One more day

I know I keep harping on about the cold but it is a good 10°C below normal at -14°C as it is today. The cold has certainly sent the shorts to the bottom drawer for the duration around here, not that I ever wear shorts you understand – what with having Queen Ann legs and all that. There are still a few joggers plodding around the very icy roads but they too will either retreat indoors soon, either by their own violation or, much more likely, on a stretcher.

I did a short lanes shuffle yesterday in beautiful light, I saw next to nothing. The Snow Bunting mass has moved, perhaps gone and just 40 or so were all I could find. There was a dark form Rough-legged Hawk around but I couldn’t see him burping up feathers so he’d not had them all. Still no Snowy Owls though, they will come eventually but perhaps not just yet, later in December is the traditional time.

I still have a Fox Sparrow in the garden – hanging on despite the conditions and it seems to be thriving. I’m keeping the seed carpet well stocked in the hope that it makes it onto my winter list that starts tomorrow. The winter list runs December 1st-February 28th and keeps us active, outdoor birders motivated to get out from our heated prisons and even risk hypothermia just to put a Song Sparrow on in ink. The only upside to the weather is that I am pressing on with entering my stuff into eBird and I’ll be filling in a load of complicated dragonfly recording forms too, once I get the hang of them. For now it’s off to Wal-Mart for seed again, I wonder if I can get a Government grant?

Below a few dodgy shots of the Fox Sparrow – it is never still and the cold doesn’t make taking its photo that much of a pleasure.

BTW I put some pages up with owl photos, see the tabs at the top.

December 1st update – 07:51, the Fox Sparrow arrivers from roost and starts feeding. 07:53, so does a Sharp-shinned Hawk and with no juncos to dilute the available food guess who is breakfast!

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It’s Snowtime!

Sunday night the first real snow of the winter arrived even though we checked the box that said ‘no thank you’ for this year! St-Lazare tends to be colder and snowier than on-island and I’d reckon we had 6” of snow, the wet version and not the fluff. The only plus side of the white stuff is that all the birds that happily scoffed the fallen grain out on the wastes of St-Clet* are driven to the road verges to feed until the wind clears a few spots in the standing stubble. Of course the local people around there are aware of this and drive accordingly when they see a flock swirling around the road, slowing down and letting them clear the road safely, oh and a small flock of pigs went west too!

On the way out to the lanes I dropped in at St-Lazare** sand pits. They are finished in terms of water birds but the woodlots are going to get a good looking at this winter, I did see some Snow Buntings there though.

As soon as I started down Ste-Julie*** it was pretty clear that there were a lot of Snow Buntings around. My normal winter route is between 12-26km but yesterday I thought I’d do a comprehensive count of the Snow Buntings so I did 58km give or take and amassed a conservative total of 19 flocks for 2761 birds, I have never seen so many Snow Buntings out there in the ten years I’ve been birding the lanes.

In with the buntings were 27 Lapland Longspurs, all carefully grilled in case any western longspurs had become mixed in, but they hadn’t. Perhaps there are more buntings around this year or perhaps the late pulling of the corn and the liberal corn spills, evident on every verge, is responsible for such large concentrations of peckish birds. After I’d had chance to tally up and realise just how many buntings there were out there, I regretted not doing the extra 30km or so it would have taken to expand the search area and most likely to add many more Snow Buntings to the total. For the record the largest group was near St-Polycarpe ****, containing at least 600 birds.

* That should actually be St Cletus but the name was thought to be a bit long for the locals to spell when naming the town and so they went for the abridged version. Sainted for being kind to Earwigs apparently. Trip Advisor has this to say about St-Clet, “keep driving!”

** Patron saint of innovative eye surgery and devices for sending cats crazy – they just cannot catch those little red dots!

***The road is named after some cloth-eared bint sainted for rescuing newts from a drained pond I believe. You only have to not say “bugger” when you stub you toe or wear a big embroidered frock to be sainted or have I misunderstood the whole saint thing again?

**** A town named after a mythical figure sainted for working in an aviary and getting covered in parrot droppings as I understand it (as in polly crap). I could go on making a mockery of the saint thing but their little club seem to be so very proficient at it themselves that perhaps my comments are superfluous.

As for the owls, well they will get there in their own good time, November is not been my best month in past years with only odd birds putting in an appearance. I’ll probably be out checking a couple of times a week from now on, although it will be back to the shorter route unless I get inspired. I didn’t get any real photo ops yesterday but below is a record shot of one of the flocks, around 200 birds I’d say. Also there are some older photos of mine of Snow Buntings for anyone who accidentally strayed onto this site looking for winter decorations and doesn’t know what the real thing looks like!

Click on the picture for a bigger image.

