Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Snowy Owl Found

Spot it?
Freezing my arse off, leaning on a barbed wire fence = best New Year's Eve ever

The best view of a Snowy Owl you're likely to get, unless you bring a pillowcase full of mice...
Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus
Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus
Dan's crude iPhone + binoculars digiscope attempt
OSO#1 - I think it was also a Snowy...
  I've been waiting to use that obvious and satisfying title for far too long. Dan and I have tried to find this ghostly gargoyle for years, with zero success. Yesterday we cruised around St.Hubert Airport for a couple of hours, scanning the surrounding fields intently. We held one huge advantage this time when compared to past attempts - most of the snow around Montreal has melted over the past week, rendering the Snowy Owl's perfect camouflage much less effective.
  As usual, we pulled over to examine quite a few OSOs (Owl Shaped Objects), only to have them reveal themselves to be stumps, signs, or plastic bags. As we came around the end of the runway, we spotted a good-looking OSO in a promising spot - on a mound of earthen debris at the edge of the runway. We squinted at it for a good 20 minutes from every available angle, but it didn't move. "It's an air vent," then, several seconds later "It moved! It moved! Wait, no..."
  We gave up and headed down the road a bit, vowing to return to OSO#1, when we spotted another OSO on the other side of the road. Same shtick: "I see eyes! Shit, no, I don't see eyes," This was definitely one of my rare 'My-kingdom-for-a-scope' moments, as we were battling with significant distance, and the vicious winds that made it feel like -20 C. We stared at this static blob for a bit then checked out some other fields.
  When we returned 30 minutes later, OSO#1 still had not moved, and we owlucinated on owl-s-d for several more minutes before moving on to OSO#2. "It...moved? It moved! SNOWY *#@%ing OWL!" We were slightly excited. We watched it from the fence line, as it hopped up to the top of the mound for sentry duty, until all 40 digits were frozen solid. Spectacular bird. Massive. Stately. There are no suitable adjectives. Snowy *#@%ing Owl.
  A perfect way to end the year. Interestingly, my birding buds in Korea, JP and Subs, also ended out their years with owlifers.
  Situational symmetry. I just realized that for the last few years, I've been birding hard on December 31st. In 2013 I was in Seoul searching unsuccessfully for Hazel Grouse, and the last day of 2012 saw Dr. Moores and I freezing in the name of a Long-tailed Shrike at Igidae. Here's hoping that 2015 will bring us all more awesome birds, and hopefully less bad news about bird habitat, as well as every other damn thing.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Hi-tech Birding - Birdwatcher's Digest, September/October 1989

Clunk clunkitty clunk
Yea right dude
I can't find the RAM key!
  Slow birding week, so here's a blast from musty old 1989. I believe Dan-lad bought this magazine back then, and I ended up with it recently. He was much more of a serious birder than me in those days, with full-on detailed lists, sweet binos, an actual camera, and a meticulous/hilarious journal. "I saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and it was all fluffed up and chubby and cute, and I went crazzzzzzzy and levitated and said wowowowowowowowowwwwww!"
 I flicked through this and was impressed by how little birders have changed, over a span of time where the toys have dramatically changed. I'm digging the clunky old computers, and antiquated terminology. "Where is my DOS?!"
  I've been in full torpor mode these days, sipping coffee whilst wrapped in blankets on the couch all day. I must get out of the house and check some bird spots in NDG/Westmount, and hopefully Dan and I can cruise around and check for Snowies sometime soon.
  Oh it looks like I'm back to Korea next month. Whaaaaaat?!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

British Birds - Bewick

  At the last place I was staying at in Devon, I came across this crusty old tome from 1832, written by old Bewick himself. A whimsical romp! I dig it the most.

