2014 – done

As is customary I’m doing a review of the year and what a year it was. For many non-birding reasons it is one to forget, but for birding reason it will go down as a great year.

The non-birding stuff was the usual mish-mash that we humans have to deal with from time to time. The death of my Mother, the change in plans for the future, brought about by some quite shoddy decision making (not by us) and the sort of thing that you hope that those that made those decisions, really suffer by, but whatever, moving on…

Over the years we have taken some of our vacations in the tropics, with Panama being a favourite venue. That has rather neglected the fascinating landmass immediately to the south of  us that being the USA. Way back in 1997 we’d done a Texas trip, our first visit to North America, and we were keen to return. Time and tides meant that it would be a winter trip, meaning that some bird wants were not viable but others were more or less guaranteed. It certainly worked out that way.

Ostensibly based in the Rio Grande Valley, we whizzed about catching up with some of the things we missed ‘last time’. Foremost amongst there were the white giants that are Whooping Cranes. We saw quite a few and were well satisfied with the views, especially when we did one of the boat trips. Other highlights were a flock of Mountain Plovers; a few Grey Hawks and both Red-crowned Parrot and Green Parakeet. The trip was a list booster, not just in the year stakes but also with ten ABA ticks, another step on the way to my life target of 600.

I had also wanted to do an ABA year list for some time, not a 700+ effort, well outside of our financial league, but as good as I could. I knew that Quebec would serve up at least 250 species and with Texas and a planned trip to California, Nevada and Arizona, there was a good chance that I’d reach the ABA 400 need to qualify for a place in listers’ corner. In a fit of ambition I set myself a target of 500, aim high says I.

Sandra’s folks are old and have a bucket list. On it are things like see the Pacific, the Grand Canyon and juggle Ferrets. The first two we did on a two week trip out west involving flights and car rentals and a lot of miles but worth every one. If you want more details on any of the trips just click on the month link on the side bar. In summary I had 19 ABA or life ticks, a fair leap in the right direction and putting me in a good position to break the tape on 600.

Quebec has been fairly good to me this year. I did dip Summer Tanager and Brewer’s Blackbird and I drove past a Brown Booby (everyone did) and had half a chance at a Tropical Kingbird, oddly not on eBird. I did get some good birds though with six provincial, ABA or life birds. New York State also weighed in with a long sought after Bicknell’s Thrush, I really should try for one in Quebec again if I get the chance.

Late in the autumn we found we had the money and time to do one last trip, before we found out that we’d be leaving Quebec in April 2015 that is, so we decided to go to Oregon. The principal attraction was a pelagic trip but there were also many other possibilities for lifers and ABA birds. We only went for a week, did a fair bit of travel and saw some excellent birds. Ten life or ABA birds were added plus lots of year ticks. After checking my lists and finding that Atlantic Puffin was missing, I discovered that the last tick of the trip, Vaux’s Swift, had pride of place as species #600.

The year list prospered with a few short twitches, a Quebec Lark Sparrow being the second to last tick, my provincial first and likely a Northern Shrike’s dinner – I saw the shrike chase it down but couldn’t be absolutely certain that it had succumbed, it was not seen again though. I thought that would be it but I chanced upon a grey form Gyr Falcon while looking for a couple of sparrows for the winter list, that made it 481 for the year.

My last birding comment is for my local patch, St-Lazare sand pits. I didn’t get to do an awful lot of odeing but I did manage to add two new species to the site list, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Marsh Wren. I still harbour hopes that I’ll get a Snowy Owl before we close the door on Quebec, being greedy I’d also like Boreal, Saw-whet, Great Grey, Northern Hawk, Long and Short-eared Owl but that’s just me.

2014 was the year I finally managed to get published, albeit only in eBook form so far, hard copy will follow at some point. My foray into writing has been a long time coming and I’d like to think that my books are entertaining. Two of them are long, required many hours of work and are extensively illustrated by my talented wife, Sandra. The other two eBooks I give away as free copies, all you have to do is go and get one, link on the side bar. My Snowy Owl book was really just a way of putting a few pictures and observations out there, over 200 people seem to like it.

