Twenty years ago when we left England we brought with us a pretty large bottle of Angostura Bitters, an essential component of any gentleman’s armamentarium.
It isn’t used that often, when it is used it’s only a splash at a time but when you need a Pink Gin, a Manhatten or an Old Fashioned then nothing else will do … even when you are the designated driver a dash of AB in a bottle of chilled tonic water creates a refreshingly grown up drink for those of us who just don’t want the usual offerings of alcohol-free fruit juices.
So – our imported bottle is now very close to being empty. This morning I popped into the local branch of the SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec, our government booze monopoly) in search of a replacement. Couldn’t find one anywhere and had to resort to asking one of the staff …
“Ou se trouve des bouteilles d’Angostura Bitters?”
“Ah. Bitters! Nous avons le Campari”
… and so it went on. Soon became clear the girl had never heard of the stuff, but she was quite young (she’d have been on Babycham back in the day) so I gave her the benefit of the doubt and asked for the manager. Efficient looking lady in her mid-forties – but no, she had no idea what I was talking about either. Big Gallic shrug and a pursing of the lips. Désollé.
“What do you do with it?”
“Make Pink Gins and Manhattens”
“I don’t think we have those either … let’s look on the computer”
Tap, tap, tap … “There you are, Angostura. I can get some in if you like”
I looked over her shoulder at the screen – she had found Angostura RUM”
I departed. Grumbling.
** It turns out that the bitters are available but in supermarkets (and not many of those, I am still searching) where it is stocked alongside flavourings such as chocolate sauce for ice-cream.
LOTS of pictures for you today … For about two weeks at the start of May (hereabouts) the leaves have not fully opened on the trees and the flowers on the forest floor make the most of the light before they are cast in shade for the rest of the summer … these “spring ephemerals” are showing beautifully this year. The photos that follow were all taken on a walk this morning along the orange trail in the arboretum but won’t last long – get out there in the next few days and enjoy this special time of the year.
I thought it would be interesting to show a couple of photos of specimen plants and then end this post a gallery of lots of pictures (bigger format) for those who can’t enough of this sort of thing. So, in no particular order …
Actually a widespread foreign invader, not a native plant at all, but it has probably become one by since its seeds arrived on the muddy boots of an early setter. One of the first flowers to bloom; nothing special or rare but it was about the first wild flower I saw in spring of 1998 when I was very new to Canada/Quebec so I am rather fond of them … as is this hoverfly.
This one is certainly a native flower and is found in several discrete small and rather wet sites around the orange trail. In the gallery at the end of this post you will see some close-ups of the flowers for more detail. It is apparently much favoured by deer as a browse which may explain why it is not as frequently seen as some other flowers.
These are simply everywhere at the moment. There is one spot along the southern stretch of the orange trail where a lot of standing water exists that many small islands are just overwhelmed with Trout lilies. According to the literature, the common name “trout lily” refers to the appearance of its gray-green leaves mottled with brown or gray, which allegedly resemble the coloring of brook trout … I have fished for, caught and eaten trout both here and in the UK and I can assure you this in no way resembles the colouring of any trout species on the planet.
Interestingly (well, it interests J and I) there are several forms of this species in which the pollen on the anthers is of different colours … most particularly yellow and brown.
Trilliums – Trillium grandiflorum (white) and Trillium erectum (red)
Carpets of these are all over the place … the red species flowered a few days ahead of the white form and are in fewer numbers anyway … but you should find them easily enough.
