Not quite done

I seem to be fitting 27 hours into 24 at the moment. The final packing is almost done, stacked and ready for the movers. In between I’ve been out again, this time to a couple of spots for one last look. I had hoped to hit 200 in QC for the year before I submit my last eBird checklist, yesterday took me to 93 so I was pessimistic unless seven good birds were going to drop into the yard. Today’s activity see’s that year total on 197, pessimism be gone and let us usher in guarded optimism.

The first addition was Semipalmated Sandpiper at the pits, and I’m glad I took the trouble to take a closer look, it would have been easy to dismiss the two birds as Least Sandpipers at range.

I then did a quick spin along Chemin Fief, one of my little spots and one that holds fond memories, not least of finding a Hawk Owl there one winter and seven, yes seven Great Grey Owls another time. It didn’t offer anything new but the Eastern Meadowlarks and Bobolinks were busy and entertaining.

I decided I’d walk the L’Escapade trail off Chemin St-Henry, another nice spot and a good place to look for some of the harder to find species. The first part of the trail revealed that extensive brush clearance had taken place, sometime last year perhaps, hopefully not in the breeding season. This meant that the first Mourning Warbler territory had no residents and I had to hike a bit further to find them. As I was watching a singing bird, a Black-billed Cuckoo came by, then a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher started singing. Three year species in one shortish stroll, plus great views of common things too.

The photos are of: Alder Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat, Mourning Warbler and the same Alder Flycatcher.

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Unless the less common shorebirds remember where Quebec is, I might just fall short of the big 200 although I have a plan. On the way to Nova Scotia we pass La Pocatiere, a potential rest stop and perhaps provider of a few more year ticks such as Nelson’s Sparrow, Common Eider and any scoter. If I can snaffle a Philadelphia Vireo or even a Grey-cheeked Thrush tomorrow I just might be able to sign off in style.



Getting nearer

This is the week we move to Nova Scotia and the big day nudges ever closer. This morning I found a window to see my friend Alain, so we met up at I’le St-Bernard. Being formerly a media person, he was fashionably late, so I wandered the parking lot and noticed a floating pontoon that gave a view of the adjacent river. Never one to pass up an option I went over for a look hoping to get a Black-crowned Night-Heron for the year and there, pottering, was a Glossy Ibis.

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When Alain arrived we went back over the river to get a bit closer, and in a nearby pool that I couldn’t see from the pontoon was my night heron too, result. Alain is one of the refuge patrollers and knew that other keen listers would want a crack at the ibis too, so mini twitch ensued. As he made a call, eight Brants came over, making it three Quebec year and two Canada year-ticks in short order, nice.

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The reserve was quiet, much of the spring rush has now passed, but we enjoyed a walk and chat. I snatched a few photos as we went, one is the gang-rape of a Cliff Swallow by four eager males, “who’s yer Daddy?”, a four to one guess I expect.

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Later in the morning my friend Andrea came over to our home and we went for a potter ourselves. A few birds called, then a singer gave it full volume, a Canada Warbler. It was well-concealed but I got a few obscured shots. A second bird struck up a duet, maybe they’ll find a young lady and settle down, hope so.

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And now a request. As regular readers know well, I have been watching St-Lazare sand pits for twelve years. There is a free site guide available, see the side bar and join the 300+ who already have their own, treasured, electronic copy, and I’d like to keep it current so if you visit the pits I’d appreciate a heads up for any unusual records so that I can add them to a revision when I do one. Ideally there would be a French version too and I am willing to publish one or add French text to the current one if someone sends me the text. I will, of course, add you to the cover as a collaborator.

This is likely to be my penultimate post on this blog. My last set of inane ramblings will include details of where to find the new blog if you are interested. When I publish another book, I will add it to the QC blog too so, if you are a fan don’t worry, you won’t miss out. Incidentally, the next birding book will be called ‘Another World’ and will be all about our North American Birding.

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Snack attack vulture

The past few days around here have been blustery and cold at times, not the May weather we were all hoping for. A couple of days ago Greg Rand did the L’Escapade trail at Rigaud. I only knew that one small part of the trail existed until he sent me a message, he’d seen and heard an Acadian Flycatcher on the section that crosses Rue Bourget. Greg was happy to show me the spot but the conditions since he first had the bird have been pretty challenging. Unfortunately it seems to have moved although it is possible that it, like most of the other smaller flycatchers, is spending more time trying to find enough insects to survive rather than spend time singing.

