Spoke too soon!

In the last post I noted that just an adult Caspian Tern was about, well it was back today and with junior, so they were successful after all. They were a bit distant but I took the record shot anyway, that way I’ll know when a different youngster shows up.

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Yesterday the first Great Egrets arrived, a normal thing nowadays in the autumn. They are always a bit skittish at first and dogs, planes and anglers will set them flying, but they soon settle down again. The fishing must be good, because there are still 10 Great Blue Herons around and a couple each of Green and Black-crowned Night-Herons plus perhaps three American Bitterns.

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Shorebirds are arriving as predicted but I’m pretty sure that they have other local haunts because the often fly off, only to be back the next day. There are around ten each of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, two Semipalmated Plovers, a Semipalmated Sandpiper and up to six Least Sandpipers, mostly around the lightly flooded causeway. The best way to see them is to walk slowly down the causeway, crest the obvious hump and just stand and scan for ten minutes. The grass can hide a fair bit but eventually most birds will show.

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I’m still hoping for a patch tick this year but no joy so far. The best candidates seem to be Sora or Least Bittern, it looks good for either. I’ve also been checking the snags for Olive-sided Flycatcher, they do come through the area and I once had one in the nearby pinade around this time of year.

Short spells of sunshine followed by torrents of rain seems to be the reason for such a poor showing of butterflies this year. I’ve seen the odd Monarch at the pits recently and their imitator, the Viceroy, is reasonably common at the moment.

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I saw a fresh Red Admiral today too so perhaps the autumn will fill in a few year gaps. At the rate of infill I expect the flowery meadow where Common Buckeye breed, perhaps the only place in Quebec that they do so, to go inside 12 months. Pending me finding some this year here is a shot of one from last year.



Pits bits

I spent part of this morning looking at St-Lazare sand pits hoping to see one of the Solitary Sandpipers that at least one other visitor sees on each visit. No joy, but now ten Greater Yellowlegs around, and encouraging sign. Strangely there have been no Killdeer for some time, they are probably still out on the farm fields but should start coming in to roost soon. The morning was also marked by a few year-firsts for the site, although I’m way off target for getting anywhere near last year’s 180 species seen by me. Two other species were reliably added to that total by others including a Wilson’s Phalarope that must not be mentioned.

Expected, but not taken for granted was the first Purple Martin for the year, part of a hirundine flock that was taking advantage of a good hatch. In much the same vein was the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year. I usually get a few in spring, but this year I’ve found that fewer seem to be around. Less expected was a vocal Willow Flycatcher. Over the years I’ve noticed that both species  of large empid (relative I know) shut up once they pair up, then later have another singing period. This is usually just before eBird starts lumping them under Alder/Willow and calling them rare. Perhaps I overlooked the Willow Flycatcher earlier in the year, this bird was right by the road.

If you bird the small woods by the soccer pitch car park, be aware that last years ‘privee’ signs have now been replaced with a ‘garde le chien’ sign. I intend to ignore the sign, as usual. The woods are owned by St-Lazare town and access is free. If the sign erector has a doggie that bites and they’ve publically advertised the fact, then they’d better get a good lawyer too.

I also took a look at the seasonal pool at the west end of the complex, a good Solitary Sandpiper haunt sometimes. The pool is also owned by the town but has had problems with ATV riders who seem to find 17,000km of ATV trails in Quebec (I checked) too limiting. I raised the issue with the environmental person last year, but nothing got done about making access difficult. The result is that the riders are chewing up the area and damaging the spot that holds River Bluet, virtually unique to St-Lazare in Quebec. The two ATV registration numbers were VV82500 and VV82305, they were there at 11:40. I’ve also passed this on to the town for action. Oddly they were wearing helmets, I’d of thought that padded trousers would have offered more protection for their brains.


As I walked the trail away from the infill site, or ‘death of the pits corner’ as I call it, I came across a clearwing on the path. Two clicks and it had gone but I got the shot and it turned out to be new for me, a Snowberry Clearwing.

