Rhapsody in blue

May is winding down nicely, it’s been a good month this year with rain and sun in equal measure and some very enjoyable passage migration. My Quebec year list clicked over to 200 with Ruby-throated Hummingbird although I had thought it might be something else that took the honour.

After the soggy Northern Lapwing Saturday, last Sunday could have been another big day but the Kirtland’s Warbler at I’le Bizard did not perform although it may have been glimpsed – long gone now though I fear. Monday I wandered to St-Timothee marsh where Sora and Willow Flycatcher didn’t let me down but Least Bittern did. I had a good chat with another birder there, a regular, who agrees with me, BURN THE PHRAGMITES (in winter, of course). We are rapidly losing the site to the Phragmites and virtually no open water is visible west of the track, rendering the one watch tower useless really.

Tuesday I decided that it was time to go and see a Cerulean Warbler in Quebec. I can travel 200km south and see them easily in Ontario but in Quebec they are a tricky find. There is a site though and that is where I went, aided by up-to-date information from Charlie. After a damp but bird filled walk and a 30 minute wait I then had a great view of a male doing the wing-droop display and having a good sing-song. I also added Yellow-throated Vireo to the year list so a good day. Normally I’d be happy to share information but having seen the Harpy photographers last week and having heard that they were at the Golden-winged Warbler site again, I don’t think I will. Most birders know where to look though.

The warbler was bird 319 on my QC list – I could probably add another 10 species this year if we took the Blanc Sablon trip, went to the Val d’Or area in late June and then hiked for a Bicknell’s Thrush, not likely to happen though, we are cogitating on the logistics of a tropics trip at the moment and if that happens then QC ticks can wait another year.

The pits have been quiet recently although I was happy to have a Caspian Tern there and on an afternoon when cars seemed to find a way in. Naturally these were anglers cars but M. Meloche soon saw them off bless him, I’m not sure that I would have been so restrained myself in fact I’d probably have crunched their trucks and cars with my big digger and then hoisted the scrap onto the road – you can take the man out of Clifton etc. etc.

Today I went off to look for a Mourning Warbler and found one were right where they are supposed to be. It was a male, very active and singing away – no need to hoist an ‘owl-tunes’ speaker into a tree here. He didn’t sit out in the open much but he did forage alongside the edge of the trail for record shots. Nearby a Veery squirled away then showed and several Chestnut-sided Warbler and Indigo Buntings joined in the chorus, a nice walk.

Below a few photos – not very good but c’est la vie. I’ve included the Common Gallinule shot so that my UK readers can see the shield shape, one of the prime ID features to check for on every September/October Moorhen on Scilly!

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Lapwing twitch

When I was a small and perhaps unkempt child I used to go bird watching with my friend Terry. We’d go ‘across the brook’ to look for Lapwings nests amongst other things. We called them Pewits, others in the north called them Green Plovers, we all now call them Northern Lapwings. We would sit for hours (although it was possibly only minutes) watching the adults bounce over their territory calling wildly. They would land, crouch and the scuttle towards their scrape in the earth containing their precious eggs.

We knew to wait a while until the adult sat on the nest; we’d then creep through the crop shoots towards the target zone. We would usually get to around 20 feet before the bird flew and began calling again, long enough for us to find the nest with the four eggs – bulbous at one nest and pointed at the other. We never took any, it was just a game really and besides, Pewits nested in every farmer’s field around.

When I got more serious about my birds I’d count Lapwings as they conducted hard weather movements from the continent and into the UK and Ireland. I saw them most days from September to March when I worked as a Warden on a country park and I saw then whenever I birded farmland. It would be fair to say that I am very familiar with Northern Lapwings and today I saw my 1,000,001st (approx.) the difference is that this one was in North America.

As I settled in to watch the Champions league Final – the old European Cup that my team, Nottingham Forest won twice in succession when it was harder to win – I casually checked my email. Yves Gauthier had found a Northern Lapwing at ‘nearby’ St-Barthelemy and there was a claim of a Kirtland’s Warbler at I’le Bizard. I quickly decided that the Lapwing was the priority – this despite the fact that we went to Baie du Febvre yesterday, almost exactly opposite St-Barthelemy over broad St-Lawrence river. Incidentally, Baie du Febvre was as awful as it has ever been. Even the good bits were rubbish and a lagoon that usually is worth a look is now obscured by unchecked scrub – the old crap management issue again.

