridlocked and nothing could get in or out of the depot because of the traffic, including the gritters. I worked 24 hours solid and it took two full days before the roads were anything like gritted and all because the guys who drove the gritters (as overtime) were out doing their normal jobs when the snow started and the management didn’t have the sense to call them in.

On another occasion the snow came down, the call to go out came and the gritters stood idle, the guy whose job is was to order the rock salt hadn’t and we couldn’t get some from neighbouring councils because of the roads and no, he wasn’t fired. I would bet that a similar scenario has happened up and down the country because, in parts of the UK, winter is always a surprise.

Anyway, back to the birds. I’ve not been too active with the camera of late, tied up with other things, but I thought I’d post a set of photos of mixed quality (and quite probably in random order) which have a snow related theme. I’ll put the relationship in at the end after the photos, see if you get it.

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The obvious are Snowy Owl and Snow Bunting, Snow Goose and Snowy Egret. Snowcap and Snowy-bellied Hummingbird just about qualify and Iceland Gull is not unreasonable at a stretch. How about Jack Frost though, in the shape of Jack Snipe and Jackdaw. Finally, what we all are in this weather, Northern Shovelers!

Still around

After a fruitless drive around looking for Great Grey Owls in the area yesterday, well not entirely fruitless as two Ruffed Grouse in the crown of a tree nipping buds were most welcome, today I went back to old faithful, the Great Grey Owl we found at St-Lazare on the 29th-December CBC. I had been past the chosen spot a few times recently and had an idle scan from the car without seeing it but a couple of birders saw it yesterday so I had another go and there it was. The light was kaka as the sun had gone down the residue was right behind it but I ramped up the camera to ISO-800 and rattled off a few, the best of which is below.

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Brassic

The thermometer outside the kitchen window reads -18°C, not sure what the windchill will be but brrrr! It is this time in winter when you start to pine for warmer fjords which you know are still a good eight weeks away. The birds know its cold, they blanket the feeders in this weather and it is a fair bet that all of the local birds will be at my and my neighbour’s feeders and that a walk in the local woods would not produce a single bird, such is Canada in winter.

On Monday I took advantage of the newly opened highway 30 to get to St-Etienne near Beauharnois. The trip took just over 20 minutes, it would have been an hour plus via the old Valleyfield route, the new road now makes sites on the south shore so much easier to get to and any trips east no longer have to plough through Montreal on highway 40. The run out was to look for a Yellow-headed Blackbird recently found out there. Once the mass of Starlings and Brown-headed Cowbirds around the busy farm settled the bird, an immature male, was easy enough to pick if it faced you. I couldn’t get close enough for a photo but here is one I took in Nevada last year. This one is an adult but at least lives up to the name and you get some of the picture I think, just reduce the yellow by 95%.

img_8373One of my winter jobs this year, apart from the eBird records entry marathon, I’m up to 2600 checklists so far, is to sort out all of my photos. It has taken a while just to sort out the ‘edited for blog’ set but it was fun to browse images that I’d forgotten I’d taken or just to relive a good day once again. One such good day was at Baie du Febvre a few years ago when a Red-necked Phalarope and Wilson’s Phalarope spent the day picking tasty insects off the surface of one of the tanks at the site. So here, to cheer me up as much as anything, are a few of those images to enjoy once again.

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Redpolls

Today has been like a Manchester summer Sunday, wet, wet, wet. The temps have soared to 9°C and the snow on the roof is getting heavier as I write but no doubt the freeze will come along soon and make it all nice and glassy, watch those hips as you hit the deck.

The yucky weather has limited birding somewhat and it has been a bit frustrating, especially as a Yellow-headed Blackbird is out there at St-Etienne and I’ve not seen one in QC for a few years. A break in the weather yesterday let me out to look for any Great Grey Owls in the area with nil success but at least I didn’t find any more corpses. I did see a Snowy Owl out near St-Clet though plus a couple of Lapland Longspurs and a Merlin for the year. I’ve also been watching the redpoll flock in the garden, now about 200 strong and containing a minimum of three Hoary (Arctic) Redpolls plus everything in between. No obvious Greenland Redpolls yet but a few marginal candidates. I took a few photos and I’m posting my Hoary Redpoll ID page from a few years ago. I’m not going to caption any of the shots, think of it as a mental execise, the three Hoary Redpolls are in there somewhere. I think we are still some way from truly sorting these winter wasps out but I suppose they will have to wait behind the Red Crossbills, Thayer’s Gull, western-vs-eastern ‘species’ splits etc. before they get sorted.

