Monday, June 14, 2021

Yellow birds and frass

Yellow-throated Vireo Vireo flavifrons
(with its chunky shrike-ish bill showing well)

Yellow-throated Vireo Vireo flavifrons

It was nuts-to-butts on the narrow trail

Gypsy Moth caterpillar Lymantria dispar

Gypsy Moth caterpillar Lymantria dispar
(in a miniature landscape of destruction)

Endless drifts of frass

Leaf litter from the defoliated trees

  A female Hooded Warbler was found by Raphaël Millot on Mount Royal a couple of days ago…great stuff as always from the French wonderboy. Unlike the male that JSM and I re-discovered back in 2017, this one was a female…on a nest no less! Yesterday morning there was a predictable skirmish rank of twitchers queued up along the narrow forest trail.

  Yes, I was there, so I was a twitcher too, so I guess I’m like the idiot stuck in traffic complaining about all the other people that trapped me there, like I’m not part of the whole thing.

  But yeah, the situation is not ideal for the bird. There were only a couple of spots where the bird could be seen when it came back from foraging, and it seemed like the folks perched in those prime spots were sort of camping out all day, leaving long bell curve tails of unfulfilled birders on either side of them.

  Perhaps as a result of that situation, apparently folks have started trimming back the bushes around the nest to offer better looks for photogs. Very uncool.

  Overall I felt gross at this twitch. Maybe I’ll ditch the twitch, and leave rarities for the days when I can be a finder again, with my own little unbirded patch. Maybe this record should have been suppressed, straight up, for the good of the bird. Happened all the time in Korea. Who knows. Maybe I’m too uptight.

  In the cems, got good looks at the resident pair of raspy Yellow-throated Vireos. Lovely. A Black-billed Cuckoo was briefly heard ghosting from somewhere in the middle distance.

  I hadn’t been to the cems in over a month, and holy crap, the trees there are being mauled by the Gypsy Moth caterpillars. The frass (caterpillar shit) was falling like a steady hail, and when the wind blew, the leaves fell like it was autumn…except it was chopped up bits of green leaves. Weird. An alarming number of trees were almost completely defoliated. Too bad there weren't a few thousand more Black-billed Cuckoos around...

  Thanks for George for the gen.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Ceruleans on the border

Cerulean Warbler Setophaga cerulea

Cerulean Warbler Setophaga cerulea

Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis

Master of camouflage

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius

Whoops, I'm on the border...

  Up bright and crazy early this morn, to strike south with George — about as far south as you can get in Québec — the George Montgomery Sanctuary in Philipsburg, just a hair north of the border from Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. We racked up 50-ish species on a morning that saw the heat, humidity, and bugs increase with each hour closer to high-sun.

  The bustling dawn chorus was lovely to take in, but it also reminded me that I have ears of crap, especially when it comes to warblers. I suspect that my auditory memory gets flushed down the shitter every winter, and I have to re-learn it all again in spring. Give me a millisecond on a blurred skulker with the bins, and I’m all over it. A common bird singing overhead for five minutes? Sad shrug.

  The target bird of the day: Cerulean Warbler. We heard at least two where the blue trail circles a ridge, so we staked out for a while, with no luck. We decided to also circle the ridge, and when we almost completed the loop, we found ourselves much closer to where the Ceruleans were singing. Pretty soon, one was singing from a tree very close by, and we got quick looks for about a minute, before it vanished in a puff of blue smoke. Got off a few dodgy record shots in a challenging mix of canopy gloom and stained-glass back-bright. George got some cracking recordings as well. Been a long time coming for this bird, high-five! Cerulean bluecerulean blue…(X-files reference)…

  Lesser highlights included low single digits of Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Wood Thrush, and Red-bellied Woodpecker.

  Oh yeah, at one point I found myself in an odd clearing in the woods — like a power-line cut with no power lines. Then I saw a small white concrete marker, and spied a razor wire fence shimmering in the distance. Oops, I guess I almost bumbled over the Canada-USA border, hee hee.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Don't go chasing Whip-poor-wills

Mosquito-tormented Chemin Demers

Still too bright for Eastern Whip-poor-wills...

  Just kidding, do it. After a dreamless post-Vermillion afternoon death-slumber, I met up again with George et al at 6:30 (p.m. this time for a change) for an evening expedition down towards the American border. We were looking for, or rather listening for, Eastern Whip-poor-wills at dusk on Chemin Demers. We found them! At least eight were heard "Whip-poor-willing" as the last dregs of peachy dusk bled out below the horizon of farm fields.

  One sounded like it was singing from under the corrugated overhang of a barn, judging from its metallic echo. It then flew across the road right in front of us at waist level, affording brief looks at a stubby, fast-flapping, bat-like bird. It sung for several minutes from a tree ten feet away, frustratingly unseen in the bucolic gloom (My recording of Eastern Whip-poor-will singing: The mosquitoes were out in full force down there too...I was thankful for the head netting I picked up at a Korean market many moons ago.

