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Eye injury

Most of my life I’ve taken my good vision for granted. A trip to an optometrist a few years back reinforced my sense of vision invincibility when he quipped “many people would give a lot for your eyes.”

Earlier this winter, I had my first eye concern when I started getting flashes of light in the peripheral vision of my right eye. A trip to the optometrist revealed a tiny hole in the retina, the source of the flashes, that I would need to monitor closely. An appointment with an ophthalmologist was made for May. Over the next weeks, the flashes diminished and ended. Over three months later, I visited a retina specialist who confirmed that the injury healed over and everything looked healthy.

Three days after this visit everything changed. I had just finished leading a birding walk with friends and colleagues, and was returning to my bicycle when I noticed some floaters in the right eye. Now, I’ve had floaters in my eyes before, but this time was different. The floaters were increasingly obstructing vision in the right eye. In the 10 minute bike ride home, there were more and more waving filaments interfering with vision, some thickening or combining into dense globules with diffuse edges. Thirty minutes later, clarity of view was gone. It was like looking through a thickening screen. By the time the emergency doctor in Hull hospital examined me, about 90 minutes after onset of the first symptoms, I could no longer see my hand in front of my face.

I’ve learned much about eyes and ageing over the past two weeks. The vitreous humor – the jelly-like substance in the eye, gradually loses volume with ageing, sometimes causing the outside surface of the vitreous to dethatch from the retina. Occasionally, as a consequence of shrinking, the vitreous surface pulls a bit of the retina with it, creating a tear, and in a worst case, causing retina detachment.

My injury put an end to plans to drive 10 hours to Cabot Head Research Station on the Bruce Peninsula, spend a week helping Stephane, the Station Scientist, with migration monitoring, and do my birdathon 2022 at Cabot Head. Now I would need to discover what birding is like without use of my right eye.

While I was in the Emergency department of the Hull hospital, trying to figure out what was happening and what to do, I realized that I could see what was happening inside of my eye. Within the fog, I could see increasing density of thousands of tiny black round dots, swishing around the haze. Later I learn this was blood from a blood vessel that ruptured and bled into my eye. My eye filled with blood, or so the doctors told me. This prevented me from seeing out, but also them from seeing in. Doctors tested the pressure within my eye – because adding blood could increase the pressure to a dangerous level. Fortunately this was not the case with me.

Over the next six days I would have four ultrasounds of my eyeball. I didn’t even know ultra-sounding an eyeball is a “thing.” “That’s cool” I thought – can’t see the back of my eye because of all that blood in it, so the next best thing is to use a mini sonar to see the retina, not unlike searching for lake trout in the depths of Loon Lake.

This impaired vision has taught me a few things that I’ve taken for granted. One involves judging distances. When Cris drove me home from the hospital the first time, she pulled into our driveway beside our house. A bit irritated, I told her that she parked too close to the wall for me to open the door, and asked that she reposition the car. She laughed and said “just try.” I opened the door and discovered there was lots of room. Since, I’ve also knocked over a flower vase full of water, poked many things that I had judged as further or closer and came within millimeters of poking out my right eye while attempting to navigate through a brushy section of forest. Lesson to me – I suck at judging distances when I only can see from one eye and need to be more careful.

It also makes birding by vision really tough. As I was largely confined to our house and yard over the week that vision in my right eye was completely obstructed, I spent a fair bit of time in the backyard trying to identify birds for my yard list. I completed 10 ebird checklists over that period. But I learned how tough it is to locate a small bird high in the foliage of the trees in our yard with one functioning eye. Those darn warblers move so fast through the foliage! I know I missed many warblers, flitting through the early leafed-out foliage of the maples in our yard. Fortunately a beautiful pair of Great Crested Flycatchers have moved into the neighbourhood. They are a treat, perching out in the open and emphatically announcing their presence with a loud “RRRRIP” call.

Great Crested Flycatcher perched high

Once the eye started clearing up and my vision started returning, though still quite impaired, I was shocked to learn that my right eye was no longer aligned with the left eye. My eyes were crossed and I had double vision. What a strange an uncomfortable feeling it was. Fortunately it didn’t last long. As the eye gradually cleared, to my relief, the double vision resolved itself. Now, nearly three weeks later, I’ve gone from zero to 100, or more like 90% of my vision has returned. The fog is pretty much gone though there is still a debris field which I imagine is the remains of a comet orbiting a tiny black hole in the middle of my eye. Now I can use both of my eyes to do my favourite pastime – observe birds.

The remaining frustration for birding is the innumerable floaters – from tiny specks by the hundreds or thousands, constantly swirling through my vision, complicated by large diffuse sweeping forms, not unlike drops of ink diffusing in water. Of course when watching the sky, I’ve learned the 95% of the time that I detect movement, disappointingly it is not a bird, but rather a floater in my peripheral vision.

Thank god for my hearing, which still serves me well, but may well be the subject of a blog post like this one in a few years.

My hearing identified most of the birds on my list for birdathon – which I did on May 20. Birdathon will be the subject of the next blog post.

Equipment in one of the increasingly familiar examination rooms at the Eye Centre.

Birdathon – en francais

Nous vous serions très reconnaissants de bien vouloir faire un don de bienfaisance pour soutenir le Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory – Observatoire d’oiseaux de la péninsule Bruce (BPBO) cette année. Je passerai une journée entière à observer autant d’oiseaux que possible afin de recueillir des fonds pour BPBO dans le cadre du Grand Birdathon canadien.  Cliquez ici pour accéder directement à ma page de dons.

Moi, j’habite Gatineau depuis 2006, et je suis active dans le Club des Ornithologues de l’Outaouais. Mais mes efforts sont pour appuyer le Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory, qui fait du travail formidable sur le suivi des migrations et pour la conservation des oiseaux.

Permettez-moi de vous parler de BPBO (Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory) l’observatoire d’oiseaux de la péninsule Bruce, un petit coin de l’Ontario avec une richesse de biodiversité sans égale. Je faisais partie d’un petit groupe des gens qui ont fondé BPBO en 2001, établissant une station de recherche dans la réserve naturelle de Cabot Head du parc de l’Ontario pour suivre les migrations printanières et automnales depuis. L’observatoire a un côté français. Dupuis 18 ans notre gestionnaire de la station est Dr. Stéphane Menu. Stéphane est français, mais il a fait son doctorat à l’Université de Laval sur les Oies des neiges dans l’arctique canadien. Souvent, il y a des bénévoles pour nous aider avec les suivis, venant du Québec.

Plus que jamais, le birdathon est devenu une source de financement incontournable. L’an dernier, notre équipe a soulevé plus que 5000 $ dont 4000 $ sont allés à BPBO. Ensemble nous pouvons atteindre ce montant cette année. Avec votre généreux soutien, c’est possible.

S’il vous plaît, faites un don à BPBO si vous êtes un partisan de BPBO, si c’est simplement que vous aimez les oiseaux ou le Bruce, ou si vous me connaissez, et combien cela signifie pour moi. J’ai moi-même fait don de 100 $.

