Fine days, few ticks

The past few days have been pretty nice although we did get the odd shower yesterday. After the euphoria of finding a Connecticut Warbler last Thursday, it was back down to Earth as spring migration, already a just a dribble, has now become an intermittent drip. I did see a Willow Flycatcher at St-Timothee and, in a bit of a departure for me, photo wise, I took instructive shots of the habitat there, please see below.

Here is an interesting note on the spread of phragmites in North America http://www.pnas.org/content/99/4/2445.full.pdf it seems to be galloping north at a great rate and can be seen along many a roadside in my area. I have a golden rule, never buy a house with phragmites growing in the yard. Phragmites is a marsh plant, it needs wet land to grow and, if you buy a house on wet land then at some point it will be wetter. You’d think it was obvious really but there we go building in swamps, along floodplains and on damp ground that is screaming out WET through its flora. Another piece of advice, never trust a realtor called Canute! Anyway, readers of this blog have heard me mention that St-Timothee Marsh is in need of management, especially as much of it is obscured by Phragmites. Look at the photos and tell me I’m wrong!

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At St-Timothee it was good to see lots of American Black Terns, hawking the marsh and snatching what looked like dragonfly larvae that we making their way up to emerge, it’s ode season again, hurrah! If I had anything to do with managing St-Timothee I’d put out 100 or so small floating platforms, the Black Terns would be straight on them and with their stability, the chances of successful breeding would be high. I would also build one of these http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-26684497 ensuring that Bank Swallows would never again be at the mercy of a mechanical digger.

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I’d also build two tern platforms for Common Terns. Many years ago I did this on a country park and the terns used them the first season they were up. We had the birds banded every year and had some surprising results. You’d think that Common Terns breeding just about as far inland in the UK as you can get would exit east before migrating to Africa for a winter of sun but no. There was a birder who would read tern rings through his scope from a specially sited blind at Seaforth LNR in Liverpool Docks and he regularly saw our banded birds in the autumn. It seems that the birds were going west first then south between Ireland and the UK on their migration route, interesting stuff eh?

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Finally I’d erect Osprey Platforms on the marsh, one at each end. Steady on I hear you say, this might make St-Timothee more bird reserve than a place where Lycra clad skaters prove Darwin wrong. Yes it might, but I for one would rather look at Great Blue Herons regurgitating fish for their young than some of the sights you see on skates.

My next post might feature unfamiliar species for some, I have to go ‘home’ for a week which means I’ll not hit 200 in Quebec for the month, nor will I complete 100 checklists in eBird and have the chance to win a tin of Spam or whatever the prize was. Not to worry, June approaches and it’s mossie time again. The top of my head is like a topographical map of the Moon and the itch is a reminder to always take my hat!

Second ever

It seems a while since I last posted but, to be honest, the fine days have done just what I predicted they would and allowed most of the migrants to pass over and just keep going. There have been a few birds to add to various lists but concentrations of warblers – in my area at least – have been few and far between. Shorebirds have yet to start and the water is as high as it’s been for about three years at St-Lazare sand pits leaving little available feeding.

Least Sandpipers have been around, I photographed this one while it was in a tranquil moment. My regular Field Sparrow is back and hopeful, I’ve never seen a female or any young so far. You wonder how long male birds will persist in territory, do they stake their claim and stick with it forever or do they eventually move on after failing?

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Today saw me heading out to Ile St-Bernard, a great site and one that would likely provide me with a Blackpoll Warbler at least. As I approached the start of the main wooded area there was little sign of passage, it was 100m before I saw a Bay-breasted Warbler, 101m before I got my Blackpoll.

The great thing about Ile St-Bernard is the abundance and tameness of some of the resident and summer resident species. An example of this occurred when I was photographing a couple of active Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Black-capped Chickadees were buzzing around as they do and I instinctively stuck my hand out, I was a bit surprised when a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak landed on my hand instead of the expected chickadee. Knowing that their bills can split a thick nut I made no sudden movements.

