Friday, April 29, 2016

Westmount Summit (and back), April 29, 2016

Downtown Montreal from the summit
Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus
Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus
Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
Common Raven Corvus corax

Red-shouldered Hawk – 1 juvenile
Merlin – 2 calling to each other
Ring-billed Gull – 2
Rock Dove – 2
Downy Woodpecker – 2
Hairy Woodpecker – 2
Northern Flicker – 1
Pileated Woodpecker - 1 female hammering away at a rotting log, finding juicy grubs – didn’t flush when music-blaring joggers ran past at a distance of two feet!
Eastern Phoebe – 2
American Crow – 12 mobbing Common Ravens
Common Raven -2
Black-capped Chickadee – 8
Brown Creeper - 1
White-breasted Nuthatch – 1 heard
Red-breasted Nuthatch – 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 5
Hermit Thrush – 4
American Robin – 2
European Starling –2
Yellow-rumped Warbler – 4 seen dancing across high branches in search of insects
Northern Cardinal – 1 heard
Chipping Sparrow – at least 4 trill-singing individuals in several NDG and Westmount locations
Song Sparrow – 1 heard in NDG
White-throated Sparrow - 3
Dark-eyed Junco – 8
House Sparrow – 10+ in NDG

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Gageo lizard flashback - Tsushima Smooth Skink

Tsushima Smooth Skink Scincella vandenburghi
Tsushima Smooth Skink Scincella vandenburghi
Tsushima Smooth Skink Scincella vandenburghi
  Slow day, so I was flicking through some old folders from Gageo Island, and found these images of Tsushima Smooth Skinks. These sleek, coppery shrike-treats are usually found on Jeju and the Yellow Sea islands in the summer. Why am I digging through these old folders? Perhaps I'm trying to relive the giddy feeling I got when I was spring birding on the islands. In any case, one fine Gaego morning I saw one of these skinks attack another one, that appeared to be mangy or sick. How rude! It's a lizard-eat-lizard world out there. There's a haiku in there somewhere.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Abducted by a Korean gangster

Oh, to be spring birding on the glorious Yellow Sea islands again...
  It's time to recount the wacky tale of that time when I was abducted on a small Korean island in the Yellow Sea. This was a few years back, and I was there to survey the glorious spring migration. They don't get too many foreigners on this island, and I suppose the locals were trying to figure out what I was all about. So one night, as I was about to sit down in my hotel (I use that term loosely) to my daily dose of dreaded spicy fish head soup, this big dude showed up and pulled me out the door by the arm. He dragged me to his humble house in the hills, where his wife had laid out an epic dinner.
  I have my suspicions that this guy was the head honcho on the island, as the locals seemed to fear/respect him, and I'd seen him a few times at the docks in the pre-dawn gloom, up to no good. Once I saw him and the one cop on the island meet there, and an envelope changed hands while something was hurriedly offloaded from a trawler. The 'one cop on the island being tight with the one honcho on the island' thing seemed to be the rule, rather than the exception on these remote islands.
  At first he was basically interrogating me, asking me all manner of personal questions. As the dinner wore on, he warmed to me, and bellowed at his wife in Korean "Wife! Bring the Tree!" She popped out of the back room where she had been hiding out, carrying a massive vessel filled with liquor, with bits of tree floating around inside. We hit the Tree pretty hard, and were soon singing karaoke songs and giggling like ninnies. There was much red-faced back-slapping. I don't remember getting back to my hotel, but from the evidence I was able to piece together in the morning, I suspect that four to six Korean men broke into my bathroom and vomited everywhere. And a little bit near where I was sleeping.
  As I shakily headed out for my birding circuit the next morning, Big Boy came down and gave me a big bear-hug in front of some of the other townsfolk. After that, I was a made guy on the island. Instead of glaring at me suspiciously from doorways, folks would run out and offer me coffee and snacks. That's the power of the Tree.
  Being kidnapped by a Korean fellow was a bit stressful at first, but not quite as stressful as the time I was accused of espionage on an island within sight of North Korea. Twice. Incidents like these are what I'll miss about birding in Korea.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Woodcock! Woodcock! Woodcock!

