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.
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.
A Pink-footed Shearwater, one of many on our pelagic trip off Oregon.
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?
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.
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.
A nice Hooded Merganser and, below, one of several Cattle Egrets that were around.
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.