Laissez-moi vous parler un peu de la journée. Je ferai un compte rendu détaillé de ma journée ici, sur mon propre blogue Cette année, j’espère faire mon birdathon dans les alentours de Cabot Head où je serai bénévole pour le programme de surveillance de la migration entre le 16 et le 21 mai. Cela sera un birdathon “vert” pour moi, soi a pied ou a bicyclette. J’espere que Stephane peut me donner un coup de main a trouver des oiseaux.

Aidez-moi à soulever 5 000 $ pour la conservation des oiseaux. Nous pouvons y arriver, mais uniquement avec votre généreux soutien. Oiseaux Canada vous émettra un reçu d’impôt pour les dons de plus de 15 $.

S’il vous plaît, donnez généreusement à mon birdathon pour BPBO cette année. Utilisez ce lien pour accéder à la page de don:

Je fournirai des mises à jour en direct de mes progrès sur mes pages Facebook et Instagram.

Merci d’avance!


It’s birdathon time!

Dear Friend,

We would be so grateful if you would make a charitable donation to support the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory (BPBO) this year. I will be spending an entire day observing as many birds as possible to raise funds for BPBO through the Great Canadian Birdathon. This year, I hope to do my birdathon around BPBO’s migration monitoring station at Cabot Head where I will be volunteering for the migration monitoring program later in May. Click here to go directly to my support page.

Let me tell you about Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory. A few of us who loved the upper Bruce and especially the Cabot Head area, founded BPBO in 2001, establishing a research station on Ontario Park’s Cabot Head Nature Reserve to track the spring and fall migrations which we’ve done ever since.  As I described last year, BPBO is facing many logistical and financial challenges. Some things are getting fixed, and fortunately our dependable Station Scientist Stephane, is back again to run the migration monitoring program. As in the past two years, our ability to raise funds through the rental of our research station property between spring and fall has been compromised. We still need to increase our solar energy capacity to assure a reliable energy source. Birdathon has become a key source of funding. In 2021, thanks to your generosity, we raised over $5000, of which over $4000 went to BPBO. This is outstanding and gives us an ambitious target which we can achieve together.

Please donate to my Corvid 22 BPBO team if you are a BPBO supporter, if you just love birds or the Bruce, or if you know me, and how much this means to me. Again, I donated $100 myself. It would be amazing if you could match or surpass my donation and help BPBO survive and thrive.

Let me tell you a bit about the day. I will share a post about my birdathon here on my own blog I put a lot of energy into the birdathon, but it’s green energy. I’ll only be travelling by foot or bicycle. Typically I start around 4 am and go until it’s too dark to see. I plan to spend much of the morning at Cabot Head, then ride my bike perhaps as far as Crane lake. I hope to see hundreds of species, but will be lucky probably to observe 100.

Please give generously to my birdathon for BPBO this year.  Birds Canada will issue you a tax receipt for donations over $15. Use this link to get to the donation page:

I will provide live updates on my progress on my Facebook and Instagram pages and give the full account on my blog.

Thank you in advance!


Birding from the Balcony is Back

The last post about the joy of birding from the place where I live was April 22, 2021. Twelve months later, and 16 months into our house on the street named after the Goldfinch tells me that an update blog post is overdue to say the least. I say that with a modicum of shame. Last year, in a rash move to commit more time to writing in my blog, I purchased a two-year subscription with Word Press, with some fancy updates as well as a subscription in Master Class. My wife raised an eyebrow when I told her about this, but I was determined to write more, and improve my story telling.  “So how’s that been?” someone might sarcastically ask me today, and rightly so. It’s sucked – no way around it. Zero posts since my birdathon post last May, which I do not really count as a post. No excuses.

That’s not to say I haven’t found time to bird since mid-April last year. I have indeed. It turns out birding is easier, and more fun than writing. Anyway, returning to subject of birding from our new house, the options here are more pleasant than our previous apartment, as charming as it was. Here we have a lovely backyard, three mature trees, copious seed-bearing perennials and wildflowers, and an amazing neighbourhood with over 40% forest cover that I describe in the previous post here.

I enjoy the thought of being able to observe 100 species within a calendar year from my own yard. That seems like a decent target that requires a commitment of time and maintenance of my bird identification skills. In the 10 years that I kept records from rue Boucherville, I hit or surpassed 100 species three times: 100 in 2016, 102 in 2019, and 112 in 2020.  Therefore, I was very curious to know what the new house would offer. 

We spent the first couple of months in our new abode fixing things and moving in, hence there was little time for birding.  By mid April I was able to enjoy the yard more and grow the bird list.  By the end of April, I had observed 52 species, and by the end of May, an impressive 94 species. Not even five months and nearly 100 species! We had moved into bird heaven no less, it appeared. I figured that, even without any luck, I could easily challenge the mega year of 112 species at rue Boucherville.

Birding in May had many highlights. One was a flock of 85 Brant flying over the house on May 16th. Like so many species, I heard them first, then spotted a long line of Brant flying from east to west. Brant have a distinctive cackling call that sounds a bit like barnyard geese. In Gatineau and Ottawa, Brant are a regular treat each year, passing through for a few days on their migration between the Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic where they breed. I’ve learned in the last few years that one needs to be alert and outside in mid to late May to notice this ephemeral migrant pass through the region. On the 19th I heard a Wood Thrush’s ethereal song from the nearby forest. The same day, a Bobolink announced its presence as it flew high over our neighbourhood. Lucky for me, I happened to be listening and detected its distinctive flight call. Both of these species are species at risk, so hearing them is both a treat and an alert to their plight. Knowing the songs and call notes is one of the keys to identifying a large number of species from a house or a yard, as often one doesn’t see the bird. Of course it doesn’t matter how good your identification skills are if you don’t put in the hours outside or listening from an open window. Fortunately, for me, I was also outside listening when an Eastern Bluebird, a Killdeer and a Common Loon vocalized while flying over, on their way somewhere to the north of us.  

In June, another highlight came from the nest box attached to the garden shed. A pair of Black-capped Chickadees took up occupancy in early May. In mid-June, their nest fledged all six young! Congratulations Chickadee family!  This same nest box fledged young on our balcony on Boucherville in 2020. Certainly, it must be a good house for Chickadees!  I watched the adults collecting food on several occasions. Sometimes there were only three to five minutes between feedings and other times over 20 minutes.  The Chickadees were so good at gleaning caterpillars and other arthropods from the foliage, trees and shrubs in our yard. Based on my observations, I calculated that the pair consumed 15,000 caterpillars by the time their chicks fledged. One nesting pair of Chickadees = healthy trees!

Six Baby Belugas. . . or rather Chickadees

On June 10, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo wandered into our yard, announcing itself with a loud song and then was gone just as quickly. The abundance of Tent Caterpillars and Gypsy Moth caterpillars undoubtedly fed many Cuckoo nestlings in the Outaouais in 2021.

On June 18, I observed the 98th species, a Common Yellowthroat, likely a young wandering male, heard singing from the nearby forest. After that, remarkably, I only observed three more species: one in July, one in August, and the last, a Red-tailed Hawk, on October 5, for 101 species in 2021 from my house and yard. The lesson is within this a very appropriate axiom involving birds: don’t count your chickens before the eggs hatch.

