Monday, May 30, 2016

Everybody's birdin' for the weekend

Parc des Falaises de Prévost
Les Sentiers Heritage Plein Air du Nord 
Insect-addled and cranky
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Chestnut-sided Warbler Setophaga pensylvanica
Magnolia Warbler Setophaga magnolia
Alder Flycatcher Empidonax alnorum
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
Pine Siskin Carduelis pinus
Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea
Veery Catharus fuscescens
Star-nosed Mole Condylura cristata
Saint-Jérôme + Prévost, May 27-29
  While it was great as always to head up north and hang out/bird with Joey, I wasn’t prepared for the omnipotent hordes of biting insects that were out in force up there. We’re talking hundreds of droning mosquitoes and black flies on or around your head at all times, and I came away with dozens of bites that were inflicted through clothing. Fackin’ell. Dealing with that, and birding all day in long sleeves, gloves, and head netting in 30° heat is not for the squeamish.
  We headed up to the Alfred-Kelly Nature Reserve/Parc des Falaises de Prévost ( on the 28th for a family-oriented nature day. Many visitors were scanning the cliffs with scopes in the hopes of seeing raptor activity, but my attention was focused much lower, in the brush and low trees. There was plenty of sexy passerine action there, with a pair of Common Yellowthroats, singing Chestnut-sided Warblers, several Pine SiskinsAlder Flycatchers and Eastern Wood-Pewees, as well as three patchy Indigo Buntings that were singing and feeding on blossoms.
  A comical moment came when a large group of people on a beginner's bird walk crossed paths with Joey and I on the trails. We chatted a bit with the walk leader and pointed out some singing Red-eyed Vireos. Someone from the middle of the pack yelled in French "Speak, up, the people in the back can't hear you!". It turns out that Joey and I were both wearing matching green boonie hats and grey adventure shirts (a total coincidence), and I guess folks thought we were part of the show, ha ha.
  The undisputed bird of the trip initially confused me. In an old Christmas tree plantation near the base of the cliffs, several birds blurred past, and a medium-sized finch materialized at the top of a tree. In a brief but clear view through the bins, I was shocked to see a bird with a fluro-orange crown and chin offset by darker markings on the face, as well as on on the barely-visible body. The bird flew off before I was able to get a better look or record shot, and could not be re-found. I got a Red Crossbill vibe from the bird, but the colours of the illustrations in the Sibley’s book didn’t seem to match up with the bright orange I had seen. It wasn’t until I consulted the app version of the same book (and later online images), that I realized that my initial suspicions were correct – I had just seen a first-year male Red Crossbill. Whaaaaat?! 
  I essentially lost my mind and begged Joey to take me back to the spot on the 29th in an effort to get another look. No luck with the crossbill, but it was a great day spent showing Joey several firsts, including Magnolia, Black-and-White, and Black-throated Blue Warblers. Unfortunately, two dead Star-nosed Moles were found near the start of the main trail towards the cliffs. It is probably not a coincidence that this stretch of trail is highly trafficked by countless people with their dogs off-leash, in spite of the many signs stating that dogs are not permitted in the park at any time.
  Our next stop was Les Sentiers Heritage Plein Air du Nord, in Prévost/Sainte-Anne-des-Lacs ( A showy Ovenbird got Joey’s pulse pounding there, while a ghostly Veery silently skulking through the underbrush was my highlight. Several Swamp Sparrows were heard tisking in the swampy area, before one briefly sung from a stump. Confusingly, at one point a dull White-throated Sparrow teamed up with a Swamp Sparrow and played the old ‘two-birds-in-one-bush’ trick.
  From high overhead in the treetops, we heard an unidentified bird that sounded most like a young raptor begging for food. These trails are a lovely bit of productive habitat, enjoyed by enthusiasts of many outdoor pursuits. Hopefully the group overseeing the project can continue to fight the worrying encroachment of seemingly the endless development of gaudy mansions in the area.
  Back at Joey’s House in Saint-Jérôme, several Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided, and Black-throated Blue Warblers had the feeling of birds on territory. Eastern Phoebes and Alder Flycatchers also appear to have set up shop nearby, while his backyard saw regular visits from Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, American Goldfinches, and Brown Thrashers. I was enthralled by a Common Grackle as it first pulled out a ball of suet from a feeder, then dropped to the ground and deftly tapped bits of fallen suet onto the growing ball of suet in its bill. The backyard highlight was a visit from a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Viewed in the eerie light of dusk, I’m not entirely unconvinced that the brief encounter wasn’t a phantasm. At all three locations, Turkey Vultures, Red-eyed Vireos, Ovenbirds, Hermit Thrushes, Chipping Sparrows, Black-throated Blue Warblers, and Blue Jays were seen and/or heard.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Paint it Blackpoll Warbler

