Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A hoodie...just for birders?!

My Wunderbird Gyrfalcon hoodie - pockets for binoculars and field guides, and lovely padded shoulders to reduce strap burn 
What a poser
  I pride myself on being prepared for every birding trip. I check the weather forecast, and plan accordingly...layers, layers, layers! And let’s not talk about the pockets on my camera bag stuffed with an embarrassingly nerdy array of ‘just in case stuff’ — I’m looking at you, safety pins, Benadryl, rain poncho, mosquito hood, duct tape, band-aids, sun-block, and granola bars.
  To prevent myself from stumbling around in an early morning panic, I’ve been known to prepare my gear and clothes the night before a birding session, to the point of laying out a flat version of my tomorrow self out on the ground. My favourite birding clothes have become admittedly threadbare, and are also admittedly rumpled-frumpy, and cause folks to give me the side-eye on the subway.
  Where have I historically purchased my birding gear? Korean markets, a going-out-of-business sale at an outdoors store in England, and my go-to, army surplus stores. I was obsessed with finding the perfect boonie hat for close to a year, and my pair of fire-proof fighter-pilot gloves is just great, but they do make folks nervous, I think, especially when I wear them in the summer. They prevent bug bites, and the birds can’t see my hands when I wear them, honestly.
  A thought has often fluttered through my mind over the years: “Why is no one making clothes...JUST for birders? Like a thoughtful, from-the-ground-up process — something more profound than the “Tilley hat and a tan vest with pockets for your field guide and notebook” approach. Not that there’s anything wrong with the classics, but I’ve felt for years that birders are a far under-represented target group when it comes to affairs that stray from the realms of optics and field guides.

  So consider my mind blown when I came across a post online about a line of shirts from a company called Wunderbird that was designed by birders, for birders (with stuff for men and women). The first thing I noticed was that...am I seeing things...a top pocket for binoculars? Within several seconds I went from thinking it was lame, to realizing that it was not only actually pretty cool, but a great idea. I had to have it. Lucky then that they sent me one to review, eh?
  When I got my Wunderbird Gyrfalcon hoodie (comes in my favourite shade of olive drab, ha ha), I found that the bino-pocket does in fact help reduce the “birder neck” involved with lugging the optics around for hours. After taking it for an early-morning test drive the other day (on an anomalous 12°C morning in the midst of a heat wave) I also realized that there were other clever features designed with the birder in mind. The shoulders have integral shoulder padding, to make those hours of scope-lugging more bearable. While I (still...and proudly) don’t have a scope, I found that the strap burn I normally get from three sets of straps digging into my shoulders was noticeably reduced. Hey, this crazy thing actually works?
  I’m also a fan of the hand-warming pockets, which are found under the kangaroo-style stuff pouch. That pouch is perfect for hurling objects into in hurry...for those occasions when a bird decides to wait until you’ve pulled out your water bottle or field guide to flash past, and you end up trying to swing your binoculars around with a field guide dangling from between your palm and thumb-tip.
  Apparently the hoodie has a mosquito-repellent coating too! The only useful feature it seems to lack is a sono-scrambler that will swiftly and mercilessly destroy the phones of birders caught using excessive playback. Ha ha.
  Wunderbird also does some other shirts and accessories for birders. I hope they stick around, because I’m curious to see what they come up with next. I wouldn’t normally gush about a product like this, but I feel like I can make an exception for a small start-up run by birders, passionate about making stuff for fellow birders.
  To cap off my initial ramblings, Unlike most of my birding gear, the hoodie looks “normal” enough that I didn’t get stared at on the subway like I was some tuna-hoarding, cottage-raiding hermit. Phew, finally. Well, maybe folks will still stare at my creepy fire-proof fighter pilot gloves, but that can’t be helped. Ugh, I feel about as pale and tired as I look in those pictures.

Click to visit Wunderbird's website

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Parc des Rapides, June 20, 2018

Common Tern Sterna hirundo
American Black Duck Anas rubripes
American Wigeon Anas americana
American Wigeon Anas americana
Canada Goose Branta Canadensis "X6F2"
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon in a hover
juvenile European Starling Sturnus vulgaris

  In a dream haze of poplar fluff, a lazy afternoon bimble by the St Lawrence River turned up a decent array of 'water-themed' birds.