Wild ginger – Asarum canadense (Asarat gingembre)
This is quite vulnerable so if you are lucky enough to find it please don’t spread the word around of its precise location. It’s only called “ginger” because it tastes a bit spicy …
Beware. This is a classic example of why nobody should assume that a wild plant from which a medicine can be extracted is, ipso facto, likely to be good for you as opposed to a “chemical” remedy. Indigenous people used it a spice and as a medicinal herb to treat a number of ailments including dysentery, digestive problems, swollen breasts, coughs and colds, typhus, scarlet fever, nerves, sore throats, cramps, heaves, earaches, headaches, convulsions, asthma, tuberculosis, urinary disorders, and venereal disease. In addition, they also used it as a stimulant or appetite enhancer, and as a charm (sounds wonderful – right?). Unfortunately the wild ginger contains aristolochic acid which is carcinogenic. Consumption of aristolochic acid is associated with “permanent kidney damage, sometimes resulting in kidney failure that has required kidney dialysis or kidney transplantation”. In addition, some patients have developed certain types of cancers, most often occurring in the urinary tract.
So – admire, take pictures and walk away.
Spring beauty – Claytonia caroliniana
A gorgeous little flower that you are going to have to hunt for … we had to take a side track off the orange trail to track these down. Well worth the effort though. First nations people once ate the corms boiled like potatoes which may account for the alternative common name of “fairy spud”.
Jack-in-the-pulpit – Arisaema triphyllum
These are a bit later than some of the other plants here and only just starting to emerge so they will reach their full glory as the others are gloing over. Plenty of them about in small numbers.
We only found one small patch of these not far form the junction with the yellow trail. Very close to the path though so you shoulkd find them easily enough. The flowers are still in bud stage and will open shortly.
Hobble bush – (Viburnum lantanoides)
Our gardens are full of the many forms of Viburnum … this is the eastern Canada native form and is most easily identified by its unusual flowers. Will bear fruits later that the birds will dine on.
Wild Canada violet – Viola canadensis
Also occurs as a white form and hybridises wildly and wantonly with other violets so can be hard to identify. There is a patch not far form the sugar shack.
Not a flower … cones of the larch trees
At their red best right now. You will have zero problem finding these.
While we are looking at trees – Birch catkins
How’s your hay-fever this year 🙂 ?
And finally, the guardian of the forest … a Common Raven
It would have been too crowded to put all the photographs we have above, so here are those and more in a gallery. Click any thumbnail to open a slideshow at full screen size.Then put your boots and go find these flowers for yourselves while thye are still here … mothers’ day weekend is coming up, what better time?
Along with a “survey” team from the BPQ Philipsburg Sanctuary project Group we visited the Philipsburg bird sanctuary this morning to check out the old beaver dam … We met birds, very cold winds, the first few snowflakes of the winter and far too much phragmites. We have hopes that the beaver dam can be reinstated and raised so that the levels of water in the marsh and Streit’s Pond can also be raised, thereby increasing the productivity of the marsh and drowning as much as possible of the phragmites.
Being a brief and illustrated account of the most enjoyable wildlifing we know “West of Montreal”. This year was the 17th annual visit we have made to stay in the Kenauk nature sanctuary, now owned in good part by our friends at Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC). Always the same week of the year, always the same cabin on the same lake. When I say it’s the best wildlifing I really mean in the sense of it being the nicest and in the most pleasing setting rather than it being full of lifers … though we have had some wonderful birds here in the time we have been coming. Only 90 minutes drive from home, very isolated rented chalet with all facilities except electricity, canoes, motor boat, nobody else within miles and certainly no other buildings visible. The notes below mostly talk about birds, but beavers and squirrels and other critters are always a star attraction too. Bears are in the vicinity as are deer and moose and wolves and coyotes.
Our bird sightings relate solely to the second week of September which is the tail end of early south-bound bird migration.
Note: there are more photographs than usual in what follows … consequently, I have put several into mini-albums which you can vies at full size by clicking on any thumbnail
Here is a corner of Kenauk:
And here is a small gallery of photos to show you how superb the whole place is …
Temperature in the low twenties, blue sky with some clouds and a fresh breeze. Arrived and settled in by five in the afternoon. A cup of tea (of course) and then out for a turn in the canoe around Hidden Lake, a very hidden lake off the very much larger Lac Papineau accessed via a narrow channel. Very close to one beaver swimming along the same channel in the lilies etc that we were canoeing and later too close to another that did the huge tail slap “go away” warning.