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November slump

I was out today with Claude who was up from Toronto for a few days and wanted to do a bit of birding out west of Montréal. We started at the Pont du Gonzague on the Beauharnois Canal. The recent chill had frozen the lake but a fair quantity of Snow Geese were still around, resting on the canal along with the remnant waterfowl, Hooded Merganser, Pintail, Ring-necked Duck and a multitude of Mallards etc. The geese were resolute in keeping their distance and were eventually flushed off by a big ship steaming south. We located some of the flock later on frozen farm fields but too far away for any photos unfortunately.

Our next stop was Hungry Bay where a fair chop made viewing the ducks challenging. There were a couple of Greater Scaup and some distant Common Goldeneyes but it was an effort. The highlight came when we paused at the roadside feeders on the way out and found two Tufted Titmice making regular visits. We parked and viewed with Claude managing a few feeder shots. I did too but mine only give a hint of titmouse. Also of interest there was a leucistic Grey Squirrel. It happily contested the fallen food with the standard version and was even holding its own in one spat.

We tried a few sites for hawks and geese but most have sensibly pushed off to somewhere warmer. Dundee is normally a shoe-in for a Rough-legged Hawk but none were available, just a distant Northern Shrike and even that didn’t sit still long enough to be admired properly. We retraced our steps and, in terms of them being a bit nearer and not leaving suddenly, had more luck with the geese back at the Pont du Gonzague,. As we wound up the day a lone Peregrine sat on a lamp on the ‘somebody I have never heard’ of bridge on highway 30 and the grey was starting to promise snow.

It was fun to get out in good company even if the birds were not too cooperative, there will be other times and we were lucky with the weather to some extent. My day count was a modest 34 species, just two weeks ago that would have been double, such is the evacuation of Québec by the birds in the winter. I had thought that my record shot of the Ross’s Gull (now seemingly gone) set a new low in photographic quality, I suspect however that my capture below entitled ‘titmouse on a feeder’ at least equals that benchmark. Things can only get better!

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Waiting for snowies

It has been a little while since I posted so here is a quick update.

Last week I went back for a look at the Ross’s Gull at Chambly. It had settled into a nice routine of visiting the local water treatment plant and showing very nicely and, even though it was cold, it was sunny and calm so I thought I might get a decent photo. I waited three hours and chatted to Ron from New York State but the bird never showed up, it seems I’d picked the day it changed its routine yet again. It later emerged that some people had been watching it for three hours just along from the fort at Chambly over the rapids – three hours and not one of them thought to pop the few kilometers along the road to the water treatment plant to tell the 30+ birders waiting there where it was, pity because some had traveled from as far away as Rhode Island to see it. This little episode highlighted a long-standing problem.

Bird news in Québec is a problem but one that can be solved, especially by some enterprising individual. I’ll just recount that, in the UK back in the early 1990s, a group of birders with contacts set up the Bird Information Service (BIS) and have made a living from it ever since by servicing the birding industry with up-to-the-minute bird news. I don’t think that there would be quite the same uptake here but, there is a niche market and perhaps the requirement for bird information can taken advantage of. Before I get comments about the BPQ occasional sightings page and Oiseaux Rares du Québec http://www.quebecoiseaux.org/index.php?option=com_oiseauxrares&Itemid=133 , yes I know they offer something but, frankly, not enough. If you don’t have an Internet connection you get nothing and it is too dated to be of value on the day. Speaking to Ron from NY he told me that they had a text system at Cape May for rarities so why not the same in Québec?

I suggest that a Francophone – because it would be in French – sets up a phone number and offers it on a subscription basis to those who want it. Any rarities found or any updates on existing rarities would appear on that number in the form of a short text and bird information texts sent to that number would automatically forward to all subscribers. The information would be self-perpetuating as individuals would want to send updates as they themselves would wish to receive them at times.  That is a simplistic synopsis of how it would work, in practice there would be hurdles, I know, I used to run a county birdline (for nine years) and I know the sort of problems that can occur. It would, however, be a start and it would offer an income (from the subscriptions) for the number ‘owner/administrator’ for the inconvenience. It might also grow into a self-supporting industry too, just like in the UK. I know a few of the guys at the top of the QC grapevine read this; they would need to be the ones to run it.

Back to the birding and it has been slow and cold. It is -13°C and the with a cutting -19°C wind chill today and the ground hard and frozen. I’ve been to the pits a couple of times but the water is diminishing and so are the birds. I’ve been down the lanes a couple of times but no Snowy Owls yet although they are popping up elsewhere now. In the garden a Fox Sparrow is still feasting on the seed but hopefully it will see sense and clear off, failing that it can stay until 2-December so I can add it to my winter list if it likes.

I did a bit of editing and there is a modified thing about local (to me) Snowy Owls on the top bar for those interested, mostly pretty pictures unless you are a mouse I suppose.

For now I’m waiting for the first of the winter Snowy Owls to show up, last winter was not great for them, we are perhaps due better this year. This year I might get the chance to take more photos like the one below, no harassment, no mice, just patience, field craft and luck.

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Daddy?

