It was a windless start today and the pits main lake looked just like a mirror, albeit one that someone had sneezed on as various items of debris broke the sheen. Out there were a couple of Lesser Scaup but not a lot else. The margins proved more interesting with season first Spotted Sandpipers (4) and Lesser Yellowlegs. An Osprey dropped by and easily stole a fish then proceeded to eat it while stood out on one of the sandy islands, I was inspired, so inspired that I went to Hungry Bay.

After each winter there is a blessed insect free period here where you can wear short sleeves and don’t have to bathe in Deet before venturing forth. It seems to me though that the halcyon period gets shorter each year and today marked the end of peace and the opening of hostilities. There had been a mass emergence of biting flies at Hungry Bay and I seemed to meet all of them. There were plenty of birds to look at, 12 Common Loons for example, but the flies did for me, it’s hard to concentrate when they are in your ear and up your nose. I must have swallowed a hundred and I really can’t see what Swifts see in them, no real flavour at all!

Having driven out to Hungry Bay I decided to go the extra kilometer and see whether the Montee Smellie/Rue Higgins area held anything. I managed to find a couple of Eastern Towhees and a Solitary Sandpiper but no Upland Sandpipers. The nice wet field at the south end of Montee Smellie has been ‘ditched’ so no more roadside photography options there.

As it was on my way home I chanced a look at St-Timothee. The place is in need of a good burn but, like so many wildlife site, it gets no management and so a larger part of it is just a screen of reeds. Birdlife was so, so. The usual stuff but at least I got my season first Bank Sand Swallow Martin, you choose the combination that you like best. On the way back I checked a nice bit of flooded grass off Montee Chenier/St-Dominique – it is an area where they dug in a new pipeline a few years ago and it stays wet a while now. For such a minor spot it was quite good with nine Greater Yellowlegs, Two Wilson’s Snipe and some Green-winged Teal.

Not much of April left now, May will be much more of a sprint. I just hope we get a few hold-up days, weather-wise unlike recent years where high pressure has ushered everything in. Below a few photos from today including a nice Red Fox that this time, didn’t see me before I saw him.

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A hit and a near miss

If all of my years of birding have taught me anything, it is don’t go for a rarity that shows well on a week day in iffy weather but will almost certainly not be there at the weekend when it is predicted to be ‘shorts’ weather. The Violet-Green Swallow at Ottawa was just such a bird, a two day job although, to be fair, the bird did have the decency to cross the Ottawa River and grace Quebec during its stay, a Province first. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been caught out by the ‘gone at the weekend’ adage in the past, a pair of territorial Slender-billed Gulls in Norfolk (England) spring readily to mind. This time however I called it right, we didn’t go off to Ottawa Saturday and were therefore not a part of the disappointed mass looking in vain.

Last thing last night I checked the Oiseaux Rares du Quebec site and well, well, a male Garganey (Sarcelle d’eté) and only 40 minutes away at Mirabel. We went and we saw (eventually) and I added Garganey (of unknown origin!) to my North American list, no waiting for the national records committee to accept it, on it goes. It was unusual to get lucky with a Quebec bird; I think I am at only about a 40% success rate in twitching things although my self-found rate makes up for it a bit. Perhaps I should drag Sandra off to Tadoussac for another assault on Purple Sandpiper!

In terms of a rarity the Garganey was pretty good although a long-stayer a few years ago would have been most local people’s tick – we were otherwise disposed at the time. Today’s twitch had about 20 people at its peak, imagine if a Nearctic duck of similar rarity in the UK showed up, 2500 minimum I would of thought although hang on, it was a duck and all ducks are escapes right? I wonder how many UK birders have inked in the recent Falcated Duck, was it any wilder than the one four of Notts’ finest saw many years ago at Lound but that I don’t tick, I doubt it.

Thanks to Sébastien for the shout and apologies to your girlfriend for not understanding her when she drove around to tell us you had seen it, my bad. Below a shot of the record variety.