The rain hammered as we crossed Montreal and the drive was less than fun but we got there in one piece and there was the Lapwing sploshing through the cloying mud at about 250m range, I took a photograph, results below. One is obviously cropped but I include the original for scale. The rain continued to hammer and so we moved on to part two of the afternoon and the warbler at I’le Bizard. We got there fairly late and there was nobody around, the car parks were empty so I don’t know whether that was seen again. We decided not to trek through to the spot where it was seen but perhaps we will try for it tomorrow if there is news, I’ll tell you if I see it.

Otherwise birding has slowed somewhat due to the weather which has been cold, wet and very unappealing. Naturally I have been out and about but my only news is the discovery of Scarlet Tanagers at the pits – two singing males. Dunlin finally appeared as have Indigo Bunting and I had a Blue-headed Vireo too today – see the side bar for the pits first dates. Warblers at the pits have been a bit scarce but I have a Black-and-white in territory. Unfortunately he has lost his tail so I call him the lack-and white – he doesn’t seem to mind.

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After searching St-Lazare sand pits for warblers on a daily basis recently but with scant results, I finally had an arrival of birds today and enjoyed a couple of hours picking my way through the fast moving flocks. A couple of species were absent but I was quite happy with what I got. When I got to tally the day list up it was 68 species, a site one day record I think.

No photos with this post, just the list below.

Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Canada Goose, American Wigeon, Mallard, Red-shouldered Hawk, Merlin, Wild Turkey, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper , Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Alder Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Philadelphia Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Warbling-Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Cedar Waxwing, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Common Starling, Grey Catbird, Brown Thrasher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, Tree Swallow, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Goldfinch, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Cardinal, Baltimore Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird.

Picking them off one at a time

The past few days have seen me adding to the year list steadily. My year list that I’m not doing could have been vastly improved by a trip downtown where most of the warblers found in Quebec were queuing up to be seen along with things like Olive-sided Flycatcher and Blue-grey Gnatcatcher. While my area had only odds and ends the reasons for that would be interesting to research. We are only 70km from downtown and yet the warbler migration has been very light around St-Lazare and you can believe that I have been looking hard.

Friday I dropped into Baie Brazeau, checking out the Mourning Warblers sites on the way, sites that were well populated by Chestnut-sided Warblers but the Mourning Warblers were still in transit. Baie Brazeau was pretty good although the Least Bitterns have yet to return. Dragonflies were a-wing, the write up for those will be on the ode blog when I process them. The butterflies were quite nice too with Black Swallowtails common.

Saturday and Sunday were similar days with some rain. The pits scored with a fine Canada Warbler and a few Magnolia Warblers – they certainly brightened the place up. Today we went out early afternoon to I’le St-Bernard or the Refuge Marguerite D’Youville, a site I like more with every visit.

The Great Horned Owls had fledged and were sat about 60m from the nest taking in the rays. We found a few warblers; Tennessee, Blackpoll, Magnolia, Mytle, Veery, American Redstart and tons of Yellow Warbler. Another bonus was a single Grey-cheeked Thrush and a couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows. We didn’t walk far and we still managed 50 species.

I just bought a nice accessory for my iPod (from Amazon) – a tiny microphone that enhances the reception by 25x. It works very well with the voice memo app that comes with the iPod, a real field aid for those tricky calls and songs that are outside your experience. There is a good blog post on the ABA blog about using the iPod or iPhone for recording bird songs at http://blog.aba.org/2012/05/mic-up-that-iphone-follow-up.html The i-Microphone is manufactured by Edutige and is the model EIM-001.

Below a photo of the iPod with the speaker, also Black Swallowtail, Green Comma, Chestnut-sided Warbler, American Redstart, Grey Catbird, White-crowned Sparrow, Cliff Swallow and a Great Crested Flycatcher – look at the nictitating membrane when calling. There is also a photo of a non-adult Broad-winged Hawk, I wonder why this and a similarly aged Red-shouldered Hawk would migrate north – do they actually try to breed in their second year?

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Yesterday I took a little ride out into birdy country, the pleasantly leafy area in the south of Quebec that has area of great habitat and birds to match. My target was Golden-winged Warbler, a species that is not that common in Quebec although it is likely that it is overlooked. The best and easiest place to see them is a nothing little road west of Huntingdon called Montee Biggar. I got there around nine am, a little late than idea but the best I could do. There were two people there already, photographers judging by the size of the giant lens one had, both were women.