Notes on adding habitat for birds

In the fall, we installed a triple bird feeder that sits atop a three-metre metal pole, secured to the back of the deck. After some trial and error, we added an effective squirrel deterrent that involves two slinkies and weekly applications of vegetable oil. The feeders include a peanut feeder for the Jays, a sunflower (shelled) feeder that is a hit with Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls and a few Hoary Redpolls, Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches, and a nyger feeder that gets the least traffic. At least one of the resident Chickadees always stops to peck at the nyger feeder first.

Frenetic feeding during winter storm showing the feeder setup with “squirrel-proofing”

The Jays are always interesting characters to watch. One of the unusual behaviours that we have observed, that adds some validity to the idea that animals cooperate with each other, involves at least one Jay regularly throwing one or more peanuts in the shell to the deck below (sometimes three or four) before taking one or two.  Sometimes the Gray Squirrels are standing on their back legs, looking longingly up at the feeder with the big Blue Jays, and occasionally they get rewarded.

We also have a suet feeder and water containers. The suet feeder was eventually discovered by the big guy, who visited regularly through the winter to feast on wild grapes growing amongst the tree branches in the back of our yard.

Grand Pic at suet feeder

We made the sliding glass doors onto the deck safe (they are only about 4 or 5 m from the feeders), by hanging strings on wool, weighted by wine corks, as well as some feather-friendly tape markings. I am 100% sure that this has prevented many collisions. Everyone should take a few minutes to save bird lives in this way. Solutions can be simple like ours. Birds don’t see glass, just the reflections, or what’s on the other side.

Applying Feather Friendly tape to glass door.
Common Redpolls and American Goldfinches on the deck through protective chords on doors. Winter 2022
Hoary Redpoll in the garden, just outside my office window! Winter, 2022

Please support bird conservation by a donation to the Corvid-21 Birdathon team.

Did you know that there are 30% fewer birds in North America now then there were 50 years ago? Human actions are behind the population drop. Human actions must also drive the recovery. Birds need our help. We can’t wait for someone else to do it. One way of helping is through a generous donation to the Great Canadian Birdathon. If you have not already supported me, I humbly request your generosity and support this year. As I write this account, the CORVID-21 team has raised $3,470. With you support, we can make it to the magic $5,000! Please click on this link to go to the support page if you have not already done so.

The Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory (BPBO), a nonprofit charity, does much to help save bird lives. BPBO’s work includes excellent science to track bird populations over time, training of young ornithologists to become passionate bird advocates, and standing up for birds on the Bruce Peninsula, an important migration corridor in Ontario and one of the most unique landscapes in Southern Canada.

Your support for my birdathon means so much for BPBO. It’s been an extremely tough year for BPBO due to COVID, the extremely high water levels that washed out the road into the research station, and damage to the electrical lines coming into the station. Your support will help us reach our goal of doubling our solar energy capacity so that we can operate our migration monitoring station without interruption.

Let me tell you about my birdathons.  Yes, it is plural. I took a couple days off work, to do two birdathons. Thursday, May 20, I spent several hours on my bicycle doing reconnaissance of my new area. It is always worthwhile to scout an area prior to the “big day” as many of the birds, especially the territorial ones can be relocated the next day, and make a big day more efficient. As we moved into our new neighbourhood in January, a few kilometres to the west of where we had lived for the last decade, I didn’t know the surroundings that well, particularly the large forest near our new house. The new neighbourhood is very forested. Local birders call the nearby forest “la Foret Chantegrives” or “Thrush Song Woods,” and according to a 1930 map the entire area was a bird sanctuary at one time. Now the subdivision streets, including our own, have bird names bearing testament to this sanctuary. As is often the case with housing developments, streets are named after some nature feature that was destroyed when the land was cleared. Fortunately some of that natural features are still intact and functioning nicely. A sign of this during reconnaissance on Thursday, was that I located 57 species in less than two hours in my neighbourhood, boding well for birdathon Friday.


The winds had turned to southerlies on Thursday, bringing in some new species while allowing others to migrate north. A few Robins were already singing as I stepped out the back door onto the deck at 4:10 am. My bike was ready as I saddled up and I rode along the dark streets and bike trails into Gatineau Park. My hope was to hear owls before sunrise. Though that didn’t happen, I did hear an American Woodcock’s courtship flight display in the south end of the Park. Male Woodcocks perform an amazing dusk and pre-dawn flight filled with strange whirring and twittering sounds made by a combination of their voices and wings. As day broke, I quickly added many other species, including an enchanting chorus of Hermit Thrushes – who have, without doubt, one of the most beautiful voices in nature. After an hour of building a good initial list of songbirds, I returned home for a quick breakfast. A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was a delightful find from my deck as I sipped my coffee. La Foret Chantegrives was quite productive (though fewer species than the day before), with Wood Thrush in good numbers, as well as a few Veerys and a Swainson’s Thrush. I cycled south to the Ottawa River, where I observed several new species including a spectacular Great Egret, many Hooded Mergansers, Tree Swallows, Baltimore Orioles and Warbling Vireos.

Great Egret digiscoped by Ted Cheskey

Heading east, I encountered the only Common Ravens observed that day. You couldn’t miss them on the bike path which went directly under their conspicuous and foul-smelling nest beneath the Champlain Bridge. At Brebeuf Park, looking onto the Ottawa River where a rapid separates the mainland from a large flat rock, to my delight, I spotted severak Black-belled Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers, Least Sandpipers and an American Pipit.

My last stop along the river was a lookout behind the campus of the Université du Quebec en Outaouais. Atop the limestone cliffs, I had a perfect view of some of the seabird colonies on small islands in the Ottawa River. In addition to hundreds of Ring-billed Gull, Double-crested Cormorants, and a few Black-crowned Night Herons, I found the one “boss” Herring Gull, nesting at the very top of the island. All of the smaller Ring-billed Gulls appeared to be relegated to lower areas, some of which are vulnerable to flooding.

By the time I arrived home before noon, I was up to 83 species. Most birders consider mid-afternoon as the “dead zone” because bird activity such as singing and feeding seems to stop for a few hours. It is tough to find new species at that time. I took advantage by taking a short break to eat, rest and review my list of species to determine what was missing. Late afternoon, I rallied my energy and headed out on a mission to find some of the missing species. It was tough going, but I did find three new birds, two that I had found from my reconnaissance the previous day: Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Chimney Swift, and an Indigo Bunting, always a delight. I ended up with 86 species, three more than the previous year and very satisfying.


Two days later, the weather was not as I had hoped. A cold front came in with wind, which makes birding challenging because of the noise created by wind in the leaves. I recognize a high percentage of the birds that I am able to identify by their songs and calls so I was at a disadvantage from the start. Despite the wind, I followed essentially the same route as Thursday, leaving the house shortly after 4 am, and heading into Gatineau Park by bike. My straining ears did detect a faint “peent” call note of a Woodcock at the same place I had the species on Friday. About an hour later, I heard the deep cooing of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, which was a nice surprise on top of the array of Thrushes and other birds. After about an hour of birding, I returned home for a quick breakfast. There were fewer birds singing, and much more background noise from the trees. I was convinced that birding would be more challenging this day.

