Prolonged

Sat in front of the feeders and looking at yet more diagonal streaks of snow falling, I got to wondering whether I was imagining this winter as being long, or at least longer than the 10 previous ones that we have ‘enjoyed’ since moving to Canada. Fortunately I also have the notebooks in front of me to research this question and below are the answers in terms of what I saw on this day, 30-March, since 2004. I should say that, coming from temperate islands, that winter as a discernable entity was pretty new to us. Yes we had snow in the UK but often it only lasted a couple of days and then as slush. To have snow on the ground for four or even five months was definitely something different and I’m not sure we’ll ever get used to it.

2004: Weather – fine, 15°C. St-Lazare sand pit. Canada and Snow Geese moving all day. Highlights Eastern Meadowlark, 5 Red-shouldered Hawks, 1 Tree Swallow, 3 Northern Flickers, 5 Rough-legged Hawks, 1 Horned Lark (site rarity), plus all of the regular species.

2005: Weather – sunny, fine. St-Lazare area. Lots of Red-winged Blackbirds singing, Turkey Vulture, Northern Shrike. Regular species back.

2006: Weather – very hot and sunny. Red-footed Booby, Bicolored Conebill, Blue-crowned Parakeet etc, oh wait, I was in Venezuela!

2007: Weather – bright, fine but cool n/w wind. Montmagny area, 61 species, highlight, Gyrfalcon.

2008: Weather – sunny 10°C. St-Lazare area, regular species back.

2009: Weather – fair, cool. St-Clet area, Snow Goose 1000s, still one Snowy Owl, fields have flood water with all the regular ducks on.

2010: Weather – hot, sunny, Cuba this time.

2011: Weather – fine, 7°C, lots of geese moving. Open water on rivers, lots of duck.

2012: Weather, cool, 0°C. Open water with ducks. Fox Sparrows in the garden, geese everywhere.

2013: Weather – mild. St-Clet area, 4000+ Snow Geese. Golden Eagle over St-Lazare pits. Regulars back and singing.

2014: Weather – more snow, -3°C, windy, when will it end!

So there we are. They have promised warmer weather next week but we are still some time from thawing. Like everyone else I’ll keep on birding whatever the weather but for now I’m waiting for these:

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Brilliant

This morning I was out with Claude, dodging the snow then the rain. We had planned a look at Morgan Arboretum, after all it has been some time since and uncontrolled dog stuck its nose into my crotch but, with the Mirabel Gyr Falcon being reported again yesterday and there being a window in the weather, we went up there instead.

It was dry at first and not too cold; spring is peeping around the corner at us and might pop by next week sometime, maybe. We saw lots of Snow Buntings, many perched in the trees like monochrome decorations. A chat with one of the banders revealed that they had processed over 1000 that morning, all males; clearly the northward push was on. We asked about the Gyr and was told that it was around every day and had been for three weeks, you just had to be in the right place at the right time (like under it!). To offer further encouragement he’d heard it twice that morning but the grey stuff hung low and it was hard to pick things up at range.

Grey Partridges were in evidence and they too were anticipating seeing grass again by displaying to each other. They were a bit skittish but we got good views and I managed a few record shots. It was a lifer for Claude and so it was worth making the slushy run up there and at least we had the entertainment on the way of seeing the idiots who’d managed to get their cars stuck on snow banks, oh how we laughed.

There were still a couple of Snowy Owls around, old hat I know, but one really put on a show for us before the predicted rain arrived with a vengeance. Initially it was sat side on to us on a barn apex. It looked like a no photo op then it took off, plunged and pulled up a vole. I missed the shot but Claude was on it. It moved further along the road to a better perch and we followed at a respectful distance.

The spot that had provided the vole gave up two more before it had finished. I managed a few record shots and have one of it with the vole disappearing. On the third snack it actually missed first time but chased around until it got it. While back at the hunting perch, it became interested in something distant, something we couldn’t see. It craned its neck upwards looking afar; we were hoping that it would be the Gyr and that we’d have a National Geographic moment, owl versus falcon, but not this time unfortunately.

