Field Birding

That would be in an actual field.

Today I went back out in to the St-Clet fields, it was bright, if cool, and I fancied another go at a Rough-legged Hawk in better light.

As it happened, the hawks were having none of it, preferring to stay well away from my vantage point. When I was there a couple of days ago, I had good numbers of American Pipits and especially Horned Larks. So I reverted to plan B and settled in to try to get better views and maybe photos.

A Merlin made everything naturally skittish, and the repeated dreads didn’t help, but I did manage a few images and I got close looks at one Horned Lark that I believe to be a Hoyt’s. If you have no idea what I’m on about I don’t blame you.

In our area, the commonest migrant Horned Lark subspecies should be Northern Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris alpestris, but, we also get the smaller, white-faced Prairie Horned Lark Eremophila a praticola. The other one is the Hoyt’s Horned Lark Eremophila a hotyi which should be frequent enough, is as large as northern and has a white supercilium and a pale yellow wash restricted to the centre of the white throat.

If you want to read more, admittedly in an Ontario context, then follow the link.

It made for interesting watching, and you wonder just how many of each subspecies are present in the flocks of Horned Larks in the area. It was also interesting to read up and realise the all the Horned Larks that we see after late summer are in adult plumage, including the hatch-year birds.

Here is a selection of Horned Lark shots from today and previously, including one that was sat on a fence in Nevada and is therefore of a subspecies not encountered in Quebec, presumably. Note the heftier bill.

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The same field had ten American Pipits in it. They strutted, as they do, but when the Merlin hurtled over, they didn’t fly but squatted down pretending to be chaff.

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There is no sign of winter’s impending arrival than Snow Buntings – at least ten there today.

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Also three Lapland Longspurs were around. I try to get a good look at the autumn longspurs, you never know your luck in finding a rare one, it didn’t happen this time though.

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Finally, I went to the St-Lazare sand pits before going out into the fields, nothing much changed except the arrival of some Buffleheads. As I watched geese arrived to loaf so I grabbed this shot of them whiffling in.

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And now a vaguely subliminal message – buy my eBooks, repeat ad-nauseam – thanks.


Little Geese

In periods of quiet, such as we are basking in now, it is worthwhile taking the opportunity to look at the more common species a little more closely, although to call Cackling Goose common is perhaps a stretch, more it is a scarce but regular visitor to our part of the world.

Today at St-Lazare sand pits – where else – the usual mob of Canada Geese were keeping well away from the hunters. They do this by choosing to hang around the pits a while instead of trying to get peace on one of the large waters, where the gunships will run them down, or in the fields, where there appear to be enough guns to fight a small war, I digress a little. In the aforementioned mob was this’ Cackling Goose (below). A good comparison with the hulking monsters, even if it is a distant record shot.

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Below are some older shots from the pits showing two different Cackling Geese, hard to believe they are the same species, given some of the obvious structural differences.

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Cackler #2

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Check out this link for more info including a map:

Enough of geese, I also had a look around the St-Clet area for the first Snowy Owl of the winter without success, I did find five Rough-legged Hawks though, two dark form and three regular versions. The regulars were all hunting in the same area and I couldn’t get a decent lens on them. I did manage this of a dark form though, another record shot at best.

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As the sparrow migration winds down, this Fox Sparrow seems to be happy hanging around the garden feeders. Unlike most that we get, this one prefers to be in the open, instead of rearranging the leaf-litter under the shrubbery.

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Thanks to those who took the time to download my latest eBook about St-Lazare sand pits, now you are all experts. Thanks also for the kind comments. If you have no idea what I am referring to, click on the Caspian Tern cover image on the right, this will take you to the download page – free. The Snowy Owl one is free too, the others are cheap and a jolly good read, although I may be biased.


Another free eBook

As promised, I have just published a 15,800 word site guide to St-Lazare sand pits and it is free.

Regular readers will know that St-Lazare sand pits is my local patch, well for now at least, and that I have spent rather a lot of time there, recording birds, butterflies and dragonflies. Now I’m sharing some of that information and I hope that the guide will be useful for any visitor not familiar with the site.

Thanks to the simple world of eBooks, I’ve been able to include a selection of photographs to supplement the text, I hope everyone enjoys the results. My next publication will be ‘My Patch’, a book about how to find, watch and enjoy birds locally, and yes, there will be some humour in it.

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The St-Lazare sand pits guide is available from Smashwords at you will also find there another free eBook, Snowy Owls and my two birding books, ‘Going for Broke’ and ‘Twitching Times’, not free but hardly going to send you to the poor house either! Thanks for supporting my efforts in forging a new career.

You can also follow the link by clicking on side bar, then the free eBooks page. There is lots of stuff on there regarding formats and the like, eBooks are not at all hard to download.

I always appreciate it when people who have read my stuff take time to comment and, in the context of the site guide, I am happy to make corrections where required, so long as I agree with you!

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Cold week

Northerly winds have been the order of the week, with some cold rain thrown in, but not as much as they reckoned we’d have. It has made for a stuttering late visible migration, mostly involving American Crows, Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks. I’ve not ventured far, one little trip to the jetty at Les Coteaux in between vigils at the pits. The jetty was quiet, the winds were slightly wrong, but four Bonaparte’s Gulls were nice to see.

There have been a few highlights at St-Lazare sand pits. A late flock of American Pipits came through and the arrival of American Tree Sparrows is always a herald of winter, quite an overlap though. Twice this week I’ve seen hunting Northern Goshawk, presumably the local bird, it didn’t appear too keen to be on the move, it was more interested in snagging a Blue Jay.