A friend joined me for the next several hours, as we biked through la Forest Chantegrives to the Ottawa River, picking up some of the species that I had heard there two days earlier. At the Ottawa River, there was no Egret, but there were several good finds. We spotted a well-hidden American Coot by a beaver lodge on the river, a beautiful Northern Pintail dabbling with some Mallards by the Champlain Bridge, some agile Common Terns fishing on the other side of the River, and a Solitary Sandpiper proving that whoever named the species really got it right. The cold air also brought the Chimney Swifts to the river. Two days earlier, I fought hard to find two swifts. On Sunday, there were hundreds foraging above the River.

When we returned home for lunch I was up to 84 species!  At 11h30, I was ready to take a break for lunch, and did this short update video.

I went solo in the afternoon, walking some of the route I had done by bicycle, again through the Bois des Grives. I worked hard to find a few of the Blackburnian Warblers that breed in the Corridor Champlain, about 1 kilometre from my house as the Raven flies. I watched for nearly 30 minutes on a lookout with a view over the southern hills in Gatineau Park before spotting two Turkey Vultures, that were invisible without binoculars. Turkey Vulture was a species that eluded me on Thursday. The last species observed was from home. I looked to the skies with a glass of wine in hand just as the sun was setting. Three Rough-winged Swallows winged their way northward high above our house, rounding the daily total up to 88 species.

Combined over the two birdathon days, I observed 102 species. There were four species observed during my reconnaissance day that I didn’t find on either birdathon. This knowledge drives my determination (some might say obsession) to find more species the next year. Can I crack the magic 100 species total in one day, within a three km radius of my house before my own faculties give out? Probably not, but I will try, and definitely have fun in so doing.

Thank you for enduring my accounts and especially for your generosity in helping bird conservation in general, and the very deserving Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory in particular. As I explained in one of the videos, in the past, there was a strong incentive to observe as many species as possible during birdathon, as many people would sponsor me a certain amount per species. Now, that birdathon is organized by an automated donation system that only has a flat rate option, there might appear to be less incentive to work hard to observe birds. I have not given in and softened my approach. I hope you can tell from the account that I do work hard to try and find as many species as possible. I do this because I love it, it is fun, and I want to demonstrate my commitment to this cause. The BPBO Board of Directors, the large BPBO family, and myself are extremely grateful for your support!

Again, here is the link to support my team and BPBO.

Thank you/Merci/Gracias/Obrigado,


Mon birdathon pour appuyer la conservation des oiseaux

Nous vous serions très reconnaissants de bien vouloir faire un don de bienfaisance pour soutenir le petit mais puissant Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory – Observatoire d’oiseaux de la péninsule Bruce (BPBO) cette année. Pour la 20e fois environ, je passerai une journée entière à observer autant d’oiseaux que possible afin de recueillir des fonds pour BPBO dans le cadre du Grand Birdathon canadien. En fait, j’en ferai deux fois. La première fois a déjà a eu lieu – c’était hier, vendredi le 21 mai. La deuxième fois – c’est demain, le 23 mai.  Cliquez ici pour accéder directement à ma page d’assistance.

Moi, j’habite Gatineau depuis 2006, et je suis active dans le Club des Ornithologues de l’Outaouais. Mais mes efforts sont pour appuyer le Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory, qui fait du travail formidable sur le suivi des migrations et pour la conservation des oiseaux.

Permettez-moi de vous parler de BPBO (Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory) l’observatoire d’oiseaux de la péninsule Bruce. Je faisais partie d’un petit groupe des gens qui ont fondé BPBO en 2001, établissant une station de recherche dans la réserve naturelle de Cabot Head du parc de l’Ontario pour suivre les migrations printanières et automnales depuis. L’observatoire a un côté français. Dupuis 15 ans notre gestionnaire de la station est Dr. Stéphane Menu. Stéphane est Français, mais il a fait son doctorat à l’Université de Laval sur les Oies des neiges dans l’arctique canadien. Souvent, il y a des bénévoles pour nous aider avec les suivis, venant du Québec.

BPBO fait face à une autre année extrêmement difficile sur le plan financier. Encore une fois cette année, notre capacité à recueillir des fonds en louant les bâtiments entre les périodes de migrations du printemps et l’automne a été compromise à cause de COVID et aussi parce que la route menant à la station a été endommagée par le niveau très élevé du lac Huron. Pour ajouter l’insulte aux blessures, nous avons récemment appris qu’il n’y a plus de connexion électrique entre notre station et le réseau ontarien et que cette connexion ne sera pas rétablie. Cela signifie que nous devons doubler notre capacité d’énergie solaire pour assurer une source d’énergie fiable (doubler la taille des panneaux et doubler les batteries de stockage). Plus que jamais, le birdathon est devenu une source de financement incontournable. L’an dernier, j’ai soulevé 4 000 $, dont 3 000 $ sont allés à BPBO. Je veux surpasser ce montant cette année, et avec votre généreux soutien, c’est possible.

S’il vous plaît, faites un don à BPBO si vous êtes un partisan régulier de BPBO, si c’est simplement que vous aimez les oiseaux ou le Bruce, ou si vous me connaissez, et combien cela signifie pour moi. J’ai moi-même fait don de 100 $. Ce serait incroyable si vous pouviez égaler mon don et aider BPBO à survivre à une autre année inoubliable.

Laissez-moi vous parler un peu de la journée. Je partagerai un article sur mon birdathon sur mon propre blogueù cette demande est également publiée. Mon birdathon dure 16 heures, de 4 h à 20 h. Je reste à moins de 3 km de notre nouvelle maison à Gatineau et je voyage uniquement à pied ou à vélo. L’année dernière, j’ai observé 83 espèces les deux jours. Hier j’ai observé 86 espèces. Mon objectif demain est d’atteindre ou de surpasser ce total.

Aidez-moi à soulever 5 000 $ pour la conservation des oiseaux. Nous pouvons y arriver, mais uniquement avec votre généreux soutien. Oiseaux Canada vous émettra un reçu d’impôt pour les dons de plus de 15 $.

S’il vous plaît, donnez généreusement à mon birdathon pour BPBO cette année. Utilisez ce lien pour accéder à la page de don:

Je fournirai des mises à jour en direct de mes progrès sur mes pages Facebook et Instagram.

Merci d’avance!


Please help the birds by supporting my birdathon this year!

Dear Friend,

We would be so grateful if you would make a charitable donation to support the small but mighty Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory (BPBO) this year. For the 20th or so time, I will be spending an entire day observing as many birds as possible to raise funds for BPBO through the Great Canadian Birdathon. In fact, I will do birdathon twice – first during the week of May 17 and secondly on either Sunday or Monday of the Victoria Day weekend a few days later.  Click here to go directly to my support page.

Let me tell you about Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory. A few of us who loved the upper Bruce and especially the Cabot Head area, founded BPBO in 2001, establishing a research station on Ontario Park’s Cabot Head Nature Reserve to track the spring and fall migrations ever since.  BPBO is facing another extremely tough year financially. Again this year, our ability to raise funds through the rental of our research station property between spring and fall has been compromised because of Covid, and the damaged road to the station. To add insult to injury, we recently learned that there is no longer an electrical connection from Cabot Head to the Ontario grid, and that that connection will not be re-established. That means we must double our solar energy capacity to assure a reliable energy source (doubling the size of the panels and doubling the storage batteries). More than ever, birdathon has become a key source of funding. Last year, your support enabled me to raise $4000, of which over $3000 went to BPBO. I want to surpass that amount this year, and with your generous support, that is possible. 