The rain put paid to any hopes of another shot at the Gyr, but anyone needing it should make an effort and soon. It, like the other northern species on the move, will be high-tailing it any day now.

Below are some of the shots. The light was not great but I had a bash anyway.

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New season, new ticks?

Last year at St-Lazare sand pits was quite spectacular. The site year list was 183 species, I saw 180 of them. I also added eight to my personal patch list with some of them being long predicted additions to the overall site list, it was a very good year. Now I have to wonder what else have I got to go at?

The ‘missed’ birds last year were Great Grey Owl, Wilson’s Phalarope and Northern Mockingbird. For the mockers, the date suggests that there might be a pair in the area, a theory backed up by the fact that I saw one a few years ago a couple of kilometers away in downtown St-Lazare. Without competing mockingbirds to get them going, lone pairs tend to be quieter, more secretive and less prone to sitting on top of bushes having a good sing. My best bet for finding one would seem to be at the north end of the football pitches, you can be sure I’ll be giving it a good go.

Sora is something that I’d expected to have found by now and I think I can have continued optimism that a migrant will find the wet areas favourable. Fortunately they can be quite noisy, in fact, given the constant site noise from all around, the noisier the better.

Sparrow options are limited, in fact I don’t really expect any of the sparrows that are currently on the St-Lazare site list to appear. If one did then perhaps Nelson’s is the most likely. After that, LeConte’s and then Grasshopper. If you count Dickcissel as a sparrow, even though it is a larky-buntingy type thing, then then there is some likelihood that one might find the seed carpet one day.

Hawks, vultures and falcons are well represented, especially after last year’s Swainson’s Hawk. Gyr Falcon is possible but it would take all of the planets to align to get the one that flew over. Black Vulture is a different proposition as they are moving north slowly and one passing through on one of the regular hawk watches could happen.

Ducks offer some hope, especially what I regard as sea ducks. White-winged and Black Scoter are frequent on passage within viewing distance were it not for al those pesky trees. As the scoter flies they can be as near as 5km, I’ve had surf before so the other two must be options. Harlequin and Barrow’s Goldeneye are outside the box really. Both like moving water, I don’t have any. I’ll also throw Horned Grebe in here as a possibility but without too much enthusiasm.

Herons offer a lot of possibilities because there is everything they need at the pits, they just have to find the place. If the site was in Florida or Texas then Snowy Egret, Tricoloured, Little Blue Heron and Yellow-crowned Night Heron would by regular visitors. These are all scarce to rare in Quebec but Least Bittern isn’t and one just might take up a territory or get itself flushed if the wetland vegetation develops as it could.

I don’t think that there are any real woodpecker options. The two that are absent are American Three-toed and Red-headed Woodpecker. Both are keen on burn sites but it hardly seems ethical to torch the pinade just to attract them. Three-toed does wander into broad-leaved on passage so perhaps there is some hope there.

Warblers are an interesting bunch in that they do sometimes pop up in odd places. Not too far away I’ve recorded Prairie Warbler twice and I suspect that they were breeding locally and that the bird/s I saw were the summer residents. While not at all regular in Quebec, it is quite possible that I’ll find one at the pits in one of the warbler flocks. Connecticut Warbler is a different thing though and it would take a spring singer or just pure luck to pull that one in. Golden-winged I would not rule out, there is scrub habitat on the site and it would be an outsider but possible. I don’t really see anything else in the warbler line showing up although perhaps Yellow-breasted Chat might.

Shorebirds need good habitat and the pits certainly provide that sometimes. Whimbrel might go through, probably as a flyover calling. Red Knot and Marbled Godwit are two that I’m hopeful of, perhaps the former more than the latter. I have yet to see a phalarope although there was a Wilson’s Phalarope reported for last year although I have always suspected Red-necked Phalarope to be the more likely, either will do.

Jaegers and gull options are almost non-existent. Mew Gull is really all that I can think of. Little or Sabine’s Gull might be an outside bet. I doubt that there are any terns I can reasonably hope for.

Owls do offer possibilities and I probably need to be more direct in trying to find these night denizens. As I said earlier, I missed Great Grey Owl last year and they are not very common this so that one is out. Northern Hawk Owls have become scarcer while Boreal Owl is genuinely hard to find in QC. The most obvious omission for me is Northern Saw-whet followed by the two asios, Long and Short-eared Owl. Perhaps I should invest in a pair of heat detecting bins.

