Baie Brazeau Guide

Just a quick post to tell you that I have published a short guide to the Quebec birding and dragonfly site – Baie Brazeau.

Regular visitors will know that to get the guide, which is FREE, you just click on the page on the side bar (the one with the Virginia Rail on) and that will take you to Smashwords, where you can download the guide. If you want advice re eReaders, then check the tabs at the top of this post.

I think that wraps up the site guides I’m intending to do for Quebec. I am working on an ode guide at present, watch this space for availability.

Thanks everyone for your support, please feel free to comment.

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Yesterday I was feeling the need to add to my rather slow year list. In the lousy temperatures the options are not high. Another search for Grey Partridge, drive a couple of hours for a Harris’s Sparrow or look for a Bald Eagle. They are guaranteed at Lachute Dump but it’s a good drive from St-Lazare unless I use an ice bridge, so it’s a long drive from St-Lazare.

I thought to drive to Carillon Dam at Pointe-Fortune and see whether there was any open water, perhaps some gulls and a good chance of a fly-past eagle. The border gets messy here with part being in Ontario, the part most gulls favour. Parking up on the dam viewing area, or at least I presume that is what it is for, I did a quick scan of the dam above the hydro and bingo, three Bald Eagles. There seemed to be something recently expired on the ice and two adults plus a 1stw bird took turns to harass the Common Ravens and American Crows to grab a share of the spoils.

Heading home the long way, as you do, I drove the Grand Montee, the area where Upland Sandpipers breed. The farmers there have ripped up the area badly and the odds are that the sandpipers won’t have any habitat to use. Pity, they are the closest to my area and up to three pairs have happily bred there since I found them in 2004. I’ll optimistically hope that the sandpipers do come back and find somewhere to their liking, but my back up hope is that the farmers responsible for the destruction have some sort horrendous accident with a threshing machine, joined, if possible, by the politicians that pass the legislation that allows such devastating activity to take place. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want them dead, a missing limb will do.

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Here is one of the Snowy Owls, a happy bird hunting both sides of a road.

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This one has sat on this pole for about two weeks, always choosing the one with the wire to obscure it.

A trip along the lanes of St-Clet got me five Snowy Owls, making it seven for the morning, then I dropped into St-Lazare sand pits and was very pleased to see five American Robins, newly arrived. Perhaps the robins know something the weather people don’t; it would nice to think that we might have spring in our sights now and an end to this interminable cold.

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My two recent eBooks are in all outlets now so if you use Apple or Kobo or any of the other vendors, just search under my name and you’ll find them. At my publisher, Smashwords, I can do a question and answer thing and so, I’d like some questions please. Either leave a message here or drop me a line, the email address is under contact at the top. I’m not thinking of the ‘what is your favourite colour sort of thing but questions I can use and answer, are you readers up for the challenge?

Incidentally, thanks to all who have downloaded 57 varieties, nearly 60 so far proving that free eBooks are streets ahead more attractive than those with a price! Snowy Owls is approaching 300 downloads and, oddly for such a local site, the sand pits guide is only just behind it. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just click on a book cover on the side bar to take you to the page where the eBooks live.

Armchair world tick

I’ve mentioned previously in this Blog about the free listing site I don’t know whether many of you have taken a look at it, it beats eBird in the list keeping stakes because that is what it was designed for, and it is free too.

I was updating my 2015 Canada year list on Bubo today and noticed that I had flags for taxonomic changes to address on my world list, yes it does that, it uses the International Ornithological Committee’s (IOC) taxonomy. Most splits were straightforward and I was already aware of them, but one suite was for the long-awaited Fox Sparrow complex. Put simplistically, there are four new putative species, well eventually, but in between are various races and integrations that will continue to confuse the issue further.

I suppose birds observed in the breeding season, and I’m only referring to western birds here, are identifiable by amongst other things, range. The real challenge will be the wintering distribution of the ‘species’ and it will take a good deal of eBird activity, some retrospective, to sort that one out. Luckily, we in the east are not too troubled with specific racial identification – we only have the one.

Our split is to be called the Red Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca. A reasonable name but why not just Fox Sparrow since it’s the really rusty one that looks most fox coloured, well sort of.