Please donate to BPBO if you are a regular BPBO supporter, if you just love birds or the Bruce, or if you know me, and how much this means to me. I donated $100 myself. It would be amazing if you could match my donation and help BPBO survive another unforgettable year.

Let me tell you a bit about the day. I will share a post about my birdathon on my own blog where this request is also posted. My birdathon is 18 hours long, from 4 am to 10 pm. I stay within 3 km of our new house in Gatineau and only travel by foot or bicycle. Last year I observed 83 species both days. My goal is to meet or surpass this total this year.

My goal is ambitious – to raise $5,000 total, of which $4,000 will flow to BPBO. We can get there but only with your generous support. Birds Canada will issue you a tax receipt for donations over $15.

Please give generously to my birdathon for BPBO this year.  Use this link to get to the donation page:

I will provide live updates on my progress on my Facebook and Instagram pages.

Thank you in advance!


From Birding from the Balcony to Birding from the Deck

Fittingly, the first bird species I observed on January 4, the day we took possession of our new house, was an American Goldfinch. We now live on rue des Chardonnerets, (Goldfinch in French).  If you read some earlier post you will be familiar with Golden Goldie, and understand the significance.

Our Golden Goldie

We moved gradually over the month, not passing our first night in the new house until January 31, the date when we had to be out of the old apartment, where we lived for the past 10 years, and the location of Birding from the Balcony. Our new house was in very good condition when we purchased it, but there were still minor renovations to do that take time. For example, removing a wall, no matter how small, triggers work to fix ceilings and floors. Removing a “popcorn” ceiling can, and did, lead to re-plastering an entire new ceiling. Several rooms needed painting, and then there was that strange drainage pipe from the air conditioner, hanging limply on my new office wall. I had to hide it.

So, the only birding in January was done while travelling five metres from the car to the front door with loaded arms, and February was not much better as the renovations continued for most of the month. Now we are in April, and I am finally taking advantage of the wonderful deck and backyard, where I can contemplate how true it is that work on a house never ends while trying to listen and watch for birds.

First a deserved ode to our Boucherville apartment. It was such a good location for birding. Over the 10 years of tenancy I observed 151 species from inside or on the balcony. As for the “big year yard list,” I am certain that I will never get close to the number of species I observed while Birding from the Balcony on Boucherville, in 2020. One hundred and twelve species is an impressive number for one year, but it was an incredible location under perfect circumstance. I say that fully aware that the pandemic made a major contribution to what I am calling perfect circumstances.

In reviewing my bird list from 2020, I noted about 20 species that I have little to no chance of observing from the new address. This was the effect of the Ottawa River. From our apartment, especially the balcony, there were vantage points to see birds flying above the Ottawa River (about 700 metres away). These included waterfowl, gulls, cormorants, herons, swallows and some raptors that follow the river like Osprey and Bald Eagle. I could see this all from my perch on the balcony with my binoculars or my 20 X 60 scope aimed at one of the two openings in the trees and buildings where I could see a section of sky just above the river. Then there was that narrow strip of Gatineau Park on opposite (east) side of the house from the balcony, with enough height to be at canopy level, offering a perfect view of migrating warblers and other songbirds moving through the treetops. On the north side were our neighbour’s four tall white spruce trees that acted like magnets to warblers, nuthatches and finches. Windows on all four sides of the house let in the sound, meaning that many times I was able to identify birds inside the house by hearing their songs.

Last year I had more time to bird as I worked at home from most of the year due to the Pandemic, which also made the city much quieter, especially in the spring when much of Canada was locked-down. The species exemplifying how quiet the city was for me, is American Woodcock. Woodcocks were displaying about 400 m. from our balcony and I was able to hear the twittering of the courtship flight on two different occasions!  All of these factors combined to make last year exceptionally good for observing birds from our apartment.

Our new house has no balcony, but it does have a yard and a deck. The river is 1.3 km away with a forest between the river and us. Our house is within 75 metres of the forest edge. The many mature trees between houses make our yards a functional extension of the forest for bird species. I expect the forest bird observations will be good here!

One of the first things I did in our yard to attract birds was to install feeders. It took a few days after filling sunflower, suet, nyger and peanut feeders, but eventually the local band of Chickadees discovered the sunflower seeds and the Blue Jays discovered the peanuts. Cris loves the jays. One day, a bit before her birthday, but maybe as an early present to her, the Jays held a wild party for the party she couldn’t have due to Covid-19.  We were blown away.

Cris’s favourite bird

Ten days after the feeders were installed, the Eastern Gray Squirrels discovered them. My ‘system’ to discourage squirrels turned out to be a joke for them, not delaying access to the feeders by a second. After fruitless attempts to discourage and chase them away, and their increasing habit of knocking down the suet, peanut and sunflower feeders, we gave up on all but the Nyger feeder that didn’t interest them. Unfortunately, the Nyger feeder has not interested anyone, as even the local flocks of Goldfinches and Redpolls have snubbed us.

Fortunately the Jays and us have figured it out. I put a handful of nuts out early in the morning, then call the Jays with my Sibley app. They appear within a minute or two and empty the feeder before the squirrels have wiped the sleep from their eyes.  It’s working like a charm to the delight of the new residents of this house.

We are working to keep the cats out of our yard. The previous owners had two outdoor cats that likely terrorized the local birds. These cats likely attracted other cats into the yard. I am trying to change our yard from cat central to no go zone for cats. We put up a snow fence in early February across the back of the property, to make it tougher for cats travelling through the yard to have easy egress and ingress. It definitely helped. I’ve also chased a few cats and placed an ultrasonic “cat deterrent” in a strategic location. All of this has reduced visits significantly, but there is much work to do.

There have been few bird “highlights” so far. But I have enjoyed many flocks of Bohemian Waxwings and a few groups of Cedar Waxwings flying over or landing in the tree in our yard. Redpolls have been around the neighbourhood since we moved in, and one day some Red Crossbills flew over the house. In March, the first early spring migrants started showing up around the 13th with a bigger push after the 21st – the official first day of spring. That day and the 23rd, I observed the first Canada Geese, Ring-billed Gulls, Common Grackles and Song Sparrows. By the end of March I had observed just over 30 species for the year. Now, over half way through April, I am at 40 species.

Bohemian Waxwings show off their rusty crissa

One characteristic of our subdivision is that most of the streets have bird names (en Français). In addition to Chardonneret, there is Paruline, Gaie bleue, Sitelle, Mésange, Tourterelle, Huard, Perdrix, Cormorant, Bruant, Pinson, Colibri, Carouge, Épervier, Cygne and Heron. If ever a neighbourhood should become bird friendly, it is this one! 

The neighbourhood or “sector” as it is called in Québec, is “Manoir des Trembles” which would be translated as Poplar manor, but for some reason is called Birch manor on some maps. Avenue des Trembles is one of the main streets crossing through the subdivision. Our street connects with it, but on the opposite side of Trembles is Rue Épervier.  An Epervier is an accipiter – the small family of hawks that specialize in catching birds. In late February, as I stepped out of the car around 5:30 pm, just as it was getting dark, I noticed a lump in a tree at the junction of Épervier and Trembles. Of course, it was an Épervier brun – Sharp-shinned Hawk. Who ever named these streets, knows lots about birds!