It would have been a great Quebec bird to get, there haven’t been that many but surely that will change as Global Warming takes a firmer grip and their range expands north. Perhaps in ten years-time we will see the lovely woodland habitat of the L’Escapade trail hosting the species regularly.

It isn’t that long ago that Turkey Vulture was a scarce visitor to Quebec, now you see them everywhere although this year they seem less common. You rarely see them carrying prey items although, as scavengers, perhaps snack and not prey is a more descriptive term. The one below was at St-Lazare sand pits Thursday and had obviously plucked the dead squirrel from the road. Vultures have weak feet, they cannot even master Macramé for heaven’s sake, which is why this one was carrying lunch in its beak.

It didn’t seem too comfortable carrying the remnants of the squirrel and dropped it into thick vegetation. Then it bounced around looking for it, oblivious to us watching on.

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Incidentally, the sand pits are being worked by a couple of machines at the moment, naturally this affects the birding. One up side is that the shorebirds are being pushed onto the extensive roadside muddy edge, still not much variation on that front though, 14 Semipalmated Plovers recently was nice but where are the Pectoral Sandpipers?


196 today

All of Canada, including Quebec although they are a bit coy about it, celebrates the birthday of Queen Victoria today who, had she defied the odds and lived, would be causing a serious fire hazard with 196 candles on her Victoria sponge. To celebrate in our own way, Sandra and I had a little wander around Windmill Point on I’le Perrot and very nice it was too. I was hoping to find a Blackpoll Warbler, the site usually gets a few around now, but we missed them and gained both Canada and Wilson’s Warbler, I’m not complaining.

Had we lived a bit nearer to it I could have seen the site being a decent local patch. There is a good mix of habitat, the only truly lacking thing is extensive mud for shorebirds. It is popular with the public and access limited to some silly starting time although you can get in if you want. A couple of hours in the sun got us nearly 40 species, respectable given our late arrival. Apart from the two species mentioned, we didn’t find much else other than the stock summer species. One of them, an American Redstart, actually came down for a drink. I managed a few shots but I have yet to get what I would call decent images on one, they drink in light and always look scruffy.

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Earlier in the day, well just after dawn actually, a spin around St-Lazare sand pits did little to enthuse and could best be described as ‘slow’. I did get a few shots of this Eastern Kingbird, another light-drinker at the best of times. These came out reasonably well though, I’m always happy to see them around for the summer.

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The garden feeders are cleaned and stowed and the poles all taped together using the tried and tested ‘duct tape’ method. It seems odd not having that garden focal point after twelve years of continuous feeding. The birds think so to and they fly out from the trees and try to land on the missing structure before perching up confused. Luckily just behind us the people feed too so they won’t go hungry. This Chipping Sparrow was another visitor looking for food.

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Not long now until we hit the road. I think we’ll miss the main migration but there will no doubt be a few good birds to enjoy as they find themselves in Nova Scotia when they were aiming for Arizona! There has been a Little Egret recently on Cape Sable Island, it might stick (if it’s not already gone), so I suspect that I’ll find myself at Daniel’s Head before long after arrival.


Ear today, gone…

Chucking it down outside, which is a great thing as we are a bit on the dry side at present, but it has stopped, well ok slowed down the birding a bit. I still got to the pits just after dawn today but the heavy precipitation limited my looking. I was hoping that we’d be sharing the warbler fall that is happening just 20km away, no indication so far and it is likely that our micro-climate isn’t going to produce migrants on the same scale as the one on the south side of the St-Lawrence River, it’s happened that way before.

Has anyone any experience of using, or know a user of The Songfinder? A pricy little device but one that I am becoming increasingly interested in. Age is a pig, we know that and, while suffering our body parts heading south is not too bad, losing the top end of our aural range is a disaster for a birder. I knew my range was going but I hadn’t realised how far until I birded a few times with Greg Rand. His birding ears are possibly the best I’ve encountered. Mine used to be pretty good too, sparrows burping at 2000 feet and all that, but now, standing next to him when he’s hearing a higher range or even within range but distant birds, well I’m not too proud to look for solutions.

My hearing actually deteriorated when I worked for about 11 months in a room with upwards of 12 noisy freezer units. I tried to stay out as much as possible but the nature of the work tended to keep me inside. I complained to the buildings manager and even got disciplined for it, I even had to apologise for complaining but had the last laugh when he was fired for stealing. The exposure to constant noise has left me with tinnitus which doesn’t help the birding. Luckily I kept the emails so, if I do decide to engage the services of a good lawyer, at least I have the evidence to take it forward.