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My photo of a Red Fox Sparrow, QC.

If you are in coastal Alaska, BC, Washington and a bit of Oregon during the breeding season you might see Sooty Fox Sparrow Passerella unalaschcensis. So why not Sooty Sparrow or Pacific Sparrow?

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This was photographed by me in November at Pinnacles SP, California. It looks pretty good for a Sooty to me. Sorry for the quality, a slide copy.

Continuing south and central, we find Slate-coloured Fox Sparrow Passerella schistacea. Yes, you guessed it, we could lop off the fox bit and call it Slate-coloured Sparrow.

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Photographed by me in summer in Nevada, this is obviously a Slate-coloured Fox Sparrow.

The last armchair addition to your world lists is Large-billed Fox Sparrow Passerella megarhyncha. If you saw a Fox Sparrow in California in the breeding season (and at altitude) it should be this one. I think the large-billed moniker has already been used elsewhere but, since it seems to be mostly endemic to California, why not cheer those drought-ridden Californians up a bit and call it California Sparrow? Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of this one.

I understand that the splitters have kept Fox in the title of the four new species, to retain a link to what they thought was just one species, but breaking with the fox bit would perhaps help the new species gain more of a true identity. There are some nice shots in the link below to enjoy, a range map for each putative species and some fun ranting about getting it wrong.

I should mention that the ABA hasn’t split Fox Sparrow at all yet, but they will eventually.

A Space on the Shelf

I’ll admit now that I’m a hopelessly hooked collector of books on birds, well not just birds, I have a good selection of Odonata and Lepidoptera books, supplemented by guides to reptiles, mammals, wildflower – just about everything in the natural world interests me. One particular book genre that I enjoy is a well-written avifauna. I recently bought the excellent, if rapidly becoming outdated, Birds of Nova Scotia because I need to know that stuff, and it got me thinking. Just why isn’t there one available for Quebec?

Language issues (for me) aside, the only ready reference to Quebec bird records, seems to be Denis Lepage’s web site at I’ve said before that I find the site unwieldy, but better than nothing. I also find the inclusion of drivel, i.e. ‘record non confirmee’ a bit mystifying.  If the records are questionable, then put them in their own rejected section, the same with escapes species, cleanse the thing.

There is currently a new breeding birds of Quebec in production, quite why we need another when there is already a perfectly adequate one available I’m not sure. Please don’t respond to that, I know as well as you the answers, I just don’t think much of them. Presumably the new atlas, once published, will not be as big as the old version, a book so big that you could use it to stun a Moose, just so long as you had the relevant permit! I know many would argue that a breeding atlas is a conservation tool, true if you have a government that gives a stuff but we don’t and never will have, the dollar rules whatever colour the party banner.

The question of creating a provincial avifauna is a tricky one. Records from Quebec are published in North American Birds, but that is so far out of date when you get it as to be of little use and you need to read and remember the contents of every one to get any idea of rarity status.  I think that the value of a good avifauna is overlooked here, perhaps because we are hardly the birding capital of Canada. Size for size the provincial list is fairly modest, something that can be attributed to a very low birder per acre ratio, Quebec is huge after all. I wonder how much gets away without being noticed.

Perhaps one answer to the avifauna issue is to produce an annotated checklist of Quebec birds. Such things give you a condensed version of the species list and some sort of status level for all the species on it. I contemplated doing one myself for a while but it was pre-digital publishing and would have been unilingual, so only half a job. Below is a cut and paste from the QC bird records website.

No – Localité – Dates – Référence

  1. Nicolet automne/1930 échappé, SPHNC 1938:159; CFN 55:14
  2. dune du Nord, I-M été/1985 échappé, Fradette 1992:81
  3. commune Berthier (10 individus) 6-12/06/1993 QO 5(3):23 (photo), QO 6(1):25, photo publiée
  4. Saint-Félicien 4/07-8/08/2003 QO 15(4):44, 5 indiv.,; photo publiée
  5. Ayer’s Cliff 20/05-12/06/2004 QO 16(3):44, 2 ind.; origine captive
  6. Saint-François-d’Orléans 25/06/2005 ornitho-qc, 9 ind.;

