Chants d oiseaux de l'est du Canada
Beginning and completing a recording project are always pleasing events for me. Bird Songs of Eastern Canada is a good example. I have to look back nearly three years, to 2009 to the early planning of this 2 CD set. We had visited Quebec and Newfoundland before, but not the other three Atlantic provinces. I have described our travels in two other articles. Our greatest disappointment was a cancelled ferry from Newfoundland to Goose Bay Labrador. This prevented us including recordings from the interior of Labrador. The region is dominated by a rugged coastline and extensive forests. As in other regional guides I have tried to fit the birds into the habitats where they are most often located. The reason for this division is to make the songs easier to recognise and remember. Associating a Yellow Warbler, for example, with the edge of a marsh gives extra clues to the birder. The other subtle, but serious reason, is to alert you, the listener, to the habitat needed by the birds. At a time when most bird species are in decline it's especially important for us to value and conserve parts of forest, marshes and grasslands for our fellow creatures.
CD #1 Section One: Backyards and the birdsongs we are most likely to hear and see. Some of these songsters, like the Robin and Black-capped Chickadee are familiar to listeners all across Canada and much of the US. The only two in this section with an eastern characteristic are the Blue Jay and the Mourning Dove.
Two: Boreal Forest is the longest section. The White-throated Sparrow, Ruffed Grouse, White-winged Crossbill, Boreal Owl, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and many others animate this huge forest. Many of these birdsongs provoke vivid memories of the bird or the place, like the American Crows flying over the beautiful Saguenany River. In this section you will hear the rare Bicknell’s Thrush, from the highlands, and be able to compare the song with its near relative the Gray-cheeked Thrush. The first none-birdsong comes in this section: a Red Squirrel.
Three: Mixed or Acadian Forest. This forest is predominantly in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It is still at least partially boreal in content but mixed with more deciduous species, from further south, such as the Sugar Maple. This section starts with two examples of a Northern Parula song. Some of the wood warblers are tricky songsters to learn because of the variations in their song, like the Parula. The Indigo Bunting, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Mockingbird and Great Crested Flycatcher are some of the examples from the mixed woodland. The lovely song of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak came from the crown of a Birch tree on Grand Mannan Island.
Four: The final section on CD #1 Grasslands and Barrens. The barrens in Newfoundland were very similar to more northerly tundra, but without the permafrost. In Newfoundland many of the birds have local names such as the Fox sparrow, known as Foxy Tom, or Foxy Rooter. Some of the typical birds of this habitat you can hear are the Savannah Sparrow, American Pipit, Northern Wheatear, and the Palm Warbler.
CD #2 Section Five: Freshwater Marsh and Riparian Wetlands. This section begins with the low pumping sounds of an American Bittern. The next track is also amazing, the atavistic sounds of a Sandhill Crane. Then if you like bizarre sounds, you will enjoy the Pied-billed Grebe. The recording of the Wilson's Snipe is aided by the stereo recordings on these CDS. The amphibians at the end of this section are quite interesting: the sweet sound of Spring Peepers is quite different to the deep grunts of the Bull frogs!
Six: Lakes and Rivers starts with Red-necked Grebe. The American Black Duck is special to this region, but apart from being black, looks and sounds like a Mallard. The Osprey track is a clear, intimate recording from the nest of parents and chicks. You can even hear the female panting in this close up recording to stay cool! The tracks of Snow Geese and Canada Geese evoke wonderful images!
Seven: Saltwater Marshes. The Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow begins this section with its strange call: somewhere between a rattle and a hiss. Other tracks include rare recordings of Lesser Scaup, Eurasian Wigeon and Red-breasted Merganser.
Eight: Estuaries, Sandspits and Barachois. Barachois is the brackish water found in estuaries all-but cut off from the ocean. This marine feature is quite common on the Atlantic coast. Several gulls and Common Tern are featured in this section. The tracks introducing Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers are very pleasing to the ear. The rare recording of Piping Plover are also special in Atlantic Canada. Listen carefully to the Purple Sandpiper which is only heard along the rocky shoreline in winter months.
Nine: Cliff Colonies. Some of the birds in this section can only be heard in Atlantic Canada. Northern Gannet, Common Murre, Razorbills (also known as Tinkers), and the Atlantic Puffin are just some of the special atlantic species.
Ten: Marine Birds is the last section. The Greater Shearwater is a summer visitor but breeds in the South Atlantic. Leach's Storm Petrel spend the day in burrows before heading out to sea at night. The rich sounds from the atlantic coast bring back many memories of Eastern Canada and I hope these recordings encourage you to visit the region, and learn some of the birdsongs.
