Winter review

It’s May tomorrow, probably the best month of the year bird-wise although, with the erratic weather patterns we are enjoying these days, who knows how long that will last.

It is well known that Québec only has the two seasons, summer and winter, and so I’m taking the time to review what has been a long, cold and largely uneventful winter unless you are a Snowy Owl. My notebook tells me that it was -10°C on November 13th-2013, but that was not the start of winter, that comes when the horrible white stuff falls and sits belligerently until the thaw. We didn’t have to wait long, it was November 20th when the first snow arrived.

Our winter birding hopes were prepared, as usual, by the winter finch forecast and this winter it was spot on. All of the crossbills seem to be well away from my area and even a good drive north seemed unlikely to produce one, only a few years ago White-winged Crossbill bred in the garden. Pine Siskins and Bohemian Waxwings were nowhere to be found, similarly Pine Grosbeak and any redpolls. Odd things lingered from ‘summer’, a Fox Sparrow in the garden was taken by a Sharp-shinned Hawk just after dawn on December 1st 2013 but at least I’d made the effort to get up and look early for my Québec winter list. I didn’t really consider getting both Fox Sparrow and sharpie in one field of view, however brief for one of them, a bonus.

For those who don’t know, in Canada we have a winter listing season – December 1st – February 28th. My winter list was a modest 80 species, my third best winter list since I started them. The winter list is really just something to stop you looking out the window and thinking it would be stupid to go out in that! So you do. I’m lucky in that we have a regular Snowy Owl wintering area on the doorstep and it offers some compensation for not being able to get to many areas and the general lack of birds. Most winters I have seen between eight and twelve individuals over the course of the winter, although there were rarely more than four present at any one time and, during the winter of 2010-2011, they were absent bar one weekend when two lingered briefly.

Within the winter dates of November 20th to about the beginning of April 2014 I had only one lifer, but it was a bird I’d long wanted to see and one that I never really expected to see so well. It was at Kingston, Ontario and it was a Brunnich’s Guillemot. I refrain from using the North American name, Thick-billed Murre here because I prefer the Brunnich’s bit. The bird, probably exhausted, bobbed gently off the lakefront in downtown Kingston, it was magical.

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In November we started to hear about large numbers of Snowy Owls appearing on the east coast, it seemed that there was something happening, something that we did not understand. We sat at the beginning of an arrival of Snowy Owls so large that it may be impossible to actually be able to accurately state how many were involved. Some of the owls didn’t stop at the east coast and birds in Western Europe are surely of Nearctic origin. With the irruption as a source of inspiration I started to scour the regular owl spots, but we didn’t see the first around St-Clet until December 2nd. Other sites were reporting birds, but nothing that signified that we were part of the irruption, yet.

I continued to see the odd Snowy Owl on my almost daily trips along what I call ‘the lanes’ but it wasn’t until December 18th when I knew we were in for an exceptional experience. On that day I did a bit of light shopping at Walmart in Vaudreuil. The two Snowies in the parking lot were not on my shopping list. Realising that I needed to get out I headed towards the lanes. By the time my circuit was complete I’d seen 16 different birds in perhaps 60% of the available area, game on!

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Every winter trip out seemed to include seeing some Snowy Owls. I went out with visitors several times during the winter and it was great to share the birds with a very appreciative audience. I doubt that there were any local birders who did not see some Snowy Owls this winter, if there are then I can only assume that their life support machine didn’t have a long enough extension cable to allow them to get out.

The year 2014 got off to a stuttering start. We did have what the weather forecasters like to call ‘winterval’, but not for long. The cold persisted and the snow fell at times, it was not much fun. Part of the problem was the interminable biting wind, it’s still blowing today and still has an edge. Many was the time that birding trips out had to be punctuated with warm ups in the car. One bitter day saw myself and my friend Claude from Toronto out on Mont Royal looking for a Black-backed Woodpecker. It was freezing and the woodpecker was being elusive. We did finally track it down and it made up for hiding by showing so well and for so long and even with the light behind it. A few days later myself and another friend, David from the UK, found a male in St-Lazare Pinade. This bird too was happy to show itself, a truly special woodpecker and another moment of joy in this sparse winter.

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So the winter has gone and spring migration is gaining pace. Warblers will be bouncing around our garden soon and perhaps we’ll see a few more good rarities in Québec this spring, we can only hope. In a few short months we’ll get the finch forecast again and we are probably due a crossbill winter, there should be redpolls, siskins and winter waxwings and maybe even Pine Grosbeaks. Snowy Owls might well be in abundance too, there are now a lot of them around even if many are not yet old enough to breed. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.