Birding from the Balcony: 2020 year in review

News flash – We are moving in January . . . to a street with the name of a bird in Gatineau. The balcony list will be no longer. Instead, I will begin a yard list, as we will have a proper yard – complete with deck, plants, shrubbery and a few trees. We will be near a large forest, so the bird list should be pretty good, but our current location will be hard to match. Ted on balcony with equipment This is my final summary of many years of birding from the balcony, and inside our lovely apartment. In fact, I’ve been living in this house for nearly 15 years, over 10 from our current top floor apartment. As described before, this apartment lends itself to birding with its east-facing windows that open onto a canopy-level extension of Gatineau Park forest. The west-facing balcony, in front of a very bird-friendly clump of Manitoba Maples and Japanese Elms, has a clear view to the north and to the south. It also has an array of bird feeders and water containers. The kitchen window on the north (I spend lots of time in the kitchen cooking), faces our neighbours’ four mighty spruce trees. From the balcony, when I look south, I can see over the Ottawa River, about 600 metres away, behind l’Université de Québec en Outaouais campus and a cemetery. Although trees and a few buildings obscure the river, I have spotted many different species of birds flying above the river that I would otherwise not have observed, including all of the swallow species, and many species of waterfowl and raptors, which migrate along the river corridor.
The gang watches pileated on feeder

The gang piles on to enjoy watching the big pileated whacking the suet

I started keeping a serious annual list of birds observed from our place in 2012, observing 81 species that year. My rules were simple: I must be in the apartment or on the balcony to count a species. If I can identify it by either sight or sound, I can count it. All my records were submitted to eBird, and subject to review by the regional eBird reviewer. I explained on my profile how this started as a friendly competition with my friend and past colleague Alan Woodhouse. That was even before eBird had a “yard list” option on its website. Over the years, I identified many of the birds on my lists only by sound, several of those from bed. I recall waking to the deep hooting of a Great Horned Owl a few years back that was conveniently perched just beyond the window in the Japanese Elm. Another time a Carolina Wren literally woke me at 5h30 am, singing so loudly that it sounded like it was in our bedroom! There are so many examples like that, but my “lesson” is to sleep with the window open enough to let in the sounds from outside. Incredibly, often those bird songs work their way into my dreams. Countless times, I have identified a bird species in my dream, woken up, and realized that the actual bird was singing nearby.

Great Horned Owl

While it may sound like I am obsessed with listing birds, that is not the case. I admit to enjoying keeping lists, but for me listing is an incentive to put in the time to observe birds. I enjoy just as much marvelling at their beauty and their fascinating behaviours. We have had some exceptional birds over the years. Three standouts were, without question: 1. Golden Goldie, 2, Peggy the Chickadee, and 3, Barred Owl. If you haven’t read about these guys in my earlier posts, let me quickly acquaint you with them. Golden Goldie was like no other. A spectacular breeding plumage after-second-year male American Goldfinch who showed up at our feeder for three consecutive years from November to March each winter. While all of the other male goldfinches wore their drab winter clothing of dullish green-gray and pale yellow, Golden Goldie shone like the sun. We became very attached to this marvel. You will hear more about him in a future post.
Golden Goldie

Golden Goldie

Peggy won our hearts because of her courage and strength. One day a few years back, we noticed a chickadee at our feeder with an injured leg. It was only using one leg, the other appeared to be either dislocated at the ankle or broken. A month or two later that part of the leg was gone and all that remained was a stump from the healed-over ankle. That one-legged Peggy persisted for over a year, throughout that winter and spring, the following summer and throughout the following fall and winter. She made us cry.

Peggy the Chickadee

Finally there was the Barred Owl who actually visited our house. I spotted it first in the neighbour’s tree and watched it fend of three devious crows bent at dispatching the larger more dangerous nocturnal predator from the neighbourhood. The owl managed to survive the crows and stayed around to our neighbours delight for several days. One day, when Cris was home during the day, she went to the kitchen window overlooking our balcony, and to her astonishment found the Barred Owl sitting on the railing staring at her. She invited it in for coffee and mice, but it refused, preferring to watch the squirrels in the Japanese Elm, making its plan for an evening meal.