Marais de St-Timothée
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata
  Turns out the Blackpoll Warblers were at St-Louis-de-Gonzague and Marais de St-Timothée! Finding a target bird is always fun, and a bit surreal in this case. Guess I'll have to try to find some of those rarer warblers now, heh heh. Dan and I headed southwest this morning, and it was birdy as all get-out. At SLDG we got out of the car to the sound of at least 80 Common Terns near the bridge, with over 20 Cliff Swallows wallowing overhead - they seem slow for swallows. Several Barn and Tree Swallows were also present.
  The mimids were also out in full force - we had a Brown Thrasher and Gray Catbird there as well, and even a Northern Mockingbird perched at the roadside near town. A male Baltimore Oriole was showing well nearby.
  At Marais St-Timothée, several more Gray Catbirds and Blackpoll Warblers, as well as two Spotted Sandpipers, and single examples of Eastern Kingbird, Least Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, and Baltimore Oriole. The temperature maxed out at 30 today, so I'm a bit wiped out, I may add some more details later. Dan was crumpled in the bushes at one point because of the heat, poor fella.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Down by the Bay-breasted Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler Setophaga castanea
  Spring in Montreal has been good to me, bird-wise. During the past several weeks I’ve seen 19 different warbler species, eight of which were lifers for me. As of this morning, I only had two ‘easy’ warblers left to see – Bay-breasted and Blackpoll. I’ve been birding pretty hard lately, but I pulled my foot off the gas for a moment, and took the weekend off from birding. Maybe I subconsciously wanted to save some new warblers for next spring? Who knows.
  Back at it today, although Westmount Summit itself was extremely quiet, with only one warbler seen (a female American Redstart), along with several Great Crested Flycatchers and Red-eyed Vireos heard singing. On my walk home, ‘secret spot’ was yet again much birdier than the Summit. A Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Yellow-rumped, and two Black-throated Blue Warblers were all quickly spotted in the small wooded patch, and then two more warblers moved in from the back. It was initially hard to get a good look, as the leaves have fully come in this week, but I caught a glimpse of thick rusty flanks and...a rusty chin! I wasn’t looking at another Chestnut-sided Warbler, but a pair of cracking Bay-breasted Warblers! I watched them for about ten minutes as they gorged on what looked like green caterpillars (yum!) high in the treetops, never getting as close as the other warblers. Awesome bird, holy smokes. Ok, time to figure out where the Blackpolls are...

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mellow Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Magnolia Warbler Setophaga magnolia
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla 
Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus
   It was summery-hot today, and the leaves have come out in a big hurry (almost no leaves one short week ago). Much quieter at the Westmount Summit this morning, albeit with some new sights. A Red-eyed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and male Scarlet Tanager were nice to see. Near the entrance paths, a Swainson's Thrush, Ovenbird, and Common Yellowthroat skulked in the tangles of fallen branches. In addition to these birds, warblers were thinly spread when compared to yesterday's bounty, with three American Redstarts, three Magnolia, two Blackburnian, five Black-throated Blue, and four Black-and-White Warblers seen.
  A different mix of birds at the nearby 'secret spot', with several Chestnut-sided Warblers and a Least Flycatcher, all flycatching up high.
  After consulting with the bird ID masses for help, it seems that my flycatcher from two days ago was probably an Alder Flycatcher.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wave of Warbleration