Below are a few photographs of the grosbeaks plus Tufted Titmouse, Baltimore Oriole and Swainson’s Thrush.

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Common Yellowthroats are busy defending territory, there seems to be plenty of them around this year and their current bravado makes them more likely to pose for a photo.

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While in the depths of the dense woods at Ile St-Bernard I came across a couple of Swainson’s Thrushes going quietly about the business. Above them was a Merlin watching intently and probably thinking up thrush based recipes. I’ve never known this species behave like this before. In the UK Merlin is a dashing bird of the saltings (tidal grasslands) in winter and moors in the summer. Here they seem much happier if there are lots of trees.

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As I got to the first boardwalk at Ile St-Bernard, the condition of the ground deteriorated becoming thick, cloying sludge. Masses of Mosquitoes swarmed making a loud buzzing as I kicked through them. I contemplated turning back but could see warblers moving further on so kept going. I got to the one-bench picnic site and had a scan of the open water. As I turned I saw movement low down, a warbler popped up back-on to me and, with the naked eye, I was expecting to see a Mourning Warbler. I focussed, it turned and I saw the eye-ring and realised that I’d found a Connecticut Warbler, only my second ever (see, we got to the title after all!). I spent an hour watching it in short bursts. For most of the time it was very obscured as it crept around in the grass. Twice I had a view through the lens, I got one half-decent shot.

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Postscript: I sent this info to the Quebec rare bird web site, as I always do when I find something of interest and they chose not to use it, I wonder why?

While I’m here I don’t know what is wrong with eBird in Quebec but their total for the year is out by one, they don’t have the Townsend’s Warbler listed at all and they have a Glossy Ibis as the first for the year in QC a good week after the ones that were on here and on the aforementioned QC rare bird web site – doesn’t fill you with confidence that anything else is correct, does it?

The day gave me three year ticks, my QC year list is one shy of 200 and my North America year list is 307. The pits, despite the disruption by trucks, continues to produce and I’m up to 124 for the year there and with lots to still look forward too.

Damp!

Today I was out with Tim, a visitor from England, and we had a good eight hours or so despite the rain. We covered a few sites around Vaudreuil-Solanges but our main morning location was Baie Brazeau near Pointe-Fortune. The trails are open and there is general access to this tidy little reserve. We didn’t see much in the way of warblers but a Least Bittern called away from the marsh and a couple of American Bitterns showed well. We also saw at least seven Green Herons and an obliging Solitary Sandpiper.

We moved on to Chemin Fief as the rain increased. Yesterday’s American Bitterns were still present. One was showing very well, the other only being seen in flight. The light was pretty poor but the images are not terrible.

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Bobolinks were twinkling in the bigger fields and a couple of Eastern Meadowlarks were having a flutter around. Again, warblers were hard to find, just a single Chestnut-sided put on a show.

Moving on to St-Lazare sand pits and we did the Base de Plien Air trails finding Hermit Thrushes, three Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and a very active Black-and-White Warbler. By the time we emerged into the daylight the wind was stronger and the rain more determined so we declared on 67 species, not bad considering. A few photos from the pits are below, the Scarlet Tanager was hard to get a shot of, too high.

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Very balmy

Phew what a scorcher, as tabloid headline writers are wont to say. I said a couple of posts back that there would be high pressure, and our hopes would be dashed as the migrating warblers took advantage and flew on instead of pausing, well at 27°C and clear skies that is what seems to be happening. We are supposed to get some showers and, if they are off a big enough front, then they will dump some birds down for us but this morning, in the heat, it was quite a sweat fest.

St-Lazare sand pits had four lost looking Snow Geese and a couple of Warbling Vireos new in, but no other warblers were visible and it was one of those quick visits when you just know you have to try elsewhere. I moved on to Chemin Fief, currently a lovely quiet road not far from the pits but with a different habitat mix that will soon have 160+ houses built on it. Chestnut-sided Warblers were very vocal and showy, here are a few shots of one territorial bird that wouldn’t be budged, better shots than yesterday certainly.