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Back to the main pit and a Caspian Tern was doing a circuit. It is around this time of year that a parent and young starts to show up. I hope a lone bird isn’t indicative of a breeding season failure.

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I’m pondering on doing a print version of my eBook ‘Going for Broke’. If I do I’ll be using LULU.com, a print to order service. I’m not sure at present what the cost would be (not $2.99). It takes a bit of setting up but, if you are interested, please keep checking back. New visitors (or those with a limited attention span) can get my eBook directly from http://smashword.com Just search for my name or ‘Going for Broke’ There is a link on the side bar that takes you straight to my page.

If you want to friend me on Facebook, this is the link to me. https://www.facebook.com/mark.dennis.9212


Autumn is peeking around July’s skirts already, there’s a coolness about the air and, to quote someone else, winter’s coming!

Sometimes you just have to kick back and see what’s in your own back yard (garden). So Sunday I spent time watching the sheer diversity out back and enjoying it. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are coming through and they seem to prefer my sugar mixture this year. I’ve abandoned the coloured stuff in favour of home brew. I have two males duelling for sugar rights at the moment, no doubt more will follow. Unfortunately they rarely sit out in the open and when they are close enough for a photo they opt for a spot under shade.

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I don’t put butterflies on here very often, I see them though and know most, I have to refresh annually when it comes to the dark little skippers. The garden seems to be attractive to butterflies, 38 species so far, exactly the same number as the odes in fact. One regular in the garden that tends to stick in the canopy is Banded Hairstreak. Sometimes they will drift low to investigate shrubs, doing their little pirouettes and presumably looking for something sticky excreted on the leaf. I can’t say I’ve noticed aphids here but there must be something similar.

Additional – Jeremy Bodycomb has pointed out that the hairstreak is a Striped and not Banded. My bad, I photographed (badly), a Banded at Baie Brazeau recently and rather lazily made a jump to a conclusion about the one in the garden. The Striped is the top one, the Banded the lower.  Thanks Jeremy.

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We rather take Mourning Doves for granted but it really is a great looking bird but one I rarely photograph. While I was waiting for the hummers to pop back, in between squabbles, this dove posed for a while in low light with a nice, dark background.

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Blue Jays are feeding noisy young still, even though they look old enough now to apply for a driving licence! It will soon be Monkey Nut time. Each year we buy a couple of sacks and distribute them around the garden. It keeps the jays and squirrels occupied for hours as they gather up mouthful and bury them everywhere. I’d say that the Red Squirrels get the best deal as they spend as much time under the snow as above in winter. They probably have a mental map of every nut in the garden.

This Eastern Toad was sitting on our front porch recently. It refused to budge and only showed irritation when I bumped its nose with the camera lens.

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This morning I had a walk around the pits. My first Caspian Tern of the year there was nice, as were seven Greater Yellowlegs. Most surprising was the Great Blue Heron explosion (in numbers, not literally). One has been semi-regular recently, today there were 14. The water is falling, or perhaps it was but given the rain today that might have changed. There will be some shorebird spots but not many. The best place is right where the anglers like to leave their discarded line and trash everywhere, so weekend disturbance is likely.

As I understand it, if you come across an angler leaving line on the bank, you can use it on them in much the same way as it is used for the removal of lamb’s tails, and in the same general area. There’s a special knot, I’ll ask Sandra to do an illustration if it helps.

Disclaimer – not all anglers are so thoughtless as to leave fishing line on the bank that then entangles birds, causing them great distress as death might.

Only five and a half months to…

The New Year of course! This year I have been doing an ABA big year, essentially because our vacations have been within the ABA area and because I wanted to get my ABA list up to 600 (or more), ten to go. For next year I’ve been thinking about alternatives and have decided on a Vaudreuil-Solanges Big Year. Since I live rather handily in the middle of it, then I won’t have to travel far and, by having the extra motivation, I won’t miss St-Lazare sand pits so much as it gradually gets filled in, although that site will be integral to the year list.

eBird currently has my V-D list at 248 (yes I know it is more that some folks’ life lists, what can I say, make an effort) although there are still four years of notebooks waiting to be added so there might be a couple more to add to that. Sorry that V-D looks a bit odd, what about Centralised Looking Area Potentially, oh, that’s CLAP isn’t it. I’ll stick with V-D then and most people will have stopped sniggering by March.

