29 January 2007


Nothing about birds this time - just a picture of the lakeshore as seen from my morning drive into work every day ........... just after 7.30am with the dawn shining across the ice and the temperature getting down towards minus 20degC. Sets you up for the day.

28 January 2007

Nuthatches Nattering

Today we took a turn around the arboretum as we hadn't been there for several weeks (only to find later that Lapland Longspurs were seen in profusion out St-Clet way today) and a gorgeous day for a walk it was .......... there had been a slight snow fall overnight and the Hemlocks were looking especially striking with a thin covering on their branches .....

This was primarily a picture of sparkly snow but having a Dark-eyed (slate-coloured) Junco in the frame never hurts -

Of particular note were the huge numbers of White-breasted Nuthatches that seemed to be everywhere. They are not an uncommon bird but usually solitary, whereas today flocking was the only way to describe their activity .... all squeaking and nattering away to each other in that plastic trumpet noise they make

We found some bracket fungi holding the fresh snow

On the BPQ blackboard at the conservation centre someone had recorded seeing a Great-horned Owl nearby so we headed off to try to find it. No luck, but we did find in a tall stand of pine trees (perfect GHOW holding-up-for-the-day habitat) a positive "quarrel" of Blue Jays. Maybe a dozen or more calling and jabbering just like Crows do when mobbing an owl so maybe he/she was in there but too well hidden/camouflaged for us to make out despite determined efforts.

The Jay below was one of the ones homing in on something ....... "faster than a speeding bullet, it's SuperJay"

27 January 2007

Still cold

Another January day in Montreal with bright sunshine and bone-breaking cold was relieved by some nice, if "ordinary" birds of which this fine male Northern Cardinal in his glowing winter (pre-breeding) plumage was the star ......

25 January 2007

Welcome back

J (not me of course, I was at work) was visited three times in the garden today by the famous, yet elusive, Carolina Wren who was using our feeders. It has certainly been very cold lately and it must have driven to visit by shortage of food - providing it has found good shelter (one year it was almost certainly under our deck) it will hopefully make it through the winter. That gets our garden list for the year up to 19 species already.

Compensation for the worker was a long (yes David, it qualified as a SSV) office window view of a soaring Red-tailed Hawk shining in the winter sunlight.

21 January 2007

Good bird and strange bird

Well, it has taken more than enough visits to the St-Clet/Ste-Marthe area to finally pin down a Snowy Owl for the year list but now it's in the bag. Today, while beautifully sunny, was viciously cold out there with most creatures keeping their heads well down and we had almost decided to give up and go find hot coffee when just before my fingers gave up the ghost a "lump of dirt" turned its head to look at us ...........

It was quite some way from the road and, while clear and crisp in the spotting scope even my maximum camera lens "stack" (theoretically 1280mm of lens) could only pull in the above view but some PS manipulation below produced some images worth posting as proof of its existence:

Should be sharper but even the tripod was waving in the wind.

Then back at base we saw this chap on one of our feeders. Downy Woodpeckers are perhaps our most faithful feeder birds but we have never seen a brown one before. While brown colouration of worn feathers exists (for example see the images at http://www.migrationresearch.org/mbo/id/dowo.html) such a uniform atypical colour does seem to be unique.

..... and a Red Squirrel just because he's cute. This guy expends way too much energy chasing the greys but as you can see appears to be fat and in fine fettle.

17 January 2007


These last couple of days have been very cold - and very bright and sunny - with effective temperatures, factoring in wind-chill, of -32degC at the moment.

Yesterday, driving a minor road across flat fields on Montreal island the car was surrounded by a "blizzard" of Snow Buntings glinting in the sunshine ….. just a delight. Then coming to work this morning there was a small pool of not-quite-yet frozen water on the river with a huddle of dormant ducks all back-lit by the low, red rising sun, and of course the camera was at home.

Days like this can kill you with the cold but I wouldn't be anywhere else on earth at the moment.

14 January 2007

Magic day

We betook ourselves into furrin territory today and crossed over to the south shore (where the drivers try to kill you with even more enthusiasm than over here on Montreal island - scary place south of the river) to visit Parc de la Frayere between Boucherville and Varennes. This is a reliable spot for owls in winter and we were lucky enough to add a Northern Saw-whet Owl and three Long-eared Owls (all in the same tree) to the year list - now at 33 species. The LEOW was also a lifer for J - double the pleasure.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Long-eared Owl

An adult Snowie Owl was photographed today near St-Clet and I need it for the collection - should still be around next weekend if I can't get there sooner. Meanwhile, a dump of snow is forecast for tomorrow and then some very cold temperatures to follow - time to hunker down.

