In Montreal, a huge traffic jam; in Queensborough, a silent bittern

This is the page of our trusty National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds (Eastern Region) that told us what that amazing-looking bird we’d seen by the side of the road into Queensborough was. Life is good when you can spot bitterns on your drive!

As I drove to work at the Montreal Gazette this morning, having left our Outremont home in tons of time to get there early yet still finding myself late because of hellish traffic, I found myself thinking of how much more pleasant (and uncrowded) it is to drive along the byways of Hastings County.

So far in all our time spent there since we bought the Manse in Queensborough – including a fair bit in Belleville, by far the largest urban centre in the county – Raymond and I haven’t experienced anything remotely like a traffic jam. We sail along the pretty country roads, and wave to the other drivers we meet, and admire the landscape as it changes with the seasons, and just generally feel considerably more relaxed about driving then we do when we’re in Montreal, where everywhere you turn there’s another street-reconstruction project to tie things up and make you late for wherever you’re going. And grumpy.

A stark and beautiful reminder of the difference came one recent day when we were travelling back to the Manse in Queensborough from “town” (Madoc) in two vehicles, thanks to a repair needed after the infamous flat-tire incident that I’ve recounted elsewhere. Just west of where Hunt Club Road meets Queensborough Road, I saw it: a striking large bird such as I’d never seen before, standing stock still in the tall grass right by the side of the road, neck craned in the air in a graceful and distinctive way.

“Did you see that bird?” was the first thing I asked Raymond as soon as we got out of our respective vehicles back at the Manse. He sure had. And he made a point of making use of our trusty National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds (Eastern Region) to find out what it was. (His second official bird identification! The first one being a Northern “Yellow-shafted” Flicker, which I wrote about here.)

And here is what it was: an American Bittern. Who knew?

The American Bittern, the Audubon Field Guide told us, “is secretive and more likely to be heard than seen. When approached, it prefers to freeze and trust its concealing coloration rather than flush like other herons. When an observer is nearby, it will often stretch its neck up, point its bill skyward, and sway slowly from side to side, as if imitating waving reeds.”

That’s what we saw! (Well, except for the slow swaying motion, but we were driving by fairly quickly.)

And you know, I have to tell you that spotting a large, graceful, secretive bird on one’s drive is just so much more interesting and pleasurable than looking at the orange construction cones that are bound to make you late for work. Wouldn’t you agree?

6 thoughts on “In Montreal, a huge traffic jam; in Queensborough, a silent bittern

  1. As you will soon see, there is a pair of American Bitterns that reside in the Marsh in Queensborough, right across from the Orange Hall. You can’t miss their distinctive call as they ‘harrupmph’ through the spring mating season. On rare occasions they leave the marsh and have been seen strutting around the lawn at the Manse in mid-afternoon. Unfortunately, they are sometimes mistaken as mud-hens which can be quite tasty if you are camping in a remote area for a long time and have had only fish and fruit to eat.

    • Totally classic comment! One, I am thrilled to think that bitterns are known to besport themselves on the Manse lawn; but two, I think I kind of get how interesting those bitterns might look to hungry folks who have been off in the hunting camp (a phenomenon well-known in the Queensborough area) for a while!

  2. I sure would agree, having just driven into and around The Big Smoke of Toronto on Sunday (even then there was unbelievable traffic! – don’t people ever stay at home?) and then the ever-increasing sprawl of Waterloo yesterday. Peter and I both said, ‘Madoc’s looking better by the minute.’ Will be glad to get home today.

    And, oh how I share your delight in seeing your first bittern! We had a similar experience at Skinner’s Pond, although we were already at home and not driving in from a busy metropolis. Just that double-take when we glanced out the kitchen window towards the pond. ‘What on earth is that?!?’ And like you, we went to our always-nearby bird book for the answer. Beats Montreal’s neverending construction any day.

    Found a very cool red and chrome 1950s kitchen table set at the antiques market in St Jacobs that I’m sure you’d have liked. I’ll email a photo when we get home.

    • Glad you made it back to peaceful little Madoc (where one might see bitterns!) after battling the traffic in The Big Sprawl, Brenda! That experience really does make one appreciate what we have here all the more. Now if only one could get a proper Montreal bagel in Madoc…

  3. I, too, agree. As you know, I live in the forest by a lake in the Laurentians, and I see many animals in my journeys, including blue herons, deer, even bears. Once you live in the country, the thought of living in the city is, well, unthinkable. I am happy for you and Raymond, for the serenity and Oneness you are feeling in country life. Methinks people were meant to live in the gardens of Earth — not concrete jungles.

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