Barred Owl visits Cris

I get deep satisfaction from observing birds from my little patch of the world. While I may occasionally drive somewhere to observe a rare bird, this is not my typical behaviour. I find it a challenge to justify wasting energy and resources for simply getting a bigger list. I also think that it is more challenging to observe and identify birds from the same location. I recall Bill Wilson, one of my mentors from my Waterloo days, saying that if you put in enough time at any good location, eventually you will get an impressive list of species because they all pass over your area at some point on their migrations. I am fortunate to live in a “good location”, and Bill’s advice has certainly turned out true for me. Thank you Bill, and my professor mentors Paul Eagles, Greg Michalenko, and George Francis who taught me well, Frank Glew, Ken Quanz, and my colleagues in Waterloo, and many dear friends such as Phil and Rod. And of course, thanks to my family for putting up with my passion. Ok, I wasn’t expecting to say this, but on other hand, it’s about time that I acknowledge that my passion and interest in birds is built on the shoulders of others. So, I did say that this blog post was the year in review, so let’s get to that. In 2012, I observed 81 species. In 2016, I hit exactly 100 – the first time I got to that magic number. 2019 was the second time – and I managed 102 species. 2020 was the ninth year for my apartment/balcony list. All of the ingredients were there to break my record for 102. I was confined at home most of the time due to Covid-19. Accordingly, we made no long trips in May or June as I had done in previous years, and, as I’ll explain later, I could hear the birds better in 2020 then ever before. No, it’s not because of some miracle anti-aging drug, but rather a disease called Covid-19. So, this was the year to “go for it” and try for my biggest list year from our place. Due to Covid, I was, like most office workers, working from my “home office” AKA dining room table. A few times that home office was the small coffee table on the deck. What a difference it makes to be around more. Most days in the spring, I would spend an hour or two on the balcony before starting work. Sometimes I was out at 5 or 5h30 am, siting quietly, listening and watching. I am sure that many of the species observed in 2020 were a direct result of simply being at the house or on the balcony and putting in the hours. So, here’s what happened in 2020. January 2020 was extremely slow. I didn’t enter one checklist from our place, but we did have an extremely productive trip to my friend Marc-Antoine Montpetit’s place north of Mont Laurier, and had a feast of winter birds, particularly crossbills and eagles. Back at home, we only had the winter ‘regulars’ visiting our feeders. For Cris and I, our 10th wedding anniversary was coming up in early March and we were planning on celebrating in Cuba. Call it indecision, or intuition, but whatever one attributes it to, it is true that we were fortuitously slow in booking our travel, and by early February, it was clear that travelling outside of Canada would be stupid, as COVID cases were surging well beyond China. Instead, we booked a cabin in the Parc de la Jacques Cartier in mid-March. The rest of February was dull from birding point of view at our place. By month’s end, my year list was only 13 species, three less than the same point in 2019. On March 14, the night before leaving for Quebec, I awoke to new sounds in the middle of night, deep hoots of a Great Horned Owl, and the shrills cries of the first Ring-billed Gulls that had rode the wave of warmer air up the Ottawa River, along with the first Canada Geese honks. We left on the 15th for Quebec. On the 16th, the pandemic was declared. We had to abbreviate our trip, watching and listening on the radio as Quebec, Canada and the world shut down before our eyes. We returned to our apartment to a changed world on March 19. I am extremely fortunate to work for Nature Canada, one of Canada’s oldest nature conservation charities, in what is, for most of the year, an office job. Office jobs became home-office jobs overnight across much of Canada. This suited me fine, as it gave me more time to bird from our house in the early morning before ‘going to work’ in the dining room. Not only was I around to see and hear the birds in the early morning and later in the day, but there were few competing sounds. Industry halted. The streets were empty. Only birds were in the sky. It was remarkable. The constant din of urban noise was silenced. While there was something unsettling about the vacant streets and lack of noise, it was good for my spirit, and good for the senses. For the first time I was hearing sounds that I wasn’t able to hear previously. In this video, shot on a nearby street, the lack of cars takes a funny twist. By the end of March, I added twenty species, finishing in a flurry with many early migrants like Turkey Vulture and Eastern Phoebe, and a few new species for the house never previously observed by me. These included American Woodcock, whose twittering courtship display drifted to my ears (thanks to the Covid lockdown) from its provenance behind the University, a small group of Northern Pintails, observed flying fast over the river, and a procession of Wild Turkeys marching through the forest across the street from us. The 33 species at the end of March was 10 more than at the same time in 2019. April was an excellent birding month from home, as had been the case the previous year. April is a month that many species of birds can slip past undetected if you are not alert and in the right place at the right time. Three species that fit that bill are Brown Creeper, Winter Wren and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, all observed by me from our place in 2020. Access to the habitats on all four sides of the house was crucial for these and other species. For example, part of my birding routine involved rotating between time on the balcony and time on the opposite side of the house that faces Gatineau Park. I would perch (sit) on the frame of the east facing window to listen to the sounds emanating from the forest. One day while perched on the window frame, my ears detected the distant trilling song of a Winter Wren, whose voice would have otherwise been obscured by city noise. May is the ‘make or break’ month for bird listing in this part of the world. That is when the bulk of the migratory birds pass through our area. It is estimated that several million pass through the air space of Ottawa and Gatineau. A good proportion of them stop over in our parks, forests and yards, to seek rest and sustenance. Sometimes it seems that if you blink you might miss some of them, so the senses need to be sharpened and every effort is needed to catch the passage of migrants at dawn and at dusk when daily activity peaks. May did not disappoint in 2020, and it started with a bang for me. On May 1st, I awoke to the songs of an Eastern Towhee – a first for our house, and a Brown Thrasher, which I had only detected a few times over the years. These two outstanding species were singing powerfully from the neighbour’s trees. I wondered if other people in the neighbourhood noticed them and if any were delighted like me to hear these magnificent voices. Great songs they do have. The Towhee was belting out “Drink Your Tea,” and the Thrasher was rattling off short repeated phrases that resonated off the building walls. Click here  to listen to one minute and 17 seconds of the audio scape on May 1, 2020, and listen carefully for our two star birds.  I rushed from bed, threw on some clothes, grabbed my camera and binoculars, and headed for the balcony. The two beautiful songsters hung around the neighbourhood for 30 minutes or so. A bit later in the morning, I heard a Wood Thrush singing from the other side of the house – an extremely early observation for that species.
towhee good

Eastern Towhee

There were many great moments like that in May. On May 16 and May 25, I dedicated both days to Birdathon, an annual fundraiser for bird conservation. I direct my raised funds to the Bruce Pensinsula Bird Observatory. I spent about 18 hours birding each day, pretty much non-stop. I allowed myself to leave the house and travel within a three-kilometre radius by bike or by foot. Both days I tallied 84 species and raised about $4,000 for BPBO. I also started both days on the balcony at my place and thus added some species to my year list. One highlight from early morning on May 25, was observing a small flock of dark geese fly determinedly over our apartment towards the river. Though they passed straight over my head from behind, and were flying straight away from me, I was able to identify them by their strong and direct flight, their dark plumages and the one honk that I heard that was definitely not Canada Goose. I thank my Sibley app on my cell phone for helping confirm the sound afterwards. These were Brant geese, an uncommon goose species, whose spring migration between the Atlantic Ocean and Hudson Bay always occurs around the same time in May. Ottawa/Gatineau are directly on the migration path, and if one is observant and lucky, one can spot Brant near the Ottawa River between May 20 and May 30. I had never observed Brant from our place so this was a delightful observation, bumping up my birding from the balcony total for the year to 102 species. Woohoo!

Brant Geese on Ottawa River

June and July were quite. We were able to get away camping to Parc national de Mont Tremblant for which I describe some wonderful birding experiences in my previous blog post. The next new species from our place was not until August 1 – a Red-breasted Nuthatch. This delightful little bird seems to show up in our neighbourhood in August, likely a result of post breeding dispersal from other areas in Gatineau or in Gatineau Park where they breed. The year after my daughter was born, we had Red-breasted Nuthatches nesting in an old apple tree in our yard in Waterloo. I even wrote a small article about this nest record for Ontario Birds. If you have mature spruce or fir trees nearby, Red-breasted Nuthatch will eventually end up feeding in them as they love the seeds from conifer cones.
Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

On August 17, I was drawn to the balcony, and to my delight several Common Nighthawks drifted past with their unmistakable flight pattern and shape. This is one of my many favourite species. They have tremendous migrations that take them from the northern boreal forest to deep into South America – likely Brazil, where they spend their non-breeding season. A friend of mine, Jamie Bastedo, wrote a fictional story called Nighhawk that describes the annual migration of this bird in Potter/Burgess style with a bit more edge. I rounded out September by adding two more early fall migrants that I missed in the spring, a Northern Parula,  gorgeous warbler that breeds just to the north of us, and one of my favourite songsters, the Hermit Thrush. The latter enthusiastically feasted on an abundant crop of berries in the Virginia Creeper that envelops a small apartment building about 30 metres away. The final batch of species observed in 2020 were the early winter migrants. In 2019 they were essentially absent, but not 2020. In the birding world within the heavily settled parts of southern Quebec and Ontario, birders wait with baited breath to see if the ‘winter finches’ will show up any given year. Highly dependent on the seed crops of various tree species in the expansive boreal regions of Canada, one can go several years without observing any one of them in the south, because they stay in the boreal forest, or hit the jackpot, when we are flooded with winter finches due to cone crop failure in the north. In the late fall of 2020, there was an impressive push of these winter finches through our area (due to a bad year for their natural food sources), though most didn’t stay around for long. It started with Pine Siskins, the small, streaky, goldfinch-like bird that enjoys nyger seed feeders as much as any other species. Late October and early November produced five more species, Bohemian Waxwing, Evening Grosbeak, American Tree Sparrow, Common Redpoll and Pine Grosbeak. There have been no new species since November 8, but honestly, I’ve barely spent time on the balcony for several reasons, including the pending move.
BOWX with berry

Bohemian Waxwing

So that is my year, the final year at our lovely place near the Ottawa River, overlooking Gatineau Park. The sheer joy and excitement that birds bring me is hard to describe. It keeps me going some days and renews my spirit. We have been so fortunate to live in a place where we can enjoy nature. 2020 was a year when nature stood out. It was an outstanding year for nature. It was an outstanding year for observing nature, and nature’s messengers, the birds. I look forward to new experiences, new bird lists, and new stories at our new house, but that will never replace my experiences and memories of birding from the balcony. What a pleasure it is to recount them here.