Parc des Rapides, June 20, 2018
Double-crested Cormorant-12+
Great Blue Heron-9+
Great Egret-5+
Black-crowned Night Heron-1
Canada Goose-50+ (including one with an orange neck collar with white ‘X6F2’)
American Black Duck-1
American Wigeon-12
Red-breasted Merganser-1
Turkey Vulture-3
Peregrine Falcon-1
Spotted Sandpiper-1
Ring-billed Gull-100+
Greater Black-backed Gull-3
Common Tern-10
Rock Dove-4
Chimney Swift-3
Belted Kingfisher-1
Downy Woodpecker-1
Eastern Kingbird-1
Warbling Vireo-2
Tree Swallow-6+
American Robin-3
Cedar Waxwing-6+
European Starling-20
Yellow Warbler-10+
Song Sparrow-12+
Red-winged Blackbird-50+

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Papilio canadensis
  One time, I saw a butterfly. It had doohickies and thingamabobs on it.
  I meant to write a post whining about hard it is to differentiate between Bicknell's and Grey-cheeked Thrushes, but I lost the pictures of a supposed Bicknell's I got last year, so that ain't happening. I lost the pictures. On my computer. In my computer. Inside of it.
  When I was reading up on the Yellow-billed Cuckoo the other day, I learned that, according to Peterson, their song is, and I quote: "...a rapid throaty ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-kow-kow-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp." So remember that.
  In other news, should I go live in Myanmar? I betcha there are some nutty birds out there.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A Sora state of affairs

Sora Porzana carolina
Sora Porzana carolina
Sora Porzana carolina
Least Bittern Ixobrychus exilis
Least Bittern Ixobrychus exilis
Least Bittern Ixobrychus exilis
American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus
American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus
Great Egret Ardea alba
Green Heron Butorides virescens
Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius
Eastern Coyote Canis latrans var.
Snapping Turtle Chelydra serpentina
Eight-spotted Forester Alypia octomaculata (moth)
Swamp Sparrow in song

Marais de St-Timothée
Gorgeous, extensive reedbeds  

  One of my favourite little off-island spots, Marais de St-Timothée, did not disappoint on a sunny and breezy morning. It’s always sunny and breezy there, it seems.
  The session got off to an auspicious start with my first Eastern Coyote sighting – what an awesome creature, radiating an intense and wary intelligence. Along the bike path, Least Bitterns were out in force, first spotted far off, and then zipping across the path at eye level several times.
  The long-awaited Sora sighting came as a result of a lengthy stake-out (or was it a crake-out?) after hearing the bird’s characteristic downward-cascading whinny (very Ruddy Kingfisher-like). I’m convinced that Soras are actually some form of enchanted trickster imp of the reed-beds, as they’re skilled at teleporting and vanishing and the like.
  Two American Bitterns thrilled with dueling (nuptial dance?) jousts overhead, tumbling down towards the extensive reed-beds together. I got a great video of the behaviour, then promptly deleted it by hitting the wrong button. Fuckin’ buttons.

Marais de St-Timothée, (St-Louis-de-Gonzague) June 7, 2018
Pied-billed Grebe-1 heard
Double-crested Cormorant-2 (3)
American Bittern-3
Least Bittern-3 or 4
Great Blue Heron-3
Great Egret-1
Green Heron-1
Snow Goose-(4)
Canada Goose-6 (12+)
Mallard-2 (4+)
Ring-necked Duck-3
Turkey Vulture-3
Bald Eagle-1 shadowing a large ship on the canal
Peregrine Falcon-(1 at Halte des Pêcheurs)
Sora-2, including one seen with nesting materials
Common Gallinule/Moorhen-1
Spotted Sandpiper-2 (2)
Least Sandpiper-1
Ring-billed Gull-4 (5+)
Common Tern-1 (5+)
Rock Dove-(8)

Belted Kingfisher-1
Downy Woodpecker-(1)
Northern Flicker-3 from the road nearby
Willow Flycatcher-1
Least Flycatcher-1 (1)
Eastern Phoebe-1 from the road nearby
Great Crested Flycatcher-1
Eastern Kingbird-4 (2)
Warbling Vireo-2 (2)
Blue Jay-1
American Crow-4 (2)
Cliff Swallow-(10+)
Tree Swallow-12+ (12+)
Black-capped Chickadee-1
Marsh Wren-4+
Veery-(1 heard)
American Robin-6+ (3+)
Gray Catbird-1
Cedar Waxwing-6+ (12+)
European Starling-5+ (3)
Yellow Warbler-6+ (6+)
American Redstart-3 (3)
Common Yellowthroat-4 (1)
Song Sparrow-6+ (4+)
Swamp Sparrow-2
Baltimore Oriole-1 from the road nearby
Red-winged Blackbird-15+ (6+)
Common Grackle-15+ (8)
Brown-headed Cowbird-(1)
House Sparrow-2 from the road nearby
American Goldfinch-6 (2)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Rock Me Ammodramus

Lovely bit of scrubby field habitat
Dan wanders towards America
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna
Grasshopper Sparrow Ammodramus savannarum
...honestly...try squinting if you don't see it...or no, unfocus and look from afar
...or try mashing your thumbs into your eyes real quick...