Of the remaining common to scarce species I can only think of Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Orchard Oriole, Summer Tanager, Sedge Wren, Red Crossbill and maybe Yellow-headed Blackbird that might be possibilities but very outside ones.

I should stress here that there are a couple of species not on my ‘official’ site list simply because they have no dates associated with them, it’s a recorder thing. If you have seen something at the pits not on the list below and you have a date then please let me know.

So that’s it. I know I do this every year but it all adds to the motivation. Optimistically I might get to add a couple more species  to my pits life list before it becomes houses.

Since my last post I’ve only been out for short periods and then very locally. I was inspired to check for staging Snowy Owls this afternoon but found no evidence. I did see four, including two sat c1m apart on a lump, something I’ve not seen before.

My garden turkeys have been erratic recently. Two have wandered off somewhere but two remain to keep the floor under the feeders clean. Below a few shots of one – I just missed the full view flight shot, I’ll have to wait until I catch a flock soaring for that! Also below a not so great shot of a Horned Lark looking very, well horny! And, as a special treat, here is the full St-Lazare sand pits bird list. Not bad for such a tiny site, even if I say so myself.

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Greater White-fronted Goose

Snow Goose

Ross’s Goose

Brant

Cackling Goose

Canada Goose

Wood Duck

Gadwall

American Wigeon

American Black Duck

Mallard

Blue-winged Teal

Northern Shoveler

Northern Pintail

Green-winged Teal

Redhead

Ring-necked Duck

Greater Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Surf Scoter

Long-tailed Duck

Bufflehead

Common Goldeneye

Hooded Merganser

Common Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Ruddy Duck

Gray Partridge

Ruffed Grouse

Wild Turkey

Red-throated Loon

Common Loon

Pied-billed Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant

American Bittern

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Green Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Turkey Vulture

Osprey

Bald Eagle

Northern Harrier

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Northern Goshawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

Golden Eagle

Virginia Rail

Common Gallinule

American Coot

Sandhill Crane

Black-bellied Plover

American Golden-Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Killdeer

Spotted Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Hudsonian Godwit

Ruddy Turnstone

Sanderling

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper

Baird’s Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

Dunlin

Stilt Sandpiper

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Short-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

Wilson’s Snipe

American Woodcock

Wilson’s Phalarope

Bonaparte’s Gull

Ring-billed Gull

California Gull

Herring Gull

Iceland Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Glaucous Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Caspian Tern

Black Tern

Common Tern

Rock Dove

Mourning Dove

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Black-billed Cuckoo

Eastern Screech-Owl

Great Horned Owl

Barred Owl

Great Grey Owl

Short-eared Owl

Common Nighthawk

Eastern Whip-poor-will

Chimney Swift

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Belted Kingfisher

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Pileated Woodpecker

American Kestrel

Merlin

Peregrine Falcon

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Alder Flycatcher

Willow Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

Eastern Phoebe

Great Crested Flycatcher

Eastern Kingbird

Northern Shrike

White-eyed Vireo

Yellow-throated Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Philadelphia Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

Gray Jay

Blue Jay

American Crow

Common Raven

Horned Lark

Purple Martin

Tree Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Bank Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Barn Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Brown Creeper

House Wren

Winter Wren

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Eastern Bluebird

Veery

Gray-cheeked Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Wood Thrush

American Robin

Gray Catbird

Northern Mockingbird

Brown Thrasher

European Starling

American Pipit

Bohemian Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Lapland Longspur

Snow Bunting

Ovenbird

Northern Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

Black-and-white Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Mourning Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

American Redstart

Cape May Warbler

Northern Parula

Magnolia Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Palm Warbler

Pine Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Canada Warbler

Eastern Towhee

American Tree Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Field Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Scarlet Tanager

Northern Cardinal

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting

Bobolink

Red-winged Blackbird

Eastern Meadowlark

Rusty Blackbird

Common Grackle

Brown-headed Cowbird

Baltimore Oriole

Pine Grosbeak

Purple Finch

House Finch

White-winged Crossbill

Common Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

Pine Siskin

American Goldfinch

Evening Grosbeak

House Sparrow

Partridge

It’s hard to believe that I haven’t bumped into a Grey Partridge yet but it’s true, so, to rectify that and to be in with a slim chance of a Gyr Falcon I wandered off to Mirabel today. The Gyr was a non-starter, as expected, but the partridges were well behaved and their ‘lump of mud’ impression fooled nobody.