My ‘equipment’ for early morning birding from the balcony

A great birding moment in Parc National du Mont Tremblant on July 3, 2020.

After cycling 54 kilometres from Saint Faustin du Caré to the Mont Tremblant Village and back on Thursday, I was ready for a restful Friday morning with reading time in the hammock and a cool swim before heading home. That was until Cris talked me into going birding. “Don’t you want to find the Bicknell’s Thrush on le Carcan?” she implored over dinner on Thursday evening.  That was all I needed to hear. Cris had been with me on several occasions when I had failed to find a Bicknell’s Thrush, including one earlier in the week at Mont Johansen in the Park. Friday was our last of five days in Parc national du Mont Tremblant and the last opportunity to try and find this elusive species. My history with the species was one of failure, so what would be different this time? “You’ll get your bird this time” she said confidently. I wasn’t so confident.

Bicknell’s Thrush is a Threatened songbird that lives on the mountaintops of northeastern North America. Most of its range is in Quebec where it occurs in dense stunted spruce forests, mainly above 700 metres away from the Atlantic coast. Bicknell’s Thrush migrates to the Greater Antilles, overwintering on high elevations in Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico. Extreme deforestation on the wintering grounds, climate change, and habitat loss on the mountaintops on the breeding grounds is threatening the species’ survival.

Cris with our car in the Carcan parking lot.

Next morning I was up making coffee at 5H30 and we broke camp by 7 am, but didn’t reach the Carcan Trail Head until 8:30. The road to the trailhead was rough.  Hoards of hungry mosquitos awaited us in the parking lot, along with a sign stating that the trail had received no maintenance for over a year. The Carcan Trail is a 14 km round trip hike with a vertical climb of 530 metres.  At 883 metres above sea level, Le Carcan is the second highest peak in the expansive Parc national du Mont Tremblant and one with historical records of this rare thrush, the only regularly occurring songbird in Eastern Canada that I have not observed. I was cautiously optimistic. Even with no Thrush, the hike would be a good physical challenge and worth it.

Cris on the beaver dam

The trail was indeed a challenge. The first 1.5 kilometres followed an old logging road. That’s where we encountered the first trees across the trail. Once the trail left the logging road, the first real test came. The path led straight into a small lake, emerging about 30 metres beyond. It was not clear how we could cross this without getting very wet. However, a bit of off trail exploring led to the beaver dam that had caused the flood. We had to cross about 30 metres of dam to get to dryer land on the other side, then work our way through the forest to find the trail. Once back on the trail, we continued through maple and birch lowlands, before starting up the base of the mountain. The trail meandered along, adjacent to a tumbling stream with attractive waterfalls. The bird community was vibrant and the air full of song, dominated by the uniquitous Swainson’s Thrush (close cousin of the Bicknell’s Thrush). There were also Veerys, Hermit Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows, Winter Wrens, and several warbler species including Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Northern Parula, American Redstart, Black and White, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, Ovenbird, and Yellow-rumped. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Blue-headed Vireo were also common.

At times, it was challenging to locate the trail, which was often blocked by fallen trees. As we climbed, the forest changed from mixed hardwoods and conifers to spruce and fir conifer forest. I encountered the first ‘boreal’ species of bird just after kilometre 4 – a stunning Black-backed Woodpecker. Shortly after, a family of Boreal Chickadees announced their presence with their wheezy “sick a djee” calls, along with a Pine Siskin.

Spruce Grouse with chicks along le Carcan in Parc National du Mont Tremblant

Around the 5 km mark, we spotted a Spruce Grouse displaying on the side of the trail. Just beyond was its brood of at least four Spruce Grouse chicks. These were all somewhat unexpected boreal species that I was delighted to observe! With a kilometre to go, the trail was nearing the summit and the forest was noticeably shorter and denser, and dominated by spruce. Though I had never observed a Bicknell’s Thrush in its breeding habitat, I knew that we were in the right place, and with a bit of luck, we might be rewarded.

Finally we reached the top, where there was an exposed rock area to sit for lunch and take in the view. Swainson’s Thrushes were still present, without doubt the most numerous species throughout the trail. There were also a few other species singing, including Magnolia, Nashville, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. It was about noon by this time and the bird song level had subsided.

While at the summit, we were joined by two other hikers with whom we shared our experiences and thoughts about the trail. During this conversation I heard a call note that caused me to pause and to excuse myself from the conversation. I walked a few metres to get a better view into the dense forest of where the sound was coming from. I was extremely excited as I was certain the call was from a Bicknell’s Thrush. The call note was emphatic and high-pitched with a definite descending tone, completely different from the call note of the Swainson’s Thrush, which ascends. The call came from the dense stunted spruce forest in front of us.  The bird called frequently, and after a minute or two, to my delight, it burst into song, a distinctive descending fluted song.  I pulled out my phone to listen to the Bicknell’s Thrush song on my Sibley app.  Sure enough the singing bird was confirmed. I then pished and watched, and the bird responded by flying past, through the Spruce trees in front of me.  I was able to see its rich reddish-brown back as it flew by twice. It continued singing as I soaked up this wonderful moment. Eventually I settled back down with the others, excusing myself for leaving the conversation. The other two hikers were fascinated by both me and the bird. I looked up and noticed two Turkey Vultures soaring over the summit with a raven-sized raptor aggressively driving them away. The powerful bird was my favourite bird of prey, a Northern Goshawk!  Goshawk is the epitome of power. Years can pass for me without seeing one. When I do, I get goosebumps. I had goshawk goosebumps on my Bicknell’s thrush goosebumps!

Hear the Bicknell’s Thrush call notes, and my own whistled imitation, and see the Thrush’s habitat.

I finally sat down to finish my lunch, thinking how the hike was so worth the effort and how grateful I was of Cris for supporting my birding passion and for encouraging the hike. At that moment the beautiful notes of a Fox Sparrow’s song registered in my head. It may have been singing for a while without me noticing because of the Bicknell’s and the Goshawk.  I had not even realized that Fox Sparrow bred in Mont Tremblant Park, as it is really a northern boreal forest species, so this was a wonderful surprise. We were able to get excellent views of this top-notch singer, named because of its beautiful rusty plumage. 

Fox Sparrow singing near summit of le Carcan in Parc National du Mont Tremblant

Birding trips and hiking trips can be disappointing if we set our expectations too high. For the Carcan hike, I was hopeful, but without high expectations. On every front, both Cris and I were delighted and exhilated by the birds, the hike, and the nature. The Carcan trail is one of the best birding/hiking trips that I’ve done in Canada.