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From Birding from the Balcony to Birding from the Deck

April 22, 2021

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!

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  1. Sean permalink

    The description of your birding is more interesting than the number of birds you’ve seen. I will not be disappointed by the birding from the deck blog.

  2. the bubber permalink

    Great work, Ted! So nice to read!

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