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While out that way I always like to take a look at Lachute dump. It was probably the best I’ve seen it this winter with the gulls at reasonable range, well most of them, and even a photo op with a Glaucous Gull. There was a real imbalance between Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, score 40:3. Ring-billed were back and the rest of the loafing birds were mostly Great Black-backed with about 50% fewer American Herring Gulls. I had half-hoped that the Gyr was feasting on gulls there but no sign and no unexplained panics, good theory though.

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My Sibley 2nd edition came yesterday and so I eagerly got stuck in to looking through it. There is a lot of web chatter about the book, some fair, some overly critical. First and foremost I believe that it is still the best field guide to North American birds – definitive, as it say’s on the back – no, not really, that is a very big ask and would take more than one book. What the overly critical seem to forget is that Sibley is a one-man show. Text and illustrations by one person is something way beyond all but a tiny percentage of birders. Being a one-may show is also to its detriment because Sibley is not good at drawing some species or perhaps it is better to say that some species’ illustrations don’t work here.

On an initial view I have to agree with others, some of the image printing is awful, wrong colours and too dark. I’ll not list the obvious problems because you will see them when you look at a copy. The text is too small, way too small. This is the publisher’s fault, not Sibley’s although presumably he had some say-so in the final product. The maps could be better in that some species only occur in a very small area but the map shows the USA and Canada, not sure why? If something only occurs in Texas, only show Texas in as large a scale as possible. If it is solely restricted to the east coast or even just Newfoundland, ditto, more detail please.

I think that, because the first Sibley is so good, and ahead of its time somewhat, the second edition will meet a more critical readership. I also think that we are a very long way from a definitive guide to the birds of North America. At $25.00 a pop the Sibley is cheap, very cheap and the income it will generate can in no way compensate Sibley financially for all his work and effort. Despite the gripes, I still think Sibley is the best and anyone who thinks that they are a birder should own one. It is one of the two, possibly three essential field guilds that all birders must own; the other being Peterson and the National Geographic.

Perhaps we are seeing the gradual end of the printed book, the process started some time ago. The disappointment at the reproduction of Sibley’s artwork is valid, as are the complaints regarding text size etc. After looking at the new guide and then comparing the illustrations in there to the app, the app is better. The app shows you how the images were supposed to look and you can bump up the text to a reasonable size. Add to that the calls and songs and the app is a superior product. Personally I still like to hold a book, leaf through it, write notes in it if I see something I think will help ID a species or that I get from an ID paper. You can’t personalise an app!

Junco

The diversity of species wintering in the St-Lazare area is typically low, so, what do you do to entertain yourself while waiting for the colourful birds to head back? You make the most of what you have, that’s what. Our garden feeders attract both nuthatches, both pied woodpeckers and seemingly limitless numbers of Black-capped Chickadees. On a few occasions we’ve had a Northern Shrike stake them out and then drop on a hapless victim. One species we can rely on to visit daily is Dark-eyed Junco.

The juncos stay for the duration of the winter, in small numbers, and they are the real deal when it comes to dealing with a snow dump and finding food. They tunnel down into the snow, leaving little hollows where they have been busy. I find that they are strangely selective in their choice of food, often ignoring a seed carpet in favour of scratching up the snow for buried treasure.

This winter I experimented with a feeder containing seed treated with anti-squirrel red pepper essence. It works for keeping squirrels at bay and the juncos seem to prefer it above all else. It is worth the few extra dollars for a bag of the stuff if you are not going see the majority of it wolfed down by our furry companions. Photographing juncos can be a bit of a trial as their dark plumage tends to absorb the light, also they can be a bit skittish and argumentative, meaning that they never stop chasing each other around. Today I got close to one junco that seemed too preoccupied to notice me, the results are below.