Around 7pm we were sitting on the dock with the obligatory G&Ts, all very quiet and still when a third beaver came to investigate the food availability on the bank next to us and swam so close my lens was not able to focus on him. Beavers are a rather special feature of this place.
Finally a skein of 26 Canada Geese flew overhead going south.
Not cold at night but cool enough that there was an adequate excuse to light the log stove – summer is passing. Even if the days are pleasantly warm the nights are decidedly cooler all of a sudden.
Birds: Great Blue Heron (2), Northern Flickers (4), Wood Duck (6), Belted Kingfishers (3), Loons (2), Chickadees, Blue Jays (6), Turkey Vulture (1), Canada Geese (26).
Mammals: Beavers (3) swimming close to the dock, so close at one point that my long camera lens could not focus on one of them which means he was within 5 feet. Wonderful.
In the small hours J heard the call of an Eastern Screech Owl.
Overnight the mercury fell noticeably and there was a thin wispy mist on the lake once we were up and about. Cloudy but when the sun briefly appeared it was warm so we are not yet into the fall. Blue Jays calling from all directions, a Wood Duck down the channel and small groups of BC Chickadees containing individual warblers, mostly seen only fleetingly and hard to identify, though a Black-throated Green was kind enough to give a good look.
Late morning, hot sunshine. A single Loon came into the bay via the narrows and swam around fishing though always too far off for anything but distant record photographs. It left the bay by the same route. Lunchtime a group of Common Mergansers (this time in camera range) emerged from behind the point and “ran” across the water in line ahead for about 100m and then settled down to swim in the normal manner. Never seen that before.
By the dock a painted turtle swam below the surface, came up very close, took one look at us and rapidly dived deep again. Smart brown butterfly, species to be determined later.
Took the kayaks for an outing and added a DC Cormorant to the list for the day – it had been dozing in the water beside a lily patch and took off as we approached, then circled several times in a big loop over our heads seemingly wondering what to do about us before deciding the best thing to do was to go elsewhere. Also heard several calls through the narrows from a loud Red-shouldered Hawk.
After dinner in bright moonlight sitting round a log fire by the lake J (my ears not being electronically amplified) heard distant Barred Owls calling.
Birds: Eastern Screech-Owl (1), Blue Jay (8), Wood Duck (6), BC Chickadee (12), Black-throated Green Warbler (1), Loon (1), Common Mergansers (5), Swamp Sparrow (2), Turkey Vulture (1), Double-crested Cormorant (1), Red-shouldered Hawk (1), Barred Owl (1)
A very bright morning with the hot sun rising over the narrows and a distant Wood Duck down in Hidden Lake. Mist Dancers rising from the still surface of the lake as the sun catches it. Blue Jays calling loudly to each other from all directions.
Gentle, warm wind from the SE presaged not many birds, as turned out to be the case today. We took the motor boat on an expedition to Ile-des-Pins where we spent a bit over two hours watching red squirrels and eating our luncheon. Two Loons, parent and juvenile, were in the waters around the island most of the time catching the fish that I failed to connect with on previous visits to Kenauk.
Later a circumnavigation of Ile-des-Indiens with a stop to say hello to the whale rock. On the rock was a long piece of very water-worn wood, one end of which looking like an eagle’s head. J was prevailed upon to roll up her trousers and paddle out to collect it as a souvenir … For a variety of reasons this may be our last visit to Kenauk for some years so one scavenged souvenir after 17 annual visits seems to be reasonable. It will have pride of place in our garden. While collecting the wood a small float plane landed on the water, bearing government insignia. It kept taking off, circling and landing and we decided someone was having lessons … on one take off they waggled their wings at J who happily waved back to them.
A TV on the way back was about it for birding. Afternoon tea and cake by the lake. Not a bad life … Then two TVs circled over the waterfall as we took tea. They passed us by so we must be OK for a while yet. By 4pm the wind had freshened a bit and swung to the NE … That may presage something less clement for tomorrow but it could also bring some more birds as compensation.