Prévost Northern Shrikes

Feeder mania 
Spot the Shrike? It's one pixel big :(
Cold white north
  I'm back in the Montreal area for about a month, but I haven't been up to much birding yet. On December 21-22 I was up in Prévost at a friend's, and I spent several enjoyable hours staring out of his back window at several well-stocked and well-attended feeders. Clouds of Chickadees were soon joined by about a dozen Common Redpoll (the first my friend has seen this season), a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers working the suet, two skulking Tree Sparrows, and a Song Sparrow. The highlight was definitely when a dusky Northern Shrike suddenly dropped in for about ten seconds, causing a panic clearout of the feeder birds. The Chickadees returned after ten minutes, the Redpolls wisely never did.
  The following day, while checking out a friend's farm, I spotted another Northen Shrike, perched on a treetop throne, overlooking its kingdom of thorny scrub. I have the impression that Northern Shrikes are fairly uncommon/rare, but I'm not sure. Clueless in my home patch. Yeah, I picked a great weekend to leave the camera at home.
  I wish you all a birdy 2015.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

UK round-up, Devon/Bucks, November 24 - December 7, 2014

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta (late?) on gorse, Maidencombe, Devon, November 24
Spot the Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita, Shardeloes, Bucks, December 7
Spot the Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus, Labrador Bay, Devon, November 24
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, Shaldon, Devon, November 24
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus, Shardeloes, Bucks, December 7
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus, Shardeloes, Bucks, December 7
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, Shaldon, Devon, November 24
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, Shaldon, Devon, November 24
Remains of a European Robin? Maidencombe, Devon, November 24
European Robin Erithacus rubecula, Shardeloes, Bucks, December 7
Mute Swan Cygnus olor, Shardeloes, Bucks, December 7
  I'm winding things up in the UK, as my six-month tourist visa creeps towards expiration ('And stay out!'). It's been a hoot, har har. The Great Grey Shrike I spotted in Amersham in October definitely has to rate as my UK highlight over the past few months, and it looks like a few locals managed to twitch it, which is awesome. Haven't seen it lately though. You know what they say about shrikes. Do you?
  In Devon, the Cirl Buntings were the bee's knees, just a gorgeous bird, with a rough history in the UK over the past few decades. I managed to spot them again at Labrador Bay, and spent a spectacular 15 minutes watching a group of six at close range without the need for binos. I even managed to see/hear a single male Cirl using the smallholding I was staying at as a highway of sorts. I heard it sing briefly every couple of days as it worked its way towards the coastal heights, sticking to the hedgerows. Was it looking for a territory? Hopefully Cirls will make a comeback - it looks like the they're are doing OK in neighbouring Cornwall at least:
  While on a coastal walk near Torquay on November 19th, I watched a Yellow-browed Warbler as it flitted up from the cliffs below and perched on a twig for a moment, before bouncing casually through the scrub. The YBW is a species I've seen quite regularly in Korea, and it took me a moment to remember that it's not an overly-common bird here, with perhaps only several hundred UK records annually. Because I was too slow to get an image, I didn't report the bird on any local groups. But looking at all the recent YBW records chalked up by local groups on the same small stretch of Devon coast made me think. I'm guessing that a lot more YBW make it to England from Russia than is recognized, maybe they're just greatly overlooked/under-appreciated.
  Back in Amersham, I've been enjoying the influx of winter thrushes here, with flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares lurking in trees along most trails. On that note, it's off to Shardeloes for me.
  Oh, it looks like I'll be winter birding on three continents this year, how merry!

Will I get the UK 100? Wait and see with baited breath, friends, wait and see. Rounding out my UK list:

86. Redwing (Shardeloes, Bucks, October 22, 2014)
87. Fieldfare (Amersham, Bucks, October 24, 2014)
88. Great Grey Shrike (Amersham, Bucks, October 24, 2014)
89. Common Raven (Near Crediton, Devon, October 28, 2014)
90. Stock Dove (Near Crediton, Devon October 31, 2014)
91. Little Owl (Near Crediton, Devon, November 3, 2014)
92. Cirl Bunting (North of Maidencombe, Devon, November 14, 2014)
93. Yellow-browed Warbler (Smuggler’s cove, Torquay, Devon, November 19, 2014)
94. Common Shelduck (Shaldon, Devon, November 24, 2014)
95. Common Redshank (Shaldon, Devon, November 24, 2014)
96. Common Greenshank (Shaldon, Devon, November 24, 2014)
97. Northern Shoveler (Shardeloes, Bucks, December 3, 2014)