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There is a wide range of junco races which explains the variety that we find in Quebec. I thought I’d re-show a couple of photos of a well-marked bird with white wing bars. These varieties make up only a tiny portion of the juncos that occur here but they are quite distinctive.

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For more information on the various races, here is a link to an interesting paper: http://www.jeaniron.ca/2011/juncodiversity.pdf

Locally the McGill Bird Observatory at Morgan Arboretum has a good selection of in-hand photos and ageing details here: http://www.migrationresearch.org/mbo/id/scju.html

A good read

There are no photos in this post but I hope I make up for that with my witty and insightful prose!

I do enjoy a good book although I’m resigned to losing the physical in favour of the electronic for some tomes. I suppose you could be a bit like King Canute and stick your fingers in the socket to stop the tide of eBooks but it might sting a bit if you did. Technological progress aside, the purpose of this post is to list what I consider to be eight good birding reads. Why eight you might ask, simple, I can’t think of ten!

The crux of a good birding book is that it has to capture your imagination in some way. It needs to engage you on some level, whether with a story line, familiar theme or fill a niche in your knowledge. For that reason the books are a mixed bag but each in its own way an important part of my birding education. They are listed in no particular order and each one is a subjective choice. If I inspire you to try just one and you like it then the 40 minutes spent composing this post were worth it.

Bird identification guides generally revolve around an illustration and then a limited amount of text that gives you very basic detail. In Pete Dunne’s ‘Essential Field Guide Companion’ you get a birder telling you what the bird is like. He tells it simple and straight and captures the essence of what you are looking for. Few birders will be familiar with every bird and so when detail not included in field guides is presented in one book, then it is a no-brainer to own one.

Bill Oddie is a British birder who just happens to be famous for a TV comedy trio, The Goodies. He writes too and has a few titles to his name but the best is his first, ‘Bill Oddie’s Little Black Bird Book’. The humour is there as is poignant detail about birding and birders. I’d recommend the book to new and seasoned birders, there is lots in there to enjoy no matter where you are from.

Some people get all upset about listing, my advice them is to get out more. Listing is a natural part of birding and anyone who thinks that watching a sparrow to see how many times it pecks or defecates is purer in any sense is an idiot. There are lots of books out there, some good, some indifferent, some inaccurate and some downright awful. The next four books are listing books of a sort and all four have the ‘can’t put down’ quality that marks the excellent from the mundane.

I never met Phoebe Snetsinger but I know people who did and they only had good things to say about her dedication to birding. I doesn’t spoil the ending if I say that, in ‘Birding on Borrowed Time’ she dies while birding. We all die eventually and I’d prefer to go with my bins in my hands rather that gasping in some hospital bed. Her later life was birds and birding and she worked for them too. To be the World’s biggest lister for some time tells you all you need to know about her tenacity. Read the book.

Australia is a big and mostly inhospitable country. The outback will fry you and, if you are a Brit, the majority of the human population will be quick to let you know how bad your cricketers or rugby players are! As a place to bird the options are tremendous. I’ve not been there (yet) but I can live the birds vicariously through Sean Dooley’s ‘The Big Twitch’. Written the best way, with humour and pathos, Sean careers around ‘Aus’ seeing birds and places and just being a crazy birder, much like the majority of us. It is a fun book to read and he doesn’t die so high-fives all round.

When the man who is considered to be the father of the field guide does a big year, then you know it can’t be a sin! In ‘Wild America’ Roger Tory Peterson inspires through his own immersion in birds and birding. Reading about Peterson’s travels with James Fisher fills you bones with a wanderlust that few of us will ever satiate. We know that North America is big and diverse but by presenting it as doable, Peterson sets you up for a life time of disappointment. Only a small percentage of birders will experience a truly wild America, instead we will see it piecemeal over a number of years and the sum total of our travels will be the stats in eBird. When you are flagging a bit, read Wild America again and then go out and give it a go as best you can.

