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? http://hearbirdsagain.com/ 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: https://capesablebirding.wordpress.com/ 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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Winter, what winter?

It is remarkable how a little sunshine and a flurry of avian activity can banish the memory of the long, cold winter – it must be a human survival trait or something. Another glorious early May day has dawned and more birds are arriving and taking up their summer positions.

It is high time that I updated you with my Vaudreuil-Solanges ‘not-quite-a year’ list attempt. Remember I told you that I would be having a go but, as we will be moving soon, it has turned into a five-month list. Glancing at ‘My eBird’ it is telling me that I have now seen 116 species for the year in Vaudreuil-Solanges county and, even though it is only May-6th, 84 so far this month. My life list for the county is 245, not bad at all really and, had I made more effort at times, I could probably have stuck a good ten species onto that total.

Today, apart from checking out the pits and a tour along Chemin Fief, I twitched a report of Horned Grebes off Chemin de l’Anse at Vaudreuil. I don’t get there very often these days, it used to be a stop-off on the way home from work, especially in shorebird season, but water has been high these past four years and shorebirds few. I did locate three of the reported Horned Grebes, although I still prefer Slavonian as a name, don’t know where the other nine had got to.

For those of you who would like a little help with the warblers, when they all get here, the warbler guide has these free downloads of relevant bits:



I recently read a Facebook comment where ‘chasing’ was again being derided as pointless. Over the past 12 years I’ve ‘chased’ all over Vaudreuil-Solanges, the result being not just a healthy county list, but also a decent knowledge of the county and eBird has benefitted by my submission of checklists. I could have just birded within walking distance of home, well I did that too actually, but I like to mix things up and explore new habitats so, chasing, good thing or bad thing, I’ll let the lucid amongst you decided.

My only year addition today was Eastern Kingbird and it was in the same spot where I have seen my first of the season in eight of the past ten years – Chemin Fief. There are Eastern Bluebirds around there too, this male posed for me, although three posts nearer would have been appreciated.

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I also came across a busy pair of Eastern Meadowlarks, back for the season or at least back until the field gets mowed. Their chosen meadow is also home to Bobolinks when they get a wiggle on and turn up and is the sort of rough grassland site that is getting so scarce in this part of the world. Beside the clumpy grass and occasional shrub, this spot also has the obligatory ‘for sale’ board attached and is destined for development. I’m rather glad that I won’t be around to see it happen, the tide of development west of Montreal island is like a smothering blanket and there will be no room for many species, especially those that have evolved to inhabit ‘just fields’.

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Pouring in

The spaces are being filled, the songs are everywhere and the migrants are pouring in. The warblers haven’t quite started fully yet, Nashville was new for me at St-Lazare sand pits today, thanks Greg, and more Myrtles are appearing but we are waiting for the first true flocks, maybe tomorrow. This morning at St-Lazare sand pits it was pipit time, as little groups of American Pipits went through north, hurrying to their summer home.

First of the season birds came along at intervals, two Blue-winged Teals, a brief Northern Rough-winged Swallow and, at the top end of the site, the bouncy song of a Field Sparrow again filled the airwaves. A little scattering of White-throated Sparrows in the same area had a White-crowned in the midst, I always look forward to their return, a great looking bird.

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Both yellowlegs are around the pits now and the first Least Sandpipers came in as we watched. An Osprey flapped busily overhead, not catching despite the rapidly receding water levels, any lower and there will barely be room for a duck to wet its bum. No herons though which is odd, we usually have a Great Blue knocking around, perhaps the freeze did for the stocks and there’s nothing on the menu, there were certainly lots of dead ones around a few weeks ago.

Here’s a few shots of the Osprey, or were there two?

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Tick tock

Our last May in Quebec and we are now counting down to departure, meanwhile after some beautiful spring weather, April leaves us smiling again after the second lousy winter in a row is hoofed out. I’ve been buzzing around in between calling various people in Nova Scotia and finally getting the stars aligned, today we bought the house, the sold sign is up.

Our new place is on Cape Sable Island at the southern tip of Nova Scotia. Different birds, different habitats and, hopefully, a winter that knows its place! I’m already planning where to site the feeders, where to plant the fruit trees and bushes and how big the pond will be, exciting stuff. I’ve also chosen a new local patch, I’ll talk about that in another post and I’ll put a map up.