The St-Lazare sand pits guide is a bit more substantial and puts all of my accumulated records into the public domain. It would be nice to think that future visitors, and even people who take it on a as patch, will find my work useful and will add to it. Patch watching is the theme of my next publication, I had hoped to have it out by now, I am close and I hope people will enjoy it enough to feel inspired to go out and find a patch of their own.

When we came here in May 2003 it was a big adventure. A new country, a new culture and something called poutine. That the adventure was linked to employment was always going to be an issue if ever that employment ceased. In my case it was 2011. Now Sandra has her date too and Quebec is not a place for unilingual Anglophones to find work, and so we expect to be moving on. It’s not quite goodbye yet though and you can bet that I’ll continue with this rambling nonsense for a few more moths yet.

If anyone wants to move to St-Lazare and buy a house with a yard list of 149 let me know.

I always end these round-ups with stats: My World list rose to 2694, we really must go to Australia sometime! My ABA list increased nicely to 600; In Quebec I got to 331 and may end up declaring there unless we have a good early spring; my pits list had two additions taking it to 223. At the beginning of the year I set myself an ABA year list target of 500, I got to 481. In World terms I only added a few species on a short trip to the UK, so my year list is only 558. I usually reckon to see 250+ species a year in Quebec and so my score of 252 was about right.

In terms of effort I was pretty lazy, birding only 283 days (700+ eBird checklists though). That average total took my bird days, days when I went out birding to 8246. At St-Lazare sand pits I made 195 visits for a total of 1696 visits since I first went there in 2003.

And finally, a big and sincere thanks to everyone who has visited this blog and enjoyed it during 2014, despite my quirky and sometimes cynical sense of humour. Thanks for all of your comments too. Special thanks to those people who bought my eBooks or downloaded the free ones, I freely admit that my writing is still a bit raw at times but I’m learning. No thanks are offered to those people who found out how to download the free pdf versions of the already very low priced books – perhaps now is the time to tell you that I infected them with a complicated virus that will result in the word ‘thief’ appearing on your forehead, the antidote is priced at $2.99 and $4.99!

Have a great New Year everyone, see you in 2015.

And now for the eye-candy (no, not a scary shot of me in a speedo).

First a couple of odes – American Rubyspot was a QC tick for me and I just the flying Black Saddlebags.

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In Texas I took a lot of photos, here is a small selection.


We didn’t expect to see a Slaty-backed Gull but when there is one you take it, a superb bird.


Common Pauraque hiding (not very well).


Please feel free to “meep-meep”. I never tire of Roadrunners.


Whooping Crane looking for dinner.


A close Black Skimmer – good to get one in Quebec too.


He just stood there, American Bittern.

Our three state trip was a busy one but I still got a few photos.


Cactus Wren, noisy devils.


Grey Vireo on the last day of the trip, very pleased to find it.


Gambel’s Quail, marvellously comical.


My first Black-footed Albatross, sharing the Pacific with my first Blue Whale.

Oregon might not be everyone’s choice for a vacation but it was fun and we saw some great birds.


Only a Black Scoter but s striking bird.


A big influx into Oregon of Elegant Terns was a pleasing surprise.


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A Surfbird.



A Pink-footed Shearwater, one of many on our pelagic trip off Oregon.

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Black Turnstone – it’s a turnstone that turns stones and is black, well sort of.


A long-awaited ABA tick, Long-tailed Jaeger

Snowy Owls again, you can’t get away from them and why should you?

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My birder/photographer friend Claude looking the part.

I took my camera with me to the UK in May.


Above, a Northern Fulmar at Bempton RSPB reserve in Yorkshire, below, a Northern Gannet from the same place.

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Common Nightingales are getting less common in the UK, especially since the useless idiots in Government think it is ok to allow developers tear down ancient forests providing they promise to replant them. It sort of gives you an idea of how much some political parties care. Add to that the disgraceful Badger cull and you have a troubled isles. At the risk of being rude, the Tories are a right bunch of twats.