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker holes

Joey picking through finches

There be Woodcocks here...
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
Winter Wren Troglodytes hiemalis
Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Purple Finch Carpodacus purpureus
Female Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
drab White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
bright White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus
Eastern Chipmunk Tamias striatus
Eastern Comma Polygonia comma
Epic trip up north, April 18-20, 2016
  Yes that’s right. I saw an American Woodcock! I went up north to Prévost to hang out at Joey’s for a few days, and the birding was solid. “The Woodcock Incident of ‘16” was one of those serendipitous birding events that you remember for a while. Joey and I went out for a digestive constitutional at about 9:30pm, and a few blocks from his house we heard a nasal, Nighthawk-like ‘Peeent!’ coming from a roadside field. “Woodcock! Woodcock! Woodcock!” I hissed while hopping up and down like a crazy person. The sun was fully down, and the field was country dark, so we didn’t see it that night. I rose at 5:30 the following morning to have a go, but I knew it was a long shot, as dusk really seems to be the time to see them. That night we returned to the field and set up a silent stakeout, and after almost an hour of waiting, we heard the display flight twitter on our right at 8:30. We froze. Seconds later, a ‘Peeent!’ from our left. Two birds! We ended up seeing one bird in display flight several times, and got sketchy blobby views of the stationary bird calling on the ground. Terrible, dim views, but still a spectacular moment. As soon as I figure out how to, I’ll post up the sound recordings I got. Woodcock!
  Early on the 19th, we went to Les Sentiers Écologiques de Saint Hippolyte for a hike. We probably should have brought snowshoes, as one step off the trail and kapow you’re up to your hips in snow. Tiring, but entertaining. Ruffed Grouse along the trail, and singing Winter Wrens were the obvious highlights.
  Back at Joey’s, the staggering numbers and variety of birds drawn to his backyard feeder had me glued to the back window literally for hours. Terrible houseguest. Woodcock!

Prévost, April 18-20
Canada Goose – 45+
Wood Duck – 2
Mallard – 5
Turkey Vulture – 7
American Woodcock – 2
Ring-billed Gull – 8
Rock Dove – 4
Mourning Dove – 3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – 1
Downy Woodpecker – 2
Hairy Woodpecker – 2
Northern Flicker – 2
Pileated Woodpecker- 1
Eastern Phoebe – 2
American Crow – 6
Black-capped Chickadee – 12+
White-breasted Nuthatch – 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch – 1 heard
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 1 picking bugs off a pine with a near-hover maneuver
Hermit Thrush – 1 pair ghosting along the forest floor at dawn
American Robin – 10+
European Starling – 6
Chipping Sparrow - 1
American Tree Sparrow – 6+
Song Sparrow – 8+
White-crowned Sparrow – 1
White-throated Sparrow - 2 (one drab 'Tan-striped' and one bright 'White-striped' spotted on different days)
Dark-eyed Junco – 12+
Red-winged Blackbird – 4
Common Grackle – 9
Brown-headed Cowbird – 1
American Goldfinch – 20+
Pine Siskin – 35+
Common Redpoll – 12+
Purple Finch - 11

Les Sentiers Écologiques de Saint Hippolyte, April 19
Turkey Vulture – 3
(Northern Goshawk – 1 possibly heard)
Red-shouldered Hawk – 1
Ruffed Grouse – 2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – 3
Downy Woodpecker – 1
Hairy Woodpecker – 2
American Crow – 6
Common Raven – 2
Tree Swallow – 1
Black-capped Chickadee – 20+
Brown Creeper – 1
White-breasted Nuthatch – 4
Red-breasted Nuthatch – 1 heard
Winter Wren – 2 singing up in the treetops – not where I would expect to find this species!
Dark-eyed Junco – 8
Pine Siskin – 25+
(+ two Eastern Painted Turtles and two Eastern Commas)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

St-Louis-de-Gonzague/Marais St-Timothée, April 16, 2016

Birding with the crowd
Spent the morning reeding
Marais de St-Timothée
Marais de St-Timothée
Gadwall Anas strepera
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
  Bleary-eyed and disoriented like a newborn giraffe when Dan showed up at the ungodly hour of 8:30, I stumbled into Dan’s trusty Prius yesterday morning. We headed back to St-Louis-de-Gonzague to re-try our luck with the vaunted Pink-Footed Goose. Once again, the goose did not fail to disappoint, with not even a hint of the 3,000 Snow Geese it conspires with. Headed north perhaps. 
  We ran into a large group of birders from a Vaudreuil birding group there, and followed them to the nearby Marais de St-Timothée (marais = swamp). Swamps are such lovely places, I’m not sure why they get such a bad rap. We spent an agreeable couple of hours picking through the ducks hiding amongst the stumps, and enjoying the bounty of those cavorting metallic cigars, the Tree Swallows. The Vaudreuil birding gang were truly a cheerful and welcoming bunch of folks, hopefully our paths will cross again further down the road. I do still find it a bit surreal to be around so many other birders, after birding in Korea for so long, a land where each birder is issued their own province.
  On the way back to Montreal, Dan slammed on the brakes as a large flycatcher zipped across the road. I quick-deployed like a member of some tooled-up birding SWAT team, and ran back to follow the bird to the tree where it landed. I heard it first – Eastern Phoebe! It perched there pumping its tail like a shrike, and I managed to get a crappy record shot, as this was a lifer for me (I know, right?).
  The key problem with this otherwise-joyous situation was that the tree in which it was perched happened to be in the front yard of a farm house. This particular farm house featured a massive pick-up truck in the driveway, and a front yard littered with the toys of a young child. And here I am, some random scruffy guy dressed in green running up and lurking out front, aiming a big camera in the direction of the house. I saw movement behind the curtains then heard a door open, so I made a calm retreat back to the car. As I walked back I swear I heard the faint sound of a pissed-off Paul Bunyan-type racking a shotgun shell into the chamber. Or was it just the wind? I made a show of waving my field guide around to show Dan what I'd seen, hopefully the international gesture for harmless birder (as opposed to deranged highway peeping tom). A reminder to never break one of the unwritten rules of birding – never point optics at someone’s residence.
  In other news, I’m headed to Prévost tomorrow for a few days of music and birding – should be awesome! Hopefully some early migrants will be passing through.