Photo opportunities have been few and far between recently. One of the American Tree Sparrows got snapped badly and a Chipping Sparrow spent a bit of time being immortalised, but that was it really. I’ve been busy with the St-Lazare sand pits site guide, It should be out over the weekend and will again be free. The free Snowy Owl eBook seems to have gone down well, 90 have been downloaded from Smashwords so far and I’ve had some nice comments about it. If you want to get your free copy, just follow the link either on the side bar where the Snowy Owl cover is or via the free eBook tab at the top of the page.

I said in an earlier post that I didn’t think I’d get near to last year’s pits year list total of 180 species, well this year’s total (for me) is now 174 so it might be on. I’m still missing duck species like Redhead, Northern Shoveler, Greater Scaup and Common Goldeneye. Shorebirds are done for the year but I still need Golden Eagle and Rough-legged Hawk too, both quite possible in what remains of the birding year. Further down the list I don’t have Brown Creeper, Bohemian Waxwing, Lapland Longspur and potentially five finch species and so I am filled with a little more enthusiasm for getting down there in all weathers.

Below are the aforementioned photos. Incidentally, this is my 601st post in WordPress, add my BlogSpot to it and I must be pushing 750 blog posts. Where did the time go?

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Optics for sale

In case you missed my line about my having some quality binoculars for sale in yesterday’s post, well here is a reminder at the start of this post. Click on the tab at the top called FOR SALE to see what I have, there are a couple of bridge cameras and a travel spotting scope too.

Regular readers will know that my second eBook, ‘Twitching Times’ is now available from I may also have mentioned that Kobo users can now buy it directly from their on-line store and that Kindle owners can get the mobi file directly from Smashwords and just drag it into their Kindle eReaders. Well, for those of you who are Apple orientated, it is also now available in the iTunes store and reads well on the iBook app. In fact I’d say, of all the formats I’ve seen so far, the version read on an iPad is probably the best.

I thought I’d also tell you about a free book in the pipeline that will be of interest to Quebec birders who are bilingual and who knows who else – ‘A Site Guide to St-Lazare Sand Pits’. The guide, free to download to whatever device you use, will help you when visiting the site in finding the best spots and it will give you some idea of the species of birds, butterflies and dragonflies found there. Did I mention that it would be free? Below is the cover, I expect to have this and ‘My Patch’ out before Christmas.


Now to the birding and today could be best described as quiet, but I did get my 172nd pits year bird, Golden-crowned Kinglet. I also found out what Meloche is actually up to down there, and it turns out that the pits are not going to be completely in-filled but that he is intending to create a horseshoe of infill at the west end and then build condos looking over the site. That will probably mean further changes to the quality of the siteand condos mean more people and more disturbance, but at least something will still be there.

Next we need to see whether Pocket Wood, the one by the soccer pitch parking lot, can be labelled as a migratory bird sanctuary – it might mean that future destruction for more soccer pitches to be built could be stalled. There really is no need for more pitches, you just TELL those who want to use the existing ones to not try to play all at the same time, but to schedule the use to maximise the facility. Better still, replant the pitches with fruit trees and make a soccer complex on flat land elsewhere!

One feature of the past few days, apart from the constant whine of leaf-blowers, has been sparrows. Dark-eyed Juncos are everywhere, we have 30+ in the yard. There are also plenty of White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows around (I call the latter toilet sparrows, WC Sparrows – get it?). There are also a few Fox Sparrows to if you can find them. Our foxy Fox Sparrows in Quebec are so different from the two types we saw in Oregon that you wonder why it is taking so long for such an obvious split to get done.

Here are a few yard shots.

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The perils of the lone peep

Wet and windy today, and it wasn’t much better outside either. On days like this you weigh up the odds. Should I go out, perhaps get a soaking or stay in, catch up with a few things on that ever lengthening list? Obviously you go out.

Yesterday the first pits Ruddy Duck arrived, where from who knows as there is hardly a northerly breeding population, so perhaps they all push in from the west. Today there was a distant peep. I watched from the road, waiting for it to move or at least raise its bill. The rain came and it remained static so I had to go in.

The distance view had me suspecting Sanderling. The weather was typical for such things and it just seemed rather large for a Semipalmated Sandpiper and wrong for Dunlin. The wind blew and the rain rather hammered but I puddle jumped to the spot and the bird remained. I took twenty minutes to creep up on it, inching my way and taking record shots of the still sleeping blob. Once I had it in full view it awoke and started paying me a bit more attention.

For the next ten minutes I took photos, trying to get a good angle and wiping the camera lens frequently. It was only when I looked up that I realised how close I was and how small it was. Semipalmated Sandpiper then. After returning to the shelter of the woodlot and finding a Fox Sparrow for the pits year I went home, dried off and looked at the shots. The bill seemed awfully long and am I mistaken in seeing a slight kink towards the end, something that skews the ID altogether.

Off the shelf come the books, the web gets a good trawl and I check my own photo library and still come up with Semipalmated Sandpiper, but it still looks just a bit odd. Maybe the weather was making it look less like it should or maybe I’m just looking at it too hard.

On the tab at the top is a new category – for sale. If you are in the market for used binoculars (no rubbish), compact spotting scope or bridge camera, take a look.

Now for the photos. Not great because of the weather but you can see the features and I’ve included one of my stock Semipalmated Sandpiper shots – an August bird.

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