A few from our Nova Scotia fact finding trip in November.

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A nice Hooded Merganser and, below, one of several Cattle Egrets that were around.

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One of my favourite subjects of 2014, Spruce Grouse. I’ve long wanted to snap a male, gotcha!

Finally, a little selection of images from around Quebec. I never expected to see a Townsend’s Warbler hopping about on ice nor a Connecticut Warbler in the lens. The rest just please me.

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No snow left

After the recent thaw the fields are back to that October look, bare. I must be getting nesh (it means I feel the cold more), it was only -12°C today but I had to put a coat on. I had planned to hike part of St-Lazare pinade looking for Boreal woodpeckers again, but stuff that for a game of soldiers, too cold. So I settled for a look around the lanes of St-Clet from a warm car. It has been a while since I was out there and I wondered whether we were seeing an influx akin to that reported from Ontario.

Oddly the lack of snow makes little difference when trying to find the day-roosting Snowy Owls, in fact I prefer the snow because it makes the owls less likely to be squatting in ruts. I did a 60% tour of the area finding seven, all bar one was well out in the snow-less fields. There was very little else to see out there, a few crows and a ton of Rock Pigeons and at one spot, 23 Ravens squabbling over something tasty, I couldn’t see what though.

Here are a few shots of one of the owls. The sun was a bit sharp so there is a lack of tone although the facial bristles show up nicely.

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Over the next few days I’ll be rounding up the year with my annual review. In birding terms it has been an excellent year but other events have put a sour note on things at times, life is like that I suppose. The New Year starts Thursday and Sandra and I will be out and about as is our tradition. I’m hoping that any wintering warblers don’t kark (die) before then, I only have Black-throated Grey Warbler on my winter life list – rather bizarrely. Thankfully it will be a bit warmer which will be something of a blessing.

I’ve been seeing lots of nice pictures of Barred Owls recently. If anyone would like to point me in the direction of a ‘public’ one I’d appreciate it. I’ve looked around St-Lazare but not found one yet, they must be there though.


2014 in review – but not by me

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Seasonal Greetings for 2014

Not really a birding post although I have been out a couple of times since seeing the shrike-food Lark Sparrow, but only locally. During the CBC in the Ormstown area, Michel Chalifoux and Guy Leroux found a Vesper and Swamp Sparrow in with other bruants and so I went over for a look. I found plenty of Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows but not the stars. The sparrow site was by the 201 which is a busy road, so perhaps they were weekend birds only and fled away from traffic. I hope so as both are winter list ticks.

While picking my way around the lanes in the area, I came to St-Stanislas-de-Kostka, perhaps best described as somewhere with distant ambitions to be assigned a horse, (not quite a one-horse town, get it?). As I entered the area I could see a flock of idling Rock Pigeons on one of the characteristic grain silos, so redolent of farming country. I could also see a large bird approaching, slightly head-on and roughly Red-tailed Hawk in size. Slewing to an ungraceful halt and hanging out the car window I then had a great view as a grey form Gyr Falcon took one of the pigeon off to lunch, well for actually. I tried to follow it as it carried its meal off towards the Beauharnois Canal but couldn’t relocate it. Neither could I find any roosting Peregrines there or on pylons.

Hopefully it will stick around and continue to visit the pigeons, it would be good to lay the lens on it. After years of checking pigeon flocks and endless blobs in trees, on poles or sat in fields it was nice to get lucky.

It looks like it is going to be a wet Christmas here, with +8°C forecast and lots of rain. I suspect that Sandra and I will be busy anyway, as we continue the renovation of the house. Basement next, and only one torn off fingernail between us so far.

I’m also in the final stages of completing ‘My Patch’, I’ll post when ready.

So Christmas greeting to everyone whatever they believe in. I’m currently a Buddist but mainly because I haven’t had the opportunity to sort that one out. I should perhaps explain.