The big year won’t just be a birding one but will include Mammals, Odes and Butterflies.  A big year would be nothing without target so say 200 bird species, 90 odes, 55 butterflies and 15 for the mammals although that may be optimistic without a bat detector.

I’ll run the list on the blog side bar and would appreciate a heads up if you see something that you think I might need. Here is a map of the area with some sites inked in. For those reading outside the area, we are the bit just off the west end of Montreal Island.

Vaudreuil-Dorian map

Yesterday we had some pretty good rain in the morning, thunderstorms and torrents, the like of which we haven’t seen for days. The extra rain just keeps filling those St-Lazare sand pits up and there will need to be a dry spell to get the water to tip-top shorebird levels. Storms often dump birds down and so I always get out after one. The gamble doesn’t always pay off but yesterday it did when I found five Stilt Sandpipers at the pits. They didn’t stay long, another ten minutes later and I’d have missed them, a nice year list addition although I expect to get two or three annually there.

The local Spotted Sandpipers never cease to amaze. They come every spring, give the old breeding thing a go then have to run the gauntlet of anglers feet and worse, uncontrolled dogs. This year at least five have made it to featherhood, a sort of stage before adulthood when the down goes and the feathers start to work. Their parents still feel the need to get noisy when you pass, but the young are big enough to be able to fend for themselves now.

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There have been a few yellowlegs going through recently, smart adults still wearing their best suits plus a scattering of Least Sandpipers. These tiny shorebirds can be quite approachable if you see them before they fly, otherwise they creep through the grassy margins hoping to be ignored.

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The Black Skimmer we went for last Saturday disappeared until yesterday, when it popped up in Quebec City. There are some nice photos of it here http://quebecoiseaux.org/index.php?option=com_oiseauxrares&Itemid=133 the text is in French but the photos are bilingual!

Skimmer twitch

The lively storm that swept past the east coast last week has been busy depositing goodies in Atlantic Canada and even as far as Québec. On 17-July a Black Skimmer, the first in the province since 1938, was found on the beach at Riviere-Ouelle about 4.5 hours east of Montreal, or perhaps in the lower St-Lawrence is a better guide! The news broke yesterday but we waited to see whether it had been seen until firing up Red Dwarf. Thanks to a prompt message from Yves Gauthier on OrnithoQC, we were soon on the busy road going east.

It wasn’t the only reason for going that way, Nelson’s Sparrow was an option at nearby La Pocatiere too, plus any of the St-Lawrence species that might be around, auks, loons, sea ducks etc all missing from my year ABA list. But first the priority was to see the skimmer.

We located the bird sat on a quieter bit of the beach area, then we saw the birders, well two, twitching happens differently here and the keenest had already been and gone. It was asleep for much of the time we watched it and range and heat haze proved to be our enemies. After long enough the bird took off and flew away but we presumed that it would come back for the birders still yet to arrive.

On the way to the skimmer spot we’d passed a muddy island in the mouth of the Ouelle River with a few birds resting on it. The tide was dropping as we left so we stopped and gave it as scan, hoping for a shorebird perhaps. There on the mud was the skimmer. I thought that we’d passed some birders arriving as we left so we skipped back and found them, telling were the bird was now, it was our duty as birders, do as you would be done by and all that.

We headed out to try to get a view of the open St-Lawrence but the receding tide had pushed everything beyond even decent scope range so we gave it up as futile. La Pocatiere was on the way home, unless we decided to jump on the ferry, go over to St-Siméon and then bird north to Les Escoumins, we didn’t! No bags, PC or toothbrush and, in the sweaty conditions, the smalls were no doubt ripening too.

