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.
Greater White-fronted Goose
American Black Duck
Great Blue Heron
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Horned Owl
Great Grey Owl
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
American Tree Sparrow