Saturday, May 29, 2021


Vermillion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus obscurus

Little Wood-Satyr Megisto cymela

(From Sibley)

  Tagged along with G ‘n R on a last-minute first-morning twitch of an errant and spectacular visitor from Mexico/South Texas. Vermillion Flycatcher! Helluva bird, talk about full-on colour saturation. I'm told it's only the second record for Québec. It was singing and flycatching in the main swamp at Boisé Ste-Dorothée. Of course, an impressive bird like that drew an impressive crowd. The moquitoes were out. Also, new butterfly! I’m tired.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Last Push for the D’ville Hundo

Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
(with apparent Xanthochromism)

Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
(with apparent Xanthochromism)

The bird doesn't raise eyebrows when
 the yellow is removed from the equation...

American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla

Chestnut-sided Warbler Setophaga pensylvanica

Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia

Wilson’s Warbler Cardellina pusilla

Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas

Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus

Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea

Great Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus

Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus

Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula

Bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorous

Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater

Osprey Pandion haliaetus
(with full crop)

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax

Common Tern Sterna hirundo

Blue-winged Teal Anas discors

Northern Green Frog Rama clamitans

Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus

Reserve Faunique Marguerite-D’Youville, Île Sainte-Bernard, Châteauguay, May 18, 2021

  Another fun stab at a hundred species for D’ville, with 83 species encountered in 11 hours of birding. We logged ten warbler species on the day, but it didn’t feel like it. Numbers were thin, and there were no noticeable warbler waves. It felt odd, given the time of year, that we didn’t run into any Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, or Magnolia Warblers, among others. Besides warblers, the day’s list was also light on deep water ducks, raptors, and sparrows, which didn’t do us any favours.

  We probably won’t try for 100 there again this spring, but it is a number that is definitely in sight. It could be done if we showed up before dawn and had a bit more luck with timing…but right now, it seems like the Venn diagram circles of arriving/departing/breeding birds are already pulling apart. It was entertaining to try for it.

  The day was hot, with barely a puff of wind all day — a massive contrast to the wintry weather of just a week earlier. Stay hydrated!

  One of the last birds of the day was an odd bird indeed. A warbler was spotted in a small tree on the southern tip of the island, at about 7:30pm. It initially had me super confused. I briefly thought it was something nutty like a Townsend’s Warbler. Nah. Then I got better looks at the yellow throat and overall Yellow-rumped Warbler vibe, and ambitiously pegged it for an Audubon’s Warbler, the western counterpart to our white-throated Myrtle Warbler, the eastern subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler. When I got home and was able to review some more images in field guides and online, the long Myrtle-like supercilium and yellow speckling on the chest had me thinking it was a Myrtle x Audubon’s hybrid, with maybe even some Magnolia Warbler influence, if such a thing is possible. After kicking the images around on bird ID groups, a new possibility emerged — a straight-up Myrtle Warbler, but with Xanthochromism, an unusual excess of yellow pigmentation. This seems to match up best with the overall markings of this bird, which are pretty standard for Myrtle Warbler, yellow notwithstanding.

  All in all, it was a fun bird to puzzle over in the field. I was all sore and cranky by that point in the day (hour #10 of birding), but after seeing it, all of that went away. My knees were new again. I was uber amped. Gotta love birding.

  Oh yeah, right at the end, an insect flew into my open gob and got stuck, wriggling, in my throat. It was hilarious.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Cem Dregs and Fool’s Warblers

Brown Creeper Certhia americana
(March 21)

Northern Parula Setophaga americana
(May 9)

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
(March 21)

Northern Raccoon Procyon lotor
(March 21)

Woodchuck/Groundhog/Marmotte/Siffleur Marmota monax
(Matrch 21)

Eastern Chipmunk Tamias striatus
(March 21)

Harry doing what Harrys do

March 17

Dan getting dissolved
(March 28)

April 5

A skirmish line of twitchers dipping on a Louisiana Waterthrush
(April 5)

Little Lord Horror’boi

A house, 100% haunted

Coffee stashed in the camera bag, the only way to go

  Not every one of my bird trips ends up being blogged. Sometimes I get backlogged (backblogged?), sometimes I forget, and sometimes I just can’t be arsed spending the time to blog, especially when the birding was slow. Here’s a quick compilation of a few such trips to the cems over the past few months.

-March 17: 10 degrees and sunny in the snow, 16 species.

-March 21: 10 degrees and rainy…20 species…many mammals. Lovely Brown Creepers at close range.

-March 28: 4 degrees, rainy as feck, 9 species…”How rainy can it get?” I laughed. We dissolved.

-April 5: 5 degrees and mixed weather…23 species…dipped on a one-day-wonder Louisiana Waterthrush at 7:45am after an all-nighter…if you’re not tryin’ you’re dyin’.

-May 9: Painfully quiet for the time of year…27 species but it felt like less than that. On the warbler front, we ended up with only one each of Black-and-white Warbler and (a last minute) Northern Parula, and we had to dig hard to find those. Plenty of ‘fool’s warblers’ (kinglets) around though. I guess it was one of those “The wind taketh away” kinda days. What else…Saw an Osprey...and a singing female Purple Finch that initially had us conundrummed.