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Birding without borders: putting another perspective on the joys of finding everyday birds

Noah Strycker, seen here with his latest book, Birding Without Borders, was BPQ's November 2017 speaker.

Today’s guest blog post comes from Noah Strycker, author of Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica (2011), The Thing with Feathers (2014) and, most recently, Birding without Borders (2017). However, as if writing three books by the time you are 31 years old isn’t impressive enough, in 2015 he also managed to see 6,042 species of birds (more than half the birds on Earth) in one calendar year. That feat, which most birders probably can’t even imagine completing within their lifetime, spanned 41 countries and all seven continents, earning him the Global Big Year record at the time.

Conveniently though, Noah was also the very entertaining speaker at BPQ’s monthly lecture in November, which is where I shamelessly corralled  the “Bird Man” for this guest post. Thanks Noah, for adding your unique birding perspective to our 100th anniversary year activities as BPQ’s own “Big Year” draws to a close!


Birding without Borders
Guest Blog Post
By: Noah Strycker

When I visited Montreal in early November, a few locals invited me for a morning of birding around town. They were careful not to promise anything too crazy—after all, what could a guy who’s seen half the world’s birds hope to add to his list in Quebec, especially after fall migration was essentially over? Montreal is “generally fairly quiet” in November, they said.

It’s true that lifers are hard to come by these days, following my worldwide Big Year in 2015. Other than White-winged Crossbill—a longstanding nemesis—I’d already seen every conceivable early-winter bird in the province of Quebec. But I was excited to witness Montreal’s hotspots, because for me it was new territory. Although I birded in 41 countries in 2015, Canada wasn’t one of them.

And so, on the morning of November 6, I set out with two McGill ornithologists, Kyle Elliott and Rodger Titman, and a graduate student, Emile Brisson-Curadeau. The four of us headed to Hungry Bay to look for deepwater ducks.

By coincidence, Kyle was an old friend. When I was 18, I spent several months on a nest-searching project in central Panama, and met Kyle there while he was working on his own research. We went on several memorable adventures together that season in 2004, and I hadn’t seen him since. It was fun to meet again in Montreal, 13 years later.

Conditions were choppy at Hungry Bay, but the place was anything but empty at dawn. A trio of White-winged Scoters flapped past followed by two Surf Scoters. Common Loons were all over the place, including a flock of 18 that flew over in ragged formation. For me, seeing these birds in Montreal—a five-hour drive from the nearest real ocean—was fascinating. In Oregon, where I’m from, any inland scoter or loon is a rare discovery.

We continued to Marais de St-Timothée, a marsh and beach along the St Lawrence River. Eight species of waterfowl mixed in the marsh, including four American Black Ducks, and several American Tree Sparrows flitted near the beach. Again, it was fun to see some birds that I seldom encounter at home, even if they were local commoners.

A trio of White-winged Scoters observed at Hungry Bay. (Photo: Noah Strycker)

But the day was still young. Kyle, Rodger, and Emile handed me off to Barbara MacDuff, who took me to the McGill Bird Observatory banding station at the Stoneycroft Wildlife Area in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. When we arrived, the banding crew was closing the nets for the last day of the season. They had caught only two birds that day, and the vibe was quiet. But even in the first week of November, migratory birds are still moving through: Barbara and I walked the net lanes and spotted a Blue-headed Vireo, perhaps the last straggler of 2017.

A Blue-headed Vireo, perhaps the last straggler of 2017, at the MBO ( Photo: Noah Strycker)

Finally, Barbara transferred me to three young birders with a specific mission. Ana Morales, Angelika Aleksieva, and Laura Tabbakh—originally from Ecuador, Bulgaria, and Lebanon, respectively—were determined to find a Red-headed Woodpecker that had been reported at Refuge Faunique Marguerite-d’Youville, a reserve about 20 minutes south of Montreal. With just enough daylight left to dash out and back, the four of us piled into Ana’s car for a wild woodpecker chase.

An unexpected sighting of a Red-headed Woodpecker rounded out the day’s birding. ( Photo: Noah Strycker)

Red-headed Woodpeckers are rare around Montreal, at the northern edge of their range, and I hadn’t expected to see one on this trip. But that’s birding—you never know what will turn up! Crowds of birders were at Marguerite-d’Youville, which made the woodpecker easy to to find: Just follow the long line of camera lenses. It posed on a snag, blasé about its sudden celebrity, while Ana, Angelika, Laura, and I admired its colorful plumage. Nearby, several dozen Rusty Blackbirds—a vulnerable and declining species globally—worked through the undergrowth.

By the time I gave my presentation for Bird Protection Quebec that evening, about my worldwide Big Year, I’d had a wonderful day on the outskirts of Montreal. My Big Year taught me to appreciate birds locally, along with everything else that birding entails—the people, places, and experiences along the way. When you look for birds on a planetary scale, it becomes more important to focus on common species (rather than chasing rarities), and I learned the joys of watching everyday birds. It’s all a matter of perspective: For someone from the West Coast, birding in Montreal is an exciting prospect in any season!

Thanks to everyone who came to the meeting on November 6—I enjoyed an amazing day with good company, and was honored to present to BPQ. I hope to return to Montreal again soon!