Early morning haze...
...gave way to late morning rain 
terrible record shot of a Northern Parula Setophaga americana
Nashville Warbler Leiothlypis ruficapilla
  The Summit this morning, once again, was fairly first. The first circuit starting at 8:30 produced a few predictable warblers, but at 9:15, the world went warblery. An epic and sustained wave of warblers started streaming in from the southeast, and for the next hour, I followed the wave through the woods as it headed towards the northwest corner. It was a bewildering spectacle, as a ragged mass of 14 different warbler species (14!) relay raced through the treetops. There were so many warblers moving, at one point I almost had a system shut-down, ha ha. In one bino sweep I had seven species in the same tree - fuck yea.
  A fairly heavy rain squall came through at about 11:15, and I got thoroughly rainihilated. I squelched all the way home in my holey Converse, grinning like an idiot.

Wicked Warbler Wave:
Tennessee Warbler - 2
Nashville Warbler - 3
Northern Parula - 2
Chestnut-sided Warbler - 2
Magnolia Warbler - 5+ (mostly feeding close to the ground)
Cape May Warbler - 3+
Blackburnian Warbler - 3
Black-throated Blue Warbler - 5+ females (also feeding in the underbrush), 3+ males
Black-throated Green Warbler - 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 4
Black-and-white Warbler - 4+
American Redstart - 3
Ovenbird - 2
Canada Warbler - 1

O Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis
Mourning Warbler Geothlypis philadelphia
female Black-throated Blue Warbler Setophaga caerulescens
Black Swallowtail Papilio polyxenes
  While I am fully aware that noon is not the best time to go birding, I also have this ghoul-like compulsion to sleep more than five hours, a couple of times a week. So I slept in most decadently yesterday morning, then plodded up through the land of surly landscapers (Upper Westmount) to the Summit. It seemed quiet there at first, but after a full circuit, things picked up in a hurry. Warblers showed up in the form of Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, and Black-and-white Warblers, but the star attraction was a confiding and impossibly gorgeous male Canada Warbler. I watched at length as it deftly fed at eye level, in the company of a female Black-throated Blue Warbler. Truly a spectacular bird. Also at the Summit: two Great Crested Flycatchers, a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a Black Swallowtail butterfly. I also spotted an Empid flycatcher that I'm working feverishly on IDing. I'm leaning towards Willow or Alder Flycatcher. Stay tuned.
  Once again, I found more warbler activity at an odd site near the Summit. A few large trees and surrounding scrub were teeming with warblers – an Ovenbird, three Chestnut-sided, a Magnolia, two Black-throated Blue, a Black-throated Green, two Yellow-rumped, and a cracking Mourning Warbler, my first of the year.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

There'll be Bluebirds over the White Graves and Warblers

Cape May Warbler Setophaga tigrina
Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea
American Goldfinch Spinus tristis
Philadelphia Vireo Vireo philadelphicus
Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis
Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis
  Surprisingly, no snow today, on a fresh day that saw the temperature barely struggle into double digits. Dan and I checked out the Mount Royal Cemetery in the late morning and early afternoon, and there were definitely some birdy moments. The area around the cannons was quite warblery again, with small numbers of American RedstartTennessee, Nashville, Cape MayChestnut-sided, Black-throated Green, Yellow-rumped, and Black-and-white Warblers seen cavorting in the treetops. Also in this area were three stunning Scarlet Tanagers (two males and one female), several Blue-headed Vireos, and a Great Crested Flycatcher
  In the raised area between C5 and F5, two male Eastern Bluebirds were spotted chasing each through the low trees, while a nearby female observed the fray. A Philadelphia Vireo was perched in the same area, and a Gray Catbird heard. Overhead, aside from a Common Raven and the ever-roving American crows and Turkey Vultures, we had a flyover Osprey and Great Blue Heron. I later ran into Jean-Sebastien Mayer again, and we compared notes and birded together for a while – he’s a good egg, that one.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Birdy Sunday