In the UK I worked for the local authority and, just about every year, they would ask what sex I was, what ethnic group and what religion. While I was happy to remain male and my ethnic background continues to Caucasian (I think), I adopted a fluid approach to religion and would try something new each time. The last box I ticked was for Buddist, but I fancied the new Jedi thing for the next questionnaire. Then I left their employ and have been stuck as a Buddist for the duration, still, not a bad choice if you look good in orange, although these days I’m more the shape of a chocolate orange!

January 1st 2015 beckons and I’ll be doing my annual review of what has been a year to remember for both good and bad reasons. I hope, once we’ve got the house fit for market, I’ll be able to get out more and catch up a bit, until then, have a good one.

PS. Sandra painted the card, we do actually look a little better in real life.



How lucky?

These past couple of days a lost Lark Sparrow has been filling blanks in Quebec life lists out Princeville way. I knew it was a rarity in Quebec, but one that turns up almost annually, or in recent years at least. When I looked at eBird this morning and saw who had been for it, there was a strong clue that an available bird was well worth making the effort for, even if it was a bit of a drive to get there.

The list of Quebec birds at http://www.oiseauxqc.org/details.jsp?no=9159 gives 63 records although that list is such an odd mish-mash that the figure is only tentative. Anyway, I went despite snow and other tribulations. The bird is on a very minor little rang (road) that has not been gritted or salted and so is entertaining to negotiate with only two-wheel drive van. Just as I was thinking it might not be the most sensible thing I’ve ever done I came across a small group of birders watching the sparrow in an adjacent field. It was a bit distant, hence the record shots below.

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After a short while, the Lark Sparrow and some recently found friends, three American Tree Sparrow got up and flew off along the road, we follow. It had gone about 250m, had lost the sparrow friends and had decided to do some road grovelling, perhaps taking on fine grit for digestion. Those of us that had followed stayed a respectable distance, not even within record shot range, hoping to edge a bit nearer for clear shots. Unfortunately a Northern Shrike was not so polite and chased the exotic meal around trees and out of sight. I didn’t see either bird after it had gone behind some trees so perhaps the shrike is sat on the ground with a large sparrow shaped stomach, unable to take off, or, the Lark Sparrow used some of its southern cunning and avoided capture, I hope so. Half an hour later and I’d have missed it, hence to post title.

On the way back home I came across a flock of Bohemian Waxwings at St-Cyrille-de-Wendover, they, along with the Lark Sparrow, were additions to my North America year list.

If you are a new visitor to this site, or have yet to explore properly, then take a look at the links on the side bar. There are two free eBooks, ‘Snowy Owls’ and ‘A Site Guide to St-Lazare Sand Pits’ – ok, the latter title ,might only have limited appeal but the owl stuff is good. There are also two excellent birding books about year listing twitching, ‘Going for Broke’ and ‘Twitching Times’. Each cover is a link to the page for the relevant book on Smashwords. While at the Smashwords site recently I noticed an intriguing book about killer Beavers, which sounds so ridiculous I might just take a look at it.


Facebook birding

Like many people I have surrendered details that I wouldn’t give the Government to Facebook in order to see what friends that I’d forgotten about are currently eating, watching or, at a stretch, thinking. I never thought that I would, then, when I left my job, I realised that it was the only way to keep some sort of link with people I’d enjoyed interacting with, because generally, most people are lousy at keeping in touch.

My Facebook is heavily laden with bird and dragonfly sites, perhaps very much as expected, and, from time to time, I’ll contribute a comment, a photo or a ‘like’. In keeping with many people I’d like to be able to dislike and, perhaps, also be able to show a degree of indifference to something. By being in lots of bird groups you get to see a lot of stuff, there are indeed many birders out there getting out, seeing things, photographing them and graciously sharing their efforts.

This, I feel, is all good for birding, and the sharing is actually a bonus. You often learn things and you get to admire other people’s work and experiences. Then there is the other side, the side that just gets to you a bit, if you let it. After a very short time on Facebook you start to realise that some people must spend their lives in darkened rooms, perhaps ones that are locked by people in white uniforms at specified times, their rings of keys hanging from their belts and making a chinking noise as they pad down the magnolia painted corridor. It is the only way to explain some of the weird stuff that Facebook throws up.