Dan's badass sketch of a Grasshopper Sparrow...superlative cross-hatching!
  When he’s not fainting away into the bushes, Dan is an illustrator (http://dansvatek.com/). Last week he did a wicked black-and-white illustration of a Grasshopper Sparrow for a sustainable ranch, so when I told him about a recent sighting of said species down near the border, he was all in.
  The spot ended up being just down the road, literally, from the U.S. border, on a quiet farm road. When a farmer rolled up on us real slow like in his pick-up, I was worried we’d be hearing a shotgun shell being wracked into the chamber and a "Why are you standing in front of my house?" Instead, we were greeted with a jovial “Have you guys heard that bird yet? There’s fuckloads of ‘em in there!” Hopefully that means the locals have only been exposed to well-mannered birders so far.
  After being initially psyched out by a Savannah Sparrow (Psych!), we ended up getting onto our target with frustratingly distant, dim, and rainy views, as the Grasshopper Sparrow dueled with a cantankerous Eastern Meadowlark. It is a Grasshopper Sparrow. I swear. Or is it a bleached out hacky sack? No, it’s the Grasshopper Sparrow. Wait, is it a caterpillar tent? Or an old forgotten marshmallow? No. No, that’s the Grasshopper Sparrow, 100%.

  Dang, Ammodramus sparrows (Ammodrami?) are badass, time to find some more.
  Bring on the horrendous record shots!

Hemmingford, June 5, 2018
Great Blue Heron-(2 from the road)
Green Heron-(1 behind Burger Bob in town...solid poutine there)
Canada Goose-3
Turkey Vulture-3
American Kestrel-1

Upland Sandpiper*-2 shorebirds that flushed from the field were later determined to have been this species, after putting together all the clues (size, shape, colour, tail pattern, habitat, time of year, etc...)
Rock Dove-5
Mourning Dove-1
Chimney Swift-5
Ruby-throated Hummingbird-(1 from the road)
Northern Flicker-1 or 2
Alder Flycatcher-1
Least Flycatcher-1
Eastern Kingbird-1
Red-eyed Vireo-1 or more
Blue Jay-1
American Crow-2
Barn Swallow-3
Eastern Bluebird-2
American Robin-4
Gray Catbird-2
Brown Thrasher-1
European Starling-5
Yellow Warbler-2 or more, (+several from the road)
Common Yellowthroat-1
Indigo Bunting-2
Northern Cardinal-1
Chipping Sparrow-2+
Grasshopper Sparrow-1
Savannah Sparrow-1
Song Sparrow-2
White-throated Sparrow-(1 heard from the road)
Eastern Meadowlark-1
Red-winged Blackbird-3
Common Grackle-6+
Brown-headed Cowbird-2
House Sparrow-1
American Goldfinch-10+

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Yellow-billed Cuckoo!

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus
Yellow-billed Cuckoo being harassed by Northern Cardinals

  The winds giveth! At about 8:15 a.m., I was in the northwest corner of the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, along the fence that divides the cemetery and the forest on the Université de Montréal grounds. I heard a distant, weak Cuckoo call that sounded a bit like a dove: too-too-too-too (which Google translated to “trop-trop-trop-aussi” in French, which means “too-much-too-much-too-much-also”). I popped through a hole in the fence, ate facefulls of spiderwebs, and tracked the call through the woods for 15 minutes. 
  I finally saw the bird on the hill behind CEPSUM, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo! It was hard to get a decent look at, until I got an assist from two cross Red Cardinals. They harassed it from the brush and up onto a bare tree branch (listen for them in the video). I got good looks at the uncommon and enigmatic bird for about three minutes, before it flew north towards the football stadium, and it was not seen again. I contemplated following it further, but when I heard the boisterous hollerings of an enraged lunatic coming from the woods I casually turned around and went back the way I had come. He sounded...cuckoo.
  The whole YBCU encounter may have been cloaked in a veil of dark vs. light magic, missing time, possible alien abduction, and a menagerie of malicious forest spirits. Perhaps that aspect of things is best left for short story fodder.
  Yadda yadda yadda there were some other birds in the cemeteries too, yadda yadda yadda.

