Sunday, February 1, 2015

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus
Check out the chopstick tail grip!
  Acting on reports of a noisy mystery bird, I raced up the street today at noon (Rapid deployment! Go! Go! Go!), to investigate a churchyard on NDG and Decarie. I found a crisply-marked male Hairy Woodpecker working the bark on the mature trees. The 'chopstick-tail' method of gripping the branch was impressive, I thought.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl Aegolius acadicus

  From All About Birds: "A tiny owl with a catlike face, oversized head, and bright yellow eyes, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is practically bursting with attitude." Well said. This was a lifer for both Dan and I, and not an easy bird to see. Pocket-sized at 8 inches long (roughly Starling-sized!), we found this one leisurely eating a mouse in a small copse of conifers near the golf course on the island. We were quite fortunate to see it, as they're mostly nocturnal. Apparently they usually eat mice in two sittings, so perhaps we caught this one in the middle of a mid-day snack.
  We only spotted the owl when we were almost directly underneath it, and it was a memorable moment to watch this gorgeous little creature feed for 10 minutes. When the owl got to the mouse innards, the stomach popped and and the mouse poop came out in the owl's bill. It seemed to wince in disgust, and eventually coughed out a shiny black pellet. In a frustrating replay of the Barred Owl incident, this owl finally flew off when some photogs got too close, loud, and animated.

Parc National des Iles-de-Boucherville / Two-owl day!

Deer plop
Crowded airspace above Dan
White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus
Eastern Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis
Common Raven Carvus corax
female Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
male Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Barred Owl Strix varia - note the blood on the chest
Barred Owl Strix varia
  A two-owl day! Hard to beat that. Insert double hooters joke here. On a day so cold that we quickly resembled ruddy-cheeked snot-walruses, Dan and I hit a charming island park just to the east of Montreal, for our last birding trip before I migrate east. Well, west.
  It can't be understated how difficult everything associated with birding becomes when the temperature drops to -30 with wind chill.  Inexplicably tangled bino and camera straps, eyelashes freezing into a cage, moribund extremities, and frozen gear make it all fairly miserable. Miserable but challenging and fun, I guess. Exposed fingers will freeze in 20 seconds, and for some reason, when it's that cold out, my shirt invariably becomes untucked, exposing my delicate midriff to winter's pointed fingers. It's alarming how difficult thinking becomes when it's that cold. I quickly revert to my natural state when it's cold - a childish, drunk euphoria. Oh look, it's birds, huh huh, yaaaay!
   Ahh, frozen gear. Here's a tip - don't exhale on your binos or camera, or you will be scraping a sticky layer of ice off lenses. And here's another tip - wrap your optics in something and let them 'acclimatize' to the heat slowly when bringing them into a heated car or house after being exposed to extreme cold. Trust me on that one. One more tip - keep your camera battery in your glove until you need it. And that ends 'Matt's Arctic birding tips' for today.
  If there was a disappointment on the day, it was the lack of finches. Finches were ostensibly the reason we were there in the first place, but we soon forgot all about finches. To be fair, we just looked at a map, pointed at the island and said, 'Maybe there will be some neat finches there.' 
  A Barred Owl, supposedly one of three on the island, was napping inconspicuously at the edge of a small woods. It was well-camouflaged, while giving nice views relatively close to a main trail. Well, it was until a couple of novice photogs got wayyy too close and flushed it. Clap clap clap.
  On that subject, there was an alarming amount of questionable field craft on display today, some real head-scratchers. 'Hey, there's a Saw-whet Owl, let's have a noisy giggles-n-guffaws session directly below it!' Appalling, ha ha. Ah well, it takes all sorts, I suppose.
  Nothing beats the early morning in Gimpo when a middle-aged Korean lady photog sat cackling noisily on her cell phone while myself and several other birders were staked out at a drainage ditch, waiting on an understandably reluctant Plumbeous Water Redstart. I thought I was on some hidden camera show, it was that ridiculous. Whoa, I'm ranting, time for bed.
  Then there was the star of the day. The Northern Saw-whet Owl was...spectacular. So much so that it merits its own post.
  A two-owl day!