This morning I decided that it was high time I got Wilson’s Snipe on the Quebec year list, so I did. It was also time I looked for the first Upland Sandpipers of the year at my spot on the Quebec/Ontario border, especially as the first Quebec birds had been found on 24-April. No joy with the Uplands but at least the habitat remains unchanged so they will be back.

This afternoon I paid a repeat visit to the pits, this morning was quiet and wet but, once the clouds had lifted a bit, I expected more action. I was not disappointed, three Ospreys flew over and an adult Bald Eagle did the same. That seemed to be it for the hawk passage but I was not surprised, it was getting late in the day. On a whim I thought I’d check to see whether any Field Sparrows had returned. Last year was the first time they’d been anything other than rare at the pits. I’d only gone 20m towards their regular spot when one started up the familiar bouncing song. It took some locating as it sat in a Pine but I got a snap.

While looking for the Field Sparrows I took the opportunity to check out the seasonal pools at the west end of the pits, access had been awkward until the thaw. One looks healthy; one looks like it will not see out June. We could do with four days of biblical rain to top up the water levels but I suspect that we are experiencing a drought.

I currently sit on the horns of a dilemma. At Ottawa there has been a Violet-green Swallow, a second for Ontario and very rare out east. I suspect that it will be a typical weekday bird that scoots before the weekenders get their chance of it. The window for seeing it is small anyway, it seems to vanish after 9am. The question is, do I stay or do I go?

Below a few shots, Wilson’s Snipe – from the photos you cannot quite see the main feature that separates it from Common Snipe, that would be the Atlantic Ocean! Also offered, today’s Field Sparrow and a shoddy Osprey shot, I still had the camera on the manual settings used for the snipe. And the answer to yesterday’s sparrow quiz was, Rufous-collared and Brewer’s Sparrows do not occur in Quebec, yet.

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Spring Sparrows

Palm and Myrtle Warblers at the pits today but it was a cold wind that brought out the gloves again, I thought I’d done with them for a while.

My sparrow flock at the pits remains interesting, with three Fox Sparrows now in the mix. I managed to get an action shot of one Fox Sparrow as it sprayed sand everywhere while grubbing for seed, despite the fact that it was ankle deep in my offerings, seems to be a habit hard wired. Photography, such as it is, has been limited to the sparrows and below are examples of Fox, Song and White-throated that sat up obligingly while I counted visible migration. I’ve also added a few more species to the gallery, think of it as a bit of a quiz. Can you ID them all and can you guess which one (or more) is not found in Quebec? Answers next post.

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Diving loons

Sometimes you need a change of scenery and, no matter how good my local patch at St-Lazare sand pits has been recently, today was the day. Obviously I went somewhere else after I’d been to the pits where, incidentally, I had a very early Semipalmated Plover. My choice of pastures newish was Hungry Bay at the southern entrance to the Beauharnois Canal. It was a pleasant day and the visibility good. A few Common Loons were doing a circuit so I sat and waited for one to come close. They never did but I managed a few record shots. I did find a couple of FOS Red-necked Grebes though and enjoyed watching 18 Buffleheads frolic, always a special bird for me. Also nice year birds were a trio of Bonaparte’s Gulls making it well worth burning all those fossil fuels that would otherwise have been used by school buses or people bouncing about the countryside on ATVs.

Grasping the Bull by the nuts I went on to Dundee where two pairs of Sandhill Cranes were sitting tight. I saw little else until I was leaving, when a young Bald Eagle flew around a bit doing aerial gymnastics for no apparent reason. I was about to award it 5.5 for the unexpected perfomance when one of the local Ospreys dive-bombed it, prompting a broader range of movement and so I increased the score to 7.1.

Below the record shots, back around the pits for a bit longer tommorow and I will find a Winter Wren, eventually.