Facebook also shows us that, out there, people prefer to be spoon-fed, rather than exercise their brains. Who has not looked at a request for ID help and screamed at the screen, “for goodness sake, get a book”! So many people out there seem incapable of opening a field guide and finding say a hawk with a red tail. Northern Cardinal is one of the easiest of birds to identify but still you get the request. It doesn’t end there.

When people post truly crap photos, the sort most of us delete as a waste of pixels, you get ‘likes’ and comments of how wonderful the piece of junk is. Then there are those that put the comment ‘bird whisperer’. I can’t actually write what I think about people who make that comment, it would be too offensive and I know I shouldn’t get annoyed by it, but I do.

Most people in forums just sit and lurk, I do to mostly. Not because I couldn’t write something about a particular thread, but because I prefer not to get involved. On the few occasions that I have posted a photo in a forum and asked for comments, well some of the comments take condescension to a new level. I posted a shot of an immature Scarlet Tanager once, it had a lot of white in the wings, especially on the tertials, and one of the replies effectively told me I was wasting people’s time and that I should learn the birds. From the tone, I’m guessing that I was birding well before he was just a bunch of optimistic cells in his father’s scrotum, but there you go.

Enough rambling about Facebook, if nothing else it lets me get my blog posts to a wider audience.

What a lot of good birds there are around Quebec for this time of year. Warblers that would normally be well away by now, are being found at the Recreo Park, Ste-Catherine. Orange-crowned is perhaps quite understandable but there is Nashville too, are they just indicators of how mild it is at the moment or something else, you wonder. Not that much further south than us, in the Toronto area, my friend Claude is seeing even more species including Tennessee, Northern Parula and there is a Black-and-White in the area. They are not seeing Yellow-throated Warbler though, we have two of those hanging on for the CBC.

I dropped into the pits today, just to top up the feeding spot and have yet another scan for a Northern Shrike (nope). There was a steady amount of feeding activity as birds came, got flushed by cars and then came back again. Best of the bunch were seven American Tree Sparrows, below is a shot of one that came out better than expected. If you are visiting the area, I feed just opposite the gates on the left side of the road – feel free to contribute. It would be nice if the city could put feeders in the Base de Plein Air like other municipalities do, I’ll suggest it, then brace for further disappointment. Below a shot of my low-tech feeding station.

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Winter tick

I slipped out today to take a look for a wintering Field Sparrow, a potential addition for my life winter list. It was on a back lanes just over the river from Ste-Martine, south of Montreal and proved to be most confiding, briefly. The whole lane where it spent most of its time (Rue Rolland) was very birdy with flocks of American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos and a few each of Song Sparrow and House Finch coming and going. I even managed to miss out on a White-crowned Sparrow that would have been another winter tick.

It has also been tempting recently, to go and look for a Yellow-throated Warbler – we currently have two, both of which are fairly local to St-Lazare. As it transpired the weekend was busy and so it will have to wait. If I do go for one, it will be for one at Lachute and not one downtown, I can’t be doing with downtown. Further motivation to go to Lachute would be if a white Gyr Falcon that was on Oiseaux Rares du Quebec for yesterday showed up again. I’d then head out after it, especially as there is an Eastern Meadowlark in roughly the same area plus the chance of interesting gulls at the dump near Lachute.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to do a Vaudreuil area year list in 2015, but that is now very much cancelled. I’m not really planning anything for the first part of 2015 but will be trying to get out as often as possible, almost exclusively locally until local changes.

For those of you interested in Snowy Owls, this is worth a read. http://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/century-makes-two/ These birds really do move around a lot and it is fascinating to see exactly where they wander to. As technology improved I envisage standard bands doubling as transmitters, then banders would really be getting some results commensurate with their efforts.

Here’s the shots then, poor light, high ISO, slight pain in my left elbow, etc, etc.

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