I checked out an area well away from them, presuming that they were waiting for something to pop up. Eventually I got to them and as I approached I could hear the tooting of an Eastern Screech-Owl, I presumed that they had found the day roost of one and that it was calling, then I saw the lead. These photographers had hooked a speaking up in the bush and were playing the owl’s tooting to attract the birds. As I stood there a glowing male Golden-winged Warbler hoped into clear view. The shutters went off but not mine. They spoke no English and I speak not enough French to point out that they shouldn’t be sending the birds crazy that way in the breeding season. I just left them saying “bad birders”.

I walked down the lane and they carried on, even though their target had already performed. They must have played the tape for 40 minutes or so, no wonder some birds are rated ‘Red Data’!

On our local soon to vanish if they build next door bog I found a Purple Finch that was singing in a way I’d not heard before. It was a ‘brown’ one so presumably female and it sang at half pace continuously. After about ten minutes it then switched to the bog standard Purple Finch song, interesting.

Today I spent my time at the pits; it was a nice visit with FOS (there) Common Yellowthroat, Grey Catbird, Short-billed Dowitcher, Cliff Swallow and Red-eyed Vireo. I managed 51 species, which quite pleased me including a very close Osprey that begged to be photographed (no speaker needed!).

Just to go back to the tape-luring issue for a moment.  Many birders use playback for various reasons, some legitimate others not quite so. Judicious use is not a sin but a tool although there have to be limits, such as not stressing rare breeders or even common breeders for that matter. My conscience wouldn’t let me take the photo under the circumstances, even though the result would have been my best ever of the species but perhaps I should have. Perhaps I missed the opportunity as the bird was showing superbly, the transgression already made and my opportune position was guilt free, too late now.

To go back to my last post, thanks for the responses. Just to clarify, I wasn’t actually getting at people for entering sp in eBird, only at eBird for allowing it to be in their province main checklists. I stand by the fact that sp has no value in data and I have the experience to back that statement up. I see thousands of bird sp everyday and so does everyone else. In those circumstances I don’t stick them into eBird and neither does anyone else do they so why put them in just because you have bins in your hands?

Below some photos, the Osprey ones are quite nice. The other ones are Purple Finch, Northern Waterthrush and a typical view of Grey Catbird.

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It’s cold here at the moment and the birding is hard work. Out west of Montreal we don’t really have anywhere that concentrates migrants in the same way that the leafy parks downtown do. That is not to say that we don’t get the same migrants, they are just much more thinly spread and you can’t always find them. I’ve restricted my seeking to St-Lazare sand pits for the past couple of days. When this lousy wind drops to just gale force I’ll wander a bit further afield and hope that the birds are actually in and eager to catch up on their feeding and singing.

Sunday’s visit yielded five species in 45 minutes, five! Perhaps the Sahara like sand cloud that covered the area was a factor. It kept visibility limited and made my eyes gritty so perhaps that too was a factor.

Today at the pits was slightly better. Rain had dampened the sand so it was not quite so bad and there were more birds. The dying fish fest continues and had attracted an adult Bald Eagle. I was enjoying watching the bird tear apart a Walleye when a second bird landed, younger and with no manners. It muscled straight in and started wolfing down the fish, related perhaps? Despite the range I still waved the camera at them, results below. I was also surprised to find a Common Loon going over, it’s turning out to be my best ever year for Common Loons, I’ll be interested to pull my count from eBird at the end of the year.

While I’m talking about eBird, why oh why does it allow such junk as Sparrow sp, Shorebird sp, Blackbird sp to be entered (if not counted). I can understand the value of recording say Ibis sp or even, at a pinch Eagle sp but there is absolutely no value in putting in sp all the time, none at all. If you look at the Ontario list when entering records they have all that junk on there, the Quebec list is so far unfettered and I hope it stays that way.


Still waiting

A morning at I’le Bizard on Saturday was interesting but lacked any sign of grounded migrants. Bird of the trip was a lone Black Tern although the cacophony of Virginia Rails was pretty good. One Marsh Wren is building a nest very close to the boardwalk but tended to vanish as it got within lens range, it will relax more when it is occupied with mouths to feed. Swamp Sparrows were abundant, as were Hooded Mergansers but only the sparrows were truly photogenic.

By mid-morning the sun had reappeared and odes took center stage, see the odes page for the write up and photos. The forecast for the next few days is a dip in temperature and some rain. It has not produced any warblers out west of Montreal yet but the city hotspots are producing. Perhaps as much a result of extensive coverage, little slips through Summit Park unseen at this time of year.

We are now entering the main period of warbler migration and I hope that we get nice fallout sometime within the next few days. We nearly headed off for the Northern Lapwing but, once again, made the right call to stick, I hope it flies strongly west for a few hours, Baie du Febvre would suit it well!

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