13 January 2007

Year list = 31

Bright, sunny and cold - a proper winter's day at last but still no snow. The plants are going to suffer without that blanket over them.

Garden birds have been a little more numerous today (RBNU, WBNU, MODO, BCCH, AMCR, DEJU) .....that is until this Sharp-shinned Hawk, albeit a youngster, came looking for a packed lunch. The first House Sparrow appeared in the garden this year too.

Later in the day walking down a nearby road we had the pleasure of a Cooper's Hawk similarly cruising the neighbourhood. no wonder small birds are looking twitchy these days.

13 days into the year, the list stands at 31 species of which 18 have also appeared on the garden list. Not a winning position but respectable. What I need are some owls ......... anyway, the list so far comprises :
Canada Goose
Cackling Goose
American Black Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Northern Goshawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Dove
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Blue Jay
American Crow
European Starling
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting
Northern Cardinal
Purple Finch
House Finch
House Sparrow

11 January 2007

New garden birds

Today something more like seasonal weather suddenly arrived with temperatures around -8degC this morning and a night-time temperature of -25degC promised for next week. If that is accompanied by some decent snow - so far it is not - then we might get the winter garden birds we have thus far been missing. However, today there were House Finches and (J thinks - though it was a non-convincing view) at least one Purple Finch.

07 January 2007

Ducks out of season

I was "on-call" for the lab this weekend and supposed to stay within easy reach of the telephone but by mid-afternoon today I was getting cabin-fever so we took a tour of the shores of nearby Ile Perrot to see what was about. What should be about at this time of year would be drunken ice-fishermen but instead the water was clear and the sun quite warm. A large raft of Canada Geese (and were there maybe one or two Cackling Geese amongst them - difficult to be sure?) were off the northern shore as the above picture shows ..... it also demonstrates the immense foreshortening effect of a telephoto lens because the dome of the Basilica in the background is a good 20 km further down river from these birds.

Other birds included Mallard, Black Duck, Common Mergansers, a pair of Common Goldeneye, Ring-billed Gulls and several pairs of Greater and Lesser Scaup who obligingly allowed me to take their photographs.

The 'Big Year' is getting off to a slow start for me ( a friend is up to 58 species already, but he is more dedicated than I) so I will claim a modest 26 species in 7 days since the start of the year.

03 January 2007

Day 3

Well, I have to earn my crust so days in the field are limited to weekends .... usually wet ones this year. Nevertheless, life has its little compensations and driving in to work yesterday past the wooded entrance to the arboretum I spooked a Northern Goshawk that was snacking on something in the roadside verge and once I had regained control of the car I almost immediately spotted a Red-tailed Hawk on a lighting pole by the roadside. Two excellent ticks.

This morning there were around 100 Canada Geese on the river - weird for this time of year when the river should be a frozen sheet and the only things on it the mini-vans and trucks of ice-fishermen - while later in the morning J managed to add a Brown Creeper to the garden list for the year.

Looking up.

01 January 2007

Off to a flying start .........

The first of January and the first day of the Big Year of Birding in Quebec ....... our first bird of the year was an American Crow and this was by far the commonest bird we saw all day .... but before getting down to birding lists, please admire the rosehip-breakfasting squirrels in our garden earlier today. the upper one ("Stumpy") has almost no tail and by rights should be unable to leap through the tree tops but he has been around for months and gets fatter by the day. Anyway - the birding ....

We had decided that a Snowy Owl would have been a good first day bird but despite spending a long time in prime habitat where we know they had been seen only a couple of days prior, nary a one was to be seen. No matter, we shall catch up later and we presume that the melting snow and freezing rain overnight may have moved them on for a spell. We did see lots of Euro-Starlings of course - these guys were in the garden (yes, J is competing in th garden list category so nothing is wasted) but there were plenty elsewhere .....

Without a doubt, the bird of the day was the Snow Bunting, a number of which we caught up with on the western side of Ste-Marthe while looking for snowies. A really gorgeous bird and one that moves aorund a lot so you do have to take your chances with them.

Including the the above, our day list comprised a modest 11 species - the others being House Sparrow, Rock Pigeon, Cooper's hawk, Morning Doves, Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, Ring-billed Gulls and Black-backed Gulls. Frankly, we spent so long looking for owls we didn't have time for other species.

And why didn't we go after the sad and lost Black-throated Gray Warbler of Ile-Ste-Helene? Because (a) it was "downtown" and (b) it is by no means classifiable as a Quebec native bird and we'd like to confine ourselves to birds that are supposed to be here ..... later in the year our standards will slip but for now that's the intention, to keep ourselves "pure".

One day down, 364 days left to go.