Just before dinner, sitting on the deck with G&T in hand, a brief observed group of small birds passed through, mostly high in the trees and almost impossible to look at in detail. Quote of few of the birds, but by no means all, were BCCHs and at least one of those fellows was “different” with a darker than usual brown streaking to its flanks … Could it have been a Boreal Chickadee? Within its range but very much at the southern extremity though the forest mix is spot on. Was it or was it not?
Birds: Wood Duck (2), Blue Jay (4), Loon(3), TUVU (1), BCCH (20), Boreal Chickadee (just possibly 1)
Normally I celebrate my birthday here, but this year the 12th is the day on which we have to pack and depart so celebration is not really in the cards. Accordingly, I am having a “not-birthday” this year on the 10th on the grounds that if it works for the Queen then it works for me. Today is the day when I celebrate being “almost, but not” 66.
Cloudy start to the day turning to warm hazy sunshine, very little wind. Before breakfast J saw a squadron of Common Mergansers working the margins of the lake close by … Well within good phot distance were it not for the inexplicable fact that the bid camera suddenly went belly up and decreed it was suffering from “Error 33” on pressing the shutter. WHAT?!
After a fatty cooked breakfast we went to check out Lac des Montagnes and Lac Jackson. On the beaver marsh by the turning to the former we added Belted Kingfisher, two Pileated Woodpeckers, a GB Heron and an American Kestrel that annoyed the other birds and perched nicely on a dead snag where, had it not been for error 33 I would have photographed it. At that point I dug out the scope and digiscoping adapter. A Northern Harrier did a high level fly-over.
Arriving back at our chalet we came to a sudden halt … In the inlet behind the chalet at the foot of the waterfall were 15 Common Mergansers and this time I had the digiscoper set up. Many, many photos including the classic Merg shot of a dozen of the birds all lined up on a log.
What a not-birthday, and still not lunch time.
The afternoon was a combination of testing the Adirondack chairs and a fungus and moss foray in the forest up beyond the waterfall. Clouding over … Before we left home on Sunday tomorrow was forecast to be rainy and that may well prove to be the case.
Birds: Common Mergansers (15 + 2), Blue Jay(8), BC Chickadees (14), Black and White Warbler (1), Black-throated Blue Warbler (heard 1), Pileated Woodpecker (2), Belted Kingfisher (2), Great Blue Heron (1), Northern Harrier (1), Northern Flicker (4), Red-eyed Vireo (heard 1), Turkey Vulture (1), American Kestrel (1)
Two photo galleries for this day … first the lakes and birds we visited:
Secondly, the Common Mergansers:
It rained overnight, heavily, and was mizzling with a vengeance in the morning punctuated by intermittent ‘blatter’. The boats were in serious need of baling … Looked like being a day for wellies and good books, preceded by a good breakfast, but late morning the rain stopped and occasional spots of blue sky were seen – mixed with a cooling wind. A walk to look at tiny orchids was the main highlight of the day.
Jolly cold, apparently only 4degC at 6am. Packed and away – a cold 25 minute boat ride down the lake.
Another terrific visit to our favourite place in Canada.
Minus 20C at morning tea time today was not a good sign … these are temperatures more usual in mid January than early March but by the time we were ready to sally forth the numbers were up about 8 or 9 degrees and the sun was shining bright and clear from a blue sky. In other words, a beautiful late winter day to go out and see what was happening in the bird world.
What was happening (apart from a dearth of new species for the year list) was obvious signs of approaching spring. Hard to believe given the deep snow and the temperatures mentioned above but the couple of overwintering (foolish creatures) Red-winged Blackbirds we have been keeping an eye on were belting out their territorial spring Conk-a-ree calls with gusto for the first time this year and the trees and shrubs were alive with singing and whistling
Several people recently have commented on the increasing numbers of Cedar Waxwings and we found a small twittering flock of them who were not at all shy and posed beautifully for their portraits.