Find out more about Noah Strycker and his books at noahstrycker.com

Celebrating a Century of Bird Conservation

market hunting. (Greater Yellowlegs. Photo by Jeff Nadler.)
“Yellowlegs” were popular restaurant fare in the 19th and early 20th century when many bird populations were nearly wiped out by ruthless market hunting practices. The Greater Yellowlegs is easily flushed and so would rise and sound a noisy alarm call when hunters approached, thus it was also known as the "tattler." (Greater Yellowlegs photo by Jeff Nadler.)

Our guest blog author, Jeff Wells,  is the Science and Policy Director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative and one of North America’s leading ornithologists. This post comes on the heels of Bird Protection Quebec’s 100th Anniversary Dinner celebration which featured Jeff as the keynote speaker. His inspiring talk highlighted  some of the notable achievements in bird conservation over the last century as well as contemporary issues, and  he encouraged us to put action behind our convictions.  His expertise in boreal forest conservation issues of course weaved a thematic thread through his message. However, regardless if you were able to attend this celebratory evening or missed out, here’s another opportunity for Jeff’s insight into the boreal, a place that requires action on our part to ensure that the birds we enjoy today are here for the generations of  tomorrow.


Celebrating a Century of Bird Conservation

Guest Blog Post
By:  Jeff Wells, Science and Policy Director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative

It was an honour and a privilege to speak at Bird Protection Quebec’s 100th anniversary celebration. For the past century, Bird Protection Quebec has been a leader in bird education, research and conservation–it has connected enumerable people to birds and the need to better protect them.

The work this organization and its many members do extends far beyond Quebec.

When it comes to birds, Quebec plays a critical role not just within Canada but across most of the Western Hemisphere. In large part thanks to its sizable amount of Boreal Forest—which has been dubbed “North America’s bird nursery”—Quebec boasts a tremendous number of breeding birds.


Between 300 and 500 million birds representing at least 180 bird species nest in Quebec’s Boreal Forest each summer. Most of these are migratory birds, and they grace nearly every pocket of the Americas after migrating south in the fall. From Central America and the Caribbean all the way to South America, the presence of Quebec-born birds is enormous throughout our hemisphere. As a resident of the adjoining State of Maine, I am particularly blessed by the outpouring of migrant birds each fall—whether it be an American Black Duck dabbling in a nearby lake before continuing its journey further south or the sight of an increasingly rare Rusty Blackbird that was raised just months ago in the lush thickets of Quebec’s Boreal Forest.

In many ways, we are at a crossroads when it comes to protecting birds. A combination of habitat loss and climate change are threatening a wide variety of North American birds. While much great work has been done to date, the decisions we make now and in the coming decades with regard to our lands, waters, and air will determine whether many species are able to adapt in the future.

An estimated 55% of the species’ North American population breeds within the Boreal Forest. Photo: Jeff Nadler

Preserving birds in the coming century will require seeing the forest and the trees. For many species—especially those that nest in colonies or high densities—smaller, regional protected areas can benefit a great number of individual birds. However, for the many birds that occupy the vast boreal forest, it is vital that protected areas are equally vast. It is for this reason that we must double down on our efforts to not only dramatically increase the number of protected areas in Quebec and Canada as a whole, but also ensure that they are large enough to benefit numerous species—including their ability to withstand and adapt to climate change.

It can be a bit depressing reading about the environment these days. Thankfully, though, there are still some stories of hope. Nearly three-quarters of Quebec’s Boreal Forest has been spared from major development to date, providing ample opportunities for large-scale conservation that other jurisdictions or countries simply no longer have.

Continuing on the great work and examples that have been achieved over the last century will be necessary to ensure our skies continue to be filled with birds in coming decades. Thankfully, there are organizations like Bird Protection Quebec that remain active and committed when it comes to protecting birds.

So here’s to a tremendous century of bird conservation and another one to follow!

Dr. Jeff Wells is the Science and Policy Director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative. He earned his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University and has published numerous scientific and popular articles, book chapters, and is the author of Birder’s Conservation Handbook: 100 North American Birds at Risk (2007), Boreal Birds of North America (2011) and Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao (2017).

To learn more about the Boreal Songbird Initiative, visit:
https://www.borealbirds.org/

To sign up for their e-updates, enter your email on this page:
https://www.borealbirds.org/boreal-bird-e-updates

Test your owl IQ: Owl-o-ween quiz

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Happy Owl-O-Ween!

Test you owl IQ, try to name the owls below without looking at the captions! All of these species can be found in the BPQ checklist area.

I first posted this quiz last year as part of the “100th Anniversary Countdown” but figured it would be fun to post again in honour of everyone’s favorite day to celebrate ghosts and ghouls! And perhaps give you something to do while waiting for the the little goblins to ring your doorbell.

Of course, if you want to join the ranks of those sorts of people who hand out toothbrushes for Halloween, you can ask the kids to name a species of owl before actually giving them any candy! Muhahaha….

Just mouse over an image to see the owl’s name, or click on any image to see them all in a slideshow. 

Gallery of 10 Owls to Know

All images courtesy of Wikipedia

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