Highlights from 2010

Atlassers managed to clock up over 15,600 hours of fieldwork during the first year of the project, and have reported breeding evidence for 255 species. As was expected, the first season of fieldwork turned up a number of exciting discoveries. While we cannot provide information about all of them here, we have summarised some of the more important and unusual ones.

Photo : François Hébert
Although the Trumpeter Swan was present in Québec in historical times, there was only a single, vague, second-hand indication of its former breeding, dating from the late 1830s–early 1840s. Modern reports of Trumpeter Swans in Eastern North America all originate from reintroduced stock. Since 2004 the species has been recorded annually in the Province, usually in Témiscamingue or Abitibi, due north of the main Ontario release site in Midland. Jean-François Doyon, a biologist working for Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited, reported a pair (one member of which was wing-tagged) with two young at a polishing pond in Joutel on the 29th of July 2010, and again on the 11th of August and the 14th of September. A pair had been reported in the same area in 2008 and 2009, but no breeding evidence (proof) had been obtained.

Photo : Maxime Carbonneau
As unbelievable as it may seem, the first field season of the atlas allowed the documentation of the first confirmed breeding of Loggerhead Shrikes in Québec for 15 years. The exciting discovery was made on the 7th of June by Jeffrey H. Skevington, an atlasser from Ontario, during fieldwork near Quyon (Outaouais). Jeffrey observed two adult birds carrying food, and four days later, Benoit Laliberté, Maxime Carbonneau and Chantal Larue were lucky enough to observe three young at the same location. Amy Chabot, a member of the recovery team for the species, confirmed that the female, which was banded, was from a captive breeding and release program underway in Ontario, and that she had been released on the Carden Plain on the 18th of July 2009. This breeding confirmation is extremely important because only about 30 pairs of Loggerhead Shrikes are currently thought to nest in north-eastern North America.
The observation of a pair of Northern Hawk Owls made by Mario Labrie on the 5th of March at Saint-Just-de-Bretenières (Chaudières-Appalaches) was perhaps one of the least expected discoveries of the season. This species usually nests in the taiga, and there is very little in the way of breeding evidence from south of the St. Lawrence. Furthermore, the evidence that does exist comes from Gaspésie and the Bas-Saint-Laurent. Mario and Robin Gingras not only managed to locate the nesting snag used by the pair, they also observed three young in early June. Although this species occasionally nests south of its main breeding range, especially following winter irruptions (as was the case in 2009-2010), this is the southernmost documented confirmation of successful breeding south of the St. Lawrence in Québec.
Photo : Mario Labrie

Photos : Vincent Létourneau
It has been suspected for quite some time that Bohemian Waxwings breed in the boreal forest of Québec; however, until this year, proof was lacking. The atlas team was therefore very pleased to learn of the discovery of not one, but two nests to the north of the Monts Otish, in the very heart of Québec (160 km north of Lac Mistassini). Vincent Létourneau discovered the first nest on the 20th of June, during an environmental impact assessment conducted by the consortium Roche/SNC-Lavalin Environnement for the ministère des Transport du Québec concerning the proposed extension of the Highway 167, and Geneviève D’Anjou found a second nest a few hours later in the same survey square. In the days that followed, Vincent was also able to confirm the breeding attempts of two other pairs, this time by the observation of adults transporting nesting material. During three weeks of intensive fieldwork for the impact assessment, atlas data were recorded for several survey squares situated between the 51st and 53rd parallels. Over the coming years, the atlas project will undoubtedly play an important role in defining the limits of the breeding range of the Bohemian Waxwing in Québec.
In March, Pierre Bannon confirmed the breeding attempt of a pair of Bald Eagles on Île aux Hérons, a few kilometres from downtown Montréal. The pair in question took over a disused Great Blue Heron nest in the middle of an active colony, and one of the birds was seen apparently incubating on the 31st of March. Unfortunately, one of the pair disappeared shortly after that, and the nest was abandoned. Despite the failure, this is the first documented breeding attempt by this species in the Montréal Region, and follows an important increase in the population of this species over recent years. The Bald Eagle underwent an important population decline during the 20th century, principally due to the lack of protection, persecution, and the negative effects of pesticides (notably DDT) on breeding. It seems highly likely that this species will nest successfully in the vicinity of Montréal before the end of the atlas project.
Photo : Pierre Bannon

Photo : Réjean Paquet
The Red-headed Woodpecker can be easily identified by its remarkable plumage and characteristic call; however, it is so rare in Québec that it is not certain that it breeds in the province each year. The observation of a pair with two recently-fledged young made by Gérard Desjardins on the 30th of May in the Gatineau region, is therefore especially worthy of mention (the adults were first seen in the area on the 1st of May). This species has nested in the same area for two years running, but at the owner’s request, the location of the site has been kept confidential. The data available for Québec for the last 50 years, suggest that Red-headed Woodpeckers have only nested at about 30 sites, and that very few of these were used over several consecutive years. Let’s hope that the Gatineau region site will be an exception and that it will continue to be home to this species for many years to come.