I just thought I’d stick this up to show you were all the visitors to the blog have come from since February 2012. Interesting stats and visitors from places you’d never expect. I suspect there are a fair few spammers in there, I don’t quite know what spammers expect to achieve but my filter collects them and then I scatter them to the four winds. I’ve included the top ten visitor country totals then the rest – altogether 130 countries and I only had to look up one to know where it was, any guesses?

Canada – 24,630. United States – 7,555. United Kingdom – 4,872. The Netherlands – 966. Mexico – 650. France – 563. Germany – 467. Spain – 435. Hong Kong – 394. Brazil – 302. Italy; Poland; India; Portugal; Sweden; Australia; Belgium; Panama; Costa Rica; Columbia; Russian Federation; New Zealand; Switzerland; Venezuela; Finland; Argentina; Indonesia; Japan; Egypt; South Africa; Peru; Philippines; Turkey; Slovakia; Denmark; Czech Republic; Republic of Korea; Ireland; Hungary; Ecuador; Austria; Pakistan; Romania; Singapore; United Arab Emirates; Honduras; Malaysia; Israel; Taiwan; Ukraine; Cyprus; El Salvador; Thailand; Serbia; Guatemala; Norway; Malta; Puerto Rico; Saudi Arabia; Chile; Jordan; Uruguay; Greece; Morocco; Dominican Republic; Vietnam; Bulgaria; Estonia; Slovenia; Croatia; Lithuania; Trinidad and Tobago; Belize; Bolivia; Belarus; Cayman Islands; Bangladesh; Latvia; Moldova; Cuba; Syrian Arab Republic; Nicaragua; Suriname; Jamaica; Bahamas; Guyana; Netherlands Antilles; Lebanon; Kuwait; Sri Lanka; Libya; Monaco; French Guiana; Montenegro; Ivory Coast; Iraq; Georgia; Algeria; French Polynesia; Bahrain; Palestine; Sudan; Iceland; Aruba; Paraguay; Maldives; Guernsey; Nigeria; Macedonia; Guadeloupe; The Seychelles; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Bhutan; Benin; Albania, Guam; Oman; Saint Lucia; Armenia; Comoros; Nepal; Tonga; New Caledonia; Luxemburg; Dominica; Yemen; Saint Pierre and Miquelon; Myanmar; Zimbabwe.


Plus one more.

Yesterday I wrote about dipping on Barnacle Goose and Eurasian Wigeon this week, well you can add the Brossard Summer Tanager to that list because I went and dipped that today too. The tanager had been in this morning but not after and the guy who’s garden it was frequenting said that we were really unlucky, because it had been coming in very regularly since Monday.

26-April additional info: The QC rare bird site reports this bird as being seen between 1:30-2:00pm. I think the observer must have their watch set to another time zone because I was there then and the bird certainly was not.

I had planned, if I got the tanager reasonably quickly, to go to Baie du Febvre and try for the Brewer’s Blackbird too. Sandra hates the place although we have had at least two and very productive visits there, it was the other ten lousy ones that rather colour it for her. With this in mind I thought I would go on my own, especially as Brossard is a good hour nearer to Baie du Febvre that St-Lazare is.

The day had actually started fairly well, with a Greater White-fronted Goose at St-Lazare sand pits plus a Pied-billed Grebe there. A downside was a better view of what the owner has been up to, for some reason he is filling out in into a spring fed water area. I’m hoping that it is just a truck turn but he might just keep going and screw something else up, wildlife habitat wise.

Here are a few photos, the Greater White-fronted Goose was some distance from me!

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In the pocket wood by the Soccer Pitch car park, the privee signs seem to have all gone, a good thing as it saves me from having to pull them down anyway. There were a few birds in there with four Hermit Thrushes busying away and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in with the commoner stuff. In a few weeks we should have a nice selection of warblers going through there unless the St-Lazare council have a plan to screw this spot up too, you never know with that lot.

The coming weekend looks mixed but a report of Willow Ptarmigan in New York State is intriguing and tempting even though it is a bit of a hike. It is way out of range and you wonder whether it is the one that was in Ontario a couple of winters ago.

Still waiting for my eBook to appear on Kindle and Kobo, if you want to read the preview pages then here is the link: Just use the arrows to scroll through.

Double Dip Week

As a general rule I don’t wander too far during the week, although once in a while I’ll have a trip out further than just St-Lazare sand pits and area. This week I chanced a trip to the Richelieu Valley to look for a year tick Barnacle Goose. After the success of the Townsend’s Warbler twitch, well at the second attempt at least, I felt I was on a roll. It also helps that Red Dwarf (the name of the new used car) seems to be more capable of actually completing the trip than did the Squat Pig (try to keep up).