Pied-billed Grebe – 1 heard
Great Blue Heron – 3 on their nests
Great Egret – 1
Canada Goose – 65+
Mallard – 5
Gadwall – 1 pair
Northern Shoveler – 1 pair
Redhead – 1 pair
Ring-necked Duck – 3
Hooded Merganser – 1 pair
Common Merganser – 6
Turkey Vulture – 3
Northern Harrier (‘Busard Saint-Martin'?!) – 1
Red-tailed Hawk – 1
Killdeer – 1 heard
Ring-billed Gull – 10+
Rock Dove – 4
Mourning Dove – 1
Belted Kingfisher – 1
Hairy Woodpecker – 1
Eastern Phoebe – 1
Blue Jay – 1
American Crow – 3
Tree Swallow – 35+
Black-capped Chickadee – 1
American Robin – 4
Cedar Waxwing – 3
European Starling – 10+
American Tree Sparrow – 3
Song Sparrow – 12+
Dark-eyed Junco – 6
Red-winged Blackbird – 20+
Rusty Blackbird – 3
Common Grackle – 12+
Brown-headed Cowbird – 1

First butterfly of spring

First butterfly field guide of spring
Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa
  On April 13th I went up to the Westmount Summit to have a nosy and see what was kicking about. I guess I'm getting old, because several key spots on my legs were aching by the time I'd made it up the steep hills of upper Westmount. I'll blame it on the jetlag, still, heh heh.
  There was nothing overly interesting at the summit, migratory bird-wise, but I was surprised to see several large butterflies basking in the sun. This seems early for butterflies, with the night-time temperatures still dipping below zero this week, but what do I know. As was the case for mammals, my ignorance of butterfly species angered me a bit, so I went out and picked up a butterfly field guide. Turns out my butterfly was a Mourning Cloak, a kind of Brushfoot known for being an early harbinger of spring. Now I know.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

St-Louis-de-Gonzague/Morgan Arboretum, April 11, 2016

No geese here :(
Foggy arbo
Sodden arbo
Creepy arbo
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa
banded Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
banded American Goldfinch Spinus tristis

  A planned trip to the Morgan Arboretum was slightly modified yesterday, in order to have a look for a Pink-footed Goose that was recently spotted in the company of 3,000 Snow geese in nearby St-Louis-de-Gonzague. When we got there, the area was largely devoid of wildfowl – only seven bewildered-looking Snow Geese were found. I’m guessing the waterfowl moved en masse as a result of a large cold front/precipitation system that moved through the previous night. Oh well, that’s birding – it wouldn’t be fun if you saw every bird in the book every time. There must always be something left to look forward to. Or at least that's what I keep telling myself when I dip. Chin up, eh wot!
  By the time we arrived at the arbo the snow had changed to a steady rain, and we had the whole foggy, sodden place to ourselves. It was a treat to see Golden-crowned Kinglets, a species I hadn’t seen for some while. It brought to mind PQSPB trips from the 80s, where a young Dan and I would piss off the adults by racing ahead of the group in a crazed effort to see Kinglets. Kinglets were like crack for us, I guess because they were so small and cute. “Chubbyfluffy”.

Snow Goose – 7
Canada Goose – 75+
Mallard – 45+
Ring-necked Duck – 25+
Common Merganser – 35+
Northern Harrier – 1
Red-tailed Hawk – 3
Ring-billed Gull – 6
Mourning Dove- 1
Downy Woodpecker - 1
Tree Swallow – 1
Black-capped Chickadee - 4
American Robin - 2
American Tree Sparrow – 9
Song Sparrow - 4
Dark-eyed Junco – 2
Red-winged Blackbird – 8+
Rusty Blackbird - 1 probable
Common Grackle – 10+
Common Redpoll – 25+

Morgan Arboretum
Mallard – 3
Ring-billed Gull – 4
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker – 2
Downy Woodpecker – 1
Hairy Woodpecker – 1
Pileated Woodpecker -1 heard
Blue Jay – 2
American Crow – 3
Black-capped Chickadee – 12+
Brown Creeper -2
White-breasted Nuthatch – 5
Golden-crowned Kinglet – 7
American Robin – 3
Northern Cardinal – 2
Song Sparrow – 3
Dark-eyed Junco -8+
Red-winged Blackbird – 5
American Goldfinch – 3
Pine Siskin – 5
Common Redpoll – 25+
Purple Finch -1