There is just so much good stuff I missed in those 44 pre-retirement years …. why did I ever waste time going to work? Silly question, I know, but it does make you realise that you have to make the most of the years ahead. Not getting any younger.
Quite a few photos this time so they are in a gallery – click any thumbnail to see the full size versions more clearly
Two more species for the year list on our patch – Cedar Waxwing (#33) and Red-bellied Woodpecker (#34).
I don’t know how many times I have seen the rare (eBird designation) Red-bellied Woodpeckers in the arboretum in previous years. I may even have been the first person to see them in mid-winter several years ago and have been tracking their behaviour and the spread of their offspring into surrounding territory ever since. We have even had them in our garden but since the new year and the start of my 2014 patch list it seems that everyone else has seen them except us … despite making heaven knows how many visits there specifically to find them. We had spent almost 90 minutes in their territory this morning without a sign – plenty of other woodpeckers, though – and were resignedly thinking of going home to warm up and have some coffee when, clear as a bell, two loud rolling ‘churr’ calls rang out. A few minutes anxious scanning of the densely twiggy trees and a finally we had him nailed right at the very top of the tallest sugar maple.
Huge sighs of relief – finally we can spend time elsewhere between now and migration!
The second new bird for the year was a group of some ten or so Cedar Waxwings who were hanging put in a tree with a large flock of American Robins.
In general this was a very Woodpeckerish morning. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers were all over the place and we had three Pileated Woodpeckers – two of them working together on an old dead snag. Lots of drumming coming from all corners of the forest. People get so excited to see a Pileated, and indeed they are big and magnificent birds, but they are almost ten a penny in the arboretum … probably because it is such a large area of forest but also because they have a policy of leaving dead trees in the forest and not being too tidy, thereby providing plenty of opportunity for food for the birds that get their food from those sorts of places.
Plenty of White-breasted Nuthatches as usual, Chickadees, one Red-breasted Nuthatch, Cardinals and so on. The usual guys,
So, on to the photographs. Big pictures of the two stars of the show and then a short gallery of others that you can enter by clicking on any of the smaller thumbnails.
Snow Bunting photographs are thrown into the mix today as well as photographs of eight from some of 11 Snowy Owls seen this morning thanks to the assistance of my friend Mark (thanks, Mark) who kindly acted as my guide this morning. Mark has been out looking at Snowy Owls and documenting their presence west of Montreal since the big influx started this winter and has then all well pinned down.
So this was not a morning of green birding, this was pretty exciting though and also outside my wildlife circle and definitely “off patch”. However, it was “West of Montreal” and so comes within the remit of this journal. It may be many years before we see Snowy owls in this sort of number again so the carbon emissions (and we did share a vehicle) were justified.
I know everyone is more than sated with photographs of Snowy Owls now, every man and his dog with a camera has been out there sharing the fun but I would say that this is a species that you can never have too much of so I am throwing my mite into the mix … however, we did also pick up a flock of Wild Turkeys and my all time favourite birds – Snow Buntings. Hence the photographs that follow include plenty of Snow Bunting images to lighten the load.
Don’t ask me where these owls were though other than in the broad area roughly known as “around St-Clet”. Apart from the fact that I am sworn to secrecy I honestly would be hard put to tell you as this is a very featureless and flat part of Quebec, all the more so when the snow is on the ground.
So – pictures. To save page room, most of these pictures are in a gallery … click on a thumbnail and you will enter the gallery at full size and see them in all their glory. Mots taken with a Canon 7D DSLR and 100-400mm L series lens, the greater close ups taken by digiscoping with a Swarovski ATX/STX 65 mm spotting scope and a Sony Nex-7 mirrorless interchangeable lens camera
Thanks to a tip-off yesterday from a friend we started February this morning with the addition of a rather unexpected bird to the patch list for the year … Tufted Titmouse(#27). We also found a White-throated Sparrow(#28) which was a nice bonus.