The erratic weather continues with gusty winds of 65kmph+ whipping through our bit of Québec. I got out anyway and decided to go down to Chemin de l’Anse at Vaudreuil, a place I used to watch daily when low water levels and autumn shorebird migration coincided, I think 2009 was the last good year.

My inspiration for the visit was the continued presence of three Long-tailed Ducks and, judging by some of the nice photos, they were reasonably close. Two of the ducks remained just off the only car park for the bay at the east end. They were a bit far out (I don’t mean psychedelic!) for anything detailed but record shots were on so I took a few.

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I returned home via the pits which looked fairly empty as I arrived. The small birds have largely gone and what wildfowl remain have been around for a while. I got to where the Mallards hang out and was surprised to see a male that appeared to have stolen some aspects of a Northern Pintails’ dress sense! Closer inspection revealed daddy to be a very naughty boy indeed although perhaps it is hard to tell a female Mallard from a female Northern Pintail in the dark? I got a few instructive shots before it scooted, easy to overlook when it is in with 90 Mallards. I’ve included a shot of a real Northern Pintail here just as a reminder of what they look like.

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Still raining in Ottawa!

This Sunday Sandra and I nipped out to Ottawa to look for a reportedly confiding female King Eider, the only one of four present last Wednesday to remain. On the way we stopped on Milton Road to admire 25 Sandhill Cranes. We got to Andrew Haydon Park just as the rain piddled down and Sandra, feeling grotty anyway, stayed in the car while I looked. The Brent Goose was still there and there were more Hooded Mergansers than last time I was there but no King Eider. I was just about to head off when another birder pulled into the car park and told me it was visible from a spot further up the road. He’d actually driven from the bird to the main car park to tell any birders who were looking where it was, aren’t birders great, I was very grateful.

Earlier she had been close but when I got there she bobbed about offshore for a bit before heading out into the bay, no frame-filling shots for me then just the dodgy record shots below.

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Earlier in the day I checked the Chicken dung pile on Montee Chenier in Les Cedres, half expecting the presence of mechanical monsters fetching in the Cattle Corn to have moved them but no, they were still probing away and getting their bills covered in goo for their trouble so more snaps of them to enjoy.

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The King Eider took me to 650 for the year, most of which were seen from Panama going north. My Québec year list is trundling towards 250, I might make it if I can find a few of the owls that I missed early in the year such as Hawk, Boreal, Saw-whet and even Eastern Screech. I’m also lacking Pine Grosbeak and both crossbills and it would be nice to find all three at the pits (and the owls too, yeas please) to round off the year but the finch report forecast suggests otherwise, oh well at least we won’t be spending a fortune feeding redpolls http://www.jeaniron.ca/2013/forecast.htm .

Below a snip from eBird showing the year totals (at the top only, sorry low-listers). Gérard is going very well but has some way to go to catch the 275 recorded by Monique Berlinguette in 2002, not sure but that might be the record. My best was 266 in 2007 and I still missed about 15 species so there is a possibility for someone to set the bar high if they fancy a go.

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Addendum: Last year Olivier Bardon recorded 283 species in QC but even he was surpassed a few years ago by a 290 although I’m no sure who that was. Thanks to Samuel Denault for the information and the screen-grab below showing the totals in EPOQ for 2013.

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Dung Heap Denizens

Cold today but considerably warmer than yesterday’s -10°C + wind chill. The pits were quiet and so I slipped down to the non-descript farm road, Montee Chénier about 3km south of the pits. My main reason for calling in was to see whether the lone American Pipit that was there a few days ago had stuck out the freeze, feasting on the insects generated by the Chicken dung pile – one of several in the area.

The pipit had gone but two Pectoral Sandpipers were scrambling around and finding morsels to tempt them. I managed a few quick shots but was loath to bother them too much, they need peace to feed up in these conditions. About 70 Snow Buntings were around too and a lone Song Sparrow that should push off soon. Below the snaps.

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On the basis of Ottawa having three (three!) female King Eiders on the Ottawa River yesterday, and all three together and incidentally off the same, rainy, Andrew Hayer park that I had birded last Wednesday (see the irony!) I thought I would go to our local King Eider hotspot (well, it’s had one some years ago), Hungry Bay, to see whether we’d got one too. I should have known better what with the stiff breeze and all and it was hard to get any sort of view of the scattered waterfowl in the three foot swell. As you can see from the shots, the water splashed up from the wind is freezing nicely, that gives you some idea of the temps yesterday.

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Elsewhere, Northern Hawk Owls have started to show up. I never know whether this is a sign of harsh weather on the way or just what they do normally. In years past an influx of owls has occurred around this time, raising my hopes that I might get a Northern Hawk Owl at the pits but then the whole thing has petered out and only odd owls took up a territory for the winter. Great Greys came last year but we might get the odd one from the dribble effect and both Boreal and Saw-whet are probably around now but it takes luck or contacts to actually see some of them. Hopefully this winter there will be a few public owls that we can all enjoy. Below are a few photos from previous years.

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