At La Pocatiere loads of dark brown butterflies were feeding on the flowing plants, they were Common Wood Browns being common but actually well away from the woods. Our first sweep of the riverside grasses was a failure but, while Sandra took advantage of the facilities and a rest, I managed to find a Nelson’s Sparrow east of the parking lot.

Coming back the traffic was light and we had no problems right up until we got to Vaudreuil where they had shut the road because they are pulling down the old bridge over highway 40. All the way in there were no signs, nothing at all, right up until the cone lorry blocked the road. Fortunately we were going a slightly different way from most and only had a short delay. Those backed up past Hudson going east, and the long lines behind us heading for the Ile aux Tortes probably had a harder time of it. Once again Transport Québec shows what utterly brainless turds they are.

Back to the birding and it was a twitch and a good one. My ABA year list went up to 426 so now I at least have something to submit to Lister’s Corner in that category (it needs to be 400+). I also added a very rare QC and Canadian bird to my list and we got to meet some delightful people. The storm wrecked birds will no doubt continue to be found, there are two Laughing Gulls on the North Shore at the moment, so perhaps we will take advantage of the forthcoming long weekend, dust off the tent and head that way once again.

The photo is lousy I know.

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Recent birding has been slow. It is July after all and even the odes are not making too much of an effort. I did make a recent post on the odes page so feel free to go over and browse, link on the side bar.

There do seem to be an awful lot of Cedar Waxwings about at the moment. They must have had a good breeding season because adults and young are now to be found in any bush with edible fruit. I snapped the one below, possibly a female, she seemed to have a brood patch when seen from a different angle. Other than that there is little to report.

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With the slow time upon us, I thought that I’d give you a preview of the next eBook, Twitching Times. In it are some 80+ tales from the various twitches I did for rare birds around the UK between 1981-2003. As the preview account has a North American angle to it, I thought that it would be suitable. Just a word on the format used. The top line with the species name is my sighting date. The BBRC reference is the British Birds Rarity Report for the specific year with the full dates that the species was present. The figures in parentheses are the number of UK records since 1958 and the number recorded in the year of the sighting. There is some twitch speak in there but if you have read ‘Going for Broke’, a snip from http://www.Smashwords.com  then you will already be fluent.


American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus – Marton Mere, 4-February-1991.

BBRC – Lancashire, Marton Mere, 24-January to 12-May, (9/1).

New relationships are fraught with potential disasters. One such hurdle is meeting the parents of the new partner for the first time. Depending on your point of view, this can be easy or hard. For me, my introduction to my now wife Sandra’s parents was a testing and stressful experience, I’d dipped an American Bittern earlier the same day!

The date was set for the inaugural trip to the Lancashire hamlet of Preston, well I was a Nottingham lad and the cotton town seemed small in comparison. Once the date was set for our departure, a week hence, a call that evening to Birdline resulted in the immortal words (from me) F**k me, there’s an American Bittern at Marton Mere. Would it wait for me a week or should we go for it now? I decided to ‘play it cool’.

I wasn’t too familiar with the site the bittern had adopted, but knew that it was Blackpool way which is very near to Preston. When the day to travel up came, logic, well mine, suggested that it would be unwise not to go for the bittern first as Sandra’s parents were non-migratory and also unlikely to be flushed. Sandra’s perspective was a little different, as her folks knew very little about me, other than the fact that we were now sharing facilities. She was a little tense, I topped that with a better word score – trepidation.

The drive from Nottingham to Blackpool is an easy one, crossing the scenic Pennines and being mostly highway all the way and we soon found ourselves lined up with the rest of the ‘wannasees’ at the site, handily located behind Blackpool Zoo. No incongruity there, they didn’t have any American Bitterns in their bird house or garden and so the one said to be strutting its stuff at the mere had excellent credentials.

American Bittern was and still is a true rarity in the UK and those of us who had arrived at the craggy rock face of twitching after a long-staying bird in South Wales in 1981 had long departed were all naturally enthusiastic to catch up, even if some uncharitable characters in the upper echelons of birding considered it a ‘Tart’s Tick’.