Photo : Pierre Bannon
Breeding evidence of Orchard Oriole in Québec can be counted on one hand; the three breeding attempts reported prior to the atlas project were found in 2002 (two) and 2009 (one). Therefore, the discovery of a pair, of which the female was transporting nesting material, made by Marc Boisvert on the 26th of May in Huntingdon, was really exciting. The birds were observed in a small area of shrubby overgrown old field, situated between two houses. The pair was last seen on the weekend of the 26th and 27th of June. As well as being rare in Québec, Orchard Orioles typically only remain on their breeding ground for a short length of time, which contributes to the fact that this species is rarely reported in Québec. Over the last 20 years, this species has been observed more frequently in Québec and Ontario; however, there is a great deal of inter-annual variation in the number of individuals reported.
The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is most frequently observed in Québec in the fall, and the birds in question are typically associated with a northward post-breeding dispersion of individuals from the area to the south of Québec. This species rarely nests in Québec; however, this summer was an exception, with several reports of individuals at different locations across southern Québec in May, June and July (including seven survey squares in the Outaouais region). The most convincing breeding evidence concerns the individual found by Marc Boisvert on the 26th of May in Godmanchester (Montérégie). An individual was seen again in the same area by Mark Dennis on the 29th of May, by Alain Quenneville and Luc Goneau on the 2nd of June, and by Dominic Lavoie on the 8th of July. These multiple observations, made over several weeks, allow the species to be confirmed as a probable breeder (code T). Although the Yellow-billed Cuckoo builds its own nest, it sometimes also parasitizes the nests of other species, especially the Black-billed Cuckoo, American Robin and Grey Catbird.
Photo : Robert Mailhot
Although the Harlequin Duck is known to nest along rivers in the North of Québec, in Gaspésie, and along the Côte-Nord, there is very little breeding evidence from the latter region. The discovery of a female with seven ducklings made by Michel Robert and Olivier Barden on the 1st of July on the Rivière de l’Argent, approximately 160 km north-west of Baie-Comeau, is the southernmost confirmed breeding of this species along the Côte-Nord. The ducklings were only a few days old when found, and the family was observed swimming and diving in a rapid, and resting on adjacent rocks. It seems likely that the female had nested on a small island nearby.
Photo : Christian Chevalier

Photo : David Mitchell
It seems that the Clay-colored Sparrow has made important advances into Québec since the end of fieldwork for the first atlas. So far this year, this species has been reported from 48 survey squares, and Témiscamingue and Abitibi seem to be strongholds. Currently, survey square 17PN16 holds the record for the highest number of individuals, with at least 10 singing males being recorded by Jonathan Fréchette during a single morning. The Clay-colored Sparrow has spread east and north from the prairies, which explains why, in Québec, good numbers are found mainly in Témiscamingue and Abitibi. This species, which most commonly frequents overgrown old field sites and young plantations, is easily recognised by its song comprised of two to five mechanical buzzes. The Clay-colored Sparrow sometimes hybridises with the Chipping Sparrow.

Photo : Sylvain Dutrisac
The discovery of a Golden Eagle nest on Anticosti Island made by Sylvain Dutrisac and Daniel Pigeon on the 29th of July was also particularly exciting. Sylvain first observed an adult flying along the breathtakingly beautiful canyon of the Rivière Vauréal. He then heard the repeated calls of an eaglet, which led to the discovery of a huge eyrie, consisting largely of conifer branches. The eaglet was particularly active and stood on the edge of the nest calling repeatedly. Despite the distance from the eyrie, Sylvain was able to take several photos of the eaglet before it returned to the centre of the nest and settled down out of sight. While Bald Eagles regularly nest on Anticosti Island, the same is not true of Golden Eagles. The only other breeding record for this species on the island is along the Rivière Jupiter and dates back over one hundred years (Schmitt 1904). As with the Bald Eagle, recent information suggests that the number of Golden Eagles in Québec is increasing, this is something that the atlas project will undoubtedly help to confirm.