Although I’m getting out birding every day, much of the rest of the time is spent putting things in boxes, mostly bird books to be honest. I’m a bit concerned that so many heavy bird books in one place might make the planet wobble, but I expect I’ll get over it. I suppose our move to Nova Scotia would have been a good opportunity to shed some weight, perhaps I could have let my signed copy of the Birds of Russia go, or not kept a reference guide to micro-moths in the UK but I find it very hard to do wrong by a book, so they will all take the ride with us and find a place in the new library.

Since the last post, at least one of the Wood Thrushes at the pits has remained, singing away early in the morning. A few things have yet to show at the site though, odd really as they are already found abundantly just a couple of kilometers away in the same habitat, I’m talking Yellow Warbler, Warbling Vireo and Least Flycatcher. Perhaps it is the altitude, it may only be a hundred feet or so higher at the pits but it seems to make a difference.

Just so you know, I’ve started building my new blog. I’m calling it Cape Sable Birding and the link to it is here: There is not much on it yet but I will be posting as often as I can once we get there so, if you enjoy my rambling or you may even be an eager reader of my books, feel free to drop by. I’ll post a longer piece before we go and this blog will have the details again in the final message, gosh I’m almost tearful!

I’ve not got any fresh images to show you so I just dug one out from my archive, should be a few of these Marsh Wrens around now.



Woodland Harmonies

Every day has seen year list additions, most are expected as part of the filling in for summer, but doesn’t make them any less welcome. Although I have been largely confined to birding St-Lazare sand pits, I have strayed locally a little in search of stuff not likely to show up at the pits. I gave Les Coteaux Jetty a try, nothing much there, certainly not the hoped for sea ducks or Red-throated Loon. While there I kept hearing Common Terns calling but my 360° view failed to find them. As I was I leaving, I looked up and there were the little devils, sat on a lamp standard!

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Shorebirds have been arriving although the species range is so far limited. The pits owners is busy digging sand and is a constant disturbance, actually a good thing as it puts most shorebirds on the mud by the roadside bank. This Dunlin probed there recently and over the past two days 56 Least Sandpipers have dropped in along with the expected yellowlegs and Semipalmated Plovers, should be a chance of a Pectoral or, whisper it, a phalarope.

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My daily routine tends to start with a look at the open pits area from the road then on into the Soccer Pitch woods. Today I stepped in and two Wood Thrushes were singing a duet. This was only my second pits record (I think), so I walked with stealth and cunning, never easy to do on a leaf-covered floor and positively sidled up to one of them. Unusually this skittish species kept foraging away and eventually came out onto the heavily shaded path. Shooting at 1000ISO I got a few record shots, the views were actually terrific.

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The evening before, Sandra and I did an evening pits visit, adding American Woodcock, Eastern Whip-poor-will (seen) and, another surprise, Great Horned Owl to the year list. My pits tally is 107 for the year but with only until May-28th to go, I can’t see me making any attempt on the year list record of 180.

FOS birds

This afternoon Sandra and I took a stroll at St-Timothee Marsh, it was very enlightening.

First of the season (FOS) birds were Sora, Marsh Wren, Bank Swallow, Warbling Vireo, Common Gallinule, Redhead and this rather nice Yellow Warbler. It was a bit distant but they came out ok. Judging by the open bill pose, it had a big night last night involving lots of lager and a kebab!

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Regular readers will remember my position on St-Timothee Marsh – in need of good management! Well, there are measures in place now to retard the growth of Phragmites in a couple of places, good idea but, in the bit by the watch tower they have planted shrubs in the suppressing blanket, Dogwood by the look of it, how bloody stupid is that? It’s not a garden and the shrubs will grow up to obscure the view dim people. To add insult to injury we were able to enjoy the world’s slowest, ride on leaf blower, yes they exist, and someone pays someone to ride around on one slowly blowing dust of the path. It’s loud and unnecessary and, just when you think it’s gone, the thing turns around and does the other side, come on!

Still, calming down, it was much birdier than last week’s visit with my friend Claude, which was nice.

 We then moved on to Melocheville, just the river frontage. It is a good place for roosting gulls and terns and there was a nice little group of Bonaparte’s Gulls and a FOS Caspian Tern. Early May Caspian Terns are outside the eBird range which is odd as they are pretty consistent in arriving late April – early May, anyway, here is a record shot just in case the eBird reviewer for that bit of Quebec needs to be sure that I wasn’t hallucinating.

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Finally, a sipped beer and a garden watch, rewarded by a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a Northern Short-tailed Shrew snaffling Black Sunflower seeds and loads of White-throated Sparrows.

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