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As the warbler sang, so too did a vireo and I tracked it down at a reasonable height, my first Philadelphia Vireo of the year.

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The part of Fief that I was looking at has a small stream that had formed a tiny pool in one corner of the field. Looking up from the vireo I saw an American Bittern staring back at me. A shot through the slats of a fence were followed by a few a bit closer. The bittern was relaxed but strode cautiously a few feet back and hid, rather unsuccessfully, behind a twig. Leaving the bittern to its frog-eating task, I walked back the 50m or so to the car and flushed another, marvelous.

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Last off was a Veery that “squeeweebleweebled” from within dense cover (phonetic rendition of song!). This is more typical of Veery views than yesterday’s shots.

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I tried a few other sites briefly, including one for Mourning Warbler but they are not in yet. There were, however, lots of singing FOS Indigo Buntings present and it was a nice walk.

The forecast for the weekend is wet and, with it being a long one in celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday (forgot to send a card, sorry), then the forecast will almost certainly hold true. Not so good for beach bums or all of the Quebecoise and Quebeckers out there celebrating Her Majesty’s natal day but we birders will enjoy it I’m sure.

Photo fest

Here’s a batch of images from the past three days, some good, some bad and some indifferent.

If you have been looking at the North America year list on the side occasionally, you will see that it has shot up recently, just three to go for 300 now. I’m still not bumping into a few things, mainly warblers like Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Wilson’s, Canada and Cape May but I will. I had hoped to bag the lot at the pits but the warbler flocks have been patchy and moving rapidly through. Shorebirds should be getting into gear shortly, Least Sandpipers started passing through yesterday, the next month should see the rest pop up.

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Veery: Taken at St-Lazare sand pits. Instead of charging around and diving into cover this one took to watching me as I watched it.

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Nashville Warbler: Four singing males on Bordelais Bog now, odd passage birds elsewhere.

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Magnolia Warbler: As I write this on the front porch, two are busy in the adjacent Birch trees. Seem to be fairly common at the moment.

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Blue-winged Teal: These are the only two I’ve seen in Quebec so far. This was at St-Timothee.

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Purple Finch: I mostly see the brown female types but the odd male does sometimes show up. This one had been feasting on buds at the pits.

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White-crowned Sparrow: I have eight of these in the garden at the moment.

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Northern Waterthrush: Annoyed with me for pishing at it.

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Blue-grey Gnatcatcher: Taken at Dundee reserve. The nest is superb, a work of art.

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Chipping Sparrow: I like them, they have character.

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Warbling Vireo: Quite pleased with these, again at Dundee.

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Least Flycatcher: The majority empid for now, Alder Flycatcher is sneaking in and Willow won’t be far behind.

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White-throated Sparrow: Common in the garden and Bordelais Bog.

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Golden-winged Warbler: Just a record shot, taken Montee Biggar near Huntingdon.

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Great Egret: In the ditch at St-Timothee.

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Grey Catbird: In full mew! Tell me this doesn’t look like a member of the grackle family in that pose.

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Eastern Towhee: Out around Huntingdon again.

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Great Crested Flycatcher: Ready to kick some fly, go get em.

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Swamp Sparrow: At the St-Timothee reed preserve.

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Solitary Sandpiper: A bit grainy.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: Hiding, almost.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler: Not great.

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Bobolink: Weird pose, then flying and sounding superb.

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Black-bellied Plover: No really it is!

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Yellow-rumped Warbler: Showing the bits it is famous for.

Hope you enjoyed these.

Just a word on my next eBook. It will be ’Twitching Times’ and not ‘My Patch’, a couple of excerpts will be in future posts. My first eBook, ‘Going for Broke’ is available at http://Smashwords.com for all reader formats including Kindle. Check out the link on the side bar or the tab at the top.

