Wednesday, November 27, 2019


Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus
Northern Saw-whet Owl Aegolius acadicus

  Went west with Dan and finally caught up with the errant Lark Sparrow that’s been hanging out at the Technoparc. Yay! It struck me as quite an Emberiza-like bird, white outer-tail and all. This species is not often seen east of the Mississippi, and it should probably be in Texas right about now...let's hope it gets turned back around. Thanks goes to Marc Boisvert, who we teamed up with to cover more ground. Thanks also goes to the platoon of Black-capped Chickadees, who alerted us to a Northern Saw-whet Owl with their outraged tsipping.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Crossbilled Traffic

Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra

Getting after the slushy salt/grit pile

Pine Siskin Carduelis pinus
Northern Shrike Lanius excubitor
Rivière Noire
They were that close...
  George had a wacky scheme to wake up pre-dawn and drive two hours north to try to find some hard-to-find Red Crossbills that some fellow has been seeing in his yard. I’m in! After the drive up to the boreal splendour of Saint-Donat-de-Montcalm (near Tremblant), we met the fellow in question, the affable bird-man of the north, Pierre Martin. We first got onto a large flock of Pine Siskins, and after ten minutes or so, three Red Crossbills were spotted moving in a wide circuit around us. High-five! Little did we know, within an hour we would have an absurdly confiding flock of 16 Red Crossbills on the snow in front of us, as close as ten feet away. It was a breathtaking, surreal encounter.
  The birds were focused on getting after the salt/dirt clumps on the road, and would flush en masse every few minutes in response to alarm calls from jittery sentries. The colour range on the birds was remarkable, with all the shades of a traffic light, and every gradient in between.
  We stopped by Boisé Ste-Dorothée in Laval on the way back. The tactical owl SWAT team was out in force, beating the bushes for a Saw-whet Owl that was apparently seen there a few days ago. I overheard one lens bro’s aside to another: “There were 30 people here today looking for the owl, but no one saw it.” Can’t help but think that the two halves of that sentence may have a cause-effect relationship. Pretty quiet overall there, although a Northern Shrike was a welcome sight (with another probable from the road near Prévost). I’ll swear on a Sibley’s that I heard some crossbills there too. Gip-gip gip-gip!

George’s list from Saint-Donat (includes a sound recording for the crossbill-typing nerds out there):

George’s list from Boisé Ste-Dorothée:

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Home Sparrows

White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
(showing the characteristic grey rump)
  A White-throated Sparrow has joined the local 'out-front' House Sparrow gang, we’ll see if it sticks around all winter. A Chipping Sparrow also passed through today - they breed in the pines up the street. Less likely to overwinter, I guess. What else? I used to see Fox Sparrows next door, until they whacked down the micro-habitat provided by a handful of sumacs a few years back.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Rockstar geese

Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons with Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii (bottom right), and Canada Goose Branta canadensis
American Red Squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
  On a day with gunmetal skies and face-numbing gusts, George, Maya and I zipped out west to the Mac Campus to check out the Greater White-fronted Goose and Cackling Goose, found on the 6th by Émile Brisson-Curadeau. We got onto the rockstar geese fairly quickly, and then beat the bushes in the surrounding areas for a bit. My wips are still fwozen.

A love letter to Missisquoi

Black/Maquam Creek Trail
Stephen J. Young Marsh Trail
Old Railroad Passage Trail

Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
Rusty Blackbird Euphagus carolinus
Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca
American Tree Sparrow Spizella arborea
House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus
Brown Creeper Certhia americana
Common Merganser Mergus merganser
Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullates
Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullates
Snow Goose Chen caerulescens
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Eastern Comma Polygonia comma

Vermont and Upstate New York, November 4-8, 2019
  Missisquoi means “people of the flint place” in Abenaki. Just a short canoe ride across the water from the George Montgomery Bird Sanctuary is the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont, a place I’ve fallen in love with. There are five trails to bimble down, each lovelier than the last. The black-watered creek paths have a moody Tim Burton-y character, especially after a fat skiff of snow. The trails always seem empty, save for some duck hunters, but I imagine there are a few more birders on the weekends and during migration season.
  As the only federal parkland in Vermont, like most national parks south of the border, Missisquoi has recently been bled white by a thousand (budget) cuts. Perhaps it’s best to see it now, before the place is broken up and sold to the greediest greed-head, and it ends up looking like mile on mile of sun-bleached Korean concrete wasteland (and humanity chokes to a slow death as folks feast on a last meal of their neighbour’s brains and gore while screeching at the full moon). But at least we had a modest bump in corporate profit margins for a few years there, eh? Eh? Anyhoo.
  A brief wedge of afternoon sun on the 6th duped a lot of frogs out of the water and onto the roads where they sat torpid, and many ended up getting wiped out by pickup trucks. A lone Eastern Comma was also drawn out by the wan sun. The weather turned on the 7th, with chillier temperatures and regular snow squalls coming in off Lake Champlain.
  My bird of the trip was a Vesper Sparrow at Louie’s Landing on November 6th, albeit not satisfying looks. Species like plentiful American Tree Sparrows and Rusty Blackbirds, as well as Red-bellied Woodpeckers felt like a treat.
  In Rouses Point, New York, a Great Horned Owl glimpsed, then heard calling all night was pretty badass. Also in the area was a decent meli-melo of waterfowl, as well as a Red-bellied Woodpecker and some rather confiding Fox Sparrows. The trip total was 52 species, with the best day being 38 species on the 6th, on three of the Missisquoi trails.
  I wrote a story called “The Ghosts of Missisquoi” a few years back, about a group of spectral birders that messes with poorly-behaved photogs by conjuring up Passenger Pigeons. Still hasn’t been published, so it’s probably time to rewrite or shelve it.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Migration Anxiety

  Published story #7! Ever get that zugunruhe? It comes on as a tickle under the skin. This tale asks and answers: What would happen if ‘the enemy’ managed to weaponize migration?
   Spoiler alert: I really enjoy wiping out all of humanity in a lot of my stories, it just feels great. We’ve had a good run as a species, but if we’re honest, humans have probably earned a thorough Ctrl+Alt+Del. *toilet flushing sound*

(To read my other published birding tales, click on this handy clickety-click and scroll down: