We arrived back from the UK late last night and up this morning to find a happy Song Sparrow hopping about the partially snowy garden and a noisy flypast of four Common Grackles and a bit later a Fox Sparrow. These will be species number 37, 38 and 39 for this year’s patch list.
That’s the patch update dealt with – now for something more exotic.
Some news of birding 3000 miles or more to the east, rather than to the west, of Montreal – though if you go far enough west you end up in the east. We have just spent ten days or so in England where spring is about a month ahead of here at home. Daffodils, tiny lambs-a-leaping, primroses, bursting buds and mild temperatures partout partout have been the order of the day … accompanied by loud, dawn to dusk bird song. Good friends to meet and warmish beer in old village pubs too but that is not the theme of this journal and so will be discussed elsewhere.
We often go to England at this time of year and so can miss the first couple of weeks of returning Grackles in the garden but the Quebec winter is hanging on so long that there is little chance of that happening this year
Between socialising we managed to fit in visits to a couple of RSPB reserves in Cambridgeshire (the Ouse Washes and the Fen Drayton Lakes) as well as other places where we added a good number of birds to our year list. It is always striking how different the bird song sounds in Europe than in Canada. Not, I hasten to add, any better but quite different as if another language is being spoken altogether. Blackbirds are usually the dominant singers wherever you go at this season … that is to say the solid black (with yellow beak) Euro-Blackbird rather than the stridently raspy Red-winged Blackbird of Canada and it has an altogether more mellifluous tone. Having enjoyed the song over there it will be nice to get a second spring with a different hymn-sheet back on our Montreal birding patch in a few short weeks when, and if, the snow ever departs. I have just been reading online a report of the BPQ field trip of 5 April which speaks of deep snow that really should be thinning out by now.
At the Fen Drayton Lakes we entered by a back entrance we know – it goes through a gap in a hedge – and enjoyed Swans, Lapwing and Avocets before reaching the viewing hide overlooking one of the pits. On opening the door, and expecting to find at most a couple of people inside, we were met with a Black Hole of Calcutta mass of be-Barboured and scope-toting twitchers despondently searching for a Baikal Teal that had been there the day before. Several had doubtless crossed the country for the twitch but were disappointed. The bird had flown or been eaten by a fox. Mind you, even if they had been lucky there is little likelihood that the bird would have been accepted as tickable … Just too rare and thousands of miles west of where it should be. More likely an escapee from some collection. The Avocets on the other hand were just the ticket for us – as were the Lapwings, Reed Buntings and other nice birds.
This reserve is a great favourite of ours and one that we always try to visit when over there. Originally a complex of vast gravel extraction pits it only recently came under the protection of the RSPB who have done wonders at turning it into a place that attracts a superb variety of waterfowl and woodland birds. Very easy to access too.
The Ouse Washes (also managed by the RSPB) visit was preceded by a very fine lunch at the Anchor in Sutton Gault, which we commend to anyone birding that way as a gourmet watering hole. Several hundred years ago the washes were created by men with spades as an effective way to control spring flooding on the fens and while still fulfilling that purpose are now rather better known for its wonderful overwintering wildfowl. We were there at the end of the best of the season but still had fine sightings of some very nice birds indeed and were shouted at by, but failed to see, a Kingfisher.
Earlier we had been sitting on the restaurant terrace of a very classy place east of Ascot, not specifically birding but constantly being overflown by Red Kites. Spectacular birds.
Lists of all these 50 species of birds are below along with some photographs. The biggest lens was a 200mm so there is some cropping and enlarging here. Record shots for the most part. There are rather more pictures than above, so please click on any thumbnail to see them in a full-size album.
Birds seen in England totalled 50 species and were …
Graylag Goose – Canada Goose – Mute Swan – Egyptian Goose – Eurasian Wigeon – Mallard – Northern Pintail – Green-winged Teal – Common Pochard – Tufted Duck – Ring-necked Pheasant – Little Grebe – Great Crested Grebe – Gray Heron – Eurasian Sparrowhawk – Red Kite – Eurasian Moorhen – Eurasian Coot – Pied Avocet – Eurasian Oystercatcher – Northern Lapwing – Black-headed Gull – Mew (Common) Gull – Rock Pigeon – Eurasian Collared-Dove – Common Kingfisher – Green Woodpecker – Eurasian Kestrel – Eurasian Jay – Eurasian Magpie – Eurasian Jackdaw – Rook – Carrion Crow – Sky Lark – Great Tit – Eurasian Blue Tit – Winter Wren – Common Chiffchaff – Eurasian Reed-Warbler – European Robin – Eurasian Blackbird – Song Thrush – European Starling – Dunnock – White Wagtail – Reed Bunting – Common Chaffinch – European Greenfinch – European Goldfinch – House Sparrow