30 May 2007


Finally - the secret of adding a graphic to the blog title has been solved - the new title strap (hope it's to your liking) was taken at Le centre éducatif des Laurentidesi at St-Faustin, about 90 minutes north of Montreal.

27 May 2007


Ideally, we would have gone birding today but it rained - yesterday was spent making the garden a better place for the birds that have passed through and gone north. First meal of the summer in the open air though and record heat for the end of may (before the rain, that is) so all has not been lost.

21 May 2007

We garden too ... with birds

First of all, if you are here to see pictures of Sandhill Cranes, they were talked about in the day before yesterdays posting which you can find a bit below this one – but please read this on your way there, it's full of interesting stuff ...

Yes, it's true, we garden as well as bird and having spent two days hard gardening and this being La journée des patriotes (Victoria Day elsewhere in Canada but are good republicans so we kinda like the Quebec alternative - it's a day off whatever you call it) we decided to get down in the dirt.

But first the almost-but-not-quite garden bird of the day .... a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak. there has to be a flashy male somewhere but she's nice too, in a restrained sort of a way:

As we were settling down for our post-labours cuppa tea (the British genes still function in us) we were visited by a new bird for the garden list, not just for this year but altogether - a Scarlet Tanager ... definitely the garden bird of the day and year and not at all restrained

It had clearly been a hard day for him as well as he decided to take a dip in our special bird spa ...

And now for the garden - it always looks good and bosky at this of the year so for those of you have not seen it, or have not seen it recently, here is how it looks today:

The front garden with the huge paper birch tree, the nicely growing rowan tree (lots of autumn berries for the birds) and quite a few narcissi still blooming

The newly repainted and planted window boxes at the front

The "wild" garden under the larch tree

The rock bed

Fresh fern shoots around the waterfall plus hostas and lily of the valley

What passes for a vegetable garden - raised beds worked on the no-dig principle with fresh compost overlayed for the worms to incorporate. We have decided to give them a rest from tomatoes this year and have planted potatoes to loosen up the soil (and because they taste good freshly dug) with a corner for salads and herbs to come.

20 May 2007

Worra weekend

First of all, if you are here to see pictures of Sandhill Cranes, they were talked about in yesterdays posting which you can find immediately below this one – but please read this on your way there, it's full of interesting stuff ...

After yesterday's triumphs, today we went to Ile Bizard to see what was around. The early wind kept some of the birds quiet for a while but we finished with the following collection of 46 species – which included the first Hummingbird of our year sunning himself on a twig, several Marsh Wrens displaying and telling the world to b-off on reeds right beside the passarelle, many gorgeous Baltimore orioles including one in a tree full of blossom (inevitably, having a guest with us, I had decided to travel light and not take the camera this morning, a decision I regret), a Thrasher displaying on a tall tree and a Least Bittern that emerged at high speed from a clump of green reeds, hurtled across a 30 foot gap just above the water level and dived from sight in another reed bed hoping nobody was looking. Sora and Virginia rail were heard. Finally, a beautiful female Pileated Woodpecker was knocking seven bells out the base of a tree by the roadside just to left as you cross the road from the car park – bits of splinter flying everywhere, most impressive.

About 11.00am we returned to the car feeling all was beginning to quieten down as the day warmed up and midday approached and almost called it a day - however we stuck with it and made a short stroll towards the acceuil and the river to find the trees there full of totally different species to the main part of the park. Lots of warblers in the trees near the beach including Bay-breasted amongst others and between the car park and beach “flocks” of Redstarts and a mini-flockette of GCFlycatchers.

The final count for the day was 46 species making the weekend total a gratifying 64. Today's birds were:

Pied-billed Grebe - Great Blue Heron - Least Bittern - Canada Goose - Wood Duck - Mallard - Virginia Rail (heard) – Sora (heard)- Greater Yellowlegs - Ring-billed Gull - Common Tern - Black Tern - Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Hairy Woodpecker - Pileated Woodpecker - Great Crested Flycatcher - Eastern Kingbird - Tree Swallow - Marsh Wrens in profusion - Gray Catbird - Brown Thrasher - Wood Thrush - American Robin - White-breasted Nuthatch - Blue Jay - European Starling - Red-eyed Vireo - Yellow Warbler - Magnolia Warbler - Black-throated Blue Warbler - Yellow-rumped Warbler - Black-throated Green Warbler - Bay-breasted Warbler - Black-and-white Warbler - American Redstart – Ovenbird - Chipping Sparrow - Song Sparrow - Swamp Sparrow - Northern Cardinal - Red-winged Blackbird - Common Grackle - Brown-headed Cowbird - Baltimore Oriole - American Goldfinch - House Sparrow