I quickly discovered that I was not, in fact, on a roll and failed miserably to find the goose. I wasn’t the only one and it has not been reported since so perhaps I shouldn’t feel too bad. Today I ran out to St-Timothee, not a trek I grant you, to look for a reported Eurasian Wigeon. Having seen possibly over half a million Eurasian Wigeon in my life, I couldn’t justify the jaunt, even for a year tick, but there was also a Sora there and I managed to get that and besides, who in their right mind would pass up the opportunity to see the phragmites spectacular that is the St-Timothee Marsh experience.

It was pretty cold and windy today, the wind is from the north-west and bringing with it those chilling bursts that nobody thinks are clever. While out St-Timothee way I checked on the Peregrine nest box on the Pont du Gonzague. This time I saw two birds, one had a good flutter around bit always at range, hence the composite shot below.


Earlier in the week the last of the ground snow went away and good riddance to it. The birds are still in the garden though and it is nice to be able to enjoy a couple of Purple Finch, Fox and White-throated Sparrows. The Pine Warbler seems to have acquired a taste for peanuts and sunflower seed and has been in daily. I wouldn’t normally use a feeder shot but well…

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This male American Goldfinch is what is known as the scabby phase.


I have a bit of a dilemma at the moment. Do I go to Brossard and ruin people’s chances of seeing a Summer Tanager? It is QC tick for me but I hate birding folks’ gardens and my lousy French doesn’t help. Tomorrow the wind goes away so perhaps I’ll make it a triple dip week anyway. Should I also muster the enthusiasm to then go on to Baie du Febvre to look for a Brewer’s Blackbird, a stunning female that is er, dark grey and named after Thomas Mayo Brewer (along with a type of salad dressing I think). Choices, choices.

Incidentally, if you are mulling over whether to go on the Panama trip I’m trying to run inDecember, I have potentially four people so I only need two more and then everyone to confirm for it to go. It is the cheapest trip you’ll find, we should get 200+ species and it will be fun. If you fancy it or want more information just send me an email to

A few more photos below but not very good ones it’s true. The Northern Harrier was at the pits but distant. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet refused to turn around no matter how alluring my kinglet impression was and the Tree Swallow was just totally fed up with the cold wind, I know I was.

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Embracing technology

There are no birds in this post and therefore no photos. Hopefully, if you like to read and are interested in the development of eBooks for birders then this post will interest you. If not, well, either see you next time or go take a look at some of the nice photos in the gallery.

As I have recently delved into the relatively new World of e-publishing, one thing is becoming quite clear, many people are entirely unfamiliar with the medium and simply do not realise that many paper books will soon be a thing of the past.

That sounds quite a bold statement but, the vast differences between the costs of publishing traditionally versus electronically mean that many eBooks are (or should be) much cheaper than their hard copy counterparts. This hasn’t stopped the big eBook suppliers from ripping people off, some of their prices are quite scandalous, especially for books in the wildlife sector, but is has allowed the reading market to become less controlled by editors and publishers and more accessible for first-time authors (like me). The upshot of this is that, whether you like it or not, paper books and especially novels, will gradually become history.

One particular recurrent theme I’m finding as I talk to people about eBooks is the lack of tech savvy people who are “waiting until my friend comes round to install X, he/she knows about this stuff”. I find this really surprising but it also explains (to me at least) why PC sellers do so well with their tech support. It seems that many people are still scared of breaking their computers and happily put up with all of the junk that computer makers, sellers and software suppliers push on them.

The first thing I do with a new PC is to change all the settings from automatic updates to manual, despite the dire warnings of impending doom. I then do weekly updates myself via the different software update options. That way my PC spends its time working on my stuff and not using resources checking every three minutes to see whether Microsoft or Norton have updated something. Try it; you’ll be surprised by how much better the PC runs.

I said earlier in the post that the publishing World is changing and you, as a birder, might wonder how you will be affected. I don’t think that eBooks can ever be a replacement for the hard copy field guide or wildlife reference books we all love; they just don’t feel right and don’t work in the same way. What they can do is supplement your library by providing electronic versions of the all of your guides in one very handy reader. With air transit costs climbing and most carriers charging for baggage, the logistics of taking those heavy field guides to countries that can fill around 800 pages means that you either slice and dice the guide for just the plates, or you go the who hog and go electronic.

I’ll state the obvious here and say that electronic is only an option when you have electricity to power things and that, when an e-reader dies, it dies! That is why you have a PC or tablet as back up!