We have received requests to add a print name for each species for computer users. This time we have responded to the request and hope it proves useful? We have also added the French name to each of the species in the liner notes. For all of you listening to these recordings we sincerely hope that they add pleasure and recognition to your birding trips in Eastern Canada.
On the evening of June 3, we headed north from the ferry dock at North Sydney Nova Scotia for a six hour trip to Port aux Basque . We were planning to bird some of Newfoundland's hotspots. The first stop on the West Coast of Nfld was the Codroy Valley. The river lead down to an estuary, all but enclosed by a sandpit. The enclosed brackish water is called marachois. There are a choice of trails leading to beaches, saltmarshes, along brooks and through the woods. At our first campsite, only a sand dune separated us from a colony of twenty pairs of Common Terns. Just across the road was a sign asking people not to let their dogs run free on the beach, that supported nesting Piping Plovers. I'm not a regular lister, but I do tend to evaluate my working day by the number of good bird song recordings I make. Walking towards a lighthouse in the fog, I did make good recordings of the terns, Lincoln Sparrow and Alder Flycatcher. I was not so lucky with Ring-billed Gull, Blackpoll Warbler, Yellow Warbler and Merlin.
Following the coast north , our next stop was Gros Morne National Park. The rocks in this World Heritage Site tell wonderous stories of billion year old rocks, ancient seabeds, volcanoes, continents colliding, the rising of the Appalachian Mountain Chain and the sculpting of the landscape by the last Ice Age. Its cliffs and fiords face westward into the Gulf of St Lawrence. The park brochure advertises more than 700 flowering plants and 239 bird species. A roadside sign cautionned "14 Moose collisions so far this year". The Tableland was covered with plants nomore than 15cm tall called "Tuckamore or Krumholz".Even though some of the trees are quite old their vertical growth is stunted by the sandblasting effect of wind and winter ice crystals. On our first afternoon, I was able to record good sounds of Tennessee and Black-throated Green Warblers on the Lomond River trail. Early the next morning, Common Loons were calling from the bay and Osprey were circling overhead. Our favourite location in the park, was the trail to Westbrook Pond. The pond is actually a landlocked fiord. After the ice retreated, the shoreline rebounded , cutting off the fiord from the ocean. Memorable birds at this location were Lesser Yellowlegs, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Black-and-White Warbler and Hermit Thrush.
Terra Nova National Park was next. It was about 380 km further along Highway 1 in east central Nfld. The hoots of a pair of Great Horned Owl got me out of bed at 3 AM. It was a perfectly calm morning, and they were easy to record. As I was questionning why they were calling so late in the season, the answer came, in the form of an owlet begging. It was one of those good days at Sandy Pond, when an Olive-sided Flycatcher, the tremolo calls of a Common Loon, Chipping Sparrow, songs of a Yellow-rumped Warbler and the contact calls of his mate , all came easily to the microphone. This park also boasts more than 200 bird species per annum. Unfortuneatly from a nature recordist's point of view the noise from the TransCanada highway carries across too much of the park. Shorttly after moving off, a Moose stopped us in ther middle of the road. It was as if he were telling us to pause and enjoy the forest.
Our next stop was at the bird colony at Cape St Mary's. Ecological Reserve. The cliff walk was about 1.4 km long. Before we reached the colony the smell of rotting fish and guano carried to us on the wind. At the end of the trail was a 25 m gap separating us from a stack covered by birds. The Gannets and Black-legged Kittiwakes were most numerous, with Razorbills and Black Guillemot lower down the 100m cliff. The birds were lined up on the ledges like produce at the supermarket. A gannet flew over our heads on white wings nearly 2 m across . Hanging from his bill were the heads and tails of 4 Capelin. I was once in a fishing boat where Gannets were diving like darts barelycausing a ripple on the ocean surface. The gannetry is one of six around Nfld and the Gulf of St Lawrence. The Barrenlands leading to the colony are like open tundra without the permafrost. We enjoyed Willow Ptarmigan, Horned Lark, two pairs of Short-eared Owl, American Pipit, Palm Warbler and the lovely songs of many Fox Sparrows.
On the evening of June 17, I was delighted to speak to 35 Nfld Naturalists at Memorial University in St John's. We were made very welcome and the Past President sent her best wishes to Anne Murray and Jeremy McCall. When I meet many of you this fall, ask me about Gull Island in Witlass Bay and some of the other places we visited in Quebec.
Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve by Heather Neville