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), May 29, 2018
Turkey Vulture-(1)
Peregrine Falcon-(2 on the tower)
Ring-billed Gull-2 (33 near Decelles)
Black-billed Cuckoo-1 heard on Mount Murray...or was it multiple birds? I could have sworn I also heard one on Oak Ridge over the drone of the mowers...
Yellow-billed Cuckoo-(1 on the Université de Montréal grounds north of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery)
Chimney Swift-2 (2)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird-
2 males battling on Oak Ridge
Downy Woodpecker-1
Hairy Woodpecker-1
Pileated Woodpecker-(1)
Eastern Wood-Pewee-(1 or 2 in the northern woods)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher-(1 in the northern woods)
Great Crested Flycatcher-5 (2)
Warbling Vireo-(1)
Red-eyed Vireo-10+ (6+)
American Crow-4, including one seen stealing an egg, (2)
Black-capped Chickadee-3
White-breasted Nuthatch-(1)
Red-breasted Nuthatch-1
House Wren-1
Eastern Bluebird-5

Gray-cheeked Thrush-1 skulking on the small scrubby hill behind the cannons in N2
American Robin-2 (1)
Gray Catbird-3
Cedar Waxwing-(2+ heard)
European Starling-1
Tennessee Warbler-1 in L5
Yellow Warbler-(1 still along the northwestern NDN fence-line)
Blackpoll Warbler-2+ possibly heard near the north gate feeder
American Redstart-1 on Oak Ridge
Wilson’s Warbler-1 on Oak Ridge
Indigo Bunting-6 (2)
Northern Cardinal-1 (2 harassing the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, their alarm tsips can be heard in the video)
Chipping Sparrow-12+ (12+)
Song Sparrow-6 (4)
Common Grackle-(1 flew over, calling)
House Sparrow-(2 near Decelles)
American Goldfinch-(3)
House Finch-(2 singing)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Ditch Chicken!

Virginia Rail Rallus limicola

  Ditch Chicken! I finally saw a Ditch Chicken! A ridiculously close look at a Virginia Rail was the hands-down highlight of a 44 species afternoon at the Technoparc – and probably of my Montreal birding year to date. Long-awaited lifer!
  The bird was spotted far from the oft-visited swamps at the site, and I was dealt a fairly thick slice of luck when I first spotted a ‘mini-Moorhen’ zip through the edge of my peripheral vision. It was super skulky at first, but after a while it...you know what? This encounter was so similar to my first brush with an Eastern Water Rail in Suncheon in October of 2015 (Click here to compare and contrast rail details) that I’ll just plagiarize that account, with several minor amendments:

  “...the best bird of the day by far was an Eastern Water Rail a Virginia Rail skulking in a reedy ditch. After catching a quick ‘Moorhen-like’ view of it scuttling to cover, I lay on the ground stood still, and after a few minutes, the bird came out and fed among the reeds. I spent an amazing 30 minutes watching it sneak around the murky reedscape. At times it vanished, only to burst from cover and comically skid to a stop, like a reluctant performer being pushed on stage.”

  All hail the Holy Grail Rail! Gidik gidik gidik!

Technoparc, May 26, 2018
Green Heron-1
Black-crowned Night Heron-1
Canada Goose-5
Virginia Rail-2: 1 seen well, 1 distant ‘call and response’ heard
Spotted Sandpiper-2
Least Sandpiper-1
Ring-billed Gull-4
Downy Woodpecker-3
Hairy Woodpecker-1
Pileated Woodpecker-1 or 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee-2 or 3 singing
Willow Flycatcher-2 singing
Least Flycatcher-2
Eastern Kingbird-4
Warbling Vireo-4
Red-eyed Vireo-2
Blue Jay-3
American Crow-3
Barn Swallow-3
Tree Swallow-12+
Black-capped Chickadee-3
Red-breasted Nuthatch-1
Swainson’s Thrush-1
American Robin-4
Gray Catbird-3
Cedar Waxwing-8
European Starling-15+
Yellow Warbler-12+
Magnolia Warbler-1
Blackburnian Warbler-1 female
Black-throated Green Warbler-1 heard
Blackpoll Warbler-3+ heard
American Redstart-2
Common Yellowthroat-3
Northern Cardinal-3
Chipping Sparrow-1
Song Sparrow-6
Swamp Sparrow-2
Baltimore Oriole-2 to 4
Red-winged Blackbird-15+
Common Grackle-8
Brown-headed Cowbird-2
American Goldfinch-10+

The winds giveth, and the winds taketh away

Gray-cheeked Thrush Catharus minimus
Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis
  The southerly winds have been takething more than they’ve been givething of late, that’s how it goes – everybird must get up to their boreal breeding grounds, innit. A quiet day in the cemetery (37 species), especially when compared to the warblo-palooza of just a few days ago.
  I spotted what I suspect was the same Gray-cheeked Thrush from the 22nd, just hanging out in its little spot. I’ve got a post brewing about the Bicknell’s/Gray-cheeked "Catharus conundrum," so that oughta be good for a laugh.