This list of Black-bellied Whistling Duck records in an annotated Quebec checklist or avifauna might look something like this:

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis

The status of this species as a provincial bird is uncertain and it is likely that all six occurrences, most involving more than one individual, relate to escaped or free-flying collection birds. There is a pattern of post-breeding dispersal and any autumn birds would be more likely to relate to wild birds. The birds included in ‘Liste des oiseaux observés au Québec’ contain three records noted as relating to escaped birds (# 1, 2 & 5), and so can be dismissed. The Berthier and Saint-François-d’Orléans flocks both occurred in June, so perhaps there is some little-known post-breeding dispersal taking place, although why they would travel north is unclear. The Saint-Félicien record of 2003 ties in with a July/August record near Kingston, Ont in terms of arrival period, but again, the supposed sedentary nature of the species probably precludes it from being treated as a genuine vagrant.

It’s that easy!

It has been very cold recently, the winter that we were happy to be dodging late last year has crept in and had a real go at us. Temperatures lower that -20°C with harsh wind chill factors are really making it hard to be enthusiastic about being outside for long. My feeders at home have a growing Common Redpoll flock and a Hoary joined them one morning. Oddly, it took until yesterday for a Downy Woodpecker to appear on the feeders for February. They are usually omnipresent, which is why I noticed. This Cpoll was one that didn’t panic when I passed the feeders one morning this week.

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I was digging around in my digital archive recently, still not the best organised collection of photos you will ever find, and I came across the first Northern Hawk Owl I ever saw. It was at Ste-Foy, just west of Quebec City (Dec 2003) and on an industrial estate. I still think this is one of the best shots I’ve taken of them, even though the digital image was a digiscoped ‘hold small camera to the scope’ type of snap. It is certainly the only one I’ve ever had at eye-level. I’d love another chance like this with the kit I have now.


My new books have been seeing some activity. The freebies has had nearly 50 downloads so far, the one you have to pay for considerable low but there you go. Just to remind those who didn’t know. I have two recently published eBooks out there. ‘My Patch’ at $1.99US and available by clicking on the cover image on the side bar, it’s also available from Kobo, Barnes and Noble and iTunes. The other is a free eBook called ‘Fifty Seven Varieties of Bird’, again click on the cover on the side bar, coming to other eBook retailers soon I expect.

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Thanks to those who bought my books, I do appreciate the support.

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Yet Another Freebie

Yes, more eBook waffle – I just published a new, free eBook called ‘Fifty Seven Varieties of Bird’. The book is a collection of 57 species, all by photographed me and with my often eccentric comments appended.

Here is an Excerpt:

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13 – In any selection of photos, owls are always going to be popular. Day-roosting birds are often very inactive but this Northern Saw-Whet had other plans. Sat at about eight feet from the ground and totally ignoring a procession of admirers, this bird clung with determination to its lunch, possibly a Deer Mouse. At some point that suited it, snack-attack time came upon it and it prepared itself by making a little room. For a while it looked like it was sitting on a sharp spike as its face contorted, before over the period of a couple of minutes, it coughed up a large pellet composed of previously enjoyed rodents and whatever else it had caught. Then, it stuck its mouse in its beak and proceeded to swallow it head-first. In a few gulps it had gone the way that many had previously, and the owl settled back for a nap after its sudden burst of exercise. This bird was at Boucherville, QC, in January, 2007.

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You can get the FREE eBook from this link

My recently published eBook, ’My Patch is now available in the iTunes store and from Kobo at

eReaders and stuff

This is a bit of a rambling post with photos at the end, feel free to wander off if you get bored, I won’t be offended.

What prompted this post, apart from taking advantage of the air time to promote my new eBook ‘My Patch’, now available at $1.99US, is to chat a bit about how best to read the things. People sit and read, or exercise and read, some drive and read but tend to end up in the median facing the wrong way so we’ll rule them out of any intelligent conversation. Many people read in bed and like to do so in comfort. They are usually over 22 years old, have had their fussy out of sex by then, ok, 23 then but come on, nobody is a machine! So what is available to facilitate that reading urge?