After a short time for me, but a longer time in future spouse years (apparently), we had to leave Marton Mere empty handed. We’d seen several Eurasian Bitterns while there, or more likely seen one of them several times, but no American Bittern appeared so no tick. The miss was not quite devastating but close too, and breaking the gold rule of not leaving the site until it is too dark to see the bird, when it invariably shows, was hard to ignore. I suppose Sandra could have called her parents over to Marton Mere for a picnic for the first meeting, but it was never suggested. I blame myself for not thinking on my feet.

When we eventually got to Preston, Sandra’s parents were fine and we got on like a house on fire. We have even been on several vacations together since that eventful day, even birdless ones like an Italy trip to see abundant Roman rubble and some town near a volcano with very dusty streets (it looked like ash), so there was nothing to fret over after all. Duty done and an introduction to Slalom Lager later I was ready for another go at the bird. A phone call confirmed that it had showed well just after we left and plans for an early breakfast were made.

The next day we were back on site early and this time, after a mercifully short wait, the bird showed well. It wasn’t bright and gaudy, it didn’t swoop and soar, it just crept along the bankside, hid behind often abundant vegetation and jabbed at the odd fish it didn`t recognise but fancied trying anyway.

The important thing was that it was an American Bittern and we saw it. I can’t really remember what number tick it was but I hit 400 later the same year so probably in the high 390s. Having just written that last part, I now feel compelled to number the order in which lifers were added to my UK list. All neatly done on an Excel spreadsheet and cross-referenced by site and date. And they call Train spotters nerds!

Buggy Boreal

Alain Bessette and I had the best part of the day at Parc Tremblant yesterday, the weather was fine, the park quiet for humans and the bugs were out in force. Despite lathering on the Deet I have hard evidence of their ingenuity when it comes to sneaking past the lotions and snatching a belly full of quality blood. That aside the birding was pretty good although it was more of a target visit (for me at least) than a general one.

There are a few trails I stick too at Tremblant, mainly because I have always had a degree of success there but also because time tends to be of the essence. The best part of the day is dawn to around 11am generally. After that the birds get harder to see and tiredness kicks in after an early start. We got there reasonably early and were on a trail as the nearby camp awoke. I have long believed that Canadian children are instructed from an early age on how to be as loud as possible in quiet, wildlife areas and the camp’s occupants did nothing to dispel that notion. Fortunately we were out of earshot fairly soon and able to start our involuntary feeding of the insects.

Seeing birds in Boreal sites can be hard but every now and then the tracks open up a bit and sunny spots become hives of activity. So it was on our first track and we found a nice group of summer plumaged warblers containing Black-and-White, Yellow-rumped, Magnolia, Bay-breasted, Nashville and a very showy Canada Warbler. This year my St-Lazare breeding Canada Warblers failed to reappear and so this was a year bird. Swainson’s Thrushes were everywhere; a distant Olive-sided Flycatcher was vocal while Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were happier to show.

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On the walk back we came across Boreal Chickadees, easy to miss at times but three kept us occupied and allowed the bugs to save a bit of energy as we were no longer moving targets. I’ve yet to get a decent photo of a Boreal Chickadee, on day I will.

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The first track turned out to be the highlight and, try as we might, we couldn’t turn up any Grey Jays, we even drove the endless track to Rat Falls just in case the infrequent birds there were around, they were not. At the same time last year I had them following me around but that is how it is with Grey Jay, unpredictable. Our travels did add Chestnut-sided and Black-throated Blue Warbler to the modest day list of 44 species but no hawks.

It being ode season, I spent a bit of time looking but there was not the abundance I had expected.  I’ll post the results over on the ode blog when I have a moment. There were also a few butterflies around. Lots of White Admirals and a nice Bog Fritillary which was new for me.

Good news if you are waiting for my first eBook to appear on KOBO, it’s there, finally: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/going-for-broke-7