As a rough guide, the first batch are Common Redpolls, the second lot Hoary. Quite a few are shot I’ve taken in previous years, I thought it would be good to look at as many images as possible.

Credpoll 20 Credpoll 21 credpoll 22 credpoll 23 credpoll 24 credpoll 25 credpoll 26 credpoll 28 credpoll 29 credpoll 30 credpoll 31 credpoll 32 credpoll 33 credpoll 34 credpoll 35 Credpoll1 Credpoll2 Credpoll3 credpoll4 Credpoll5 Credpoll6 credpoll7 credpoll8 Credpoll9 Credpoll10 Crepll1 crepll2 crepll3 crpoll1 IMG_4379 IMG_4388 IMG_6217 IMG_6548 IMG_7067 (2) IMG_7078 (2) IMG_7086 (2) IMG_7092 (2) IMG_7095 (2) IMG_7098 (2) IMG_7099 (2) IMG_7115 (2) IMG_7117 (2) IMG_7121 (2) IMG_7128 (2) IMG_7132 (2) IMG_7138 (2) Mealypoll 1 Mealypoll2 pll3 (2) poll polls1 polls2 polls3 polls4 polls5 polls6 polls7 polls8 polls9 polls10 polls11 polls12 repoll2bigpoll1 bigpoll2 bigpoll3 bigpoll4 bredpoll2 bredpoll3 bredpolls4 bredpolls5 bredpolls6 brepoll1 exilipes not exilipes perhaps exilp1 Exilp2 Hoary exilipes 1 Hoary poll Hoary Redpoll hornemanni1 hornemanni2 hornemanni3 hornemanni4 hpllo (2) hrop1 hrop2 hrop3 hrp1 hrp2 hrp3 HRP4 hrpll4 (2) hrpll7 (2) hrpollrump (2) IMG_6696 IMG_6723 IMG_6740 IMG_7113 (2) IMG_7148 (2) nearlyhoary Redpolls snowball1 (2)

Northern Shrike success

After yesterday’s shrike photo debacle I had a bit more luck today. At the pits one of the regular birds suddenly became tolerant of me, perhaps because it was hungry and the area it was hanging out was where I feed the Snow Buntings although they seem to be a large prey item to me. I took a lot of photos, most were digiscoped, hand held. The bird is in first-winter plumage, as you can tell by the light barring on the breast and the minimal mask.

Below is the link for Lister’s Corner mentioned yesterday.

http://www.neilyworld.com/neilyworld/listerscorner/listers-corner.htm

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Dinner!

Sad end

During a spin around today I came across one of the local Great Grey Owls flat on the road, Ch St-Emmanuel. No suggestion of foul play, just busy roads and an owl doing what owls do. I suspect it to be either ours from St-Lazare or one from Les Cedres found on the same day. Bird wise it was a mixed day. I dropped in to Hungry Bay but didn’t find any Tufted Titmice for the year but a fly-over male Northern Harrier was nice and 40 Red-winged Blackbirds were more what I expect from spring.

Later in the day I went back out looking for owls, no joy but Grey Partridges were showy and a flock of 70 Bohemian Waxwings at the pits were good for the year there.

Below a couple of photos, a Northern Grey Shrike which was digiscoped at 130m in drizzle and that is as good an excuse as I can give. The owl was easier to photograph although the pose is a bit dramatic to say the least.

The year list that I am not doing again is going reasonably well, 55 so far which might not sound many but is ok for Quebec in winter. Here in Canada, to break the monotony of stories about rich hockey players locked out of work poor things, we do winter listing. The season is December 1st to February 28th and the idea is to see as many species as you can within that period. I’ve never bothered much about winter lists but this year I did some sorting and came up with my winter life list, 131 species. I mention this because we also have an organised listing publication which is expertly created by Larry Neily each year. The report is not publised in PDF format and makes interesting reading. If you are Canadian you can just send them to Larry and he’ll put them in Lister’s Corner. Just Google Neilyworld and follow the links, it’s fun.

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