I have an e-reader, a Kobo and it works fine. Sandra has one too, a Sony and that also works fine although she is on her third, having literally worn the other two out. We also have reader apps on our iPods, the iPad and on the PC. We are well serviced with e-reading options and all of our purchases are on all of the devices. You can do that very easily.

If you have a PC, iPod, iPad, Tablet, Smartphone or whatever and you like to read, then there are some e-Book app options listed below.

Mac & PC – Kobo, free desktop reader at

The Bluefire e-reader app, available from iTunes comes highly recommended, link below.

A free iTunes app for reading eBooks is available; you just download it from the app store in iTunes. More information is at

Barnes and Noble do an app also, they are a major eBook seller, see more at

Amazon Kindle is its own thing and you get the software when you buy it. The downside, as far as I’m aware, is that any titles you want to read must be available for the Kindle and it is not always the case that Amazon will carry them. Most Kindle owners think that they can only buy from Amazon but this is not true and you can go to any number of eBook stores and buy books that can be transferred to a Kindle. The link to the software to do that is below.

Adobe Digital Editions is a useful piece of free software that will allow you to transfer eBooks to various devices, such as tablets with e-reader apps, get it here:

There are other versions of e-readers out there. Until recently Sony was a very popular one, their e-reader device being a very simple and effective unit. The Sony store is now shut but their devices still retail at big box stores, coming in at around $80 or so.

Finally, we both recently made a conscious decision not to buy non-reference books in hard copy anymore. We used to buy the new hardback books from Pratchett, Rankin and Holt when they came out. Now we just have the electronic versions and a basement full of books. Change is never an easy thing but, when it is inevitable it is surely better to embrace it rather than do a Canute. It didn’t work for him after all.

Comments are always welcome. The next post will be about birds and birding.

You all know where my eBook can be found, just check the sidebar.


A thing of the past?


Today Sandra and I had a little ride out north of Montreal to flooded fields east of Lachute and some more near Mirabel. It was a year list thing to some extent but also to get us to a place we hadn’t really been to before and it was quite a nice find. The creatively named North River was our main destination, it had breached in many places and tons of ducks, geese and gulls were feeding and roosting there. Most attractive for us, but not so for birders based in Europe, was the presence of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

They are here now, colonising and even eBird doesn’t cough when you put them in. The fact that three adults and an immature were reported yesterday, were motivation enough for the trip out. We found the spot without difficulty and started finding Lesser Black-backs, four adults in total plus a nice, late Iceland Gull. The photos below are of two of the Lesser Black-backs, one had a bit of an argument with an American Herring Gull, the bigger gull won.

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Moving on to more floods adjacent to Highway 15 near Mirabel, we were looking for Greater White-fronted Geese, there had been three yesterday. The mass of Canada Geese and the limited access to all areas of the extensive floods made it difficult to cover it properly and we didn’t see our targets. We did, however, find a further two adult and one immature Lesser Black-backed Gulls plus an adult Glaucous Gull.

Our last port of call was on the Ontario border looking for Upland Sandpipers. My sites there, that have been so reliable for the past 11 years, have been mostly wrecked by the land owner with the field dynamics altered to produce more (dollars) rather than farm in a less intrusive manner. No sandpipers, no meadowlarks in fact nothing to note. I’m sad to say that I think the site might be finished for the sandpipers but I’ll keep checking anyway.

My eBook has still to appear on Kindle and Kobo but I’m hopeful it will be available there this coming week sometime. I finally discovered how to put images on the blog side bar, click on the ‘Going for Broke’ cover if you want to take a look or even shell out $2.99US, or $3.29CDN or £1.78 for a copy. It is available from iTunes and can be read on an iPod or iPad or you can buy it directly from Smashwords. If you’ve already bought one, many thanks I do appreciate it.


Yesterday, news broke of a male Townsend’s Warbler at Pointe-Calumet, north-west of Montreal. Sandra and I went for a look but we were late in the day and there was no sign of the bird.

This morning I went back for another try. I didn’t know that it had been seen earlier in the morning until Samuel Denault arrived with the news. We split up to search, me chasing a flock of Black-capped Chickadees, often a warbler ‘carrier’ species, Samuel grilling and area we’d already looked at. After about 10 minutes he located the bird in with a small group of chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets and a Pine Warbler and called me over, thanks Samuel.

Over the next fifteen minutes the warbler showed very nicely, scrabbling around tree trunks and feeding low and even on the floor. I managed a few snaps before it drifted out of sight and more birders arrived. This was the third Townsend’s Warbler for Quebec following a female at Cap Tourmente on 17th-May 2008, followed eerily by a male at the same site on 17th-May 2009, one of those weird birding coincidences.

Congratulations to Jean-Claude Charbonneau on an excellent find.

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