19 May 2007

Lac St-Francois

There was a BPQ field trip to the Philipsburg reserve today (>90 species apparently - but nothing to match our "star" described below) and the Mountain was expected to be full of warblers and was almost certainly full of birders, but we have a friend visiting from California who had first pick of where to go and so, contrary as usual, we were almost, but not quite, the only people at the Lac St-Francois wetland reserve down at Dundee .... and were we glad we were!

Arriving early we started with the Great Egret Trail and found ourselves right from the start immersed in bird song as we got out of the car - Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Baltimore Orioles - all sorts of good stuff

Of course, while we were ready for a good walk and good birds what we "really" hoped, but never really expected, to see was one of the Sandhill Cranes that had been reported here in the last few days. So, just a few hundred yards into the walk I was concentrating on photographing a Swamp Sparrow (saw several later but never did get a photo) when my companions cried out "look up" and there was the desired Sandhill Crane flying right overhead calling to others out in the marsh who called back to it as he circled a couple of times before landing. later in the morning we occasionally saw Crane heads poking out of the reeds but they never flew again. Why the excitement? Because these critters are not really supposed to be here, that's why - if they had read the books they would realise that they are supposedly limited to the land west of Quebec but clearly just a few of them have had enough of our prime minister and his anti-environmental western cowboy antics and so have made a break for freedom and civilisation and a chance to star in the Quebec year lists of those of us lucky enough to track them down. Long may this trend continue - fine birds, very fine.

Below is a map showing the locations of the Cranes that we saw should you wish to try for them also - clicking on this map will give you a larger version that you can print off .... another service to birding from Sparroworks

Other birds seen included Common tern, Black Tern, Snipe (heard), three species of Swallows, Great Egrets (sorry Mark, there are Egrets on the Egret Trail !!), a Wood Duck, Catbirds, DC Cormorants, Kingfisher, harrier, Bald eagle, TVs, Marsh Wren, Veery and the first shorebird of the year, a Lesser Yellowlegs in a muddy field pool over the road from the main welcome centre for the reserve as we called in to have some lunch.

Yellow Warbler

Mum, Dad and the kids

Another Yellow Warbler trying too had for a tasty morsel

Tree Swallow in a flap about something

Reticent Baltimore Oriole

Common Yellowthroat - very common this day

Lesser Yellowlegs

Great Egrets at a distance

Great Egrets at an even greater distance

And then on the way back we dropped in at the field on St-Angelique just behind the St-Lazare Pinery only to find it infested with horses and horsey people having a gymkhana at the nearby farm and everything in the sparrow field seemed ominously quiet. A lady on a horse stopped to (kindly) tell us she had seen a hawk a couple of weeks before but seemed strangley uninterested in sparrows ..... anyway, the odd LBJ was doing its stuff and we finished the day with a 90% certain Savannah Sparrow.

Life is good.

17 May 2007

Ever onwards

As of today the garden year list (mostly seen but just a couple of "heards") is now at 57 species as follows (OK, 56 if you don't count that Prothanatory Warbler but still pretty damned good for suburbia):

Snow Goose
Canada Goose

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk

Ring-billed Gull

Mourning Dove

Great Horned Owl

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker

Eastern Wood-Pewee
Least Flycatcher

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Carolina Wren
House Wren

Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin

Black-capped Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch

Brown Creeper

Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven

European Starling

Philadelphia Vireo

Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler (** yes, really - but see note posted yesterday)
Canada Warbler

American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

Purple Finch
House Finch
American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

15 May 2007

Warbler fallout

Garden list for the year now equals 52 species

It seems to have been a good warbler day today all over the area .... visitors to our garden included Black-throated Green, Yellow Rumped, Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Black and White and Canada Warblers as well as Swainson's Thrush, Philadelphia Vireo, White-throated Sparrows and House Wren.

... and then, and then.