  Geez, I haven't been to the Westmount Summit once this year, oh well. I have my reasons.

Mount-Royal Cemetery, (Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery), May 25, 2018
Turkey Vulture-7+ (2)
Ring-billed Gull-2 (2)
Chimney Swift-2 (2 )
Ruby-throated Hummingbird-1 on Oak Ridge, 1 on Mountain View, (1 near Decelles)
Hairy Woodpecker-2 (1)
Eastern Wood-Pewee-1
Pileated Woodpecker-1 in D3
Great Crested Flycatcher-5 (2)
Warbling Vireo-(1)
Red-eyed Vireo-6 (4)
American Crow-4 (2)
Common Raven-1
Black-capped Chickadee-3 (1)
Red-breasted Nuthatch-1
House Wren-(1)
Eastern Bluebird-7 (2)
Gray-cheeked Thrush-(1 in the northern woods, more on this bird soon)
American Robin-2 (1)
Gray Catbird-2
Cedar Waxwing-1 heard
European Starling-(3)
Tennessee Warbler-20+ (2)
Orange-crowned Warbler-1
Yellow Warbler-(1 still singing along the northwestern fence)
Magnolia Warbler-(1 in the northern woods)
Yellow-rumped Warbler-3
Common Yellowthroat-(1 in the northern field edge)
Canada Warbler-1 female skulking in K
Indigo Bunting-2 (2)
Northern Cardinal-2
Chipping Sparrow-20+ (9)
Song Sparrow-5 (3)
White-throated Sparrow-(1 heard only)
House Sparrow-(4 near Decelles)
American Goldfinch-(3)
House Finch-(1 singing)

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Bird the swamp! Bird the swamp!

male Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata
female Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
Cedar Waxwing a'swaying

Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris
Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
Purple Martin Progne subis
Purple Martin Progne subis
Snow Goose Chen caerulescens
American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla
Least Sandpiper feeding

Marais me
  It’s starting to get “Dan passing out” hot out there. We got some fantastic looks at Blackpoll Warblers at the water’s edge at Halte des Pêcheurs in St-Louis-de-Gonzague. Oddly, I ticked my first Blackpolls at the exact same spot...on May 24, 2016. Neer-neer-neer-neer, neer-neer-neer-neer (Twilight Zone theme).
  We didn’t end up seeing any of the more coveted reed-skulking species at Marais St-Timothée, but it was great to see American Bitterns again, and, my birds of the day, Least Sandpipers. They displayed an interesting range in plumage coloration, and oh how they skittered. Dan thought the Marsh Wrens were goofy and hilarious.

Marais de St-Timothée, (St-Louis-de-Gonzague) May 24, 2018
Pied-billed Grebe-1
Double-crested Cormorant-3 (2)
American Bittern-1 in the ditch by the parking lot, 1 flushed when we went up the observation tower
Great Blue Heron-2 attending a nest
Great Egret-7
Snow Goose-(1)
Canada Goose-8 (5)
Mallard-25+ (2)
Blue-winged Teal-1
Turkey Vulture-3
Northern Harrier-(1)
Wild Turkey-1 dead on the road nearby
Common Gallinule/Moorhen-1
Spotted Sandpiper-3
Least Sandpiper-6
Ring-billed Gull-3 (3)
Herring Gull-2
Great Black-backed Gull-1
Common Tern-1 (1)
Mourning Dove-1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird-1
Downy Woodpecker-1
Northern Flicker-1 (1)
Willow Flycatcher-2
Eastern Kingbird-4
Warbling Vireo-2 (2)
American Crow-2 (1)

Barn Swallow-1
Cliff Swallow-(12+)
Tree Swallow-10+ (6)
Purple Martin-4 in a random backyard behind the poutine place we ate at in Beauharnois
Marsh Wren-4
American Robin-5 (3)
Gray Catbird-4 (2)
Cedar Waxwing-(2)
European Starling-4
Yellow Warbler-10+ (9)
Yellow-rumped Warbler-(3)
Blackpoll Warbler-3 (6)
American Redstart-2 (1)
Common Yellowthroat-1 or 2
Song Sparrow-6 (8)
Lincoln’s Sparrow-(1)
Swamp Sparrow-1
Baltimore Oriole-1 (2)
Red-winged Blackbird-15 (9)
Common Grackle-10+ (6)
Brown-headed Cowbird-(2)
American Goldfinch-3 (1)