Not many people want to take a full-sized pc to bed so they can read an eBook. Some might take their laptop or tablet, but neither are that comfy to read on and an illuminated screen of that nature is not a restful sight before slumber, therefore reading in bed needs to be carefully thought about.  The ideal way to read any eBook is on a dedicated eReader and, at around $80.00 they are not bad vaslue.

Here is a link to the Kobo ones: I chose these because Sandra has one and I can comment directly. I also have a Kobo, it’s a Vox and, while it is an adequate reader, it wants to do too many things such as tell you what you have read – is it me or is this pointless? Looking at their web site, they don’t seem to sell them anymore, which is a good thing because they were expensive, hyperactive junk. The screen on my Vox recently cracked and, while the words of the books I’m reading are not falling out, the crack is off-putting and my next reader will be a real one.

Sandra’s e-Reader is the Kobo touch and she loves it. Before this she got through three Sony e-Readers (The Sony Die-soon was the model I think),they are now no longer available (except at a dump near you!). Her little eReader folds like a book, the pages turn with a swipe or click of a button and they download wirelessly, just what you want really.

Back to my latest eBook ‘My Patch’ and here is another (and last) snippet to tempt you and, if you are tempted, just click on the cover on the side bar to go to the web site. For details of how to download to Kindles and the like, there is info on the eBooks page tab at the top. A lot of Kindle owners think that they can only buy from Amazon, this is not the case, Smashwords offer Kindle friendly versions of all their eBooks.

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The pain and ramifications of missing a patch tick:

You have watched your patch almost daily throughout May for the past ten years. One day you are told by your partner that the – whatever – needs fixing in your house, and that you have to shop for the parts NOW. As you negotiate the slow weekend traffic, it starts to rain, the start of some unsettled weather now arriving on a cool front after days of high pressure. In the DIY store parking lot you see a Blackpoll Warbler in the only tree to survive the erratic driving of the locals; a good sign for migration, bad news for you.

Your birding friend Dan has also noted the change in the weather and, as you browse the confusing aisles of the DIY store while the hailer goes on and on about customer service 6000, he is heading towards the scrubby edge of your shared patch. Within moments of arriving, Dan has started seeing birds and soon delights in letting you know via joyful texts to your phone.

While you patiently wait for the beeping monstrosity of a forklift to get out of the aisle, Dan is picking his way through a fall-out of migrant warblers when he hears a scratchy, chattering song from the scrub. He suspects that he knows the singer, cues up the iPod and attracts it into view, a fine Yellow-breasted Chat. Having had a good view, Dan texts you (again!) and tells you that it is there, exactly where it is and how well it is showing.

The chat is a provincial rarity, Quebec gets one most years but that is about it. Dan also knows that, because of your shared obsession, the skulking chat is a site first – therefore neither you nor anyone else have never seen one there, it is a patch tick for everyone. Dan now has it, you most certainly do not. You have read and re-read the text and have begun to perspire, despite the store air conditioning being set so low that it attracts complaints from the Inuit.

As you pick up the pace around the store you are wondering why every shelf that has the bit you so desperately need is empty, and why the weekend staff, who are obviously not applying customer care anywhere, have no idea what you are talking about. Eventually a grey-top shows up, makes the familiar sucking through the teeth noise, so beloved of people in the home repair field and leads you to a row full of stuff that will do the job but that is in an aisle labelled ‘Timber’.

You get home and do the repair, then get a barrage of texts asking where you are and telling you that the bird was still showing well until five minutes ago, but then got harder to find when the sun came out and the weather cleared, good luck when you finally get there!

You dash down to your patch, arm on the window playing it cool although you actually start playing the chat’s songs and calls on the iPod (loud) about three stop signs before the parking lot and you have all of the car windows open, just in case. You quick-march to the spot, then walk slowly around – playing the sounds of the chat and everything else that you can think of that might attract it or at least make it move, even Colima Pygmy-Owl, you never know. When you have tripped over the same tree root three times in five minutes because it’s now become too dark to see, you finally admit that it has gone and you’ve missed it.

You get home, struggling to hide your obvious despair and your partner commits the cardinal (Northern) sin and says “it’s only a bird”. Six months later you are living in Dan’s basement with a divorce on the horizon. Your now ex is dating the grey-top from the DIY and you are eating unhealthy microwave meals for one while sitting in your underwear, needle in hand as you try to move your pants’ button out another inch.