This is NOT, for reasons that will become obvious, a bird we are lightly claiming for our year lists, but this evening at around 18.30 we both watched through the rain a strange bird for several minutes around the top pool of our garden waterfall in somewhat subdued light. It was large warbler with a distinctively long, very slightly curved beak, dingy (that may be due to the light - could have been brighter in daylight) yellow face and chest, no eye-bars or rings etc, olive greenish back and back of head, no wing bars on greyish wings, no cap on head. It hopped around the pool and bathed where we could see that the lower under body was pale/ slightly streaked beige between the legs as seen from the front. Very strange - an hour or so research with all the books at our command and the internet rather leads us to think we could have been visited by a female Prothonatory Warbler although that would be unbelievably rare around here .... there are no Quebec breeding records and in fact the closest breeding birds are up-state New York or southern Ontario - however, there are records of vagrants in Quebec including sightings on the Mountain and in Drummondville (see the Breeding Bird Atlas) and Pierre Bannon has records on his website of sightings at almost exactly this date in 1996, 2001 and 2004. It's therefore possible though we are not going to make claim without corroborating evidence (needless to say the camera was indoors because of the rain!) ..... or can anyone suggest anything else from that description? This wasn't a snatched glimpse, this was what a US friend of ours calls a "soul satisfying view" of the bird.

Alternatives that it might have been (the 'differential diagnosis')? Well, not many. We considered, first of all, a female Scarlet Tanager but a Tanager is an inch or two longer than this bird and lacks the yellow colour, being more greenish/yellow and with a pale eye-ring plus the beak is proportionately shorter than the bird we were looking at. A Vireo perhaps? That was considered, but too small, not chunky enough, and they have clear eye markings of one sort or another which ours certainly did not.

Frustrating, is it not.

13 May 2007

Ile Bizard - first time this year

After a day spent in garden centres yesterday (always a good way to spend a day if not birding) and, as always, spending way too much money on desirable plants we took ourselves off very early this morning to Ile Bizard, generally reckoned to be the best birding site in the Montreal area. Not everything was a bird and not every bird was photographed but as we also like squirrels here's a North American Red Squirrel doing 'cute" ...

Anyway - it was a very good few hours birding - here are some fo the highlights - the ones you won't see, such as the American Bittern, you will just have to imagine ...

Song Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow at rest (for a moment)

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow family

Great Blue Heron with nesting material

A Turtle - not a bird

Common Moorhen - 'look at my fine green legs"

Green Heron

Hooded Merganser flying too fast to focus on

With all that white on its rump and the very long tail the first thouught is that it has to be a Northern Harrier but, not sure ..... watch this space for definitive ID as soon as possible. Damned hard these guys.

American Goldfinch

Yellow Warbler
- there should also have been a picture of a Black & White Warbler who spent ages calling and calling from somewhere very close but we never did a view of him

Baltimore Oriole

And finally a Gray Catbird

09 May 2007

Good Day

Things started moving last night - today in the garden we had White-crowned Sparrow (the ones in the cycling helmets), Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Least Flycatcher amongst others.

08 May 2007

Flowers, birds and expenses

It really is very springlike at the moment but although some of the seasonal arrivals have started to arrive we are still awaiting the big rush of exotica. Meanwhile, we have consoled ourselves with the fact that the garden list now stands at a quite respectable 38 species for the year (a Hermit Thrush appeared today) and that the myriad white and purple violets in the garden have produced this delightful hybrid ....

Of the birds that I have manged to get "snaps" of here is a Goldfinch in its grown-up summer plumage - and, note, not sitting on a feeder -

... while here is a Ruby-crowned kinglet. perhaps one of the most frustrating birds on the planet to photograph. They are small and twitchy and never stop zipping - hard, hard to get a good focus on.

One of the reasons we have not got out much in the last couple of weeks is that we had the roof re-shingled and immediately followed that by having the siding replaced as the following pictures show (now, of course, this needs to be paid for). The work had to be done for very practical reasons but we were very pleasantly surprised at how much nicer it has made the house look ...

The old metal siding just before its demise

When the old stuff came off we found even older real wood siding beneath
- peeling brown paint and all

And the finished result - altogether an improvement.

On Sunday we took ourselves off north to check out a small bird sanctuary that BPQ owns near to Piedmont and which nobody has visited for a good 5 or 6 years - just forgotten about it. Very interesting and while we need to go back in a couple of weeks to see which migratory birds have moved in for the summer we were delighted by carpets of flowers - Sanguinaria, Red Trilliums, Yelleow Toad lilies and many others. The site is a section of Laurentian forest on a rising slope with a massive stone cliff face to one side - well worth watching.