Tufted Titmice (or Titmouses .. the jury are still out on that one). Are another pretty uncommon bird in these parts that, like the Carolina Wrens, is starting to be seen more frequently as the climate changes. A few years ago we had one briefly in the garden and then another for about two minutes at the end of last year but they are really uncommon, and especially so on the island. This was especially nice and certainly got February off to good start.
In fact there may even be two of them. We only saw one at a time but are pretty certain that it would exit stage left and then return from stage right and at one point we sure we were watching one and hearing another … anyway, one is all it takes.
Lots of DE Juncoes, another never-departed Red-winged Blackbird, a House Finch in very fine plumage plus all the other regulars in the forest.
And now the photographs that everyone prefers to too many words … also proof of the bird. I am not putting them into a compact gallery this time … just a heap of photos for you. Some of the “lesser” species were at a distance and so are a bit grainy … limits of the technology.
Before the other birds – let’s look at the environment we found the TUTI in …
Today we walked “Bigby-A” route which extends from home to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue and crosses the Macdonald campus on the way. There is a map of this route below.
In the process we recorded nine species and added three new ones to the year list giving a total of 18 species to date. All these birds are recorded by us on eBird from which we can view a list of the top-100 lists for the year in Quebec. Seems our list comes in at joint 8th without excessive effort – the guy in the lead position with 27 species is a friend of ours and he really works hard at his list so I am feeling quite good about this so far. It won’t last, the keen people will get ahead once the number of possibilities increases with warmer weather.
The new species added today were as follows (and, by the way, if you are a ‘follower’ of this site and receive emails when new posts are made you probably will not be able to see the list without clicking through to the blog from your email … this is because of fancy formatting I am using. Sorry, it’s aesthetics)::
Rock PIgeon (90), House Sparrow (3 – heard), Canada Goose (2 – on edge of open river under the SDB rail bridge)
Meanwhile, while writing this up and updating my spreadsheets, reporting to eBird etc, I looked out of the office window to see TWO foxes going hell for leather from a garden across the road and into one a couple of doors down on this side. Both animals looked in fine fettle but the slightly smaller one was clearly chasing the larger one so I infer a bit of a territorial dispute there. This is a fascinating year already and we are only four days into it.
Bigby Route A
And, for what it’s worth, our garden list stands at number 2 in the Quebec charts according to eBird … again, this won’t last so I will record the fact before things change.
Our local community magazine a couple of weeks ago had an article by the town wildlife officer about foxes. Nothing new about them being around as they have probably always been hereabouts and occasionally we have caught fleeting glimpses of them but suddenly, if not “everywhere”, they are more evident … or is that being retired I simply get more chances to see them?
Just before Christmas week we were walking along the road above the bandstand park not far from the town hall and saw a small fox around a copse in the middle of the park; on Christmas Eve we were walking across the Macdonald Campus and another small fox trotted happily across the path ahead of us and disappeared behind some buildings – then earlier today I was sitting, working in my office at home when something made me look up. The biggest, reddest, bushiest-tailed fox I have ever seen casually loped across the garden, very purposefully going somewhere important.
The mid-afternoon, returning from Ste-Anne along the campus footpath that parallels Bord-du-Lac there was a commotion amongst some Crows which is always a call to birders to look up and see what is upsetting them. We were treated to the a clear view of two or three Crows coming low above the trees and noisily chasing a large, pale raptor with swept-back pointed, falcon-like wings – a bit larger than the crows, perhaps 18″ or more in body length. A Gyrfalcon, no less and a lifer for me. This is an arctic or thereabouts species and not unknown in this part of the world at this time of the year, but not at all common either. Someone saw one in the arboretum about three years ago I recall, there was one at the airport in 2010, one at Mirabel in February of this year and a couple of others from time to time … but that is a bird of the day if ever there was one. December to February eBird reports for the past ten years are shown on this map … http://goo.gl/XZD0UK
The only down-side is that I don’t start my green big year until 1 January and so cannot count it for that list … though it is a new species for my patch, well a new species altogether for me.