New Year’s Day 2014: score 17 species, why so low? Too damn cold!

I always try to plan a day out for the big day when every species is new and some of the ones you saw every day in December choose to elude you, it’s traditional. Yesterday was beautiful, bright and as cold as a trophy hunters’ soul. I dragged poor Sandra out so she could enjoy it too and we naturally went counting Snowy Owls. Our shortish local trip ended after about three hours with ten snowy beauties in the bag, mild frostbite in the (my) fingers and a sense of anti-climax for the start of 2014.

Such a short birding list would have been even shorter had it not been for our feeders – well stocked with goodies and reasonably attended. But sitting looking at the feeders has only a limited attraction and so we had to get out down the lanes. Once out in the wastes of St-Clet, the Snowy Owl count began in earnest. Most were fairly distant and the wind chill of -29°C precluded photography. While out we bumped into Régis Fortin who was out doing exactly the same as us. He looked well after recent surgery and we wish him a speedy full recovery in time for spring.

A feature of the lanes was the lack of small birds – no Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, longspurs, Starlings or House Sparrows, it was rather dire. My fall back in such circumstances is to look at open water where possible. The river at Les Cedres was barely open but Common Merganser and Common Goldeneye were out there. Sandra, being both a woman and a Scientist, opted for the most sensible choice of not leaving the car. This was fortuitous as she yelled “birds” in time for me to get on a small flock of icterids containing Red-winged Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird flying around a nearby garden. It was brief but it was probably day bird highlight number two behind the Snowy Owls. Having peaked we called it a day and went home for a `fry up`.

In the spirit of New Year I decided to make some resolutions – in addition to the traditional ‘lose weight’, ‘exercise more’ or ‘stop eating illegal chocolate’ (legal chocolate is a brand or variation that we have never had before or that is free, such as that given away by the IGA stores after you have spent so much on groceries and also once they realise nobody in their right mind would drink vegetable juice either purchased or as a freebie!).

I’m resolved to go to places that I’ve never been to locally. Where we live there are vast bits of it that I have never tramped but I should. Even within walking distance there are private lakes that I’d like to survey so I have plenty to go at with this resolution. I’m also extending this resolution to places abroad and I’m even willing to visit places like Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago despite the risk of hearing reggae which , after rap, has to be the most god awful music on the planet.

I’m resolved to find a new local patch as a back-up for St-Lazare sand pits should I lose it to more infilling. For me a local patch needs to have variety of habitat and the potential for observing migration and also be small enough to cover properly – anything bigger than a few hundred (good) acres is just somewhere you go birding and not a local patch. I have some ideas but nothing solid yet, when I do I`ll let you know.

I’ve resolved to understand more what my camera can do rather than select an automatic setting and just press the shutter release. This resolution I should be able to keep, I now have a mentor. I’ve also resolved to try digiscoping again using the Denniscope adaptor™ as illustrated below. For just a few dollars an old camera can be made to fit your scope eyepiece, the owl photo was taken with this. All you need is the camera that might be sitting in a drawer, a visit to the local DIY for a bit of thick rubber tube (from the plumbing section) and some glue. Measure the length you need by turning the camera on and holding it up to the scope eyepiece, cut the tube and glue it on, tara!

The rubber makes for a snug fit so once you have the bird in the scope in focus, turn the camera on, zoom it up, put it on the scope, set the timer to 10 seconds and press the shutter release. It works great in video mode too. NB. Probably not suitable for flying hawks. NB+: Don’t get too close to the glue else it could be a while before you can focus on getting the camera onto the scope!

DSCN0078 DSCN0079 DSCN3506_edited-1

I’ve resolved to try sketching again. To claim that I ever did actually sketch things (birds) before is probably quite a stretch but I’m working on something and it utilises my earlier efforts. While my pieces of artwork are not accurate or even, in some cases, actually representative of the species I’m trying to sketch, they are mine and, had I worked at the ‘skill’, they would have become marginally better. Below is what I consider to be one of my better ones from 1984, even if it looks like the bird has been sat on a Horse all day. Could you but see it, the fly at the left of the picture and the object that the acrobatic Yellowthroat is focussed on is drawn in exquisite detail!

ylth - ed

For now though I am resolved to go out and find a Mourning Dove and a Northern Cardinal for my year list. It’s -28°C with -39°C wind chill, I may be some time!


4 thoughts on “Resolved

  1. been tracking you’re moves on eBird trying to spot a snowy owl. No luck! What’s the trick? PS. Do you have a beard now? Did I run into you (wearing shorts in the car!) and your wife around Ste- Julie/Ste-Marie/3ieme rang on NY Eve around noon?

    • No trick Martha, earlier or later in the day is better. No, you would not see me in shorts, the World is not ready for that spectacle! I’ve seen one regular bird on the utility pole on the Cites des Jeunes about 2km before St-Polycarpe, there on the last three times I’ve been out looking. I saw nine yesterday.

      • I was out yesterday and saw NONE again. Will keep trying… Where do they hand out on St Julie? Do they have a common spot? Been checking posts, barn roofs, etc.

  2. Thanks for the tip! I saw the owl exactly where you said. Then when I stopped, it flew off to the posts along the train tracks at the other end of the field. Saw another on Ste-Julie – felt bad because some people were baiting it to fly with a toy mouse on a kite string. Then 2 more on hwy 20 lamp posts around the weight station/ste-Dominique! Very exciting for the first time owl viewer.

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