A “full house” of winter birds fell into my lap this morning and I added two species to my year list for the patch.
Having a couple of hours to spare this morning I took myself off to the further reaches of my “West Island Plus” mega-patch (defined as birding within 20 minutes distance) in order to check out the flat fields in the St-Clet area. This is also part of the route we will be surveying on 27 December for the Hudson Christmas Bird Count and always reasonably reliable for winter birds. For those who don’t know the place, but who are familiar with parts of England, you can think of this flat, agricultural area as being very akin to the Cambridgeshire Fenland but without any of the charm or pubs. If it wasn’t for the winter birds there is no reason for anyone to go there.
I was going to be pleased to see anything – as one always is when birding – but I picked up all four of the target species I was hoping for.
Sitting on a barn roof quite close to the road (rang St-Julie) was a very fine and healthy Snowy Owl (Target #1) with its head up looking around. Getting out of the car to take some photographs he/she stared at me with owlish disdain and proceed to hawk up a large and yucky pellet. I have a picture of this happening but just missed the fall of the pellet as it happened between clicks of the camera button – I know, “how disappointing” you are thinking!
There is a house with a reliable feeder that is usually worth checking, today it had just a few Dark-eyed Juncos around it but 100 metres down the road I happened on three Horned Larks (target #2) who seemed quite unconcerned about me presence and happily ignore the camera.
Along a particularly barren and snow-covered link road with no farms or barns in sight there was a small flock of about 60 Snow Buntings (target #3) working the field and roadside margins. They wouldn’t let me get too close to them but close enough to find a small number of Lapland Longspurs (target #4) travelling with them – I didn’t expect those, nice.
Snowy Owls are always welcome and usually the bird everyone wants to see – as do I – but Snow Buntings are my all time favourite winter birds and raise the spirit no end when a flock of them appears from the snow and wheels around your head. Beautiful. As for the Snowy owls, what I really want one day is to see them in the far north on their breeding grounds – now that would be something to experience. Actually, seeing all of these birds on territory would be wonderful as their breeding plumage is so much more “showy” than what they arrive here wearing.
Back home, the garden feeders had been invaded by a small group of Euro-Starlings. I know we are supposed to hate them as a nasty, pushy, invasive species but they are especially beautifully coloured at this time of the year and I was happy to see them here. A few feet to the side of them was a Mourning Dove fitting on Hilda’s head.
Now the rest of the pictures …