I have a couple of other writing projects on the go. One is a dragonfly guide, there is the cover, I’ll try to complete it before the first ode flies.

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Now to some recent birds. Yesterday and today I’ve been out looking for Grey Partridges around St-Clet. They can be elusive at the best of times but in soft, fluffy snow you have to hope that you are near enough to see a head appear. Snowy Owls are there in number though, 12 yesterday after 75% coverage, seven today after 35%. I only found Snow Buntings on Montee Chenier but around 250 so a nice flock.

Incidentally, I’ve been to Hudson a few times to try to snap Bohemian Waxwings again but the flock seems to have wandered off, or I’ve just not found them.

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These two Snowy Owls are sat on roofs which have areas without snow. The owls, sensible creatures that they are, only sit on the snow covered bits.

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I’ve not had any feedback from those who have bought ‘My Patch’ yet, if I do get printable comments I’ll air them here.

An no sooner do I make this aside that I get the following, unsolicited comment plus some advice re holding an eReader. Many thanks Richard and Jean:

Richard Gregson:  Somewhat plaintively (wink emoticon) Mark writes at the end that “I’ve not had any feedback from those who have bought ‘My Patch’ yet, if I do get printable comments I’ll air them here.” So, I laid out my $1.99, grossly inflated by the exchange rate to $2.57 in real money, and had a good read. What it says is all set out in Mark’s enjoyably, shall we say idiosyncratic, style and tells it the way it is as far as patch birding goes. Doesn’t pull many punches doesn’t our MD. A topic that is not so generously covered elsewhere. Anyway, I made it to the last page without any effort and I would say that anyone who thinks birding is half-way worth doing will enjoy the book …. even at the exchange-rate inflated price. A jolly good read … go and buy a copy before the store runs out of electrons and they have to order some more. (PS: iPads, better than plain vanilla e-readers – you can do your emails at the same time as reading your book.)

Jean Gregson: Mark refers to comfortable ways of holding e-readers – this works for me:

Site details

In response to requests for information regarding my recent ‘tricky trio’ post, below are the directions to the sites mentioned in the post, but first a reminder that I have a new and very reasonably priced eBook out there, ‘My Patch and reading it will no doubt improve your birding life immeasurably (no refunds if it doesn’t).

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The first site is a private yard with excellent feeders. It goes without saying that you don’t trespass. The site is on Rue Higgins in Chateauguay and even though with modern technology able to guide a missile into a bunker 3000km away, you still like to know a bit of relevant detail before you set off. All directions are from highway 30, junction 38. Take the north exit onto route 138. At the lights go left onto route 132. Continue about 3km until a right turn called Boulevard de Lery goes right and the 132 goes left. Take the right, go through one stop and over the Chateauguay River, take the exit immediately after the bridge. At the junction go right on Boulevard de Salaberry and continue until the road splits, take the right fork. Continue until a cellphone tower appears on the right, there is a parking lot at the base, park here.

The Carolina Wrens like this parking lot but can be anywhere in the area, they often sing, learn the song and wit, don’t chase them. The Red-bellied Woodpeckers come to the feeders, you can see some from the parking lot and you can also walk the flood bank behind the house to view more feeders. Please respect the privacy of local residents.

Ile St-Bernard is also called the Marguerite D’Youville reserve. It is superb place at any season, there is a fee if you visit after 9am (I think). Spring morning visits are free and productive if you go early enough, you access via the side gate. Directions are: From highway 30, junction 38. Take the north exit onto route 138. At the lights go left onto route 132. Continue about 3km until a right turn called Boulevard de Lery goes right and the 132 goes left. Take the right, go to about 2km to the stop and turn left. Go right at the next stop, left at the next and then cross the small bridge. The parking lot is on the right, the visitor centre and café in the corner. The trail system runs from the back of the café, stick to the main path and you will arrive at various feeders, you should also buy a bag or two from the ticket office, support the cause and feed the birds.

Here is another shot of the Sharp-shinned Hawk that I photographed from the flood banks on Rue Higgins. Incidentally, this bird appears on the cover of a forthcoming free eBook, watch this space.