The Fun Continues

We are currently enjoying a fine weekend both in terms of weather and birds. Even the persistent and inevitable leaf-blower harmonies can’t dull the excitement of full-blown passage as birds appear to be everywhere. Going back to yesterday, it was very breezy indeed. The south-westerlies for me are always welcome as it generally means that I’ll see birds from the garden. After the obligatory trip to St-Lazare sand pits I arrived home to find two White-crowned Sparrows under the feeders. Inspired I thought I’d do a deck watch, I sat from 09:45 until around midday and saw the following:

Shoveler 3 over, yard tick; Common Loon to north; Double-crested Cormorant to north; Bald Eagle 3; Sharp-shinned Hawk 2; Broad-winged Hawk 2; Red-shouldered Hawk 1; Osprey 2; Northern Harrier 3; Turkey Vulture 1; Peregrine 1; Red-tailed Hawk 1; Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1; Baltimore Oriole 1; Cedar Waxwing 1; White-crowned Sparrow 2; White-throated Sparrow 2; Pine Warbler 1. Plus the stock species: Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Chipping Sparrow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinch, Mourning Dover, American Crow, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Common Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Tree Swallow, Mallard, American Robin. Not bad really and yes, no Song Sparrow or Brown-headed Cowbird…

Today I dragged Sandra to the pits, we had sort of intended to go off elsewhere but went for the closer option in the end. It was a good choice and we saw plenty of birds, including first of the season Blackburnian Warbler, Ovenbird, Least Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo and Magnolia Warbler. At the moment it seems that you just have to step outside to see birds, nice while it lasts. The next couple of weeks should be more of the same as the species mix broadens and our summer guests take their place for another season. Below are a few photos from this morning.

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Floodgates ajar.

The long hoped for migration event finally happened today as many expected summer birds started to turn up around Québec. I had a particularly fruitful day with 12 year birds plus another five for QC. I was out with Tim, over from the old country visiting relatives. I hope he has recovered from the sensory overload, it was quite a busy day with 94 species recorded and some surprising gaps in the day list when I sorted it out.

Our day started early at the I’le St-Bernard reserve, an excellent place and always a migrant magnet. Before we even got out of the car we were seeing White-crowned Sparrows vying with masses of White-throated Sparrows for our attention. Once onto the trail we started to add many more birds. Yellow-rumped Warblers had certainly arrived, they were all along the route.

We spent three hours there in pretty grey conditions but enjoying the birds lots. We didn’t come across anything rare but it was a pleasure to get good views of Veery, Swainson’s Thrush and a Pileated Woodpecker knocking lumps of a log, as they do. We probably missed ten species or so but we weren’t counting and were ready to move on.

Here are a couple of shots of Yellow-rumped Warblers.

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We were making our way to St-Timothee via a few points and it was worth the detours. Maple Grove had Black Terns, Beauharnois had Bank Swallow and Mellochville had a Caspian Tern (again), I saw one there on 6th-May too but eBird seems to be having trouble adding it to the QC year list. Out of interest I thought I’d see how many countries I’d actually seen the species, 13 in all including two self-founds in the UK where it is a National rarity and so records are judged by a records committee. Also at Mellochville were a few Bonaparte’s Gulls, neat looking in their summer dress.

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St-Timothee had lost most of its ducks, just a few Redheads and Ring-necked Ducks remained. On the canal we found two Long-tailed Ducks, late and unexpected. An American Bittern “kerplunked” away in the reeds and a confiding Virginia Rail put on a show as it scuttled along the reed edge. Amazingly we didn’t see a Northern Harrier there but compensation was a sub-adult Bald Eagle that came past.

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We rounded off by visiting a few sites, dipping and seeing. It was one of those days when you’d like to have been at many sites for the morning. I probably missed a few year birds for St-Lazare sand pits, we did go there briefly, but it didn’t matter what I’d missed, more what I’d seen. Tim seemed quite happy too, most of the species were new for him and he’ll probably have a head full of calls in his head for a while. Tomorrow is another day and it is the big sit weekend too, I might take part unofficially, just to see what I can turn up at the pits, it depends how wet it turn out.

PS. After the last post I went out locally and found a Great Crested Flycatcher so don’t worry about it, it’s home.