Top Dog

Sunday my friend Graham was visiting from the UK and so we went on a quest for gold or at least golden wings. Many years ago a Golden-winged Warbler turned up the UK, making the National news and putting the Maidstone in Kent firmly in all Twitchers’ itineraries. I saw it, I was fairly lucky in that I happened to look in the right back yard at the right time. Graham dipped it, he looked in back yards a plenty but it was not to be and so a long anticipated lifer was enough for him to eschew the other outing option – the flies and perhaps a Ruffed Grouse at Tremblant, for a trip down Montee Biggar.

An early start was required and I picked Graham up at his downtown hotel at 04.30. What a dire place downtown Montreal is to drive around. Road works everywhere with notices designed to tell locals what they already know. To add insult to injury, the Garmin clueless we had bought to replace the Magellan neurotic insisted on telling me that bing-bong “you have arrived” to which I replied, “but I’m in the Ville-Marie tunnel you idiot”. After two more exits and entries I branched out, ignoring the Dalek like instruction to take the ramp yet again and found my way to the Delta Hotel on University on my own.

We reached Montee Biggar as it started to warm up and bird activity became more noticeable. We were in the process of working a small mob of Black-capped Chickadees (find the chickadees and you find the warblers)  when I noticed a Grey Fox sat watching us about 100m away. We took a few steps forward and it sat, so we took some more, halving the distance between us. It was a life canid for Graham and my best views ever, snaps of this beautiful animal below.

After the fox had slunk off into the vegetation, taking a Grey Catbird fan club with it, we got back to the task in hand and tracked down a male Golden-winged Warbler. It fed low down with a Chestnut-sided Warbler and to a back-drop of noisy Eastern Towhees, laying the twenty year old ghost to rest for Graham.

Next we tried for Grasshopper Sparrow but none have been found this year as far as we know. Pity because the site now has a lovely and informative board talking about the sparrows and the local management for them. I’d have been happier to see a few sticks shoved into the field pre-arrival so that the sparrows could use them as perches and the birders could see the sparrows or am I just complicating the issue? Sparrow-less but having enjoyed many Eastern Bluebirds we set off for the Gowan Road to look for Ruffed Grouse. None showed but a pair of Scarlet Tanagers did, the male chasing the female around the canopy, I wonder why so frisky this late in the season, second try?

After a refuel it was off to Dundee and the Great Egret Trail. The flies there were as bad as I have ever seen them and the several Willow Flycatchers were frankly rubbish at eating them, they just sat there and called. One posed nicely until the adjacent vegetation decided to launch a claim for fame as the shutter clicked, I silently cursed it to suffer from mildew and had to photo shop the results using the bill of a similar species, I think I just about got away with it! We fled the fly-fest, pausing only to admire a couple of Sandhill Cranes in the field opposite the car park and headed north.


Our final destination was St-Timothee Marsh. St-Timothee was warm and pleasant and we had good views of Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren and, best of all, four Least Bitterns. I still think the place in dire need of habitat management though and I would advise birders to learn to walk on 5m stilts in order to be able to see 50% of the reserve!

We rounded the day off with a quick look for Caspian Terns but the water was high at their regular Mellocheville roosting rocks and the time for Grahams train from Vaudreuil approached. It was a good day with 81 species seen. I was very pleased that the Golden-winged Warbler had actually showed what with it being July and all. For me the best sighting of the day was virtually the first – the Grey Fox, a top dog.

Incidentally, the Canadian Listers’ Corner report for 2013 is out and available as a pdf at

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