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Mixed emotions

All winter I have taken every opportunity to check St-Lazare sand pits in the hope of finding a Great Grey Owl. In this influx year there have been up to four birds in the general area, but none had so far graced the pits and I assumed that I’d missed out on adding it to the site list again, until today. As I drove to my viz mig spot I noticed a dead bird on the track verge, a Great Grey Owl. It was not there two days ago and besides, the local Red Fox would have taken advantage of such a free meal, it is a very efficient clean up merchant. I suppose I could be positive but it is hard to see the upside. Yes it is now on the site list but I’d prefer to have had one not pushing up the daisies or at least breathing enough to make it onto my personal patch list.

Somewhat out of kilter I took up my watch position and scanned, maybe it had a healthier friend in the area! No owls were apparent but, when I heard a distant song I cheered up a bit, Brown Thrashers were back and I soon found it in a tree top. While watching this expected first of the year I heard something calling, looked up and a Red-throated Loon went straight overhead – at patch tick and site addition, weird day. During the session two Common Loons also went over and one of them kindly dropped in for a fish breakfast and started doing the old calling thing, which was nice. I get loons fairly frequently but most just go over, pity the red-throated kept going.

Each year, spring and autumn, I put a seed carpet down for the sparrows, well actually for me to get the sparrows all in one place so that I can go through them, in past years I’ve attracted Clay-coloured and Field in this way. So far this year tons of Dark-eyed Juncos have found the place to their liking along with a few Song, White-throated and Chipping Sparrows. Today a Fox Sparrow joined them and while I was watching this beast of a sparrow scratching around I noticed a Dark-eyed Junco with a neat set of wing bars. Checking Sibley, he states that this variant is about 1 in 200, well I’ve seen many thousands of Dark-eyed Juncos and this is the first with such a well-defined set of wing bars. I took a few record shots, see below, quite interesting.

The weather looks good for arrival all week and I expect more of the earlier warblers will show up. Before going to the pits today I had a quick look around my other local patch, Dune Lake-Bordelais Bog and found a FOS Pine Warbler singing away, I expect that there are two or three around if I have a good look for them.

Below a few photos, my second dead Great Grey Owl of the winter, I wonder how many did perish.

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Only in Canada can I go out birding one day in -4°C and hail then be tearing off the layers in a balmy 23°C the next day!

Last year I couldn’t find an Osprey on my patch (St-Lazare sand pits) for the first time in nine years, yesterday seven went through in 20 minutes – right place, right time I suppose. The warm spike produced a rush of migration and kept me out for four hours enjoying it. FOS birds were Chipping and White-throated Sparrow; both kinglets, Hermit Thrush (this side of the Continent) and Blue-winged Teal. At around ten the hawks started moving north, keeping my attention skywards. No spectacular numbers were recorded although three Rough-legs were pretty good, I don’t see that many at ‘the pits’, no eagles this time though. Broad-winged and Red-tailed Hawk made up the bulk of the passage but it fizzled out after an hour as the sky became a uniform, bland grey.

Despite making 1300+ visits to the site I’d never been inside the Base de Plein Air, part of the site to the south of the main pits. As I was gazing up into space one of the passing cars stopped behind me, this is unusual as people normally just slow down to stare, it’s a Canadian thing. Anyway, this chap got out and, after exchanging the usual (for me) “desole, je ne parle pas Francais” he told me that there was no longer a permit needed for parking and that access to the trails was free. Taking advantage of this new found freedom I walked the short trails finding three Hermit Thrushes. They are a welcome addition to my recording area, especially as access to the wood to the north is patchy and will eventually be lost. I’ll also use the site to park when dragonflying the west end instead of risking a ticket, nearly ten years in Canada and still no tickets of any description!

The camera/s have been a bit redundant recently as visible migration watches tend to focus on things high up and more in Hubble Telescope range than a terrestrial camera but below are a few bits and bobs using ‘big’, ‘little’ and iPod, see if you can tell which are which, not that I care you understand.

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