Bobolink spot
ringed Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia
Nashville Warbler Leiothlypis ruficapilla
Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus
  It was quite windy and cold today at the Morgan Arboretum. Warblers were represented by low single-digit numbers of Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Black-and-white, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, along with two Ovenbirds. My personal highlight of the day was two male Bobolinks chattering in a tree before coming down in a grassy field, while Dan went goofy for a cracking male Indigo Bunting. Three Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (one male, two females) perched quietly over the trail by the Bobolink field.
  We decided to hit up the Technoparc near Trudeau Airport on the way home, after reading an encouraging recent trip report from a BPQ member. The high wind was still an issue, but we found a couple of birdy spots, at a site with loads of potential. Highlights included a flyby Green Heron, several Least Flycatchers, a Warbling Vireo, two American Redstarts, at least six Yellow Warblers, along with single Yellow-rumped, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Chestnut-sided, and Nashville Warblers.
  Very quiet at the Westmount Summit yesterday afternoon, with no 'yellow warblers' observed. Single examples of Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, and Ovenbird were seen around the eerily quiet woods. Several blocks south of the Summit I finally encountered some more warbler activity, with single Nashville, Black-throated Green, and Yellow-rumped Warblers seen high up in some backyard trees.
  As I type this, it's snowing outside, and only several degrees above freezing. It is May 15th.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Easy Like Summit Morning

Rain rolling in over Montreal
The spot where I saw a Northern Parula a few days ago
Great Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus

American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla
Blackburnian Warbler Setophaga fusca
Philadelphia Vireo Vireo philadelphicus
  After having birded with a fine batch of chaps in Korea for a decade, I feel like I learned a thing or two about the birds there. Maybe I earned a sort of 'Master's in Korean Birding', and became the country's 6th best birder (out of six birders, har har). Back in North America, I'm definitely back in kindergarten when it comes to the birds, bumbling my way through spring. 
  A case in point - this morning at the Westmount Summit, I heard an odd House Sparrow-like chirrup coming from a warbler-shaped bird high in the treetops. For several minutes, I was only able to get the briefest of glimpses of the undersides. Viewed during a brief sunny outburst, the belly and chin appeared to have a bright lemony yellow hue, fading to white towards the vent. I wasn't able to see the face properly. The mystery bird started to head away towards the road, so I tried to get some record shots before it departed. I was puzzled by this bird, clearly not a warbler, in spite of...looking like a warbler. I flicked through my Sibley's, and thought it looked most like a Yellow-throated Vireo, at least from my poor views of the yellowy underparts. This wasn't a satisfying answer to me, as this species seems to be just out of its range here.
  I finally puzzled through and identified the bird as a Philadelphia Vireo, which makes much more sense, range-wise. The white markings around the eye are hinted at in the image, and I noticed that the yellow looked much more subdued than the impression I got when looking at the bird through bins. Don't always trust the picture in the book...or what you think your eyes are seeing, for that matter.
  Gaining so much bird knowledge in a hurry is one of the upsides of being in 'Bird Kindergarten' again, and another is how relatively easy it is to pick up lifers. Aside from the Philadelphia Vireo, the Great Crested Flycatcher and Blackburnian Warbler I saw were also new, and long-awaited, birds for me. 
  Other warblers encountered on this birdy morning included a pair of Magnolia Warblers, several Black-throated Green Warblers, a female Yellow-rumped Warbler, two Black-and-White Warblers, and two American Redstarts.
  There was a notable absence of Ruby-crowned Kinglets at the Summit, and the 'hordes' of White-throated Sparrows seen a few days ago seem to have moved on, with only several skulkers remaining. On the walk home, an uptick in Blue Jay activity and a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were noted. Ughhhh my neck hurts from staring up into the treetops. Here are some more unapologetically terrible record shots from my morning, heh heh.