As you get older, your birding requirements change and, where once you might have rough-camped or used a cheap hostel, you now prefer a little luxury if at all possible. Few people would consider dried cat food as a viable meal option, in fact few cats do too, so when Kenn Kaufman dined regularly on such a feast, as he hitched his way all over North America in pursuit of the year list record in ‘Kingbird Highway’, you have to admire the dedication. True it is a listing book, but it also reflects the core of a birders motivation. Wanting to see more, to learn more and to fit more life into a year of birding than the average folk manage their own life time is fundamental to being a birder. I read the book about once every three years, and after I have finished it a part of me wants to spend time on the road going places, seeing birds, doing a big year. Then I remember the cat food and I know deep-down that I’ll only do a big year if I share it with my wife and we can stay in places with an en-suite!

Obsession can be a damaging force. People become obsessed with money and never have enough to be satisfied. others obsess about trivia and it whittles away at their soul making their one shot at life something of a misfire. Obsession can be a good thing and can drive people to great deeds such as helping the sick and needy or saving old horses. A better obsession is revealed in the pages of ‘The Jewel Hunter’ by Chris Goodie.  I have seen some pittas and I’ve heard others. They are all beautiful birds but they all seem to have one characteristic that you can understand would drive an obsession – they don’t particularly want to be seen. Pittas are birds of the far east although you could argue for far west if you reside in California or adjacent areas. They largely live in jungles and some choose to be in places that are pretty difficult to get to. Apart from that, finding them is a doddle and Chris goes about satisfying his obsession for pittas by setting out to see the lot. On the way through is quest you learn about where they live, what they do and how to make a real cup of tea!

Some writers capture the essence of a thing and in Mark Cocker’s ‘Birders, Tales of a Tribe’ you find yourself identifying with many of his birding experiences. His grounding took place in the UK but the principle applies to anywhere. We, that is birders, are part of a culture that outsiders often struggle to understand. We have a collective love of birds and how we go about shaping our lives around that passion is what the book is all about. I know of people who say “birds, I just don’t get it” then they go off to the gym for weight-lifting sessions or Flamenco classes or learn Swahili. We all have our tribal affiliations n some description, in this book Cocker gives ours a public airing.

So there you are, eight books that you could put on your Christmas present list or even just borrow from a library, if such a thing still exists. I hope that you don’t mind me detouring from the usually picture laden posts that I normally do, I just felt like writing about writing and it’s snowing like anything outside.

Game Over? Not quite

In the interest of completeness I decided to check the St-Clet lanes today before the 1cm (yeah, right) of snow fell. My previous run a couple of days ago, finding just one owl, had suggested that the winter, and with it the Snowy owl residency, had run its course. Today I went only one better (two birds!) and it does indeed look like spring is lurking a few hundred kilometers to the south, ready to charge north soon with its escort of Red-winged Blackbirds.

Below is a photo of today’s bird. It was on a very quiet back road and I was able to watch it a while as it called, almost a barking sound. I was going to record it but, in accordance with the law of sod, along came two cars from opposite directions at the same time – both letting me know that I should not have the temerity to stop on a Quebec road, let alone stop to look at a bird. Naturally, with all unnecessary the excitement, the owl flew off.

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For a Snowy owl addict, this winter has just been better than life. Those of you out there who don’t know Red Dwarf, the game ‘Better than Life’ creates a perfect virtual reality for the player. In birding terms, seeing a ton of Snowy Owls does it for me every time.

One feature of the owl irruption has been greater opportunities to see the owls actually do something! In the normal course of a winter the owls generally sit, often at distance or they might occasionally shuffle around a bit but not often. Finding hunting birds is not always easy but this year the much higher number of birds meant many more opportunities to see such action.

For fun, I thought I’d look at my stats this winter so far, in relation to trips out and owls recorded. My first Snowy Owl was seen on 2nd December 2013, counts of over ten birds seen during a visit started on 18th December. In 41 trips out looking for owls I had 310 owl contacts, for an average of around 7.5 Snowy Owls per trip. My best one day count was 29 birds.

Even after the plethora of owls photographed this winter and my digital storage now fit to bursting, I still didn’t get the photo opportunity I’ve been after for the past 11 years. A sitting owl, on a fence post, side on to me, looking at me and with the light behind me. It’s always good to have ambition.