For visitors who are unaware (there must be some!), I’ve written a number of birding books, here are the covers, if you want to take a look click on the cover on the sidebar. Some are free, some are cheap. The free Cuba guide has proved to be popular, comments would be appreciated on anything I’ve written.

Book ad 

Birds have been arriving in the area and I’ve been airing the camera again. But first another shot of one of the Willets from our Nova Scotia trip, doing a bit of a wing-stretch.

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Locally I have a couple of Vesper Sparrows singing away each time I visit their bleak spot. It’s hard to know exactly why they pick the particular stretch of road they inhabit, especially when there seem to be many kilometers of identical bits of habitat, all vesper-less.

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My local Red-shouldered Hawks are back and seem to have taken the intrusion of more houses in their dwindling habitat in the stride, or wing beat I suppose. They often come over the deck, chased by the American Crows more often than not.

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It’s always nice to see the first butterflies and the earliest tends to be the Mourning Cloak, also known as Camberwell Beauty. This one just sat beside me taking advantage of a sunny spot, taking the rays.

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Nothing I did would persuade this Fox Sparrow to smile for the camera.

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At this time of year the wetlands are hosting a few Rusty Blackbirds, strutting about chucking leaves all over the place and snaffling bugs. This male wasn’t camera shy.

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Last day blowout

Business concluded, we decided not to go home a day early as we thought we’d have to and we’d have a day out birding all day instead, a last day blow out.

It all started well enough with the stuff in the previous post. The plan was to bird the Yarmouth area and work our way back, good plan we though. About 35 minutes shy of Yarmouth there was a loud bang and one of the rear tyres had blown, a new tyre at that. The space saver had never been removed before, as far as we could tell, and everything was seized. Brute force and ignorance eventually got the thing apart, meanwhile a call to the 1800 number on the CAA card told us that their office was shut and that we should call a local Quebec garage, I don’t think so.

Toy tyre installed, we made our way to Yarmouth with the four-way flashers warning other road users of our peril. As luck would have it, we arrived at a tiny tyre place and the amiable teenager working there said he could try to sort us out but that they shut at 12.00. Still unperturbed by this intrusion into the day, we made our way along the main drag and found the shining light that is Canadian TIRE. Reliable, always available Canadian TIRE. I had resolved to not only replace the irreparable tyre but to also buy a rim and another tyre just to make sure our 16 hour trip back was full of glee.

Oh no said the man behind the desk, I have no appointments available for today, it would be Monday at the earliest! Now, call me old fashioned but I’d have thought that Canadian TIRE would build a contingency into any day for emergency repairs and I may have said something similar right after I had said “you must be joking”. Be sure Canadian TIRE, you have not heard the last of this!

I was able to buy a tyre from a 12-year old who actually asked me what the difference between ‘all weather’ and ‘touring’ tyres was. $143. Lighter I went back to the amiable chap and he put the new tyre on the rim, what a nice lad.

So we had a bit of a hole in the day but we got back into the groove birding local sites all the way to Goose Creek where I was able to pretend to be a disinterested bystander and crept up on a couple of Willets. I also managed to snap a Savannah Sparrow and a Barn Swallow, both at Chebogue Point.

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As I extracted myself from the intimacy with the Willets, cars full of birders showed up, Alix, Ronnie, Peter and adding to the International flavour, Paolo from Italy and two others. Introductions were done and information exchanged, notably the whereabouts of a Field Sparrow and Indigo Bunting, the former a ‘good’ Nova Scotia bird.

The birds were absent when we arrived at the host house but Ervin then showed up and asked what the one was grovelling by the car, it was the star. Sometime later the bunting showed up too but failed to pose, never mind.

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Back on the road and heading east we passed a hawk sat on a broken tree. A U-turn soon got us alongside and I managed a few brisk snaps, our second Broad-winged Hawk of the day and something that made eBird cough twice.

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So despite the blow out we still had a good day, rounded off by a Belted Kingfisher belting across the bay near the new house.

Tomorrow, early we hit the road and should haul into Quebec, well our bit, late afternoon, time and tyres permitting.